Polls and the corporate media's immediate instinct to jump all over their results in order to push one of their favorite memes, that America is a "center-right" country, is yet another example of why we do not have a liberal media in the United
December 29, 2011

Polls and the corporate media's immediate instinct to jump all over their results in order to push one of their favorite memes, that America is a "center-right" country, is yet another example of why we do not have a liberal media in the United States. Gallup and USA Today recently released a new poll which you can read the results of here -- Americans See Views of GOP Candidates Closer to Their Own.

Naturally Mrs. Greenspan was more than happy to report that this is supposed to show that most Americans are ideologically aligned with Mitt Romney and that President Obama was further to the left than most of the public.

The poll by Gallup did not ask anyone what their views on specific issues were. They asked them to self-identify what their ideology is. Media Matters did a lengthy report on this back in 2007 showing why polls like the one cited by Andrea Mitchell here don't paint an accurate picture of what most American's political leanings are which you can read here -- The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America is a Myth.

There are lots of charts and data there, but this portion sums up some of their findings very nicely:


If Americans are so progressive, why don't more say so?

When asked for evidence, advocates of the idea that America is a conservative country will often cite the fact that polls show more people labeling themselves as "conservative" than "liberal." [...]

Yet there are a number of reasons to conclude that the data on self-labeling tells us relatively little about the actual ideological positioning of the public. First, as political scientists have understood for more than 40 years, most Americans simply don't think in ideological terms. To take one example, the National Election Studies has asked respondents in the past, "Would you say that either one of the parties is more conservative than the other at the national level?" The number answering "the Republicans" seldom exceeded 60 percent when the question was asked in the past; after a 12-year hiatus, the NES asked the question again in 2004, when two-thirds of the public, an all-time high, gave the correct answer. This means that, at a time when the parties are more ideologically distinct than ever, one-third of the public can't name correctly which party is more conservative. If this bare minimum of knowledge is unavailable to such a large proportion of the population, it is fair to say that their self-placement on ideological scales will not be a particularly reliable gauge of their actual beliefs on issues.

There is an understandable assumption within Washington that if survey respondents answer the ideological self-placement question by choosing "liberal" or "conservative," then their positions on issues roughly correlate with those of the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively; and that if they choose "moderate," then their issue positions are midway between those of the two parties. But in fact, this is not the case. According to the NES, 56 percent of those who call themselves moderates associate with the Democratic Party, while only 31 percent associate with the Republican Party. As one of the authors of this study wrote previously:

"And it isn't just party identification; on issue after issue, moderates have opinions almost exactly mirroring those of liberals. In the NES survey, 64 percent of liberals say we should increase spending on Social Security, as do 68 percent of moderates-while only 47 percent of conservatives agree. Eighty-eight percent of liberals and 84 percent of moderates say federal funding on education should be increased, compared to only 58 percent of conservatives. Seventy-three percent of liberals and 66 percent of moderates want more spending for child care-but only 38 percent of conservatives agree. Sixty-two percent of liberals and 57 percent of moderates want to spend more on aid to the poor, compared to only 39 percent of conservatives."53

Another reason people don't use the liberal label is that the term "liberal" has been victim to a relentless conservative marketing campaign that has succeeded in vilifying liberals and liberalism. The consequence is that only strong liberals are willing to identify as such. But many people who hold liberal issue positions call themselves moderates, or even conservatives. As Christopher Ellis wrote in a recent study of ideological labeling, "[M]any conservatives are not very conservative":

"... nearly three-quarters of self-identified conservatives are not conservative on at least one issue dimension [size and scope of government, or abortion and homosexuality], and considerably more than half hold liberal preferences on the dominant dimension of conflict over the size and scope of government. Simply put, many conservatives are not very conservative"54

When people do use ideological labels, they often apply them inconsistently. In 1967, Hadley Cantril and Lloyd Free famously observed that Americans were "ideological conservatives" but "operational liberals."55 They didn't like the idea of government, but they liked what government does and can do.

As all the data presented in this report make clear, whatever Americans choose to call themselves, on issue after issue -- economic, social, security, and more -- majorities of the public find themselves on the progressive side. And on many of the most contentious "culture war" issues, the public has been growing more progressive year after year. Much of the news media seems not to have noticed. But the facts are too clear to ignore.

Heaven forbid someone like Andrea Mitchell would ever take any of that into consideration before using the Gallup poll to portray Mitt Romney as the wonderful "centrist" whose more aligned with the American public than that "leftist" Obama. So who needs Fox, huh? I'm sure they'll all be doing similar stories before the week's over.

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