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November 10, 2006

the long-term political trends

Here are trends for Democrats versus Republicans and liberals versus conservatives over several decades. The sources are National Election Studies for 1952-1992, and exit polls thereafter.


Democrats lost their advantage in registration during the 1990s, mainly because conservative Democrats quit. The party held a very slight (2-point) edge in 2006, but the score is basically tied. Independents have become much more numerous among actual voters than they were in earlier decades.

Self-described "conservatives" have substantially outnumbered self-described "liberals" for decades, although the definition of those terms has changed as the country has moved leftward on some social issues and rightward on some economic ones. (A typical liberal in 1960 believed in very high marginal tax rates but would probably have rejected gay marriage out of hand.) Both ideologies have lost favor lately, liberalism just as much as conservatism. The "good thumpin'" experienced by the GOP last Tuesday certainly creates an opportunity for Democrats to build support for a genuinely liberal (or call it "progressive") agenda. After all, people voted Democratic despite being warned that Nancy Pelosi was a liberal. But her victory was a necessary, not a sufficient, condition for progressive revival. Now she and her party must lead both effectively and progressively, or else the blue lines will continue downward.

Posted by peterlevine at November 10, 2006 09:09 AM

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