Jeffrey Jacobs of Gallup writes, “U.S. Party Preferences Have Swung Sharply Toward Democrats.” And Gallup’s Lydia Saad reports, “Americans’ ideological bent has shifted in the first half of 2020 with fewer people self-identifying as politically conservative in May and June than at the start of the year. There has been a corresponding increase in self-described liberals while the percentage moderate has been fairly steady.”
Here is the evidence:
These reports of 2020 Gallup polls made me curious about the longer term trend. Here are Gallup results for party ID since 2004.
And here are the trends for conservatives and liberals, showing one annual result for every year until 2019, and then the three polls this year:
(By depicting the ideology data this way, I have made 2020 look uniquely volatile. I can’t find more data points before 2020, but I’m sure the lines would zig-zag more.)
A few observations:
Many more Americans are always comfortable calling themselves conservatives than liberals. It is not the case that many people place themselves left of liberal or identify as “progressives” instead of liberals, because almost everyone picks either conservative, liberal, or moderate. However, the content of those labels shifts. To be liberal in 2020 means different things than it meant in 1992, and that is where the left has a greater advantage.
The beginning of 2020 was one of the peaks for conservative identification. The level this June was typical.
Republican identification in June 2020 (39%) was lower than it was in 82% of Gallup’s surveys since 2004, but it was not unprecedented. Republican identification was at 36% as recently as January 2019.
Democrats have a longterm advantage in party ID. Republicans have been ahead in 12% of Gallup’s surveys since 2004.
Each party tends to get more support when the other one holds the presidency, but George W. Bush boosted Democratic identification more than Barack Obama helped Republicans. Bush also did more damage to his own party than Trump has done to his, so far. However, I think the bottom may well fall out for the GOP between now and the end of the year. They could reach the same level as in fall 2006, when they trailed the Dems. by 56%-34%, and Nancy Pelosi became Speaker.
CIRCLE’s new survey of 2,232 young citizens (ages 18-29) is out. Among the findings:
“83% say they believe young people have the power to change the country, 60% feel like they’re part of a movement that will vote to express its views, and 79% of young people say the COVID-19 pandemic has helped them realize that politics impact their everyday lives.”
They support Biden over Trump by 58%-24%, “a staggering 34-point margin. But 18% of youth say they would like to vote for another candidate. Asian youth (78%) and Black youth (73%) are the most likely to support Biden. Meanwhile, almost three quarters of youth who support Trump (72%) are White.”
“27% of young people (ages 18-24) say they have attended a march or demonstration, a remarkable increase from when we asked the question [of] the same age group before the 2016 and 2018 elections (5% and 16%, respectively).”
For all youth, the top issues are environment and climate change (13%), racism (12%) and healthcare (12%). For Black youth, the priorities are racism (22%), policing of communities of color (15%), and healthcare (11%).
All measured forms of political engagement are up compared to 2018 (admittedly, not a presidential year). For instance, half say that they have tried to convince someone else to vote–which is a lot of viral marketing for the election.
This is part of a significant trend: relatively conservative incumbent Democrats in relatively safe Democratic states and districts are falling to more progressive newcomers, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.-14), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.-07), and Marie Newman (IL-3). These insurgents are more diverse and younger than the incumbents. To be sure, a majority of progressive primary challengers have lost, but the net shift is toward a larger bloc within the Democratic caucus.
We should now see assertive progressive caucuses grow in the US House and in many city councils and state legislatures–mirror-images of the House Freedom Caucus on the right. They should and will help to maintain and expand Democratic Party control of as many legislative chambers as possible, while acting as the sharp, leading edge of Democratic majorities. (Jamelle Bouie made this argument in the New York Times.)
The country is becoming more diverse, and people of color tilt heavily toward the Democratic Party. As a result, the Democrats are about to cease being a white-majority party, although many of their national leaders still are white, especially in the Senate.
In 2016, half of the voting delegates at the Democratic National Convention were people of color. These delegates were not appointed as a gesture to symbolic representation or diversity. They were elected by their own power bases. When a party that elects these delegates wins national elections, white dominance is at risk. That is potentially a shift of global significance, bookending 1492 and 1619.
But the party’s leadership must represent its own electorate better. A 58% white Democratic House caucus is a bit too white for a 54% white party, and the party is getting more diverse. The main opportunities to diversify the caucus are districts with Black or Latino majorities. (The Senate represents a bigger problem.)
If you’re not as far as left some of the progressive insurgents, I still think you should welcome their voices in government. The national deliberation is enriched by their ideas, experiences, and agendas. A legislature that excludes such perspectives lacks legitimacy.
What if you were a Bernie voter in 2020? Do a few primary victories offer a disappointing consolation prize? I think not. Electing progressive Democrats in left-leaning districts was always a more promising strategy.
I’ll acknowledge that if you are a democratic socialist, you should have voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. He is, after all, a socialist. I didn’t vote for him because my political philosophy–for whatever that’s worth–does not fully align with his. At the same time, if you are a democratic socialist, you would have fundamental reasons not to expect the Sanders campaign to carry your agenda forward. You should be primarily interested in the path that AOC, Jamaal Bowman, and others represent.
Although socialist thought is vast and varied and mostly beyond my personal knowledge, I have never heard of a socialist theorist or strategist who believed that capitalists would back down in response to an individual politician who won a majority vote in a national election. Just because actual socialism would cost the ruling class trillions of dollars, they would be expected to resist it with all their power. That is why socialist strategists have often emphasized strong unions linked to a broad-based left party with internal democracy and ideological discipline (a hard pair of principles to combine), plus a left version of the mass media. Once you build that combination, you have a chance at a more-than-symbolic political campaign.
Socialist politicians usually emerge from powerful social movements like the old labor movement or from political parties like the Labour Party in the United Kingdom or the Social Democrats in Germany. Sanders does not come out of, nor has he done anything to build, a significant social movement. That wouldn’t be an easy task in the United States today; in any case, it hasn’t been his task. He has, moreover, never been a member of a political party—not even of the Democratic Party whose nomination he is now seeking. He has never attempted to create a democratic socialist caucus within the party. For all the enthusiasm he has generated, he has no organized, cohesive social or political force behind his candidacy. If he were elected, it is hard to see how he could enact any part of his announced program.
One response is that Sanders is not a socialist in a significant sense, and therefore socialist theory would accept that he could have won the election. He just needed to play his cards a bit differently and receive more help from people like me (and millions of others) who resisted him.
As I once noted, Sanders’ platform is less radical than Harry Truman’s was in 1948. In that sense, Sanders stands in the mainstream of the 20th century Democratic Party. Richard Wright puts Bernie Sanders in the tradition of Victorian moralizing socialists, like William Dean Howells (who voted Republican) or Frances Willard. This is a highly mainstream American tradition, and Bernie’s only difference is the “socialist” brand. To explain socialism, Sanders sometimes cites Denmark, which the Heritage Foundation ranks very high on measures of business freedom, investment freedom, and property rights. I like Denmark’s social contract but would describe it as liberal.
Sanders has never passed any socialist legislation but is part of Chuck Schumer’s leadership team in the Senate. In the 115th Congress, Sanders and, e.g, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) agreed on 90% of their votes–all their rare divergences relating to Trump’s executive branch appointments, plus H.R. 2430, “a bill to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act,” and H.R. 3364; “A bill to … counter aggression by the Governments of Iran, the Russian Federation, and North Korea.” You could argue that if Sanders is a socialist, so is Merkley and most of the Democratic caucus.
Although Sanders made major economic proposals, they had little chance of passage, which made him sort of a notional or symbolic socialist. Yes, if Bernie had won in a landslide–carried to the White House by a wave of grassroots enthusiasm and activism for the substance of his agenda–he could have passed his bills. But the primary campaign showed no evidence of a dramatically new electorate. A capable Democratic administration pressured skillfully from a growing leftwing caucus can do much more.
The gap is very steady, which means that every time Trump moves up, so does Biden–at the expense of undecideds–and vice-versa. By way of contrast, this is how the 2012 election looked:
Granted, the scale is even tighter in the 2012 graph than in 2020, and the length of the trend is longer. Still, we saw points when the lines converged, crossed, or moved apart.
Likewise in 2016:
Or 2008, according to Gallup’s polling:
Henry Enten does better and compares Biden/Trump 2020 polling to historical trends going back to the beginning of polling. He says, “The steadiness in the polls is record breaking. Biden’s advantage is the steadiest in a race with an incumbent running since at least 1944.” Enten adds: “all the [national] polls taken since the beginning of 2019 have [Biden] up 6 points.” He means an average of six points, but that has a small standard deviation. The Real Clear Politics chart, reproduced above, suggests that the full range has been 4-10 points.
The consistency of this gap is noteworthy in an extraordinarily tumultuous period, marked by impeachment, a competitive Democratic primary campaign, a global pandemic, and the worst economic decline since 1929. Donald Trump’s own support has risen and fallen–although only within a five-point range. Biden has had his own ups and downs: near defeat in the primary, a serious accusation of sexual impropriety. Yet the gap between the candidates has been virtually unchanged since December.
Polls this far out are not necessarily very predictive. National polls don’t map exactly onto Electoral College outcomes. Polls conducted now include all adults or self-described “registered voters”; actual voters will be a subset of those. Turnout in 2020 is particularly hard to predict given the practicalities of voting in what may still be a pandemic.
But all these caveats are about whether the graph foretells the result in November 2020. Even if it doesn’t, it tells a very interesting story about now. As Matthew Continetti writes:
It is not foolish to suppose that these world-shaking events would affect the presidential election. On the contrary: One would expect a dramatic swing toward either the incumbent or the challenger. But look at the polls. Not only has there been no big shift. There has been no shift. … Neither good nor bad news has an effect.
I think that almost all Americans have formed such firm and well-anchored beliefs about both Trump and Biden that even epoch-making events don’t shift us. We already have enough information to judge these men, whatever the news throws at us. By six percentage points, we like Biden more than Trump.
(By the way, Biden also leads in battleground states’ averages: by 3 points in WI and NC, by 4 in NV and FL, by 7 in PA and NH, and by 8 in Michigan. That would bode well for an Electoral College win, if we want to get into forecasting November.)
CIRCLE is out with the 2020 YESI (Youth Electoral Significance Index). It identifies the House and Senate races and states where the youth vote will make the most difference to the 2020 election.
For instance, the graphic shows the top-10 House races in the YESI.
The YESI page also explains why these states and districts will matter, which can be useful guidance for analysts, observers, and political actors.
Every young person should vote. Parties, candidates, interest groups, and election officials should encourage youth voting everywhere. Reporters should cover the youth vote as a news story everywhere.
That said, political realism dictates that all these players will concentrate their attention and resources where it matters most to electoral outcomes. Informing them can increase their net investment in youth voting, with benefits for democracy. Hence the YESI, which proved influential in 2018.