U.S. ideology stable, “culture trench warfare” ahead?

November 26, 2008

The U.S. Democratic Party has gained a larger following over the past two decades but America’s ideological landscape has remained largely unchanged over the past two decades, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. You can see the analysis here.

What is of interest for readers of this blog may be the implications of this “cultural trench warfare” — with neither side gaining much ground from the other — for red-hot social issues such as abortion rights and the future prospects for both the Republicans and the Democrats.

The Democratic Party’s advantage in party identification has widened over the past two decades, but the share of Americans who describe their political views as liberal, conservative or moderate has remained stable during the same period. Only about one-in-five Americans currently call themselves liberal (21 percent), while 38 percent say they are conservative and 36 percent describe themselves as moderate. This is virtually unchanged from recent years; when George W. Bush was first elected president, 18 percent of Americans said they were liberal, 36 percent were conservative and 38 percent considered themselves moderate,” the report, released late on Tuesday, says.

On the divisive issue of abortion rights, the report, using survey data from October, said 57 percent of Americans believed it should be legal. Breaking opinion up by ideology, it found that 43 percent of conservatives were in favour of it being legal while 77 percent of self-described liberals held that view.

This is not surprising — there are many Americans who regard themselves as economic or “tough on crime” or national security conservatives who still support abortion rights. What may surprise some is that 19 percent of liberals feel it should be illegal. These could be people influenced by Catholic social teaching or other trends who regard themselves as liberal on most issues but not this one.

For all the talk of an emerging evangelical center, the report says that: “White evangelical Protestants are the most conservative Republicans: 79 percent describe their political views as conservative, compared with 17 percent who say they are moderate and just two percent who call themselves liberal.”

This suggests that they will remain a key Republican Party base — but in an age of cultural trench warfare, can the party rely on this base to propel itself back into power? On the other hand, the survey’s findings certainly reinforce the wide perception that America is a “center right” country. Maybe that helps to explain the Democratic Party’s subtle shift on abortion rights to an emphasis on reducing the number of abortions and talk of it being a “tragic choice?” If you can’t win them outright, do you need to find common ground in the no-man’s land between the trenches?

Does it also mean both sides are “dug in” for the long haul as they are winning few ideological converts from the other ? What do you think?

7 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

[...] Africa blog · Oddly Enough · Reuters Shop Talk · Environment · Commodity Corner · Reuters Soccer Blog · Good, Bad, and Ugly · Reuters Editors · Ask… Events · FaithWorld · From Reuters.com · Reader Feedback · Do More With Reuters … Original post [...]

What’s their personal definition of “liberal,” conservative” and “moderate?” I disagree that a three percent rise in the number who state they’re liberal is insignificant, culturally. It’s not an easy thing to admit. The right-wing has been labeling liberals as ‘socialists who want the government to run your life’ and ‘Godless’ for more years than Bush has been in office. They’d probably get a much higher percentage if they asked “centrist,” not “moderate,” but where is the ‘center’ now? How many would be surprised their ‘positions’ don’t agree with the ‘label’ they chose?

Posted by Sharon Reddy | Report as abusive

This demonstrates that the majority position is moderate and that abortion is a non-issue. The liberal versus conservative divide is of little importance and matters to the talking heads only. It’s the economy and reconstruction and education that matter. Not positions on hyped-up issues.

Posted by Billy Kidd | Report as abusive

[...] FaithWorld » Blog Archive » U.S. ideology stable, “culture trench … This suggests that they will remain a key Republican Party base — but in an age of cultural trench warfare, can the party rely on this base to propel itself back into power? On the other hand, the survey’s findings certainly reinforce … [...]

[...] FaithWorld » Blog Archive » U.S. ideology stable, “culture trench … Thomson Reuters is the world’s largest international multimedia news agency, providing investing news, world news, business news, technology news, headline news, small business news, news alerts, personal finance, stock market, … [...]

it seems by all the double standard that we see ,and the bias of the press and the courts, and the incessant advice from the sages in hollywood that the brand conservative has sadly become extinct.it was obvious to many that mc cain would only win if it was given to him,thats without how disfunctional his campaign was.but the pendulum swings and the saying “man makith the job”.of which i don,t agree,as sometimes circumstances prevail.but hopefully the job will make obama.but as what has been proven in the past some thing for nothing is not always beneficial.mediocracy has no attractiveness,and capitalism,will again rise like the phoenix, and us conservatives will again save the day.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

A prolonged period of economic hardship tends to have a lasting effect on social and political opinion. After the excesses of recent years, the general public may well become more pragmatic and less ideological in many respects. In addition, demographic trends indicate that the most conservative element of the Republican Party, older Americans of European ancestry, will exercise progressively declining influence in coming years. A growing number of Americans are tired of the “culture wars” waged by manipulative political consultants and ratings-hungry media. We simply want a nation that works to improve the lives of average citizens again.

Posted by keith_in_seattle | Report as abusive

It is interesting to hear a journalist so confident that the numbers point toward pro-choice then say he is surprised at the relatively low 19% of liberals who seem to be anti-abortion. He then guesses and attributes this to a Catholic faith.

Here is a different view. I know a liberal atheist who suddenly realized that if she was a vegetarian and was for animal rights, how could she support the taking of human life? This makes far more sense to me. It is what some (see for example articles at Sojourners http://www.sojo.net) would call a Just Life or total life ethic.

This Just Life ethic I wholeheartedly subscribe to. I am concerned about the environment, about peace issues, about the dangers of the death penalty and the tragic mistake of deluding ourselves that the baby in the womb, which has its own DNA different from the mother, is somehow not a human being. I do not deride or feel ill toward those who choose abortion but rather pray that each of our eyes will be opened to the ways in which we delude ourselves in order to make choices we want to that are not necessarily ethical and thus not even in our own best interests in the long run.

Americans often look for short cuts and solutions out of the difficulties life throws at us. This can be good except when those short cuts cross ethical boundaries, e.g., of hurting or killing another life.

[...] U.S. ideology stable, “culture trench warfare” ahead? – Reuters BlogsThe U.S. Democratic Party has gained a larger following over the past two decades but America’s ideological landscape has remained largely unchanged over the past two decades, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center for the People … [...]

Add in the third branch of the “cultural divide”, the “other America” — the poor. These are the people left out of the public discussion, left out of the economy, left out of government representation. We’ve dehumanized them to the point where we no longer even acknowledge their existence (I noticed that Barack Obama hasn’t bothered to mention the existence of anyone below the “working poor”; in the US, if you lose your job and are unable to work, you do lose your status as a human being). Even otherwise-progressive media has shown utter disinterest in the violations of international human rights standards when it comes to our treatment of, and policies concerning, our poor, and has even failed to consider the impact of a massive “workfare” workforce (at minimum wage or less/no workers’ rights or benefits) on all workers’ wages and rights. We understand why the poor in foreign nations need aid, yet are too arrogant to think that poverty here is anything but a “lifestyle choice”.

The poor are America’s non-people, so we don’t discuss poverty, much less consider policies to ease poverty. There are no TV reports about poverty/hunger and homelessness here(not to mention those who die from lack of housing, medical care,etc.). We have a solid economic caste system, which is not unique in history among nations on the verge of collapse.

Posted by DHFabian | Report as abusive

I am looking forward to reading more from you in the future. And I so much appreciate your information