The Democrats Are Doomed, or How A ‘Big Tent’ Can Be Too Big

March 30th, 2010 by Christian Rudder

Time and again in American politics, Republicans have voted as a unit to frustrate our disorganized Democratic majority. No matter what's on the table, a few Democrats will peel away from the party core; meanwhile, all Republicans will somehow manage to stay on-message.

Thus, they caucus block us.

. . .

Articles noting this phenomenon anecdotally appear all the time, and despite the recent hopeful spate of Democratic victories, it's undeniable that the Republicans form an exceptionally effective opposition party. Today, we're going to perform a data-driven investigation of why this might be—and discover some fascinating things about the American electorate along the way. Our data set for this post is 172,853 people.

A Picture Of Our Political Evolution

I should start off by pointing out that the Left/Right political framework we're usually handed is insufficient for a real discussion, because political identity isn't one-dimensional. For example, many Libertarians have Left-leaning ideas about social policy, and Right-leaning ideas about personal property. Where do they fit on a single ideological line?

There are many methods of looking at the political spectrum, but the best way I've come across is to hold social politics and economic politics separate, and measure a person's views on each in terms of permissiveness vs. restrictiveness on a 2-dimensional plane. Like so:

As you can see, I've superimposed some 'party' labels, to add some real-world context. One could quibble with the names I've chosen, but I feel that, in a broad sense, they fit: Democrats have a permissive social outlook and believe in restricting the financial sector (through regulation); Republicans essentially believe the reverse. In their corner, Libertarians would like to end restrictions across the board, and, down in the lower right, we have people who prefer that all aspects of life be guided by some authority: religion, the government, whatever.

. . .

Now, with the definitions out of the way, we can get to some information. We'll begin with the most basic measurement: people's economic and social values. Because our data set is so comprehensive, we can even measure the change in these values with age.

If these lines were of a single person's lifespan, they'd contain a neat little story:

  • Both socially and economically, teenagers prefer an anything-goes type situation.
  • But as these teenagers grow up a bit and enter the job market, they quickly develop progressive economic ideas: perhaps a bit of "levelling" seems pretty good when you're staring up the professional ladder from the bottom rung. Meanwhile, their youthful live-and-let-live social philosophy begins to fade.
  • In their late 20s, they start making real money. Economic progressivism goes out the window, preferably out the window of a building with a doorman. As the adult mind turns to more material matters, social views don't change that much.
  • Finally, after the mid-40s, retirement looms. Our former teenagers check their collective 401(k)s and think, you know what, let's all get checks from the government. Social views take a hard turn for the more restrictive. At the end of the journey, economic and social views are again in agreement—only this time on the other side of the philosophical line!

I realize I'm taking a bit of poetic license with this stuff, but the above sketch still illustrates generational differences very well.

Either way, the numbers really come alive when we take a more solid intellectual step and plot social and economic beliefs together as an ordered pair. So doing, we can get a picture of how a person's total political outlook relates to his age.

With the above plot in hand, we can go even further with our data. The American two-party system creates an interesting mathematical situation: we can bisect our political planea two-party system allows us to bisect the political plane and see which party more closely reflects a given age group's ideology simply by asking which side of the line the group lands on. People sitting in the upper right half should vote, in theory, for Democrats. People in the lower left, for Republicans. Like so:

The Implication of Our Two-Party System

But of course this line assumes that social and economic values are equally important to a person and that his priorities don't change as he gets older. Obviously, neither is the case in real life. So let's see exactly how those political priorities change with age and do even more with our graph.

Digging deeper into OkCupid's matching database, we find the following new information on people's political priorities:

The way this data bears on our political plane is mathematically cool, but arctan(x) really has no place in a political discussion (except in Flatland!), so I'll just summarize bya change in political priorities causes our
dividing line to rotate
saying a shift towards either social or economic issues causes our Democrat/Republican dividing line to rotate about the center of our political plane. Here's exactly how it happens; this chart is basically the sum of all the information we have shown so far. Use the slider to step through the people's ages.

The Effects Of Changing Political Priorities
age

From this animation, we can consolidate all that we've learned about each group into a single plot. The blue dots are the ages likely to vote Democratic, the red are the Republican ones. In case you're keeping score, there are 21 blue dots and 22 red ones.

People's Ultimate Political Tendencies

This detailed portrait of the electorate jives well with the actual exit poll numbers from the last few Presidential elections. The New York Times has collected this data and present it very well, if you have time to take a look. Here's the part that concerns us:

To wind up this section, I'd like to take one last look at our political plane, with a final set of overlays that I think are most illuminating:

The polygons I've drawn over the dots are called convex hulls; they are a geometric way to measure the spread of a set of points. In this case, the hulls tell us the size of the ideological/age base of our political party.

As you can see, the Democrat's base is much larger. And the range of political values it encompasses is vast. Here's party-to-party comparison in tablet form, for easy digestion:

Unlike in many things, size here is a liability. Yes, a political party that's this wide-open is probably a more intellectually stimulating organizationideological size is a liability to be a part of, and it has a lot more potential power. But bigger base is also just that many more competing viewpoints Democratic politicians must cater to and that many more different viewpoints in play among the actual elected officials themselves.

Also, well over half of the Democratic party's hull lies outside of its upper-right-hand ideological home, implying that you've got many groups of people who might tend Democratic, but who have disagreements with the party on particular issues and could defect, should the slant of the party or the country tilt the wrong way. On the other hand, the Republicans are concentrated in the lower-left-hand corner. This red cluster has multiple, apparently self-reinforcing, reasons to vote with their party, giving the Republicans both a more fervent power base and a little more ideological wiggle-room along either the social or economic axis.

So when you read about the thousands of Catholic nuns who recently came out in favor of health care reform, it's easy to get excited about being a Democrat. But do you think those same people will side with us on things like gay marriage? Or abortion rights? Hull no!

. . .

That's the crux of the problem: Republicans cohere, Democrats don't. After the above mathematical dissection of the political plane, let's take our conclusion in hand and see how it plays with other dating data we have.

Issues, Matching, and Politics

This whole Republican/Democrat situation reminds me (as it surely reminds you) I think of
Mamluks sometimes
of when Napoleon and his few French divisions dispersed the vast Mamluk horde by the banks of the Nile. Like an army, a political party must be coherent and disciplined to be effective, and these qualities alone can carry the day, even against greater numbers.

Let's look at ideological distributions on a few hot-button issues and see how the Democrats are spread out and exposed. We'll start with views on abortion. This chart shows the opinions of social conservatives and social liberals. Everything is as you'd expect: liberals are pro-choice; conservatives pro-life.

Now let's look at how economic liberals and conservatives view abortion:

Again, the conservatives are strongly pro-life. But the economic liberals have widely distributed views. A solid portion of the Democratic economic base actually sides with Republicans on this issue. It's those nuns again!

While the two conservative curves are nearly congruent, the liberals ones are totally different. The takeaway, the Republican advantage, is this: economic conservatives and social conservatives agree, while the liberal halves of these spectra don't. Furthermore, the purple overlap—in a sense "the swing vote"—is largely on the conservative side!

We see same pattern repeated again and again. Here, for example, is a look at the 'Gay Marriage' issue:

. . .

Finally, I want to wrap up this jam with a look at OkCupid's specialty: matching people up. Our final analysis will be to exclude explicitly political questions and see how groups of different ideologies match with themselves; i.e. how compatible they find each other.

Below is a matrix showing person-to-person match percentages for the various points in the political plane:

How Points In The Political Plane
Match With Themselves

As you can see, Republicans get along with each other quite a bit better than Democrats do, even on non-political issues. We've used match percentages like these to facilitate over 100,000 marriages in the last few years; their accuracy is pretty well-tested. If you're wondering, the site-wide average is 60.

Anyway, we calculate these numbers by posing a series of questions to our users. Just to give you a sense of what these questions are like, here are the top three most important (by user vote):

1. If you had to name your greatest motivation in life so far, what would it be?

  • Love
  • Wealth
  • Expression
  • Knowledge

2. Which makes for a better relationship?

  • Passion
  • Dedication

3. Are you happy with your life?

  • Yes
  • No

I find groupthink frightening. But that fact that Democrats can't get together on some multiple-choice Q & A speaks volumes about why they struggle with the infinite possibilities of government.

190 Responses to “The Democrats Are Doomed, or How A ‘Big Tent’ Can Be Too Big”

  1. MikeH says:

    The charts and commentary are a great read. I do believe more consideration should be given to independents. As we grow older and gain more life experiences we tend to judge the man or woman for what they can accomplish, not their party(case in point-Houston’s new mayor). Knowing the country has a large religous base is why social values change. When you are young and idealistic all things appear possible. When you get older and hold your first child in your hands and feel their beating heart, social issues like abortion take a dive. As for other social agendas (back to the religous base that spans all parties) “gay” is a biological and/or statistical aberration in the species. It has been around for a long time and has polarized communities through the ages. It will take an equally long time over generations for views to change. Behaviors outside a generalized bell curve create conflict. The religous base must reconcile its beliefs, therefore creating tremendous internal battles for the heart and soul. The old adage hate the sin, love the sinner plays out nightly in homes in every walk of life across America. Reconcilliation, me thinks, generally prevails in family. I say this thinking back to when I helf my first child, and when I sing my grandchildren to sleep.

    (smiling) As an over 50 republican I grow weary of generalizations about how bad of a person, or stupid I must be. I spent 30 years supporting my family. I don’t like increased taxes at the zenith of my career when I am working toward retirement. In the current economy retirement is an illusion, and free health care is being paid for by me. As you all get older and find that your taxes continue to increase you may find they increase faster than your income. At that point you may consider changing your views on who has to pay for things. I once asked a very senior gentleman where the phrase “no free lunch” came from. He laughed and said the Egyptians, after their slaves left.

    I guess democrats may be doomed because the republican base will stay coherent as it gets older and more conservative, bringing along with it many more independents.

    Cheers,

  2. Greg Gauthier says:

    The fundamental problem with political identity quizzes, is that all the really do is map out various unconscious reaction-formations a person has accumulated in his life. Conclusions taken on, without any genuine analysis of the premises that led to them.

    People carry baggage from their upbringing and early life that set the pendulum swinging, and until and unless they can look into themselves, ask themselves who they are and why they got that way, why they really believe the things they believe, what genuine value their friends bring into their lives, and so forth, they will only ever be relatively meaningless dots on a line graph like this.

    I have spent a lifetime struggling with just these questions, and my trajectory doesn’t even fit on this chart. Where is anarchism on this chart, for instance? Why should we assume that statism is not simply a default, but an expectation? It makes sense that it would be, given what I’ve said above, but it’s just disappointing that an ostensibly open-minded organization like OKCupid is itself also not open-minded enough to ask this “why” question.

  3. Skip says:

    You sure wasted a lot of time saying nothing substantial.

    It’s very simple.

    Too many woman have been buying the Oprah insanity. She’s a very unhappy person who bounces from expert to expert, endorse the vicious socialist currently in office, who is as unhappy a soul as she is, Because I can see insanity so easily, THAT is why I’m a Republican.

    But try showing sanity to an American population that is on some kind of medicinal or illegal drug (seems like the majority), and women who can’t make up their minds and follow fools like Oprah, a narcissist who has to put herself on the cover of her own magazine every month.

    Most Democrats in the US Congreas right now are toxic, evil people. It didn’t used to be that way.

  4. AZDuffman says:

    Interesting how you used some math to make your points. But I must disagree with how you protray the parties. It is the GOP that is the main party and the democrat party that is an “opposition” party. True, right now the opposition party has control. But look at how the parties are made up.

    The GOP is about “traditional” values. As you pointed out, GOP members, including myself, get along because we all believe in a few main issues of individual rights (such as to own a gun); a strong national defense; American Exceptionalism; and personal responsibility. The average conservative is “right-libertarian” wanting the government to more leave them alone than anything else. except for the Tea Party Movement I have not seen much “activism” on the part of conservatives in my lifetime.

    Now take the Democrat Party. There is a pro-abortion faction. There is a union faction. There are the gun-control people. There are envrionmenatalists. The list goes on, but I do not need to for making my point. While “gun rights” and “personal responsibility” mesh pretty well; what do “pro-abortion” and “envrionmentalism” have in common? Very little when compared to the former. When you ask a UAW member to support “envrionmentalism” he may see his job in jeopardy.

    Thus while the average group of Republicans all tend to believe in the same things; the democrats are a series of coalitions of, “I’ll support your cause if you support mine.”

    And that, my friends, is an opposition party. It is also why Every democrat US President elected since after LBJ has come to power due to an “accident” on the part of the GOP or other. (Carter after Watergate; Perrot siphoning votes from Bush41; Obama after a financial collapse and public hatred of Bush43.)

    But like I said, I liekd seeing it done with something measurable.

  5. Greg Gauthier says:

    Case in point —^

  6. Daniel Hendricks says:

    Very well done, reminds me of political theory about pyschology of presidents over 200 years of america and proactive, vs reactive. You did a great job covering 4 of the 6 political partys. However you mentioned health care. The problem in america is that Republicans and Democrates, Libertarians and independents are only 4 parties and we are actually in the center of the political line.

    You totally missed 2 other political party’s, which are extremely important in todays world and dealing with health care reform. They are the communist and socialist party’s. The central four are all capititalist though, vs these othere two which are actually an economic theory of society and politics.

    Now I can name 2 famous socialist that are in office now and recently that actually claimed to be DEMOCRATS: BaracK Obama and the Late Senator Ted Kennedy.
    People forget that before democrats and republicans, there was the TORRY’s and the Wigs. They where the right and left in 1776. Then The Republican/Democratic party kicked out the one group in the 1800’s befor the civil war and this new party won the presidental election.

    Thier canadate was President Abraham Lincoln of the Republican / Democratic party, I bet you folks didn’t know that. They took the lead though and the torry and wigs party where replaced as the 2 majority partys. Then the democrats, split off from the Republican party do to their opposition of repeal of slavery. After all the republicans and wigs where the Northern conservatives, and the minority independent / democratic party instead of agreeing with the majority and making slavery illegal, they left the Union and the civil war started.

    President lincoln with out the southern 13 states to oppose him was able to pass the amendment to the constitution nullifying hundreds and hundreds of laws on property rights in the south. After all a negro was property, not a person, and that was the law, until he was granted freedom by his master.

    Healthcare is like Slavery, it is the issue that could destroy this wonderful country. come to my site, http://www.healthcareamendement2010.com and read more. (will be live after 4/15/2010) I am filing my political action committee paperwork with the FEC (Federal Election Commision) this week.

  7. T says:

    How do you know that this is an age issue and not a generation issue? I must have missed that part.

  8. Ian says:

    Are the 700,000 people in this data set all OKCupid users or is this data based on numbers that go back sixty years? I’m wondering if it’s a correct conclusion to say that as a person gets older he or she tends toward the bottom right of the grid like the data shows. Or is it possible that contemporary 60somethings are in the bottom right of the grid but contemporary 20somethings, when sixty, will remain in the top left or top right? Basically I guess if the data set is just culling from people on OKCupid at this moment it is difficult to say that 18 year olds today will follow the same path as someone who was 18 sixty years ago. The world’s a very different place. So I guess in sixty years we’ll see if those of us in our twenties now are authoritarians in our sixties, otherwise there may be other socio-economic contributors to the shift in attitude with aging that we’ve seen so far.

  9. Memoriter says:

    EJ, Thank you. I couldn’t have put it better, myself.

    “OKC is absolutely not the place for political commentary. The subject is far to complex for speculation by managers or programmers at OKC. Their comments, while seductive, lack scientific rigor and are, furthermore, inappropriate on a website like this.”

    This is a free dating website, not a politically polarizing talk-radio show. Get this
    off the site, before more people read, become insulted and leave.

  10. zelrik says:

    My personnal interpretation:

    – The last graph clearly shows that republicans do not favor diversity as they all agree on everything.
    – There is a strong obvious correlation between age and well… values. The interpretation has to be done with a lot of care however. A lot of effects are at play and I do not like the simple explanation given above, it’s way too naive.

  11. Thomas says:

    I noticed the arctan(x) kind of relationship, also. However, I’m kinda thinking that there’s a possible lack of data beyond the 35 year old mark, which would make sense due to this site being mostly used for dating. If there was data available from another site that dealt with an older crowd, it might fill in the odd cusps that are found in the older crowd.

    Another explanation for the oddities of the People’s Ultimate Political Tendencies could be two populations being present. I know of two things that might contribute to those being nearly 60 tending to democrats. The draft for Vietnam and the economy’s strength under Bill Clinton.

    One last idea. Those between the ages of 18 and 30 probably remember Bush very well in their minds. Especially how some of them found themselves becoming college drop-outs due to finances, found the job market a little competitive even with decent education, and a certain lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

  12. Dee says:

    How about we stop with the partisanship? Everyday we are fed the false Right/Left paradigm. News isn’t even covered anymore unless they can throw in some angle of conflict, and turn it into some sports spectacle with it being the Dems vs the Reps. It’s crazy, and it is ruining this country. We can’t get anything accomplished anymore because we are too divided, and it seems as though that’s the way Congress prefers it. Whatever happened to doing things for the greater good, and not being so worried about teams, and scorecards?

  13. masha says:

    The responses to this post are fascinating. Who knew that the democratic party could be explained as just another facet of the Oprah effect. Brilliant!

    These are great posts. I wish I could move to New York and apply for your job, because I would love to spend my time mining your database (why does that sound dirty?). I particularly like your walk through ideological space with age. But, and perhaps I missed the explanation, is it right to interpret this as the evolution of a single person? Aren’t you showing data that confounds age effects of individuals with generation effects?

  14. Jsuitn says:

    Wow! It’s amazing that anybody could kill there child or think it was okay to! If anybody ever told me that over one whole percent of people on this planet could think that was okay I would had been shocked. But look, years of brain washing and coming up with non logical logic to give an excuse to kill and almost half the people are on bored! This is remarkable. And they are upset that they are loosing? Look how much they are winning! Look how many back up baby killing. They should be happy that they have so many on there said. And for gay rights. We all know that is wrong to. You can all feel it. You know it. It is inside you.

  15. Refflection says:

    Dude. This article so kicks ass. And kudos for the shoutout to Flatland! Please write more, you rock.

  16. RL says:

    Am I (an independent) the only one who thinks that this study is really applicable only to Christian (and then mostly Protestant), non-Hispanic white Americans? Given the American Right’s infamously long history of ethnic/racial and religious bigotry (including acts of hatred perpetrated or at least enforced by practically every level of government in the United States), I seriously doubt that the average black American, Jewish American, Hispanic American (except one of Cuban descent, for the most part), etc. would be so inclined to be politically conservative no matter how old, how wealthy, or even how religiously and/or morally conservative that person gets, and I get the impression that political conservatives within those parts of the US population are clearly exceptions to the rule. Should we really be so suprised, then, that black people as rich as Oprah or ethnically Jewish people as rich as investor George Soros (who survived the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary) tend to be “limousine liberals”?

    Also, while the Republicans and the American Right in general benefit right now from a more cohesive support base, I think that, a few decades (or even a few years) from now, demographic trends may overwhelm that cohesion. Specifically, the US Census Bureau expects that non-Hispanic whites will become a minority of the US population by 2042. Like it or not, as long as the majority of non-White and/or Hispanic Americans are so inclined to vote for Democratic and/or progressive politicians, we Americans may very well be facing a prospect of the Left and the Democratic Party being a permanent majority at the national level. Thus, it should be obvious that if the Repbulican Party really cares about preventing the Democrats from enjoying a relative monopoly on national political power in the future, then Republican and/or conservative Americans will need to learn how to be much more persuasive toward certain significant groups outside of their current support base.

  17. ;Rhoade says:

    Will Fox be carrying an analysis of this anytime soon? hee-hee

  18. Brandon says:

    I liked this, but I’m not convinced. To make these kinds of claims you’d have to know the ideological progression for each individual in different periods of history. Just because young adults are now mostly libertarian/democrat doesn’t mean they were fifty years ago.

  19. Michael says:

    I’ve never understood why the Republicans won the elections during the Bush Jr Administration when to me a UK resident the Democrats had superior and sensible policy. That was until yesterday when I seen the TV debate between George and Gore. What was Gore doing given George W an aggressive stare down, did he think he could bully his way into government with violence?

    George W was always made out to be an evil man here in the UK in the press but I dread to think what the world would have looked like after Gore was done bullying it.

  20. Stephen says:

    Couldn’t much of the cohesion in the Republican party be put on one axis: respect/desire for authority? Support for the military, for economic elites, for restrictions imposed on abortion? The alliance of religion, capitalism, small government EXCEPT the military (which tends over 50% of the non-social-security non-medicare that neither party will touch), less care for whether babies have health-care but willingness to impose rules on women — those don’t fit together except under a respect for authority/power/order. This explains more simply why economic conservatives are aligned on Pro-life, but economic liberals as usual don’t fit together. And explains why both parties have complex big-tents but the Republicans respect authority at a political level as well: Republican voters respect a loyal politician who sticks with the party, Democrats respect one that thinks for themselves, so that’s how they vote.

  21. idealise says:

    Wow. This post convinced me to sign up for an OkCupid account. It’s worthy of — and indeed better than — even some of FiveThirtyEight’s posts. Fantastic job.

  22. Jack says:

    I want to see the “How economic and social values change with age” graph 5 years from now.

    If the author is interpreting the data correctly the shape won’t change very much. If the curve shifts to the right then it means the next generation of voters is moving towards libertarianism.

  23. Loren says:

    Love this. Can you divide things across Libertarian/Authoritarian boundaries and do the same analysis? I’ve always been curious about why the Libertarian party isn’t stronger.

    Thanks!

  24. Mike Colbert says:

    If this information was not written for a class assignment in college, he probably has……….. no life.

  25. Ryan W. says:

    I realize the intent here was to make a few generalizations and not to sweat the details, But I’d like to sweat the details a bit. There’s a fine line between being socially permissive and enforcing mandates which are viewed by the enactor as socially permissive, which I’d consider ‘authoritarian.’

    To use an apropos example; eHarmony, a private company, was sued for not doing same sex matching. (The judge told them to settle or he would rule against them, so they settled.) I know a lot of people on the left who are okay with using the courts in this fashion. Support for lawsuits like this conflate an authoritarian social mandate for servicing specific populations with a lassiez faire concept of “negative rights.” There’s probably a correlation between the two, of course, since rejection of free association, informed consent and personal responsibility as the basis for economic interaction would easily lead to stronger support for progressive economics and also social regulation. (And those favoring progressive economics would be more likely to focus on market failures to justify taxation and regulation, in a kind of cycle.) But “people should be allowed to…” is not the same as “people should be forced by law to accommodate…” Just because the Hilton doesn’t provide a Eucharist service doesn’t mean that it “discriminates against Christians, who are a protected group.” Failure to keep a kosher kitchen doesn’t mean the restaurant discriminates against Jews, even if such a setup means Orthodox Jews can’t use the restaurant. This is especially true when many Republican candidates have taken the same public stance as Democrats on gay rights issues; that they’d support civic unions. Republicans can easily be found who support liberty for those in same sex relationships. We’re not talking about a Loving v. Virginia situation where the couple is hauled off to jail. Rather, we’re talking about if private institutions should be compelled to behave in a certain fashion to accommodate private individuals. Republican and Democrat are not the best standin for Conservative and Progressive.

    I don’t think the government or laws should discriminate based on sex, race, or national origin. But I’m skeptical of forcing private entities to follow the same standards, via threat of lawsuits.

    In short, I think many progressives are more authoritarian than they’re willing to admit to, and are fine with authoritarianism when it coincides with their values.

  26. Apollo846 says:

    The factor with the strongest correlation between social conservatism is age, as is implied by the graph. However, that doesn’t mean that as one gets older, they become more socially conservative. You’re taking a correlation and assuming that it’s causal. What I think is more likely is that the general society has become more socially liberal in the past century, so that is why young people are much more likely to be socially liberal. I can’t say for sure, but I doubt that the young socially liberal people of today will get more socially conservative as they get older; it’s just that when they get older, the young will be even more socially liberal than they were (if the trend keeps going).

  27. heather Waller says:

    so, whats with the website being down?

  28. John says:

    most people happy == social and economical centrism

  29. jon says:

    The problem I always see when people compare voters with each party is generalizations that the majority of the population seems to think are true but in reality aren’t. For instance the assumption that Republicans are for lower taxes and Democrats are for higher taxes. In reality it’s not that simple. Republicans tend to lower taxes for the rich, yet raise taxes on the middle class. Even Reagan who is still portrayed as someone that lowered taxes for us…actually raised taxes on the middle class substantially. Oddly enough Obama has actually decreased taxes on the middle class a slight bit while so far not raising any taxes.

    The problem here is always repeated. People base these types of writings on what they were told happened (Reagan lowered taxes for middle class) without ever checking on what actually happened (Reagan raised taxes on the middle class). When writing a post like this we treat what politicians say as though it’s what they did, when in reality it tends to be completely different. Voters make the same mistake, just like the commenter MikeH. I’ll bet you anything he voted for Reagan both times thinking he would be helping to keep his taxes low by doing so, when Reagan ended up raising his taxes instead. Still to this day he probably doesn’t realize that his taxes went up. Most people never get the facts and then we tend to base these comparisons on what people think happened and what people think each party DOES when in reality it’s just what they SAY.

  30. John314 says:

    Very nice site!

  31. Dana says:

    That first graphic is terrible. ‘Democrat’ and ‘Republican’ are not political philosophies and do not belong anywhere near that graph. Even if the considerable overlap between the two did not exist, it still would not change the fact that they are real-world organizations whose official platforms are influenced by the particulars of the country at any given time; while there are (for example) libertarian and socialist parties, no one in their right mind would suggest that socialism is defined by whatever the socialist party is running as its platform this year.

    Moreover, both mainstream parties have a “big tent.” Log Cabin Republicans are not evangelicals, evangelicals are not libertarians, and libertarians are not part of Sarah Palin’s cult of personality. To suggest this is a problem for just one of the mainstream parties is to ignore reality.

  32. Dean says:

    The great humorist Will Rogers said it 75 years ago in 1935: “I belong to no organized political party – I’m a Democrat”. Nothing has changed…

  33. XYZZY says:

    Didn’t the OKCupid research substitute
    a current snapshot of various ages
    in a way that might be mistaken for the
    natural progression through life
    of an individual?

    That would fall apart based on the
    life experiences of older people
    that younger people may never have.

    And experiences that todays younger
    people have that todays elders will
    never have.

    My grandma like vast numbers of others
    survived the 1930’s Great Depression and
    World War II shortages.

    Her conservatism was forever changed.

    I have never experienced those things, yet.

    I fully expect to experience even worse
    in the next few years.

    Her life curve would reflect that when she was 30.
    Mine will reflect the coming storm in my 50’s.

    My point, however is that it’s just a snap shot of
    positions at different ages NOW and could
    easily be mistaken for a natural progression
    through some individual’s life, which it is not.

  34. Richard Robertson says:

    Some factors this essay leaves out are the relative sizes of each age group versus the total population, and the percentage of each age group that tends to vote. The tendencies of a given age group have no meaning with considering their political effectiveness.

  35. Neil Kandalgaonkar says:

    Are you doing any more political analyses, perhaps for the election?

    I’d be interested to know what correlations can be made between education or intelligence and stability of political perspective. It seems to me that if one doesn’t think deeply about politics, then one can drift across quadrants more easily.

  36. cokids says:

    “It seems to me that if one doesn’t think deeply about politics, then one can drift across quadrants more easily.” Interesting observation. i was wondering how I managed to hold onto my progressive views despite being 63 years old! Could this explanation be IT?

  37. Digger says:

    The Dems have the emasculating feminists under their tent. It’s a big contributor to why marriages in the Democratic camp have more strain & disagreement.

  38. Gerry Dunne says:

    It seems that with younger people they tend to think they can change the world and are more optimistic about certain things but as you get older reality sets in and thats when economic issues hit you. So it looks as if our younger generation consists mostly of Democrats who convert to Republicans as time goes on.

  39. Dems vs Repubs says:

    There are more registered Dems in the US than there are Repubs. It’s always been this way. This chart proves this. The Repubs are more organized and in agreement with each other- this is why they win what they win. Its difficult for Repubs to believe that the minority of the US thinks the way they do- but Ive heard this for years and years, that most people register as Dems. This is not new data, it just clarifies things for us. The smaller army is the more well-organized army, but not the bigger army. I realize that Repubs reading this may find it offensive, and I dont mean to be.. but reality is and always has been- most people dont think like you.

  40. ben says:

    I too question whether peoples’ political leanings change so much with age: how do you know that the average young person of the ’50s wasn’t more conservative than now? Indeed, this is the almost inevitable trend. While the USA has done an admirable job of resisting social and economic progress, the fact is that most histories are those of gradually increasing acceptance of liberal ideas. Every generation is a little bit more liberal than the last, and the Internet, with its amazing ability to facilitate dialogue and bring international news and science to those who seek it, is accelerating this progress. We are almost certain to become more liberal as our knowledge increases.

    ALMOST certain. The greatest counterexample I can think of–perhaps the greatest ever Republican victory–is that due to Al Ghazali. He was a Persian Muslim scholar in the 11th century. In The Incoherence Of The Philosophers he laid down the modern American Republican attitude to science and knowledge–all things happen due not to interactions and causes, but to the direct intention of God, and therefore to claim scientific knowledge or even to question how the universe works is sacrilige. This was perhaps pivotal in bringing to an end the Golden Age of Muslim culture and plunging the adherents of that religion into a dark age out of which they are just barely beginning to crawl. So I won’t claim that science and education and enlightenment and progress will ALWAYS triumph over religious indoctrination and bigotry and suppression, but I’ll claim that that’s USUALLY what happens. Hopefully the Republicans can’t do to Western civilisation what Al Ghazali did to the Middle East, but they’re sure as hell trying their best.

    I might be forced to admit that Reagan may have had some of Al Ghazali’s genius for setting conservative ideals in motion, only whereas the latter used the fear of God, the former used fear of being overtaken by foreign devils. His economic policies, and those of the Bushes, were a brilliant move that were almost guaranteed to cause the kind of economic collapse that we’ve been seeing for years now. Why brilliant? Since Americans have such short memories, economic collapse was almost guaranteed to help the Republicans no matter the cause–the more afraid people are, the easier they are to strip of equality and rights, and the less likely they are to want to contribute positively to society. What a beautiful vicious circle this caused! Republicans promise protection if we give them money, they strip us of civil liberties and of education and of health care and tell us to be more afraid, so we desire their protection even more. The Democrats offer us a sustainable society of equals (or did before Obama took power), but when you’re afraid, you don’t want to be surrounded by equals: you want to live under a strong authority. I think this speaks to the same desire that made Al Ghazali’s words so powerful: we must not seek to understand and learn and be curious about nature and science and humanity and beauty, but to obey. Only obedience will bring us safety.