Saturday, June 30, 2007

Act like a liberal Democrat, dammit!

If you're a proud left of center liberal like me, read Rick Perlstein's article, "Will the Progressive Majority Emerge?" at The Nation to understand why we are not alone. In fact, Americans agree with us more often than not contradicting what the news press and broadcast pundits propagandize. We are not a "conservative country" no matter how many times the doh-dee-doh-doh media declare that we are.

Attacking this misperception, Perlstein summarizes and shares insights from the Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2007, which involves "a massive twenty-year roundup of public opinion from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press." A few have already written selective bites from the Pew survey whereas Perlstein digs deep supplementing the findings to include multiple sources, the National Election Studies (NES) survey, and numerous polls on how American attitudes about the role of government have shifted toward progressive ideas.

People! America sounds and thinks more progressively than we've been told, what Perlstein describes as "the most favorable climate for liberalism in a generation." Some grafs that could make conservatives gulp hard:

Is it the responsibility of government to care for those who can't take care of themselves? In 1994, the year conservative Republicans captured Congress, 57 percent of those polled thought so. Now, says Pew, it's 69 percent. (Even 58 percent of Republicans agree. Would that some of them were in Congress.) The proportion of Americans who believe government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep is 69 percent, too--the highest since 1991. Even 69 percent of self-identified Republicans--and 75 percent of small-business owners!--favor raising the minimum wage by more than $2.
The Pew study was not just asking about do-good, something-for-nothing abstractions. It asked about trade-offs. A majority, 54 percent, think "government should help the needy even if it means greater debt" (it was only 41 percent in 1994). Two-thirds want the government to guarantee health insurance for all citizens. Even among those who otherwise say they would prefer a smaller government, it's 57 percent--the same as the percentage of Americans making more than $75,000 a year who believe "labor unions are necessary to protect the working person." ...
... Want hot-button issues? The public is in love with rehabilitation over incarceration for youth offenders. Zogby/National council on Crime and Delinquency found that 89 percent think it reduces crime and 80 percent that it saves money over the long run. "Amnesty"? Sixty-two percent told CBS/New York Times surveyors that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to "keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status." And the gap between the clich├ęs about what Americans believe about gun control and what they actually believe is startling: NBC News/Wall Street Journal found 58 percent favoring "tougher gun control laws," and Annenberg found that only 10 percent want laws controlling firearms to be less strict, a finding reproduced by the NES survey in 2004 and Gallup in 2006.
You suspected it all along. Now it just might be true: Most Americans think like you. Nearly two-thirds think corporate profits are too high (30 percent, Pew notes, "completely agree with this statement...the highest percentage expressing complete agreement with this statement in 20 years"). Almost three-quarters think "it's really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer," eight points more than thought so in 2002.
If only there was an American political party that unwaveringly reflected these views, as a matter of bone-deep identity. You might think it would do pretty well. Which leads to the aspect of the Pew study that got the most ink: "Political Landscape More Favorable to Democrats," as the subtitle put it. When you compare Americans who either identify themselves as Democrats or say they lean toward the Democrats with Republicans and Republican leaners, our side wins by fifteen points, 50 percent to 35, the most by far in twenty years. As recently as 2002 it was a tie, 43 to 43.
Plunge below the surface, however, and this stirring tale becomes disconcerting. Yes, again and again, the views of independents track the views of Democrats--more so, in fact, with every passing year. Pew says it's "striking" that 57 percent of independents think government should aid more needy people even at the price of higher debt. In 1994 it was only 39 percent. When asked their opinion of statements like "Business corporations make too much profit," independents answer the same way as Democrats: about 70 percent agree. On questions like "Are you satisfied with the way things are going for you financially?" the chart is amazing: Republicans, independents and Democrats clustered together at 65 and 64 percent in 1994. But Republicans have increasingly answered that question in the affirmative--81 percent in 2007. Meanwhile, the lines for independents and Democrats headed down, down, down, nearly in lockstep, to 54 percent today.
Pew says independents are thinking like Democrats, and that fewer and fewer want much to do with the Republican Party. In 1994 independents gave the GOP a 68 percent approval rating; now only 40 percent do. And the percentage of people who call themselves Republicans has dropped from 29 percent in 2005 to 25 percent today. But these people are not signing up as Democrats. The proportion of those who call themselves Democrats has held steady, in the lower 30s....
...The pattern--Democrats losing because they don't look enough like Democrats--is nothing new: During the 2002 election Democrats did such a poor job of selling themselves as better protectors of middle-class interests that Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research found only 34 percent of voters saw a difference between Democrats and Republicans on prescription drug benefits to seniors.
Go read Perlstein, a lengthy read (much more than I have snipped) but worth every word. I doubt you will hear the press connect and articulate these attitudinal changes sufficiently because... "The stubborn oxen on TV and in the establishment media who tell the American people how to think are part of the problem too."

What will the Democratic Party do about an auspicious moment, "the most favorable climate for liberalism in a generation"? Perlstein offers this caveat: "They rarely ask the public to vote for them as Democrats." We can only hope that Democrats will remember their ABCs...

Always. Be. Closing.