Beyond the obvious potential for controversy, this variable is different than any of the others included in all three polls (some earlier polls provided greater detail). Political ideology is something determined by the individual, unlike race, gender, income and so forth. It is also determined by the individual alone, unlike marriage, divorce and so forth. Finally, it is something individuals can change at any time, entirely of their own volition, and instantly if they so choose. In effect, it is “private” in a way most variables are not.
With that in mind, the shift from 2007 to 2011 is very obvious. In an earlier, more comprehensive 2007 survey, 49% of relocators chose “I think the US is moving too far to the right” as one of their reasons for relocating, surpassed only by 49.6% who chose “I want to live in a less stressful environment”. They were allowed to choose as many of the twenty varied reasons as they liked. The next two most popular responses were “I want change, adventure, new challenges” (47.9%) and “I want to live in a country with affordable health care” (42%).
When asked for the one reason most significant to them, 26.5% chose “I think the US is moving too far to the right” and 20.9% chose “I want change, adventure, new challenges”. None of the others reached double digits. The 2009 and 2011 surveys did not include this question and many others as they were substantially more limited in scope.
Administrations have changed and responses have changed. In 2007, the largest group was liberals, far larger than those choosing to call themselves conservatives. By 2009, liberals had dropped dramatically and the small conservative minority remained very small. Although moderates fell, they were the most stable and became the most likely group to actively plan relocation. In 2011, all three groups have grown, but self-identified liberals have risen the least. Moderates have set a new high and conservatives have dramatically increased in number.
Two things should be kept in mind when considering these results. For some decades, when Americans were asked to choose one of these three terms to represent their political ideology, the distribution has been 40-40-20, give or take a few points from one year to another. That is, roughly 40% choose “conservative”, roughly 40% choose “moderate”, and roughly 20% choose “liberal”. This simply means that the conservative segment of those planning to relocate is even larger in sheer numbers than the liberal segment.
However, a conservative in Alabama and a conservative in Oregon, or a liberal in Massachusetts and a liberal in New Mexico, may define “conservative” and “liberal” quite differently. Of course, “moderate” can mean many different things to different people. This should be a reminder to the reader that his or her personal definition of any of these terms does not necessarily correspond to the definitions of the people who chose the terms.
But for the moment, it is clear that a more conservative segment of American society has replaced a more liberal segment as the primary ideological group that has reached the stage of actively planning their