US Elections Editor

Democrats see much less ideological distance between their candidates than Republicans see between theirs

The political ideology of presidential primary candidates – depending on how successful those candidates are – often shapes how people think about the party and its future. With this in mind the latest YouGov/Economist Poll asks respondents to place 2016 candidates on the political spectrum from “very liberal” to “very conservative”. The results show there’s much more space between leading Republicans than there is between leading Democrats.

The graphic below shows the responses of self-identified Republicans and Democrats relating to their own party’s candidates*. Barack Obama is included on the Democratic side for comparison.


Some have suggested that Hillary Clinton is repositioning herself as more strongly liberal, in order to preserve the progressive coalition that elected Obama and to ward off left-wing challengers. The poll suggests that only weeks into her campaign, Clinton is seen by Democrats as well within the party's ideological mainstream.

Democrats put Clinton in about the same place as the party’s standard-bearer, Barack Obama, and though Democrats do see Bernie Sanders – who has described himself as a socialist – as more left-wing than Hillary, it’s not by much (5 points on a hundred-point scale), especially when compared to the amount of variation seen among Republicans. Among the general public, the two Democrats are only separated by 1 point (this is partly because Republicans give Clinton a score of 11, versus 19 for Sanders).

One caveat is that, while nearly all Democrats surveyed had an idea of where to put Clinton, only about six in ten knew where to put Sanders. This suggests many Democrats (and other Americans) don't yet know Sanders very well, and he may develop a more liberal reputation as voters get to know him better. A look beyond the average score shows a third (34%) of Democrats with an opinion put Sanders between 0-10, compared to 16% for Clinton – and 10% gave Sanders a 70 or higher, suggesting they may be thinking of someone else or simply guessing.  


The variation between Republicans is much more substantial. Republicans see New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has yet to formally announce, as narrowly more liberal than conservative. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a vocal social conservative, is placed 26 points to the right of him on the scale.   

Christie, a governor in a deep-blue state, has struggled with conservatives in his party for years and he gains only 5% support from Republicans when they are asked who they prefer to be their nominee in 2016. However, there is also a 10-point difference between Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, both of whom who have led recent YouGov primary polls.  

* The graphic leaves out three other individuals who are running – Republican George Pataki and Democrats Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chafee – and one who may run – Republican John Kasich. These individuals were included in the poll, but less than half of respondents had an opinion on them so they have been excluded from this analysis.

See the full poll results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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