‘Moderate’ left and right

Fred Argy wants me to look at ‘moderate’ lefties and ‘moderate’ right-wingers instead of just the psycho types who want to brawl with the cops. To take (I hope) some of the heat out of comments, I will not discuss the issue of whether one group is less civil than the other, but will look at them on the same questions that I used to examine the extremes of the left-right spectrum.

The AES has a 0-10 left-right spectrum. Last time I used 0-1 for the left and 9-10 for the right. This time I will use 2-3 for the left and 7-8 for the right. This leaves out the great Australian middle, 4-6, which contains 58% of respondents to the AES.

For the strong feelings about parties and party leaders I will also relax assumptions. This is also on a 0-10 scale. Last time I used only 0 (labelled ‘strongly dislike’). This time I will use 0 and 1.

For ‘moderate’ lefties, 39% dislike the Liberal Party a lot. On the other side, 15% of ‘moderate’ right-wingers dislike the Labor Party a lot. On party leaders, 49% of ‘moderate’ lefties dislike Howard a lot, while 19% of ‘moderate’ right-wingers dislike Latham a lot. These are, I think, still pretty big differences. But I also checked to see what ‘moderate’ right-wingers thought of Bob Brown. 47% dislike Brown a lot, making him nearly as unpopular on the right as Howard is on the left. It shows that the moderate right is capable of as much dislike as the left.

On activism, there is one very big difference between the moderate right and left. 44% of the lefties had been to a protest in the previous 5 years, compared to 6% of the right-wingers. The lefties were also more likely to have worked with others to express their views, 39% compared to 22%. They were most alike on contacting officials, 38% on the left, 35% on the right. The left is more into collective action than the right.

What do middle Australians think about the leaders? 18% dislike Howard a lot. 12% disliked Latham a lot. Brown is the most unpopular, with 23.5% disliking him a lot.

31 thoughts on “‘Moderate’ left and right

  1. “It shows that the moderate right is capable of as much dislike as the left. ” – capable, but not happening because there are no serious threats to their core values ? (Bob Brown will never achieve much, Kevin Rudd will maintain the status quo, etc).

    Another aspect is the staggering number and range of issues the left can be angry about: from globalisation to mulesing, forests to refugees. The right seems a much more homogenous group (what stirs them up other than tax and welfare mothers?) – maybe you aren’t really comparing like with like?

    To return to the fun side of the discussion – you say that the left is more into activism and collective action than the right. Doesn’t this imply that lefties take more personal responsibility for acting on their beliefs? It takes a fair bit of commitment to actually attend a demo. What are the righties doing with their time – studying the stock market?


  2. I’d put demonstrations in the recreational politics category. They might be useful in drawing attention to an issue people are not otherwise aware of, but I know of no evidence that they are effective (in the Australian context) at changing policy or opinion on established issues. Think of some of the big demos in recent years – on reconciliation, on the Iraq War, and on WorkChoices. None had real impact. But the people who went enjoyed themselves.


  3. If the left are out and about (making up audiences at the ABC etc) much more than the right, as you suggest, then the rude fringe of the left is simply more visible then the rude fringe of the right.. The right are no doubt much ruder to shop assistants et al. – we just don’t see it!

    But we haven’t gotten very far with your original question that if the rudeness is politically self-defeating, why do they do it?? Do they think that strong emotions equates with sincerity? Is that how you demonstrate leadership to a mob?


  4. I have no wish to continue debating what is really a silly topic (sorry Andrew but your other topics are far more illuminating) but for Sinclair to say that Andrew’s new information – interesting as it is – “answers my point” is self-delusion – or is it tongue in cheek again Sinclair?


  5. No – not this time. Fred you challenged Andrew to produce new or different evidence. This he has done. The results are supportive of his original hypothesis. ‘Lefties’ are more emotionally involved with their belief system than are ‘righties’. This manifests itself in dislike, and even hatred for non-believers. This also often results in poor behaviour.

    We can agree, I think, that hating your opponents is unproductive and anger leads to poor decision making, and poor tactics. We can also all agree that some lefties, such as your good self, do not suffer from this problem. Some righties do, some don’t. Andrew, for example, doesn’t hate ‘lefties’. But that doesn’t negate his original point.


  6. You should re-read my challenge Sinclair, which was about civility. Andrew was honest enough to say he could not prove the point I was asking him to prove.

    The issue now raised by Andrew is different – it is about depth of involvement in politics. But deep commitment does not mean rudeness. Saying you ‘hate’ or ‘dislike’ a leader is often a careless way to say you dislike his ideas, I remember that the most hated man was Gough Whitlam back in the 70’s not because they disliked him persoanlly but feared his ideas. Many of those who say they hate Howard are again referring to his policies. It certainly does not follow that they would resort to rudeness or violence against his supporters.

    In short, we must leave the issue of whether Lefties are ruder than right-wingers as one that would be too difficult to prove and in my view logically hard to sustain. So let’s move on to more interesting things.


  7. Sinclair, my best answer to your unconvincing attempt to have the last word is to again quote Andrew Norton. He says when introducing his new ‘evidence’ that he “will not discuss the issue of whether one group is more civil than the other”. That is exactly the point I am making. He is opening up a new issue (the degree of political acitivism, including willingness to protest) – not reviving the old issue. And rightly so because the new evidence throws no light on the question of relative rudeness.

    I am not arguing that one side is ruder than the other – merely that I don’t know if one can make such a generalisation. You are the one who persists in trying desperately to paint lefties as having a greater propensity to rudeness on average. The new evidence moreover does not take account of the education and social background of the people. Remember too that Andrew covers just two leaders – one was in power and therefore making policy while Latham was just threatening to introduce policies if he were elected. Big difference! The evidence on how much right wingers people hate Brown is also significant. It is certainly reflected in the nasty stuff put out against the Greens at the last election. Hate, as Andrew, says, is not unique to Lefties

    One can speculate about what people mean by ‘hate’ or ‘dislike” or why they protest and what these might mean for their civility – but it is not the sort of evidence that would win you a judgment in a courtroom or in a scholarly logical debate about rudeness.


  8. I certainly hope it wouldn’t win an argument in a courtroom. Afterall courts have a requirement of beyond reasonable doubt. It would also not win a ‘scholarly debate’ because many ‘scholars’ are lefties. In common with such debates you are now changing the definitions of words in order to introduce some uncertainty. In closing, let me quote Ludwig von Mises -he is speaking of so-called welfare economists.

    The plight of Western civilization consists precisely in the fact that serious people can resort to such syllogistic artifices without encountering sharp rebuke. There are only two explanations open. Either these self-styled welfare economists are themselves not aware of the logical inadmissibility of their procedure, in which case they lack the indispensable power of reasoning; or they have chosen this mode of arguing purposely in order to find shelter for their fallacies behind a word which is intended beforehand to disarm all opponents. In each case their own acts condemn them.


  9. “Afterall courts have a requirement of beyond reasonable doubt.”

    Actually, civil trials have a requirement of proof on the balance of probabilities.

    I think it’s important to consider that those on the Left usually regard Howard as being quite far to the Right. Those on the Right might not have liked Latham or Beazley or Rudd, but I don’t think anyone could seriously argue that they are a long way to the Left. Brown, on the other hand, is seen as being hard Left, and the level of dislike towards him reflects that.

    This is why Sinclair is so careful to frame the discussion as a contest between Howard and Latham, when in fact Andrew’s comparison is between Left and Right.


  10. This is why Sinclair is so careful to frame the discussion as a contest between Howard and Latham

    The AES dataset asks about views on leaders of political parties. I have compared Howard and Latham (because Andrew did) and because that’s what the data compares.


  11. You’re quite right that the AES asks about views on leaders of political parties. However, it includes the leader of the Greens. This was made clear in Andrew’s post:

    But I also checked to see what


  12. I’d like to see what proportion of moderate lefties dislike Latham.

    Given your complaint that Fred is “changing the definitions of words” (I don’t think he was, but that’s not the point) you probably want to avoid saying people “hate” Brown, when they actually said they “strongly dislike” him.


  13. hate 2v.t. feel hatred towards; dislike greatly

    hatred intense dislike

    Now I’m sure we can debate whether ‘strongly’ and ‘intense’ mean the same thing is this context. But I suspect I and have used the word ‘hate’ in the correct context.


  14. So you think “strongly dislike” means “hate”. Fred thinks that when people are asked “Do you like John Howard?”, at least some of them take the question to mean “Do you like John Howard’s policies?” I’d say you’re probably both right, but I don’t see how you can project your meaning onto the words of the question while at the same time ranting at Fred for making a similar suggestion.


  15. I’d also suggest that while “strongly dislike” and “hate” have a significant overlap, if you used the word “hate” in the question, you’d get lower numbers across the board.


  16. The authors of the survey probably don’t want to use ‘hate’ because it is an emotive word. It may be considered immoral to hate. Nothing wrong with ‘hate’ – it is a fine English word (I sure somebody will come and its really derived from some other langauge) that means ‘dislike greatly’.


  17. If “hate” is an emotive word but “strongly dislike” is not an emotive phrase, then clearly they have different meanings. Not much different, perhaps, but different enough that their use might impact on the responses to the question — which means that the difference, though small, is important in this context.


  18. Perhaps the very quality of moderation makes it difficult to hate people you don’t know and whose capacity to threaten you is very indirect. It must take a lot of energy to maintain hatred against capitalists/infidels/elites/other groups, and once unleashed that energy may overwhelm individuals against whom it is directed. Mild disappointment that a government program is being mismanaged, or quiet satisfaction at the achievement of longterm goals – and an acceptance of the processes of compromise that lead to either outcome – are not compatible with kill-’em-all antipathies.


  19. which means that the difference, though small, is important in this context.

    Maybe. I suspect its got more to do with response rates that real differences in meaning. In an instrument of this sort it’s also quite difficult to determine what the difference between a score of ‘0’ and ‘1’.


  20. “I suspect its got more to do with response rates that real differences in meaning.”

    It’s a survey. All we’ve got are response rates — that’s the point!

    But of course, we are now way off topic and I suspect both of us are wondering why we’re still arguing over this.

    Can you tell me, is it the AES that asks people to place themselves on the left-right spectrum, and does the same for their perception of the politics of the various parties?


  21. Yes it does. A very large proportion of people place themselves in the dead centre. They also get the rank the various parties. response rates fall for these questions and some confusion reigns with parties such as One Nation. Their distribution was bimodal (a few elections ago, I don’t think they’re still included) on each extreme. An interesting result is that Green voters place themselves further to the left than do non-Green voters. In other words they are left-wing and stronglt identify as being left-wing. The ALP and the Democrats occupy the same ideological space (which is probably why they’ll disappear at the next election – no product differentiation).

    The bad news, I understand, is that the ARC have not funded the next data survey. So it looks like we won’t be having this data set in future.


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