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Who is Left-Wing, and Who Just Thinks They Are?

New research from University of Leicester Department of Economics

Issued on 14 July 2010

A new study from the University of Leicester Department of Economics reveals that highly educated people make wrong assumptions about their political leanings – they are more likely to think they are left wing when they are more likely to be relatively conservative.

The study suggests that some people may end up voting for left of centre parties because they hold the mistaken belief that they are left wing.

The research by Dr James Rockey, a lecturer in Economics, used data from the World Values Survey and described the opinions and characteristics of 136,000 individuals, in 82 countries, over a period of over 20 years.

His study, Who is Left-Wing, and Who Just Thinks They Are?, analysed whether people misperceive their relative ideological position by measuring on a scale from 1 to 10 what people think they are – and measuring their opinion against a substantive issue ie how income should be divided.

“The most startling result is that the more educated tend to believe that they are more left-wing than they are measured as being,” said Dr Rockey. “That is, well-educated individuals are more likely to think that they are quite left-wing but actually believe things that compared to the rest of the population would make them comparatively right-wing.

“The analysis suggests that the cause of this is different to the effect of gender, income, or job type. Other results suggest that men and those with higher-incomes are more likely to both think that they are rightwing and to be measured as such.”

Dr Rockey said one speculative explanation is that people may hold on to their perception that they have left-wing views, but that over time as their circumstances and social network changes their actual political opinions drift rightwards.

This could be because they are comparing themselves against their immediate social/work circle rather than the population as a whole.

It remains the case that richer people, tend to be more right wing and are also aware of this.

Dr Rockey concludes: “It is clear is that, for whatever reason, an individual’s conception of their ideological position often differs from that predicted by a policy question.

“Many of these results merit further investigation. Perhaps the most interesting question would be to consider why men and women see things so differently.

“The broad conclusion of the paper must be that individuals either choose not to, or are unable to, locate their ideological positions reliably compared to those of the positions of their compatriots.

“This is further evidence not just that voters are far from fully informed, but that somehow voters consistently misperceive where they lie on the ideological spectrum.”

NOTE TO NEWSDESK: You can access the research paper here: For interviews, contact Dr Rockey on 0116 223 1237 email


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