In his Wall St. Journal column, “The New Democratic Coalition: The party has moved to 41% liberal from 21% since 2000, but seeks a unifying candidate,” William A. Galston writes:
The Democratic contenders for 2016 are dealing with a party that has shifted left in the 14 years since the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency. In 2000, according to an October report from the Pew Research Center, 43% of Democrats identified themselves as moderate, 27% as liberal and 24% as conservative. In 2015, 41% of Democrats think of themselves as liberal–a 14-point jump. The moderates’ share of the party dropped to 35%, the conservatives’ to 21%. Half of the Democrats who participate in the 2016 nominating process are likely to be liberal.
The candidates will be vying to lead Barack Obama’s Democratic Party. Pew researchers find that 61% of Democrats who say they may vote in the primaries and caucuses will be more likely to support candidates who offer plans similar to those of the Obama administration. Only 12% would be less likely to do so. By 45% to 19%, these Democrats say that they will be more, rather than less, likely to support a candidate who wants to expand trade agreements. On this issue, surprisingly, there is no disagreement between liberal and moderate/conservative Democrats.
Galston also notes that the Pew survey shows significant, but unsurprising differences between “liberal,” “moderate” and “conservative” Democrats in their attitudes toward breaking up the big banks and the Iran deal. With respect to the poll’s findings on attitudes toward bipartisan compromise, Galston explains:
The second large contrast between the parties is especially telling. Among possible Democratic primary participants, 60% say they are more likely to favor a candidate who wants to compromise with Republicans. Only 41% of possible Republican participants would be more likely to favor a candidate who wants to compromise with Democrats. Democrats are weary of unending partisan strife; Republicans are gearing up to intensify the battle…Among these Democratic respondents, candidates who espouse a more unifying approach to the presidency are likely to hold the advantage over partisan warriors.
In addition, Galston says, “According to a Pew Research Center study published in June 2014, 56% of voters overall preferred candidates who are willing to compromise; only 39% wanted leaders to stick to their positions, come what may.” But he cites public skepticism about the prospects for political leadership actually pursuing greater bipartisan unity, and concludes, “In these polarized times, the candidate with the most credible response to this challenge is likely to be the next president of the United States.”