Thursday, June 12, 2014


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.


Victor said...

Liberals can accept gradual change for the better:
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Conservatives want to take that arc, forcibly bend it into a noose, and then hang everyone who doesn't agree with them on any and every issue:
"Morality, is for 'JUST US' to determine!"

THAT'S the difference!

Tom Hilton said...

...most liberals are ideologically ideological but operationally conciliatory, while most conservatives are just as ideological as they claim to be...

Liberal ideology holds that government, which is to say governing, is important. You can't govern without compromise.

"Conservative" ideology holds that government is the enemy, so governing isn't really a consideration.

Steve M. said...


(Unless it's to kill more brown people or line the pockets of rich people and corporations.)

Dark Avenger said...

This is always worth repeating when the topic of liberals comes up:

What did liberals do that was so offensive to the Republican party? I'll tell you what they did. Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. What did conservatives do? They opposed them on every one of those things ­ every one. So when you try to hurl that label at my feet, 'Liberal,' as if it were something to be ashamed of, something dirty, something to run away from, it won't work, Senator. Because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge of honor."

— Lawrence O'Donnell Jr.- The West Wing

Pops said...

I do not agree with your take on VA-07. I believe Va-07 came to the same conclusion as most of America already had. Eric Cantor was self centered political contagion on America and must be cut out. Cliven Bundy wight have beat Cantor. Brat did not look like total RWNJ so lets vote for him.

Anonymous said...

What does Pew identify as "liberal" views these days? I think of Bernie Sanders as a moderate, so if I'm just a touch to the right of of him I must be a moderate too, right?

Steve M. said...

Here's Pew's ideology questionnaire.