James Stimson Answers My Questions About the Stimson Mood Index

Yesterday I wrote a post about the latest results of James Stimson’s national mood index, and I had a couple of questions about it. First, I wondered what it meant to say that a lot of people had a “liberal” view on something like inflation or the deficit. Second, I wondered if the increasing liberalness of the index was driven by liberals getting more liberal or by centrists and conservatives moving toward liberal views.

James Stimson himself wrote back with answers, so I thought I’d share. The mood index is based on an aggregation of various surveys throughout the year, and here’s what he says about how the underlying calculations work:

What does it mean that a particular issue or topic is strongly associated with the mood estimate? First, the underlying assumption of the estimation process is that survey questions are comparable to exactly the same question at different times. So take the Gallup question about taxes: “Do you think the federal income taxes that you pay are too high, too low, or about right?” Not surprisingly, the number claiming that taxes are too low is very small. But the number claiming that they are about right varies over time and is highly correlated with other aspects of liberalism. So even though a majority says “too high,” the size of the tolerant minority varies and is highly related to other aspects of liberalism. It is change over time that drives everything. So on this question we have a conservative majority that is moving toward liberalism.

What does growing liberalism mean? The calculation of the index takes each survey question and collapses the possible response into liberal responses, conservative responses, and neutral or uncodable responses. So a score of 69 for 2018 means that for the typical survey question that year (weighted by validity), about 69 percent chose the liberal response options and 31 percent chose the conservative ones. Imagine that on a question on the ACA the responses are:

  • Strongly Support 26%
  • Support 24%
  • Neutral 10%
  • Oppose 20%
  • Strongly Oppose 20%

Both Strongly Support and Support would be coded liberal while Strongly Oppose and Oppose would be coded conservative. Now the crucial point: moving from Support to Strongly Support has no effect whatsoever on the scale score; they are both liberal responses. So the answer to your question is that increasing liberalism scores mean that more people are choosing the liberal responses than in the comparison year. Thus this is not liberals becoming more liberal, it is more people becoming liberal (without regard to degree).

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate