Non-existent ‘neoliberals’ and ‘neoconservatives’?

1,201 people answered the Australian political identity survey question on which political philosophy they identified with. Of these, the single largest group (a third) regarded themselves as social democrats. Just over 20% called themselves classical liberals, 15% described themselves as libertarians, 8% saw themselves as greens, and conservatives made up 14% of the sample, 8% describing themselves as social conservatives and economic liberals and 6% simply as conservatives.

Another 9%, 106 respondents, did not find their own beliefs in the political labels I chose. The single most popular response among these was ‘socialist’ or some variant on that, with 16 socialist respondents and 1 Marxist. ‘Social liberal’ or some variant on that was the next most popular from 14 people, with a couple of small-l liberal responses as well. We also had people who wanted to be simply a liberal, a liberal conservative, and a liberal democrat.

Though academics and commentators routinely discuss ‘neoliberals’ and ‘neoconservatives’, not a single person used those labels to describe themselves. In my question on which political intellectuals respondents had read, the ‘neoconservative’ thinkers – Irving Kristol and Leo Strauss – were the least read. Even among self-described conservatives and social conservatives, only 14% had read anything by Kristol and just 8% had read anything by Strauss.

It raises again the question of whether labels like ‘neoliberal’ and ‘neoconservative’ have descriptive or analytical value. My own reading of work by local academics (eg here or here) suggests that the main effect of the labels is to lead them down the wrong path, importing global academic concepts (neoliberalism) or distinctively American political ideologies (neoconservatism) rather than trying to understand the local variants of liberalism and conservatism.

In the next post, I will look at what classical liberalism and libertarianism mean in the Australian context.

Australian political identity survey – the methodology post

My Australian political identity survey closed this morning, and I will write several posts on the results over the next few days. But first some discussion of how respondents were solicited and the biases that might cause – some of which is in response to questions and criticisms since the survey began.

The first point is that this was not a normal public opinon survey – it was a survey of people willing to identify with with a philosophical political label. The difficulty this poses is in finding such people, who are likely to be a small percentage of the electorate. If a pollster was commissioned to do it I expect it would take tens of thousands of phone calls to produce the 1,200 responses I received in my online survey.

My method was to largely recruit via blogs. Apart from my own, there were links from Andrew Leigh, Andrew Carr, Australian Conservative, Andrew Bartlett, Institutional Economics, the f-rant, Sacha Blumen, Club Troppo, Thoughts on Freedom, Pollytics, Quadrant blog, and Catallaxy.

Blogs were supplemented with my personal networks, via email and my Facebook page.
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