While it might not be cause to break out the party balloons and kazoos just yet, according to “combined data from 13 separate Gallup polls,” liberal self-identification edged up to an all-time high of 23 percent in 2013. (where “all-time” means since 1992)
Liberal Self-Identification Edges Up to New High in 2013 — 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.
Since Gallup began polling on political identification, people identifying as liberal has polled as low as 16 percent. Conservative identification has pretty much remained steady in the high 30s, although it hit 40 percent in recent years only to drop back down to it’s historical average of 38 percent in the most recent poll. The slight rise in liberal identification trends with a larger decline in moderate identification.
Within the political parties, there are no surprises here. In 1992, 29 percent of Democrats identified as liberal. In 2013 that was up to 43 percent. Democrats identifying as conservative went from 25 percent in 1992 to 19 percent in 2013. And self-identified moderates in the Democratic Party dropped from 44 percent in 1992 to 36 percent in 2013. So the Democratic Party has become more liberal over the past two decades. I don’t think that should surprise anyone, but it would be nice if it translated to more liberal policy initiatives in Washington.
As for Republicans, 62 percent identified as conservative in 1992 and 70 identified as conservative by 2013. Liberal identification in the GOP stayed mostly steady from 1992 to 2013, starting at 6 percent and ending at 5 percent, with many years in between hitting 4 percent. Moderates declined in the Republican Party from 31 percent in 1992 to 23 percent in 2013.
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.
In fact, the rise in liberal identification among all Americans is due exclusively to the changes among Democrats. Independents are no more likely now than in the past to describe their political views as liberal. The main change in independents’ views is that they increasingly call themselves conservative. That could be related to recent developments in party identification, with fewer Americans now identifying as Republicans and more as independents. Thus, the change in independents’ ideological preferences may be attributable to former Republicans, who are more likely to be politically conservative, now residing in the independent category.
I take issue with Gallup’s analysis. There’s no question more people in the Democratic Party identify as liberal, but I think they moved away from statistics and into conjecture when they claim the left has a greater influence on the Democratic Party. Where did they get that from? Where’s the evidence? And with any cursory observation of policy conversation and debate in Washington D.C., it’s easy to refute that claim. Just use health care as an example. If the Democratic Party is dominated by the left, that debate would have started with single-payer.
I think I know the reason more people are willing to identify as liberal, and why they are more likely to be Democrats. Liberal is no longer the dirty word it once was. In “What Does It Mean To Be A Liberal?” I wrote, “[S]ince the 1960s, the conservative right has been given license to redefine the word ‘liberal’ for their own political purposes. It’s as if liberals were afraid to use the word or stand up for what they believe in. But it does seem the word ‘liberal’ is making a comeback in American politics.” That appeared to be the case in the 2012 election, and this Gallup poll offers further support.
As for why liberals are more likely to be Democrats, that one is easy to explain, have you seen the Republican Party lately?
Congressman Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits), “The West Wing” Season 7, Episode 7 “The Debate” — Yes, a liberal Republican. What happened to them? They got run out of your party. What did liberals do that was so offensive to the Republican party? I’ll tell you what they did. Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created social security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act. What did Conservatives do? They opposed every one of those programs. Every one. So when you try to hurl the word ‘liberal’ at my feet, as if it were dirty, something to run away from, something that I should be ashamed of, it won’t work, Senator, because I will pick up that label and wear it as a badge of honor.