Democrats, Liberals Win 2005

The day after the 2004 elections, despite my rather extreme emotional and inebriated state, I somehow managed to bang out a memo that I still feel articulates the ultimate high altitude view of the problems facing the Democratic Party. Simply put, our main problem is that we are now living in an era where the two political parties are primarily ideological coalitions, and the liberal ideological base is smaller than the conservative ideological base. Whatever our structural flaws may or may not be when it comes to creating a strong, 21st century political operation (and certainly those structural flaws directly relate to our inability to close the gap between progressives and conservatives), this ideological problem is at the fundamental core of our inability to once again become the natural ruling party of this country.

However, now from Harris we now have signs of real, positive change. Within the ultimate high altitude perspective, Democrats and liberals emerged with solid gains in 2005. As we can see from the excellent long-term data Harris provides, not only did Democratic self-identification increase in 2005, but even more importantly liberals closed the ideological self-identification gap on conservatives to its lowest level since 1977. Further, self-identified liberals now represent their highest level of the national population since 1979:

	Dem    Rep    Ind	Lib    Mod    Con
2005	 36	30     22	 20	42     34
2004	 34	31     24	 18	41     36
2003	 33	28     24	 18	40     33
2002	 34	31     22	 17	40     35
2001	 36	31     22	 19	40     36
2000	 37	29     23	 18	40     35
1995	 36	31     28	 16	40     40
1990	 40	33     23	 18	41     38
1985	 39	30     26	 17	41     37
1980	 41	24     31	 18	41     35
1979	 41	22     31	 20	39     35
1978	 43	22     30	 17	39     34
1977	 48	21     25	 17	42     30
With nearly 5,000 yearly interviews, the margin of error on these polls is an incredibly low plus or minus 1%. In other words, these are very hard numbers. In 2005, liberalism was on the rise, closing the ideological self-identification gap on conservatism by a full four points--outside the margin of error on this poll.

I think this directly relates to Matt's question as to why we should challenge Lieberman. If our long-term goal is to make liberalism / progressivism the equal of conservatism in this nation, Joe Lieberman is exactly the wrong person to be representing the progressive states of Connecticut. Joe Lieberman is a conservative, and as such he supports a foreign policy, an economic system, and a cultural system that are antithetical to the progressive and liberal values. Even aside from the way he undercuts the Democratic Party, and reinforces the Republican Party, at almost every turn the established news media desires, he is not representative of our values. In the final count, any challenge to Lieberman must arise from a strong, publicly stated belief in progressive values first, and a challenge to his status as party underminer second. We made some real positive gains in 2005, but as long as the Joe Lieberman's of the world are our ambassadors to the public, progressives will never be able to close the ideological self-identification gap to historic, single-digit lows in time for the 2008 elections and beyond. Progressivism is on the rise, and that is the ultimate reason why progressives should challenge Joe Lieberman in a Democratic primary.

Tags: Ideology (all tags)



Self Identification
is only one part of the puzzle.

Look at the polls on support for liberal positions.  They are very strong.  People don't identify as "liberal" but they do identify with many liberal positions.

The number of people who identify with liberal positions is more than the number of people who identify with so-called Consrvative positions.

That gap is what you need to concentrate on - the people who agree with you, but don't identify with you.

That's your job, and that's what people like the DLC don't get - your policies are popular IF you can sell them.  Trying to sell them would help.  Almost no Democratic politicians try.

by Ian Welsh 2006-01-19 08:52AM | 0 recs
Re: Self Identification
Yeah, i don't really buy into the "position by position" rubric that we liberals have used for so long. I don't think that people organize their political thoughts along issue position lines like "health care position" and "education position." I think that people organize their political thoughts based on lifestyle, such as "parenting politics," "religious politics," and "sexual politics." I actually beleive that because we insist on looking at things from a position-based metric rather than a lifestyle-based metric is utterly crushing to us.

And it should be obvious that people don't organize their thoughts around "single issues" or "position statement." Just look at the blogopshere. You don't really see "health care" blogospheres, but you do see "parenting" blogopsheres. You don't see "affirmative action" blogospheres, but you do see "African-American" blogospheres. Further, a blogopshere like the "GLBT blogopshere" is way larger than a "national security" blogosphere."

I guess my point in all of this is that we need to chuck the notion that liberalism is dominant because people agree with liberal position statements. The question we should be looking at is to see if people are living like progressives, but not self-identifying as progressives. Those are the people we are most likely to reach and swing.

Hmmm... maybe I should have written this as a separate post. I hate it when I get several good ideas to blog on one day, and then no good ideas the next two days.

by Chris Bowers 2006-01-19 09:05AM | 0 recs
Re: Self Identification
"I guess my point in all of this is that we need to chuck the notion that liberalism is dominant because people agree with liberal position statements. The question we should be looking at is to see if people are living like progressives, but not self-identifying as progressives. Those are the people we are most likely to reach and swing."

I think that's right.  Part of the problem is that people don't really think Republicans will take away their freedom to live the way they do.  

The other thing I'd not is that people who don't vote are more liberal than people who do.  Figuring out how to get some of them to vote is important.

by Ian Welsh 2006-01-19 09:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Self Identification
There are people here who believe that the Republicans don't mean what they say. Or at least implicit in some of their arguments they don't. When talking with a guy who has the screen name Moderate on here, and who says he is a state chair of the Democratic Party in a red state, he stated that he didn't think a fight over Alito was a big deal. My question of course - is why does he believe that? Is it a lack of knowledge about the S Ct- or is it more implicitly that the Republicans will be descent and not do what they say in the areas of economics and other issues? I think its the later.
by bruh21 2006-01-19 02:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Self Identification
People vote more on values than they do on positions.  And by values, I'm not necessarily talking about gay marriage, abortion, etc.

Dems have run campaigns by looking at polls that show the public by and large prefers our stance on policies and tries to remind them that they agree with us.  Republicans run campaigns based on values/character issues.  People may not have liked how the Iraq War was going, but Bush used his stance on the issue to promote himself as a strong, resolute leader, and people like strong, resolute leaders.

Basically, it's not what you say about the issues, it's what the issues say about you that registers with the public.

Dems need to practice saying "I support greater access to health care because..." instead of saying "I support greater access to health care and here's my 10-point plan to implement the policy."  

by danielj 2006-01-19 09:23AM | 0 recs
Values Liberal

I disagree with Chris but agree with Daniel.

Liberal issues are about values. The power of Lakoff's "Don't think of an Elephant" is that it reminded us of that.

As Daniel implies, we are not always good at attaching the issue to the value, especially when we get into arguments with our stupid brother-in-law.

See my post below referencing the Pew Typology report, which did polling to identify party allegiance based on political value questions, "politico-graphics" if you will.

by MetaData 2006-01-19 10:13AM | 0 recs
It shouldn't be that hard
I'm against tax cuts for billionaries - because they don't need it, and other people are still starving and born without chances in life.

I'm against wiretapping without court orders - because I believe in a system where there are checks and balances so that we don't follow the path of the Third Reich.

I'm against pollution - because I want the human race to survive and prosper.

I'm against standardized testing - because I believe in a school where the pupils are actually learning on a deep level (understanding, not just memorizing) and where creativity and ethusiasm is not replaced by the drill and kill wasteland.

Etc. One can state it in positive terms as well, i.e. being for rather than against.

by Populism2008 2006-01-19 11:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Self Identification
Maybe, even further than I support greater access to health care because ... Rather, because ... I support greater access to health care.

Principles first.

by David Kowalski 2006-01-19 10:43AM | 0 recs

Read or re-read the Pew Center report on Typology: Beyond Red vs Blue, which shows that based on value-identification, Liberals make up 19% of the voters, a figure that has doubled since 1999. (MyDD summary)

Studying the highly interesting Pew Typology Report, you understand why this Harris poll, while useful for providing a long-term time-line, ultimately hides more than it shows. More detailed "politico-graphics" of opinion polling is necessary for us to get past the propaganda-loaded terms Liberal, Conservative and Independent. We should also demand better geographic disaggregation, in which case we would notice that "value-identified liberals" make up 33% of the voters in certain North Eastern and Western states, like New York, Massachussetts, California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado.

The Clinton era "move to the center" might have assured Bill's reelection in 1996 because he was able to maintain his appeal with certain moderate voters, but Bush, Rove & company have been able to consolidate the Republican base meaning that this strategy of playing just defense is 10 years out-of-date.

What can we do? Be proud of being liberal for one.

Consolidate the Democratic Base by addressing populist economic issues.

Split the Independents by being the party of personal-privacy and "get the government out of the bedroom".

Use Universal Health Care for a multi-election strategy so this issue will forever be seen as owned by the Democratic party, just like Social Security for 60 years. History is on our side. Hell, even business is on our side on this one.

Be confident of our "good government" meme, in opposition to their "anti-government" meme. People are willing to pay more in taxes if they know what they are paying for.

by MetaData 2006-01-19 10:03AM | 0 recs
Democrat or Liberal?
It comes down to which group does each individual give one's top loyalty too.  In my case it is the Democratic party but others it is not.  At some time each one will have to make the choice.  If having liberals on an equal footing as conservatives is your goal you will at times find the Democratic party as an obsticle, because many officals in the party are interested in electing Democrats and are not nearly as concerned of thier views.
by THE MODERATE 2006-01-19 08:57AM | 0 recs
Re: Democrat or Liberal?
What exactly is the point of electing people who do not share at least some of your core values? Your statements in real world terms seem practically useless for acting upon a situation in any meaningful way that people who vote can actually understand or use to determine whether someone they are voting for shares their values or not.
by bruh21 2006-01-19 02:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Democrat or Liberal?
The question about sharing values is a good one but right now there is a segment of the voting public that feels neither party shares there values, they have a concern with both parties and they are Republican leaning but up for grabs.  Some Democrats want to make a play for them thier values into the Democratic party, this is not a popular belief on the blogs it is popuar with many Democratic officals.
by THE MODERATE 2006-01-19 05:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Democrat or Liberal?
If Democratic officials were so good at winning elections why have they been losing for a generation now with the strategy you just outlined?

I have the benefit of having Republican (mostly moderate although one of them is evangelical so he's a bit weird), independent (both left and right) and Democratic friends. None of them speak in the way that you and the party leadership speaks. I know people both from the South where I grew up, and from the Northeast in which I now live, and out west where I once lived. None of them speaks the way that you do.

I should note here that I have the benefit of reading polls  over the last year about what Americans think on various places on line that suggest to me that what my friends are saying is probably representative.

You want to know what talks to them? Someone who cuts through the bullshit. Maybe you should start there first.

It's why the S Ct symbolically was important. Truth be told- two justices probably will not shift the court if we get the WH in 2008 or the Senate.  However, my moderate Republican friends looked at the Democrats and said, "they are just a bunch of bullshiters who will say anything" after I said there is a chance that the Dems will fillabuster. The center is far more personality driven. ie, they want to know that you have courage, loyalty, etc- traits they attributed right or wrongly to Bush. It wasn't moral values that moved them in 2004- it was character stupid.

The left and right leaning independents I know say the same thing. Well those of them who know what the hell is going on. Some of them (probably the majority) are apolitical although they do vote. I suspect they rep the majority of Americans. What are they tired of? People like your Democrat officials who don't get that we have grown up in a post everything world in which the bud is off the bloom. We know politicians are politicians. To win them over, you got to stop acting like a politician. The language you just said- especially coming from a Democratic chair- is scary to me because it seems like you are out of touch with the what people on the street are saying.

by bruh21 2006-01-19 06:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Democrat or Liberal?

A few other points:

a) The value of fighting for a fillabuster was not going to be found in a poll of what people thought of Alito. It would have been found in a poll done a few months back in which the American people were asked what would they think of the Democrats fillabustered on principle. I think somwhere above 55 percent were okay with that because, and get this, they would have respected us. I know in this era in which Democrats are convinced the Republicans are right- this concept that standing on principles matters to the public. but to the center- which is where you claim you want to obtain votes- it does matter.

b) The issue here is not the center- its how do you also energize your base. It will do you  no good to obtain swing voters- only to get tepid support from the Democratic base. The problem with Joe is that he and other Democrats like him- will lose the base as they try to obtain the Repulbican voter

c) I mentioned that this was your position in another thread- in which you stated- that somehow I was being offensive to point out that you are advocating Republican lite- and now you turn around and advocate that the goal is to entice Republican leaning voters. What exactly is the difference between what I said and what you are saying now, other than you don't like the truth of my wording?

d) Before you dismiss my ideas- here or in your own mind- consider this. Perhaps the problem with the Democrats is that you have been too long in politics, and not enough in the world in which you are trying to appeal to. For example, understanding that politics is about being characters and plots to a story. What story are the democrats laying out to the public? Who are the heros? Who are the villians? We live in a pop culture age- regardless of whether one is on the left or right- everyone goes to see the movies. Is into entertainment. Approaching this as a policy wonk of id'ing issues you think will appeal to the middle is a mistake. It's about values- values such as community-- that's the story you want to tell, but also about personal values- such as what type of people are we putting up for leadership? Plain speakers or bullshit artists? And are we keeping a single storyline- or are we confusing them with multiple conflicting ones? You may think this is all silly- but understanding the modern public means understanding how they understand things. The Republicans are smart at it- and we- we act like grade school kids giving our first debate to prove how smart we are.

by bruh21 2006-01-19 06:38PM | 0 recs
As if the election or reelection of Lieberman had ANYTHING to do with people's ideological identification!

I propose that liberals are STILL an ideological minority, and the Democrats best bet to regain power is to be the party that accomodates the middle.  BushCo's avid pandering to the base is driving people to the left--AND pushing the middle to the Democrats, who are perceived as less extreme than the Repugs.  

The best bet for liberals to ultimately regain stronger ideological identification is to be the party in power--as it was in the Sixties.  And the best way to regain power is to make gains among moderates, and form a majority coalition.

Lieberman disgusts me sometimes, but he is an identified Democrat, who firmly embraces our values on many, if not all issues (such as Social Security, reproductive rights, and the environment).  It may or may not be a good idea to challenge him and to get a more progressive Democrat in office.  But the idea that this election will have the effect you propose is awfully fuzzy logic, if you ask me.    

by paul minot 2006-01-19 09:00AM | 0 recs
Re: Nonsense...
"The best bet for liberals to ultimately regain stronger ideological identification is to be the party in power--as it was in the Sixties."

Yeah. And that's why the ideological self-identificaiton liberalism reached its all-time lowest ebb during Clinton' time in pwoer. Because Demcorats being in pwoer made libealsim grow int eh mind of the elctorate.

If you are going to call what I say "nonsense," don't offer a solution that the data obviously shows to be false.

by Chris Bowers 2006-01-19 09:08AM | 0 recs
Re: Nonsense...
Clinton was president when both houses of Congress were controlled by Republicans (after 1994).  He could not advance legislation, and after the health care debacle, made no furhter effort to advance progressive ideals in a vigorous fashion.  

Rather, he triangulated, as we all know.  He seized the middle ground, positioning himself between his party and the Repugs, playing both against each other.  He NEVER put himself at political risk for the sake of his party, or for any ideology.  That's why he dropped the allegedly sacred right to health care like a hot potato.  PLEASE don't cite him as an example of what I am saying.

by paul minot 2006-01-20 04:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Nonsense...
There is agreement that the key to Democratic power is to build a larger coalition. Minot thinks the coalition should include Lieberman, whereas Bowers thinks he disrupts the coalition. I think the coalition need to build around a progressive core that has not gelled well enough yet. It is important to reinforce that core so it remains steadfastly part of the coalition, and steadfastly liberal.

One of the greatest challenges I see is the sniping from the inside. Progressives are the worst types to try to organize, because they drop out when the discover that they are allied with those with whom they are only partly in agreement. A case in point: the desire to throw out Lieberman. I insist that it will not be time to throw out Lieberman until there is a Democratic majority. Not because he deserves respect, but that the effort to throw him out divides the coalition.

So I disagree with Minot's urging to cultivate more moderates. We need to cultivate progressives so they vote and organize every time.  I disagree with Bowers desire to kick people out of the coalition when we should be enlarging it.

by De Re Rustica 2006-01-19 10:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Nonsense...
If you look closely, I didn't say we should CULTIVATE moderates--I said we should ACCEPT them.  I believe in advancing progressive ideals.  I just think it is much easier to do so once we already have power--like, say, JFK, who ran as a moderate strong on defense, and then promoted progressive values once he was elected.
by paul minot 2006-01-20 04:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Nonsense...
" I propose that liberals are STILL an ideological minority, and the Democrats best bet to regain power is to be the party that accomodates the middle. "

Right, but the how I think we'll disagree. Above all we believe that when you have all the facts, you should make your own decision without interferance.

by MNPundit 2006-01-19 01:24PM | 0 recs
Re: Nonsense...
I think those of your who make these arguments at this point misidentify the points being made about Joe because you want to misidentify them. A majority, if not a super majority, of the people posting on Joe in Matt's diary make the point this isn't about liking, loving or hating Joe. It's about party discipline, and whether the party can afford to continue to have members who damn the brand Democrat in public or not? Sharing our values- voting, are only part of the that puzzle. There are other things as well- w/ Joe we are at 45- and without we would be at 44. But, with him we not only are at 45- but we have a public voice that reinforces the meme that keeps us in the minority. If you don't think conflicting public statements are problematic- I refer you to the Republicans who are at their most succesful when they have controlled their message down to the last Republican. That's the core issue- and loyalty to party requires in these times of mass media more than a voting record.
by bruh21 2006-01-19 02:58PM | 0 recs
This is good news
I just got done reading Donkey Rising's post of the new Pew numbers and also great news.

My only worry is focusing on the name Lieberman. He is only representative of what a primary challenge should be. However, it is the larger context such a challenge represents rather than an individual. It really is not about Lieberman, it is about the power the base can exert.

by Citizen80203 2006-01-19 09:08AM | 0 recs
Only 1 year
Here's what I see

2002---18 pt gap

So the situation was pretty much the same in 2003, and it proved to be pretty transitory.  

It's pretty hard to draw any real conclusions from 1 year fluctations of a few percentage.  We'll need to see something hold up for a few years before we know that there's a real shift out there.

by floater 2006-01-19 09:32AM | 0 recs
The left base is bigger, but more comfortable
Liberals won the 20th century.  The great battles between liberals and conservatives have been waged, and liberals won.  At the start of the 20th century, there were little or no protections for workers, social welfare, civil rights for minorities, or suffrage or women's rights.

Now the conservatives control the whole government and there is no great rollback of liberal ideals.  No viable politician would advocate an end to medicare or voting rights or social security.  I think the reason why conservatism seems to be winning the ideological war is because, at this point, it is not threatening.

For instance, there is no direct assault from the Republican party on abortion rights.  They are subtly positioning and manuevering but they know if they began a righteous battle to amend the constitution now, it would not only fail, but push Americans back into the liberal side.  When American women feel they may actually lose reproductive rights, there will be a big swing back to the Democratic party.

The same goes for the errosion of civil liberties.  A lot of moderate Americans do not feel threatened by illegal wiretaps because they dont think the issue applies to them.  

And we are hemorrhaging money, with deficits and debt, due to huge tax cuts for the rich, and irresponsible spending.  But these policies are not actually affecting the lives of people in middle America.  

This is the secret to the current success of the Republican party.  They play lip service to great conservative issues, but have not actually advanced real reform, as of yet, that threatens moderate Americans.  So I disagree with your statement that the right has a bigger ideological base.  Once Roe is overturned, or medicare is dismantled, and the Republicans actually stay in power, then I will agree.  

by Winston Smith 2006-01-19 10:18AM | 0 recs
Re: The left base is bigger, but more comfortable
Liberals won the 20th century?

Maybe.  It looks pretty much like an even split.  Republicans won 13 Presidential selection (or 13 elections if you count from 1900 and rxclude 2000) and Democrats 12.

Most of the Progress was enacted during a firmly liberal era from 1932 through 1968.  The right of workers to organize.  Social Security.  Minimum standards of living: the minimum wage, medicare, medcaid, children's programs, programs for the elderly.  Civil rights and voting rights.

The period from 1980 to 2000 saw a slow rollback.  Rights, priviliges, and programs were not so much ended as bent around the edges.  Abortion is one of these areas.  I doubt whether a complete reversal of Roe v. Wade would help Republicans as much as its mimimization.  Gotta keep the fundies voting, campaigning, and contributing.

by David Kowalski 2006-01-19 11:34AM | 0 recs
Re: The left base is bigger, but more comfortable
Teddy Roosevelt and Taft were hardly conservatives.  Then again, Harding and Clinton weren't exactly liberals.  Hmmm....
by Flynnieous 2006-01-19 11:47AM | 0 recs
The backlash in Europe
was much smaller than in the US. Liberals in the US have been awful at organizing and building a countermovement to the RR. A lot of it has to do with the abandonment of unions. In Europe (I have lived and studied in Sweden several years) the left wing parties are more populist and "Joe Sixpack" is a lefty since he despises that union busting, tax cutting right wing cabal. The Swedish SDP party (who has governed 78 of the last 86 years) have demonized the word "tax cut" so that for the average Swede "tax cut" basically means "benefit cut".

In the US liberals let the right wing abuse the word "liberal" and helped them get away with the incredibly cynical phrase "welfare queens".

by Populism2008 2006-01-19 12:05PM | 0 recs
Re: The left base is bigger, but more comfortable
You hit the nail well on the head with your post.
by bruh21 2006-01-19 02:59PM | 0 recs
I'm not sure about those numbers.
I wonder how many self-identified moderates are attitudinally liberals. I suspect that there is a much closer balance between the 2 parties, ideologically speaking. Our problem would then be that we need to help those moderate understand that they're liberals.
by thirdestate 2006-01-19 10:18AM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not sure about those numbers.
What does conservatism stand for?  Patriotism, supporting the troops, low taxes, having a down to earth attitude in the face of all those crazy liberals who run around trying to tell us how to live our lives?  If that is conservatism, then the majority of America is conservative.

But I think the Republican base thinks that it is something else.  Criminalizing abortion, and gays.  Putting Jesus in the schools.  Making sure minorities pay deference to the man.  Ending social welfare.  Censoring the media.  

I agree with you that moderate America is much closer to a liberal ideology than a conservative one.  They just dont know it because the Repulicans have better brand marketing.  

by Winston Smith 2006-01-19 10:36AM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not sure about those numbers.
"...moderate America is much closer to a liberal ideology than a conservative one.  They just dont know it because the Repulicans have better brand marketing."  

You're 100% right about that. Right on target.

by Populism2008 2006-01-19 12:07PM | 0 recs
Dem lead/Dem prez: where's the tie-up?
Looking at the series of stats going back to 1969, I can't figure a correlation between the stated Dem lead and success in electing a Dem president. (I'm assuming the polls are taken in January of each year, and roughly reflect the position in the previous November.)

Nixon won with Dems leading by 17 and 22 points; Reagan with Dem leads of 11 and 9 points; Clinton with 9 and 8 points; Bush II with 5 and 6 points.

How much is this due to party realignment in the South, with Southern conservatives gradually dumping Dem identification for the GOP?

The political philosophy numbers since Reagan show a range of 33-40% classing themselves as conservative; but the lowest score comes in 2003 - just after the GOP widened its margin in the House!

I'm no expert on stats, but...

by skeptic06 2006-01-19 10:19AM | 0 recs
important post
Nice job, Chris.  You hit the big trends.
by Matt Stoller 2006-01-19 10:41AM | 0 recs
In the End...
...GOP would try to sway the elections in its favor by doctoring terrorist videos...and the process has step would be the codes..yellow, orange, red, etc., and this will continue till the elections as it did in 2004..and then disappear the day after the elections...and would be dormant till 2008.
by Boilermaker 2006-01-19 11:18AM | 0 recs
...not what this poll says
A piece in the Prospect reports polling yielding a distinct trend towards illiberalism amongst Americans:

Between 1992 and 2004, for example, the percentage of people who said they agree that "the father of the family must be the master in his own house" increased ten points, from 42 to 52 percent, in the 2,500-person Environics survey. The percentage agreeing that "men are naturally superior to women" increased from 30 percent to 40 percent.

It doesn't say what percentage of those agreeing with the second proposition were women. Or liberals.

by skeptic06 2006-01-19 11:39AM | 0 recs
my comment got too long
I commented on both posts over at The Baltimore Group.

Chris, I think you're right--there is only one way for progressives to treat this situation. We bloggers are not part of the establishment, nor will we be, so if we are to reach our goal of a more progressive Democratic Party then we have to act.

Great post.

by The Stuffed Tiger 2006-01-19 11:58AM | 0 recs


Advertise Blogads