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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

‘Center-Right Nation’ Meme Shredded

TDS co-editor Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, both senior fellows and co-directors of the Progressive Studies Program at the Center for American Progress (CAP) have a co-written post up at The American Prospect, discussing new studies by CAP’s Progressive Studies program which debunk the conservative myth that the U.S. a ‘center right’ nation. The two new studies, “The State of American Political Ideology, 2009” (See also Andrew Levison’s two part TDS strategy memo on this study here and here) and “New Progressive America,” address beliefs and demographic trends. In a core graph, the authors note:

The 2008 presidential election not only solidified partisan shifts to the Democratic Party, it also marked a significant transformation in the ideological and electoral landscape of America. In two major studies of American beliefs and demographic trends–the State of American Political Ideology, 2009 and New Progressive America, both conducted by the Progressive Studies Program at the Center for American Progress–we found that the president’s agenda reflects deep and growing consensus among the American public about the priorities and values that should guide our government and society. Not surprisingly, conservatives are the ones who are out of line with the values of most Americans

The studies indicated that the U.S. is essentially an evenly divided nation in terms of political ideology, segmented into roughly equal ‘liberal/progressive’, ‘moderate/other’ and ‘conservative/liberarian’ thirds. Interestingly, however, only 35 percent of self-decribed conservatives rated the term ‘libertarian’ favorably and follow-up questions to moderates indicate they lean equally toward progressive and conservative views. So much for the “America is a center-right nation” meme. Halpin and Teixeira also provide a revealing analysis of responses to a series of 40 statements reflecting conservative and liberal ideas:

Nearly 80 percent of Americans agree that “government investments in education, infrastructure, and science are necessary to ensure America’s long-term economic growth.” Overall, the unanimity of opinion found on this issue is rare, showing that conservatives are out of step with the rest of the country in opposing new government investments. More than two in three Americans agree that “government has a responsibility to provide financial support for the poor, the sick, and the elderly,” while 15 percent are neutral and another 15 percent disagree. Democrats remain almost unanimously supportive, and independents lean strongly toward this progressive position. A slim majority of Republicans similarly agree.
While conservative elites have long held government regulation as an impediment to economic growth, nearly three in four Americans disagree, believing instead that “government regulations are necessary to keep businesses in check and protect workers and consumers.” Once again, there is surprising partisan and ideological harmony among Americans, with agreement topping 60 percent among both Republicans and conservatives. Seventy-six percent of Americans also agree with the president’s argument that “America’s economic future requires a transformation away from oil, gas, and coal to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar,” with 12 percent neutral and just 11 percent who say such a transformation is not needed. A major pillar of Obama’s economic vision, and the key to his cost-containment strategies, is ensuring affordable health coverage for all Americans. Nearly 65 percent of Americans are on board with this goal, including 44 percent who strongly agree that “the federal government should guarantee affordable health coverage for every American.”

The authors’ demographic analysis is all good news for Dems:

The share of black, Asian, and Hispanic voters in presidential elections has risen by 11 percentage points, while the share of increasingly progressive, white, college-graduate voters has risen by four points. But the share of white working-class voters, who have remained conservative in their orientation, has plummeted by 15 points. This pattern is repeated in state after state, helping to send these areas in a progressive direction. For example, in Pennsylvania the white working-class population declined by 25 points between 1988 and 2008, while white college graduates rose by 16 points and people of color rose by 8 points. And in Nevada, the white working class is down 24 points over the same time period, while voters of color are up an astounding 19 points and white college graduates are up by 4 points…By 2050, the country will be 54 percent people of color as Hispanics double from 15 percent to 30 percent of the population, Asians increase from 5 percent to 9 percent, and African Americans move from 14 percent to 15 percent.

But it’s not a slam-dunk future for Dems, note the authors, inasmuch as

…Voters are often fickle and prone to significant shifts in opinion if their demands and desires are not met or if leaders fall short of their expectations…The economy, public spending, and the financial bailouts are the most likely issues to trip up progressives; they are areas where our study found clear undercurrents of anti-corporate, anti-bailout populism across many segments of the electorate.”

Teixeira and Halpin nonetheless believe that the survey points strongly to a “marvelous opportunity” for progressives which could lead to “a real and durable political realignment” benefiting Democrats. By carefully addressing demographic change and rapidly-evolving political attitudes, Dems are in a strong position to make the coming decade a new era of progressive transformation in America.

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