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Rich people are more likely to be Republican but not more likely to be conservative

In the “Conservatives are nicer than liberals” controversy, there was a question about who has more money, conservatives or liberals. I’ve written a lot about income and voting, but I realized I’d never actually looked at income and political ideology. Here are the data, from respondents to the Pew pre-election polls in 2008:


The poorest people are more likely to be liberal, and the richest are more likely to identify as moderate rather than conservative, but overall there’s less going on here than I would’ve expected.

In contrast, the relation between income and party identification is strong, and goes in the expected direction:


There must be a lot of low-income moderate Democrats and high-income moderate Republicans out there.

P.S. For the purpose of understanding charitable giving, I’d rather know wealth than income. Or maybe something like “disposable income.” It’s harder to get this from survey data, though.


  1. john says:

    I wonder if people self-rate by comparing themselves to the people they know – people who probably have quite similar socioeconomic status as themselves. If so, the self-rating data, in effect, already controls for socioeconomic status and can't be used this way.

  2. Fernando says:

    It would be helpful to break out the high income category more.

    After all, the top 1% or earners pay over 40% of national income tax revenue. (see

  3. Andrew Gelman says:

    Fernando: Unfortunately, you can't really get this sort of breakdown of high-income people from survey data. For that, it might be best to follow Thomas Ferguson's lead and look at campaign contributions of wealthy families and corporate executives.

  4. Dave says:

    These charts pose the same difficulties as any "conservative vs liberal" charts: are we talking about economic or social issues? Those in the bottom eighth of the top chart actually identify themselves as "very conservative" at a higher rate than those at incomes just above them. My guess is that they are more socially conservative than economically, and I would assume the opposite about the highest income conservatives. But it is hard to say for sure based on these. Wish we could show how identification falls across the Nolan Chart with respect to income.

  5. Phil says:

    John's question is a good one. If people mostly compare themselves to the people they know, this would explain why everybody thinks they are "moderate." Famously, lots more people think they earn about the median amount of income than actually do.

    Also, most people don't like to think of themselves as extreme. Admittedly, if I were asked, I would classify myself as "liberal." But I don't _feel_ liberal, I feel like I am moderate. I think my views are very moderate: 20% of people are moderate like me, and 5% are wacko left-wingers, and 75% are wacko right-wingers.

    And, finally, I think the labels "liberal", "conservative", etc., mean different things to different people. Maybe very different.

  6. Andrew Gelman says:

    Phil: Yes, but for the purpose of better understanding other poll results on conservatives giving more than liberals to charity, it makes sense to use the same ideological self-description.

    Dave: In Red State, Blue State we did some analysis using survey responses on specific items to create economic and social ideology scales.

  7. Eric says:

    "There must be a lot of low-income moderate Democrats and high-income moderate Republicans out there."

    I think you nailed it.

  8. Ricardo says:

    Here is something to consider… I argue that the terms liberal and conservative are too ambiguous (unless fully-qualified, maybe?) for the purpose of this survey. For instance, take economic liberalism vs. social liberalism, now when conditioned on which type of "liberalism" you are referring to, you might end up with (arguably) more interesting… Furthermore, terms like "Socially Liberal AND Economically Conservative" make sense, but we all have slightly different definitions for these…

  9. Dave says:

    I'm guessing richer people are more socially conservative and economically liberal (because they have more to spend on themselves?), it would seem reasonable to attribute this to higher IQ = better capabilities of earning?, and also… higher IQ = more introverted (not shy, just less SEEMINGly less approachable). They have a greater sense of self esteem, some may consider this arrogance? (I'd say a rich person would CHOOSE who they go out with than say… a poor person, who would be fine getting laid by anyone).

    But of course, that's just speaking from experience.

    But it could also be a result of distribution… after all… we do not consider those richer than 50% of the population to already be rich… the rich always occupy the top end of the spectrum… less of themselves… socially more conservative… prefers more power for their choices… more personal pride… more socially conservative… cycle repeats