Pew has a new survey on political polarization in America. The key thing we're supposed to focus on is this:
The share of Americans with consistently liberal or conservative views is at a 20-year high. More partisans are hostile toward people in the other tent. And ideological gulfs have opened on issues like immigration, the environment and poverty.But what I'm noticing is that while moderates dominate, the country has a noticeable lean to the left -- and has had one for at least a decade -- even though the best-known survey of ideology, from Gallup, has always shown that there are far more self-identified conservatives in America than self-identified liberals.
Here, in graph form, is what Pew finds:
Now here's data from Gallup:
Pew says 34% of Americans are "consistently" or "mostly" liberal -- but according to Gallup, only 23% of Americans self-identify as liberal. Pew says 27% of Americans are "consistently" or "mostly" conservative -- but, according to Gallup, 38% say they're conservative.
It's still kind of embarrassing to call yourself a liberal. It's less so than it was in 2004 (when 19% admitted to Gallup that they were liberal but Pew found that 33% actually were, while 40% told Gallup they were conservative but Pew found that only 18% were), but it's still not something some people want to admit (to others or, possibly, to themselves).
To some extent, we're still living in the 1980s, when "liberal" was one of the nastiest slurs in politics.
Or maybe it's the old saw: Americans are ideologically conservative but operationally liberal.
And as for the main thrust of the Pew poll, my gut sense is that most liberals are ideologically ideological but operationally conciliatory, while most conservatives are just as ideological as they claim to be. There are plenty of liberals (and people for whom "liberal" is too moderate a word) who are unswervingly ideological, but I find that most liberals (for better or worse) tolerate a Mayor Bloomberg or Senator Collins fairly contentedly -- whereas conservatives find it utterly unendurable to live under President Obama, who's an Eisenhower Republican on most issues, and felt the same way about President Clinton.
There's going to be a lot of hand-wringing about this Pew poll, but we need to measure that ideological passion by asking the people ID'd as ideologues how angry they'd be about mild compromises with their principles. If you favor single payer, can you live with Obamacare? Most liberals seem to say yes. If you oppose "amnesty," can you live with an immigration bill that gives would-be citizens who came here illegally many high bars to clear? The voters in Virginia's Seventh District seemed to say "Hell no" yesterday. That's the difference, I think.