R for Political Data Science Week 5: The Ideological Diversity of the American Electorate

What exactly are the voting preferences of the rumored “economically conservative, socially liberal” voter?

By G. Elliott Morris / February 01, 2019

 in R for Political Data US Politics R-Posts

This is part of a series of short posts about politics that seeks to show how we use data science to learn more about the real world. Follow along here.

If you were paying attention to the news this week, you undoubtedly saw the firestorm that Democrats unleashed on former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz for announcing that he is exploring the option of running for president. He was berated for the possibility of costing Democrats valuable votes in their fight against Donald Trump — a protester at at one of his events this week even went so far as to exclaimed “Don’t help elect Trump, you egotistical billionaire asshole!”

While I understand Democrats’ opposition to Schultz, it might even be unnecessary. As I wrote for The Economist this week, a Schultz bid has little chance of gaining significant traction. That probably says more about the state of third-parties in America than Schultz. Moreover,, it has been widely argued that the fantasy coalition that Schultz claims will support him — the political unicorn that are socially liberal, economically conservative voters. I agree with the vast majority of these takes. The assertion that Schultz would find more of the voters he’s targeting among Trump than Clinton supports also strikes me as tenuous, mainly given that the voting preferences of the few voters that actually make up Schultz’s fantasy might tilt Democratic, at least with this approach.

To back up such claims, I’ve taken the 2018 VOTER Survey data from the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group and placed each voter along two liberal-conservative dimensions. The first is how they feel about ‘economic’ policies: the social safety net, wealth distribution, and trade, among other things. The second is how they feel about Muslims and immigrants, abortion and same-sex marriage, their level of sexism and racism, among other things. These are the same issues that Lee Drutman chooses in his analysis of the 2016 VOTER Survey data. However, I’ve applied a different scaling method than he did (I presume, because I do not know what he did). A voter is placed along the liberal-conservative spectrum based on their jaccard distance from a completely set of conservative votes. I welcome suggestions of another way to measure this. I’ve also tried my hand at a few optimal scaling algorithms, which you can read more about in this context here.

# Step 1: Import survey data -------------
# https://www.voterstudygroup.org/publications/2018-voter-survey/2018-voter-survey-top-lines)
vsg <- VSG_2018;rm(VSG_2018)

# we only want panelists
vsg <- vsg[!is.na(vsg$weight_panel),]

# and remove duplicate cases
vsg <- vsg[!duplicated(vsg$case_identifier),]

# Step 2: Choose policies and recode as 1: liberal 0: conservative -----------
# Policies chosen are same as Drutman's: https://www.voterstudygroup.org/publications/2016-elections/political-divisions-in-2016-and-beyond
vsg.coded <- vsg %>%
    # The View That Politics is a Rigged Game
    # Elections today don’t matter; things stay the same no matter who we vote in.
    RIGGED_SYSTEM_1_2016 = case_when(RIGGED_SYSTEM_1_2016 %in% c("Agree","Strongly agree") ~ 0,
                                     RIGGED_SYSTEM_1_2016 %in% c("Disagree","Strongly disagree") ~ 1,
                                     TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # People like me don’t have any say in what the government does.
    RIGGED_SYSTEM_5_2016 = case_when(RIGGED_SYSTEM_5_2016 %in% c("Agree","Strongly agree") ~ 0,
                                     RIGGED_SYSTEM_5_2016 %in% c("Disagree","Strongly disagree") ~ 1,
                                     TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Elites in this country don’t understand the problems I am facing.
    RIGGED_SYSTEM_6_2016 = case_when(RIGGED_SYSTEM_6_2016 %in% c("Agree","Strongly agree") ~ 0,
                                     RIGGED_SYSTEM_6_2016 %in% c("Disagree","Strongly disagree") ~ 1,
                                     TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # The Importance of Social Security/Medicare
    # How important is Social Security to the respondent?
    imiss_m_2017 = case_when(imiss_m_2017 %in% c("Very Important","Somewhat Important") ~ 1,
                             imiss_m_2017 %in% c("Not very Important","Unimportant") ~ 0,
                             TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # How important is Medicare to the respondent?
    imiss_s_2017 = case_when(imiss_s_2017 %in% c("Very Important","Somewhat Important") ~ 1,
                             imiss_s_2017 %in% c("Not very Important","Unimportant") ~ 0,
                             TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Attitudes on Foreign Trade A battery of questions on the costs/benefits of free trade.
    free_trade_1_2016 = case_when(free_trade_1_2016 == "Increase" ~ 1,
                                  free_trade_1_2016 == "Decrease" ~ 0,
                                  TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    free_trade_2_2016 = case_when(free_trade_2_2016 == "Increase" ~ 1,
                                  free_trade_2_2016 == "Decrease" ~ 0,
                                  TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    free_trade_3_2016 = case_when(free_trade_3_2016 == "Increase" ~ 1,
                                  free_trade_3_2016 == "Decrease" ~ 0,
                                  TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    free_trade_4_2016 = case_when(free_trade_4_2016 == "Increase" ~ 1,
                                  free_trade_4_2016 == "Decrease" ~ 0,
                                  TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    free_trade_5_2016 = case_when(free_trade_5_2016 == "Increase" ~ 1,
                                  free_trade_5_2016 == "Decrease" ~ 0,
                                  TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Attitudes On Gender Roles A battery of questions on the role of women in society.
    sexism1 = case_when(sexism1 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 0,
                        sexism1 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 1,
                        TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    sexism2 = case_when(sexism2 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 0,
                        sexism2 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 1,
                        TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    sexism3 = case_when(sexism3 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 1,
                        sexism3 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 0,
                        TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    sexism4 = case_when(sexism4 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 0,
                        sexism4 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 1,
                        TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    sexism5 = case_when(sexism5 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 0,
                        sexism5 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 1,
                        TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    sexism6 = case_when(sexism6 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 0,
                        sexism6 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 1,
                        TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Pride in America
    # How proud are you of America’s history?
    proudhis_2016 = case_when(proudhis_2016 %in% c("Very proud","Somewhat proud") ~ 0,
                              proudhis_2016 %in% c("Not very proud","Not proud at all") ~ 1,
                              TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # I would rather be a citizen of America than any other country in the world.
    amcitizen_2016 = case_when(amcitizen_2016 %in% c("Agree","Agree strongly") ~ 0,
                               amcitizen_2016 %in% c("Disagree","Disagree strongly") ~ 1,
                               TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # The Perception That “People Like Me” Are Losing Ground
    # Life in America today for people like me is worse compared to 50 years ago.
    Americatrend_2017 = case_when(Americatrend_2017 %in% c("Better","About the same") ~ 1,
                                  Americatrend_2017 %in% c("Worse") ~ 0,
                                  TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # In America, the values and culture of people like me are becoming rarer and less accepted.
    values_culture_2017 = case_when(values_culture_2017 %in% c("Generally becoming more widespread and accepted","Holding steady") ~ 1,
                                    values_culture_2017 %in% c("Generally becoming rarer and less accepted") ~ 0,
                                    TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Attitudes Toward African-Americans A battery of racial resentment questions toward African-Americans.
    race_deservemore_2016 = case_when(race_deservemore_2016 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 1,
                                      race_deservemore_2016 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 0,
                                      TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    race_overcome_2016 = case_when(race_overcome_2016 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 0,
                                   race_overcome_2016 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 1,
                                   TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    race_tryharder_2016 = case_when(race_tryharder_2016 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 0,
                                    race_tryharder_2016 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 1,
                                    TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    race_slave_2016 = case_when(race_slave_2016 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 1,
                                race_slave_2016 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 0,
                                TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Feelings Toward Muslims
    # Favoring or opposing temporarily banning Muslims from other countries from entering the U.S.
    immi_muslim = case_when(immi_muslim %in% c("Strongly favor","Somewhat favor") ~ 0,
                            immi_muslim %in% c("Strongly oppose","Somewhat oppose") ~ 1,
                            TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Feeling thermometer rating toward Muslims.
    ft_muslim_2017 = case_when(as.numeric(ft_muslim_2017) > 50 ~ 1,
                               as.numeric(ft_muslim_2017) < 50 ~ 0,
                                TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Attitudes on Immigration
    # Whether illegal immigrants contribute to American society/are a drain.
    immi_contribution = case_when(immi_contribution == "Mostly make a contribution" ~ 1,
                                  immi_contribution == "Mostly a drain" ~ 0,
                                  TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Favoring or opposing a legal way for illegal immigrants already in the United States to become U.S. citizens.
    immi_naturalize = case_when(immi_naturalize == "Favor" ~ 1,
                                immi_naturalize == "Oppose" ~ 0,
                                TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Whether it should be easier/harder for foreigners to immigrate to the U.S. legally than it is currently.
    immi_makedifficult = case_when(immi_makedifficult %in% c("Much easier","Slightly easier") ~ 1,
                                   immi_makedifficult %in% c("Slightly harder","Much harder") ~ 0,
                                   TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Attitudes on Moral Issues
    # View on abortion.
    abortview3_2016 = case_when(abortview3_2016 %in% c("Legal in all cases","Legal/Illegal in some cases") ~ 1,
                                abortview3_2016 %in% c("Illegal in all cases") ~ 0,
                                TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # View on gay marriage.
    gaymar_2016 = case_when(gaymar_2016 == "Favor" ~ 1,
                            gaymar_2016 == "Oppose" ~ 0,
                            TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # View on transgender bathrooms.
    view_transgender_2016 = case_when(view_transgender_2016 == "Should be allow to us the restrooms of the gender with which they currently identify" ~ 1,
                                      view_transgender_2016 == "Should be required to use the restrooms of the gender they were born into" ~ 0,
                                      TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Attitudes on Economic Inequality
    # Whether our economic system is biased in favor of the wealthiest Americans.
    RIGGED_SYSTEM_3_2016 = case_when(RIGGED_SYSTEM_3_2016 %in% c("Strongly agree","Agree") ~ 1,
                                     RIGGED_SYSTEM_3_2016 %in% c("Disagree","Strongly disagree") ~ 0,
                                     TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Whether we should raise taxes on the wealthy.
    taxdoug = case_when(taxdoug == "Yes" ~ 1,
                        taxdoug == "No" ~ 0,
                        TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Whether distribution of money and wealth in this country is fair.
    wealth_2016 = case_when(wealth_2016 == "Distribution is fair" ~ 0,
                            wealth_2016 == "Should be more evenly distributed" ~ 1,
                            TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Attitudes Toward Government Intervention
    # Whether we need a strong government to handle complex economic problems.
    gvmt_involment_2016 = case_when(gvmt_involment_2016 == "We need a strong government to handle today's complex economic problems" ~ 1,
                                    gvmt_involment_2016 == "People would be better able to handle today's problems within a free market with less government involvement" ~ 0,
                                    TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Whether there is too much/too little regulation of business by the government.
    govt_reg_2017 = case_when(govt_reg_2017 %in% c("Too little","About the right amount") ~ 1,
                              govt_reg_2017 %in% c("Too much") ~ 0,TRUE ~ NA_real_)
  ) %>% 
  select(RIGGED_SYSTEM_1_2016, RIGGED_SYSTEM_5_2016, RIGGED_SYSTEM_6_2016, imiss_m_2017, imiss_s_2017, free_trade_1_2016, free_trade_2_2016, free_trade_3_2016, free_trade_4_2016, free_trade_5_2016, sexism1, sexism2, sexism3, sexism4, sexism5, sexism6, proudhis_2016, amcitizen_2016, Americatrend_2017, values_culture_2017, race_deservemore_2016, race_overcome_2016, race_tryharder_2016, race_slave_2016, immi_muslim, ft_muslim_2017, immi_contribution, immi_naturalize, immi_makedifficult, abortview3_2016, gaymar_2016, view_transgender_2016, RIGGED_SYSTEM_3_2016, taxdoug, wealth_2016, gvmt_involment_2016, govt_reg_2017,case_identifier)

# only keep observations with below avg num missing
num_missing <- apply(vsg.coded,MARGIN = 1,FUN = function(x){length(x[is.na(x)])})

vsg.coded <- vsg.coded[num_missing < mean(num_missing),]

vsg.coded <- as.data.frame(vsg.coded)

# save case ids: later we'll want to get some contextual variable
row.names(vsg.coded) <- vsg.coded$case_identifier

ids <- vsg.coded$case_identifier

vsg.coded$case_identifier <- NULL

# Step 3: Impute responses -------------

imputed <- mice(vsg.coded, method='pmm',m = 1,maxit = 5,printFlag = FALSE)

vsg.coded <- mice::complete(imputed)

# Step 4: Compute euclidian distances from most conservative position ---------
# distance measures
euc.dist <- function(x1, x2){
  sqrt(sum((x1 - x2) ^ 2))

jaccard.dist <- function(x1, x2){
  a <- sum(x1==x2) * 2 
  b <- length(x1) + length(x2)
  c <- a/b
  d <- c * 100


# find the most conservative voter among dims 1 & 2
most_conservative_votes = 
  data.frame(vote = rep(0,37),
             dim = c(1,1,1,2,2,1,1,1,1,1,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,1,1,1,1,1))

euc_distances <- 
         # get their votes
         person <- as.numeric(vsg.coded[x,])
         # break down into dimensions
         economic <- person[which(most_conservative_votes$dim==1)]
         social <- person[which(most_conservative_votes$dim==2)]
         # get most cons economic & social positions
        economic_cons <- most_conservative_votes$vote[which(most_conservative_votes$dim==1)]
        social_cons <- most_conservative_votes$vote[which(most_conservative_votes$dim==2)]
        # get two distances
        dim_1 <- jaccard.dist(economic[!is.na(economic)],
         dim_2 <- jaccard.dist(social[!is.na(social)],
        # adjust the euclidian distance because it exaggerates spread -- take the sq root
         # just get the mean -- euc distances aren't normally distributed and look wonky
         #dim_1 <- mean(economic,na.rm=T)
         #dim_2 <- mean(social,na.rm=T)
       }) %>% do.call('rbind',.)

# Step 5: Add contextual variables -------------
# join back up with the vsg. data. We want 2016 pres votes 
euc_distances$case_identifier <- ids

# join up with original vsg, so we can get pres vote
vsg.ideo <- vsg %>% 
  left_join(euc_distances, by='case_identifier') %>%

# recode pres vote, trump approval
vsg.ideo <- vsg.ideo %>%
  mutate(vote_2016 = case_when(presvote16post_2016 == "Donald Trump" ~ "Trump",
                               presvote16post_2016 == "Hillary Clinton" ~ "Clinton",
                               presvote16post_2016 %in% c("Gary Johnson","Jill Stein","Evan McMullin","Other") ~ "Other",
                               TRUE ~ NA_character_),
         trump_approve_2 = case_when(trumpapp_2017 %in% c("Strongly Approve","Somewhat Approve") ~ "Approve",
                                     trumpapp_2017 %in% c("Somewhat Disapprove","Strongly Disapprove") ~ "Disapprove",
                                     TRUE ~ NA_character_),
         trump_approve_4 = case_when(trumpapp_2017=="Don't know" ~ NA_character_,
                                     grepl("pprove",trumpapp_2017) ~ trumpapp_2017,
                                     TRUE ~ NA_character_),
         trump_approve_4 = factor(trump_approve_4,
                                  levels=c("Strongly Approve","Somewhat Approve","Somewhat Disapprove","Strongly Disapprove")),
         dem_primary_2016 = case_when(pp_demprim16_2016 == "Hillary Clinton" ~ "Clinton",
                                      pp_demprim16_2016 == "Bernie Sanders" ~ "Sanders",
                                      pp_demprim16_2016 == "Someone else" ~ "Other",
                                      TRUE ~ NA_character_),
         rep_primary_2016 = case_when(pp_repprim16_2016 == "Donald Trump" ~ "Trump",
                                      grepl("Kasich|Rubio|Cruz|else|recall",pp_repprim16_2016) ~ "Other",
                                      TRUE ~ NA_character_)

# reclase dim from 0 = cons 1 = dem to -1 dem 1 cons
vsg.ideo$dim_1.rescale <- rescale(vsg.ideo$dim_1,c(-1,1),c(min(euc_distances$dim_1),max(euc_distances$dim_1)))
vsg.ideo$dim_2.rescale <- rescale(vsg.ideo$dim_2,c(-1,1),c(min(euc_distances$dim_2),max(euc_distances$dim_2)))

# Step 6: Plots ---------
# trump approval
trump_approval.gg <- ggplot(vsg.ideo %>% filter(!is.na(trump_approve_4)), 
       aes(x=dim_1.rescale, y=dim_2.rescale, col=trump_approve_4)) +
  geom_vline(xintercept = 0,linetype=2) + 
  geom_hline(yintercept = 0,linetype=2) +
  geom_jitter() +
  scale_color_manual("Trump Approval", values=c("Strongly Approve"="#3498DB", 
                                                "Somewhat Approve"="#85C1E9",
                                                "Somewhat Disapprove"="#F1948A",
                                                "Strongly Disapprove"="#E74C3C")) +
  labs(title="Trump Approvers are Dispersed Ideologically",
       subtitle="Loyalty to the president appears to partially transcend the ideological space, perhaps\nis mostly bound by social/anti-elite attitudes",
       x="Economic Dimension\n(-1=Liberal, 1=Conservative)",
       y="Social/Lifestyle/Elites Dimension\n(-1=Liberal, 1=Conservative)") +

dem_primary.gg <- ggplot(vsg.ideo %>% filter(!is.na(dem_primary_2016)), 
       aes(x=dim_1.rescale, y=dim_2.rescale, col=dem_primary_2016)) +
  geom_vline(xintercept = 0,linetype=2) + 
  geom_hline(yintercept = 0,linetype=2) +
  geom_jitter() +
  scale_color_manual("Dem. Primary 2016", values=c("Clinton"="#3498DB", "Sanders"="#2ECC71", "Other"="#AED6F1")) +
  labs(title="In 2016, Clinton and Sanders Drew From Similar\nIdeological Spaces",
       subtitle="Clinton and Sanders competed for voters accross the ideological spectrum, with Sanders dominating\namong Democratis with both socially and economically conservative views",
       x="Economic Dimension\n(-1=Liberal, 1=Conservative)",
       y="Social/Lifestyle/Elites Dimension\n(-1=Liberal, 1=Conservative)") +

rep_primary.gg <- ggplot(vsg.ideo %>% filter(!is.na(rep_primary_2016)), 
       aes(x=dim_1.rescale, y=dim_2.rescale, col=rep_primary_2016)) +
  geom_vline(xintercept = 0,linetype=2) + 
  geom_hline(yintercept = 0,linetype=2) +
  geom_jitter() +
  scale_color_manual("Rep. Primary 2016", values=c("Trump"="#E74C3C","Other"="#F5B041")) +
  labs(title="Trump's Base is Largely Socially Conservative",
       subtitle="A primary challenger in 2020 could find support among social liberals, but question remain about\nhow much support they'd could find",
       x="Economic Dimension\n(-1=Liberal, 1=Conservative)",
       y="Social/Lifestyle/Elites Dimension\n(-1=Liberal, 1=Conservative)") +

You can see here the distribution of Trump approves and disapproves along the left-right ideological spectrum, with those in the “socially liberal, economically conservative” camp pretty reliable anti-Trump. Acknowledge here that the proportion of voters in this quadrant (the 4th) is much more than Drutman finds in his analysis.

preview(trump_approval.gg, themearg = theme(legend.position = 'right')) ## my theme alternative to `print(gg)`

Because it’s an election season (yes, it is, whether or not you’re ready for it) I also am wondering where Democrats are on this spectrum and how their previous primary loyalties broke down along it. Here, you can see that Sanders did much better among socially conservative/anti-elite voters:

preview(dem_primary.gg,themearg = theme(legend.position = 'right'))

There’s much more to be done here, mostly in regards to calibrating the ideological scaling Why have I found so many economically conservative voters when others find so few? When I have more time, I might figure out. But I wanted to get this post out on time.

And if you’re wondering what this looked like in the 2016 Republican priamry, direct your attention to the folowing:

preview(rep_primary.gg,themearg = theme(legend.position = 'right'))

It looks like a primary challenge to Trump would mostly have to come from a socially liberal candidate. An economically conservative candidate could find an inroad, but any candidate who had the same policy preferences as Trump would have to find electoral leverage in a different arena.

As always, expand the code blocks here to learn more about the coding — and read on for the other posts.





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