An important driver and facet of people’s political engagement is their ideology, which we have already measured through their views on specific economic and social issues. However, beyond their specific views and the underlying ideological positions that they indicate, we also need to take into account how people think of themselves ideologically. Someone might make decisions about whether and how to participate, or who to vote for, because they think of themselves as left wing or right wing, even if their views on policy issues are moderate or point in the opposite direction. As such, the survey asked people to place themselves on a ten-point scale running from ‘Left wing’ (1) to ‘Right wing’ (10).
Approaching three fifths of people (57.1%) place themselves on the right or to the right of centre, and a plurality of one fifth (21.7%) place themselves just to the right of centre (category 6). This leaves slightly more than two fifths (42.9%) who consider themselves left wing or left of centre, of which three fifths (or a quarter (25.4%) of people overall) place themselves in the two categories closest to the centre. The clustering of people around the centre, with three fifths of people (61.2%) opting for one of the four middle categories, is not unusual in distributions of ideological self-placement and may indicate that people were looking for a middle category when answering the question. Unusually, such a category was not provided in an effort to force respondents to indicate which way they err ideologically. This may mean that many of those who opted for the category just to the right of centre (6) actually consider themselves to be moderates who fall in the centre of the ideological scale although we might have expected them to flock to category 5, which is often taken to be the middle of a ten-point scale.
Whatever the consequences of not including a middle category, it is clear that most people consider themselves to be ideologically moderate, and thus place themselves near the middle of the left-right scale. When not offered a middle option, it seems that more people plump for being slightly right of centre than slightly left of centre. However, it is also the case that all but one of the categories on the right has more people in it than the equivalent category on the left: only the furthest left category is larger than its equivalent on the far right. Of course, we do not know what people had in mind when they answered the question, and left-right placement can be related to economic or social issues, both, or to other things such as party identity. Whatever they mean by it, however, the British public tends to lean right in terms of how they see themselves.