Polls find more lib­er­als, but will cen­ter fol­low?

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By David Lauter david.lauter@la­times.com

More Amer­i­cans call them­selves lib­er­als than did just a few years ago. Should con­ser­va­tives be wor­ried?

A lot de­pends on whether the in­creas­ing num­ber of lib­er­als means that the cen­ter of the elec­torate has moved left — some­thing that would be a big prob­lem for con­ser­va­tives — or whether it means that the coun­try has sim­ply be­come more po­lar­ized, with more lib­er­als, more con­ser­va­tives and fewer mod­er­ates.

On that ques­tion, the ev­i­dence is mixed.

This week, Bill McIn­turff, one of the most ex­pe­ri­enced poll­sters on the Repub­li­can side, kicked off a de­bate among po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts with a blog post about the find­ings of the NBC/Wall Street Jour­nal poll, which he helps to di­rect.

Af­ter years in which the ide­o­log­i­cal mix in the U.S. had stayed about the same, he wrote, three NBC/Wall Street Jour­nal sur­veys this year had found a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in the per­cent­age of Amer­i­cans who call them­selves lib­er­als and a decline of con­ser­va­tives.

The share of reg­is­tered vot­ers who call them­selves lib­eral had climbed from 23% to 26%, he wrote. The share call­ing them­selves con­ser­va­tive had dropped from 37% to 33%. A 14-point con­ser­va­tive ad­van­tage had shrunk sud­denly to a 7-point one.

The shift is “quite large con­sid­er­ing how sta­ble the data has been,” McIn­turff wrote. Since the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was de­cided by just un­der 4 per­cent­age points, the shift in the lib­eral di­rec­tion is big enough to sug­gest a new hur­dle for Repub­li­cans.

Other polls, how­ever, paint a some­what dif­fer­ent pic­ture.

In the na­tion’s largest state, the ide­o­log­i­cal break­down has also moved to the left, but most of the move­ment has oc­curred within Demo­cratic ranks, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of sev­eral years of USC Dorn­sife/Los An­ge­les Times polls.

Since 2009, the ide­o­log­i­cal split among Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers has gone from 35% con­ser­va­tive and 26% lib­eral to 29% con­ser­va­tive and 32% lib­eral, said David Kanevsky of the Repub­li­can firm Amer­i­can View­point, who helps di­rect the poll. A 9point con­ser­va­tive ad­van­tage has be­come a 3-point lib­eral one. The share of mod­er­ates has re­mained fairly con­stant, at about one-third of the elec­torate.

Part of that shift in­volves de­mo­graph­ics — more mem­bers of the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion, who tend to be lib­er­als, have be­come vot­ers.

But the big­ger part in­volves the state’s Democrats. In 2009, only 39% of reg­is­tered Democrats in Cal­i­for­nia iden­ti­fied them­selves as lib­er­als; most called them­selves mod­er­ates. To­day, 50% of Democrats in Cal­i­for­nia iden­tify as lib­eral, the polls showed.

The shift cor­re­sponds with Pres­i­dent Obama’s years in the White House, sug­gest­ing that “Obama has suc­cess­fully moved the Demo­cratic Party to the left,” Kanevsky said.

If Democrats are be­com­ing more lib­eral, much as Repub­li­cans have be­come more con­ser­va­tive, that would deepen the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion. It wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily change which side wins elec­tions, but would fore­cast even less co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two par­ties when the elec­tions are over.

A dif­fer­ent look comes from polling ex­pert Harry En­ten, who ex­am­ined data from polls go­ing back to 2007 done by the Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion.

Much like the NBC/Wall Street Jour­nal sur­veys, the Kaiser polls find more lib­er­als in the U.S. They did not, how­ever, find fewer con­ser­va­tives.

In the Kaiser data, En­ten found, the share of con­ser­va­tives has re­mained rel­a­tively con­stant, at about 35%. In that poll, the growth among lib­er­als was com­ing at the ex­pense of self-de­scribed mod­er­ates.

The NBC/Wall Street Jour­nal num­bers in­di­cate an over­all shift to­ward the left. The Kaiser num­bers, by con­trast, in­di­cate a decline of the cen­ter.

There’s at least one im­por­tant dif­fer­ence be­tween the Kaiser polls and the NBC/Wall Street Jour­nal data: Kaiser polled all Amer­i­can adults, while the NBC/Wall Street Jour­nal sur­vey looked only at reg­is­tered vot­ers. Since about 30% of Amer­i­can adults don’t reg­is­ter to vote, trends can af­fect the two groups dif­fer­ently.

One fi­nal bit of data comes from a Gallup sur­vey last month, which showed that when Amer­i­cans were asked about “so­cial is­sues,” the an­swers showed a left­ward shift over­all — more lib­er­als, fewer con­ser­va­tives.

Ask­ing about “eco­nomic is­sues,” how­ever, led to a dif­fer­ent pat­tern: fewer con­ser­va­tives, but more mod­er­ates.

Out of all those num­bers, a few mes­sages seem clear: Democrats have be­come more con­sis­tently lib­eral. That’s al­ready hav­ing an im­pact in the is­sues Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton is stress­ing as she runs for the party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

Amer­i­cans over­all have shifted to the left on so­cial is­sues — that can be seen most clearly in the huge change in views of same-sex mar­riage. That has cre­ated prob­lems for the GOP that will prob­a­bly con­tinue to at least some ex­tent through the com­ing elec­tion cy­cle.

What’s still un­clear is whether the in­crease in lib­er­als has come about be­cause of a decline in the cen­ter, as the Kaiser fig­ures sug­gest, or be­cause of a shift away from con­ser­va­tives, as the NBC/Wall Street Jour­nal num­bers im­ply.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.