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You hear it on talk radio and cable news all the time: we are a center-right nation.
I've always thought that talking point didn't hold up to logic. First and foremost, I don't know what labels mean on the political spectrum anymore. If Barack Obama can be simultaneously a socialist, a fascist and the most liberal president EVAH! where does that leave self-described liberals like you and me? When did Birchers become mainstream Republicans?
Even the notion that there is this mushy center in the bell curve of voters who could swing to either party doesn't pass muster.
The conventional wisdom on independents is, naturally, completely wrong. Independents are not a monolithic group of moderates. In fact, they are very diverse in their political opinions and there isn't a "move to the middle" formula that will win them over. Moderates, in fact, are now overwhelmingly Democrats. Independents are, for the most part, disaffected political partisans.
The American National Election Study learned that of the vast majority of independents who voted in 2008, 21 percent of independents were truly independent. The rest, all 79 percent, had a definite party preference. Their votes:
Fully 87% of them voted for the candidate of the party they leaned toward: 91% of independent Democrats voted for Barack Obama while 82% of independent Republicans voted for John McCain. That 87% rate of loyalty was identical to the 87% loyalty rate of weak party identifiers and exceeded only by the 96% loyalty rate of strong party identifiers.
But that doesn't mean that every damn politician in DC--Democrats and Republicans alike--don't cleave to this notion that we are a far more conservative country than we really are.
Case in point: During the recent battle, three plans were put forward to avoid the sequester: the Senate Democratic plan, the Senate Republican plan and the House Progressive Caucus plan. Stripped of labels, guess which one most polled Americans preferred? That's right, the Progressive Caucus plan, including 47 percent of self-identified Republicans. The least popular plan? The Republican plan, natch.
A recent study confirms this writ large. While many Americans will still label themselves "conservatives," when asked whether they support policies without labels being placed on them, generally speaking, they tend to support the progressive agenda:
We’ve been through roughly two years of successive battles over taxes and spending — first over the Bush tax cuts, then the so-called “fiscal cliff,” then the “sequester” and, soon, the federal budget — and throughout each of those skirmishes politicians on both sides of the aisle have insisted that we must cut spending and reform ‘entitlements.” But polls show consistently that most voters don’t want those things. Vast majorities of Americans think spending cuts will hurt the economy, want to reduce the deficit through a mix of tax increases and spending cuts and want to preserve funding for cherished social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security.
So why do politicians seem convinced that the American people want austerity? A fascinating new working paper published this week by two political science graduate students may offer an answer: Politicians tend to vastly overestimate just how conservative their constituents really are. The paper, co-authored by Christopher Skovron of the University of Michigan and David Broockman of the University of California Berkeley, finds that conservative politicians in particular are terrible at gauging the political views of their constituents. For example, they tend to underestimate support for policies like universal health care and same-sex marriage by as much as 20 percentage points. Liberal politicians underestimate support for those policies, too, but not by nearly as much.
The authors report this especially stunning distillation of their findings: “Nearly half of sitting conservative ofﬁceholders appear to believe that they represent a district that is more conservative on these issues than the most conservative legislative district in the entire country.”
While Hayes makes the point that the reasoning behind this may be that politicians take their cues from the wealthy donor class, the fact remains that the Beltway remains far out of touch with rest of the country and will likely stay that way as long as they are enabled by a corporate media and big money foundations.