- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The 2008 election is in the history books, but the fight over the true sentiments of the American voter remains as lively as ever, with two new surveys offering conflicting views on whether the U.S. body politic leans a bit to the left or a bit to the right.

A new study by groups allied to the Democratic Party is pushing back at what they see as the conventional wisdom that the United States remains — despite recent voting results — a center-right nation.

The study’s authors, the liberal Campaign for America’s Future and Media Matters for America, say new polling and demographic data show that the country has shifted to the left as progressive views gain popularity and swelling ranks of young voters, minorities and unmarried women tilt the country toward a liberal orientation.

“That, in a sense, should be apparent given the election of Barack Obama running on a very bold progressive agenda and defeating an opponent who accused him of being a redistributionist and the most liberal person in the U.S. Senate,” said Robert L. Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, in a conference call last week announcing the findings.

However, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press came to a different conclusion. It noted that while the ranks of independent voters have swelled in recent years, many of the new independents defected from the Republican Party and remain conservative in their outlook.

The growing political middle, according to the Pew Research Center, is not realigning the country’s political orientation but rather widening the ideological chasm between the two major parties.

“The political values and core attitudes that the Pew Research Center has monitored since 1987 show little overall ideological movement,” says the report, which was released May 21.

Leading conservative figures insist the liberal shift is temporary.

“America is fundamentally a center-right nation,” said Mitt Romney, a contender for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, in an interview on Fox News over the weekend. “And if we hold true to our principles and do a better job communicating those principles and holding true to them, acting as we speak, I think the American people will put us back in a position of leadership.”

Challenging that idea is the new liberal study, which claims conservative politicians and the mainstream media consistently misread the mood of the electorate.

The study, titled “America: A Center-Left Nation,” highlights surveys that show a majority of Americans favor bigger government, support expanded gay rights and think the rich and corporations pay too little in taxes while average taxpayers pay a fair amount.

Mr. Borosage said the most telling sign of what he described as a sea change in America’s political leanings is that most voters are “increasingly supportive of government playing a role in our lives.”

The report argues that mainstream media outlets are out of touch with the increasingly liberal ideas of the majority of Americans, said Eric Burns, president of Media Matters for America. The organization is financed in part by billionaire financier George Soros, a major funder of liberal causes and organizations, to debunk “conservative misinformation” in the U.S. media.

“The orientation of the media’s reporting, the framing of the issues, are … normally about 10 degrees to the right of really where the American people stand,” Mr. Burns said on the conference call.

But the Pew survey, while noting increasingly broad support for the liberal social agenda, including gay rights, found that the public remains conflicted about the role of government.

For instance, the survey found that 86 percent of Americans agree the government needs to do more to make health care affordable and accessible. Yet nearly half, 46 percent, say they are concerned about the government becoming too involved in the health care industry.

Critics of the “Center-Left Nation” report include the American Conservative Union, the country’s largest grass-roots conservative lobbying organization. The ACU argues that the real disconnect is between the increasingly liberal government in Washington and the more conservative American electorate.

ACU spokesman Brent Littlefield said most voters, given the choice between having the private sector or government perform a job or deliver a service, will pick the private sector every time.

“Nobody wants the local [Department of Motor Vehicles] to try to bring Chrysler or GM out of bankruptcy,” he said.

But Mr. Borosage insisted the country’s liberal shift is reflected in polling data. Viewed issue by issue, a majority of voters align themselves on the liberal side of the political spectrum, he said.

“We will see whether the view about the role of government changes once the [economic] crisis has passed,” he said. “… But at this point, the polling is showing the people are looking for the government to take a bigger role.”

Among the polls included in the report are the National Science Foundation’s biennial National Election Studies (NES), which in 2008 found that 66 percent of voters thought the government should be doing more, compared to 32 percent who thought less government was better.

The poll also showed that 62 percent of respondents said the main reason government has gotten bigger over the years is because the problems the country faces have grown.

Another poll in the report was a February survey by CNN that showed 72 percent of Americans favored increased government influence over the country’s health care system to lower costs and expand coverage to more people.

Then there were the demographics. A rising number of unmarried women, growing minorities such as Hispanics and increasingly politically active young voters and blacks — all of whom overwhelmingly voted for Mr. Obama — are pushing the country’s electorate to the left.

The report said that unmarried women are a key to the emerging American electorate, and their concerns dovetail with a progressive political agenda.

They account for nearly half — 47 percent — of female voters, up from 38 percent in 1970. About 41 percent of unmarried women who are registered to vote registered between the 2004 and 2008 elections, and 20 percent cast a vote for president for the first time in 2008, compared with 11 percent of voters overall and just 4 percent among married women.

“The issues important to unmarried women read like the agenda of the progressive movement: universal health care, clean renewable energy, ending pay discrimination, raising the minimum wage, making college more affordable,” the report says. “Married women share these concerns — but more unmarried women add the word ‘very’ in front of ‘important’ in their survey responses.”

Mr. Borosage said a sign of the changing times is on display at the group’s annual conference for progressive activists, which opened Monday in Washington.

For years, the three-day event has been titled Take Back America. This year, organizers are calling it, Forging America’s Future Now.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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