Public polls and voter registrations may be underestimating the number of liberals and independents in the United States. Young conservatives believe they are more conservative than they actually are, according to a study published June 13 in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Ethan Zell of the University of North Carolina and Michael J. Bernstein of Pennsylvania State University, the authors of the study, said conservatives could be more prone to biased self-perceptions because they tend to exhibit higher levels of in-group loyalty.
“Conservatives value group loyalty more than liberals,” Zell told PsyPost. “We assumed that this desire for loyalty might lead conservatives to see themselves as more representative members of the Republican Party than would be reflected by their attitudes on specific issues. Thus, conservative young adults might want to see themselves as typical or true Republicans, when their attitudes suggest that they are really only slightly conservative or even independent.”
The three-part study, which included 713 participants, compared young Americans’ self-reported political orientation to a 12-item objective measure of political orientation. The political orientation test was developed by the Pew Research Center and can be taken at PBS.org.
Zell and Bernstein found most people’s self-reported political orientation did not entirely reflect their actual political positions. In particular, self-reported “Liberal Democrats” overestimated their liberalism, while self-reported “Independents,” “Moderate Republicans,” “Average Republicans,” and “Conservative Republicans” tended to underestimate their liberalism.
“In sum, the present research identified a systematic bias among young adults to perceive themselves as somewhat more conservative than they actually are,” the researchers concluded.
Like any behavioral study, Zell and Bernstein noted their research had limitations. The study did not account for libertarians, who tend to be economically conservative and socially liberal. The study also focused on young adults, who tend to be more liberal in general.
“Young adults who consider themselves conservative might espouse relatively liberal attitudes on issues in which there are generational changes (i.e., support gay marriage and immigration),” Zell and Bernstein wrote.