American Ideological Self-Identification
"Moderate" is up, "Liberal" is down, and "Conservative" is static. What does it mean?
The summary of a new Morning Consult poll proclaims “America Has Become Less Liberal, but Not Necessarily More Conservative.” But the survey seems to be about labels rather than policy preferences.
The left is losing the battle for the minds of the American electorate, Morning Consult research shows, with voters decreasingly identifying as liberal in recent years. But that doesn’t mean the country is lurching to the right.
Instead, an increase in the share of Americans who identify as moderate, or who are uncertain about where exactly they stand on the ideological spectrum, reveals a growing and electorally decisive center that is discontented with either side’s extremes.
That’s not terribly surprising. Almost by definition, most people think they’re moderate. There’s certainly some nonsense on the far left that makes identifying as “liberal” or “progressive” problematic. But, to the extent “conservative” has been co-opted by Trumpism, it’s toxic for most.
But let’s break it down:
The share of the electorate who identifies as “very liberal,” “liberal” or “somewhat liberal” on a seven-point scale has dropped over the past five years, from 34% to 27%, according to extensive annual Morning Consult survey research conducted among more than 8.6 million U.S. voters since 2017.
Compared with 2017, the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, the decline in liberal self-identification has not led to a major increase in conservative alignment, the most prominent ideology in U.S. politics, among the overall electorate. Rather, the proportion of voters who said they were moderate or uncertain about their ideology made up the difference.
The data shows Americans’ ideological identification is at least somewhat responsive to circumstances: Alignment with the right saw a decline during Trump’s tenure amid a surge of ideological uncertainty, while the inverse has played out since Joe Biden took the White House in 2021.
There’s an interactive graphic at the site but here’s what it looks like in static form:
Offhand, the fluctuations strike me as pretty minimal.
Democratic data scientist David Shor, who has urged his party to embrace popular policies to not write off voters who might not be in perfect ideological alignment, said the findings are potentially “super important.”
“The historical march has been that ‘liberal’ is gradually increasing as the secular, college-educated population has increased in a way that’s been divorced from thermostatic forces,” he said, referring to the political science theory about voters turning against the party in power. “If it’s thermostatic backlash, thermostatic backlash affecting ideological identification is new.”
So, look, I’d prefer Democrats moderate, at least in terms of posturing and language, on some of the social issues, given that they’re the only sane alternative available. But it’s noteworthy that being batshit crazy and fomenting violent insurrection—which is arguably worse than making up new words and putting one’s pronouns on social media profiles—doesn’t seem to be hurting the conservative cause all that much.
Further, and more importantly, “liberal,” “moderate,” and “conservative” are simply labels here. They’re not necessarily indicators of voting behavior or even issue preference. Indeed, they’re fluid over time with issues that were radically leftist in my memory becoming moderate or even conservative. And, in a handful of cases, ideas that were “liberal” not all that long ago (trade protectionism comes quickly to mind) are now associated with the populist right.
The recent shifts appear to be driven by some of the racial and educational fault lines that have taken prominence in recent years, fueling a debate among Democratic activists, strategists and pundits about the direction of their party.
Voters without a college degree, who make up a large but shrinking share of the Democratic Party’s coalition, have moved further away from the “liberal” identifier than those with a bachelor’s degree or a postgraduate education, with lesser-educated voters of color moving faster away from the left than their white counterparts.
That’s not surprising.
While the nonwhite shift is pronounced by education, Black and Hispanic voters with a college education have also become less likely to identify as liberal in recent years.
That’s more surprising.
Beyond educational differences, age also appears to play a role in the recession of liberalism. The share of young people — ages 18-34 — who identify as liberal has dropped more than the other age groups, followed by smaller declines among voters ages 35-44, 45-64 and those 65 or older, in that order. Among each age group, Black and Hispanic voters were more likely to move away from the ideological left than white voters.
Were I to hazard a guess—which is all I can do absent some crosstabs—it would be to speculate that this is about LGBTQ issues, where Black and Hispanic voters have always been more “conservative” than whites.
But I’m surprised that young folks are less likely to self-identify as “liberal” than they were in 2017. Certainly, they have been the demographic most apt to embrace LGBTQ rights and, indeed, identify as part of that group.
It underscores a previously understood budding challenge with nonwhite voters for the Democratic Party, whose standard-bearers are increasingly viewed as liberal — as is the party.
According to the latest edition of Morning Consult’s annual State of the Parties survey, 73% of voters view the Democratic Party as liberal, up from 67% in mid-2017, with larger increases among voters without college degrees (62% to 70%) and Hispanics (65% to 75%). As voters moved away from the liberal identifier, they have also become more likely to associate the conservative label with the Republican brand (60% to 70%), including similar movement among the key demographic groups.
Overall, 42% of voters in a recent survey said the Republican Party is “too conservative,” up from 36% in 2017, compared with 45% who say the Democratic Party is “too liberal,” up from 40% in 2017.
That’s not really shocking. Especially when one considers this:
In recent electoral contests, Republicans have increasingly looked to weaponize perceptions that Democrats are too far to the left.
“In 2020, with all the talk of a Hispanic shift, and an African American shift to a lesser degree, it was really kind of a shift among Hispanic conservatives. It was like, people already have this fixed ideological predisposition, and they’re just aligning that to their vote choice,” said Republican pollster Patrick Ruffini. “But what’s also happening, and reinforcing that, is the underlying ideological tendencies are also shifting in conjunction with, or caused by, vote choice.”
The nature of liberal parties is that they’re change agents and the nature of change is that it’s unpopular in the beginning. The conservative party has been really good at exploiting this in a way that’s hard to counter.
Still, as commenters here frequently note in frustration, relatively moderate Democrats are held responsible for “Latinx” and “Defund the Police” while Republicans seem to pay no price for the Proud Boys and other extremists associated with their coalition.
When it comes to the two major parties, the data paints a crisp picture of asymmetrical polarization. Even as Democratic voters drift toward the middle, the data shows that the Republican Party’s adherents are shifting further to the right — and it’s happening quickly.
Over the same time period in which the share of Democrats identifying as liberal dropped from 60% to 55%, the share of Republicans who said they were conservative increased from 70% to 77%. What’s more, Republican voters (32%) are far more likely to identify as “very conservative” than Democrats (19%) are to say they’re “very liberal.”
My guess—and it’s just that since, again, we don’t have much information aside from the topline—is that this reflects both the shrinking of the party as people like myself left after the Trump nomination and a rallying ’round the flag of those who remain.
On the Democratic side, white voters are more likely to identify as liberal than nonwhite voters, among whom the identifier has slumped since 2017. On the Republican side, the opposite took place over the same time period: While whites became slightly more conservative, the share of Black Republicans identifying with the right increased from 37% to 58%, alongside a similarly sized increase among Hispanic Republicans, from 48% to 66%.
Nonwhite voters are making up larger shares of both parties’ coalitions as their population expands, but the biggest coalitional movement has appeared among people with no coalition at all: Independent voters, a group whose ranks have become notably more racially diverse, well-educated and concentrated in the suburbs, and whose votes are often pivotal in close elections.
The bulk of independent voters (43%) identify as moderate, up from 34% in 2017, while the share who said they are liberal and conservative fell over the same time period.
Again, nothing too surprising here.
Consult/Politico surveys have shown Democrats with a congressional generic ballot advantage over Republicans with all moderate voters (though independents are more evenly divided). Some have also shaken off the ideological labels entirely, alluding to the intraparty semantic debate over whether Democrats are “liberal” or “progressive.”
Shor said many operatives whose job it is to win elections think of things in terms of partisanship and base motivation, but noted that the two have become more correlated — not to mention the cleavages that ideological labels capture within the Democratic coalition on issues such as race and class.
But this has long been the challenge: Democrats are a much more diverse coalition.
Ruffini, who is writing a book on the role of ideology in American politics, referred to the growing share of voters aligning with the ideological middle — “largely non-college and disproportionately minority” — as “stranded” by the current political system. But even as their eschewing of liberalism is not precipitating a conservative surge, he sees opportunity for Republicans to weaponize this group to join the right in elections — due largely to the loudest voices on the left.
“The Republican Party is a conservative party. The Democrats are not necessarily a liberal party. The problem is its elite actors are polarized,” he said. “That’s what the last few years have been about, with Republicans hoping to capitalize on wokeness, the police and left-wing activist trends that get more play on the left than are actually warranted based on who their voters are.”
The problem is that this is a diminishing strategy, as the population ages out of the old belief systems. But it can certainly win another election or two.
I’ve brought this up before, but from 1992 to the present, Democratic presidential candidates always win the self-described moderate vote. It’s varied in degree (Biden wildly overperformed among this group in 2020), but it always goes to the Democrat one way or the other. For all intents and purposes, self-IDed “moderates,” as a group, are simply partisan Dems. I would be curious to see research into their positions on specific issues. My bet is that they would come out sounding pretty liberal, once you scratch the surface of the label they give themselves.
As James mentions in the OP, I don’t think these self identified labels have anything meaningful to say about the actual positions people hold. An objectively conservative position would be to support law enforcement when there are complaints against them. Yet people who self identify as conservative are calling for the elimination of the FBI. Encouraging diverse speech is an objectively liberal position, but those labeling themselves “liberal” are in the middle of a social media version of the Taliban’s public morals sweeps.
Self identified labels such as “Liberal” and “Conservative” may tell us something about peoples positions on existing issues such as abortion or the environment, but they have no predictive value for new issues.
It also depends on how someone individually defines “moderate.” To some it might mean more liberal than dead center, and to others more conservative.
And, as we discussed yesterday, people often lie to pollsters. “Moderate” might also be what some consider a “safe” choice.
OMG, so radically leftist!
Based on personal experience, that’s because a surprisingly large chunk of them consider “liberals” too right wing and have started identifying straight up as socialists
Also, describing domestic terrorists trying to violently overthrow the government as being only “arguably worse” then putting pronouns in your twitter bio is peak Dr. Joyner
This is unsurprising to me.
It’s been a very long time since I was directly involved in politics, but my observation then and now is that ideology and voting seem to follow Newton’s third law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
When a party starts to gain in numbers, the extremes start to push boundaries. This causes what amounts to a recoil by others in the party, and an adjustment in self-identification.
And, I think that while many Americans have sympathy for and are even in agreement on a number of issues, they tend to be pragmatic about one big important question: who will pay for this? Write off college loans–who will pay for this? Fast, hard switch to renewables–who will pay for this? And so on. They agree in principle, but know that these aren’t without (literal) cost.
Calling oneself a moderate is just safer than saying conservative or liberal.
I’m pretty sure that was firmly tongue in cheek. (Otherwise, an intervention would be in order.)
@drj: Correct. (Although whether an intervention is in order is a separate question.)
The “who will pay for this” only shows up for liberal positions, though. When it comes to war, we don’t ask who will pay for it as we start mobilizing our military. Nobody seems to be asking who’s gonna pay for all these CRT school shegniagans and election fraud reviews, nor who’s covering the cost of all the unwanted children that will end up in foster care due to Dobbs. Trump, DeSantis et al don’t care about the bill when immigration measures come up, nor for anti-woke or LBGT measures they’ve imposed on schools and businesses as unfunded mandates.
It only seems to matter when social progress is involved or improving the lives of people who may not deserve it. Who’s gonna pay for student loan cancellation? The same people who are paying for those who can’t afford healthcare and leave hospitals with unpaid bills – all of us. The question only seems comes up when it might benefit the public, not punish a segment of it.
Absolutely. It’s extremely subjective. Over the years I’ve run across people who describe themselves as “moderate,” but who are in fact, to my perception, far-right QAnon types. And, of course, many Republicans like to paint Biden as a far-left socialist (they did this to Bill Clinton and Obama as well), which to me is utterly deranged. But, like I said, it’s subjective: the definition of “moderate” is entirely in the eye of the beholder. Even more than “centrist,” the word “moderate” is infused with connotations of reasonableness, and everyone sees themselves as reasonable, right?
I’ve seen this especially on dating sites. A lot of people call themselves “moderate” in their profile (if they’re asked) because they know they’re likelier to be passed over if they identify by a known ideology.
In polls, though, I suspect there’s an element of self-deception involved (and I tend to be skeptical of lying-to-pollsters theories; I just don’t think most people are self-conscious enough in something as anonymous as a poll to be motivated to consciously lie). People call themselves moderate because, in our culture, moderation has positive connotations. But of course the situation isn’t symmetrical between the parties: with the decades-long abuse of the word “liberal” and the overall anti-leftism that has infected American discourse (and which I believe is to a large degree a holdover from the Cold War), left-leaning Americans are likelier to be attracted to the moderate label.
It’s likely that moderate is changing its meaning. When Roe was overturned, moderates assured us that it would not matter, despite how unpopular the ruling was. There was a baked-in assumption that nobody in the middle really cares about abortion being illegal in the same way they care Defund the Policy or woke-ness. Poor Ruy Teixeira has staked his career reboot on that. And maybe that’s correct for older moderates, but these are also the same people who sleepwalked into Trump. They seem just genuinely clueless.
I just don’t see that definition persisting. For younger people, conservative overreach is insane and based on pure fear. Overturning Roe plus attacking schools about the stupidest stuff imaginable while doing nothing else has ended the GOP for under 45 voters. Liberal overreach is based on well-meaning people going slightly too far in ways that are not exactly oppressive. I.e, things like women saying I won’t date a man who is not in therapy or every person having to tell you their pronouns before every interaction or thinking that if you’re black you have to be a specific type of black person.
@KM: Of course. And part of that is the “baked in”/existing costs vs. new, and the fact that Congress treats the military as a jobs and economic development program in addition to it being national defense. We have ever-increasing numbers of new weapons systems and a shrinking number of volunteers, but how often do we shut down bases or outdated programs? Members of Congress freak out when base closures are suggested because they support local in-district economies. We are still funding some weapons programs that military leadership have specifically stated that they do not want…why? Because closing down those factories means job losses–good, high-paying jobs.
However, when the voting public hears new program after new program offered, they aren’t thinking “oh, good. This means Congress will take a close, analytical look at the budget and revise accordingly.” They think “where’s this new funding coming from?”
I identify as a bad Democrat, if for no other reason than being a good Republican these days means burying your head in the sand or cowering and letting the bat-shit crazy people, convicts, grifters, and proto-fascists run the GOP. Did Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley die in vain?
It seems that a poll like this has to be far more detailed. If asking someone where one is ideologically, then it needs to go something like this:
We define Very Conservative as having these policy positions or opinions.
We define Conservative as…
And so forth. Then ask the people where they belong.
I’ve always thought of myself as somewhat conservative. But I grew up on Long Island. I live in Texas now and am considered somewhat liberal. Have my ideas and preferences changed? Probably not that much.
You don’t mind if I wait to see all these yougn’s showing up at the polls and voting against this insane overreach do you?
Jen spoke to the military issues. As for the CRT and election reviews, they’re a couple million–at most. Pocket change.
Universal free healthcare? You’re looking at $4 Trillion per year (just shy of 20% of GDP). UBI? Progressives are suggesting $1,000/month in “free money” to every citizen. The math on that? 330M * $1k * 12 mo= $3.96 Trillion per year. Student loan forgiveness? That’s “only” $1.6 Trillion.
Republicans may be fucking up our society, but they’re not asking for 50% of the GDP to do it.
@Mu Yixiao: election police forces, arming and training teachers, student survival training, pregnancy spies, genital inspectors… nickels and dimes add up fast.
I really, truly – honestly – do not understand this.
Biden and Obama were/are the most Conservative Presidents we’ve had in recent history.
When the Party of Trump (see Eric Trump quote in link below) is so friggin’ far off the starboard rail the helm only LOOKS like it’s on the port side. The points you are using to navigate are no longer valid.
If you claim to be a Republican today then you are claiming to be a radical extremist. Full stop. The GOP is no longer the GOP. It is now the PoT. And it is too far gone to ever come back. Clinging to old definitions and references is meaningless, and frankly it is not productive.
Tell us you don’t understand math, without saying you don’t understand math.
America is paying 4 trillion a year right now for its health care system which isn’t universal. Those crazy democrats, trying to make things better while driving down costs…
Universal free healthcare? UBI? Student loan forgiveness?
At one point it was radical to think about women voting, too.
@Daryl and his brother Darryl:
Which costs no money. And I didn’t say anything about “radical”.
330,000,000 x 1000 = 330,000,000,000
330,000,000,000 x 12 = 3,960,000,000,000
Or… is it only those 18+?
Then it’s “only” $3,169,653,804,000
Where’s the math wrong?
Allow me to once more comment on my frustration at this. It largely flows from FOX “News” et al constantly seizing on any nit they can find to hammer on Dems as extreme while Dems, for reasons beyond the scope of this blog comment, have to rely on the supposedly liberal MSM, which is dedicated to appearing “moderate”.
During Iran-Contra we saw Republicans benefit from their image as the daddy party. There was some real serious circular reasoning, We know this can’t have been as stupid as it looks because they aren’t the sort of people who do stupid stuff.We know they’re not because they don’t do stupid stuff. As smoke lingers over the memory hole.
How much vote suppression, how many insurrections, how many Dobbs decisions, does it take for people to see what the Republican party is?
In biology or engineering this is called a feedback loop. A bunch of these working to keep a system within a beneficial range is called a control system. If some essential piece is broken, the system can enter an uncontrolled feedback loop, constantly pushing everything in one direction only, and so it self destructs. That’s what has happened with the Republican Party but, to me anyway, it looks like the Dems still have enough opposing forces that they won’t go the same route.
@Daryl and his brother Darryl: Again, I think many Americans are either somewhat supportive of, or significantly supportive of these programs.
But they are new programs, and therefore considered to be adding to the overall cost of the budget.
This is not about whether or not people want these things–they clearly do. It’s about whether or not they want to pay for them in addition to what they are already paying (i.e., tax increases).
It’s a mental hurdle and it’s one that as KM correctly notes, it’s something that Democrats specifically are saddled with. Republicans not having any new ideas means, well, in most people’s minds that means they won’t be increasing tax bills.
Making this connection isn’t a value judgment on the ideas. It’s not about merit. It’s strictly about cost. If all we’re doing is saying that these programs are worth paying MORE for, it’s always going to be an uphill battle for Democrats’ messaging.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m technically a town official. Everyone wants services, but they want the cost to them to remain flat. This, in spite of the fact that intuitively they understand that costs are going up–the gas town trucks use costs more, the materials used cost more, that the workers deserve wage increases–all of these are increased costs but somehow, magically, those in town don’t just want but EXPECT their taxes to remain the same or (preferably and inexplicably) go down.
Ah, but you don’t understand. Those are free enterprise dollars which are good and free, not tax dollars which come out of my pocket and are bad.
You are not considering savings.
There are puts and takes.
As Modulo notes, we already spend a shitload on a corrupt healthcare system that has shitty outcomes.
You’re only looking at one side of the equation.
Math isn’t hard. But you have to do it right.
At least for healthcare, I don’t think it makes sense to look at it this way. We are spending this money NOW, without public healthcare, and spending significantly more than we would with a robust universal system because it is so inefficient. Awesomely, stupendously inefficient. Literally the worst efficiency by far of any first world nation. Contrary to the simplistic assumptions of the “free market is always superior/shrink government and drown it in the bathtub” crowd the evidence that government run healthcare programs cost less for equal or superior results is conclusive. There is no metric on which the US healthcare system is better than the European and Canadian average. Moving to a universal system would be difficult and take time, but if we could get the efficiencies to equal even the worst of the Europeans we would free up hundreds of billions of dollars a year for other purposes. So, in this case at least, Republicans ARE demanding a huge chunk of our economy to f*ck up healthcare.
This is the central error people make when discussing universal healthcare, is they don’t subtract the amount we are spending right now.
Its like that with other issues like homelessness. Someone will propose something like public housing and critics announce an eye-popping number of a gazillion dollars.
Without subtracting how much homelessness costs us right now, which is a staggering amount.
I don’t think it’s an error, though. Spending 4 trillion dollars to support a screwed-up system which reifies inequality is preferable to spending the same amount of money on a universal system which would give workers way more power. It’s class warfare and in both ways–as kickbacks to the rich who profit on the system and as a means to lessen the power of workers by tying employment to healthcare.
@Daryl and his brother Darryl:
Paul Campos has a post at LGM this morning that I found insightful. He differentiates between personal charisma and political charisma, quoting Max Weber on the latter
Campos goes on to note that Weber never does define that vague “certain quality” but more importantly it’s source is in the audience, “treated as endowed”. Hitler was a short odd looking character who was apparently regarded as speaking badly. Trump is a caricature of himself, far from an exemplar of manliness. But somehow they were both anointed by the crowd. Quoting Campos on this point, “(Standard disclaimer: Trump is not Hitler).” Campos notes that Bill Clinton and few others had both personal and political charisma. And re the cult argument, most cult leaders had no great personal charisma.
But somehow Trump became the embodiment of his followers desires. There were a number of rival to Hitler across the spectrum. There were other candidates for the Republican faux populism role. Why Hitler and Trump? Some of it is complete shamelessness, a willingness to say whatever works . I suspect some of it is like Beta v VHS. Both were introduced as cassette video formats by rival manufacturers around the same time. They were regarded as different, but not consequentially so. Beta was higher quality. VHS could record two hours v Beta’s one, still long enough for almost all purposes. What seems to have happened is VHS, almost by chance, got a slight lead in market share, and once it did, became the de facto standard and accelerated to complete dominance. The mantle was waiting there for someone.
I don’t know much about the history of cults. Some have lasted years, generations, even millennia. Is there anything to be learned about how the original leader’s successor acquired the mantle? Who followed Peter? Brigham Young? How is someone going to take over Trump’s mantle? Will the cult fade or find a new wearer of the mantle? (I tend to agree with Dr. T that calling Trumpism a cult adds little to our understanding, but the narrow question of how succession happens in cults might be instructive.)
No, it’s not.
And it’s not really healthcare, either.
It’s an aggregation of capitalist industries, meant solely to enrich it’s owners and shareholders, to the tune of 17% of GDP.
But Universal Healthcare?
That’s such a radical idea that only every other single country in the developed world, but ours, has some form of it.
Porn was available on VHS.
@Daryl and his brother Darryl: “At one point it was radical to think about women voting, too.”
And after the next session of the Supreme Court, it might be again.
@gVOR08: “What seems to have happened is VHS, almost by chance, got a slight lead in market share, and once it did, became the de facto standard and accelerated to complete dominance. ”
Not to get all VCR-wonky, but what happened was that Sony kept the Beta format as proprietary to their own products, while VHS was licensed to everyone. And while Sony products were the gold standard at the time, they were also more expensive than a lot of other manufacturers. So even thought Beta was a little better, VHS was both cheaper and far more widely available.
And porn was available on VHS.
Liberal and Conservative aren’t just labels used to self-identify, they are pejoratives used by the other side to demonize opponents. While that has always been true, today’s hyper partisan and social media screaming have made it worse than usual. So a whole lot of people who don’t care enough to proudly identify with one side will default to Moderate to avoid the opprobrium from either side.
I think you are still putting your thumb on the scale there by defining what is or isn’t a conservative/liberal. Why not just make a list of issues up (Roe, gun control, taxes, heallthcare, BLM, etc) and assign a +1 for a conservative position and a -1 for a liberal position. Then add up all the pluses and minuses.
Somebody with a +17 score is probably a Nazi and somebody with a -22 is a pinko commie. People with a score of +/- 5 would be considered moderate.
People might still lie here and there but I would think it more likely to be accurate.
We spend almost that much on our current shitty “system” that doesn’t cover everyone and provides incomplete and insufficient coverage to many of those who are covered.
We spend double the OECD average per capita for far worse coverage and outcomes.
Not having universal health insurance is one of America’s most glaring and unnecessary failings.
Others have alluded to this, but I’ll say it outright. Conservatism had already become toxic; FG was only the guy who most successfully made the toxicity part of his “brand.” People keep talking as if it’s too bad that FG “ruined” conservatism when the reality was that the “ruin” was what attracted FG to the movement, and thus the GOP, in the first place.
FG wasn’t a genius at marketing or anything like that, but he understands how to work corruption, greed, and animus as well as anybody we’ve seen in a long time. And he was a learning experience for a generation of
What @Just nutha ignint cracker: said.
There is a direct line that runs between Nixon’s Southern Strategy, through Reagan’s race-baiting and Silent Majority, through Bush 1’s Willie Horton, through attacks on gays, and trans folk, through Palin, to Trump.
In 1968 Republicans could have supported civil rights. They chose race-baiting instead. That moral failure was never redressed, instead it was exploited and expanded, degrading both the party and its voters, and turning the GOP into the party of cruelty and hate.
Subtract the racists and woman-haters from the GOP and there’s not much left.
Well, there are all the usual problems here because increasingly, words mean different things to different people and meanings have changed over time. Someone who is over 50 grew up with a very different meaning of what “conservative” is, for example, then someone in their 20’s who only knows conservatism as MAGA.
The same could be said for liberal, which also has a complicated and changing back history.
And this is before getting into the differences in terms of attitude, political philosophy, ideology, and policy.
For example, I consider myself “moderate” in an attitudinal sense. I’m not disposed to tribal bomb throwing or assuming that people who disagree with me on an ideological or policy basis are evil.
But when it comes to policy preferences, I’m not “moderate” in the sense of how most people seem to define it, such as supporting policies that are somewhere between what the right and left ideologues want. In most cases, I support policies that exist outside the GoP/Dem tents. In other cases, I agree more with Dems on some things and more with Republicans on other things, but usually with major caveats.
I do get phone calls for polling purposes, and quite often, you’re only given three choices – liberal, conservative or moderate. Limiting choice to these three options forces a lot of square pegs into round holes and, IMO, distorts the picture.
You add to this the increasing prevalence of negative partisanship (ie. not being for a party, but being against a party) and also the systemic problem of a binary choice that incentivizes “lesser evil” voting rationales, and that adds more noise to data.
Since, as OTB often discusses, tribal identity strongly influences voting choices, to the extent that Republicans/conservatives are willing to embrace the label, while Democrats/liberals are reluctant to do so, also creates a structural advantage for Republicans. Not only are their voters, as conservatives, more likely to be compelled by conformity to a broader identity, just having more people more visibly identifying with their “team” makes the position more attractive to everyone. I don’t think this psychology formed the bases of the demonization of “the L word” in the 80s and 90s to the point that liberals adopted “progressive” instead of reclaiming “liberal” for their position, or that the constant harping of the right on their inability to admit they are conservative for fear of being woke-mobbed and canceled, but the effect is there.
The parties are: Reality and Fantasy. One party believes in elections, the other party believes, or at least pretends to believe, things which are categorically not true. One party believes maybe the near-constant heat waves are a wake-up call, the other party believes Jesus is testing our faith by baking half the world. One party believes we should investigate the causes of a vicious attack on our government, and the other party believes 7,000,000 votes were cast by dead people, Hillary Clinton runs a pedo ring out of a pizza parlor, and Jews have space lasers.
They are not a political party, they are a cult. See, politicians might have a moment of concern when their leader takes the 5th 400 times despite having said on many occasions that only mafioso take the 5th. But for a cultie? Hell, that’s not even a hiccup. If Trump was caught eating a barbecued human leg the cult wouldn’t take five seconds to profess their support for cannibalism.
@OzarkHillbilly: I think you would find that the self-identification is more accurate at predicting how they vote than all the little issues added up. Identity is everything.
AKA identity politics. Thank goodness we have none of that nonsense on our side.
In a moral sense this may have been true. In a political sense their choice was a stroke of genius. It led to their absolute domination of the WH for the next two decades, and eventual takeover of Congress after the Dems’ 60-year run. And while the Dems did eventually make a comeback (mostly by gaining strength in the formerly Republican Northeast and West Coast), it is something that has helped keep the GOP viable to the present day. Because, let’s face it, what else do they have? Ever since the Depression, they’ve struggled to escape their image as a party of the rich, and they’ve primarily achieved that goal through inventing boogeymen–the commies, the N-word lovers, the abortionists, the gun confiscators, the transes coming for your kids. If they didn’t come up with these endless distractions, they’d have nowhere left to hide as a party of plutocrats.
@OzarkHillbilly: That’s sounds entirely reasonable as a methodology.
And even those who do subtract that amount don’t add in the costs of having a huge chunk of our workforce unemployed. There are a lot of people working for health insurance companies, making this the most inefficient system in the world, along with a large number of people in doctors offices working to deal with insurance companies.
You might write that off as a short term cost, but it’s enough people that it is going to radically impact the economy in ways that will be felt for much, much longer.
Even more interesting would be to perform a Principal Component Analysis of that dataset to see if the first eigenvector is actually (+1, +1, +1, …, +1) and what the other eigenvectors are.
@Michael Reynolds: Do you think that voters carefully examine the candidates on the issues, engage in deep self reflection to determine their own views on this issues, rank them and vote for the candidate most aligned with themselves?
That’s a fantasy.
Voters often don’t even know how they feel about issues to begin with. They will think “abortion is icky and people shouldn’t have them unless they really need one for a good reason, but I should have the option since I would never do it for a bad reason” and not go further, and then maybe that’s pro-choice or maybe that’s vote for pro-lifers so long as they don’t succeed?
People vote based on feelings of identity and emotion. What candidate “feels” like them. What candidate is closer to their identity.
Where I think Democrats go wrong with identity politics is trying to offer something for every possible identity in their coalition rather than tying those identities into an umbrella identity with a shared set of values. We just haven’t had a good, populist lefty whose been able to forge that message in a long, long time.
Have I ever said anything to suggest that I think voters are informed and rational?
Democrats can’t consolidate or unify because we’re devoted to recognizing every little constituency. We are in the untenable position of believing that ‘identity’ is great for gays, Blacks, trans etc…, but evil when it involves White people. It was absolutely predictable that if we went down the path of identity politics it would lead to fracturing our side (100 identity groups) while offering cover for the other side (White people) and leave us sputtering to invent counter-arguments.
Our identity as a party cannot be this 12% plus that 8% plus that 2% plus that 15% plus. . . Our identity as a party is meant to be that we feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for the sick and defend the rights of those unable to defend themselves. Our identity should be about what we DO not who or what we ARE. 60%+ of voters are White people, FFS, many of whom care about feeding the hungry, very few of whom care what neologism or hashtag we have this week.
Action matters. Identity only matters to the in-group and offers less than nothing to anyone else. Identity Politics was a dangerous mistake predicated on an innumerate understanding of demographics and no understanding at all of human nature.
When I was in restaurants I was part of an identity group composed of Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, gays and straights. Our identity group was: waiters. We had the concerns waiters had. We were united in our opposition to Reagan’s tax on tips. Identity politics shatters that interest group. Working people have common interests that have fuck-all to do with race or gender, and insisting that everything is about race or gender makes unity around actual issues impossible. It was, from the start, a blunder with utterly predictable results.
@Michael Reynolds: Do you know who does a really good job of tying that all together? Elizabeth Warren. Unfortunately she’s a woman, so for a chunk of the electorate she sounds scolding or school marmish or something. And she’s old. And too openly progressive. And in the same lane as Bernie and the BernieBros.
She tells stories from the heart, that connect the pieces, and for those who listen she is genuinely moving. She can explain complex topics simply. She’s amazing. She talks about leveling the playing field and equality and can even take things like “white privilege” and make them understandable, relatable, and not offensive.
It’s a pity she wasn’t born 15 years later with a massive schlong.
I’m not an economist and don’t portray one on TV, so I can’t say how many if any of these jobs would disappear as opposed to simply transfer to the same tasks on behalf of a government agency (and I certainly don’t know how many of these transfers would require/eliminate staffing), so that’s a good question. If conversion from paper records to computerized records can be used as a model, the number may be quite small. I don’t recall endless lines of depressed, suicidal file clerks streaming out of unemployment offices or clogging homeless shelters and rescue missions, but I could be mistaken.
I voted for Warren in the California primary once it was clear that Biden had it in the bag. She’s a wonderful Senator. And what does she talk about? Feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, caring for the sick, defending people who can’t defend themselves, saving the world from climate catastrophe. It’s all about the DO and not so much the BE.
At a time when people are freaking out over inflation, housing costs, medical costs, the increasingly obvious effects of climate change, and attacks by Republicans on our very constitution and the destruction of women’s rights, the people should have a party to turn to that offers practical help and plans for the future. There is limited political bandwidth, so we need to make choices about our message. Our message should be: Hey, American citizen of whatever race, creed, religion, gender, sexual preference, we are here to help.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had self described conservatives who told me in private they support universal health care, UBI, higher taxes on the rich, more regulation on companies, and other “liberal” policies. Soon as I mention that the Democratic party and ‘those liberals” support those policies they suddenly start arguing against the policies they just supported. The GOP and their mouth pieces have turned liberal and democratic into dirty words for some people.
Just some anecdotal evidence from a mostly liberal person living in deep red states.
I certainly agree that voters are misinformed and irrational…
@Gustopher: “but I should have the option since I would never do it for a bad reason”
Alas, those people may be offset by the “but I shouldn’t have the option since I would never do it unless it was for a bad reason” cohort. You learn about all manner of vice living among fundamentalists.
This. Hear, hear.
I believe much the same is true of self-identified ‘independents.’ It just sounds so … so reasonable, so informed, so unaffiliated. And I’m not buying it, it being the number of people who identify as ‘independent.’ If there actually were as many ‘independents’ as are stated in polling we wouldn’t end up with presidents like Trump and legislators like Gaetz, Gohmert, Boebert, Taylor-Greene, and Gosar.
@Gustopher: Yes, but the question here is not “Are you a DEM, GOP, Libertarian, Green, or Independent?” the question is “Do you consider yourself to be a conservative, and if so how conservative? Liberal, and if so how liberal? Or Moderate?”
People may identify as one or another when they really are more conservative/liberal than they think they are.
Like you, I don’t think it will make any kind of a predictive difference on election day as party identity will still trump the actual concerns most voters have, but it might be interesting to know what people truly believe.
The ACA was a game changer on the politics of healthcare. I’d be interested in knowing just exactly how many “conservatives” are in favor of doing more.
That’s right trans coworkers! Completely ignore the fact that people are trying to ban you from existing, what’s really important here is that MR might have to pay a 10% tax on his tips, and if that’s not the single most important issue to you, then you’re just a splitter!
@Gustopher: If I could give that a dozen or 2 thumbs up.
Yep, the military is another great example of this.
I’d also just point out that significant parts of the Democratic coalition consider themselves to be old-school small “c” conservatives.
And there are all kinds of people who don’t fit neatly into the arbitrary and often bizarre apothecary drawers of the ideological bases. Some people really do support the 2nd amendment and abortion rights or have strong religious views while supporting progressive and liberal policies. Going out of your way to insult groups of people who otherwise might support you just seems so obviously politically stupid to me.
That’s the danger in attacking labels and painting with a broad brush, especially in an arrogant and self-righteous way.
@Michael Reynolds: @Andy: It wasn’t that way in construction. A BIG dividing line between union and nonunion and after that mostly conservative.
@Andy: I agree with you, but I think the dividing line is between the many who primarily view politics in terms of teams, and the much fewer who see politics as a tool to get certain things done. It makes perfect sense to me to work with people whose belief about, say, abortion is the polar opposite of mine if we both have the objective to get better pre-natal care for poor women. But to a significant number of people doing anything but lecturing your enemies makes you a traitor. It’s little more than knee-jerk tribalism.
I’m betting it wasn’t actually that way in the restaurant business either and that policy on taxation of tips was pretty far down on the list of what was actually uniting MR’s gay co-workers during the Reagan administration.
I think the point is that if you want to get the votes of construction workers, you support policies that appeal to construction workers and explain how they would help. Inserting racial and cultural identity politics into that is counterproductive, especially when portrayed as essentialist attributes.
Yeah, that makes getting anything actually done just about impossible.
And the thing is, most normal people (ie. most Americans) don’t think that way.
You say that as if being a racist, homophobic pos was acceptable, which let’s face it, most construction workers are. So either you are totally ignorant of how 14th century retrograde most construction workers are, or you are willing to sell out some moral positions for electoral gains. If DEMs followed your lead they would never win another election again, because no black would ever vote for them again and neither would any LGBTQ+ and construction workers wouldn’t believe in them either.
Just going to pop in here to remind you folks of how, erm, unusual Americans are in the wider “western” world.
– Public party identification: “I am a registered whatever“.
I don’t think any other country does this.
Generally you are either a party member, usually fee paying, a party being a corporate body with its own internal rules and disciplines. Or you ain’t.
– Related “registered supporter” primaries and “open” primaries.
Some countries have toyed with this, but I don’t think any in Europe do so, and not aware of any others (Paging comparative politics types)
Selection of candidates and leaders is usually entirely at the discretion of the parties; it’s not a public matter at all.
– The odd nature of American “conservatism”.
Whole books can be written on this.
But short version is, Republican conservatism an odd spatchcock of late18thC/early19thC liberalism (the clue is in the name), Spencer/Sumner “competition of the fittest” concepts, etc. etc.
Hence US “conservatives” calling European conservatives like Merkel and CDU, or centrists like Macron and EM, “socialists”.
Also “constitution worship”. Odd.
I’m not even going to start.
Some other countries have a bit of a legacy of religious politics; but no “western” country I can think of offhand (apart from maybe Poland?) has religious enthusiasm as a driving political motivator in the manner of the US.
And American evangelicals pretty unique.
So, for that matter are American “more Catholic than the Pope” elite Catholic conservatives; but they aren’t really a mass movement, even if they happen to be a big thing in the Supreme Court right now.
Much weirdness in Transpondia 🙂
Hope I have not offended; and feel free to tell me I’ve no idea what I’m on about.
The German CDU/CSU, where the C is for Christian, come to mind.
There are a few problems with your argument:
1- You are treating this as zero sum, that somehow supporting construction workers or the construction industry is the same as supporting racism and homophobia and therefore that supporting them would be selling out “moral” positions.
2 -You are paining millions of people with a pretty broad brush. Immigrants and Latinos are way overrepresented in construction compared to the general population. I just looked up the BLS stats, and the total number of workers in construction is 11.2 million, and a third are hispanic/latino.
3 – The Democratic party purports to be the party of building things – infrastructure, high-speed rail, green energy, etc. Who do you think is going to actually build all that stuff? It’s going to be construction workers. How, exactly, do you logically square that circle?
Yes, those are good points. I find it quite weird that some partisans and ideologues here in the US claim that in a country of 330 million people that there are no independents – that everyone simply must be a Republican or Democrat, even if they don’t admit it and that independents are basically political cowards. As if that large of a cohort will divide neatly along the weird and ever-changing ideological lines between our two parties and is if no one could be unhappy with the binary choice. Yet somehow, countries with a tiny percentage of our population have multiple parties that represent a wide range of views.
The reality is that the two parties are generally unpopular and that most of the votes they receive aren’t because of positive affiliation, it’s because the choice is limited to a de facto binary due to the structure of our system.
I don’t know of anyone who says they can’t be independent. There seems to be considerable data to the effect that few of them are.
Oh yes, there’s lots of religious tradition at play.
Not only CDU/CSU, but the Christian Democrats in other countries.
Dominant in Italy until the mid 1990’s.
A major party in the French Fourth Republic.
And interestingly different lineages: in Germany Catholics were often at odds with reactionary conservatives; in France and Austria-Hungary they were the reactionary conservatives.
The Old Catholic traditionalists loathed the free market right republican/monarchist liberals just as much as they did both the left liberals and the socialists (it’s …. complicated 🙂 )
In the UK, the Conservatives were often regarded as the party of the Established Church, and the Liberals of the “Old Dissent”; while Labour was often called “more Methodist than Marxist” and also the party of (working class/Irish descent) Catholics.
In Ireland Fianna Fail was often seen as the party of institutional Catholicism.
There were confessional parties in the Netherlands.
But, all that said, the alignment of “enthusiastic” religion (evangelical esp.) and American variety conservatisms (various types: free market/constitutional traditionalist/ethnic) makes for a very different beastie than either centrist/reformist Christian Democrats (who often started out as opponents of both conservatives and liberals) or the British Anglican/Aristocratic Tories.
These days despite the labels and traditions, religion is relatively unimportant in politics, due IMO to the decline of religion as a primary social identity function.
With Poland and Hungary as possible exceptions
Interesting difference in England, which used to be Britain generally, but the rise of Nationalism has made Scottish, and to some extent Welsh politics rather different; Northern Ireland has always been distinct: GB parties don’t even stand candidates there.
There are two main parties, Labour and Conservative; but also the simply-refusing-to-die Liberals (much to the periodic annoyance of the “big two”).
It’s interesting that in another country that is FPTP, a third party is so resilient.
Perhaps the difference is due to the polarising either/or nature of a presidential vote?
But you might have thought that a multi-state system would provide more niches for distinct parties?
(Paging the poli.sci types again…)
I don’t know anyone making exactly that argument, that independents don’t exist.
However, surveys time and again have revealed that it’s not so much that there aren’t independents, it’s that true independents are exceedingly rare. Most people lean one way or another, with the potential for a few outlying positions that have made them convince themselves that they don’t belong in either party and are therefore independent.
Increased polarization has driven this. See, for example, the number of people who say they are “socially liberal but fiscally conservative.” My party experience leads me to believe that many of these folks are former Republicans who cannot stomach the hard-right religious turn the party has taken. Back in the ’90s, I worked with many Republicans who were pro-choice, and/or supportive of gay rights. Those people–many of them Gen X women–no longer consider themselves Republicans. Some can’t quite make the leap to calling themselves Democrats, but that’s how they now think and vote. Thus “I’m an independent.”
The same is true on the other side of the fence, but to a lesser extent (for now).
I hear that quite frequently, including here at OTB. Independents and moderates are frequently derided for not joining a team, portrayed as arrogant, etc. And this is also personal experience, my status as an independent is routinely attacked.
As for the data and surveys, the fundamental issue is that people effectively have two choices in an election in our system, so they are forced to make a sub-optimal choice.
Let’s imagine the country only had two flavors of ice cream – chocolate and vanilla. Millions of people like strawberry, cookies and cream, and other flavors, but the system doesn’t allow those options. So if people want ice cream, they have to settle for chocolate or vanilla. When the choice is restricted, one can’t make broad conclusions about popularity, only relative conclusions.
I’m registered as “undeclared” here in NH, never had anyone fuss at me for it.
Yes, our choice is restricted to chocolate or vanilla, but with much higher stakes.
People who are actively engaged in politics tend to align along a binary system. A Pew study in 2019 showed that those who are really and truly independent on issues tend to avoid politics.
You tend to hear that frequently here on OTB, because the data appear to back it up.
I’m not arguing with the data. Most independents “lean” toward one side or another for the same reason that people who prefer strawberry ice cream “lean” toward chocolate or vanilla. They lean because they don’t have any other choice.