Is America Becoming A Center-Left Nation?

This was the topic of discussion on a recent MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) show that I appeared on. As I commented on the show there are many different ways to look at this, but overall I think the answer is “no.”

Consider some of the social attitudes that Public Opinion Strategies has been tracking for years across the country. By a margin of two-to-one voters still describe themselves as conservative (39{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) versus liberal (20{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}). Almost two-thirds of voters say they attend religious services frequently (40{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) or occasionally (22{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}), and just 10{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of the nation describes themselves as agnostic/atheist. On the issue of abortion, we’re more or less split down the middle (43{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} pro-life/51{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} pro-choice), and gay marriage is still an issue that brings out passionate and diverse feelings. These trends have been stable for several years and show little sign of shifting any time soon.

So, why then are we asking whether America has become a center-left nation now? I think the reason we’re having this conversation is because of the current economic conditions and some shifting perceptions among the public over the role of government.

It’s true in the last couple of years on our NBC/WSJ poll we’ve watched the public move to favor the idea that “government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people” (51{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) over the notion that the “government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals” (40{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).

But, while some recent Gallup data shows a majority (53{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) approves of the government’s expanded role in the economy, just 13{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} want to see that expanded role made permanent, while the rest want it to be reduced once the crisis is over. Another, 44{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} simply disapprove of the government’s expanded role. And, more than half the nation (55{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) says President Obama’s proposals to address the economic problems in the country call for too much spending.

In fact, when asked more directly about government involvement in a recent Rasmussen Reports survey, 72{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} say a free market economy is better than an economy managed by the government (14{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}); 60{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of Americans say the federal government has too much money and power,; and 59{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} agree with President Reagan’s adage that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

So, while Americans may appear to be shifting towards a center-left preference for more government control and involvement, it seems to be driven by the short-term desire to address our economic problems, and not because there has been a permanent shift in ideological attitudes.

Public Opinion Strategies