What America’s leftward shift means for elections

By Bill Schneider
February 18, 2014

With each new poll, it’s becoming clear that the United States is shifting to the left. A majority of Americans now supports same-sex marriage.  And legalization of marijuana.  And normalization of relations with Cuba.

Gallup reports that, in 2013, the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as liberals reached its highest level since 1992. True, it’s only 23 percent. Conservatives, at 38 percent, still outnumber liberals. But the trend has been slowly and steadily upward for liberals since 1996, when it was 16 percent.

This shift is due entirely to Democrats becoming more liberal — 29 percent of Democrats in 2000, 43 percent in 2013. At the same time, Democrats have won the national popular vote in five out of the six presidential elections since 1992 (all but 2004). Barack Obama won a majority of the popular vote twice — something Bill Clinton couldn’t do.

The New America has come to power. It’s a coalition of 10 Democratic constituencies that united to elect and re-elect Obama: young voters, working women, single mothers, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Jews, gays, educated professionals and the “unchurched” (the nearly one in five Americans who have no religious affiliation). Eight of those 10 constituencies — all but Jews and African-Americans — are growing as a percentage of the electorate.

Democrats now have the advantage in presidential elections. You can’t say Democrats have a lock on the presidency, however. There are too many other factors involved, like the state of the economy and the appeal of the candidates. But Democrats are well positioned to keep the White House.

Republicans are equally well positioned to keep control of at least one house of Congress. The Democrats’ presidential advantage disappears in congressional elections like this year’s midterm.

Why? Democrats like to blame redistricting. Republicans won a sweeping victory in 2010 state elections, and that enabled them to control the redistricting process in many states. In 2012, Democrats slightly outpolled Republicans in the nationwide vote for the House of Representatives — but they ended up with fewer than half the House seats.

Redistricting is certainly part of the Democrats’ problem. But it’s not all of it. Incumbency still has a big impact on House elections, and most incumbents are now Republicans.

Democrats also have a geography problem. They tend to live in crowded cities where congressional districts produce big Democratic majorities. That means a lot of wasted Democratic votes. Democrats also live in isolated college and industrial towns — where their votes are often swamped by Republicans in surrounding suburbs and rural areas.

After researching the issue, two political scientists concluded, “the Democrats’ geography problem is bigger than their gerrymandering problem.”

Democrats do better in Senate elections, but their Senate majority is very much at risk this year. The Democrats’ problem in the Senate is not gerrymandering. It’s the Constitution. Small conservative states are entitled to the same two Senate seats as California and New York.

Republicans are becoming a congressional party. The GOP is entrenched in districts and states dominated by the Old America — older, whiter, more religious. You can see it most clearly on the issue of immigration reform. Republicans who worry about capturing the White House know they have to improve their standing with Latino voters. Without Latino votes, Obama would have lost in 2012. But Latinos want nothing to do with a Republican Party that is culturally insensitive to them.

Yet the Republican-controlled House refuses to consider the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate last year. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has declared immigration reform dead for 2014. The conservative base is resolutely opposed to any immigration measure that includes legalization or a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Republicans who vote for such a policy would find themselves facing a tough primary challenge.

We now have a new model for getting the Republican House to pass policies that are acceptable to the president and Senate. They have to win with solid Democratic support plus enough Republicans to squeeze out a majority. That’s what happened last year with the budget deal and the bill that ended the government shutdown. It happened this year with the farm bill and, last week, with the measure raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

Immigration reform could easily pass the House the same way. All the speaker would need to do is allow a floor vote. But Boehner won’t do that. A Republican House member told The New York Times, “If the speaker had moved forward and forced members to vote [on immigration reform], that would end his speakership.”

Republican congressional priorities trumped Republican presidential priorities.

So we are left with a Democratic presidential advantage and a Republican congressional advantage. That’s a formula for institutionalized gridlock.

The best chance to break that gridlock may not come until after the 2020 election. 2020 is a presidential year. If Democrats do well in state elections that year, that could give them more power over the post-census redistricting. Which could set them up to win control of the House.

But not until 2022.

The new normal in U.S. politics is a liberal presidential agenda blocked by a conservative Congress. And frustration among increasingly progressive voters.

PHOTOS: Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Speaker of the House John Boehner applaud as President Barack Obama finishes his State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing 

Gay marriage supporter Vin Testa waves a rainbow flag in anticipation of U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the cases against California’s gay marriage ban known as Prop 8 and the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), outside the court building in Washington, June 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 

6 comments

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It’s not really a leftward shift as much as it is a rejection of the lies of the GOP. If they were patriotic freedom loving fiscal conservatives the left would have no chance. However, the GOP is not fiscal responsible (that’s just an election lie), They hate freedom, especially personal freedoms they think are sins. They are not patriotic in that their policies weaken the country, particularly the wars for money which send american soldiers to die for corporate profits and increase the future chances of additional wars with nations having a grudge for our interference. The last thing the democrats should do is think we prefer them because we agree with them. We prefer them because they are not republicans. I might really like them if they were freedom loving patriotic liberals with fiscal responsibility, but they are not that. In the end even though the two parties point out how different they are, they are not different. They are both primarily corporate socialists. You know, that’s were we all work together to help the corporations enslave us.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

With or with out republicans this nation is moving forward in its progressive nature.

People are accepting the differences of individualism and family structure. We are rejecting the image of a perfect person or the perfect family.

We progressives understand we have a share in this nation and the world, and that businesses have a responsibility contributing to the betterment of civilization. We believe in a solid tax base and strong regulations that protect our civilization as we move through this universe on spaceship earth.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

This is such a crock of wishful thinking. It’s a rejection of both political parties and a move towards increasing personal freedom.

The Republicans problem is that they’re dead wrong on the cultural war. It’s over, they lost. The Democratcs problem is that their success is self-limiting, because they’re dead wrong on the economics. The more power they have, the more they’re going to damage the economy with their well-intentioned economic illiteracy.

It’s more libertarian than left. That’s why still no one identifies as “liberal”

Posted by EndlessIke | Report as abusive

It’s not really a leftward shift as much as it is a rejection of the lies of the GOP. If they were patriotic freedom loving fiscal conservatives the left would have no chance.

America has, over the past forty years been a liberal country with a conservative electorate>

The explanations for this seeming anomaly are the low rates of voter participation and the resilient legacy of equal opportunity bequeathed Americans by the New Deal.

Conservatives, always opposed to the implications of racial, gender and class equality inherent in the New Deal have fought viciously and tenaciously to tear down the legacy of equal opportunity.

Now that they are beginning to succeed and more voters recognize the closing of the avenues of prosperity and advancement through employment resulting from conservative policies, progressive forces are mobilizing and changing the political landscape.

Posted by RobChapman | Report as abusive

The Democratcs problem is that their success is self-limiting, because they’re dead wrong on the economics. The more power they have, the more they’re going to damage the economy with their well-intentioned economic illiteracy.

Libertarianism is the weakest possible form of economic organization. Libertarianism provides no protection for investment and hence on incentive for capital investment. Invesstors require a predictable future that allows them to extrapolate their returns on investment. Such predictability can only be maintained through a comprehensive commercial code and its strict and rigourous enforcement.

Libertarianism is also the weakest possible form of economic organization for individual achievement. To develop the skills needed to achieve, individuals must delay gratification and spend lengthy periods of time developing the skills needed for achievement. The process of skill development requires robust and dependable support in various forms to permit learners to delay working for subsistence and forfeiting the opportunity to develop fully. Libertarianism has no provision but hope for the support of individuals in a period of skill building hiatus.

Posted by RobChapman | Report as abusive

There isn’t a leftward shift so much as there’s manipulation by the left, the primarily left media, and abuse of powers (and corruption) by leftist politicians.

Nixon resigned for “watergate.” Funny, how Obama has been involved in many more, and significantly more serious, scandals… but hasn’t even come close to even THINKING about resigning. There is no honor left in the American government.

Pushing forward with things like the DREAM act or Obamacare, despite both having a ~25% approval rating by the general populous. The audacity of the Obama administration is breathtaking. The only reason they’ve gotten away with it, is because a person, or a group of people really can’t make a difference unless they hold an office of authority. Without the authority, they’re just people on the streets, holding signs. Liberal congressmen don’t listen to their constituents unless it’s what they want to hear from them, so calling, writing or picketing them does nothing to sway their personal agendas.

Posted by whatever654321 | Report as abusive