PRINCETON, NJ -- More Americans continue to identify themselves as conservatives than as liberals on economic and social matters. However, the conservative advantage on each dimension is shrinking from higher points in recent years, down to 21 points on economic policy and four points on social policy.
The results are based on Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs poll, conducted May 8-11. Currently, 34% of Americans say they are conservative, 35% say moderate, and 30% say liberal on social issues. On economic issues, 42% say they are conservative, 34% say moderate, and 21% say liberal. The four-point conservative lead on social ideology and 21-point lead on economic ideology rank as the smallest Gallup has measured in the 14 years it has asked Americans to describe their views on those issue dimensions separately, although the 21-point conservative lead on economic policy was also found in 2007 and 2008.
The trends toward lower conservative advantages were evident as far back as 2004 on social ideology and 2007 on economic ideology, though both were interrupted in 2009 and 2010 when President Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress passed left-leaning legislation, most notably the Affordable Care Act. In those years, the percentage of Americans describing themselves as conservative on the two dimensions moved back up, most likely in reaction to their perceptions of the more liberal administration. Since then, however, the trends have continued moving in a less conservative direction.
In the same poll, using Gallup's standard ideology question, 37% of Americans describe their political views overall as conservative, 25% as liberal, and 35% as moderate. That 12-point conservative-liberal gap falls in between the 21-point gap on economic issues and the four-point gap on social issues. But this general measure of ideology has also shown that the conservative-over-liberal advantage has been narrowing in recent years.
Americans' increasingly liberal views on social issues are apparent in trends showing that the public is exhibiting greater support for gay marriage, legalizing marijuana, and having a baby outside of marriage, and diminished support for the death penalty.
Democrats Increasingly Say Their Social and Economic Views Are Liberal
A solid majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents identify their social and economic attitudes as conservative. Democrats and Democratic-leaners show less consensus, with pluralities saying their social views are liberal and their economic views moderate.
Page 2 shows the full trends on social ideology by political party affiliation.
In recent years, Republicans' views on social issues have been steady, while Democrats have been increasingly likely to identify their social views as liberal, particularly in the past four years. This means that Democrats are largely driving the shrinking conservative advantage on social issues among all Americans.
On economic issues, Democrats were more likely to identify as conservatives than as liberals from 2001 to 2006. Since 2007, the reverse has been true in all but one year. Republicans, too, have shown movement on economic ideology, showing higher average conservative advantages from 2009 to 2014 than before.
To some degree, the Republican and Democratic trends in economic ideology offset each other, but because there are more Democrats and Democratic leaners than Republicans and Republican leaners, the national numbers are being pulled in a slightly more liberal direction.
Conservatism is still the dominant ideology in the U.S. when Americans are asked to describe their political views overall and when asked about their views on economic and social issues separately. However, the conservative advantages are shrinking, in large part because of Democrats' increasing likelihood of describing their views as liberal rather than conservative or moderate.
With the conservative advantage on social issues down to four points, it is possible in the next few years there will be more Americans describing themselves as socially liberal than as socially conservative. This movement is consistent with trends Gallup has seen on specific issues, perhaps most notably Americans' views toward gay rights and legalizing marijuana.
Conservatives maintain a healthy advantage on economic issues, so if more Americans ever do come to view themselves as economic liberals than as economic conservatives, it would not be anytime soon. The ideological trends are clearly heading in a more liberal direction, but as was the case in 2009 and 2010, they could be disrupted or even potentially reversed, depending on the course of the nation's policies.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 8-11, 2014, with a random sample of 1,028 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.