Thus, while it’s true that fewer Americans self-identify as liberal than as moderate or conservative, this tells us almost nothing about voters’ policy views. “Moderates” do not actually display a preference for “centrist” positions, but merely for ideologically inconsistent ones. In fact, the Stanford political scientist David Broockman has shown that moderates are just as likely to subscribe to “extreme” policy positions as other voters are: In the United States, there are self-identified “moderates” who support a $1 million maximum income, prohibiting gays and lesbians from teaching public school and the mass deportation of all undocumented immigrants.

Meanwhile, the number of genuine “liberals” and “conservatives” is far smaller than meets the eye. Most voters who identify with those terms are partisans first, and ideologues second. Or as Mr. Kinder and Mr. Kalmoe conclude an analysis of four decades of voter survey data, “ideological identification seems more a reflection of political decisions than a cause.” In other words: The average conservative Republican isn’t a Republican because she’s a conservative — she self-identifies as a conservative because she’s a Republican.

Eric Levitz on false moderates.

Also known as: Modern democracy is broken, round #208.