Are well-educated people kidding themselves that they’re left-wing?

My interest was stirred by a recent article on the BBC website that claimed that older, well-educated people pretend that they’re more left-wing than they actually are.  The right-wing quality newspaper The Daily Telegraph seemed to have fun with their headline, “Champagne socialists ‘not as left-wing as they think they are'”…  But is the claim true?

The articles are based on this paper , which is a ‘proper’ academic paper (albeit not in a peer-reviewed journal) that seems to use acceptable methods.  But having skimmed the paper, the interpretation in the media articles is a bit dubious:

  1. To agree with the BBC’s take on this, you have to assume that you can directly compare people’s stated political position with their ‘actual’ political position. However, I don’t think the two scales are the same.  The stated political position is a question on where you would position yourself on a left-right scale.  The ‘actual’ political position comes from questions on income inequality, which is only one aspect of people’s political positioning.  This is particularly important as we know that better-educated people are more likely to value libertarian issues, which is a separate reason they might consider themselves left-wing from their views on inequality.
  2. The results show that people with more education (at a constant income) are more likely to believe themselves to be left-wing than those with less education. At the same time, they’re more supportive of inequality.  Given that particular values on the scales are not comparable, you could reverse the statement above – people with less education are more likely to believe themselves to be right-wing, but dislike inequality more.  This means we could equally say that ‘less educated people are kidding themselves that they’re right-wing’!

But I’m not a political scientist, so I’m happy to be corrected here…

About Ben Baumberg Geiger

I am a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research (SSPSSR) at the University of Kent. I also helped set up the collaborative research blog Inequalities, where I write articles and short blog posts. I have a wide range of research interests, at the moment focusing on disability, the workplace, inequality, deservingness and the future of the benefits system, and the relationship between evidence and policy. You can find out more about me at
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