For years, traditional public opinion polling has broken down Americans’ political ideology into three distinct groupings: liberal, moderate, and conservative. Based on this simplified categorization, there has been remarkable stability in ideological orientation with roughly one-fifth of Americans identifying themselves as ‘liberal’ and about 4 in 10 classifying themselves as ‘moderate’ or ‘conservative’, respectively, according to Gallup polling from 1992 to 2008.
Two new studies (here and here) conducted by the Progressive Studies Program at the Center for American Progress break down the electorate on a new 5-point scale of political ideology that reflects the primary approaches people ascribe to today. Under this schematic, 34 percent of the country self-identifies as ‘conservative’, 29 percent as ‘moderate’, 15 percent as ‘liberal’, 16 percent as ‘progressive’, and 2 percent as ‘libertarian’.
After moderates are asked which approach they lean towards, the overall ideological breakdown of the country divides into fairly neat left and right groupings with 47 percent of Americans identifying as progressive or liberal and 48 percent as conservative or libertarian and the rest unsure.
A nation that is evenly split in its political identity is decidedly center-left in its policy orientation:
• By a margin of almost nine to one, Americans agree that “government investments in education, infrastructure, and science are necessary to ensure America’s long-term economic growth,” (79 percent agree, 12 percent neutral, 9 percent disagree).
• More than three in four Americans (76 percent) also agree with the president’s argument that “America’s economic future requires a transformation away from oil, gas, and coal to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.”
• Nearly three in four Americans believe that “government regulations are necessary to keep businesses in check and protect workers and consumers,” (73 percent agree, 15 percent neutral, 12 percent disagree).
• Nearly two in three Americans (65 percent) agree that “the federal government should guarantee affordable health coverage for every American.”
Complementing this agenda are significant demographic shifts that favor progressives. Between 1988 and 2008, the share of minority voters in presidential elections has risen by 11 points, while the share of increasingly progressive white college graduate voters has risen by four points. But the share of white-working class voters, who have remained conservative in their orientation, has plummeted by 15 points.
How progressive are you? Take our interactive quiz.