The New York Times has an article today talking about a new alliance between netroots-type left bloggers, MoveOn and SEIU to start challenging conservative Democrats in primaries. The fact of this alliance plausibly doesn’t fit well with arguments that I and others have made to the effect that netroots types are not especially left-leaning. And the reason that it doesn’t sit well is that I and the others were wrong. Netroots blog readers may identify themselves as being a mixed bag of ideologies. But in fact, they’re very strongly and coherently to the left.
These graphs, taken from Eric Lawrence, John Sides’ and my paper on blog readers and polarization, illustrate this pretty well. Start by looking at a graph showing how readers of leftwing blogs, rightwing blogs, and people who read both identify themselves when they are asked where they fit on the liberal-conservative spectrum.
There are a fair number of left-leaning blog readers who identify themselves as strongly liberal. But there are less of them then there are of readers who identify themselves as only somewhat liberal, or as centrists. But self-identification here is misleading, as we can see if we look at a scale measuring blogreaders’ attitudes to a number of hot-button political issues such as abortion and the Iraq war, where left and right disagreed strongly at the time the data was gathered (nb that this scale has more points at which readers’ ideologies may be located than the first one).
Here, we don’t see anything like an even spread between those who are strongly liberal (i.e. inclined to take the ‘liberal’ position on all of these issues), and those who are moderate liberals or centrists. Instead, left blog readers tend to clump heavily at the strongly liberal end of the spectrum, with pretty well no centrists worth talking about. If we look specifically at readers of netroots blogs, such as Daily Kos and Crooks and Liars (rather than readers of leftwing blogs as a whole), we see roughly the same pattern.
What this suggests is that readers of left wing blogs are much more liberal (when you look at their attitudes to hot-button political issues) than they identify themselves as being. Hence, a claim that I thought was true – that netroots types didn’t have a coherent ideology – is in fact false (or at the least, somewhat misleading). Hence too the plausible viability of coalitions between netroots types and others to try to move the Democratic party to the left.