USA a Center Left Nation

Robert Waldmann

Matthey Yglesias points to an old report which attempts to demolish the center right nation claim. I think the report is a precious resource as it collects the relevant data. Previously I found myself wasting a lot of time searching

I have some thoughts on the report after the jump.

update: also my effort to find the relevant definition of the center.

Ah, I thought, a challenge—can I interpret “center right nation” so that it makes sense to warn Democrats that the USA is a center right nation ? I must find a definition of a center which isn’t well to the left of any point to which the Democrats might overstretch.
OK how about the point X where the fraction of Republican representatives to the left of X is equal to the fraction of Democratic representatives to the right of X ? Not ideal. By that definition the center moved right in 2006 and 2008 as moderate Democrats beat moderate Republicans in swing districts, but it will do well enough to make the claim “America is a center right nation” even wrong.

The claim then becomes that more US citizens self identify as Democrats than as Republicans, their views on policy are to the right of X. I am quite sure that this is not true—on tax progressivity, the minimum wage, universal health insurance, environmental protection, the war in Iraq, should government do more, and does the government have a responsibility to take care of people most citizens are to the left of X. On the death penalty (if you assume that Democrats who claim to support it are lying) and AFDC (if you remember what it was and who was President when it became TANF), due process rights and overwhelmingly creationism vs natural selection most US citizens are to the right of X. In other words, if the Democrats abandone decades old policy positions, they might end up too far left for the median voter.

By my definition the USA was a center left country from at the latest 1996 through the present except maybe for a year or two after 9/11. However, I thought, with great effort and in a spirit of bipartisanship, I can interpret Republicans claims so they are meaningful albeit false.

Then I read this

BOEHNER: … I think the Congress is still a center-right Congress.

OK back to the drawing board.

Now my report on the report

The report is excellent and shows that the authors put a huge amount of work in it. In contrast this comment is off the top of my head. I will try to get the relatively interesting stuff up here at the top.

When asserting the bogosity of the center right nation claim, I have repeatedly found myself wasting time scrolling past irrelevant data at looking for the relevant poll which shows that adult Americans have progressive views on the key issue under dispute. The report, which I just hotlisted, is a precious resource getting the relevant data in one place and not mixing it with ten times as many polls on whether you approve of how George Bush is handling an issue.

However the mass of data presented is considerable less than the mass of relevant data. In particular, media matters has cherry picked. On abortion, for example, there is a huge amount of polling data. Polls on “If a woman should be allowed to have an abortion if chooses to have one for the following reason (list of reasons) show only a minority saying yes for all reasons. This shows that there are people who must have contradictory views — who support Roe vs Wade in the abstract but disagree with it when the questions get specific

I think what is needed is for conservatives with integrity (not as rare as flying pigs) to attempt a counter-report following the outline of the media matters report, but picking different polls with slightly different wording for each issue heading. Then, comparing the reports, interested readers could decide who had made a more convincing case. I don’t doubt that I personally would conclude that media matters is right and if the center is half way between Dems and Reps the US is a center left to left nation. But, you know, debate is really useful. Pity there are so few reality based conservatives with whom mediamatters et al can debate.

[there should be another “There’s more” jump here but I don’t know how to nest them.

As a regular reader of and also of liberal blogs, I can’t say I was generally surprised by the data reported by mediamatters. I was surprised by the results on crime and punishment.

Nor am I generally surprised by pundits making claims about what Americans think which are inconsistent with polling data, although I thought everyone knew that a majority supports gun control (which majority loses to the minority which includes many people who care passionately and are organized by the NRA as well as reality based critics claims for the effectiveness of gun control such as you and … birds chirp … well you must know some others).

I did object to the text above the data on protectionism. I was going to comment dilating on the theme “What’s progressive about nationalist xenophobic hostility to the interests of workers in poor countries” until I got to the paragraph after the data which noted that opposition to free trade is not necessarily based on progressive motives. I am still pissed that one of those ideology self tests said I was socially liberal but not egalitarian, because my views on trade are based on concern for the interests of the poorest people in the world who sure aren’t US workers.