Sea Change of Public Opinion: Libertarianism, Progressivism & Socialism

“Politicians looking to attack opponents to their left can no longer use the word “socialist” as an all-purpose pejorative. Increasingly, it’s worn as a badge of pride.”
~ Felix Salmon, America’s continued move toward socialism

I’ve been pointing out over this past decade the sea change occurring in American demographics and public opinion. Despite being well informed, I was blown away by looking at an area of polling I hadn’t previously looked into as deeply.

Pew had a poll from a couple years ago that I missed. If you look at the broad public opinion, it looks like the same old same old. Most Americans have a more favorable opinion of capitalism than socialism. They also have a more favorable opinion of conservatism than liberalism. But it’s always in the details where it gets interesting. The cracks are beginning to show in the Cold War edifice.

More Americans have a positive opinion of progressivism, significantly more than their opinion of conservatism. As many have noted, progressivism has basically become the label for those who like liberalism but are afraid of the negative connotations of the word itself. There isn’t a vast difference between what liberals support and what progressives support.

Even most Republicans give a positive response toward progressivism. This probably relates as well to why many people who self-identify as conservatives will support many traditionally liberal positions. These positions back in the Progressive Era used to be called progressive. Americans strongly support them. That is the true Silent Majority or rather Silenced Majority.

Now, prepare to have your mind blown… or else your stereotypes dismantled.

More Democrats have a positive view of of libertarianism than Republicans. And fewer Democrats have a negative view of libertarianism than Republicans. This shouldn’t be as surprising as would be suggested by watching the MSM. Libertarianism is a direct political competitor with the Republican Party, but Libertarians socially have more in common with liberals and progressives.

What about socialism and capitalism?

“Of these terms, socialism is the more politically polarizing – the reaction is almost universally negative among conservatives, while generally positive among liberals. While there are substantial differences in how liberals and conservatives think of capitalism, the gaps are far narrower. Most notably, liberal Democrats and Occupy Wall Street supporters are as likely to view capitalism positively as negatively. And even among conservative Republicans and Tea Party supporters there is a significant minority who react negatively to capitalism.”

Interestingly, blacks and hispanics both have a negative view of capitalism. However, blacks have a more positive view of liberalism while hispanics have a more positive view of socialism. That will be an interesting future dynamic as these two demograhics grow.

As Sarah van Gelder, at Yes! Magazine, summarized this trend (Don’t Let the Apocalypse Get You Down):

“There is growing willingness to name corporate rule and global capitalism as key problems, and to look to decentralized, place-based economies as the answer. While capitalism is viewed more favorably among all Americans than socialism, the reverse is true among those under 29, African Americans and Hispanics, and those making less than $30,000 a year, according to a Pew poll. And more Americans have a favorable view of socialism than of the Tea Party.”

It should go without saying that, as more in the Cold War generations die off, those above demographics combined will quickly become the new majority.

* * *

Capitalism: Big surprises in recent polls
by Charles Derber

Is Capitalism on Trial?
by Peter Dreier

‘Liberal’ unpopular, but newer ‘progressive’ label gets high marks in poll
by Neil Munro

* * *

12/21/20 – Update: The polling referred to in this post is already about a decade old. Majority position has since then further shifted left, as it has been doing so for decades now. I’ve documented this leftist or progressive moral majority in the past (US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism). The majority, in being suppressed and silenced, has not yet gained the public knowledge and collective awareness that they are a majority. Instead, they feel disenfranchised and divided.

Nonetheless, more recent polling from PRRI and Fox News show how left keeps going further and further left (American People Keep Going Further Left, Polarization Between the Majority and Minority, & Fox News: Americans are the ‘Left-Wing’ Enemy Threatening America). The growing suppressed and silenced majority includes not only the public favoring social issues like same sex marriage and woman’s rights but also hardcore economic issues such as progressive taxation and universal healthcare, not to mention growing support for environmental regulations and alternative energy funding as seen with the Green New Deal.

This majority has been developing while much of this gets attacked as socialist by Republicans and sometimes by Democrats as well. President elect Joe Biden felt the need to signal his alliance with big biz by consistently punching left, both before and after winning the election. Yet Americans remain unfazed by the propaganda machine, as they continue the leftward trend. This was seen even before the election began, as we near a tipping point.

Four in 10 Americans Embrace Some Form of Socialism
by Mohamed Younis, 5/20/19

“Americans today are more closely divided than they were earlier in the last century when asked whether some form of socialism would be a good or bad thing for the country. While 51% of U.S. adults say socialism would be a bad thing for the country, 43% believe it would be a good thing. Those results contrast with a 1942 Roper/Fortune survey that found 40% describing socialism as a bad thing, 25% a good thing and 34% not having an opinion. […]

“Previous Gallup research shows that Americans’ definition of socialism has changed over the years, with nearly one in four now associating the concept with social equality and 17% associating it with the more classical definition of having some degree of government control over the means of production. A majority of Democrats have said they view socialism positively in Gallup polling since 2010, including 57% in the most recent measure in 2018. […]

“Additionally, while a majority of Democrats view socialism positively, that is not a major change in the eight years Gallup has tracked this metric. The major shift over this time has been the reduced rate of Democrats who now view capitalism positively (47%).

“These data alone make it hard to generalize a simplistic conclusion about Americans’ opinions of, and willingness to entertain, socialism. But there are a few clear takeaways. About four in 10 Americans are accepting of some form of socialism or socialist policies, and Democrats currently have a more positive view of socialism than capitalism. In addition, the April survey found that 47% of Americans say they would vote for a socialist candidate for president.”

* * *

6/28/21 – Update: New polling data further confirms this ongoing leftward tidal wave.

America’s continued move toward socialism
by Felix Salmon, 6/28/21

“The intrigue: Shifts are happening on the right as well as the left, at least among those under 35.

  • “Just 66% of Republicans and GOP-leaners ages 18-34 have a positive view of capitalism, down from 81% in January 2019, when we first polled on these questions.
  • “56% of younger Republicans say the government should pursue policies that reduce the wealth gap, up from just 40% two years ago.

“By the numbers: In 2019, 58% of Americans ages 18-34 reacted positively to the word capitalism. That’s plunged to 49% today.

  • “Back then, 39% of all U.S. adults viewed socialism positively. That has since ticked up to 41%.
  • “Socialism has positive connotations for 60% of Black Americans, 45% of American women and 33% of non-white Republicans. Those numbers have grown over the past two years from 53%, 41% and 27%, respectively.
  • “Only 48% of American women view capitalism in a positive light, down from 51% two years ago.
  • “Today, 18-34 year-olds are almost evenly split between those who view capitalism positively and those who view it negatively (49% vs. 46%). Two years ago, that margin was a gaping 20 points (58% vs. 38%).”

Poll Finds Socialism Increasingly Seen as ‘Badge of Pride’ in US
by Kenny Stancil, 6/25/21

“The online survey, conducted June 11-25 by Momentive on behalf of Axios, found that 57% of U.S. adults view capitalism in a positive light, down from 61% in January 2019, when the news outlet first polled on these questions. Then and now, 36% are critical of the exploitation of the working class and the environment by the owning class.

“Perceptions of capitalism have remained consistent among adults ages 35 and older, meaning that the system’s dwindling popularity is driven by the nation’s young adults. According to the poll, 18 to 34-year-olds today are almost equally likely to hold a negative opinion of capitalism as a positive one (46% vs. 49%). Just two years ago, that margin was 38% vs. 58%.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly given the severity of the climate emergency, capitalism is particularly unpopular among 18 to 24-year-olds, with negative views outweighing positive views by a margin of 54% to 42%.

“Even young Republicans appear to be changing their views. Whereas 81% of Republicans and GOP-leaners between the ages of 18 and 34 perceived capitalism positively in 2019, that figure has plummeted to 66% in 2021. […]

“Although 52% of Americans still take issue with socialism, the percentage of U.S. adults with favorable views of socialism increased from 39% in 2019 to 41% in 2021. While positive perceptions of socialism dipped slightly among young adults—from 55% two years ago to 51% now—that decline was offset by an increase in the number of adults over the age of 35 who view socialism in a positive light.

“Socialism is especially appealing to Black Americans (60% now vs. 53% in 2019) and women (45% now vs. 41% in 2019), two groups that would benefit disproportionately from the downward redistribution of resources and power. Less than half of women in the U.S. (48%) view capitalism in a positive light, down from 51% two years ago. It is worth noting that working-class mothers have been hit particularly hard by the ongoing economic crisis, in large part due to a lack of affordable child care.

“Deciphering the meanings of “capitalism” and “socialism” can be difficult, given that both are abstractions being interpreted by Americans through the highly distorted lens of more than a century of pro-capitalist and anti-socialist propaganda.

“Looking beyond those terms, the survey found that 66% of U.S. adults want the federal government to implement policies to reduce the worsening gap between rich and poor. That’s up from 62% in 2019, which is before the nation’s 660 billionaires saw their combined fortunes surge by more than $1.1 trillion amid a devastating pandemic.

“Two years ago, just 40% of Republicans under 35 said the government should pursue policies that close widening gulfs in income and wealth. Today, 56% of people in that group want lawmakers to curb inequality.

Who Supported the Vietnam War?

Corey Robin posted about the book Hardhats, Hippies, and Hawks by Penny Lewis.

This is a topic I also have a post about from earlier this year. I don’t know if this new book offers any new info that hasn’t already been written about in previous books. Even if it is the same old info, I’ve always been a fan of the method of repeating the obvious or restating the facts until ignorance is obliterated… or would be obliterated in a just world. Then any ignorance remaining can be dismissed as willful. It’s a good way of determining who is genuinely interested in rational and moral discussion.

Besides its merit as truth-telling, what caught my attention was another book a commenter linked to. Here is the preview of that book and the following is the relevant quote:

Analysis of poll data shows more educated sections of the public to have generally provided the greatest support for continuing American involvement. In February 1970, for example, Gallup asked its national sample: “Some U.S. Senators are saying that we should withdraw all our troops from Vietnam immediately—would you favor or oppose this?” Of those having an opinion, more than half the grade-school-educated adults favored immediate withdrawl, about two-fifths of those with high school backgrounds, and only 30% of those with at least some college. This was not a fluke. In May 1971, 66^ of those college-educated persons with opinions claimed that the war was a mistake, but the figure rose to 75% among the grade-school-educated. In general, a careful review of public opinion data over the last seven years shows that on most war-related issues, the greatest opposition to continued American involvement in Vietnam has come from the least educated parts of the population.

This data goes back to my extensive analysis that the silent majority is often quite liberal about major issues, not unusually even to the left of the liberal elite.

Rasmussen & Gallup: Dishonesty & Disinformation

Voters Want Growth, Not Income Redistribution
A Commentary By Michael Barone

“He cites a recent Gallup poll showing that while 82 percent of Americans think it’s extremely or very important to “grow and expand the economy” and 70 percent say it’s similarly important to “increase equality of opportunity for people to get ahead,” only 46 percent say it’s important to “reduce the income and wealth gap between the rich and the poor,” and 54 percent say this is only somewhat or not important.”

This Rasmussen article is a simple but clear example of bad reporting, possibly intentionally misleading. Looking at the Gallup report, let me break it down:

First, reducing the income and wealth gap isn’t the same thing as redistributing wealth. The point is that the wealth was already redistributed which is why such a large and growing gap exists in the first place.

Second, it’s easy to manipulate the numbers. Why didn’t it get reported according to all Americans who support reducing the gap to some degree? 72% of Americans support it and only 28% are against it. This is either blatant dishonesty, propaganda even, or the person who wrote this is lacking in basic mental capacity.

Third, there is also the data about how many Americans support equalizing opportunity. The vast majority of Americans support this. This confirms the second point in that the gap of wealth can’t be reduced without reducing the gap of opportunity. The issue of redistributing wealth doesn’t even come up.

In addition, the Gallup report shares data on a related point. They put forth the following:

“Do you think the fact that some people in the United States are rich and others are poor . . . represents a problem that needs to be fixed or is an acceptable part of our economic system?”

The Gallup people are masters of propaganda. This is such a blatantly loaded question. Of course, there has always been poor people and rich people. Even in countries where wealth is spread very evenly, some people are relatively more poor and other relatively more rich. The issue isn’t the existence of a wealth gap per se, rather the existence of a large and growing wealth gap. I know the people working at Gallup know the difference. Their dishonesty is mind-blowing and heart-breaking.

I get so frustrated by this kind of thing. Instead of reporting on public opinion, Rasmussen and Gallup seeks to manipulate public opinion. I know Rasmussen has a conservative bias and apparently Gallup as well, but there is a big difference between a bias and outright dishonesty. Bias can be forgiven. Dishonesty, however, disqualifies an organization from being treated with respect. This makes all information from such an organization to be so untrustworthy as to be nearly worthless, except as being a comparison with more trustworthy sources.

America’s Hyper-Individualism: a tale of deception & immorality

American Exceptionalism Subsides
The American-Western European Values Gap

In America, religion is considered important.

However, this religiosity is more about individual salvation than helping those in need.

From this individualistic worldview, Americans believe individuals control their own lives.

This individualism is extended to national isolationism where we believe in only helping our own country.

This individualism goes beyond moral principles and touches on a sense of selfish entitlement to interfere with others, even though we show little desire to actually help them.

American’s love individualism in all forms and have faith that individuals can solve their own problems (a convenient rationalization for a country that causes so much misery around the world and allows so much misery to continue in its own borders). Despite this individualism, actual data shows individual Americans have one of the lowest rates of social mobility in the developed world.

Do Americans Support Unions & Union Rights?

Public opinion on unions in the US has always been mixed, going up and down.

The Cold War led to rhetoric falesly accusing anyone who cared about the lower classes to be Commies. Chomsky has pointed out that, in a democracy, propaganda is a key element the powerful use to keep the powerless in line. Propaganda does work, but only when the economy is doing well. People are less willing to accept lies when they are personally suffering because of those lies. That is the situation that has been developing lately, and so unsurprisingly union support is growing again.

The young are more supportive of unions (and more liberal in general) than older generations (even when those older generations were young themselves). This new liberal young generation is also the largest generation in the US. It would be counterintuitive for the support of unions to not consistently rise in the coming years and decades.

Just to give some context, consider public opinion of unions over the past 80 years:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/149279/approval-labor-unions-holds-near-low.aspx

Do you approve or disapprove of labor unions? 1936-2011 trend

Notice how in the entire history of polling that approval rating has never been below 50% and the disapproval rating has never been above 50%. For most of US history, the approval rating has been massively high. It was only with recent hyper-partisan politics that there has been a small drop that is now once againg rising.

Also, consider public employee unions. They are the easiest targets to attack. If support for unions was down, support for public unions would be in the gutter. However, that isn’t the case:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20037469-503544.html

(Credit: CBS)

If you want a fair presentation of public opinion, the following are some good sources of recent data and analysis:

http://www.people-press.org/2011/02/17/labor-unions-seen-as-good-for-workers-not-u-s-competitiveness/

http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/70980/poll-unions.pdf

http://www.inthesetimes.com/working/entry/6993/polls_show_union_popularity_wanes_but_supports_unions_right_to_exist/

http://www.americablog.com/2011/02/even-conservative-biased-poll-shows.html

http://theweek.com/article/index/212649/what-americans-really-think-about-unions-by-the-numbers

http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/02/gallup-poll-only-highest-income-earners-support-gutting-collective-bargaining.php

http://mediamatters.org/blog/201103040024

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/01/public-employee-union-polls-support_n_829568.html

Liberalism: Label vs Reality (analysis of data)

I’ve looked at this poll before but was just browsing it now to check out again the liberal data.

http://www.people-press.org/files/2011/05/Political-Typology-Detailed-Tables.pdf

In the 2005 Pew poll, the demographic was just called ‘Liberals’. In this 2011 Pew poll, the demographic is called ‘Solid Liberals’. So, I don’t know if it is speaking about the exact same demographic segment of the population. Pew changes the demographic groupings as the data changes. In the new ‘Solid Liberals’ demographic there is only 23% Independents whereas in the previous ‘Liberals’ demographic there was almost 1/2 Independents. Of those Indpendents, they didn’t ask how many self-identified as liberal or something else. Among ‘Solid Liberals’ in general, only 60% self-identified as ‘liberal’ while 31% self-identified as ‘moderate’ and 9% self-identified as ‘conservative’.

What does ‘liberal’ even mean when slightly less than 1/2 of supposed ‘liberals’ don’t self-identify as ‘liberal’? This goes to the heart of the American public’s confusion about ideologies and labels. Given a choice between the two, most Americans self-identify as ‘conservative’. However, when asked about specific issues, most Americans support many liberal positions on key issues.

– – –

I’ve been having some discussions with a left-winger recently. I’ve noticed that he, like many other left-wingers, often are highly critical of liberals. Left-wingers, like right-wingers, often see liberals and Democrats as essentially the same thing and so they assume the policies of the Democratic establishment are supported by most liberals.

It’s not surprising that there is a conflict here, but it demonstrates a number of things. The right is incorrect in assuming liberals are the same thing as left-wingers, but left-wingers are also incorrect in conflating liberals with Democrats. One set of data I saw shows a third of Independents self-identify as liberals. So, there is this undescribed middleground of Independent liberals who aren’t left-wingers and aren’t Democrats. No one represents these independent liberals in politics and the media mostly ignores them except when they protest. Many of the OWS protesters (and activists in general) are probably independent liberals.

– – –

The problem liberals face is related to their love of compromise which is just an aspect of their love of democracy. Liberals genuinely believe in democracy. Even many if not most left-wingers are highly suspicious of democracy for various reasons. It’s not that liberals don’t see the corruption, but it’s just that liberals have a strong sense of faith and vision about what democracy could be.

This is the challenge. Liberals are the only demographic that has majority support for compromise, but compromise only works if everyone supports it (at least to some minimal extent). All other demographics see compromise as political weakness and/or unprincipled capitulation. Liberal independents are in the toughest spot of all because they see that this is true of the Democratic establishment, but the Democrats don’t represent them or their ideal of compromise. The only place we now see compromise being demonstrated in the grassroots democratic sense is in the OWS protests. Liberal independents know that compromise is possible if the public is willing, but all the other groups so often seem bound and determined to prove compromise doesn’t work by undermining any effort to accomplish it.

What independent liberals understand is that you either support democracy or you don’t. There is no way to have democracy without compromise. If left-wingers and right-wingers don’t trust democracy and compromise, I just wish they would be honest about it and admit that is what they believe. Instead, everyone pretends to believe in democracy because it’s considered politically incorrect to not believe in it, but few actually do believe in it to the extent that independent liberals believe in it. Too often political cynicism rules both mainstream and alternative political discussion.

– – –

Here is another way to look at it. I noticed this analysis of poll data:

http://www.opednews.com/Diary/More-Americans-Self-Identi-by-Thomas-Farrell-110301-401.html

“But the Gallup survey of self-identification of ideology shows that more Americans self-identify as moderates and liberals than as conservatives. Most Americans do not self-identify as conservatives.”

Given a choice between the three, the data I’ve seen shows most Americans self-identify as moderates. So, what is a moderate? They are essentially those who tend toward centrism or at least away from the extreme wings. Considering that, where is the center in American politics? I’ve analyzed this before (US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism):

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/us-demographics-increasing-progressivism/

What I discovered was that the center isn’t conservative and certainly is moving away from conservatism on many issues. So, the moderate/center is shifting to the left. This is obvious when you look at the increasing liberalism of the young and the growing left-leaning demographics such as minorities. Here is my insight. Decades of Cold War rhetoric have brainwashed the American public into believing liberals and left-wingers are the same thing, i.e., Commies. This is the reason why among even Solid Liberals 31% can identify as moderates and 9% identify as conservatives. When considering the normal definition of liberal (minus the term itself), most Americans probably equate that with the ‘moderate’ label. As such, it’s quite likely that many if not most moderates are liberal on a lot of issues.

– – –

It’s kind of interesting to look back at some data from more than a decade ago. This survey broke up the Democrats into 5 groups including a groups labeled as ‘Libertarian Democrats’.

http://www.progress.org/freedom/wpdesc.html

I imagine that some independent liberals might be attracted to left-libertarianism. Actually, I don’t need to imagine. As an independent liberal, I’m attracted to left-libertarianism such as that of Chomsky with his support of social democracy and a gradualist vision of changing society toward increasing grassroots democracy (Chomsky apparently being on the moderate liberal end of left-wing ideology).

– – –

I was looking further at the Pew data. There is another interesting group: Post-Moderns. They are considered Independents and they are the only group to have the majority self-identify as moderates. One would assume, therefore, that they wouldn’t have any bias toward either party. But one would be wrong in that assumption.

Post-Moderns are 62% Independents, 26% Democrats and 2% Republicans. Of the Independents, 19% has no lean, 58% lean to the Democratic Party and 23% lean to the Republican Party. They favor Democrats over Republicans on almost every question, including reelecting Obama. Also, they listen to Fox News less than the average Democrat and listen to NPR at almost the same rate as the average Democrat. They are second only to Solid Liberals in their reading of The New York Times and their watching the Daily Show. They generally seem closest to Solid Liberals on most issues. They are strongly socially liberal. They have the strongest, although qualified, support of the government. They’d prefer it to be smaller, but they see a role for government in many social issues.

Post-Moderns are the only demographic with a majority of moderates which means they are the clearest indicator we have about where the center is right now in US politics. These moderates are more liberal than not. So, the majority of Post-Moderns identifies as moderate even as the majority also supports many liberal positions and policies.

– – –

Here is the reason why the Democratic Party has never been controlled by liberals and especially not by left-wingers.

http://smirkingchimp.com/thread/bob-burnett/37872/one-two-three-what-are-liberals-fighting-for

“The Pew Research poll notes a fundamental difference between “solid Liberals” and the other two groups that lean Democratic — “Hard-pressed Democrats” and “New coalition Democrats”: “both of these last two groups are highly religious and socially conservative.” To the extent that cultural issues — such as abortion and homosexuality — dominate political discourse, these groups can be peeled away from the Democratic bloc to vote Republican. In his classic, What’s the Matter With Kansas? journalist Tom Frank detailed how Republicans redirect economic discontent to explosive cultural issues. In 2012, “moral purity” will be a major Republican theme — particularly if messianic Texas Governor Rick Perry becomes the GOP candidate. The Liberal challenge is to ensure that jobs and economic fairness become the dominant political themes, not “How can we make the US a Christian nation?””

– – –

Here is some data from 2004 which I suspect might be even more true in 2011. The article notes that in 2000 the Independents were evenly split between the two parties but by 2004 they were leaning Democratic and liberal. If this is a trend that fits the other leftward trends, this will continue into the near future as OWS seems to demonstrate.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m4021/is_3_26/ai_114558708/

“The bad news for conservatives is that a majority of independents line up on the liberal-to-moderate side of the ideological spectrum. Twenty-one percent of independents in the Zogby poll described themselves as liberal or progressive, while 37 percent called themselves moderates. In contrast, 30 percent of independents describe their politics as conservative, with only 4 percent calling themselves “very conservative” or libertarian.

“Zogby asserts that the polls indicate independents are trending more liberal in this election year as opposed to 2000. For example, fully 70 percent of independents believe the federal government should play a major role in protecting the environment, a traditionally Democratic concern. “The environment is a Democratic ace in the hole this year,” Zogby says.

“Meanwhile, 82 percent of independents want the federal government to play a major role in protecting individual freedom, suggesting a backlash against the Patriot Act and other attempts by the Bush administration to change the traditional balance between national security and individual liberty. Sixty-two percent feel the government should help ensure that all citizens have economic opportunities, while 60 percent want a dominant role by the federal government in providing social programs to help the needy.

“The liberal bias of independents contrasts sharply with the other elections in which their vote has proved critical. In the 1980 election, blue-collar workers deserted Jimmy Carter and the Democrats to vote Ronald Reagan into office. And in the 1990s, Bill Clinton infuriated traditional liberals but won the presidency twice by appealing to the socially moderate, fiscally conservative instincts of suburban soccer moms. Third party candidates – John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000 – attracted disaffected voters who saw no real difference between Republicans and Democrats.”

– – –

I was amused that the Wall Street Journal is, of course, trying to dismiss the Occupy movement.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204479504576637082965745362.html

This interested me for two reasons:

First, the Wall Street Journal recently had an article which proves how much corruption exists in many big businesses and how this hurts the average person.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903532804576566862041674794.html

That article gives the objective evidence supporting the very same reasons for why people are protesting on Wall Street. The article also helps to explain why most Americans, including most white working class Americans, now support the Occupy movement. When I heard the author of the second article interviewed on Coast to Coast AM (one of the most listened to talk shows in America and in the world), I knew that this was hitting to the heart of the outrage that is growing in America and that heart of outrage is definitely not directed at the left.

Second, I was thinking that maybe the Wall Street Journal should look closer at the data showing what the protesters believe and what Americans believe.

http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x1302.xml?ReleaseID=1662

“By a 67 – 23 percent margin, New York City voters agree with the views of the Wall Street protesters and say 87 – 10 percent that it is “okay that they are protesting,” according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

“Agreeing with the protesters views are Democrats 81 – 11 percent and independent voters 58 – 30 percent, while Republicans disagree 58 – 35 percent, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds. Even Republicans, however, agree 73 – 23 percent with the protesters right to be there.

“New York City voters say 72 – 24 percent, including 52 – 41 percent among Republicans, that if the protesters obey the law, they can stay as long as they wish. “A total of 72 percent of voters say they understand the protesters’ views “very well” or “fairly well,” with 17 percent who say “not too well” and 10 percent who say “not well at all.”

[ . . . ] “Asked who is to blame for the current state of the nation’s economy;

  • 37 percent of New York City voters blame the administration of former President George W. Bush;
  • 21 percent blame Wall Street and financial institutions;
  • 18 percent blame Congress;
  • 11 percent blame President Barack Obama.

“New York City voters support 61 – 28 percent an extension of the state’s so-called ‘Millionaire’s Tax.’ Even Republicans support the extension 55 – 38 percent.

“Voters also support 73 – 19 percent, including 48 – 40 percent among Republicans, tougher government regulation of banks and Wall Street firms.”

– – –

Considering all of this, it blows my mind that 9% of so-called ‘Solid Liberals’ self-identify as ‘conservative’. Pew defines ‘Solid Liberals’ as being liberal across the board, fiscally and socially liberal on most if not all issues. Essentially, ‘Solid Liberals’ are as liberal as you can be without becoming an outright communist.

How on God’s green earth could such a person ever be so confused as to think they are a conservative? What do these 9% of conservative ‘Solid Liberals’ think that ‘conservative’ means? What kind of conservatism can include liberalism to such an extent? What could possibly be subjectively experienced as conservative despite appearing liberal by all objective measures?

Consider the seemingly opposite Pew demographic which is labeled ‘Staunch Conservatives’ (basically, conservative across the board). Are there 9% of ‘Staunch Conservatives’ who self-identify as ‘liberal’? Of course not, although interestingly 3% do.

Compare also how many self-identify as ‘moderate’: 31% of ‘Solid Liberals’ identify as moderate and only 8% of ‘Staunch Conservatives’ identify as moderate. ‘Staunch Conservatives’ are as partisan as they come with %100 that lean Republican (0% that lean Democratic, 0% with no lean). On the other hand, ‘Solid Liberals’ have 1% who lean Republican and 3% with no lean; that might seem like minor percentages but that means 1 in 100 ‘Solid Liberals’ are drawn toward the Republican Party and 3 in 100 are genuinely independent.

– – –

Corey Robin sees conservatives as right-wing counter-revolutionaries in reaction to left-wing revolutionaries (with, from my own understanding/speculations, liberals as moderates in the middle moderating between the two extremes). Many Americans identify as strong conservatives but few identify as strong liberals. To many Americans (who aren’t and/or don’t self-identify as ‘liberal’): being a liberal automatically means being a left-winger; but being a conservative doesn’t automatically mean being a right-winger. Thus, from this perspective: ‘liberal’ already implies ‘strong liberal’; and so, if you see yourself as a ‘weak liberal’, you’d probably identify as a ‘moderate’.

Conservatives see bias in that the term ‘right-wing’ is, supposedly according to one study, mentioned often in the media whereas ‘left-wing’ is mentioned less often; but I take this as further evidence of how ‘liberal’ has come to mean ‘left-wing’ for the mainstream media (the two used interchangeably). Certainly, conservatives (along with many moderates and even some liberals) think ‘liberal’ and ‘left-wing’ mean the same thing. It seems that most Americans have come to accept this conflation considering that many Americans can hold liberal views while not perceiving themselves as being liberal or at least refusing to accept such a label.

As a side note, I found this interesting description by Rochelle Gurstein (in “The Look of Time”):

http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/76822/the-look-time

““A man of the past”—recently I had been re-reading John Stuart Mill’s essay, “The Spirit of the Age” (1831), and was taken by the peculiar way he employed that phrase. The essay is about what it is like to live in an age of “change,” what it was doing to people, existentially speaking. Mill thought that “men are then divided, into those who are still what they were, and those who have changed.” I expected the first group to be those who have been left behind—the superannuated—and the second to be the men of progress. But Mill thought it was the opposite: those who embrace change are “men of the present age”; by changing with the times they stay the same. Those who do not change with the times are changed into “men of the past.” To the former, “the spirit of the age is a subject of exultation; to the latter, of terror.” It then occurred to me how, because of the incessant speed of the Internet, no one is able to change fast enough to remain in the present; we were all being turned into “men of the past.””

Gurstein wasn’t directly speaking about conservatives, but it would seem that her view here fits into the context of Robin’s reactionary conservative. Even if we all now may be “men of the past” to some extent, only conservatives have fully taken on the role of being “men of the past”. As Gurstein makes clear, “men of the past” are a modern invention just like the conservative movement. We moderns have become so historically self-conscious that we are able to imagine a past absolutely distinct from the present, but in the earlier times a traditionalist assumed the past was like the present, a continuum. Traditionalists during traditional times are, therefore, always men of the present.

Since conservatives are reactionary, you must judge them by the social and historical context of their reaction. Thatcher and Reagan were reacting to one situation and conservatives now are reacting to another situation. Yes, in reaction, conservatives push further and further away from the Left even as they adapt to new forms of liberalism. It doesn’t matter that conservatives become increasingly radically anti-liberal over time (especially as society increasingly embraces progressivism). It’s the reaction against liberalism (more specifically, the far left) that defines conservatives and not how their views appear relative to conservatives at a later time.

The conservative is in an interesting position. Robin points out that even someone like Buckley admits he would probably have become something different if he had come of age at a later time. A conservative isn’t a traditionalist in the way a modern Protestant fundamentalist isn’t a traditional pre-Enlighenment Catholic. A fundamentalist is creating something new with each generation because they are constantly reacting to new social changes and new scientific knowledge.

Going by Gurstein’s conclusion, maybe it is impossible or very difficult for any person to be a traditionalist in the modern world. Maybe conservatives have fully or nearly replaced traditionalists altogether. My thought was that traditionalists and conservatives might be the same in terms of psychological predispositions. Research shows that conservatives have a larger amygdala which processes fear responses and research also shows conservatives have a stronger disgust response to that which is abnormal/unexpected (whereas the liberal tends to respond with curiosity). In a traditional society, this fear/disgust predisposition would manifest as traditionalism because there wouldn’t be any major left-wing progressive movements to react against. However, in a non-traditional society, this fear/disgust response is provoked into a state of hypersensitivity and constant activity (i.e., reaction). So, a reactionary conservative may seem like an unnatural response, but maybe it is just a natural response to unnatural conditions (possibly not dissimilar to how overcrowding rats causes them to take on anti-social behavior). Would-be traditionalists can’t get their bearings in a non-traditional society and so they become a much more aggressive political activist.

– – –

Now here is some really interesting info:

http://www.princeton.edu/csdp/events/Hajnal050406/Hajnal050406.pdf

“The second and more interesting conclusion is that Independents also tend to be extremists. On two of the three issue publics we examine, the results closely match our expectations. As we predicted, the more liberal one’s views on the environment and the stronger one’s support of women’s equality, the more likely one is to identify as Independent or nonpartisan. 14 In each case the magnitude of the effects is meaningful if not dramatic. All else equal, those who were the most supportive of environmental spending were 5 percent more likely to be Independent than those who believe we are already spending too much on the environment. Similarly, white Americans who strongly favor efforts to ensure women’s rights were 5 percent more likely to identify as Independent or nonpartisan than those were least in favor of government action on women’s equality. On two of the major social movements in America, those who hold strong views on the left are particularly apt to not identify with a major political party. This suggests that there really are issue publics who care enough about a particular issue to reject both parties if neither party actively endorses their issue agenda.

“In Table 5.1 we also looked at how views on religious/social issues affected partisanship. Since at least some observers would claim that the Republican Party has actively taken up the cause of the Christian right by doing things like fighting gay rights, attempting to ban or limit abortions, and generally espousing religion in public affairs, there is less reason to expect a positive relationship between extremist views on this issue and Independence – and possibly some reason to expect a negative relationship between moral conservatism and Independence.”

“The results in Table 5.1 are informative (if not fully conclusive). What is clear from Table 5.1 is that moral conservatism does not lead to greater Independence and nonpartisanship. The negative coefficient for views on abortion indicates that those on the far right on this issue are not more prone to choose Independence. What is less clear is whether liberals or those on the far left are especially apt to end up not identifying as partisans. The fact that the coefficient is negative and almost significant seems to imply that the more liberal one’s views on abortion, the more likely one is to identify as Independent.”

Those with strong liberal views are the most Independent/nonpartisan… while having strong conservative views doesn’t lead to an increase of being Independent/nonpartisan. Therefore, it isn’t about how strongly held are one’s political views but rather how liberal. It immediately jumps out to me how this data relates to the polling data showing only liberals have majority support for compromise. Maybe there is a direct correlation (or possibly even a causal link) between the three factors of liberalism, compromise, and Independence/nonpartisanship. Also, consider the two other factors I mentioned earlier of strong liberals (“Solid Liberals”) apparently being more open to that which is outside of liberalism (“Solid Liberals” having higher rates than “Staunch Conservatives” of self-identified moderates and such).

This makes me rethink a bit. Are those with liberal views misinformed and confused when they don’t identify as ‘liberal’? Or is it that the psychological ‘openness’ of liberal-minded people gives them more freedom in how they choose to identify themselves? Considering the nearly 1 in 10 liberals identifying as ‘conservative’, are they in some psychological sense seeking compromise by trying to adapt their own beliefs and values to the conservative worldview?

– – –

Here are my last thoughts.

Both liberalism and conservativism are creations of modern society, but both are built on natural predispositions that evolved in human nature long before modern society (probably long before all of civilization). Humanity is still experimenting with all of this and has yet to find a balance.

From a liberal perspective, what seems obvious to me is that all of us moderns are ‘liberals’ (relative to the past). The liberal is the modern “man of the present” (the man of our age) or at least that is what they liberal strives to be, and so the liberal has in some ways taken the place of the traditionalist (playing the role of conserving institutions in a changing world and conserving cultures in a multicultural world). The reactionary conservative has left behind the role of the traditionalist and maybe the reason conservatives attack liberals so harshly is because liberals have taken up that traditionalist role (so, they criticize liberals as weak as they’ve criticized traditionalists as weak).

However, it wasn’t the liberal who caused the conservative to leave behind the role of the traditionalists. The liberal merely picked up the role because the liberal realized it was a necessary role that someone had to play. No, the real reason the conservative left behind the role of traditionalist for the role of reactionary was because of the rise of the left-winger. It is left-wingers who are “men of the future”, and conservatives as the penultimate “men of the past” have adopted the left-wing ideologies and tactics of the past. Traditionalism is no defense against progressivism, both liberals and conservatives realizing this. All traditionalism can do is moderate the changes happening in the present by seeking balance (through compromise) between the push/pull of the left-wing revolutionaries and the right-wing counter-revolutionaries.

The challenge for the liberal is that the role of traditionalist doesn’t really fit the liberal worldview. Nonetheless, the liberal fears modern liberal society falling apart and all the liberal gains being lost. Someone has to compromise… and so the liberal is in a tough spot, not able to be fully himself. This is particularly true when reactionary conservatives become dominant and left-wingers become weak… because then liberals become the necessary representatives of left-wing revolution/progressivism (at least in the minds of reactionary conservatives who always need an enemy to fight against, even if that requires them to invent an enemy). It’s only when left-wing ideologies are ascendant that the liberal can have some breathing room. Liberals don’t want to fight conservatives in the way conservatives want to fight. It’s only left-wingers who can fulfill this position of worthy enemy.

This is why liberals have struggled so much and been so confused in recent decades. The left-wing was in constant retreat which left liberals to use all of their strength just in trying to hold the center, to keep it from shifting too far right. This makes me wonder. Where did the left-wingers go? It’s not as if they all disappeared. It’s just that left-wingers became divided in sectarianism while also getting lost in abstract theorizing and so their activism became impotent. Liberals fought as well as they could without much organized support from left-wingers, but there was only so much liberals could do alone. As time went on, liberals weren’t just fighting conservatives but often fighting left-wingers as well. Many liberals turned to the Democratic Party as their last refuge because they had no where else to turn (left-wingers, of course, interpreting this as selling out). Liberals who chose to remain independent became lonely fighters or else apathetic recluses. Independent liberals, like left-wingers, have felt abandoned by the ‘liberal’ establishment (their liberalism being rather questionable from the stand point of the independent liberal). Left-wingers in particular see that it was the ‘liberal’ establishment that left them rather than left-wingers having abandoned liberals. Either way, a splintering happened on the left.

– – –

In conclusion, that is how we ended up in this situation: Where most of the population supports many liberal positions even as they don’t support the liberal label. Where even the most liberal of liberals are either ignorant about what liberalism means or wary of being identified as such. And where the entire left is disempowered and often divided against itself.

On a positive note: It’s only during such times of tumult and uncertainty that genuine progressive change happens… because it’s only when conservatives have dominated so forcefully that the fires of the left-leaning imagination is stoked to such an extent that new visions of society can form. The furnace for that imagination is grassroots populism of the variety seen right now with the Occupy movement. Whether or not people understand liberalism or like to be labeled that way, the protest movement that has developed is pure liberalism in action.

GOP Base vs Traditional Conservatives

There is some interesting data from Pew. I had looked at this data many times before, but in looking at it again I noticed a distinction within the conservative demographics which I hadn’t noticed previously. This distinction seems to at least partly explain why many moderate conservatives have left the GOP in recent years and why some of the most strongest conservatives are also the most critical of other conservatives.

What is interesting is which specific demographics most strongly support torture and the Patriot Act. It’s most particularly clear with the latter. Conservative demographic groups (Enterprisers, Social Conservatives, & Pro-Govt Conservatives) have the strongest support for the Patriot Act. That isn’t surprising, but what is surprising is which specific conservative demographic groups have majority support (Enterprisers & Social Conservatives) and which don’t (Pro-Govt Conservatives).

Let me explain.

Enterprisers are essentially neo-cons, neo-liberals, and (neo-) libertarians which demographically translates as mostly rich white males who have partisan loyalty to the GOP and who are the most loyal viewers of Fox News. Social Conservatives are essentially the fundamentalists and rightwingers in general which demographically translates as older whites who represent the other big chunk of Republican voters. Both groups are known to criticize the government for different reasons and yet both love the idea of a strong military (the military, rather than democracy, being the symbol of their ideal government). They may use pro-constitutional rhetoric in their criticizing the government, but ultimately they don’t take the constitution all that seriously when it comes to protecting human rights and freedom for all.

It’s telling that Pro-Govt Conservatives are the one conservative demographic group that doesn’t have majority support for the Patriot Act. That is a very telling detail. To be a conservative who actually believes in the government serving a positive function means to be a conservative who also genuinely believes in strictly adhering to the constitution and to the moral vision upon which this country was founded. This is the group that I consider as being ‘real’ conservatives in that they are more moderate and traditional (i.e., they believe in conserving social institutions such as government) compared to the radicalized element within the GOP. But these down-to-earth conservatives don’t get as much attention as they’re too reasonable. Also, despite being the most traditional of conservatives, they aren’t the base of the Republican Party. In fact, they are almost evenly split between Republicans and Independents (which is the same role the Liberal demographic group plays in the Democratic Party).

The fact that traditional conservatives (traditional in the larger historical sense) are the least supportive of the Republican Party says a lot about what has become of the party that supposedly represents ‘conservatives’. It also explains a lot about why traditional conservatism is ignored in America. The GOP doesn’t care about traditional conservatives as much because it isn’t their base. These conservatives are the poor and working class people. Unlike the wealthy Enterprisers, they don’t have lots of money to donate to political campaigns. And, unlike the upper middle class Tea Party supporters, they don’t make for entertaining media coverage. These people are too busy just trying to get by and going by the media you would hardly know they existed.

Related to this, I was comparing conservatives between the parties. It might surprise some people to see how many conservatives there are in the Democratic Party. In particular, poor minorities living in the South are extremely conservative and yet loyal Democrats. Rightwingers like to argue that only liberal Democrats want big government for social issues, but government being involved with social issues has always been a traditional conservative position. Why are liberal Democrats defending the traditionally conservative role of the government as an institution upholding social order and the public good? Maybe because it’s in the nature of liberals in general to defend the powerless when attacked by the powerful.

So, what exactly is traditional conservatism?

Here is a very good explanation/description:

Conservative? Americans Don’t Know the Meaning of the Word
Guy Molyneux

True conservatism is a philosophy committed to conserving– conserving families, communities and nation in the face of change. Committed to preserving fundamental values, such as accountability, civic duty and the rule of law. And committed to a strong government to realize these ends. What passes for conservatism in America today bears only a passing resemblance to this true conservatism. It worships at the twin altars of free enterprise and weak government–two decidedly unconservative notions.

Real conservatism values security and stability over the unfettered free market. In Germany, for example, it was the conservative Otto von Bismark–not socialists–who developed social insurance and built the world’s first welfare state. Today conservatives throughout the world–but not here–endorse government-provided national health care, because they recognize public needs are not always met by the private sector. And they see a role for government in encouraging national economic development.

A true conservative movement would not ignore the decay of our great cities, or see the disorder of the Los Angeles riots only as a political opportunity. Nor would they pay homage to “free trade” while the nation’s manufacturing base withered. Nor would a conservative President veto pro-family legislation requiring companies to provide leave to new mothers, in deference to business prerogatives.

Traditional conservatives champion community and nation over the individual. They esteem public service, and promote civic obligation. They reject the “invisible hand” argument, that everyone’s pursuit of individual self-interest will magically yield the best public outcome, believing instead in deliberately cultivating virtue. Authentic conservatives do not assail 55 m.p.h. speed limits and seat-belt laws as encroaching totalitarianism.

Finally, a genuine conservatism values the future over the present. It is a movement of elites to be sure, but of elites who feel that their privilege entails special obligations. The old word for this was “stewardship”–the obligation to care for the nation’s human and natural resources, and to look out for future generations’ interests.

Such conservatives would not open up public lands for private commercial exploitation, or undermine environmental regulations for short-term economic growth. They would not cut funding for childrens’ vaccinations, knowing that the cost of treating illness is far greater. And a conservative political party would never preside over a quadrupling of the national debt.

In America, then, what we call conservatism is really classical liberalism: a love of the market, and hatred of government. Adam Smith, after all, was a liberal, not a conservative. As the economist Gunnar Myrdal once noted: “America is conservative . . . but the principles conserved are liberal.”

American conservatives have often celebrated the country’s historically “exceptional” character: the acceptance of capitalism and the absence of any significant socialist movement. Curiously, though, they often miss their half of the story: the absence of a real Tory conservatism. What Louis Hartz called America’s “liberal consensus” excluded both of the great communitarian traditions–ain’t nobody here but us liberals.

True conservatism’s weakness as a political tradition in America is thus an old story. When values confront the market here, the market usually wins. In recent years, though, conservative social values seem to have been eclipsed. Many of today’s conservatives are really libertarians–proponents of a radical individualism that has little in common with conservatism.

Claims of US Becoming Pro-Life

I had someone make the argument that US public opinion wasn’t entirely liberal because of some recent Gallup poll supposedly showing decreasing support for pro-choice. I should point out that I’d never make the argument that Americans don’t hold any conservative-leaning opinions. However, a single poll doesn’t dismiss years of polls that show a reliable pattern. I don’t know if this particular poll is meaningful, but it’s obviously meaningless if looked upon in isolation from the context of all other available data. Looking at various data and commentary, here are some thoughts I had:

Pro-choice and pro-life are like liberal and conservative. They are labels closely connected with identity politics. But labels don’t necessarily reflect specific opinions. Most Americans identify as conservative. But most Americans are becoming more socially liberal. The confusion comes from changing meaning of labels. Also, most Americans remain in the middle of the spectrum even as the spectrum is shifting left.

The younger generation is more socially liberal than any generation before. But the data I saw on abortion opinions of younger generation is mixed. It wouldn’t be surprising if the younger generation wants more regulation of late term abortions. The younger generation likes government regulation in general. That doesn’t, however, mean they are anti-choice.

There isn’t a contradiction between government guaranteeing abortion rights and regulating the practice of abortion.

Pro-choice doesn’t mean pro-abortion.
Pro-life doesn’t mean anti-abortion.

These labels are confusing and emotionally charged, maybe to the point of being useless.

Most Democrats are moderates in being more supportive of compromise than Republicans. Democrats, unlike Republicans, are supportive of government even when the opposing party is in power. Maybe it’s to be expected that support for abortion rights will go down slightly during Democratic administrations.

Most importantly, the statistical differences may not even be significant.
Despite fluctuations, support for abortion rights has been fairly stable for many years. Polling is complex and often misleading, but patterns across polls are more reliable. Demographic differences and shifts are more significant in determining patterns.

As far as I can tell:

  • Most Americans support abortion rights.
  • Most Americans don’t want to repeal Roe vs Wade.
  • Most Americans support either complete free choice or limited choice for women.
  • Most Americans who support pro-choice also support some degree of regulation.
  • A very small minority of Americans are against abortion rights and are for repealing Roe vs Wade.

As an example of the complexity, data shows that there isn’t even an anti-abortion consensus among Christians, only one Christian demographic showing a strong majority:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/ombudsman/2012/03/30/149717982/christian-is-not-synonymous-with-conservative

Christian Opinion On Abortion

Christian opinion of abortion

Source: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, “Fewer Are Angry at Government, But discontent Remains High,” March 2011
Credit: Julia Ro/NPR

If anyone wants to look beyond mere ideology in order to understand the complexity of the issues, let me provide links to various data and commentary:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_in_the_United_States#Public_opinion

http://www.salon.com/life/broadsheet/feature/2009/05/18/gallup_poll

http://trueslant.com/franjohns/2010/05/27/abortion-wars-pro-choice-forces-question-accuracy-of-new-poll/

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/may/29/opinion/la-oe-cohen-abortion-20100529

http://jezebel.com/5256256/has-a-pro+choice-president-made-more-americans-pro+life

http://pewforum.org/Abortion/Pro-Choice-Does-Not-Mean-Pro-Abortion-An-Argument-for-Abortion-Rights-Featuring-the-Rev-Carlton-Veazey.aspx

http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/05/abortion-poll-roundup.html

http://nortonbooks.typepad.com/everydaysociology/2009/06/measuring-abortion-beliefs.html

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/behind-the-numbers/2009/10/poll_check_a_shift_on_abortion.html

http://www.pregnantpause.org/numbers/gallup01.htm

http://www.womensenews.org/story/health/010226/polls-abortion-can-be-misleading

http://www.prochoiceactionnetwork-canada.org/articles/abortion-polls.shtml

http://mediamatters.org/research/200507220007

http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/media/press-releases/2010/pr03122010_research.html

http://kinseyconfidential.org/study-finds-majority-young-adults-prochoice/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-swenson/pro-choice-catholic-biden_b_120811.html

http://ncronline.org/node/12194

http://jewishatheist.blogspot.com/2006/09/majority-of-us-catholics-are-pro.html

http://www.catholicsforchoice.org/CatholicsSupportHealthcareReform.asp

http://www.sodahead.com/united-states/catholic-nuns-and-bishops-clash-over-abortion-funding/blog-281069/

Trust & Compromise, Science & Religion

I noticed several different sets of data about trust in terms of public opinion. (My thoughts here are somewhat a continuation of my thoughts in one of my other recent posts: .)

The first piece of data was something I’ve come across before. Basically, Democrats tend to trust government whether or not they’re in power and Republicans only trust government when they’re in power.

Imbalance of Trust
By Charles M. Blow

Is it partly the utter gullibility of some people? Sure. Is it partly deep-seated resentment of the black man in the White House? No doubt. But it’s also about something more fundamental: fluctuations of basic trust in the federal government.

These fluctuations highlight a peculiar quirk of recent American politics — according to an analysis of The New York Times/CBS News polls from the past 33 years, Americans seem to trust the government substantially more after a Republican president is elected than they do after a Democratic one is elected — at least at the outset.

Since 1976, the polls have occasionally included the following question: “How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right — just about always, most of the time, or only some of the time?”

The first poll taken in which this question was asked after Ronald Reagan assumed office found that 51 percent trusted the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time. For George H.W. Bush, it was 44 percent, and for George W. Bush it was 55 percent. Now compare that with the Democrats. In Jimmy Carter’s first poll, it was 35 percent. In Bill Clinton’s, it was 24 percent, and for Barack Obama’s, it was only 20 percent. (It should be noted that the first poll conducted during George W. Bush’s presidency came on the heels of 9/11.)

Surprisingly, Democrats’ trust in government was the same or higher after a Republican was elected than it was after a Democrat was elected. That in spite of the fact that all three Democratic presidents came into office at the same time that their party had won control of both chambers of Congress.

There are two parts to this data.

First, Republican administrations are trusted more for the very reason that Democrats trust government in general. Democratic administrations can’t win because Republicans won’t trust them from the moment they take power, no matter what they promise or accomplish.

Second, Democrats are seemingly more open to being self-critical. Maybe this is because Democrat voters have high expectations of Democratic politicians. Or it could be that the Democratic Party is big tent and the Republican Party is small tent. It’s easier for the GOP to keep it’s narrow base satisfied. The diversity of Democrats, on the other hand, will always contain much disagreement.

This relates to another poll which shows the differing views on compromise. Unsurprisingly, the small tent Republican Party dislikes compromise and the big tent Democratic Party likes compromise. Independents are halfway between the two parties, but what is interesting in that same poll Independents identify more with the Democratic Party than with the Tea Party which would seem to imply that Independents realize a party that compromises (however imperfectly) is more likely to represent them. The Tea Party likes compromise even less than the Republican party which corresponds with data showing the average Tea Party supporter is more conservative than the average Republican.

Many Say Ending Tax Cuts for Wealthy Would Hurt Economy
The Pew Research Center

There is little agreement among the public about compromise in politics. About half (49%) say they most admire political leaders who stick to their positions without compromising, while slightly fewer (42%) say that they most admire political leaders who make compromises with people they disagree with.

The latest Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection poll, sponsored by SHRM, conducted September 16-19 among 1,005 adults, finds that Republicans, in particular, admire politicians who stick to their positions (62%) over those who compromise (33%). Although independents are more divided on the question, a majority (53%) says they favor leaders who do not compromise; four-in-ten independents (40%) say they most admire leaders who compromise. The balance of opinion is reversed among Democrats; 54% of Democrats say they prefer politicians who compromise with those they disagree with, while 39% say they prefer politicians who stick to their positions without compromising.

The next poll I came across (The AP-National Constitution Center Poll) dissected how much trust people had in various institutions and news sources. The data shows a split between what is trusted and who trusts it. There wasn’t a majority trust any of them, but here is the order of most trusted (least mistrusted) to least trusted (most mistrusted):

  1. Military
  2. Small and Local Business leaders
  3. Scientific Community
  4. Organized Religion
  5. Broadcast News Media
  6. Print Media
  7. US Supreme Court
  8. Local Government
  9. Public Schools
  10. State Courts
  11. Organized Labor
  12. State Government
  13. Federal Government
  14. Independent or Citizen Media
  15. US Congress
  16. Banks and Financial Institutions
  17. Major Companies

AP-NCC Poll: Not Much Trust in Major Institutions
By Alan Fram and Jennifer Agiesta

Republicans most trust the military, followed by small business and religion. Democrats prefer science, small business, then the military. Just one in five Republicans expressed strong confidence in science, about the same proportion of Democrats who said so about religion.

Only 10 percent of Republicans expressed strong confidence in state governments, despite frequent GOP demands that Washington cede more power to the states.

Just 10 percent of Democrats voiced strong trust in Congress, even though their party controls it.

The print and broadcast media were strongly trusted by just 13 percent, only slightly more than the 8 percent with faith in blogs. Those under age 30 were far likelier than older people to voice confidence in what they read.

I would criticize one part of this poll, especially as it was described above. The poll lumped the professional New Media with the blogosphere. Some blogs are good and some aren’t. Some blogs are written by professional journalists and some aren’t. Anyway, the New Media isn’t limited to blogs. Cenk Uygur has been running an online news show for years and has been a guest on the mainstream media. Of course, most people don’t trust blogs written by often anonymous people. But I’m willing to bet that if New Media would be higher on the trust ranking if it were categorized separately from the blogosphere.

This seems indicated by the fact that the younger generation has more trust in non-traditional media. The reason for this is probably because the younger generation is able to distinguish the New Media from the general blogosphere. Older people don’t trust anything on the internet because older people know less about how to vet sources. As a side note, liberals are the demographic that gets more news from the internet than any other demographic and this goes along with the present younger generation being more liberal than other generations at the same age. This younger, liberal generation is also more trusting in general of big government and big business. So, public trust will probably be increasing in the coming decades.

What some might find surprising is that both Republicans and Democrats trust small businesses. Republicans are always trying to portray Democrats as anti-capitalist, but other data (Beyond Red vs Blue) shows Liberals have high rates of small business ownership and high rates of trading in stocks and bonds.

Not surprising is that Democrats trust science more than religion and Republicans trust religion more than science. I was glad to see that Americans in general trust science more than religion (or at least organized religion). So, on this issue, Democrats are in line with the majority position.

This issue of public opinion about science is what got me started on this whole line of thought and the research that ensued. I heard on NPR about a global poll about science. The global data should offer clear context for where US public opinion stands and how Democrats and Republicans respectively compare to people in other parts of the world.

Scientific beliefs vary by culture, says global poll
By Margaret Munro

Americans are far more pronuclear and willing to trust flu experts than Europeans, and much less concerned about genetically modified crops, according to a survey by Scientific American and the journal Nature.

But the most notable difference was between East Asia and the rest of the world. The survey found 35 per cent of Japanese and 49 per cent of Chinese respondents agreed there is “reason for doubt” that evolution can explain the incredible variety of species on Earth. That view was shared by about 10 per cent of respondents from the rest of the world.

Japanese and Chinese respondents were also less likely to say that they trust scientific explanations of the origins of the universe. And almost one-third of Chinese respondents said that scientists should stay out of politics, compared with about 10 per cent of respondents from other countries.

That would seem to put US conservatives more in line with Asians and US liberals more in line with Europeans. I don’t know what that means, but it’s interesting. I was glad to see that the world’s overall trust in science is strong and growing stronger. And liberals would seem to be in line with people worldwide in trusting scientists more than religious authorities.

The survey did find some common ground. Worldwide, respondents agreed that scientists are more trustworthy than other public figures. Religious authorities were deemed least trustworthy, followed by politicians and company officials.

And more than 70 per cent of respondents agreed science funding should be spared in tough economic times. When asked what should be cut instead, defence spending was the overwhelming choice — 82 per cent of Canadian respondents favouring cuts to defence over cuts to education or social-welfare programs.

And despite a recent controversy over leaked emails by climate researchers and the UN’s climate panel, the survey found climate change denial is in decline. Among Canadian respondents 41 per cent said that over the past year, they’ve become more certain that humans are changing the climate, compared with 12 per cent of respondents who have grown more doubtful.

In conclusion… well, actually I don’t know if I have any conclusion. I just found the data interesting and even more interesting when compared. The closest to a conclusion I could offer you is that there are distinct demographics (such as those belonging to the two parties) which have consistently distinct positions and attitudes. Most significantly: among Democrats, there is a correlation between trusting the government and trusting science; and, among Republicans, there is a correlation between being against compromise and being in favor of religion. Maybe that doesn’t provide any grand insight, but it does provide data to back up what many would suspect to be true.

Public Opinion on Tax Cuts for the Rich

I’ve written about tax cuts for the rich in some other posts, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned the aspect of public opinion. I don’t have any commentary. I just wanted to post the data showing a majority Americans want the tax cuts for the rich to end.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20016602-503544.html

Fifty-three percent of Americans agree with Mr. Obama that the tax cuts for the wealthy should be allowed to expire, while 38 percent do not, according to the poll, conducted Sept. 10-14.

Two of three Democrats think it is a good idea, and most independents (55 percent) agree. Most Republicans (57 percent) think it is a bad idea.

A small minority of Americans (19 percent) think it is a good idea to let the tax cuts expire for households earning under $250,000 a year – a policy no elected official in Washington is promoting, given the state of the economy.

Meanwhile, one third of Americans believe the Obama administration has raised taxes. Fifty percent think taxes have stayed the same, but only 8 percent think taxes have gone down. In fact, most Americans received a tax break in 2009.

This poll shows the majority of Americans support Obama on the issue of taxes. And yet it also seems to show most Americans are oblivious of the fact that they agree with Obama. They’re unhappy with Obama because they think he has raised taxes, but he hasn’t. This is the product of the right-wing spin machine. Conservatives are good at tellng a narrative so compelling that people either ignore the facts or just assume the facts agree with the narrative.

As for tax cuts for the rich, even the Republican party is closely split with 43% of Republicans wanting them to end. I don’t know of any polling data of Tea Party supporters. They’re more conservative than the average Republican and I’d guess they’re for continuation of tax cuts for the rich because that seems to be the position of Tea Party leaders such as Palin and Beck. However, the Tea Party likes to portray itself as independent. Polling the Tea Party would be a good test of their claim of being independent considering a majority of independents also support the ending of the tax cuts for the rich.

And it’s not just one poll showing this majority. Apparently, a majority of polls show this majority.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/09/dear_dems_you_can_win_the_argu.html

* A new National Journal poll finds that 56 percent support ending either all the Bush tax cuts or just the ones for the wealthy, while barely more than a third want to keep them all.

* The new Gallup poll shows that 59 percent of Americans — and a majority of independents — supports either ending all the Bush tax cuts or just the ones for the wealthy.

Indeed, Gallup finds that Obama’s proposal — ending the tax cuts for the wealthy but not for everyone else — has the support of 44 percent, more than any other solution.

* A CNN poll in late August found that a majority, 51 percent, favors ending the tax cuts for the rich, and another 18 percent favor ending them all.

It also found that among independents, 44 percent favor ending the tax cuts for the rich, while another 21 percent favor ending them all. Letting the tax cuts for the rich expire has majority support in all regions of the country except the south.

* A recent CBS poll also found a sizable majority, 56 percent, think the tax cuts for the wealthy should expire.

[…] Here’s another one: A recent Newsweek poll found 52 percent support letting the tax cuts for the rich expire, while only 38 percent support keeping them in place.

The CNN poll found the Republican party was 50/50 split on continuing tax cuts for the rich, but most interestingly Republicans showed the stronger support than even Democrats in ending all tax cuts. So, Republican voters are being true to their fiscal conservative ideology while the Republican leadership is being hypocritical and not representing those who voted them into office.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/20/only-50-of-gop-supports-e_n_689326.html

Only half of all Republicans and self-identified conservatives favor extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, a new public opinion poll shows. Fewer say they favor extending the Bush tax cuts just for those making less than $250,000 a year.

A study released by CNN on Friday suggests that Republicans face a curious public opinion deficit in their efforts to keep tax rates at current levels for income groups across the board. The party’s base isn’t entirely sold on keeping the rates in place. But they also don’t favor raising them on the wealthy and no one else.

Top officials in the GOP have said they will fight the president’s proposal to extend the Bush tax cuts for the lower and middle classes while allowing those for the wealthy to expire. But few voting blocs appear to back that approach.

According to the survey, only 26 percent of self-identified moderates back extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Only nine percent of liberals said the same thing. Conventional wisdom would hold that Republicans would be the chief proponents of the proposal. But only 50 percent of conservative respondents said they want tax rates for the wealthy kept in place — the same percentage of Republicans support a full extension of the Bush tax cuts.

As for extending the tax cuts for those making under $250,000 a year, 69 percent of liberals support that approach, 53 percent of moderates, and only 36 percent of conservatives.

Meanwhile, every single age group polled by CNN favored extending tax cuts for just the lower brackets over extending them for all groups (including the wealthy). So too did respondents from every single region of the country.

I’m not sure what all of this means. Tax cuts used to be popular. Does this represent a shift? Even Tea Party supporters who are the most right-wing of the American public have grown critical of the Republican leadership and yet the Republicans in Washington keep pushing the unpopular tax cuts for the rich. Will this issue be a turning point in public opinion? Will the GOP be forced to return to the fiscal conservatism last seen during Eisenhower’s administration?

Previous posts with data, commentary or videos related to tax cuts for the rich:

MSNBC w/ Cenk: Reich – Middle Class & Wages

Cenk Uygur on Tax Cuts for the Rich

Reaganomics & Tax Cuts for the Rich

National Debt, Starve the Beast, & Wealth Disparity

Failure of Conservative Morality in Politics

Liberals are the New Fiscal Conservatives