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Gallup poll: Majority of Democrats want more moderate party

Republicans, meanwhile, preferred a more conservative party.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi concluding their joint response to President Trump's prime time address, on January 8.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

A brief follow-up to yesterday’s post, which was (sort of) about the question of how far left the Democratic Party might be moving. “Left” and “right” are imprecise terms, as are “liberal” and “conservative.”

But Gallup recently asked Democrats and Dem-leaning independents this question:

“If you had to choose, would rather see the Democratic Party become more liberal or become more moderate?”

And they asked Republicans and Repub-leaning independents:

“If you had to choose, would rather see the Republican Party become more conservative or become more moderate?”

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I don’t claim to know what issues and positions go through people’s minds when they are asked such a question. But here are the results:

Gallup found that by a fairly solid-looking 54-41 percent (with five percent expressing no opinion) of Democrats would prefer that their party move toward the middle.

But among Republicans and Repub-leaners, by an even wider 57-37 percent margin, want their party to move further to the right.

It’s just a poll question, without much history to compare it against. Don’t take it too seriously. And 54-41 is no landslide. Nor is it clear what issues respondents thought about when they considered the difference between a moderate and a liberal (or, on the Repub side, a conservative).

But I would say the response from Democrats rubs somewhat against the notion that Democrats are craving leaders who will be arguing for single-payer health care or an aggressive round of taxing the rich to help the poor. If so, that might be good news for liberal-but-somewhat-more-centrist Democrats who are considering running for president, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Minnesota’s own Amy Klobuchar.

In the age of Trump, fine differences among liberals, like whether to focus on saving the Affordable Care Act or moving toward single-payer, tend to get lost. All of the Democratic contenders are united by their opposition to Trump and all things Trumpian. There are undoubtedly people on the left who favor things like single-payer, who will be energized by a bold progressive agenda. And there will be moderates who might be scared away by the same things.

And, in the age of Trump, whose ideology is incoherent, especially on traditional markers of liberalism versus conservatism, it’s even harder to speculate what Republican respondents may have had in mind when they were asked to choose between moderation and strong conservatism as the future direction of the party.

It’s also true that, as Edsall noted in the piece I linked to yesterday, the more liberal wing of the Democratic electorate are often more engaged and more likely to turn out in lower-turnout elections like primaries.

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Some version of this argument will play out during the primaries. And, presumably that outcome will feed into the general election. Nothing new in that, but the Dems may have a more energized left than they have had for some time.