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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Survey of Democrats: Liberalism and Electability

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the Sanders candidacy and the leftward drift of the Democratic Party.     The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

At Gallup, Lydia Saad, Jeffrey M. Jones, and Megan Brenan report on decades of survey data:
As Democrats assume more power in Washington and start the process of choosing their standard-bearer for 2020, several factors reviewed here could be important to future Democratic unity.
  • Increased liberalism has been more pronounced among white than among black or Hispanic Democrats, and white Democrats are now majority liberal.
  • An increase in college education among Democrats, particularly white Democrats, may be a major contributor to the party's liberal shift.
  • Majorities of liberal, moderate and conservative Democrats share similar outlooks on corporate and upper-income tax rates, gun control, the human role in global warming and labor unions.
  • Democrats diverge by ideology on a variety of issues, such as doctor-assisted suicide, abortion, defense spending and government-run healthcare.
Taken together, these findings suggest that proposals to shrink the wealth gap, strengthen labor unions and address climate change could have broad appeal in the party. At the same time, Democrats risk alienating center-right elements of the party should they move far to the left on certain social issues, government-run healthcare or defense spending.
The Democrats' grand unifier, however, stands outside the party. Despite differing ideologies and opposing views on some issues, on average last year, 82% of conservative Democrats, 91% of moderate Democrats and 96% of liberal Democrats disapproved of the job President Donald Trump was doing as president. That suggests few Democrats would back Trump in 2020, even if their party lurches far to the left. The bigger risk would be dampening voter enthusiasm and turnout among centrist and right-leaning Democrats. That can be avoided by treading carefully on issues where strong intraparty divisions persist.
But Charles Cook warns against exaggerating the magnitude of the leftward shift:
There is some evidence that the leftward shift in the Democratic Party may not be quite as big as advertised. A Jan. 9-14 national survey by the Pew Research Center asked a sample of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic the question, “Would you like to see Democratic leaders in Washington move in a more liberal direction or a more moderate direction?” Forty percent of respondents chose the more-liberal response, 54 percent picked more moderate. If you are curious, when the parallel question was asked among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 57 percent said they wanted GOP leaders in Washington to move in a more conservative direction, 39 percent more moderate.
My hunch is that we are seeing two other things happening. First, the single most unifying force in the Democratic Party is Trump, who is every bit as vilified among Democrats as Obama was among Republicans during his tenure in the White House. That disdain for Trump is causing a level of pragmatism that is offsetting a more broad leftward tilt in the party. A Jan. 25-27 national poll by Monmouth University, spotlighted by David Leonhardt in The New York Times this week, asked Democrats and those independents who lean Democratic, “Which type of candidate would you prefer if you had to make a choice between: a Democrat you agree with on most issues but would have a hard time beating Donald Trump or a Democrat you do NOT agree with on most issues but would be a stronger candidate against Donald Trump?”
From the poll:
In considering who should be their party’s standard bearer, a majority of 56% prefer someone who would be a strong candidate against Trump even if they disagree with that
candidate on most issues. Just 33% say they would prefer a nominee who they are aligned with on the issues even if that person would have a hard time beating Trump. Democratic women (61%) are more likely than men (45%) to say they would put their policy positions aside in order to get a nominee who could beat Trump.