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Savage Incorrectly Claims 30% to 80% of Independents Are Conservative
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Last wednesday, July 22, radio talk show host Michael Savage took issue with a caller who argued that he speaks for conservatives and not for independents (for Savage’s part, the former herbalist sees himself as giving voice to independent conservatives), and consequently does not have the electoral heft he claims to have. Savage asked what percentage of political independents are conservative, and when the caller could provide no answer, the host responded by suggesting that somewhere between 30% and 50% of them are (he later upped it to 80%), and that he is a vociferous force acting on their behalf.

When I listen to commentators and pundits make quantitative claims, I’m occasionally able to flatter myself by shooting them down. Given the amount of time I spend thinking about politics, I was embarrassed to realize, however, that the question at hand was not something I’ve ever looked at empirically.

Fortunately, the GSS provides an answer, and a mundane one at that. Turns out those without a party affiliation tend to self-describe as political moderates, forming something close to a normal distribution tailing off to the left and right, as the following table shows. To ensure contemporary relevance, only responses from 2004-2008 are considered (N = 1390):

Distribution of independents
Extremely liberal 1.6%
Liberal 8.7%
Slightly liberal 11.0%
Moderate 53.6%
Slightly conservative 12.7%
Conservative 9.8%
Extremely conservative 2.7%

Savage’s low-end estimate of 30% is too high. Given the lowbrow nature of talk radio, hyperbole is stock-in-trade in the broadcasting business.

GSS variables used: YEAR(2004-2008), POLVIEWS, PARTYID(3)

(Republished from The Audacious Epigone by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: GSS, Numbers, Politics, Radio 
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  1. I have a question. Do you think that independents will become more conservative because the conservatives are outraged over the spineless twits in the Republican party, and they are starting to turn on the party?

  2. Wow, independents are neither to the left or right in general. Who would have thought…

    I personally believe that non-party identification is often the territory of the intellectual snob who wants their views to appear more nuanced. You may not agree with the entire party platform but if you've voted for them in every election since becoming elegible then it's a stretch to claim political independence.

  3. Joe says: • Website

    This is unfair because the independents were allowed to classify themselves as moderate. If they had to pick between the other six categories, that fifty percent would have split between slightly liberal and slightly conservative and the statement from the radio that 30-80% of independents are conservative would have been correct.

  4. According to my analysis of the GSS, a majority of self-described moderates reliably vote Democrat in presidential elections.

  5. Savage's impersination of Fred Thompson is pretty funny though…….

  6. "30% to 80%" is a ridiculously safe and meaningless claim. All I can take from this is that Savage and/or his listeners are innumerate.

  7. LoW,

    Both moderates and independents (there is a lot of overlap here, but they are not synonymous) are less intelligent and less engaged in politics than liberals or conservatives and Democrats or Republicans are. I suspect they tend to swing with the economic conditions and reward or punish whichever party has the presidency accordingly.


    I share your sentiment.


    Maybe, but Savage was arguing in the context of having been 'accused' of representing conservatives rather than independents, to which he responded that 30%, then 50%, then 80% of independents are conservative.


    I don't recall seeing that post off the top of my head, although I am a few days behind on my reading, so if it's recent I've not gotten to it yet. If not, if you would, please provide a link to it.


    His impressions of Barney Frank are my personal favorites. I almost crushed my ribs a few weeks ago when he busted it out while I was benching.


    He wasn't estimating a range, he was just following a stream of consciousness, putatively convinced that the percentage was higher the more he thought about it.

  8. > a majority of self-described moderates reliably vote Democrat in presidential elections

    Are there any data that indicate how many of those moderates vote for the Democrats as the lesser of two evils? I.e., how many moderate votes for a Democrat are actually votes against the Republican candidate?

  9. The term "independent" also does not mean what it used to mean. In our far more enlightened age, party affiliation (especially with the GOP) is considered tres declasse. Unfortunately, when you get into the polling booth, you have to make a choice between the two, and that choice among "independents" is invariably "D".

    Consider my former home of New Jersey, where the fact that most voters are registered "independents" is quite misleading. Unlike most closed primary states where the voter indicates a party preference at time of registration, in NJ one affiliates by declaring a public preference at one's first primary ballot. Since hardly anyone votes in primaries there (as anywhere else), most voters are thus registered "independents", but as general elections there prove, they slavishly vote "D" in November.

  10. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    In my town, the talk radio host hangs up on people, nearly always women, who begin their spiel with "I'm not partisan, but…". Know why? Because he's been doing talk radio for 35 years and he knows what's coming next: a left wing rant.

    Without looking at the data I'd say women tend to claim to be independent more than men – because they're more deceitful than men (there are multiple vectors in play here; men are more inclined to be independent on the whole and women are more social).

    I'd also guess that most independents are crypto-leftists, they don't want to be identified as the beggardly handout seeking race hustling man hating feminists that they really are, and with good reason.

    It's a big problem up here in Canada, with so many people voting Liberal – a party known to be corrupt even by the low standards of politics – as compared to the number who publicly admit it that it makes me question the merits of the secret ballot.

    OK I looked at the data. Different set of circumstances in America, I guess; a lot of conservatives aren't terribly pro-war, and the Bush administration so thoroughly shat the bed that I suspect many conservatives left the GOP over it. The points remain.

    Savage is no conservative. He's an ethnic, for starters, and I have rarely if ever seen an ethnic who is a true conservative. What exactly is it they want to conserve? The values of the dominant ethnic group? Mighty white of them – ha. He makes white people look bad, and makes conservatives look bad. Read his wiki entry, I'll spare you quoting it at length here – that's not a conservative. I'm highly mistrustful of "former" leftists who convert to conservatism, it calls into question their judgment to begin with, and Savage was as hardcore a lefty (pals with Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary, degrees in duck science, draft dodger, San Fran resident, persistent rumors of having teh ghey) as there ever was. Straight entryism, this cat is, and I doubt he genuinely believes what he is saying.

  11. Anon,

    Looks like women are marginally more likely to be independent (for the 2004-2008 period), but the difference doesn't approach statistical significance.

    Savage is Jewish, but he's extremely critical of Jews as well–a sort of self-hater of the putative self-haters. Yes, his background is very leftist, but other than Pat Buchanan he is the only voice in the major media that takes a dip in the HBD pool from time to time, and his recounted reactions to mundane occurences regularly entertain me, so I often listen when I'm driving alone or working out.

    Is there anything comparable to the GSS in Canada?

  12. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    "Is there anything comparable to the GSS in Canada?"

    I don't think there is, though I really should look harder. There is one book which quantifies the differences between Canadians and Americans – I'll pause here while Americans interject "The difference is that we don't care about Canada", and rightly so – which could be used to estimate Canadian values by using GSS as a baseline, Fire And Ice. The author is a bushy haired bolshevist, the conclusions are debatable to say the least, but there is an undeniable load of data there.

    The biggest difference seems to be on the question of whether men should be in charge of the home, in Canada it's around 21%, in America it's ~80%, IIRC.

    Whoops, spoke too soon, there is a GSS in Canada, I typed "statistics Canada general survey" into Google and there it is. Thanks a bunch, AE, now I have to do research and base my theories on actual data instead of winging it 🙁

  13. Anon,

    Nice find. At first blush it doesn't seem to be a user interface that is customizable like the GSS, but maybe I just need to play around with it a little more. If you do, let me know what you find out.

  14. One caveat to all this is the serious possibility that many "independents" haven't the faintest idea what the terms liberal and conservative mean to those who are politically affiliated and, by extension, more informed. This is especially true of conservatism, as there are numerous conflicting strains, yet most prominent national "conservative" politicians are pretty much the same. Many independents no doubt assume that conservative means Bush-like.

    I've little doubt this is a major concern for those who define themselves as moderate. As everyone knows, being divisive or extremist is baaaaaadddddd!!!, so impressionable independents just label whatever half-formed views they have as "moderate." After all, they're good people — they must be moderate!

    All that said, I bet that most independents actually lean away from conservatism and are fundamentally statist. Anecdotally, those who aren't affiliated simply see government in terms of "getting things done" and "what's in it for me?" These aren't what I'd call conservative principles.

  15. Anonymous [AKA "stan_sipple"] says: • Website

    I dont have a scientific survey, but I have gone door to door many times for local GOP candidates and the precent walking lists always contain households with independent voters. Invariably the residents support environmental and anti-war causes

  16. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    On the low brow nature of talk radio, it's low brow because high brow stuff bores people in high increments. Dennis Prager is the only conservative talk radio host I would consider "high brow" in that he's extremely articulate and presents the conservative case better than anybody. He yells every so often, but he usually has a very calm demeanor to him. The author of that American Conservative piece mentions NPR and BBC. BBC, to my knowledge, is publicly funded and so is NPR. I'm for a less humorous and emotional presentation of right wing views, but the question is can it compete with what is already out there? Even "Firing Line" was a public broadcast, not something in which the production team needed to go out and generate advertising revenue.

  17. Nick,

    Yes, that probably plays some part, since independents/moderates have average IQs about 1/3 a SD below partisans/liberals/conservatives.


    I suspect, though, on other things like immigration, they tend to be more restrictionist than the Democratic party. Is that your experience?


    Right. Understanding this, the Derb floated the idea of public funding for something similar to NPR with a rightward slant.

  18. June 15, 2009
    “Conservatives” Are Single-Largest Ideological Group

    As per Gallup polling.

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