A matter of definition!

Americans Are Now More Closely Aligned With Progressive Ideas Than at Any Time in Memory

Published on Voltairenet.org, by Joshua Holland, June 4, 2009.

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. It remains to be seen to what extent they can rely on Barack Obama to fulfill their aspirations …  

… And it’s not just returns from the election – the report notes:

“Conservative commentators, particularly those on Fox News, have portrayed Obama as so liberal that his activist agenda bordered on socialist or even Marxist. Yet according to Gallup polling, Obama’s approval ratings for this first 100 days in office were higher than those of any president since Ronald Reagan and higher than seven of the last eight presidents at the 100-day mark. It doesn’t seem likely that an entrenched center-right nation would reward such a liberal president with historically high job approval.”

But as MediaMatters Director Eric Burns outlined, by and large, the media have not only failed to fully acknowledge the ideological outlook of the American electorate, the months since the election has been marked by the “mainstreaming of incredibly conservative views” within America’s pundit class, with “sometimes violent” rhetoric being debated as if it were comfortably within the mainstream.

Burns suggested that part of the reason the center-right meme persists is that many political reporters today cut their teeth in the era of the “Reagan Revolution” and during the “Clinton wars” of the 1990s – an era in which conservatives were ascendant.

Another factor is that there hasn’t been a significant shift in Americans’ self-described ideology, as a much-discussed Pew poll taken just after the election found.

Pew’s research showed, “Only about 1 in 5 Americans currently call themselves liberal (21 percent), while 38 percent say they are conservative and 36 percent describe themselves as moderate. This is virtually unchanged from recent years; when George W. Bush was first elected president, 18 percent of Americans said they were liberal, 36 percent were conservative and 38 percent considered themselves moderate.”

The problem with self-identification, however, is that it hinges on how one defines those labels – an individual may say he or she is conservative for a variety of reasons, but that same person may favor the progressive position on every issue down the line. According to the most recent (1997) Household Survey of Adult Civic Participation, only around half of Americans could say “which party is more conservative at the national level.”

It’s ultimately issues that get decided in Washington, and the report issued this week adds to an already-large body of data suggesting that Americans are highly receptive to progressive arguments on issue after issue, regardless of with which label they may identify themselves.

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