David E. Broockman, Benjamin E. Lauderdale, “Moderates”

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Many Americans express a mix of conservative and liberal views across issues. Prior research indicates these voters are cross-pressured. A recent, influential article “Moderates” (Fowler et al. 2023) argues that these voters instead largely have centrist views on issues. To reach this conclusion, “Moderates” develops a method to determine which voters’ views are well-summarized by left-right ideology. “Moderates” finds that most voters’ views are, and therefore concludes that the large number of voters with centrist estimated ideologies—“moderates”—must hold centrist views on issues. We show that this method systematically overstates how many voters’ views are well-summarized by left-right ideology: it assumes voters are ideologues unless they either answer questions randomly or form a single cluster with distinctive views. In simulations, we show this bias is large. The article’s core conclusion that voters who express a mix of conservative and liberal views can be inferred to support centrist policies therefore remains in doubt.


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