Liberal quotient

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Liberal quotient is a new term coined by Conservapedia to quantify how liberal a group is. It is used for assessing political bias and for evaluating statements or positions by such a group.

The liberal quotient is defined as the ratio of liberals to conservatives in a group. Thus the liberal quotient is zero when there are no liberals in the group, and, by definition, infinity if there are no conservatives.

According to a Harris Poll from 2005 [1], 40% of all Americans identify as moderates, 35% as conservatives, and 18% as liberals. This gives a liberal quotient of about 1:2. These numbers have been fairly constant during the last decades.

A Wikipedia user can choose from 32 different categories to self-identify their political ideology. There are 240 users who chose to self-identify as liberal, and 75 who self-identified as conservative. This means that the group of editors on Wikipedia that chose to self-identify has a liberal quotient of about 3:1.

Groups having a high liberal quotient would include university faculties, the National Education Association, the leadership of the Democratic Party, the management of the Village Voice and New York Times, and the leaders of the ACLU. Groups having a low liberal quotient would include a trade association of small business owners, an association of Christian athletes, and worshipers at church on an ordinary Sunday, with the exception of black protestant congregations [2].

Comparison to Other Metrics

While some liberals oppose any measurement of their influence, others have proposed different metrics. One alternative proposal of a liberal quotient is the percentage of liberals in a population or group.

This metric fails to distinguish between conservatives and moderates. For example, this metric yields the same result if there were 50 liberals and 50 moderates as if there were 50 liberals and 50 conservatives, even though the two groups have very different political biases.

The formulation LQ = L/(L+C) has also been proposed - the Liberal quotient is the ratio of self identified liberals to the sum of self identified liberals and conservatives. This yields a range from 0 to 1, and is not affected by moderates or the unidentified. But by constraining the quotient to a scale of 0 to 1, it understates a large increase in liberal control. A group having 9 liberals and just one conservative would have a liberal quotient of 0.9, while a group having 99 liberals and only one conservative would have a liberal quotient of only 0.99. Increasing the liberal control eleven-fold would result in only a 10% increase in this quotient. A rebuttal to this criticism is that this is just how percentages work.

Proponent of this measure point out that both measure are mathematical equivalent. Given a liberal quotient defined as LQ=L/C the alternative measure can be obtained by the transformation LQ/(1+LQ). Since one measure can be obtained from the other by a simple transformation, preferring one over the other is simply a matter of taste.

Criticism

Critics of the liberal quotient point out that it discounts groups identifying neither as liberal nor conservative, such as the 40% of moderates in the American public. A group with 97 moderates, 2 liberals, and 1 conservative has the same liberal quotient as a group with 1 moderate, 66 Liberals and 33 conservatives, although some might claim the latter group is more liberal. Furthermore, while "conservative" may be considered a general description for someone with right-wing ideological beliefs, "liberal" does not carry the same connotations for people of the left wing; many socialists would not consider themselves to be liberals.

It has also been pointed out that this metric does not differentiate between groups with differing levels of liberal beliefs; an extreme left-wing group may have the same liberal quotient as a mildly liberal group.

The metric can fail to distinguish between conservatives and moderates. The liberal quotient yields the same result if there were 50 conservatives and 50 moderates as if there were 100 conservatives, even though the two groups have very different political biases.

A rebuttal is to these criticisms is that it is unclear what moderates add or subtract to a group. For example, it is argued that the counterweight by provided 33 conservatives to the 66 liberals in the presence of 1 moderate, than that is just as effective as the counterweight provided by 1 conservative to 2 liberals in the presence of 97 moderates. The influence of moderates are in this argumentation purposefully ignored, for the sake of simplicity.

In this context it has also been pointed out that the term liberal quotient can be misleading, and will often be understood to mean liberal fraction. The liberal quotient of 1:2 of the American public, for example, might be mistaken to mean that 66% of all Americans are conservative, although it is only about 35% according to the Harris poll.

A more fundamental criticism is directed to the use of the liberal quotient when applied to media outlets or encyclopedias. Rather than estimating the political orientation of editors, critics propose to consider the political orientation of the actual content. Recent scientific studies on media bias look at the media content, and not at the orientation of the editors, and use in addition other measures than the quotient of articles with a liberal bias versus articles with a conservative bias [3][4]. Note, that both studies nevertheless conclude that most media outlets have a liberal bias.

Another problem with applying this metric to media outlets and encyclopedia is that, in contrast to groups, unbiased articles, the analog to moderates, do not swing their orientation in the presence of biased articles. An encyclopedia with 99.7% unbiased articles, 0.2% liberally biased articles, and 0.1% conservatively biased articles, has the same liberal bias as a product with 66.6% liberally biased articles, 33.3% conservative articles , 0.1% unbiased articles. However, the first would be considered a reliable source of information, while the second would be highly unreliable. And this despite having the same liberal quotient. Even if the influence of moderates in a group of people might be unclear, the influence of unbiased articles on on the reliability of an encyclopedia is obvious.

Other criticism of the liberal quotient is directed at the way it is used in comparison of the bias of Wikipedia with statistically sound results from a Harris Poll. The identified problems are:

  • The comparison relies on raw data from a self-selected sample [5].
  • It compares 2 answers of a poll with 3 possible answers, to 2 of 32 user categories.
  • It compares the outcome of a poll in which respondent can only choose one option, with one a self-identification project, in which users can choose as many options as they like.
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