After three presidential contests, there is a striking trend in the Democratic entrance and exit polls: Far more Democrats call themselves “liberal” than eight years ago.
In Iowa, the percentage of voters identifying as “very” or “somewhat” liberal jumped from 54 percent to 68 percent. In New Hampshire, the increase was a similar 57 percent to 68 percent. And Nevada saw massive leap: 45 percent to 70 percent.
The dramatic shift in liberal pride is no doubt powered in part by an influx of young voters whose worldview has been shaped by the conservative policy failures that produced the 2008 market crash, and who largely support Bernie Sanders.
But Hillary Clinton holds her own with liberal voters overall. In Iowa, she won 46 percent of “liberal” voters – with 39 percent of the “very” liberal camp and 50 percent of the “somewhats.” In Nevada, Clinton did her best among the left, winning 47 percent of the “very liberal” vote and 46 percent of the “somewhat.” (The Bernie blowout of New Hampshire appears to be colored by his geographic proximity.)
Is the Republican Party undergoing a similar shift to the right? Yes, but the picture is a little more complicated.
The percentage of self-identified conservative voters in the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries increased 11 and 13 percentage points respectively. (Iowa Republicans are already maxed out on conservatism, and actually lost a few points from 2008, dipping to 85 percent from 88.)
But the current frontrunner Donald Trump performs weaker among the “very conservative” than Clinton does among the “very liberal.” Cruz won those voters in Iowa and South Carolina, where Trump won only 21 percent and 29 percent respectively. The only ideological faction that Trump has won in every contest to date is, believe it or not, “moderate.”
The only way to explain that is that a main attribute of a modern Republican moderate is hatred of Muslims. In South Carolina, 74 percent of Republican voters wanted to ban Muslims from entering the United States, with Trump the top vote-getter among the bigots. Trump was near the bottom of the pack of the minority of Republicans who opposed a ban.
Widespread anti-Muslim sentiment among all ideological stripes of Republicans is not just a Southern thing. In New Hampshire, 65 percent support the Muslim ban, again fueling Trump’s victory.
The Democratic primaries are revealing an ideological split between Sanders’ “political revolution” and Clinton’s less ambitious/risky “get things done” approach. But it’s a split borne out of an overall shift leftward.
As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent explored, 50 percent of Nevada voters want to “continue Obama’s policies” – which have been generally liberal – and 41 percent want “more liberal” policies. Only 6 percent want “less liberal.”
There is no “third way” talk like when Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992. The entire Democratic electorate is more confident in its base ideology, even if confidence varies in how far and how fast the leftward push should go.
In contrast, the Republican primaries reveal a philosophically rudderless party bound only by a common hatred. Trump’s ideological incoherence is offensive to many die-hard conservatives (Erick Erickson has announced his refusal to vote for Trump under any circumstances) but is shrugged off by his loyalists. The one thing nearly all Republican primary voters agree on is Muslims don’t belong in America.
Seven-plus years of President Barack Obama have made Democrats more proud and Republicans more hateful. Presidential elections are rarely won on hate.