For more than a decade, the country has repeatedly been misidentified as center-right on the political spectrum. Proponents of this misconception often point to a 2009 Gallup poll, which found that “Conservatives” were the single largest ideological group among the general population. In fact, an impressive 40 percent of the respondents identified as being conservative, 35 percent as moderate and only 21 percent as liberal. This was not surprising since in such polls, self-identified conservatives usually do outnumber their liberal counterparts by a healthy margin.
As expected, Republicans have used these poll results to assert that the American people are, and always will be, unfriendly towards liberal ideology. This is, however, a blatant lie.
In reality, the country is solidly center-left on the political spectrum. While this does directly contradict the above poll results, one must understand that the word “liberal” has been violently under attack for decades.
The highly effective, right-wing propaganda machine has successfully demonized the word “liberal” almost out of existence. Instead of defending the word, those on the political left effectively abandoned the term “liberal” and settled on “progressive.” The combination of constant right-wing attacks coupled with a lack of defense from those on the left has unfortunately tarnished the “liberal” brand. As a result, the American people are naturally hesitant to self-identify as being a liberal.
Much of the traditional media has failed to critically analyze this 2009 Gallup poll as well as other similarly misleading ones. Republican politicians have taken advantage of this failure by actively promoting misinformation on air. In an interview with MSNBC airing November of last year, former Representative Rick Lazio, R-N.Y., confidently stated, “[America] is a center-right nation.” Apart from a few prominent liberal commentators, there has been a lackluster effort to counter this falsehood. As a result, the failure of the media has allowed what was once misinformation to become conventional wisdom.
In order to fully understand the true political ideology of the American people, one must analyze their views on specific issues. Cenk Uygur, host of the progressive online radio show The Young Turks, recently noted: “If you actually ask the American people on issue by issue, they are massively progressive [even though] they might not call themselves liberal ... ” The results of several issue-specific polls corroborate this assertion.
A “60 Minutes”/Vanity Fair poll published on Jan. 2 asked Americans what they would do first and foremost to balance the budget. The most popular option was to raise taxes on the wealthy, with 61 percent of the respondents stating that such tax increases would be their primary approach to balancing the budget.
Moreover, 20 percent of the respondents suggested that cutting defense spending should be the primary focus when trying to balance the budget. According to most Republican politicians, however, raising taxes on the wealthy and cutting defense spending would be considered a very “far-left” or even “socialist” approach.
Yet while these two liberal ideas are overwhelmingly popular, the conservative ideas are wholeheartedly rejected. Only 4 percent wanted to cut Medicare, and a mere 3 percent wanted to cut Social Security as the primary means to balance the budget.
The fact that most Americans call themselves “moderate” or “conservative” while embracing such liberal ideas attests to the notion that people are labeling themselves inaccurately to avoid stigma.
Numerous other relatively recent polls showcase this point. In 2007, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll where 69 percent of the respondents said that the government “should care for those who can’t care for themselves.” This notion of helping those who cannot help themselves is perhaps the central idea of liberal philosophy.
Other examples include a 2006 Los Angeles Time poll which showed that 77 percent of Americans thought that “Congress should pass legislation that will increase the minimum wage,” which is another long-standing liberal idea.
The tendency of Americans to lean to the left also extends to the area of environmental protection. A 2007 Gallup poll found that an overwhelming 82 percent of the respondents supported the idea of “more strongly enforcing federal environmental regulations” and that 84 percent supported “setting higher emissions and pollution standards for business and industry.” 81 percent said that they favored “spending more government money on developing solar and wind power.” In terms of health care, a 2006 Gallup poll found that 69 percent of Americans believe that it is, in fact, “the federal government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have health coverage.”
Christopher Ellis, an assistant professor of Political Science at Bucknell University, said a possible explanation for this disconnect: “the American public is operationally liberal, but ... symbolically conservative.” In other words, most of their views suggest that they are liberal, despite their insistence that they are moderate or conservative.
The above polls are only a few in a long list of examples that show that the American public can be described as “center-left” rather than the false conventional wisdom that suggests the “center-right” label.
Cenk Uygur suggests that liberals like himself are frustrated because the polls that “agree with the progressive position [are] totally ignored.” It is about time that the media stands up to the Republican noise machine and stops perpetuating the lie that Americans are, as a whole, on the center-right of the political spectrum. Let us stand up for the truth and expose the notion of a conservative America for what it is: a myth.
Shahdabul Faraz is a College freshman from Toronto.