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How Conservative is Michelle Malkin?

- August 4, 2009

Paul Krugman “asks”:http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/01/scaling-michelle-malkin/ about locating Michelle Malkin on the ideological spectrum:

bq. When I saw that Michelle Malkin will be on the Stephanopoulos panel this week, my first thought was that nobody as far to the left as she is to the right would ever appear on such a panel. But then I started to wonder (a) what I mean by that (b) if it’s true. I don’t want to be like Bill O’Reilly, who considers anyone he disagrees with a “far-left” activist. So we need some objective metric. The most natural would seem to be voter opinion: what fraction of the American public is to Malkin’s right? … What I’d like to have is a Guttman scale of positions on political matters … we might find that only 19 percent of Americans are to the right of Michelle Malkin, while 23 percent are to the left of Michael Moore. … if there are any such data available, I don’t know about them.

This is a difficult question, but here are three possible strategies for answering it:

1) Give Michelle Malkin a questionnaire with a wide range of questions about political issues. Then survey a random sample of the public and ask them the exact same questions. This would provide the best answer to Krugman’s question. But even then, any specific figure — e.g., “19% of Americans are to the right of Malkin” — would depend on the specific set of questions asked. (Here is one example of a similar analysis, in which citizens were essentially asked to vote on specific roll calls that members of Congress had voted on. This allows the authors, Joe Bafumi and Michael Herron, to scale members of Congres and the public on the same metric. See also Andy’s post.)

2) Take a large sample of Michelle Malkin’s writings and systematically analyze their content to determine her positions on a wide range of issues. Take a national survey that queried respondents about as many of those issues as possible. Then impute Malkin’s answers to those survey questions based on her writings. This, of course, raises the possibility of error in the imputation process. Malkin, like many political commentators, may have positions that are not readily translated into typical survey questions.

3) The Lazy Blogger Solution. Take a large survey — the 2008 American National Election Study, in this case — and pick a few questions:

* “Some people feel that the government in Washington should see to it that every person has a job and a good standard of living…Others think the government should just let each person get ahead on his/her own. Where would you place yourself on this scale, or haven’t you thought much about this?”

* “Some people think the government should provide fewer services, even in areas such as health and education, in order to reduce spending. Other people feel that it is important for the government to provide many more services even if it means an increase in spending. Where would you place yourself on this scale, or haven’t you thought much about this?”

* “Some people feel there should be a government insurance plan which would cover all medical and hospital expenses for everyone. Others feel that medical expenses should be paid by individuals, and through
private insurance plans like Blue Cross other company paid plans. Where would you place yourself on this scale, or haven’t you thought much about this?”

Each question is coded on a 1-7 scale. I will consider 7 the most conservative response — i.e,. the response most opposed to government. Now, these questions are far from exhaustive. But they do get at the debate over the size of government — which, as Krugman notes, is _the_ central dimension of conflict.

I scaled those questions together to make an index that also runs from 1 (most liberal) to 7 (most conservative). Here is the distribution of opinion on this index:


I have put a vertical line at the midpoint. As the graph notes, 48% of the sample are to the left of this line (with an average less than 4), and 41% are to the right. Note that I am not making any grand claims about the “true” ideological distribution of the public — a necessary caution given this simple measure.

But to Krugman’s question. If we assume that Michelle Malkin would average a 6 on this scale — i.e., that she is on the conservative side, but not at the scale’s maximum value — then 7% of Americans would be to her right on this scale. If we assume that Michelle Malkin would give the most conservative response possible to each of these 3 questions, making her average on this scale a 7, then 3% of Americans would share this view (i.e., 97% would be to her left on this scale). These estimates strike me as plausible, but they are hardly conclusive, based as they are on only a few questions and on purely hypothetical answers for Malkin.