Sunday, November 29, 2020

America is a Center-Left Nation

For as long as I can remember, there has been a ritual declaration spoken after every election: "America is a center-right nation." It doesn't seem to matter who wins the election or by what margin; this refrain has become tantamount to a tradition among the pundit class, and traditions are not to be dispensed with lightly.

Yet I submit that it has been increasingly clear that America is, in actuality, a center-left nation.

Now, to some extent, this depends on what your baseline is. Compared to Sweden, we're still quite conservative. Compared to Russia, by contrast, we look a lot more progressive. But judging on the general spectrum of American politics, the fact is that Democrats have won the national popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. A Republican has won a popular plurality twice in my lifetime, and one of those times was when I was two years old. Certainly, the margins aren't overwhelming, and it does not seem to be the case that even the median "Democratic voter" want the sort of full-throated left-progressivism that some activists would desire. But given a choice where their voices count equally, Americans have been relatively consistent in their preferences over the past few decades: they want to be led by Democrats -- not necessarily the most progressive wing of the Democratic Party, but Democrats. Hence: center-left.

It would be nice if, in between the seven and eight hundredth essay on what Democrats need to do to reach out to Trump voters, some time was spent by the media internalizing this state of affairs, and contemplating what it means for a GOP whose response to this reality has dispensed with the idea that it should be forced to do anything as crass as "win more votes" in favor of burrowing ever-deeper into anti-democratic quasi-authoritarianism.


Cycle Cyril said...

Your assessment leaves out the down ballot votes on both the federal and state races where the center-right did much better than on the sole nationwide vote. And considering the electoral game in America is played on a state by state basis these outcomes have a greater weight than at first glance such as with redistricting congressional seats.

David Schraub said...

Downballot tells the same story. In 2020, Democrats won the overall House vote by about four million votes (50.5% - 48%). Republicans have gotten over 50% of the overall House vote twice in the past 15 years; Democrats have done it four times. Geography and gerrymandering lets the GOP punch above its actual support levels in the House; but the overall vote leans -- not overwhelmingly, but leans -- Democratic. Which is to say: Center-left nation.

Benjamin Lewis said...

Strongly agree David. We can validate this with policy preference surveys, which suggest that if everyone were voting this would be even more lopsided. Just reading down the list of topics at that site, based on which tend significantly to position of federal elected Democrats and against that of federal elected Republicans: Abortion, progressive taxation, public education, climate change, gun control, Obamacare, MJ decriminalization, immigration, LGBT civil rights... crime & policing maybe goes the other way, but I think that is actually the only one?

At best, @Cyril's argument amounts to a claim that "the[se] United States" (ie, 50 political entities) are technically distinct from "the people", and that "nation" means the former not the latter.
Democratic candidates consistently win national-aggregate votes for congressional races and state-level races too. I believe that lead gets bigger if you only count contested races (we should count uncontested races, checking against uncontested just clarifies the direction of error). But just as the electoral college gerrymanders the presidency to allow (former) slave states disproportionate influence, so too many of these other races. And now of these "as voted" figures account for how damn hard it is to vote in this country.
It has been frequently the case that GOP candidates have taken office, but David wasn't disputing that. He was checking whether that outcome is consistent with the general will; it isn't.