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Self-identification, and reasons

The numbers – of how Idahoans identify politically – seem to continue in consistent patterns. But what to make of them?

By all means check out the new Johnson Post (by Boisean Marc Johnson) item on a poll conducted (recently; dates not specifically noted) for the Gallatin Group (for which Johnson works) and the Idaho Business Review, by pollster Greg Strimple. (Though we couldn’t help recalling this.)

Just a passing thought about it here.

Growing out of two key lines of Johnson’s summary. One: “Right now 38% of Idahoans self-identify as Republican, another 32.5% call themselves Independents, who are affiliated with no party, and just over 24% say they are Democrats.” The other: “a strong plurality of Idahoans – 47.5% – consider themselves very or somewhat conservative. Another 29% describe themselves as moderates, while about 16% call themselves liberal.”

These sound, facially, like an honest polling results – along the lines of what you’d expect to see. But what does it mean?

It means that an Idaho Republican that has been moving in a direction it (and most observers) consider ever more conservative, has been attracting self-identified adherents well below the logical philosophical base. Look at it this way: If the two major parties logically split through the middle, with Republicans winning support from conservatives and half the moderates and Democrats the liberals and half the moderates, then Republicans should be at 62% and Democrats at 38%. That actually does match up, roughly, with many statewide election results, but it also suggests that despite the broad preference for Republican candidates, the party itself seems less popular – backed specifically by fewer than two in five Idaho voters.

Here’s a question to ask – tricky for a pollster to do in a neutral enough way, but important: What do Idahoans think it means to say that someone is conservative, or moderate, or liberal? What are these things, definitionally? What do they translate to? Are the three labels simply picked out as easy bumper stickers? How closely do they match up, accurately, voter preferences with candidates, and parties?

We’ll be back to this.

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