It may be a while before the overall number of self-identified American liberals catch up to American conservatives, but a new Gallup report points to unseen ideological parity on social issues.
Thirty-one percent of Americans describe their views on social issues as generally liberal, matching the percentage who identify as social conservatives for the first time in Gallup records dating back to 1999. […]The broad trend has been toward a shrinking conservative advantage, although that was temporarily interrupted during the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Since then, the conservative advantage continued to diminish until it was wiped out this year.
Among Republican voters, there hasn’t been much of a change over the last decade, and the views espoused by the party’s voters in 2015 are practically identical to the Gallup results from 2001.
But among Democrats, there’s been a revolution of sorts. In 2011, a plurality of Dems described their views on social issues as “moderate,” while only a third considered themselves “liberal.” This year, however, those totals have reversed – and then some. Now, a 53% majority of Democrats are social liberals, while about a third are moderates.
So, for the left, that’s the good news. What’s the bad news? Americans’ views on economic issues. From the Gallup report:
In contrast to the way Americans describe their views on social issues, they still by a wide margin, 39% to 19%, describe their views on economic issues as conservative rather than liberal. However, as on social ideology, the gap between conservatives and liberals has been shrinking and is lower today than at any point since 1999, with the 39% saying they are economically conservative the lowest to date.
I don’t doubt the veracity of the results, but let’s not pretend that “social conservatism” and “economic conservatism” are equally well defined. On social issues, for example, there’s no real ambiguity that conservatives tend to oppose marriage equality and oppose reproductive rights.
On economic issues, conservatives believe … well, I’m not entirely sure. If a national candidate proposed trillions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthy, and he/she has no idea how to pay for them, is that candidate an economic conservative? If a presidential hopeful backs a debt-reduction package through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, is that economic liberalism?
No one has any idea because the meaning of the words has been blurred. George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were seen as economic conservatives, but under their tenures, spending went up, the deficit grew, and major priorities were simply put on the national credit card. Barack Obama is sometimes labeled an economic liberal, but since he took office, spending has stagnated, deficits have shrunk, and he’s made a point of making sure nearly all of his legislative priorities are paid for.
Looking at a poll like this, it would seem that the electoral sweet spot is a national candidate who’s socially liberal and economically conservative. But until we know what an economic conservative is, the label doesn’t mean much.