Australian political identity survey

As a classical liberal, I am the kind of person people like Kevin Rudd or the academic left are talking about when they use the term ‘neoliberal’. However, their descriptions of ‘neoliberalism’ often seem to be, if not totally inaccurate, crude caricatures of what people like me actually believe.

My impression from years of talking policy and politics with a wide variety of people, and editing a classical liberal magazine, is that even among those willing to identify with a particular political philosophy their actual views are (depending on how you look at it) more complex or less consistent than simply following the logic of their philosophy wherever it might take them.

To try to see to what people with different intellectual political identities believe, and on what they agree and disagree, I have devised an online survey of about 40 questions. There is a question on party support near the end, but the main point of the survey is to see what people willing to identify as classical liberals, libertarians, conservatives, and social democrats believe, regardless of their party affiliations. I’ll publish the results over Easter.

Click here to take the political identity survey

40 thoughts on “Australian political identity survey

  1. I won’t look until there are enough resonses to disguise all but the most idiosyncratic views! I don’t expect people to answer all the questions; indeed I expect that this will reveal that to some extent people with different views are interested in different things as well as having conflicting views on some issues.


  2. Crude caricatures of what I actually believe based on a label? Yes, as someone occasionally mis-labelled a leftie I am in complete empathy.

    The most irritating aspect is that once labelled, some people then presume to know what another’s views are about any topic in the world without having to take the trouble to actually read what they write.

    Congratulations on the questionnaire BTW – much more thoughtful options than most.


  3. I’ve taken a look at several questions in your survey as I was going to answer them but I would like to know how you define:

    Economic Liberal

    as opposed to:

    Economic Conservative?

    Thank you.


  4. Mine shouldn’t be too hard to pick.

    You should add the latest portmanteau in there – liberaltarian. I think I fit in that category – although some days I feel more liberal and other days more -tarian!


  5. Have you sent this link around to the Australian politics blogs and the psephologists? If not, I can send out some emails.

    – R


  6. Should be interesting!
    The question on price control in various industries could be interpreted in different ways. Price control of utilities could apply in relation to wholesale supply, third party access to networks or retail pricing. Many (but not all) economists would support regulation of access to monopoly networks but not necessarily of wholesale costs of supply or retail prices.


  7. Robert – If you have the relevant contacts, yes please do. From a quick look at the results of question 1 so far, I am most lacking conservatives, so conservative blogs a priority. I have contacted Catallaxy, Andrew Leigh and Club Troppo.

    And the ‘other’ was designed to pick up various labels some people use but which I did not think had wide currency at this point.

    vee – I am more interested in how other people would define these terms, but in the context of Australian political history I would say an ‘economic conservative’ supports the pre-1983 status quo, while an ‘economic liberal’ generally supports market reforms.

    Rajat – It was hard to word that question, but among classical liberals I am expecting less firm anti-price control answers on electricity, water and communications, where there is likely to be a monopoly element, than on higher education and private health where no such concerns exist.


  8. Andrew there’s an inherent problem with the questionnaire for anyone who resists being labelled. I ticked a box in Q1 although I would have preferred an option of ‘none’ but that kind of defeats the purpose of the exercise. If there are significant numbers of people who think like me, the interpretation of the results will need a little bit of caution.

    Depending on the use you want to make of the data it might be better to instruct people who don’t feel comfortable with any of the ideological labels to simply refrain from participating.


  9. Ken – The main point of the questionnaire is to see what policy attitudes match the main political labels, so from that perspective it doesn’t matter that lots of people don’t fit – either because they prefer a label I have not included or (as would be the case I think for most people in a conventional public opinion survey) their political thinking is not sufficiently organised to fit a label that implies some overarching world view. I included an ‘other’ box and will report the results if multiple people nominate a label I have not mentioned.

    I’ll only report results by label. If say I get 100 classical liberals and 90% of them support a particular position I’ll be reasonably confident that this is a typical classical liberal view. If 40-60% adopt a view the smallish sample would incline me to the opinon that there is no clear classical liberal view.


  10. KenL:

    Please, stop it with you’re unable to be labeled. You were a lead ” blogger” at Road to insanity for years posting the most left wing, conservative hating threads in Webdom. You’re insulting our intelligence.

    Perhaps the reason you find it difficult to self label is incoherence of ideas.


  11. I’d be interested just to know what proportion of total respondents are female, and out of them how many identify as either classical liberal or libertarian (my guess is <10%).
    On that note, any females in the comments of this post thus far?


  12. This is a political identity survey only if you fit within the spectrum of mild left to extreme right. I mean, the questions are generally loaded, most significantly on education and health.


  13. John – As the survey preamble noted, it is mainly about classical liberalism and its relationship with other ideologies. I included greens because I have met some greens with libertarian leanings, but classical liberals have no general relationships with ideologies further left than social democracy or further right than libertarians or conservatives.


  14. KenL. Most of the things you support are leftish, you have said numerous times that you vote for the Green Party; so my point- that you are cognitively dissonant- is pretty accurate.


  15. Since I’ve never been able to work out what the difference is supposed to be between “classical liberal” and “libertarian”, I refused to pick one of them & just identified as “liberal”. As I understand it, both terms were coined by people who regarded themselves as liberals but despaired of popular misunderstanding (by their lights, of course) of that term; I’ll use either depending on context, but I’m much happier with just “liberal”.


  16. I like the term liberal but it has been somewhat confused by American usage. I could call myself a classical liberal but I much prefer libertarian because it is distinctive, incorporates a greater emphasis on social perspective and has more political momentum.

    The point of flying a flag is to signal to people (potential allies and enemies) what you are about. However at the end of the day a flag is just a rag. I’d call myself a “small government social democrat” or a “low tax greenie” or a “personal freedom conservative” or “Mary Poppins” if any of these labels better helped to advanced the cause of liberty.


  17. You might like to look at the relatively popular “political compass” survey (there is even a Facebook version), which will give you two axes (social and economic) and see how your survey correlates with it some time.


  18. Charles – The ‘other’ box so far has 4 social liberals, 1 small-l liberal and your liberal. I had this attempt a couple of years ago to distinguish classical liberals and libertarians, but one aim of this survey is to see if there are in fact any systematic policy differences between the two groups.

    My starting hypothesis would be that they are on the same side of most issues, but libertarians will tend to give the stronger responses.


  19. Agreed that American usage can confuse things. On the other hand, I find that in America (and Europe, for that matter) I can express my political position concisely & unambiguously by calling myself a “free market liberal”, which is clear to almost anyone who follows politics. There’s no equivalent in Australia, because “liberal” is tainted by association with the Liberal Party.


  20. I think you missed one key question that may have highlighted a substantial difference between libertarians and classical liberals, that is the question of gun control.

    There were a few other questions that really had me thinking. Not quite sure how to answer. My problem is that I have two answers to most questions, my philosophical answer and my “if I were in government today” answer. The end-point and the current goal don’t always coincide for me.

    Carbon tax vs no government action is an example of this. Ultimately I’d prefer no government action, but I think a carbon tax is reality that needs to be looked at. Similarly I’d be happy to with a GDP of less than 20%, but it’d take a long period of phasing out of programs to reach that point.


  21. Shem – I think you are right. I have also had good suggestions for questions on intellectual property and foreign affairs. If I do a follow-up survey in a year or two, I will include these topics.

    Another survey on differences between ideal and pragmatic responses would also be interesting. I tended to give pragmatic responses when I did the survey myself, going for tax of 25-29% GDP, when I am inclined to think that a much smaller state would, in an ideal world, be preferable.


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  24. FFS nit picking breaks out faster than nits.

    It sounds like a good idea therefore I will support it with action, simple as that.

    Off to do the test 🙂


  25. There is some bias in the survey re identification (where is socialism and anarchism) and political philosophers. They are mostly liberal/libertarians. And Ayn Rand(!?)


  26. I don’t recall all the questions in the survey, but I wonder if a matter to draw out is what seems to me to be a key assumption people have underpinning their politics – the degree to which they support decentralised or centralised decision-making.

    Andrew, I think your question about the “size” of federal govt spending is going in that direction, but I wonder if it would be useful to have a more general kind of question on this matter (if there isn’t one already).


  27. Sacha – The original idea was not to focus on more general views (which I presumed we could largely guess from the label) and to focus on policy views. Without giving too many results away while people are still doing the survey, classical liberals are ten times more likely than social democrats to support decentralised curriculum setting – consistent with your hypothesis. However consistent with my hypothesis that people have ‘messy’ views, a significant minority of classical liberals support national curriculum, a near-impossible argument from classical liberal first principles I would have thought, but consistent with people having a general intuition in favour of markets but not seeing markets as appropriate in all contexts.

    Poodanggar – They survey was really about comparing classical liberals with libertarians and other major philosophies in Australia; while socialists are welcome to do the survey they are not a major philosophy in Australia.


  28. Quite a thorough development of questions, and it was quite difficult to choose between many answers, but am sure that was quite deliberate.

    You are very right though to point out the inconsistencies with perspectives and political identity.

    I often percieve that although there are often misunderstandings and misguided name-calls between people within a concentrated political ideology, the opposite is also true — political ideology breeds impaired assessment of the overlapping arguments that are congruent to the most relevant political ideologies today.

    But our judgement of these univoqual thoughts are impaired by our shameless pride in one such political ideology and too often we ‘great thinkers’ be but our own slaves of thought. Consequently, these ideologies create our identity, and we are so quick to protect and defend this identity that sometimes we become immune to sense and reality. Alas, a few too many fall victim to serve an ideology to promote their own identity and legitimacy rather than to serve democracy and the public to promote national integrity.

    I am getting worn-out reading the academic debates that have been fueled by the financial crisis, let alone being inspired to even glance at the bitter politics of newspapers these days.

    In times like this, I am reminded of the sensibility in Deng’s remark, “Black Cat / White Cat, If Cat catches the mouse, it is Good Cat.”

    Oh no! I quoted Deng Xiao Ping. Henceforth I am known as Communist.


    Can’t wait for the results! Thanks!


  29. Were the AGW questions in there as a kind of control? I can’t see how following any political ideology to its logical conclusion can lead you to an answer on an question that is fundamentally about observable reality of the natural world. I’m sure you’ll see correlations between political ideology and the results of this question, but I don’t think that tells you anything other than that people’s view even of observable facts tends to be coloured by their political leaning.


  30. caf – I agree, there is no ideologically correct answer to that question, but because there are ideological implications to the policy responses to one of the answers I think we can both guess the likely result of the survey. But we will find out for sure when the survey is over.


  31. Given that this is primarily a comparison of classical liberals and libertarians I think a question about the gold standard would be topical and interesting. In the USA being libertarian frequently means supporting some form of return to a gold standard and / or the denationalisation of money. In Australia I’m much less certain about how people would answer such a line of questioning.


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