Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

The American Public: Calls Itself “Conservative” But Favors FDR-Style Liberalism

The data I’m using comes from a recent poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal.  You can read the entire poll here.

  • True or False: Most Americans agree with Congressional Republicans and Beltway pundits that wealthy Americans should not have their taxes raised. FALSE.  81% of Americans believe that the rich pay too little in taxes and should have their taxes raised.  55% are really in favor of this and an additional 26% find this “mostly acceptable.”
  • True or False: Most Americans love Big Oil and favor keeping their tax subsidies so that they continue to provide good jobs and cheap energy to American homes and cars.  FALSE.  74% of Americans want the tax subsidides (giveaways) to the oil industry eliminated. (Yet House Republicans, supposed deficit hawks, just voted unanimously to keep giving this corporate welfare to the most profitable industry in human history–companies whose quarterly profits are larger than the Gross Domestic Product of many nations!)
  • True or False:  Despite the Obama-GOP compromise of the lame duck Congress of November-December 2010, most Americans want to eliminate the Bush tax cuts to families making more than $250,000 per year.  True.  67% of Americans favor ending those tax cuts.  Americans are smart about this, because the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy did more to balloon the federal defict than any other factor, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Great Recession of ’08-’10, the TARP banking bailout, the bailout of GM & Chrysler, or the economic stimulus/recovery act.  In fact, the Bush tax cuts, the wars, and the recession account for more than 90% of the deficit–not the recovery measures.
  • True or False: Most Americans would support eliminating Medicare and turning it into a system of coupons or vouchers for seniors to purchase private health insurance.  (This plan is actually proposed by House Budget chair Paul Ryan (R-WI), who gave the GOP response to Pres. Obama’s State of the Union address and recently this plan has seemed to get support from Speaker of the House Boehner (R-OH). ) FALSE. 51% of Americans find this plan completely unacceptable.
  • True or False: Americans generally support public employees having a union with collective bargaining rights.  True. According to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll 52% of Americans found stripping such rights unacceptable.  A USA Today/Gallup poll found 61% of Americans opposing a move to strip collective bargaining from public sector workers in their state.  And a CBS/New York Times poll found 62% of the public supporting collective bargaining rights for public employees.

These are generally positions which have been considered politically “liberal.”  These are more liberal views than anything coming out of either party in Washington, D.C. right now.  It is far more liberal than what the Beltway pundits spew.  Specifically, this is “economic populism,” the kind of political liberalism of the FDR-era New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society–policies that help the poor and middle class more than the wealthy.  The pundits like to call such sentiments “class warfare,” but, if so, it appears that most Americans think such class warfare is a good idea.  Maybe they realize that for 30 years class warfare has been waged by the wealthy against the rest of us (leading to an ever widening gap between the superrich and everyone else) and that the term “class warfare” is only used if the poor and working class fight back.  That gap is huge:  The top 1% of Americans captured 50% half of all the economic growth from 1993-2007!  Income inequality is higher in the United States than in Mubarak’s Egypt!

So, Americans are just as liberal, just as economically populist, as they have ever been, if not more so.  But they don’t identify with the term “liberal,” which has been systematically demonized ever since the Reagan years. Only 24% of Americans call themselves “liberal” politically.  By contrast, 36% call themselves “conservative” and another 38% call themselves “moderate.”

So, when pundits claim that America is a “conservative” or “center-right” nation, they are asking about labels.  But when you ask about policies–Americans are center-left. They are liberal or progressive.  What is strange–other than the disconnect in terminology– is that this economically populist, liberal to progressive sentiment has not been able to be translated into a political force that can achieve policy objectives.  But the attacks on union workers by Republican governors may have just provided the spark to set that dry tinder ablaze.

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March 4, 2011 Posted by | economic justice, labor | 6 Comments