Americans Are Liberal!

Matt Yglesias offers these Pew poll results as a rejoinder to those of us who think a win for Obama isn’t a mandate for his policies.

Says Matt, “The voters felt they had a choice between a liberal and a conservative, and felt they preferred the liberal and his policy agenda.”

Well . . . no.

For one thing, most of the choices are generic “addressing,” “improving,” “dealing with,” “wise decisions,” “handling,” and so on and so forth. For another, many of these are generic party choice responses. That is, it’s rare indeed for a Democrat not to be rated “better” on education, economic issues, and the like or the Republicans not to be rated “better” on national security policy.

Beyond that, as elections tighten, people give their guy higher marks on the issues. The swing between the September and October surveys shown in the chart demonstrate this in action. As the race broke open for Obama, mostly in response to the financial markets crisis, he suddenly became better able to handle a variety of issues.

George W. Bush won several states in 2004 that Obama is projected to carry today. Do we really believe that the voters in Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, and Virginia are markedly more progressive than they were four years ago? That they’ve swung radically from anti-abortion to pro-abortion? Have decided they want their taxes raised?

Beyond that, what precisely are the policy differences between McCain and Obama on terrorism, energy, education, gay rights, immigration, and lobbying reform that are driving this election? I believe I’ve followed this race a bit more closely than the average swing voter and I couldn’t tell you.

No, as with most elections, people are voting both retrospectively — they’re unhappy with the incumbent president and are ready to switch directions — and prospectively — assessing the personalities and skills of the candidates.  If, as expected, Obama wins it’ll be because people wanted change and trusted him moreso than his opponent to deliver it.

None of this is to say that a President Obama wouldn’t have every right to try and enact his policy preferences in what look to be a much stronger Democratic majority House and Senate.  Of course he does.  But it won’t mean that every vote he got was a vote for each and every one of those priorities.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. True enough. You could argue that one of the disservices Pres. Bush did to the GOP was to govern as if he had a mandate from the people, when in fact his narrow margins in 2000 and 2004 reflected a deeply divided electorate.

  2. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I believe since Obama does not leave a trail of what to expect, unless you consider his allies as a indicator, he campaigned as a liberal in the primaries. This was his true intentions. He appealed to the far left wing of the (Marxist/Lenin) Democratic party. Then went back on his word to his constituents and moved to the center/right to lure moderates into the trap.

  3. Eric says:

    I believe since Obama does not leave a trail of what to expect, unless you consider his allies as a indicator, he campaigned as a liberal in the primaries. This was his true intentions. He appealed to the far left wing of the (Marxist/Lenin) Democratic party. Then went back on his word to his constituents and moved to the center/right to lure moderates into the trap.

    Zelsdorf, did you forget to take your Zoloft again?

  4. Steven Donegal says:

    A mandate is always an ephemeral concept. In 2004, Bush clearly had a mandate to continue and win the war in Iraq. He clearly did not have a mandate to radically change Social Security. This year, if Obama wins, he will have a mandate for those policies on which he specifically campaigned–his tax plan, some form of increased health insurance coverage and a gradual withdrawal from Iraq. Beyond that, not much. The problem with the whole mandate argument is that the devil is always in the details. Health insurance reform is a great example. Obama can get in a lot of political trouble if his healthcare proposal messes too much with the coverage that people already have, while others will pushing him toward universal, non-employer based coverage. That will be a very fine line to walk.

  5. sam says:

    Do we really believe that the voters in Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, and Virginia are markedly more progressive than they were four years ago? That they’ve swung radically from anti-abortion to pro-abortion? Have decided they want their taxes raised?…

    No, as with most elections, people are voting both retrospectively — they’re unhappy with the incumbent president and are ready to switch directions — and prospectively — assessing the personalities and skills of the candidates.

    Which only goes to show the wisdom on the commons, that is, it gives the lie to all those hysterics who, always looking for the ghost of Joe Stalin under their beds, see his second coming in Obama. The people know better.

  6. Young Mr. Yglesias’ problem here (amongst many) is that he wants to believe that every vote for Senator Obama is a vote for the progressive agenda Young Mr. Yglesias advocates.

    Jesus, he gets tiresome sometimes.

  7. Frank says:

    not only is the american media leaning towards being liberal, but i’m also sick of celebrities spreading their liberal propaganda. jesus was a democrat? i found this youtube video that i thought everyone should see. mccain!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GygsckRj5ao