Do labels make you resemble the label?

Linking a poll purporting to show that Americans have grown more conservative, Glenn Reynolds asks a good basic question:

Hmm. Can this be true?
To that I'm almost tempted to sneer, "Yes it can!"

It seems bit counterintuitve that a more conservative America not only elected the most left wing president in United States history, but continues to approve of his job performance despite ruinous economic policies:

President Obama Job Approval
RCP Average
According to the data in an earlier poll, 40% of Americans consider themselves "conservative," so if we take these polls together that would mean that around 4% of conservatives approve of the job Barack Obama is doing, along with 100% of liberals and moderates.

And now we hear that everyone has gotten more conservative. (Which means Obama should be absolutely doomed in 2012, right?)

Might there be something that is being left out? What heightened my skepticism was a look at this supposedly comprehensive chart, which bore the title "2009 Detailed Political Ideology." I looked closely, and I even scrutinized the chart in detail. But for the life of me, I was unable to find myself on it!

Maybe I'm being paranoid and self-centered, but take a look for yourselves.


Where would I find "libertarian"? How about "libertarian conservative"? Yeah, I realize that to some, the latter term has a sellout ring to it, but I'm damned sure not going to call myself a "moderate." And unless I become a time traveler, I can't honestly call myself a liberal in this day and age.

Might I fall into the "no opinion" category? I'm afraid that would never fly -- not in the face of six years of setting forth my very detailed opinions in this blog. And why does it have to be "no opinion" instead of "none of the above"?

So while I might be all alone, I feel left out completely. While I've complained in the past about being "politically homeless," this feels like official certification.

OTOH, a good argument can be made that the study itself makes me more conservative by the simple mechanism of the labels. Because of this built-in bias, if I were called upon to participate in this poll, I would simply have to force myself into the conservative category -- with predictable consequences I discussed in an earlier post.

But never mind that. The point is that by having to say I am conservative, I become conservative (which is more conservative than I am) by the act of self labeling.

It's a bit like saying you're gay. Although the consequences are not quite the same, the fact is that just as saying you're gay will also tend to have the effect of making you more gay than you were, saying you're conservative will make you more conservative than you were.

MORE: Sean Kinsell takes issue with the label conundrum.

There almost always seems to be some sort of cognitive dissonance going on: I'm gay but I support gun rights, I've spent most of my adult life abroad but I supported the Iraq invasion, I majored in comparative literature but I support Israel, or whatever. There has a to be an explanation, and the easiest one to to reach for is "conservative." And it wouldn't bother me were it not for the fact that I then become accountable for some nasty thing Glenn Beck (whom I don't listen to) said the other day, or what have you.
And in the case of these manipulative polls, not only is "conservative" the easiest to reach for, it's the only one to reach for.

posted by Eric on 07.07.09 at 10:18 AM


Obama Presidential Approval Index slips to -3

33% of the nation's voters now Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Thirty-six percent (36%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -3.

M. Simon   ·  July 7, 2009 3:06 PM

I too am a "conservative libertarian" ... or "libertarian conservative".

David Avera   ·  July 7, 2009 4:54 PM

Why are so many proud to call themselves moderates? A third position is rarely more correct than the other two.

I suspect it's a popularization of Hegel and Marx's spurious analysis: thesis/antithesis leading to "synthesis," or tyranny.

Thoughtful people know that there is no middle ground between right and wrong, and that in any compromise with evil, no matter how trivial, evil wins.

Brett   ·  July 8, 2009 8:13 AM

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