by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Writing in that bastion of right-wing propaganda The Washington Post, former Pew Research Center president Andrew Kohut muses that the Democratic Party might be becoming too liberal.
Under the more centrist Obama administration, the leftward movement of Democratic voters has been of limited political consequence. Most of the change on social policies such as same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization has come at the state and local levels. However, looking ahead to 2016, the viability of liberal Democrats has emerged as a critical question for the Democratic Party. Even as conventional wisdom coalesces around Hillary Rodham Clinton as the establishment candidate, the success of prominent progressives — Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio come to mind — means the party could face an ideological divide in 2016.
And the progressives, or liberals, seem to have the momentum. Gallup recently reported that liberal self-identification has edged up to its highest level in more than 20 years. Similarly, Pew Research’s values surveys have documented increasingly liberal beliefs among Democrats on social, economic and regulatory matters. While the move leftward has occurred among moderate and conservative Democrats as well as liberal ones, liberals have either moved further left or hold more intense views than moderates and conservatives.
How might the increased “liberalization” of the Democratic Party change its focus?
First, in-depth Pew Research surveys find that many liberals are cynical about achievement. Most don’t agree with the statement that “people can get ahead if they work hard,” and relatively few fully agree that they admire people who have become rich through hard work.
Second, liberals give low priority to dealing with the budget deficit, a major concern for much of the electorate, and they are the only political segment that expresses majority support for paying higher prices for the sake of the environment.
Third, liberals are also significantly to the left of the rest of the Democratic Party on social issues. Unlike other Democrats, few liberals say prayer is an important part of their lives, most strongly favor same-sex marriage, nearly all support abortion rights, and a majority support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
And fourth, on foreign policy, most liberals reject the idea that the best way to ensure peace is through military strength; unlike other Democrats, a majority would find it acceptable if another country became as militarily powerful as the United States.
On the politically charged issue of the day, economic inequality, majorities of both liberal and more moderate Democrats agree that the government should make a significant effort to shrink the gap between rich and poor and reduce poverty. However, even there, most liberals think that government action can make a big difference, while moderate and conservative Democrats don’t share their optimism.
It’s unfortunate that while the Democratic Party has become more “liberal,” it hasn’t actually become more liberal.