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America Still Tilts Center-Right

Americans may be divided about their choice for President, but if the latest Gallup poll is any indication, they largely agree on what they want him to do.

Leading the list is “creating good jobs”, which commands the support of 92 percent of Americans. This is closely followed by reducing corruption, reducing the deficit, dealing with terrorism, and ensuring the security of Medicare and Social Security, all of which place in the high 80s.

Meanwhile, at the bottom end of the list come providing affordable healthcare, affordable college education, protecting the environment and, in last place, increasing taxes on the wealthy, with only 49 percent support.

If this poll reflects what is really going on in America, the political playing field is still tilted to the center-right. The Obama administration’s biggest priorities—higher taxes on the rich, preventing global warming and affordable healthcare—are the low men on the totem pole according to voters.

But public opinion remains tricky. Voters want the deficit cut, but they also want big entitlements preserved. Social Security can be fixed with relatively minor changes; Medicare cannot.

When voters want what they can’t have, no politician can expect an easy life.

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  • Gene

    Why on earth do pollsters persist in asking questions using such ill-defined terms? Giving the option “creating good jobs” to respondents is of no more value than asking people if the “country is on the right track.” That 92 percent figure about creating good jobs tells me nothing, since we can be sure that a goodly number of those people probably believe that the President CAN simply “create good jobs” with a snap of his fingers. IOW, the answers of economic illiterates get mashed up with the answers of people with more on the ball.

  • Eurydice

    Huh, so *only* 49 percent want the rich to pay more taxes, etc., etc. – that’s like only half the country, right?

    I suppose people can call this list of priorities “center right”, but it seems to me that’s it more the list that anyone would have in a time of economic insecurity. After all, in your essay on energy and the environment, you concluded that environmentalism is a luxury – the same could be said when ranking the items on this list.

  • cacrucil

    Krugman captures the relationship between the American people and government spending in this excellent op ed – “Moochers against Welfare.”

    “Finally, Cornell University’s Suzanne Mettler points out that many beneficiaries of government programs seem confused about their own place in the system. She tells us that 44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of those on Medicare say that they “have not used a government program.”

    “Presumably, then, voters imagine that pledges to slash government spending mean cutting programs for the idle poor, not things they themselves count on. And this is a confusion politicians deliberately encourage. For example, when Mr. Romney responded to the new Obama budget, he condemned Mr. Obama for not taking on entitlement spending — and, in the very next breath, attacked him for cutting Medicare.”

    “The truth, of course, is that the vast bulk of entitlement spending goes to the elderly, the disabled, and working families, so any significant cuts would have to fall largely on people who believe that they don’t use any government program.”

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “Social Security can be fixed with relatively minor changes; Medicare cannot.”

    I disagree, a medical system with the Feedback of Competition built in, and a Chilean style Social Security system, would fix both. By Feedback of Competition built in, I mean high deductible ($2k minimum) health insurance and health savings accounts for all. It would also be necessary to make employer paid for health insurance illegal, as well as low deductible and no deductible health insurance plans. This would have all consumers shopping for the best deals, doctors and hospitals advertising for patients, massive improvements in Quality, Soviet style queues and wait times would vanish and be replaced by on demand Services, and huge drops in Prices would reveal how incredibly bloated and obese American Healthcare has become.

    “It’s the feedback of competition that forces continuous improvements in Quality, Service, and Price in the Capitalist system.” Jacksonian Libertarian

    For example: Lasik eye surgery is a patient paid for medical procedure not covered by health insurance. Quality has massively improved from Radial Keratotomy to Lasers, Service has improved so much that the Patient picks the time and date for surgery and months long waits are unheard of, and Price has dropped to $299 per eye or about the price of a pair of designer prescription eye glasses.

  • Maire

    Labels like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ quickly lose meaning and relevance once cultural and historical context is removed from the picture. Polls and surveys may be the best tools for measuring this sort of thing, but they are also the most easily manipulable. So a couple years back we are told that more Americans now identify as conservative than liberal, whereas in the 1930s it was the other way around. Are we honestly to believe that people in the 1930s were more liberal? In fact they were only more liberal on economic policy; on social issues they were so conservative they’d make many modern conservatives look like hippies. Or what if a survey found that equal numbers of French and Americans leaned toward the center-right? Are we to present this as “proof” that the two peoples are in ideological harmony? It amazes me how these polls are trotted out as some kind of scientific smoking gun when they are nothing of the kind.

  • Kris

    I want the President to get me a pony!

    cacrucil@3: But then if anyone dares suggest that this state of affairs be fixed (eg Kevin Williamson), they are lambasted as libertarian nutjobs. Which might lead one to conclude that the real issue for Leftists is not that people are ignorant, but rather that they dare hold different opinions.

  • jeff landaw

    Some of the commenters here make good points, but the post in general supports what I’ve been saying since the Tea Party started: I’ll take it more seriously as a force for good when I see real evidence that something has changed since 1976. Why 1976? That was the year a rising young self-described Tory pundit named George F. Will listened to President Ford debate Jimmy Carter and observed: “Today’s ‘conservatism’? The average voter has looked into his heart of hearts, prayed long and hard, and come to the conclusion that it is high time the government cut his *neighbor’s* benefits.” Emphasis Professor Will’s. He added this past April, “For the next decade, American politics will turn on this truth: Slowing the growth of the entitlement state is absolutely necessary *and intensely unpopular*.” Emphasis mine this time.

  • thibaud

    Few canards are more damaging than the myth of a “center-right nation.” For starters, Americans favor raising taxes on >$250k incomes by more than two to one.

    But then they turn around and say they want more “opportunity,” not more “equality.” Other People’s taxes need to be raised, while Our Taxes need to be lowered.

    Free markets are good (although US support for free markets is lower than it is in China, Brazil, and Germany). But corporations are bad.

    Then you have the TPers’ classic rallying cry, “Get the government outta my medicare!”

    The cherry on the cake is found in these results from Pew Research’s American Values Survey, June 2012:


    “I am concerned about the government becoming too involved in health care”:

    Agree 59%
    Disagree 39%

    “The government needs to do more to make health care affordable and accessible”

    Agree 82%
    Disagree 16%

  • thibaud

    Not sure if this makes them center-left, or center-right, or maybe at the point of Schlesinger’s “radical center”, but it’s a safe bet that more than two-thirds of Americans will be appalled when they finally see what Romney’s hiding in his 2009-2010 tax returns.

    If Americans agree on anything, it’s the myth of equal opportunity, of “fairness” writ large.

    Nothing is more unfair in today’s America than the tax code – specifically, the myriad ways that the wealthy can easily game the code to end up paying a pittance or even nothing at all.

    The reductio ad absurdam of this is a presidential candidate whose Individual Retirement Account has accumulated TENS OF MILLIONS of dollars – when every other poor schlub is limited to tens of thousands annually.

    Columbia Law School Tax prof Michael Graetz may have isolated the most devastating of what will almost certainly be damaging revelations when Romney’s tax returns are finally scrutinized by the public:

    “If detected, undervaluing large gifts to one’s children could provoke large penalties from the I.R.S. These are the kinds of tax penalties that even multinational corporations try to avoid because they fear how the public would react to the adverse publicity that would inevitably follow.”

    Center-right, center-left, center-whatever: the people of this nation will not treat Romney kindly when they realize what a slimy, game-playing weasel he is.

  • Tom Gates

    “Finally, Cornell University’s Suzanne Mettler points out that many beneficiaries of government programs seem confused about their own place in the system. She tells us that 44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of those on Medicare say that they “have not used a government program.”

    Maybe they think this because these programs are supposed to be funded by taxes that they contributed for those pruposes including their employers. Up until seveal years ago, HHS sent me an annual statement on how much my employers and I had contributed to SS and Medicare during my 34 year work career. The amounts are not small. They stopped these statments of course, because it was giving people the wrong idea, that maybe the had the temerity to think that was “their money”. It will take another decade or so for people to forget this concept and in the meantime the push to integrate SS into the 401-k/403B system mounts, largely from academia, until one day when the US debt becomes unsustainable and and tax-deferred money is forced into the SS sytem. Then the US will be sitting on the bench with Argentia.
    It is amazing how many Clients I have that will not undergo a Roth conversion of their IRA, despite it being the best financial alternative becasue they do not believe the US will live up to its end of the deal, ie tax-free deferrals.

  • Jim.

    Something that’s always confused me: Isn’t the Center in the middle of people’s leanings, by definition?

    Calling this country “Center-Right” betrays a leftward bias of those who have framed the debate — academia, the MSM, and so on. Conservatives try to use this as leverage on politicians, but it’s somewhat of a losing game; obsessively “moderate”, split-the-difference types end up thinking that the “Center” — true compromise (and therefore their what their position ought to be) — is to the Left of where it really is.


    Victories by Scott Walker and ballot measures in San Jose and San Diego show that we are in fact moving towards a mindset of “cutting someone else’s government benefits”. The thing is, since only a minority of people gain from any given program (that’s how government benefits work out — they privilege one constituency over another) that’s actually going to lead to a reduction in overall government size.

    Already, public employee pensions are getting cut back by those not on those programs. Eventually, everyone not actually on Social Security will vote to curtail it. Eventually, everyone who has to pay out a whole lot more for Medicare (or other health subsidy) than they see in returns is going to vote to curtail that too. The ball has started rolling, and basic math is going to force it along until we’ve got a government we can afford with the taxes we’re willing to pay.


    Human progress is full of irony — it seldom happens without the privileged agreeing to terms and ideals that will undo their privileges. Johnson observed, “Why is it we hear the loudest yelps for freedom from the drivers of slaves?” It wasn’t in any way a helpful or constructive observation, but the perversity of human nature is well noted.

    Without those slaveholders voting for principles that were against their interests, those principles would probably never have taken root anywhere. The fight against privilege — literally, government laws structured in a way that favors one group over another, that takes money from one group and gives it to another — would have seen no progress for decades or centuries.


    By the way, the fact that you are blindly in favor of a Eurosocialist approach to health care (you can’t even see the argument of skeptics who don’t believe that increasing government will decrease the cost of the high-quality care and miracle factory that we’ve come to expect) puts you firmly on the Left on the critical issue of the day.

    Dilettantish flirting with other Conservative causes does not change this overwhelming fact.

  • thibaud

    Jim – majorities in this country, and HUGE majorities in every advanced nation, support a public option. It’s a mainstream, centrist position. Supporting our nightmarish kludge is an outlier position.

  • thibaud

    Jim – when you see an Olympics opening ceremony that celebrates our Frankenstein health insurance system – instead of one celebrating, say, Britain’s National Health Service – then I’ll reconsider your claim that ours is more popular.

  • Jim.


    If our system is so unpopular, why is it so easy for Republicans to get traction with the argument, “Obama lied when he said if you like your insurance you can keep it”? Why do unions, etc, ask for so many carve-outs and waivers?

    As for the Olympics… pure propaganda. Have you forgotten WRM’s post about the fact that typical NHS senior care facilities have a record that (in America) would land them on a 60 Minutes expose?

    Thibaud, most of America (prospective parents in particular, those contemplating whether to have the children that are essential to support the Blue Model) stands to lose far more than it stands to gain from a Eurosocialist takeover of our medical sector.

    Eurosocialism is social euthanasia. “Advanced” countries are committing suicide– look at their fertility rates. I do not want to see my family in particular or America in general go the way of the dodo.

    Hence, REPEAL. We could wish for a better standard-bearer than Romney, but he’ll have to do. Obama has to go, to get rid of the horrendous blunder that is ObamaCare.

  • thibaud

    Jim – re Republican FUD, Obamneycare is Robamacare: a half-arsed semi-reform that fails to strike down the most egregious and destructive part of the system – the unfathomable insistence on ensuring steady profit streams for our for-profit private insurers.

    So long as a few people get gold-plated health insurance packages paid for by Other People, of course those people will favor the status quo.

    In the meantime, you have over a hundred million Americans who either have no insurance at all, or had insurance but are now being denied it by the for-profit insurance mafia, or are spending most of their disposable income on plans that are ridiculously expensive.

    This is why majorities again and again say they want the government to ensure that everyone have access to a good, basic insurance plan.

    As to prospective families’ views, you’re way off base here. The Scandinavian model in particular is extraordinarily pro-family. By design, it showers vast benefits upon families of newborns and toddlers, partly to try to achieve their goals of greater gender equality, partly to try to help working families, and partly due strong “natalist” instincts of the sort you and I share.

    It works. Swedish fertility rates are higher than for non-hispanic/black Americans. Their families aren’t religious, and their houses have less shiny consumer junk on average, but they’re more stable and better-educated than ours (cf Charles Murray).

  • Mango

    Thibaud, any source for this- “It works. Swedish fertility rates are higher than for non-hispanic/black Americans.”?

    Related (Steven Malanga, Our Vanishing Ultimate Resource):
    “The worldwide fertility decline that began in the 1970s sparked new natalist experiments. Sweden introduced paid parental leave of one year in 1980 and then extended it to 15 months in 1989. Austria offered yearlong maternal leave, paying a woman up to 40 percent of her working earnings. Other governments have tried tax credits and even direct payments to parents.
    At best, these policies have had only a short-term, marginal effect on fertility rates. Sweden’s fertility rate bounced back after the country introduced its aggressive natalist policies, rising from 1.65 in 1984 to 2.1 in 1991. But the rate then slumped rapidly, falling to 1.5 by the decade’s end.”

    (Then up a bit, then down again.)

  • thibaud

    Here you go Man go:

    For 2012, Sweden’s fertility rate is estimated at 1.9, as is Norway’s; Iceland is at 2.0.

    Thanks to recent declines in immigration by desperately poor campesinos, US fertility has dropped steadily from 2.1 in 2009 to 1.9 today.

    Fertility for white non-hispanic Americans is of course even lower, at about 1.7 – ie substantially lower than for the nordic countries.

    It’s obviously a complex subject, but certainly a big inhibitor is US corporations’ brutally anti-family culture – the lack of paid leave for new parents or child care benefits, hostility to working moms, the worship of busywork and putting in long hours for no purpose other than to suck up and try to move up the “stack rank”, etc.

    There’s a better way. As with so many things, the pro-family, frugal, anti-consumption northerners have much to teach us.

  • J R Yankovic

    “It’s obviously a complex subject, but certainly a big inhibitor is US corporations’ brutally anti-family culture – the lack of paid leave for new parents or child care benefits, hostility to working moms, the worship of busywork and putting in long hours for no purpose other than to suck up and try to move up the ‘stack rank,’ etc.”

    How dare you.

    Explain this to me: If corporations are conservative BY DEFINITION – I mean, at least that’s what the most ardent defenders of their superior rights and privileges call themselves (rights and privileges, need I remind you, of THE most productive, wealth-creating PERSONS in our society) – then HOW can they be anti-family?

    I’ll grant you various corporate policies can act as something of a crucible to smooth family functioning , sifting the strong and determined households from the feeble and vacillating (you know, “find out whatcher MADE of”). But, hey, that’s just what Life is all about. It was never meant to be easy. How else are we going to separate the TRULY strong – er, I mean good – from the bad, weak and undeserving? In conclusion I say, thank the deists’ ever-more-retiring god for the Modern (post-1975) Corporation – and, yes, for its steadily more intrusive fingers into every corner of working people’s lives.

    On a hugely more serious note: No small thanks to both Jim. and thibaud (I’ll admit from rather different quarters in each case) for very welcome light on a topic I find generates more than its share of heat. And thanks also to Maire for both air AND light, from a sorely needed historical perspective, on what I’d swear has got to be one of the darkest, stuffiest rooms in the blogosphere.

  • thibaud

    JR – haha, well put. Smarter conservatives have long recognized the difference between capitalism and conservatism. Capitalism isn’t pro-family. It’s at best indifferent.

    TPers aren’t conservatives. They’re capitalists. A big difference.

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