The wind is at our backs. The media still calls America a “center-right” nation, but “center-left” is closer to the truth.
On issues ranging from health care to energy, the public is more progressive than people think. Demographic groups from youth to Hispanics are voting farther left and in larger numbers than ever before. The new report the Campaign for America’s Future is publishing with Media Matters for America—"America: A Center-Left Nation"—documents the trends and challenges the mainstream media to recognize reality.
Sources for this Report
The report relies on high quality, nonpartisan sources. Baseline information comes from the American National Election Studies (NES) maintained by the University of Michigan, along with Pew Research Center and Gallup. Additional detail comes from polls by mainstream organizations such as CNN and The New York Times.
The American people are surprisingly progressive. Surveys on individual issues show the way:
Government is not the problem. The authoritative new National Election Studies reveals why the conservative attack doesn’t resonate as it used to. Two-thirds of Americans (66 percent) say “there are more things the government should be doing.” Why? Because “the problems we face have become bigger” (62 percent). Only one third (32 percent) say, “the less government the better.”
Regulation of industry makes ideology concrete. Conservatives downsized government until it hurt. Salmonella in our tomatoes, melamine in our pet food, financial instruments worth less than the paper they’re printed on. People miss the cop on the beat.
• “Government regulation of business…” — Pew Research Center, October 2008.
“… is needed to protect public interest”: 50 percent
“…usually does more harm than good”: 38 percent
The proportion has almost exactly flipped since conservatives started their anti-regulation crusade.
Health care brings government home. Health care is a #1 issue, and people don’t want government to get out of the way. They want it to help.
• “Do you think it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have health care coverage?” — Gallup, Nov. 16, 2008.
Yes: 54 percent
No: 41 percent
• “Should the government in Washington provide national health insurance, or is this something that should be left only to private enterprise” — CBS News/New York Times, Jan. 11-15, 2009
Government: 72 percent
Private enterprise: 32 percent
• "In general, would you favor or oppose a program that would increase the federal government's influence over the country's health care system in an attempt to lower costs and provide health care coverage to more Americans?"— CNN/Opinion Research Corporation, Feb. 18-19, 2009
Favor: 72 percent
Oppose: 27 percent
Energy also requires government attention. Higher fuel prices weren’t enough to turn the market — at least not at a rate that will keep up with global warming and instability in the Middle East.
• Would you prefer the government to increase, decrease, or not change the financial support and incentives it gives for producing energy from alternative sources such as wind and solar? —Gallup, March 5-8, 2009.
Increase: 77 percent
Decrease: 8 percent
• “Would you approve or disapprove of a proposal that would require companies to reduce greenhouse gases that cause global warming, even if it would mean higher utility bills for consumers to pay for the changes?” — NBC News/Wall Street Journal, April 23-26, 2009
Approve: 53 percent
Reducing Deficit: 40 percent
Taxes are not the problem. According to Gallup’s poll on tax day April 15, more people consider their tax payments “about right” than “too high” (48 to 46 percent),
When people do complain, it’s less about their own taxes being too high, than about rich people’s taxes being too low. People think corporations and the wealthy pay less than their “fair share” (67 percent and 60 percent each). People are willing to pay taxes if they think they are getting something for it.
• “Which do you think is more effective in stimulating the nation's economy and creating jobs: An economic agenda focused on returning money to taxpayers through tax cuts, or an economic agenda focused on spending for improvements to the country's infrastructure such as roads, bridges and schools?” — Los Angeles Times, December 6-8, 2008
Infrastructure: 54 percent
Tax Cuts: 33 percent
No culture wars. “Moral values” get single digit support in questions about ‘the most important question” facing the country. People care more about jobs and the economy.
Even on moral issues, people are more progressive than often recognized. Yes, the California ballot initiative for gay marriage lost in November. But since then, same-sex marriage has become legal in Iowa, Connecticut and Vermont. Pew Research shows majority support for gays serving openly in the military (59 percent). The trends are clear. It is only a matter of time.
And yes, the number of people considering themselves “pro-life” took a recent uptick, but this devil is in the details. On finer points like parental consent for teenagers, Medicare payment for poor people, and the late-term procedure successfully labeled “partial birth abortion” — Americans do differ. But the fundamental Roe v. Wade first trimester right remains solidly supported (68 percent, CNN, May 2009). The people who want abortion to be “illegal in all circumstances” are simply a vocal minority (23 percent, Gallup, May 2009).
Not only public opinion, but demographics are also pointing left. The bedrock voters of the conservative movement are growing older and declining in number. In contrast, progressive demographics, are on the rise. America is becoming an increasingly diverse, younger and more metropolitan. These changes will drive our politics more than any single election.
Younger voters: People under 30 chose Barack Obama for president by a full 34-point margin over John McCain (66 percent to 32 percent). Even more impressive than the margin was the diversity. Obama garnered a 91-point margin among young African Americans (95 percent to 4 percent), and a 57-point margin among young Hispanics (76 percent to 19 percent). He even won young whites by a 10-point margin (54 percent to 44 percent), a strong contrast to his 14-point deficit among whites aged 45 to 64 (42 to 56 percent).
Hispanics: Hispanics are growing and mobilizing, and political parties have been dueling for them. But Democrats are winning. The Pew Hispanic Survey from July 2008 showed 65 percent of registered Hispanic voters identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party. Only 26 percent identify with or lean GOP, a gap “larger than it has been at any time this decade.” The gap is driven by the same issues that drive white voters — a general dissatisfaction with the state of the country, and their priority issues of education, health care and jobs. In the 2008 presidential election, Obama won Hispanics by an impressive 36 points over McCain (67 percent to 31 percent).
Unmarried Women: Women as a whole tend to lean Democratic, and Obama outscored McCain among women by 56 percent to 43 percent (compared to 49 percent to 48 percent among men). But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The most important hidden block are unmarried women, who chose Obama by 70 percent to 29 percent, a stunning 41 point margin.
Unmarried women are growing in number (47 percent of adult women today, up from 38 percent in 1970). And they are starting to assert themselves politically. Fully 20 percent of unmarried women voted for President for the first time in 2008, compared to 11 percent of voters overall and just 4 percent among married women.
Moreover, the issues important to unmarried women read like the wish list of the progressive movement. Universal health care, clean renewable energy, ending pay discrimination, raising the minimum wage, making college more affordable. Married women share these concerns — but more unmarried women add the word “very” in front of “important” in their survey responses.
Geography: Proximity produces progressives. People living in close proximity tend to tolerate individual differences, and to appreciate shared resources like schools, courts and subway trains. As urban cores expand into suburbs and as metropolitan areas prove to be dynamic, fast-growing and desirable places to live, progressive politics find fruitful soil in which to grow.
More than half (54 percent) of the country now lives in large metropolitan areas, defined as places with populations over a million people. Obama won these 51 regions by a 17-point margin (58 percent to 41 percent). Another 20 percent of the population lives in medium-sized metropolitan areas, with 250,000 to one million in population. Obama carried these regions by four points.
Obama only lost in rural America and small metropolitan areas. McCain won in small towns by 11 points and in rural America by 16 points. These regions look big on the map, but they account for only a quarter of America’s population between them.
Not everyone has gotten the message yet. The media continue to describe America as conservative or “center-right,” as if the election were an aberration.
• Populist economics are associated with words like angry, and treated like road rage.
• Conservative blue-dog Democrats in budget negotiations are honored with such labels as centrist or moderate, even as they stand on the wrong side of the American people and on the wrong side of history.
The media is starting to turn. Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s defection was a wake-up call that no one could miss. But the mainstream media needs to recognize progressives for the true Americans that we are, not a fringe that sometimes ekes out a victory.
This report should give people the courage to push ahead. The danger is not in going too far, too fast, or overreaching. The danger is in not doing enough. The American people want to achieve the promise in Obama’s great speeches, not the compromise forced by conservatives in both parties.
The crisis is great. Bold action is needed. The people are hungry for progressive change.