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So I asked a pair of questions about bias and liberal views on nukes, and got nuked myself. Apparently the words liberal and conservative are pretty loaded. Gallup polling indicates that Republicans are usually more conservative, and democrats more liberal or moderate. However those terms seem even worse to me, as they are purely political (liberal and conservative certainly feel ideological, but not political).

As Larian LeQuella noted, not everybody is so easily classified, to be sure. He served 20 proud years as an officer in the Air Force, and likes limited government, but holds other beliefs that are traditionally liberal. I myself served 10 years in the Air Force enlisted corps and still work with the military, and I think nuclear energy is the way to go, but I like HUGE government and a lot of other liberal things. I consider myself a liberal, but don't tow the line on all issues. Still, I think the fact that we both mention the military in anthesis to "liberal" beliefs would pretty clearly indicate that we both think of the military as a traditionally conservative organization. It is a statistical, scientific, and empirical truth, as well. What if I wanted to ask a question that dealt the military and it's stances on certain practical issues - it's possible conservatism could come up, so how do we talk about it?

If I have a question about one of the above demographics, what is a better term to use? Surely there are valid sociological and scientific questions that have to do with these groups, but how do I word them so I don't hit -1000 by the end of the month?

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The problem with the questions you posed are that they are tautological. A liberal will support liberal policies, a conservative will support conservative policies in so far as a Gallup poll is concerned. When discussing items of skepticism or science, it is probably best to leave out labels for people based on such difficult to define terms.

Furthermore, there will be visceral reactions to those terms, that seems to be an impediment to rational discourse. Thus not helping your reputation score. :)

By the way, I actually consider myself quite liberal in most cases. I just figure that in the general public, a military uniform is viewed as a conservative attribute. ;) I didn't list all my views, since there wasn't enough space in the comments section. But I think it does drive home the point that many labels just aren't very meaningful.

EDIT TO ADD: As others have already pointed out. Not all users here are Americans. A Canadian Conservative Party member would be classified as a moderate in the US. And the permutations are mindbogglingly convoluted on the world stage (not to mention that the US political spectrum is like visible light to the entire EM spectrum). Perhaps naming a specific party in relation to the country you are talking about would alleviate some of the problems.

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    Looks like Borror0 and I were typing at the same time. :) And it seems we said essentially the same thing. :) – Larian LeQuella Mar 11 '11 at 21:55
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    +1 for pointing out it's tautological – Borror0 Mar 11 '11 at 22:01
  • I understand that, but st the heart of the question was "IS nuclear energy policy a political issue"? And I'd say the poll cited gives a mixed review, while more republicans (conservatives) favor nukes, about half of liberals do also. So it's not really an ideological issue, which we now know. It's not like I asked if there was a liberal bias to free lunch programs or some other loaded question, nuclear policy is based on scientific research and I always hope it can be bipartisan. So I don't think that question is tautological. – Dogmafrog Mar 11 '11 at 22:16
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    Fair point. But since it's a question to the general support of nuclear power, adding the political spectrum aspect to it inside the question may have been a less than ideal way to get the information. It makes it appear that there is an agenda to the question as opposed to a dispassionate search for data. – Larian LeQuella Mar 11 '11 at 22:19
  • Not a liberal, more like a moderate. – Borror0 Mar 13 '11 at 3:45
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    Thanks for the correction. – Larian LeQuella Mar 13 '11 at 3:48
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The definition of the terms are even more subjective than what you describe. The Conservative Party of Canada is a little bit to the political left of the United States' Democratic Party.

To answer your question, usually social scientists and pollsters let people describe themselves as liberal or conservatives. Do the same: if you need to you talk about liberals, moderates, or conservatives, be clear you talk about people who self-describe as such. Also mention the country you're talking about. A very large segment of the site's population come from outside of the United States. Take a look at the top users and you'll see what I mean. This is not an American website.

I have an even better advice, though: don't use those terms. If you need to describe the group that espouse a belief, you're most likely (but not necessarily) doing it wrong. You don't need to say "liberals are more likely to support minimum wage" to ask whether increasing the minimum wage increase unemployment. Most questions are about facts, not affiliations.

  • What about the example from my skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/677/…. It asked a purely stastical question, and was answered well by a poll. But people felt it was poisoned, even though the question contained no qualitative remarks about the relative correctness of the opinion. It could have been framed better with a regional context (in the US, in France, etc) but the question is an objective one answered by statistics, and debunks a widely held belief that US liberals are opposed to nuke energy. – Dogmafrog Mar 11 '11 at 22:10
  • Self proclaimed liberals/democrats being implied. – Dogmafrog Mar 11 '11 at 22:11
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    @Dogmarog: The objections to the questions come from three sources: the meaning of the terms vary greatly from region to region; your unconventional use of bias is confusing; it lacks proper context, so people think it's off-topic. – Borror0 Mar 11 '11 at 22:23
  • @Dogmafrog liberals == democrats cannot be implied. Root cause of confusion and ire. – Rusty Mar 11 '11 at 22:38
  • @rusty. The Gallup poll I cite in the question seems to indicate that the assumption has merit, do you disagree with the poll or it's conclusions, or am i interpreting it incorrectly? – Dogmafrog Mar 12 '11 at 0:20
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    @Dogmafrog No. You are correct. My comment was a bit vague...If you had referenced the cited poll as qualifying your terms in the body of the nuke question then liberal == democrat would have been a known and smoother over the gums ..the title question would have still raised hairs. Point being without the poll defining your terms liberal == democrat cannot be inferred. "liberal and conservative certainly feel ideological, but not political". Yes they are ideological. EXCEPT in current US politics where liberal, conservative, communist and fascist are just political invectives. Reality sucks. – Rusty Mar 12 '11 at 1:29
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You will not get much support by the community if you ask US-centric questions assuming we are all American. Many of the users, including most of the top users, are not American and cannot sensibly answer your questions.

It is most likely that if there is value in your question it can be generalised to be non-US centric, or maybe you should specify that you are interested in the US in particular (which does limit the options for getting good answers though).

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