The number of Americans identifying as liberal jumped to 23% in a new Gallup poll, the highest number since Gallup started asking the question in 1992.
Americans continue to be more likely to identify as conservatives (38%) than as liberals (23%). But the conservative advantage is down to 15 percentage points as liberal identification edged up to its highest level since Gallup began regularly measuring ideology in the current format in 1992.
Gallup explains that while this is the highest number of self-identified liberals, it’s being led by Democrats. “Currently, 43% of Democrats say they are liberal, a nearly 50% increase from 29% in 2000. Over the same period, the percentage of Democrats identifying as moderate is down to 36% from 44%, and conservative identification is down to 19% from 25%.”
Gallup then goes on to argue that this is because Democrats have become increasingly more ideological, “These changes are a telling indicator of the shift in the Democratic Party from a party that was more ideologically diverse to one that is increasingly dominated by those from the left end of the ideological spectrum.”
There is no proof of that statement, and in fact, recent history belies it. If the party is dominated by those from the left, then its platform is not being run by those who dominate it. There is a party that has become more ideological, but it’s not the Democrats. The Democrats have been busy growing their tent, expanding it until hardcore progressive liberals wonder if the party stands for anything anymore. (Of course, the extremes will always feel that both parties stand for nothing by measure of their position.)
I would posit that what’s really going on is the word liberal is no longer the dirty word it used to be. Had Gallup used the word “progressive” instead of liberal all of these years, they might have seen different results. Republicans successfully managed to associate the word “liberal” with the idea of pot-smoking hippies living on a commune demanding taxpayer funded welfare. Republicans still cling to that idea of what a “liberal” is. However, if you ask Americans where they stand on an issue without labeling positions, Americans are often so far to the left as to be what Republicans inaccurately call “socialists”.
Thus, Republicans have to expend a lot of energy demonizing anything associated with “socialist” policies that Americans prefer, because our system of government does not allow Republicans to govern as they would prefer, taxing the poor to death in order to cater to the aristocracy. When your policies are not easily sold to the masses but the masses have the right to vote, you have to distract them from the real issues, demonize your opponents personally while avoiding the issues like the plague, stop the masses from voting when you can, and make sure that anyone who aspires to be rich like you believes that they can achieve this – even though your polices will ensure that they cannot – by associating themselves with your “values”. This translates into heaping disdain on the less powerful, blaming them for their circumstances, in order to justify stealing security from them to feed the profits of the few.
The really interesting shift going on here is a shift in perception. The media and many voters are still operating on out-dated ideas of what it means to be a “conservative” and a “liberal”. When you ask someone why they are a conservative, especially if you ask a Southerner, the reasons they give are mostly things that Republicans no longer actually stand for — such as fiscal responsibility, high moral standards, hard work, national security, and family values. In actually, those values have been taken over by the Democrats, with President Barack Obama leading the way.
As much as Republicans like to paint Obama as the most “liberal” former Senator ever, hell bent on destroying America with lazy liberalism, in truth the President is a person who believes in hard work, as evidenced by his own life story. He believes in the marketplace, as evidenced in ObamaCare. He believes in family values, as defined by being a good father and partner rather than the sex of whom one marries. And Obama has a record of exemplary fiscal responsibility. One could argue that some of that record is due to Republicans forcing it upon him due to their intention to destroy the economy under him, but in truth, Democrats have a better recent track record of paying for their proposals than Republicans. This is partly due to Democrats being sensitive about the implications behind the label of “liberalism”, but a record is a record.
What we are seeing here are the dawning signs of a long term paradigm shift, ushered in by President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party he helped reinvent. The changes Obama demonstrated most clearly during campaigns and less clearly while governing exemplify the new Democratic Party, boldly staking out the moral ground of social and economic justice, unwilling to cede national security and morality to the Republicans, who’ve proven they excel at neither.
Old ideas die slowly, and the last to get them are always the fear-driven corporate beltway media — just like post-corporate takeover, Hollywood tries to recreate its successes based on yesterday’s formula. Fear never sees what’s ahead.
What is ahead is an America where being liberal is an aspiration, not an insult.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.