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

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. Dave Nalle says:

    Fascinating analysis.

    Noting the want ad at the end, I have to point out that what you really need to hire is an editor to clean up the mangled grammar in this and other articles.


  2. Mike says:

    Your analysis is impressive, yet, I believe, based on false premises.

    The problem is that unless you understand WHY a person is saying what they say, you don’t know where there coming from. Study during the vietnam war; the students that were rebelling… 80% were coming from a mentality of “F-u, nobody tells me what you do” and the other 20% were coming from other moral grounds. (1. Our resources could be better used elsewhere or – 2. I can’t ethically kill another human being.)

    Note: There is a HUGE difference between these 3 viewpoints; there are hughly different worldview between them.

    Please read Ken Wilbers work. You’ll understand flatland, pre/post fallacy and the “myth of the given”.

  3. Bobby says:


    In fact for me, I would have no problem paying more taxes if all Americans could have access to free health care; a free college education at a State University; that a massive amount of federal dollars could be put into developing high speed rail,

    Look, I don’t know you so I’ll take you at your word, but I’ve met plenty of liberals who say the same thing that you’ve said but not one of them has actually followed through on their rhetoric by voluntarily sending an extra $5,000 per year to the IRS. They LOVE to talk like this because they can earn free reputation points without having to actually DO anything. It’s like conspicuous consumption, just in terms of reputation rather than material goods.

    The validity of a position doesn’t depend on forcing everyone to do it. As I noted, I’m assuming that you actually walk the walk, but most liberals I know want to force other people to sacrifice so that the liberal’s goals can be attained. If the goal is worthy, then its validity shouldn’t be dependent on coercing strangers to comply, it should inspire liberals to voluntarily tax themselves another 10%-20% per year and spend their own money on the goals that they think are important, especially when it comes to matters involving economic redistribution rather than funding public goods, like defense and law enforcement.

  4. Sampo Syreeni says:

    This sort of data mining and visualization is always neat stuff. I just wish I had the kind of dataset you guys possess. But since you’re open to new ideas…

    One exercise which might prove interesting would be to look at questions where people’s own answer isn’t covered in what they want from their ideal mate. I mean, there are certain questions like the dominance/submissive type ones where you’d expect an almost complete complementarity, and others like moral questions where you’d expect concordance. But I’m sure those expectation will be starkly broken in some cases. It’d be nice to see the “unexpected top 10″ — probably quite a lot of what you’d call hypocricy, there.

    Another interesting thing for a math geek to see, albeit most probably too heavy computationally, would be a full correlation matrix of all the questions against each other, or perhaps a low order dimensionality reduct of the whole set. Okay, the questions are categorical multiple choice with rather varying structures so that’s another complication. Anyways, if you could pull something like that off even at a smaller scale, like the top 100 most answered questions, I’m betting the results would be rather useful to you as well. I for one would think it’d be useful to e.g. sparsify the set where there are very strong correlations or to adaptively factor in such correlations when asking people new questions.

    Finally, since much of the census data is available even for free, there might be neat correlations or overrepresentations between that and your data set.

  5. Scott McConnell says:

    Cool and interesting. What about foreign policy? (and as an also important issue, immigration)For most of my life it’s been the governing issue.
    (I’ve voted in my life for McGovern, Carter, Reagan, Reagan, Bush, Perot, Buchanan, Kerry,Obama).

  6. David says:

    Interesting cross section, but the time series implication assumes much. This site has been around for a while, no? Do you not have valid time series data on 1,000+ users that extends over 5 years? Certainly this would give you good raw material for a panel data approach. Are generational trends not a valid competing explanation to fit the distribution of economic beliefs presented in your first chart? If not, please explain why 18 year olds are more economically conservative than 24 year olds (did they all read Atlas Shrugged their senior year of h.s.?)

    Kudos to the blog, you guys do neat AND interesting work. You obviously put work into this, but the logic feels tortured, which makes me wonder how the data was treated in your custody.

  7. Mike says:

    Who ever wrote the article with a title such as the one used, is surely republican. I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me. I couldn’t even tolerate reading most of the blog. The democrats’ came into the white house after the republicans’ and conservatives’ totally screwed the country over…and the blog author has the nerve to say the democrats’ are doomed????

    Obama and his cabinet have done more in the past two years to help fix the country then the republicans did in 8 years. One thing I will give the author is that the Republicans are standing united in their attempts to hold back Obama, but Obama has what the republicans don’t…Obama has a determined heart and a caring soul!

    Obama actually cares about the people! The republicans on the other hand, only care about lining their pockets. If you doubt that, all you need to do is watch MSNBC or CNBC! It is clear as day, for those who care enough to use their brains and not simply believe what ever their told!

    For those who believe the republicans and conservatives’ are their heroes, you seriously need to wake up!! The democrats’ may not be perfect and some of them may be shady, but most of them do the right thing! Plus, to err is human, when the error is an honest mistake that is!

  8. methusela says:

    I have always understood the appeal of libertarianism to be in the freedom one has to make their own decisions and run their own affairs. Some of my personal choices are actually more restrictive than any republican or democrat, however, they are not authoritarian in nature. Self restraint, personal responsibility for one’s actions etc. etc. These rate very high with me. My libertarian beliefs are seeded in the realization that so many of the failures of our current system are caused by gamalianesque, bureaucratic sludge that is worse than my artery build up after 300 buckets of fried chicken. I personally could have gotten a lot further if my dependency on the system hadn’t been forced upon me by stupid infrastructure. I am positive I am not alone in this, but many people have been lulled into a sort of sleep, in order to keep their powerful self-determinism at bay, as though it were an evil impetuous child that wreaks wanton destruction if let loose on the world to run its course. God Forbid!

    Remember, in a libertarian world, poor business practices are pursued by litigation just the same, and people assert their rights to purchase goods from the most suitable seller. ( This sounds conspicuously like capitalism… ) This does sometimes include the possibility of purchasing from a small competing company with nicer environmental practices, and fair business practices. People don’t realize how powerful their choices as consumers, (or even as users of products in some cases) can be.

    We are in this trouble, with our current system, in some ways, because we sought something outside of ourselves for solutions, namely big government. For example, its largely because of Medicare that the health care industry has such bloat to begin with. But, like any economic or social model libertarianism has its less than compassionate moments, and people don’t like to die when they don’t have the money. Myself included…

    There are solutions to every one of our problems, that a libertarian environment could give us. However, the sun doesn’t always shine for a libertarian, sometimes there’s the rain, the cold, the struggle, and the realization that most of our problems were still caused by our own lack of foresight and/or poor judgment. There’s not a lot of scapegoating in this camp, and the hardest thing to do sometimes is look yourself in the mirror and say, ” Damn, that was a really bad idea. “.

  9. Alphonse Bonanno says:

    As a Republican-leaning independent, I quite like these results. Not only because it says that there’s hope for the future of this country, but rather that there’s hope for me personally, as so long as I don’t settle down with a Democrat. They’s crazy.

  10. Dan says:

    Would you happen to have any links to these data? I’d like to see some specifics.

  11. Ben says:

    Following on the economic and political theme, how about an OKTrends blog on *economic class* – i.e. how much people’s match choices (in terms of response rate etc) are determined by a potential suitors’ earning level, education level, and occupation?

  12. walkerinthecity says:

    Once, again, fascinating and fabulous stuff. But step back in time and see if your headline holds up. As you say, you’re analyzing a point in time. But history moves inevitably through time and the world is very big. Two examples: Rome was hunky-dory for a time when the Roman army and empire were a well-disciplined (using your terminology, a “well-whipped” party/conscript/taxation) machine. But it ventured further and further afield, and had to conscript barbarians to keep the military (i.e., enforcement) levels up, and ultimately, well, had to retreat. All the way back from the far-flung parts of Europe, into itself, and then it imploded. Yes, it took a few decades. But still.

    Example two: Genghis Khan overran the known world. And then faced the problem: now what? How to keep all these people under the umbrella of “empire?” He took the yin approach: married his sons off into the four corners and merged gracefully (culturally and genetically speaking) into them, resulting in a calm and stable political system.

  13. Bryan Moncus says:

    “…It (political parties) serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another…”

    George Washingtons farewell adress, warning against the dangers of political parties.

    Very interesting graph.. and it only makes me feel even more weary of the party system..

    One by one our freedoms are lost from republicrats. You have two choices, Further loss of economic freedom or further loss of social freedom. Which do you choose?

    I personally would vote republican even though i havn’t voted yet, but thats only because with the economic problems democrats bring (like socialized health care) the amount of poverty in the united states will continue to grow and remain in poverty. (Not that capitalist socialism through insurance was good, but at least i could avoid having to go to the hospital and avoid the bill, now none of us will get decent healthcare because theres not enough to go around but we’ll all get the same fatass tab.)

    But on the other hand, then you have republicans like george bush who feed the anarchy by trying to label damn near half the US as criminals because of potsmoking by fighting the drug war. Which in turn, sends drug dealers running through our schools (the people who start doing drugs are generally people under 21, if you havn’t done it past that age chances are you never will.) getting kids hooked who grow up hooked.. Sell it in a god damn store like alchahol and it’ll put drug dealers outta business.( Not to mention the loss of freedom? Since when has people thought the governments job should be babysitting people? )

    so take your pick. either way we’re fucked.

  14. Rick says:

    I am absolutely astonished in how many people here actually believe in GOVT solving our problems when in fact they are the source of almost every issue that has made life so difficult for everyone.

    I get a lot of “I believe” from some of your PRO Govt / Democrat / Liberals yet, I don’t hear a lot of “I know”. Its nice to feel that what sounds perfect should be implemented but the cruel reality of nature is … its not.

    1. There is no such thing as free Health Care, or free anything for that matter.

    2. While the GOVT (both state & federal) should be responsible for a Military to “DEFEND” our soil, a Judicial System, and local Police/Fire Services, there is NOTHING else it can do better than the Private Sector.

    3. Socialism does NOT work. If it did, the School System would have implored a grading system that would have stripped A and B students of their Grades for the sake of the D and F students to assure everyone in class would pass.

    Think the A students would continue to study hard to only realize they’re taking B’s home?

    Think the poor students who studied a little would bother studying at all if they knew at worst they’re going to get by with a D+ vs. a C- ??

    Now imagine it wasn’t grades but your Salary?

    The GOVT has no money, it has no bottom line and it cannot know if it is doing a good or bad job at what it does. It can only TAKE money from one and give to another and do so inefficiently. It is why the Post Office losses Billions a Month, it is why service at the DMV sucks, and it is why Health Care reform will DRIVE costs through the roof. There is no competition, it is merely a monopoly. Govt Monopolies NEVER operate better than private Business.

    When a company fails, it runs out of money and goes bankrupt. When a GOVT program fails instead of folding, it just takes more tax payer money to keep it afloat.

    So why anyone here is a fan of GOVT helping its people, is beyond me. Unless you enjoy working 100% of Jan through May for Uncle Sam while you get only a fraction of the benefit of all that money taken from you; OR you’re one of those people who game the system and don’t work much at all. Then I understand why you’d like such a backwards system.

  15. Ass Fault says:

    Only two posts in and the Marxist bomb is dropped and only five more posts down before someone takes a jab at supposed youth naivete. And here I thought OK Cupid was too hip for Freepers and Beck fans.

  16. tencardspread says:

    Clearly this whole trend is from a Democratic slant. Which is fine, because people write and view things based on what they know….

    That said-Churchill has been quoted as saying: “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.” (some say he never said that) but the meaning holds true. The graphs above show it-it is proven in my own views of politics over the past 30 years or so (yes, I was very political starting at @ 10-12 years old-don’t get me started on Jimmy Carter, oh and I’ve been “blamed” for letting Clinton in the first time 😉

    My 20 year old is waaaay more conservative than I am and even most of her friends. She calls me the “crunchy-conservative” because, while I am vehemently pro-choice, I’m also pro-second amendment (having been held up at gun point, I know of why and what I speak in that regard).

    I also tend to vote on policies rather than party. Some say that’s fence sitting, but I think that’s how EVERYONE should vote.

    Down with labels and political parties!

  17. Caleb says:

    Neither Democrats nor Republicans can ever liberate the working-class population from capitalist slavery.

  18. Alex says:

    A few thoughts from a left-libertarian:

    Only 2 choices?? What bunk! The Democrats are merely the wing of the right-wing corporatist duopoly that pays lip service to 21st century ideas like women’s rights, sexual freedom, and diversity (but only lip service), while the Republicans offer the same over-arching policies under the veneer of belligerent 19th century Christian bigotry. Ultimately, their major policies (including the recent monstrous health insurance bailout… reform, my ass!) offer the same bleak picture to Americans of any political stripe: free trade (bye bye jobs), national security (bye bye civil liberties), endless war (bye bye ethical global standing), and forced allegiance to corporate entities like health insurance companies (hello Mussolini!).

    Regardless of its voting base’s sympathies, the Democratic Party clearly isn’t offering a real alternative to Republican rule; that would mean social democracy, respect for the rule of law, and a truly level economic playing field. Expanding our wars, letting our war criminals off scot-free, destroying public schools for the sake of breaking teacher’s unions, and forcing Americans to buy a private financial product without offering a free government alternative… Sadly, the policies of the Clinton and Obama administrations show that there IS no viable Left in the mainstream political scene today; Leftists have been “pragmatically triangulated” right under the bus as soon as Democrats have ridden their votes into office. The corporate ownership of the US runs both parties, and the idea that a D after someone’s name signifies any sort of liberalism or progressivism is a total fucking joke.

    It would be more useful to investigate what’s wrong with supporters of both parties; some mainstream liberal writers like Thomas Frank have already explored how Republicans use wedge issues to gain the support of working class, socially conservative white voters, despite being diametrically opposed to the class interests of these voters, but I’m sure there is a whole wealth of new material on that subject. Likewise, it would be worthwhile to investigate why progressive minded social democrats continue to vote for a party that has seen the financial boon of Reaganomics, and decided to hop on the gravy train as well. I’m starting to wonder who’s dumber; after all at least the reactionary GOP base is being distracted by relatively insignificant issues… Yet Democratic voters seem to be all too eager to lap up the shit sundaes that closet reich-wingers like Clinton(s), Gephardt, Kerry, Durbin, Daschle, Reid, Pelosi, Emmanuel, and Obama try to sell them on the very issues they claim to care about: social justice, peace, and liberty… Case in point being the aforementioned lobbyist-written health insurance bailout, sold quite disingenuously as “health care reform” to a base that now seems to care more about being on the winning side of elections/debates than actually implementing real progressive policy. In a way, I am more sympathetic to those who voted for GWB in 2004 out of fear of seeing two dude’s kissing than to those who ignored Obama’s neoliberal credentials and admitted admiration of Ronald Reagan and just assumed he was a lefty because of his name and skin color.

    Either way, voters for both major parties have blind spots, points of ignorance, and delusions about the political pragmatism of the “lesser of two evils” (here’s a hint: it’s still evil!). The more important issues facing the US today are not partisan politics but the slow encroachment of an elitist empire over our republic… A process that seems to have begun at the turn of the 20th century just when our republic started to actually represent the whole population, rather than simply the white gentry, and has been accelerated by the massive war profiteering and neocolonialism dating back to WWI or even the Spanish-American War. From the creation of the Federal Reserve, to FDR allowing the attack on Pearl Harbor, to the CIA’s assassination of numerous left-leaning domestic political leaders in the 60’s, to the Patriot Act, it seems clear that the ruling elite have spent the past century or so implementing policies designed for their own economic and political benefit, at the expense of the American people as a whole.

    What will it take for the people to leave behind two parties fully owned and operated by a global corporatist elite? Is reform even possible within the current control structure, and with the general population being denied even a full range of political debate in the major media owned by this same elite??

  19. Pat McGee says:

    I don’t understand something here. It looks to me like you’ve used age cohorts and tried to present the results as if you had used a longitudinal study. Your data shows that the average 25-year-old is in the upper-right box, and the average 40-year-old in the lower-left box. Then you further claim that the 25-year-old of today will become in 15 years like the average 40-year-old of today. From what I can see, you didn’t present any data on how people move, if indeed they do. So, it looks to me like this claim is not supported.

    This kind of thinking got the Army in trouble years ago. They knew that kids drink sodas and grownups drink coffee. Then the Pepsi generation came along, and a lot of them never made the switch. So, out in the field in training exercises, the troops wanted cold sodas and got hot Joe. A good time was _not_ had by all.

    What did I miss here?

  20. BV says:

    This study relies on that the 4 quadrant chart given is an accurate representation of where the democrats and republicans truly exist, and where the population as a whole exists. Currently the democrats are far more conservative than previous incarnations, so are the republicans for that matter. Obama and Clinton are far right of FDR, Johnson or Kennedy. Ford nominated Justice Stevens who was considered middle of the road conservative in the 70’s but an extreme liberal by today’s standards. Nixon set wage and price controls, pulled us out of Vietnam, and also ended the gold standard. So the line down the middle does seem to shift from decade to decade. The position on the chart that the political parties, occupy changes, and the chart itself warps.

    Lets also consider that while Democrats disagree a lot, they exists under a philosophy that its ok to agree to disagree, which holds them together in a lose but ongoing coalition. They bicker and strain but they don’t ever fragment. The republicans however go for a lock step approach which is highly effective when everyone is in lock step, but has divisive fighting and fragmentation when there is internal disagreement. They don’t bicker they divorce parts of themselves.

  21. flwyd says:

    The high coherence in the lower left of the graph is probably because social conservatives across the U.S. share a lot of religion and culture. But in general, social conservatives are insular: a social conservative/economic liberal Christian from South Carolina doesn’t seem an especially good match with a social conservative/economic liberal Confucian from Guangdong.

  22. Mike says:

    This study has one major flaw: It assumes that the landscape of okcupid users reflects dynamic political positions. I think it more accurately reflects the reality of the last 30 years of Americans shifting toward a more free market position and restrictive/hawkish political vagaries of the conservative movement. But that same position is shifting back to more traditional market controls, diplomatic engagement, and personal freedoms.
    There are PLENTY of grandparents and GGPs out there who are super liberal. But because of the population explosion post WWII, you will see MORE new grandparents who are politically conservative simply because it was that generation that was most impacted by the conservative “bulge”.
    It is impossible to predict the future. Maybe a more liberal future awaits an up and coming eventual older generation.
    But thank God, most Americans are moderates!

  23. Ron says:

    Dem’s suck! At least the elected officials do; not the voting constituants. They are regular people living like anyone else. Dem’s are trying to take care of everyone and it can’t work. People need to kick in and help themselves when ever possible. I’m a republican and I’ve been down, needed help, but I’ve also worked my fair share and contributed to the funds for the needy.

    But, I’m not a diehard right winger; I believe gays have as much right to marry as anyone; a woman has the choice to have an abortion (but she should consider the fathers rights, too. That is, if he deserves the right.)…so I guess I’m more a moderate. Government shouldn’t but in where they have no right to. ‘Obamacare’ will bring this country down, but he’s been on that track his whole brief, but destructive tenure.

    Most of the national level polticians are about the worst picks we could have. Term limits need to be set for Congress, the Senate, AND THE SUPREME COURT!!! No-one should be allowed to live a life as a career politician. Julius Ceasar was…see what it got him, same as JFK. People will eventually say enough is enough.

  24. Dave Mosher says:

    While I’m really intrigued by the data you’ve crunched here, I’m with Pat on his confusion:

    Any idea how people move as they age?

    As you interpret the graphs, you suggest that most people snake along through the four quadrants — but I would beg to differ. I don’t see concrete evidence of that.

    Can you back this up with anything other than assumption (i.e. same data from same people taken over __ years of time and compared for significance of change), or is your data set restricted to one snapshot of time?

  25. David Atkins says:

    This is beautiful analysis–but there’s one fatal flaw. If views changed over time as you state, then people should shift political parties two or three times in their lives.

    But in fact, they don’t. Typically, a person stays with a political party their entire life from their early twenties onward.

  26. Robert says:

    I just love it when people that are educated, make really stupid comments.

    Like paying more taxes for free healthcare,

    Or, ignoring the fact that we knew that Sadam had wmd’s, because we sold them to him.

    Or ignoring the fact that doctors from canada come to the US to practice medicine 3 and 4 months out of every year, because they have mo funding left in Canada, and have to take a vacation.

    Or Ignoring that Government does not create Jobs, only the private sector does, and making taxes Higher does not cause more Jobs to be Created.

    Or ignoring the Fact that Healthcare can NEVER be Free, we will pay a HEAVY burden for a System that is totally unresponsive to our needs, if we follow the DEMS.

    OR Ignoring our civic Duty, by allowing a person to stay in Office more than 2 terms, I believe in Citizen Government, and I hope that one day that a person would not want to stay more than 2 terms, EVER.

  27. Lord says:

    Interesting here is the demographic shift. As boomers have started reaching their 60s, we should see what qualifies as the center shift with fewer Republicans unless they shift their positions to maintain parity. The country probably was as Republican as it ever was and will shift sizably towards the Democrats in the future.

  28. Rhyader says:

    What I see the most is the overall implication of this pattern of values changing with age. And it’s a depressing one. Humans are selfish. It shows that most people change their social/economic values based on what’s good for THEMSELVES at the time. So, mostly as a species, we are selfish creatures.

    I also notice that I am traveling this path in reverse. When I was young, ignorant, and surrounded by “authoritarians” I thought as they did. But the more I learn about the world and the people in it, the more “libertarian” I become.

  29. C.S.Strowbridge says:

    Regina29: In fact for me, I would have no problem paying more taxes if all Americans could have access to free health care; a free college education at a State University; that a massive amount of federal dollars could be put into developing high speed rail,

    Bobby: Look, I don’t know you so I’ll take you at your word, but I’ve met plenty of liberals who say the same thing that you’ve said but not one of them has actually followed through on their rhetoric by voluntarily sending an extra $5,000 per year to the IRS.

    If they did send $5000 to the IRS, would there be universal health care? No.

    So your point isn’t as convincing as you had hoped it would be.

  30. Vlad says:

    One thing I wonder is if it’s fair to say this represents patterns of change over time or if it’s more of a snapshot of the values of each generation. In other words, maybe people who are young now will remain progressive in their ideas later on, and those who are conservative now were more conservative in their youth too. We certainly know that society was more conservative in the past than it is today. One interesting demographic is the baby boomers. In the 1960s this was supposedly an extremely liberal and idealistic population; they appear to trend fairly centrist today… Just a thought…

  31. Jim says:

    Interesting that you selected abortion and gay marriage for one of your theories. I considermyself a ‘true’ conservative, and do not want any government involvement in either issue. Both are religious issues, and even the Christian Churches cannot agree on the theology involved. None the less, Government should not be in the business of making laws involving religious ceremonies. Marriage is a religious ceremony. The federal government give tax breaks to couples who follow one kind of Christian philosophy. Islam, which allows four wives was deliberately excluded from those tax breaks.

    Also, the bible is unclear on when life starts, or when a body acquires a soul. There is agreement in the medical community that unless a brain is producing a certain kind of brain wave, the body is not alive. Why not use the same basis for determining when a person becomes alive…whenever that brain wave forms.

    But, still, it is theological opinion which rules, so, why shold the the government involved at all. Until science can answer the question of when does life begin, it is a religious issue and Congress shall make no laws favoring one theological concept over another.

    Do my positions on these make me a conservative or liberal. I favor allowing both, but not because I favor either position, I just believe it is the the role of government.

  32. Jim Moskowitz says:

    Vlad, I completely agree. I just wrote this to a friend who pointed me to this article:

    I don’t believe the article’s central assumption: that looking at the beliefs of a large set of people of different ages (I assume OKCupid is looking at the profiles of their members) tells you how an individual’s beliefs change as they age — that the data they have about what a person 10, 20, 30 years older (younger) … See Morethan me believes in 2010 will indicate what I myself will feel (did feel) 10, 20, 30 years in the future (past).
    Instead, I think it tells lot about what the conditions were like at various points in the past, when people in their dataset were at some “formative age” that determined their beliefs (which I realize may be different for different people). Sure there’s going to be some changes as we age, maybe even some general conclusions you can make about those changes… but their method doesn’t tell you them, imho.

  33. Kyle S. says:

    I think, why ruin a good thing? Dem should give it up!, How is that hope and change working for you? sure the USA is far from perfect, but socializing health care? Social security? And regulating anything? You want, the goverment to regulat your thoughts? That all they want total control, control of everything, so have some morals, find god, be faithful, and you’ll have a good life. You’ll catch more flys with honey than vineger.

  34. Dewi Morgan says:

    As a British citizen, I *do* send that extra £5k to the tax office.
    Now I’m moving to the US, the awful health care there terrifies me.

    Family health insurance is the most expensive bill people have to pay – over and above rent! Even UK taxes aren’t that high.

    If you don’t get health insurance, or in my wife’s case, *can’t* get it, you end up with several thousand dollar bills just for going to the hospital – I know, it’s happened to my wife.

    If you dial 911, you will, depending what you say, get through to the police (who are free), the fire service (who are free) or an ambulance (which is financial ruin).

    A friend caught a child who was falling against a hot boiler… by bracing her hand against the boiler. If she’d been in the UK, or if she’d have been able to afford the health care in the US, she would have been OK.

    So I say well done to Obama for taking the first baby steps towards fixing health care, but there’s a very long way to go yet.

  35. The Specimen says:

    I have no problem with your analysis, but I feel that your conclusions are flawed. Race, gender, and socioeconomic status are much stronger determinants of party identification/political ideology than age. I’m sure that had you used those as parameters in your analysis, your conclusions would be much different. Also you don’t take into account how national events can change the political landscape. For example, the whole Wall Street meltdown likely changed many people’s attitudes about government regulation in financial markets.

    Now for some pontification: The Republican party is the party of old white men, and as a demographic they are quickly shrinking relative to the rest of the US. They do tend to walk in lock step, but this is a consequence of their homogeneity, which exactly their problem.

    And you libertarians. You guys are living in a fantasy world. Your free market utopia is similar to the Marxist communist utopia. It’s a pipe dream that can never really exist in the real world. Just like human nature (greed/self interest) subverts communism, human nature will cause people to rig things and subvert free markets.

  36. Billy says:

    This is a very interesting study/argument, and I think that the evidence shown really points to a very strong correlation between one’s age and one’s views. I think it “works,” but does so only in present circumstances. I worry that the study implies (although this may be my interpretation) that the correlation is causal — that one will have, or be more prone to having, certain views BECAUSE of their age. Regardless of one’s environment (which is also an inevitable factor) I am reminded by studies I’ve read that describe conservatives as responding immediately and more emotionally to stimuli than democrats who, by contrast, were more contemplative (ie: less immediate and less emotional) in their responses. This study seems to describe a neuro-biological and psychological correlation with political disposition. combine the neuro-biological disposition with ones age and then with one’s environment (both immediate and every past influential moment) and then we may be able to discuss a cause for one’s political views.

    However, there is the possibility that republicans have merely succeeded in producing an emotionally charged ideology that binds them together with the super glue of discipline and conviction that wins the war despite the odds (as noted in the above study). While I do agree that the size of the democratic base is a very important part of why they seem to fall apart in the face of adversity when republicans remain together, I also think that it is possible that no one has been able to produce the ideas, or especially a good articulation or demonstration of these ideas, to which the democrats or liberals can be emotionally bound. It is more difficult because democrats are more “contemplative” and don’t react so immediately or emotionally as republicans. However, it is possible. But what will make the democrats passionately cohere as a unified whole will take some clever articulation or demonstration that could emotionally charge a population that is more prone towards permissiveness and “let it be” or even apathetic attitudes. A real challenge.

    In conclusion: determining the actual cause(s) of one’s political views entails an impractical algorithm with too many variables. (Maybe it’s possible, but I don’t currently think so). The cause of the democrats lacking the super glue that binds republicans together (and hence why the fall apart), however, is in part because of their own democratic qualities (of permissiveness or “let it be” attitudes), which makes emotional binding to any ideology quite difficult to achieve.

  37. Skategreaser says:

    This is really great stuff. So why does OKCupid keep trying to match me up with women who seem to dumb to understand any of this?

  38. Rene Flores says:

    The word you are looking for is “JIBE”, not “JIVE”.

  39. baconman says:

    My opinion on the subject matter here is discussed in my OKC journal, so check it out.

    As far as modern politics goes, I believe the problem today isn’t in the parties, but in just how much reach the government has taken the liberty of giving itself. I cannot understand how a simple 50%+1 majority vote could EVER enable a NATIONWIDE law, that is thrust upon everybody in it. Personally, I believe a law that far-reaching should require a 90% vote in favor, at minimum. 75% for statewide laws, too… and a LOCAL level of law should require a 60% vote to enforce. Anything below 60% is simply an opinion – one of which *anybody* has the God-given right to have, and will probably be changed and overturned repeatedly, anyways.

  40. linda says:

    Why does life end at 60 on these graphs? Perhaps the graphs would tell a different story if they lasted a true lifespan.

  41. Richard says:

    Bobby you wrote to Regina29 but I don’t if she’ll respond so I will.

    “Look, I don’t know you so I’ll take you at your word, but I’ve met plenty of liberals who say the same thing that you’ve said but not one of them has actually followed through on their rhetoric by voluntarily sending an extra $5,000 per year to the IRS. They LOVE to talk like this because they can earn free reputation points without having to actually DO anything. It’s like conspicuous consumption, just in terms of reputation rather than material goods.”

    Liberals do not send an extra $5,000 per year to the IRS because they still have to PAY FOR HEALTHCARE AND EDUCATION. Most liberals would rather pay it through the government because most academic analysis points that these are public goods that are more efficiently distributed through a government. (Arrow KJ. Uncertainty and the welfare economics of medical care. The American Economic Review 1963;53:941-73.) Unfortunately, it is not possible to check the “pay an extra 10% tax and receive free services” box, so liberals don’t do that.

    Conversely, many conservatives that I hear are so afraid of the debt creating an impossible burden on the US economy. Yet, none are sending an extra couple thousand to pay that down, even though we all agree the government defaulting on the debt would be horrendous.

    The point I am trying to make there is that the refute to that argument is the same as to your argument. The extra money could just as easily be spent on Obamacare or other additional services not paying down the debt. Well, liberals don’t want to give extra money to fight in Iraq or fund faith-based initiatives (random examples), they want the services guaranteed before they pay for them.

  42. Evan t Spurrell says:

    Your survey analysis thing is bunk. only an idiot would believe it. It should be obvious that line you drew apply s perhaps to a few rotten baby boomer apples but when it comes to the vast continuum of people and lives you petty simplification of reality is dwarfed by the complexity of what is. sounds like it was written by a jaded republican in his or her 40’s. go project your false ideology elsewhere.

  43. Suzanne Lainson says:

    What we see is how current generations react to social and economic issues. As a group, current young adults are more liberal than current older adults. But this doesn’t tell us how individuals will view the world over time. Perhaps the young adults who are socially liberal now continue to be so into their retirement years.

  44. Jamiegrrl says:

    I blame Woodrow Wilson. Douche. Evil, evil douche.

  45. EJ says:

    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.

  46. Steivy says:

    Hey, y’all should look at online dating vs. weather patterns.

  47. Matt says:

    “Democrats have a permissive social outlook.”


    Go try to own a handgun in NYC or engage in unpopular speech on a college campus and you’ll see just how “permissive” the D’s are.

  48. SDEagle says:

    A lot of really good points here and an interesting data analysis (From, as has been pointed out in a few comments, is pretty limited, but reasonably statistically significant). One thing I would like to add is that new research shows that people don’t vote based on conscious, rational evaluation of who represents their particular interests. It actually is based on particular issues that each candidate makes central to his or her campaign and how they fall on the conservative or progressive spectrum in relation to the unconscious conservative/progressive frame of voters. For example, one person may unconsciously relate to most socio-economic issues of the day in a very progressive frame (i.e. support health care for all, stop unwarranted wiretapping, etc.) but be very conservative on the moral issue of abortion and vote for a conservative candidate who represents none of the socio-economic views, but hits home on this core moral value and frames the debate with his or her opponent around this issue.

    Cognitive science and neuroscience is showing that physical structures are formed in peoples brains around experience, metaphor, language, narratives (Story archetypes about what happens in life), and, of course, emotions. The more often these experiences are reinforced or witnessed, the stronger the neural pathways and the more inhibiting they become on neural activity on opposing or mutually exclusive pathways. Research also shows that experiencing events through others (Empathy) is just a strong in reinforcing neural pathways as a personal experience. This can include movies, books, talk shows, TV ads, and candidates’ speeches.

    It also explains why so many people seem to vote against their interests or across so many apparently conflicting value systems. It isn’t inconsistent; it is simply a matter of experiences shaping the way we think unconsciously about everything!

    Including dating 😉

  49. Corby Ziesman says:

    It’s wrong to look at those graphs and think of it in terms of age. The proper way to look at it is in terms of what year you were born. It’s a generational thing. It simply isn’t true that people’s political beliefs change so much as they age. Rather it is more likely true that a generation was influenced by the decade in which they grew up.

  50. J says:

    Thank you for this analysis. Perfect proof of why democracy is a failure. The majority of people are entirely too stupid to make decisions for the whole. People whose beliefs are so fickle ought to have no say over their nation’s laws. In fact, federal government in general is a failure. Keep it local, keep it representative. Let the idiots cluster with idiots and bring about their own doom. Don’t let some pin-dick bureaucrat in DC determine what the rest of us should and should not do.

    The end.