Is the U.S. Moving Left or Towards the Center?

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The cover story of this week’s Economist asks “Is America Turning Left?” and provides some interesting answers. American voters are increasingly distancing themselves from the Republican Party in significant numbers. While this is often blamed on the shortcomings of president Bush, The Economist suggests that serious political cleavages exist among Republicans between internationalist neoconservatives and isolationist, nativist, paleconservatives; between the party’s western, small-government libertarian and southern social conservative wings.

The shift away from the Republicans and towards the Democrats is perceived as a tilt to the left. It is more properly identified as a move towards the center. As I mentioned in a previous post, Latin America is experiencing an upswing in leftist populism. In the U.S.–and I think this is the general pattern of northern, core countries–the movement is towards the center, whether of a right or left-wing variety.

Explaining Republican Losses

Republicans certainly suffered losses in 2006 and are slated for further defeats in 2008. Part of this is due to the Democrats ability to mobilize their base(s) and the Repulicans failure to do so. In the Spring 2007 edition of Dissent, Ruy Teixeira locates the usual sources of Democratic support including minority voters, women, union members and youth. However, there has been a large shift among independent and moderate voters away from Repulicans and towards the Democrats:

Looked at by partisanship and ideology, the big shifts toward the Democrats—as has been widely reported—were in the center of the electorate. Independents supported House Democrats by eighteen points (57 percent to 39 percent), up from a mere four-point advantage in 2004 (50 percent to 46 percent) and a three-point deficit in 2002 (45 percent to 48 percent). Moderates were even stronger for the Democrats, giving them a twenty-three point lead (61 percent to 38 percent), up from thirteen points in 2004 (56 percent to 43 percent) and just eight points in 2002 (53 percent to 45 percent). These results confirm at the voting booth what polls have been showing for quite a while—the center of the electorate is now much closer to the Democrats than the Republicans in terms of their policy preferences and values.

Independents are the fastest growing electoral group in the U.S. but they do not constitute an electoral bloc. Latinos, another fast-growing group, are another matter. Republicans have managed to alienate many Latino voters at the state and national level. Democrats are making large gains among Latino voters, “nearly 70% of Hispanics voted Democratic in House races in 2006, up from 55% in 2004.” Much of this is due to the influence of the nativist wing of the Party. “Lyndon Johnston once noted that the Democrats’ support for civil rights had cost them the South for a generation; the Republican Part’s opposition to immigration reform may well have cost it the Hispanic vote for a generation.” An obvious exception to this would be Florida where Repubicans receive significant support from that state’s Cuban community.

Another problem for Republicans is that Democrats are currently “more trusted even on traditional conservative issues including national security. Regarding foreign policy, “Mrs. Clinton might be portrayed as a communist on talk radion in Kansas, but set her alongside France’s Nicholas Sarkozy, Germany’s Angela Merkel, Britain’s David Cameron, or any other suposed European conservative, and on virtually every issue Mrs. Clinton is more right-wing.”

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