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left and lefter
Study: Democrats Moving Left Faster Than Republicans Moving Right

At least since the 2010 midterms, it’s been a liberal talking point that Republican extremism is to blame for political polarization and gridlock. In the old days, the argument goes, Republicans were a moderate party, but over the past generation the GOP has been gradually taken over by its far-right wing. Before the last GOP debate, for example, the Center for American Progress launched a “Right of Reagan” campaign to supposedly show “how the extremism of today’s Republican presidential candidates sets them apart from their conservative idol.”

But as the debates over issues like the $15 minimum wage, healthcare, and universal preschool have already shown, the Democrats have moved to the left at least as quickly as the Republicans have moved to the right. After all, Hillary Clinton has to renounce a good chunk of her husband’s positions to be competitive in the 2016 primary.

Now, a paper on polarization and inequality released in August by political scientists from Princeton, Georgetown, and the University of Oregon (and highlighted this week in a Washington Post article) provides some empirical evidence that Democratic Party’s leftward drift is more pronounced than the GOP’s rightward drift, at least at the state level. The study’s overall argument is that income inequality has increased political polarization at the state level since the 1990s. But the authors find that that this happens more by moving state Democratic parties to the left than by moving state Republican parties to the right. As the Democratic Party lost power at the state level over the past 15 years, it also effectively shed its moderate wing. Centrist Democrats have increasingly lost seats to Republicans, “resulting in a more liberal Democratic party” overall. The authors find that the ideological median of Republican legislators has shifted much less.

One study does not a thesis prove, but the paper is certainly interesting, and it coheres with the trends we’ve been seeing. So while Democrats from President Obama on down often give the impression that their party is moderate and in line with public opinion while Republicans have undergone a sudden jolt to the right, it may not be that simple. Our discussions about polarization need to reflect the fact that it is a bipartisan affair.

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  • Boritz

    “…Democrats from President Obama on down…”

    to the NYT, WaPo, Boston Globe, LA Times, CNN, MSNBC……..echo echo echo chamber chamber chamber…

  • wigwag

    This post makes about as much sense as all the Via Meadia posts about the “blue civil war.” Yep, its the Democrats experiencing a civil war not the Republicans. It’s the Democrats who are lurching to extremes not the Republicans.

    It’s not about left or right; those terms are increasingly meaningless. They’re designed to do little more than fire up the Rubes. Guess what? It’s not working. The real civil war is between our increasingly powerful elites and everyone else and it has nothing to do with political party, ideology or outdated terms like left and right.

    Is it “left” or “right” to oppose the common core and high stakes testing? Elites love those policies and most other Americans, whether their Tea Party supporters or teachers union members hate them. Is the elite position the leftist position or the rightest position? Is the Tea Party/Teachers Union position the leftist or the rightest position?

    What about taxes? It used to be that leftists wanted to raise taxes on the rich and rightists didn’t. Well, that doesn’t work anymore either. Huge swaths of the grassroots GOP are happy to see taxes for the rich increased. The leader in the polls for the GOP nomination, Donald Trump is for raising taxes on the rich; so is Jeb Bush, who tried to resurrect his failing campaign by advocating for a change in the carried interest exception. Is Trump a leftist? Is Bush? Are the tens of millions of GOP voters who support Donald Trump?

    Then there’s immigration, legal and otherwise. Elites are highly sympathetic to a highly open immigration policy; millions of average Americans from Tea Party members to African American organizations are not. Is it the elites who are leftists on this issue or is it the average Americans who are.

    The article that this post cited is garbage; most social science is. But that’s not the problem. The real problem is that Via Meadia is peddling an outdated, anachronistic and uninformative perspective on American politics. “Right” and “Left” don’t mean what they used to. It’s a different world.

    Get used to it.

    • Government Drone

      We’re seeing more Republicans intra-party warfare because all the longtime moderates are being joined by a more conservative class of newly elected politicians, while the party is also gaining more seats. On the other hand, we don’t see a Democrat “civil war” because most of the moderates lost out on elections. The result is a much more monotone (& leftist) Democratic Party, while the Republicans still have a larger internal range of ideology because the old moderates aren’t really being displaced (yet) by new conservatives.

      • wigwag

        The GOP is having the civil war that it needs. The Democrats also need a civil war; unfortunately they aren’t having one yet. The civil war that Democrats need is between working class Americans being financially squeezed and the Party’s gentry liberal educated set obsessed with social issues. The gentry liberals are winning; they need to be cut down to size. Ironically, many GOP elitists are gentry liberals themselves. If working class Americans don’t start taking their political party back, they will soon be left with no representation at all. In fact, it may already be too late.

        • Bruno_Behrend

          So you are essentially conceding the point the article makes…

          “The GOP is having the civil war that it needs. The Democrats also need a civil war; unfortunately they aren’t having one yet.”

          I can agree with some of your post above, and it is true that SOME of the left/right nomenclature is no longer descriptive, but the fact remains that the GOP coalition is so large and intellectually diverse that it could essentially form 2 parties, one of which would take away 15-30% of the democrats who remain sane.

          The Dems, OTOH, have a spokesperson (Wasserman) who is flummoxed when confronted with a question of what separates Democrats from Socialists (“not much” is a correct answer).

          Implicit in your posts is the reality that supporters of “gentry liberals” are probably the largest segment of the US electorate, and neither the Dems moving left nor the GOP fighting off the Freedom Caucus serves their interests.

          What is see happening is that the structures put in place to make a 3rd party nearly impossible are now put under the immense pressure of a 3rd party literally screaming to be born. The irony is that this party screaming to be born is NOT the Tea Party or the Socialist Party, but a centrist party being ripped apart by the extremes created by campaign finance idiocy, gerrymandering, laws preventing party formation, and the inertia created by structures that benefit only the elites.

          It IS more complex than left/right, but that doesn’t mean the post is incorrect. The Dems HAVE moved farther than the Republicans.

  • Aaron1960

    While Barry Goldwater would be a fairly typical pol in today’s Republican Party, JFK would be a striking anomaly in today’s democrat party.

    • Dusty Thompson

      He wouldnt be a Democrat. He would have been run out long ago by Leftwit America haters that took over the Democrat party in the 70s.

      • ojfl

        Example was the rejection of Joe Lieberman, much in the mold of JFK.

    • TimothyLane

      As recently as 1986, the Democrats supported tax reform that lowered rates. For a decade or so after that, they at least nominally supported the idea. Now you would be hard pressed to find a single Democrat who would support the idea.

      • Albert8184

        Actually, you’d be hard pressed to find a single Democrat who’d support the idea of raising taxes enough to support the sort of welfare state that Europe has. They’ve boxed themselves into a corner.

        • Aaron1960

          Except for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders are ALL in that camp right now.

          • Albert8184

            No they aren’t. You’re problem is you believe what they SAY on tv too much.

    • Albert8184

      You’re saying therefore that Goldwater and McCain are twins? Goldwater and Graham? Goldwater and Boehner? Goldwater and McConnell? Goldwater and Jeb Bush? Goldwater and Ryan? Goldwater and Cruz? Goldwater and Rubio? I do remind you that Goldwater LOST the election in 1964 running as a war hawk and opposing civil rights legislation. LOST to “Hey Hey Ho Ho, LBJ has got to go”. LBJ – the guy who did just what the right wingers wanted in Vietnam.

      I think you need to buy a good sunhat, and drop cable television.

      • Aaron1960

        Goldwater WAS NOT opposed to ‘civil rights’ legislation. He insisted correctly that those rights were already outlined in the Constitution. Regarding Vietnam, having no proof, like a lefty-prog-democrat, you make stuff up.

        • Albert8184

          I’m talking to you about Goldwater’s platform for the presidency. I didn’t say he was opposed to civil rights. What I told you is historical fact. Goldwater’s showing in the election results is nothing but evidence his views were too extreme even in 1964.

          The one who’s probably a Lefty is YOU. Conservatives don’t need to rewrite history. Mainstream Conservatives don’t assert that people like Goldwater represent mainstream thought in America. Not in 1964 and especially not today. The GOP is too liberal for JFK today, not to mention Goldwater.

      • Aaron1960

        Could even go further here: democrats controlled the presidency, congress and the senate so, your whole theory is trash. I got the Thumbs Up because you’re wrong and ignorant, and perhaps your sources are suspect, or you have NO source.

        • Albert8184

          Another stupid comment that has NOTHING to do with my questions to you. I didn’t offer you a theory. I offered you a set of questions as a counter-point to your ridiculous assertion about Goldwater being a “typical pol” in the GOP today.

  • Dusty Thompson

    Strange, I havent heard anyone calling for total anarchy. That would be far right. The GOP wants Big Govt almost as much as Liberals. What good is it to win an election and give all the power back to the ORIGINAL CONSTITUTIONAL OWNERS of this country. The Citizens. The GOP invented the DEA after all.

    • Rick Caird

      Actually, I like some anarchy. For example, free market capitalism is anarchy. The only thing we need is enforcement of contracts and punishment for fraud.

      • peterjohn936

        Nature abhors a vacuum especially a power vacuum. Where governments are weak the warlords control.

  • smintheus

    Republicans at the state level around the country routinely introduce bizarrely aggressive legislation, such as bans on all forms of abortion, and corrosive laws that serve only partisan goals to the detriment of society, such as mandatory voter ID, but it’s the Democrats who are primarily moving to the extremes? Hoo boy.

  • barbi520

    how in the world could the lunatic right wing move any further to the right???. that’s why they have stopped moving to the right. They long ago became insane and just fell off the planet. Their policies are cruel and hateful and make no sense. They wake up everyday wondering what group of Americans they can hurt today, the poor first and foremost. They don’t want government to work; so they make sure it doesn’t. Thank god, democrats are finally espousing some actual liberal values. sTOP WATCHING fOX NEWS PROPAGANDA. You have made our country the laughing stock of the world. all GOP does is destroy things, including themselves.

    • Dale Fayda

      “…all GOP does is destroy things, including themselves.” Check out the most recent Congressional map, dingus. Man, is it red! Oh, and don’t forget to look into the composition of the vast majority of state legislatures – most GOP-controlled state houses in recent memory. Take away the failed state of CA and only 7% of US population is under complete Democrat control. Pretty telling stats, don’t you think? And this is during the reign of Barack Obama, the healer of the planet and the halter of the tides, no less, ha, ha, ha, ha!

      Now, as a conservative I have MANY bones to pick with the Republican party, but if this is self-destruction, bring it on!

  • barbi520

    let’s see. The 40 members of the Freedom coalition want to make the new speaker sign a pledge that he will not pass a budget unless it defunds both Obamacare and Planned Parenthood. They want him to phase out the CDC. yes, that’s right. they think a nation 300 million people should not have a center for disease control. they also want him to work on eliminating SS and Medicare. all of the programs are supported by huge majorities of Americans. the right wing are lunatics. There is no other country on the face of the earth that has an electorate stupid enough to vote in people to run their government who don’t believe in having a government. you win the stupid prize. you won the hate prize a long time ago.

  • spraynandprayn

    heh, news flash, the Republicans aren’t moving right

  • freetofu

    This is simply because there’s so much more space on the left. Dems have been center-right, and Republicans far-right, for decades now, with disastrous results. It’s called rebalancing.

  • BackwardsBoy

    The left attempts to caricature anyone who doesn’t agree with them as some sort of “right wing whacko” and to make their radical leftist positions appear to be the norm. Thus, someone who supports the principles of limited government as outlined in the Constitution is abnormal, an “extremist.” It’s a time-honored tradition amongst those who seek to control others. Merely suggesting that there are limits to power is enough to earn the moniker these days.
    If I stand on the shore and you paddle away in a canoe, who’s doing the moving?

  • Albert8184

    So it says the article above….”One study does not a thesis prove”. But in Mein Kampf, Hitler says the “Big Lie” should be SO BIG, that none dare question its truthfulness.

    My point is this big lie is constantly repeated that the Republicans are “moving right” and even “moving to the right of Reagan”. Well, maybe segments of voters are… but the establishments of BOTH parties aren’t. And the establishments don’t longer care what the people think as much as they care about convincing them TO THINK certain things..

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