POLITICS: U.S. Public Most Liberal in Decades

  • by Ali Gharib (washington)
  • Thursday, May 28, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

In fact, say the groups, Media Matters for America and the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF), the U.S. appears to have a centre-left bent when one considers the positions of U.S. citizens on specific issues.

For three decades, right-wing and centrist politics have dominated the power structure in Washington. But evidence such as polling on specific issues and overwhelming recent electoral victories for the U.S.’s liberal Democratic Party demonstrates that U.S. citizens - in what the report’s authors are calling a 'sea change' - have shifted their general attitudes and the independent and moderate constituencies are siding with liberals.

'[O]n issue after issue, and in growing percentages over time, nominal independents or moderates increasingly mirror the opinion of nominal Democrats of liberals,' said the report, titled 'America: A Centre-Left Nation'.

The crucial swing of independents – the largest self-identifying group of U.S. voters – determines the shift, says the report. 'The majority is centre-left; it is the right that is isolated.'

'Self-described moderates and independents have tracked over time closer to the views of liberals and Democrats,' said Robert Borosage, the co-director of CAF, 'The lynchpin of this is, of course, attitudes about government.'

'What the report shows is that the public - particularly in a crisis, but even before - has grown increasingly supportive of government and the role that government plays in our lives,' he added on a phone conference about the report and ahead of CAF’s annual convention in Washington.

The joint study of both the media’s claims of a centre-right country and the analysis debunking that proclamation rests on polling mostly from three reputable bipartisan sources.

On the attitudes of U.S. citizens towards the role of government, Media Matters and CAF point to a National Election Study (NES) poll which found that 62 percent of respondents view the growing role of government as an answer to the growing problems facing the nation. 37 percent of the population viewed it as the government usurping responsibilities that individuals should be taking.

In addition to that number, which would be staggering for a 'centre-right' country that is ideologically opposed to government growth, two thirds of respondents to the NES poll said the government should do more.

In what the authors of the report pose as another broad indicator of left-wing sentiment, they say, 'Americans maintain a good deal of scepticism toward big business.'

According to Pew studies cited by the report, more than half of U.S. citizens think corporations make too much profit and nearly four in five respondents thought corporations wielded too much power.

But some critics would be quick to point out that while Obama’s campaign was undoubtedly run with a progressive agenda, there have been some departures from that programme since he’s taken office.

'What's striking about Obama to me is not the places where he's diverted from his campaign agenda,' said Borosage. 'What's striking to me is where Obama's followed through on [his campaign] platform' – such as laying the foundations for broad education and healthcare reforms.'

'On big structural changes that we need [to make], he's defied the conventional wisdom that you're supposed to do little in the first two years,' he said.

Borosage does acknowledge, however, that Obama will risk losing his progressive backing if he continues to buck the movement with some of his most glaring betrayals, like the military escalation in Afghanistan and the back and forth on what to do about the controversial U.S. detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But progressives appear to remain, like the wider population, firmly behind Obama at the moment – in fact, especially at this moment.

The politics of crisis – with the U.S. notably mixed up in a concurrent series of two foreign wars and the economic meltdown – are known to push public opinion towards government intervention. But the authors of the report maintain that the progressive majority is here to stay for some time.

They point to the growing demographic presence of groups that are overwhelmingly supportive of those ideals – what was, after the election, hailed as Obama’s new coalition: Hispanic voters, African-Americans, and young people.

'On election day 2008, over 23 million young people voted,' said Heather Smith, the executive director of Rock the Vote, an organisation dedicated to youth political power, who said it was the most young voters ever. 'They're growing in numbers. They're the baby boom’s children, and they'll continue to turn 18' – voting age in the U.S. – 'every day.'

'It's just the beginning because they've voted now in the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections in increasing numbers, and its becoming a habit now,' she said of young voters, who had, in the past, been considered apathetic and apolitical and typically had low voter turnout.

Page Garner, the president of Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes, says that another group that needs to be added to the Obama coalition is unmarried women, a growing segment of the population that voted overwhelmingly for Obama.

However, all of the talk of the majority behind Obama and his progressive policies may allude to another reality which has, in turn, also been widely discussed. The Republican Party, where most conservative and right-wing U.S. politics reside, is a crumbling minority.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll at the end of April found that only one-fifth of voters identify themselves at Republicans, while about 30 percent of U.S. voters identify as Democrats.

The party is widely regarded as taking a sharp tack to the right as it has lost moderate elected officials in vulnerable districts to Democrats, clung to an anti-immigrant plank that alienated Latino voters, and played up wedge issues like gay marriage that pander to the religious right base but not broader constituencies.

On a Sunday television talk show, George W. Bush's one-time secretary of state Gen. Colin Powell said he feared that the Republican Party, of which, despite far-right former Vice President Dick Cheney’s scepticism, he is still a member, is becoming 'very, very narrow.'

'I have always felt that the Republican Party should be more inclusive than it generally has been over the years,' he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Where next?