A Gallup poll released today says that the 2016 election will be “contested in a more socially liberal electorate – and a less economically conservative one – than was true of prior elections.”
While Gallup records a higher percentage of people considering themselves conservative than liberal on economic issues, the percentage is lower than at any point since 1999, at 39 percent. At 2010, that percentage was 51 percent. The percentage of Americans who call themselves “very liberal” or “liberal” is roughly steady at 19 percent. That percentage has hovered between 15 and 20 percent since 2006.
On economic issues, “the gap between conservatives and liberals has been shrinking and is lower today than at any point since 1999,” Jeffrey M. Jones wrote for Gallup.
More striking is the change in ideological identification on social issues – with the electorate evenly split at 31 percent between those who call themselves conservative on social issues and those who call themselves liberal. The percentage who called themselves conservative on social issues was as high as 42 percent in 2009, while those who call themselves liberal hit a low of 21 percent in 1999.
The results add yet one more data point to what we have been documenting on PopulistMajority.org that there is a latent progressive majority waiting to be tapped by smart progressive candidates. It is a potential that even Gallup misses when it concludes that one of the poll’s implications is that “Democrats must be careful not to nominate a candidate who is viewed as too liberal on economic matters if their party hopes to hold the White House beyond 2015.”
That may be true if the question evokes the stereotype of “liberalism” that seeks to collect a lot of tax dollars and spend it in ways that do not fundamentally change the conditions that have led to the decimation of the working-class and middle-class economy over the past 30 years. What this particular Gallup Poll does not measure is the deep support for the kind of populist progressive policies that would curb the power of moneyed interests and make the economy and political system work for ordinary people again.
What it does confirm, however, is that more and more people are seeing how the intellectual bankruptcy of conservative ideology has led to the financial bankruptcy of millions of people – and they are increasingly open to a new message.