America Is Not a ‘Center-Right Nation’

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Media Outlet: The New York Times

Lee Drutman's VOTER study was quoted in a New York Times article about how Americans tend to lean more center-left than center-right.

When we look past ideological self-identification to polling on discrete public policy questions, America appears to be far more center-left than center-right. In a recent analysis of Democracy Fund Voter Study Group survey data, the political scientist Lee Drutman found that 73.5 percent of the 2016 electorate espoused broadly left-of-center views on economic policy.
That finding is supported by polling on individual fiscal issues over the past year. Recent surveys have shown that most Americans — including majorities of Republican voters — support increasing federal financing of health care and oppose cutting taxes for  the wealthy. And there’s little evidence that the Democrats’ left flank is exhausting the public’s tolerance for government intervention in the economy: Recent polls have found that over 60 percent of Americans support tuition-free public college (a majority that includes 58 percent of independents and 47 percent of Republicans); that over 60 percent of all voters favor Medicaid and Medicare buy-in programs, while a slim majority likes the sound of single-payer; and that 82 percent of voters, including 70 percent of Republicans, support new legislation expanding access to paid family and medical leave.
The Democratic Party has failed to translate the popularity of progressive economics into electoral success for a variety of reasons. The most fundamental is the one we’ve already observed: Most voters cast their ballots on the basis of identity, not policy. And America’s rapidly changing demographics — and the right’s steadfast efforts to inflame and exploit anxieties about those changes — have made racial identity increasingly salient to white voters, particularly rural ones. This development, combined with the disproportionate influence that our political system awards to white rural voters, has given Republicans a structural advantage.


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Lee Drutman is a senior fellow in the program on political reform at New America. He is the author of The Business of America is Lobbying (Oxford University Press, 2015).