Monday, January 31, 2011

How left wing are we?

YouGov has come out with a fascinating survey on how left/right wing people think they are.

Inevitably they've chosen a scale where being on the right takes you up to +100 and being a lefty is -100 but, despite this outrageous bias I think there's something quite valuable about asking people upfront where they see themselves on the political spectrum.

So the headline news is that 25% of people see themselves as left of centre and 24% see themselves as right of centre. Hurray! We're winning, let's move on...

Although another way of saying that would be that the majority of people do not describe themselves as left or right-wing, even a bit.

The other number that jumps out at you is that women are twice as likely to be less certain of their political direction. Seeing as most men think they know everything I guess this fits.

Women were 22% left of centre, 16% right of centre while with men with have 29% left of centre and 30% leaning to the right with 22% for both seeing themselves as in the centre. So a 'political' woman is much more likely to see themselves as on the left or the centre than on the right, while men are less likely to take the middle-road, which is possibly connected to that idea that men tend to be much more certain of their correctness and therefore often take a more extreme view.


Although having said all that the big thing for me is that so many people simply did not know how to answer the question which, as ever, is probably for a whole number of reasons. Come on, let's look at the regions (and Scotland, which is not a region but a country).

Would it shock you to find out that Scotland and the North were the most left wing parts of the UK? No? Me neither.

There is an interesting difference between them though in that Scotland's 33% left, 23% centre and 15% right is not identical to the North's 31% left, 19% centre and 20% right. The North's lefties are more likely to see themselves as harder left but, unlike in the North, Scots are more than twice as likely to see themselves as on the left than the right.

While London is to the left of the sea of right wing South surrounding it, it is still the place where a 'person' is most likely to describe themselves as on the far right. I bet loads of that is Essex.

I should point out that 2% of the South thought David Cameron was very left wing. Who'd have thought? I guess you can show anything with statistics...


Anonymous said...

There's no shame in having our political position identified with negative numbers. Firstly, they are a little more tricky to handle in arithmetic: ask someone to calculate 5-3 or 5×3, then ask them to calculate (-3)-(-5) or (-3)×(-5), and see how long each calculation takes. Secondly, in the history of mathematics, they are a more modern concept than the positive numbers.

In other words, YouGov is complimenting our progressiveness and intelligence! Possibly :-D

Mike Shaughnessy said...

And 30% said 'don't know'. Sheeshh!


Jim Jepps said...

RedGreenInBlue: I admire your spirit!

Mike: I think that 30% is the most interesting stat here. You know that if a question is getting more than 5-10% don't knows people are having real problems with the question.

The Snarkery said...

I agree the don't knows are the most interesting statistic.
Have you see this website which suggests that there should also be an authoritarian/libertarian spectrum as well as the left/right one?

I'd also suggest there are a lot of people who focus on a particular issue (education, say) or on their local area, to the extent that they lose track of left & right.

Jim Jepps said...

I'm not massively keen on making the axis overly complicated because it starts to get into the territory where it looks like you actually can describe someone's politics meaningfully using a couple of numbers.

For me the left/right axis still holds true, but it was never the end of the story. As you say people have all kinds of specific opinions on specific issues.

If someone describes themseves as a socialist, or a feminist or whatever it's always a starting point - but until you talk to them in more depth you still don't really know where they are coming from politically.

Mike Shaughnessy said...

Yes, there are a lot of grey areas, but the left/right thing is, I think, useful in getting a feel for someone. Issues change of course all the time, but some things like equality, are a constant to anyone who is on the left (I know this is a generalism, but all the same).

If people really don't know whether they lean left or right, then our politics is getting pretty meaningless.

Jim Jepps said...

Definately Mike. Just because less people see it as relevant does not necessarily mean the terms are meaningless - as long people don't think this means politics is just a question of where you are on a linear scale I think the terms have a lot of uses.

Scottie said...

As well as the many that say they don't know I think there are also many who - if they interrogated their own views would be surprised what they find.

Growing up in the Socialist republic of South Yorkshire I still find it amazing how many staunch Labourites have rabidly right wing views when discussing most topics.