Center-Right world?

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One of the persistent structural issues with American politics is that a greater number of Americans self-identity as conservative than liberal, so the Republican party can be dominated by conservatives in a manner in which the Democratic party can not. This is not to speak to whether people are in substance more conservative or not, rather, I’m still addressing self-perception. You can see the trend over the past 30 years from the GSS in the United States:

I was curious as to whether this bias is an international phenomenon. There is a question in the WVS which asks: ‘In political matters, people talk of “the left” and “the right.” How would you place your views on this scale, generally speaking?’ The scale goes from 1, which is furthest Left, to 10, which is furthest Right. I looked at the WVS 3, 4 and 5 (a span from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s). Here is a histogram generated from the median values of all the nations (some replicated across waves):

As you can see, the central tendency just a bit to the Center-Right. The median value in the data set is 5.6 (standard deviation 0.68). No idea if this means anything, but I did wonder if sometimes there’s a human cognitive bias to perceive oneself as “conservative” because of risk-aversion, but these results don’t seem to be very strong (I’m sure some of the results, such as Vietnam, are due some strange quirks of phrasing which didn’t translate well). Here’s a table of the data points….

Country Mean Political 
Zimbabwe 3.7
India 4.4
Egypt 4.5
Spain 4.6
Andorra 4.6
Burkina Faso 4.7
Germany 4.7
Spain 4.7
France 4.8
Bulgaria 4.8
Iran (Islamic Republic of) 4.8
Germany 4.8
Spain 4.8
Serbia and Montenegro 4.8
Iraq 4.9
France 4.9
Russian Federation 4.9
Russian Federation 4.9
Slovenia 5
Republic of Moldova 5
Italy 5.1
Bosnia and Herzegovina 5.1
Greece 5.1
Hungary 5.1
Israel 5.1
Netherlands 5.1
Slovakia 5.1
Great Britain 5.1
Albania 5.1
Bosnia and Herzegovina 5.1
Hungary 5.1
Macedonia, Republic of 5.1
Netherlands 5.2
Switzerland 5.2
Uruguay 5.2
Chile 5.2
Germany 5.2
Macedonia, Republic of 5.2
Serbia and Montenegro 5.2
Croatia 5.2
Republic of Korea 5.2
Slovenia 5.2
South Africa 5.2
Great Britain 5.3
Slovenia 5.3
Cyprus 5.3
Albania 5.3
Belgium 5.3
Croatia 5.3
Portugal 5.3
Sweden 5.3
Australia 5.3
Belarus 5.3
Romania 5.3
Slovakia 5.3
Sweden 5.3
Switzerland 5.3
Ukraine 5.3
Brazil 5.4
Chile 5.4
Mali 5.4
Austria 5.4
Italy 5.4
Republic of Korea 5.4
Lithuania 5.4
Luxembourg 5.4
Poland 5.4
Armenia 5.4
Chile 5.4
Estonia 5.4
Latvia 5.4
Canada 5.5
Japan 5.5
Canada 5.5
Denmark 5.5
Nigeria 5.5
Uganda 5.5
Ukraine 5.5
Azerbaijan 5.5
Australia 5.6
Norway 5.6
Sweden 5.6
Finland 5.6
Ukraine 5.6
Rwanda 5.6
Ireland 5.6
Republic of Moldova 5.6
Northern Ireland 5.6
Finland 5.6
Nigeria 5.6
Norway 5.6
United States 5.7
Argentina 5.7
Peru 5.7
New Zealand 5.7
Morocco 5.7
Jordan 5.7
Belarus 5.7
India 5.7
Japan 5.7
Peru 5.7
South Africa 5.7
Argentina 5.7
Mexico 5.7
Poland 5.7
Uruguay 5.7
South Korea 5.8
Bulgaria 5.8
Finland 5.8
Iceland 5.8
Latvia 5.8
Malta 5.8
Romania 5.8
Turkey 5.8
United States 5.8
Bulgaria 5.8
Lithuania 5.8
New Zealand 5.8
Peru 5.8
United States 5.8
Poland 5.9
Serbia 5.9
Guatemala 5.9
Estonia 5.9
Jordan 5.9
Morocco 5.9
Pakistan 5.9
Brazil 5.9
Czech Republic 5.9
Georgia 5.9
Japan 5.9
Romania 6
Taiwan 6
Moldova 6
Georgia 6
Argentina 6
Czech Republic 6
Trinidad and Tobago 6.1
Philippines 6.1
Turkey 6.1
Mexico 6.2
Turkey 6.2
Thailand 6.2
Algeria 6.2
Kyrgyzstan 6.2
Venezuela 6.3
El Salvador 6.3
Hong Kong 6.4
Philippines 6.4
Ghana 6.5
Indonesia 6.6
Ethiopia 6.6
Indonesia 6.6
Puerto Rico 6.6
Taiwan Province of China 6.6
Colombia 6.6
Dominican Republic 6.6
India 6.6
South Africa 6.7
Zambia 6.7
Mexico 6.7
Puerto Rico 6.7
Venezuela 6.7
Colombia 6.8
Tanzania, United Republic Of 6.8
Bangladesh 7
Bangladesh 7.6
Viet Nam 9
Viet Nam 9.1

Note: The scale on the question is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. So 1-5 would be on the Left side, and 6-10 on the Right.

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8 Comments

  1. If left is “1-5″ and right is “6-10″, a median of 5.6 it is almost geometrical center (the center will be 5.5 » 0.1 points of difference could be only the statistically error, or the “Vietnam factor”)

  2. My first thought was the alignment might reflect party political fortunes, but looking at the results from different study years suggests that it is only a minor factor. 
     
    Incidentally I noticed that in most countries men and women have almost identical averages, which surprised me somewhat.

  3. What accounts for the multiple entries for some of the countries? When they’re next to each other (like Vietnam) it’s easy to spot, but there are others (at least 3 entries for Germany) that are more spread out…

  4. multiple surveys across waves of WVS. i decided to put in replicates since they should “average” out.

  5. Assuming the Vietnam data are nonsense & discarding them: 
     
    The median is 5.6 & the mean is 5.61. But only 20 samples have a score of 5 or below, while 36 have a score of 6 or above. 3 are 4.5 or below, while 17 are 6.5 or above (although this includes Bangladesh, Columbia, Puerto Rico & Indonesia twice).

  6. I don’t know about the world trend, but the data for America seem to suggest an aging population. People get more conservative as they age, are these results controlled for that?

  7. There’s at least one weirdness: Turk appears twice with different scores. Typo?

  8. It seems fairly clear to me that these results are indicating which direction the average person in that country (or the average survey respondent in it) would like their country to go, from where it is at present. With of course “left” and “right” having somewhat or perhaps very different meanings in different countries. Hence those in Vietnam would like less Marxism and more capitalist freedom. Those in Egypt would like more political liberalization. 
     
    I doubt if this at all reflects how those in the respective countries would come out on standard objective questions. I.e. how absolutely towards the right or the left on an international scale of values they’d be. E.g. I don’t think it at all accurately predicts whether the average person in these countries would be liberal or conservative on whether extra marital sex is alright, or what degree of governmental redistribution of income or control of the economy is desirable.

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