Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Americans Perceive Their Political Parties as Extreme

An interesting Gallup poll came out this week. You can view the poll here: To make a long story short, many Americans see the parties as too extreme. For example, 46% of Americans think Democrats are too liberal while 43% think that Republicans are too conservative.

On one level, the poll isn’t that surprising. We live in a polarized era. Around 40-45% of Americans are affiliated with one of our parties. So for most Republicans to think that Democrats are too liberal, or for most Democrats to think Republicans are too conservative is almost to be expected.

Americans are exposed to plenty of extremes in politics, and this likely explains their perceptions of the parties. For example, Americans hear Republicans like Newt Gingrich calling Supreme Court nominee a racist, or Mike Huckabee who said of Obama’s economic program that “Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.”

For Democrats, all the sweeping policy moves they’ve made in the past months make some Americans see them as too liberal. Wanting to offer a government option for healthcare, cap and trade, as well as an $800 billion stimulus package unquestionably evoke the specter of liberal big government. The greater number who views Democrats as too liberal probably owes to all those policy initiatives. I have a feeling too that the Republican base is almost united loathing the Democrats’ ideology while some Democrats don’t have strong opinions of Republican ideology because the Republican party has no power right now, and has offered no serious policy alternatives. That would explain why more Americans think Democrats are more extreme than Republicans.

Still, the poll doesn’t really change the basic party dynamic in the country. More Americans say the Democrats’ ideology is about right (42%) than say Republicans do (34%). When it comes too all-important independents, 38% say Democrats’ ideology is just right compared to just 25% for Republicans. That indicates that Democrats still appeal more to independents than Republicans do.

To meaningfully affect political dynamics, many more Americans need to perceive Democrats as too liberal and Republicans as “just right.” If say, 60% think that Democrats are too liberal, it could signal a general feeling that Democrats have overreached. If Republicans manage to come up with a reasonable, coherent critique of Democratic policies un-tainted by extreme pronouncements, that could happen.

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