Winning the Middle and Winning the Base

As we get closer to November 2016, and candidates vie for the ever-important undecided voters, presidential candidates will begin moderating their positions. That's Politics 101: play to the base during nomination process, but aim for the middle during the general election. Using data collected by SameGrain, I set out to explore which issues are more likely to win the middle, which issues win the base, and which issues the middle and the base most disagree on.

It's the Economy (and Education) Stupid!

The plot above shows the likelihood users are to be concerned about certain political issues. Longer bars indicate a higher likelihood to be concerned. The bars are further broken down by the political leaning of the users. Very conservative, conservative, moderate, liberal, and very liberal users are colored red, orange, gray, teal, and blue, respectively. Non-moderate bars are labeled with the percentage more or less likely that a user of that political leaning is to be concerned about the issue relative to a moderate. For example, if you hover over the red bar next to "Terrorism," you will see that very conservative users are 24% more likely to be concerned about terrorism than moderates. Very liberal users, on the other hand, are 45% less likely to be concerned about terrorism.

The issues are ordered top to bottom from most to least concerning to moderates. The top five issues concerning to moderates include the Educational System, the Economy, Terrorism, School Violence & Bullying, and Healthcare, so candidates who are trying to appeal to the middle may be wise to focus on those issues. Note that SameGrain is a social media platform with a majority Millennial user base, which may explain the relatively high importance of school violence and bullying, which would presumably be less important to older generations.

Moderates Agree More With Liberals

In general, conservatives tend to care about more issues than liberals and moderates. There are 18 issues that conservative or very conservative users care about more than moderates, while there are 11 issues that liberal or very liberal users care about more than moderates. In fact, there are 12 issues that conservatives care over 25% more about than moderates; there are only 6 such issues for liberals. One way to measure which political base is more similar to moderates is to calculate the Pearson Product-Moment Correlation Coefficient, R. The table below shows the R values between the level of issue concern of each political base and that of moderates.

 Correlation coefficient for each political base. All values are nearly 1, indicating strong correlation between the level of concern over the issues between the political bases and moderates.

Correlation coefficient for each political base. All values are nearly 1, indicating strong correlation between the level of concern over the issues between the political bases and moderates.

An R value of 0 indicates no correlation, while a value of 1 indicates perfect correlation. Note that all values of R are close to 1, indicating that the level of concern for the issues is positively correlated between all the bases and moderates - i.e., in general, the political bases agree with moderates. However, the R values of conservatives are smaller than those of liberals, indicating that the views of moderates are more similar to those of liberals than conservatives. Note also that the R values of the more centrist bases (liberal and conservative) are larger than those of the extreme bases (very conservative and very liberal), indicating that moderates agree more with centrists than those at the political extremes. This is of course unsurprising, and is the reason candidates shift their politics to the middle following primaries.

Conservatives & Liberals: Differences and Similarities

The below plot shows the same data as the first, except with issues ordered from top to bottom by most concerning to conservatives (left panel) and most concerning to liberals (right panel). With this view, it is easier to compare the differences between the two political leanings. The top 5 issues concerning conservatives are the Economy, Terrorism, the Educational System, Freedom of Speech, and Healthcare, while the top 5 issues for liberals are the Education System, Gender Equality, Global Warming & the Environment, Healthcare, and the Economy.

While there is much overlap between the issues that concern both sides of the political spectrum, concern about several issues - terrorism, gender equality, global warming, and pollution in particular - is much stronger on one side than the other. While gender equality and global warming are in the top 3 issues for liberals, they don't even make the top 15 issues for conservatives. In fact, most issues show this pattern where one side is more concerned than moderates, while the other is less concerned. Two exceptions of note are gun control and abortion, where both political bases are much more concerned than moderates, although presumably for opposite reasons. These hot-button issues are disproportionately cared about by the bases relative to the concerns of the middle.