mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn bayles
Public Opinion
Don’t Write Off the American Left

After winning two major electoral victories in 2006 and 2008, the Democrats made the mistake of believing that their majority was permanent and that they would wield power forever—a complacency that contributed to their undoing two months ago.

After their stunning 2016 performance, Republicans might be tempted to indulge in similar fantasies about their enduring strength and their opponents’ fundamental weakness. But a new Gallup poll showing a steady increase in the number of Americans who self-identify as “liberal” is a reminder that such overconfidence is unwarranted.

hi3qavagfe-738zfqmpaqa

Even as liberalism ticked upward to its highest reading in the last quarter century, the number of Americans who identify as conservative has stagnated, and actually registered on the low side in 2016. Meanwhile, the “moderate” constituency, while still sizable, has eroded.

Gallup points out that most of the rise of “liberalism” is the result of a leftward shift among Democrats. The ideological composition of the Republican Party, at least according to the “liberal-moderate-conservative” metric, has remained roughly the same.

Overall, then, the long-term trend communicated by Gallup is not the triumph of conservatism nor its collapse, but the shrinkage of the political center and the rise of a more polarized party system. Such an environment is more volatile, and could return either party to office in the blink of an eye.

As Sean Trende has reminded us, there are no permanent majorities in American politics. Parties will always need to fight tirelessly for the chance to wield power, knowing that they will one day lose it again.

Features Icon
Features
show comments
  • Andrew Allison

    Leaving aside the fact that, excluding CA & NY, it was Trump who had the 2.8 million plurality, how does the fact that Democrats are moving left (which arguably explains the election result) represent a threat to the relentless Republican advace in control of the States?x

  • QET

    More Americans self-identify as liberal because they have been conditioned to do so. If the Right will dispossess the Left of its media and educational fiefdoms, then sanity can be gradually restored to the people.

    • RedWell

      Seems like an odd claim. Are conservatives not also conditioned? A majority in the South identity as conservative, a majority on the west coast as liberal. Why is the latter an effect of conditioning and not the former?
      Also, what we’re looking at is roughly a 1/3 split. Seems reasonable in a democracy. To extend your logic, an overwhelming “conservative” number (or “liberal,” in another universe) would be very troubling. In other words, single party rule, which erodes rule of law over time.

      • ——————————

        “Are conservatives not also conditioned?”

        Everyone is ‘conditioned’ to something, but not to the degree that humanity is exposed to liberal thinking.

        • Josephbleau

          Forget conditioning, the US is divided into 5 cultural nations, per many books, and each area has it’s traits. The yankees will always want to perfect humanity by regulating their behavior, the Mid West will want peace, the South will yearn for aristocracy, the Appalachians will want Brave heart freedom, Dutch New York wants everyone to do what they desire. The Electoral College makes sure that power is passed among the nations serially.

      • QET

        It’s a fair question. I differentiate conditioning from education, inculcation, influence. Conditioning to me is more specific, single-minded, purposeful. The Left’s conditioning is driven by, is the work of, a discrete and coherent (more or less) ideology crafted according to schematics and blueprints by persons calling themselves “intellectuals.” At least that is how I see it.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Most likely, the Right, in the sudden position of actual responsibility, will disclose that a lot of what the Left has been saying was correct all along. When a party is suddenly standing out on the bare floorboards of the theater stage and the spotlight is bright, it is not enough to sing and dance about “small government”. Republicans are soon to discover they have to produce “details”. When many of those details stink, we will indeed be talking sanity—–but not like you think.

      • QET

        That’s a fair point as well, FG. If your idea of “good governance” is providing the people with what they want, then you are correct, the GOP either will fall on its face or be required to govern in a manner hardly distinguishable from that of the Democrats. It is the GOP’s tendency to do just that in the years when they have had control of the Presidency and Congress that led so many Republican voters to criticize that party, form the Tea Party, support Trump.

        But if that is how you do see it, then your entire conception of good governance rests on the conception of just giving the people what they demand, and I doubt you actually believe that. A century ago, what the people demanded was in many cases inimical to what you consider right and just today, and there is no reason to just presume that today’s Democratic voters are fully enlightened both as to their own self-interest and as to yours and mine. The whole point of the GOP’s formal positions on small government is that it will ultimately be better for the people than the current regime of promising people more free stuff that cannot be paid for except by actuarial and accounting frauds that only a sovereign government is permitted to indulge in.

        But if the GOP cannot withstand the initial onslaughts of petulance from people (the media, really) howling each time they are told they must be expected to actually independently think and pay at least a part of their own way through life, and each time the media assures them that it is some sort of fundamental breach of the “social compact” or of “democratic values” that some people living in Manhattan or San Francisco have higher incomes than they do and can afford third homes and private planes and use their money to get their dumb kids into Harvard, while they cannot–each time people are assured that this state of affairs is somehow a fundamental affront to justice and democracy; if the GOP cannot ensure this sort of thing for the time necessary to re-educate the people as to what in fact a good and just society looks like (small government), then yeah, this year’s crop of Republicans is going to fail just like all the others have in the last 35 years.

        • FriendlyGoat

          Details—–when finally disclosed—–either stink or they don’t. People, whose noses become suddenly overwhelmed by particular stenches, will probably say so.

  • Pait

    That’s all very fine and good provided we have free and open elections, checks and balances, separation of powers, and a free press in a few years. Niceties in which the Republican leadership arguably does not believe in, and is visibly working to undermine.

    • QET

      It really is beyond ironic that you would not identify as the real nonbelievers in those concepts and mechanisms the very party (Democrats) and ideology (Left-liberal) that has so assiduously, openly and disdainfully worked to eradicate each and every impediment to pure majoritarian mob-democracy. I hold no brief for the “Republican leadership” as they are mostly indistinguishable from the Democratic party leadership in the one-party state we actually live in (hint: Trump and his cabinet picks and advisors are not the “Republican party leadership”), but to argue that it is that side that is “visibly working to undermine” our constitutional order is really just bad faith. The Left has identified our constitutional order as a very bad thing that ought to be eradicated, they have made no secret of this (except perhaps a wee bit in the last few weeks 🙂 ). If it is our constitutional order that you yourself value, you are barking up the wrong forest if you imagine that it is the Republicans, leadership or otherwise, who threaten it.

      • Pait

        Yes, I include the president elect and his cabinet among the Republican leadership working to undermine the institutions of the Republic. Their weapon will be corruption, which I fear will be embarrassingly effective with regard to the congressional and party GOP establishment. Embarrassing at least for the few, if any, Republicans who don’t share the same disregard for the future of the country.

        • QET

          Well, I can’t see the future, and corruption is an occupational hazard (and are you really stacking up some imagined possible future corruption of Trump & Co against the actual documented historical corruption of Hillary & Co?). But Trump & Co have been the GOP “leadership” for only a couple of days, not enough time to be a bad influence on others yet, and just today deplored the actual GOP leadership’s shenanigans with the independent ethics commission. So I’d say that the evidence so far is against your prognostication.

          • Pait

            Fortunately, I cannot see the future either, because what I see is bleak, and perhaps it will not come to pass.

          • JR1123581321

            Oh yeah, you were hysterical after the election, claiming the end is here. That was funny. Can you do it again?

          • Pait

            What I see is dreadful. I am hoping that it will not come to pass.

    • JR1123581321

      So after Democrats used parliamentary tricks and bribes (Louisiana Purchase, Cornhuster Kickback) to jam ACA down our throats Obama ruling by fiat since 2010, Harry Reid nuking the filibuster, shady funding for Obamacare, Fast and Furious, IRS targeting, you are worried about Republicans? Oh that’s hilarious. I bet in about 17 days you will become a big fan of checks on the executive. Two words: pen, phone.

      • Pait

        I like checks on executive power. Always did.

        Please refresh my memory on what I wrote about the Louisiana Purchase. My views may have evolved in the last 200 years. Also, the search function on my computer is a little hazy concerning things that I wrote before the 1980s.

        • JR1123581321

          I was referring to buying of Mary Laundreau vote in ACA passage. It was called Louisiana Purchase. I like how shadiness done by Democrats tends to be quickly forgotten by Democrats. It’s uncanny, no really, it is.
          “I like checks on executive power. Always did.” Oh man. Those past 8 years mush have been a real nightmare for you. I don’t remember you posting anything about it. I guess you just suffered in silence. My guess is you are about to become more vocal in about 17 days or so. Just a hunch.

          • Pait

            You don’t know who I am. You don’t know my opinions of the past 8 years. The only thing that I know about you is that you think random ad hominem attacks without any grounding on things that you may know are a legitimate form of argument.

            So I tried a little humor, to no avail. Goodbye now.

          • JR1123581321

            Goodbye.

    • seattleoutcast

      That’s a broad brush and not really worth much.

      • Pait

        Yes, it was just an expression of concern, in a telegraphic “Start worrying. Details to follow” proverbial way. It’s difficult to predict in advance of their taking power how exactly they will act to undermine institutions in which they declared they don’t believe in.

  • Anthony

    As we, given our electoral method of calculating votes (despite our most personal preferences), include “all” states and territories when determining final popular totals, the Democratic nominee received approximately 3,000,000 more Presidential votes in 2016. Nevertheless, that numerical fact changes nothing but may satisfy or dissatisfy partisans who need to spar. More importantly, the growing urban-rural split in American party politics may help understand GOP evolution respective to state and Congressional gains (some voters are more equal than others). Maybe, some of those Liberals referenced in Post ought to redistribute across country (as American electoral rules reward control of particular blocs of territory as well as particular blocs of voters,i.e, Wyoming gets just as many senators as California, even though California has sixty-six times as many people; and comparatively, it’s also true of the House of Representatives).

    • Fat_Man

      We can solve the California Wyoming problem and the 3 million popular vote surplus problem by expelling California from the United States. We should probably follow that with a declaration of war, and a naval blockade.

      • Anthony

        Yes, but that’s quite radical and besides you know our legal basis – country of laws. (what’s enjoyable Fat_Man is your intellect is not constrained by “right-wing emotionalism”).

        • Pait

          The previous comment is exemplary of the disregard – hatred might be a better word – for the United States of America that unfortunately seems to have taken over a once proud and patriotic Republican Party.

          • Anthony

            Yes, Pait at first look one could be astonished but years of antigovernment propaganda mixed with national scapegoating/blaming by an organized media, Think Tank industry (Heritage Foundation, AEI, et al), and opportunistic political and business entrepreneurs have left our National Interest hostage to both short term interests and faux redefinition of America’s interest.

            If I may this was shared by a friend from outside of country: “The people in other countries who think like American right-wingers are fringe groups, represented by crackpot extremist political parties if they are represented at all. Seeing them in control of the whole apparatus of the federal government is frightening.” Though somewhat overstated, I think thought reflects your point and ought to force long-game planning by those of us who see/want a different way.

          • Pait

            I agree with you. The anti-government propaganda in the US is truly astonishing for people who know other countries – the fact is government here works rather well. Unfortunately I think that a good functioning government is a thing of the past, and that Latin American style corruption and waste will come quicker than we realize.

            Fringe groups however are quite familiar from, continuing with the example, Latin America. The crackpots tend to be on the left, tenuous though the difference between right and left is. Their methods of argument are similarly dishonest, and in fact their somewhat unexpected alliances are now converging – who would have expected the Republican party to become so devotedly friendly towards Russian agents like Assange?

          • Anthony

            Yes, some of us are quite familiar with Latin American governance historically. And I agree fringe groups and right/left denotation can be fungible region specific (Western Hemisphere).

            Also because, generally referencing, government here from inception has worked, Many Americans have taken its stability for granted (stable governance allows for crackpot freedoms). Equally, I incline with your sense that “left/right” distracts. Additionally, the Russian Hypocrisy, well, Res ipsa loquitur. Finally in case of interest, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson give voice to your sentiments in a new book: “How the War on Government Led Us to Forget what Made America Prosper.”

          • Pait

            Good point. Government seems stable, so those of us who appreciate how well it works feel somewhat complacent, while those who hold irrational grudges feel they can spew hate without much risk of losing the benefits of a working government.

          • Anthony

            Agreed and an excellent brief analysis; more specifically to the point: because those you infer benefited from an era when there was a more elevated respect for the capacity of government to both address and solve problems, the ascribed stability help nurture the Randian moment (Ayn Rand) we face.

          • Pait

            Elaborating, perhaps one can draw some parallels: when crime is low, people complain about the police, traffic tickets, and so on; when it’s high, people tolerate more repressive policing. Or: during the years of moderation in finance, banks pushed to dismantle the regulations from the Depression, in order to pursue higher profits through higher risks. Then they all went bust in 2008 and required government bailouts.

            To some extent this process should be a self-regulating feedback, with manageable oscillations, though undesired. Can we be use the oscillations don’t get out of the acceptable limits? That’s what checks and balances are for, in the case of the federal government, and they have served the US well for a long time; however judging by the vitriol and hatred that we see all around, there is reason to be pessimistic.

          • Anthony

            Your elaboration and analogies are both appreciated and understood. The pessimism is equally recognizable but don’t despair (we, world have experienced worst and came back). My late father told me when I was a little boy that the “negatives/hateful” are always louder than positives/honorable but “we (positives/honorable) are more and remember that”.

            Permit me to share: “A government that effectively promotes human flourishing is a government worth fighting for. More than ever, the problems we face demand a sustained and principled defense of a vital proposition: The government that governs best needs to govern quite a bit. Americans must remember what has made America prosper.”

          • Pait

            I’m completely with you on this! Thanks.

          • Anthony

            You’re very welcome and the pleasure has been mine.

          • Fat_Man

            And that goes for you to.

          • Fat_Man

            Actually, it was our primary and unmediated experience of the the Federal Leviathan State, and of its little local imitators, that soured us on leftist thinking and its products.

            One of the things we hate the most is the condescension of the academic priests of the Leviathan and its media peg-boys who believe that we are too stupid to learn from our own experiences or from our own study of Classical literature.

          • Anthony

            Despite what some may think “The Leviathan” helped make America Great before MAG was reduced to sloganeering. Experiences (classical and otherwise), I agree, have much to teach the attentive but giving shrift to government’s invaluable role in America by associating academia’s rightist critique with Leviathan’s (American governance) useful reality may mislead.

          • Fat_Man

            It was the American people who made America great. The Regime of the Peoples Democratic Republic just got in the way. It drilled deep enough by about 1970 to paralyze the victim. Its doom is now inevitable, as is the war that will follow.

          • Anthony

            War (if it comes) must be fought and lives will be lost.

        • ——————————

          “but that’s quite radical”

          That depends on ones state of mind…{grin}….

          • Anthony

            No argument here!

      • f1b0nacc1

        Nuke them from orbit, it is the only way to be sure.

        • Jim__L

          You think there are not ten righteous men in California?

          • f1b0nacc1

            I am sure that there are…several of whom I hope that I can count as my friends. Before we nuke CA, I would warn them….

            With that said, I have always loved that quote….

    • f1b0nacc1

      While you are correct that we include everyone when counting popular vote totals, you tend to ignore the reality that the popular vote is absolutely meaningless, only electoral votes matter. This is no accident, it was in fact the founders intention that this take place, and while we might debate the wisdom of that choice (I am quite comfortable with it, you might feel otherwise), it is what it is. If the Left is unhappy with is, there is a simple remedy available to them, though I rather doubt that they will have much success in convincing 3/4 of the states to go along with their own disenfranchisement.

      As for a vast liberal migration, let me suggest that this has already happened on a very limited basis. The phrase ‘Californication’ is one you might consider googling….

      • Anthony

        As you know, we are a country of diverse views. 2017 certainly doesn’t change that!

        • f1b0nacc1

          Indeed so….

          And yes, let us both toast to a happy and productive new year….

          • Anthony

            Thank you and likewise to you and those you love.

  • ljgude

    I agree caution is warranted and there are no permanent political majorities. But this isn’t an ordinary shift in political power, nor was, I believe, 2008. The electorate signaled that they were willing to elect an inexperienced candidate promising hope and change. They were disappointed and handed him increasing Republican majorities in Congress but refused to replace him in 2012 with an establishment figure. What I think has happened is that the Liberal narrative and much of the Republican narrative has hit a wall. But the Liberal narrative is in deep trouble while the Republicans have an opportunity to do better than – well – the Obushtons have. I think the Liberals will try to shout Trump down amplified by the MSM and they may well succeed.It will be Bush Derangement Syndrome on cocaine. But Trump wont stand there like a cigar store Indian – to employ a very old fashioned and politically incorrect metaphor – but do what Harry Truman did – ‘give ’em hell.’ I think American Liberalism has reached a Ceausescu moment when it is quite easy to disrupt and if he plays his cards any where near right Trump will face a very discredited Liberal movement in 2020. Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, said he was a political genius and given that he bested the entire political establishment to win the presidency it is pretty hard to disagree. But it is quite another matter to function well in governing as opposed to campaigning. From his appointments he appears to be serious about changing things considerably and if he gets clear improvements in immigration and trade the crony capitalists and the open borders advocates are going to find it very hard to get elected. But given the reaction to Obama’s poor performance, Trump may do so poorly that the electorate goes rushing right back to the left of the Democratic party.

  • Disappeared4x

    25% self-identified ‘liberals’ is a minority, a geographically concentrated minority. The real referendum on “…the leftward shift among Democrats…” is Sept. 12, 2017, when Brooklyn’s deBlasio runs in the Democratic Primary for mayor. If he wins, then Nov. 7, 2017 will see a referendum, assuming voter turnout can rise from 23% in 2013 to 55%? deBlasio won the mayoralty in 2013 with less than 700,000 votes, about the same number as 1199SEIU membership.

    “The Union That Rules New York Powerful and well funded, 1199SEIU has unprecedented reach into city and state government.”
    Stephen Eide, Daniel DiSalvo Summer 2015

    http://www.city-journal.org/html/union-rules-new-york-13736.html

  • Gary Hemminger

    Seems to me that in the past, the political parties realized that they needed to moderate their behavior or they would lose power eventually. Maybe I am remembering and past that never happened. But now each of the parties says everytime they take power that:

    1) They have a mandate to do whatever they want
    2) They will have a permanent majority

    This is obviously self-serving, but I think the real issue is that there is too much money and power for those in power to moderate their behavior. They lose all control of themselves and don’t give a hoot what happens when they lose power. Nothing exemplifies this more than Harry Reid’s decision to nuke the 60 vote filibuster rule.

  • Disappeared4x

    “…An inability to find anything good in a fellow human being could be a sign that you’re taking politics too seriously or too stridently. …let political opponents who concern you remind you why our system of government is designed against unbridled power. Conservatives kept telling liberals that Obama was setting a dangerous precedent by accomplishing so much of his agenda through executive order. That warning wasn’t enough, but perhaps the reality of a Trump presidency will help liberals understand why our federal government shouldn’t be able to run roughshod over the states and why presidential power should be kept in check. …”

    “10 Things The Right Can Teach The Left About Accepting The Reality Of Trump “Conservatives had more time to prepare for a Trump presidency. Here are some tips.”

    By Mollie Hemingway
    January 3, 2017

    http://thefederalist.com/2017/01/03/10-things-the-right-can-teach-the-left-about-accepting-the-reality-of-trump/

  • Frank Natoli

    the number of Americans who identify as conservative has stagnated
    Yeah, right, just like the New York Yankees, from the time of Ruth to Mantle, “stagnated” every October in the World Series.

  • Frank Natoli

    Perhaps Gallup could also graph self-identified religious individuals versus self-identified atheists. What happens when the growth in self-identified Liberals correlates strongly with self-identified atheists? The bloom will be off the rose?

  • J K Brown

    Well, it might help if they defined terms. There are liberals in the Democratic party, but they aren’t the people who make the news, who are Progressives, or more literally secular pietists.

    Problem is, the Republicans are essentially controlled by the traditional (religious) pietists. The classical liberal really doesn’t have a party in America anymore. Both parties are illiberal in their own way. Both parties seek to destroy the classical liberalism the country was founded on.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service