A lot of fascinating stuff in this new Pew Survey. One key point is that voters’ perceptions of how liberal various Democrats are seems to have no basis whatsoever in reality. Out of the six figures listed — John Edwards, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton — Bill Clinton rates as the most liberal, ever-so-slightly to the left of his wife and Pelosi who are tied. This, of course, is ridiculous — Pelosi is clearly to the left of the Clintons and always has been. Meanwhile, Obama and Edwards both rate as to the right of the Clintons.
In Edwards’ case I can at least think of plausible reasons people might make this mistake, but if they’re making it about Obama as well it’s clear that these numbers are being primarily driven by the public’s deep, deep ignorance. Two upshots. One is that it’s good news for Edwards to see evidentiary backing for the theory that he can stake out the most progressive issue profile and still maintain an image as a moderate. The other is that this is both terrible news for Clinton (as I wrote with Sam it would be crazy for liberals to choose the least-liberal available nominee when she’s also seen as the most liberal choice) and also seems to call into question the “unquestioned brilliance” of Mark Penn. His strategy has been for Clinton to stake out an increasingly conservative issue profile to win the general election. It seems, however, that issue profiles don’t do much to alter perceptions of public figures. If they do effect anyone, however, it’s going to be the sort of high-information political junkies who are disproportionately likely to be primary-voting liberals who Clinton is managing to alienate in droves.