NORTHAMPTON, MASS. - The United States, contrary to what you might hear on many household media outlets, is not conservative and certainly not "center-right," a favorite term thrown out during, before and after elections.
The U.S. is a center-left nation, and it's time to set the record straight.
Bear in mind, there's no denying that when asking people whether they consider themselves liberal or conservative, conservative will inevitably reign victorious.
However, the reason is not that individuals are overwhelmingly conservative on actual issues of importance, but rather that "liberal" has become a dirty word, associated with the standard connotations we can gather from watching a few minutes of cable news or listening to most talk radio.
This encourages people to identify as conservative instead of liberal when presented with the choice.
The important consideration, however, should not be how individuals label themselves on a subjective political spectrum, but rather how they feel about specific issues - the issues that affect reality on a day to day basis. And on those issues, the country is at the minimum, center-left.
Two "poll compilations" put together by the Campaign for America's Future and Media Matters, respectively, looked at the opinions of Americans on specific political issues over recent years - and the results are nothing short of astounding. The polls being compiled were conducted by a number of generally accepted non-partisan pollsters. Let's look at some examples.
Seventy-eight percent of Americans say corporations have too much power and 68 percent want corporations to have less influence. Both are positions associated with liberal ideology. In a variety of polls spanning years and methodologies, 57 percent to 72 percent of Americans believe the government should pay for all of people's necessary medical care.
This is certainly not conservative ideology by any stretch of the imagination, and based on the media coverage of the healthcare reform debate, you wouldn't gather that this was the consensus opinion.
Rest assured that if framing the question as, for example, "Do you believe in socialized medicine?" or "Are you liberal on healthcare policy?" the results would be far different. But fair questions about the important issues of today will inevitably render liberal ideology as the most prevalent.
Even on taxes, the issue often championed by everyone from "fiscally conservative Democrats" to the Tea Parties, the results may surprise you. Sixty-one percent of Americans say their income tax level is fair, something that as a tried-and-true liberal, even I don't always agree with, while 60 percent say that rich people are not paying their fair share of taxes, by no means a conservative point of view.
When asked about abortion and given a range of response options, the most common one, chose by 40 percent of respondents, is that abortion should always be legal at the discretion of the mother. Seventy-seven percent believe homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly in the armed forces, while 61 percent believe gay marriage or civil unions should be legal ... but remember, this is a center-right country!
Maybe most striking are the results that 58 percent of Americans actually want government to do more, even if it costs more, and 75 percent would be willing to pay more for electricity if they knew it was coming from renewable resources.
The question I asked recently on "Midweek Politics with David Pakman," which received a flurry of responses from both sides of the political spectrum: Where in these results is there an indication any indication at all that this is a center-right nation? To be honest, the more I go over the results, the more conservative I personally feel in relation to the country as a whole, something that is, by all measures, hard to imagine.
Many people think they are not liberal. Even more strongly, they've been convinced either by friends, radio, television, political candidates, and the Internet, and that liberal is bad, and it has worked.
What is more difficult is to get people to change their actual positions on individual issues, which even the most cursory review confirms are nothing but logical, sensible and not center-right.
Nothing is more common in conversation with people I meet than them telling me, unprovoked, as if some disclaimer is needed, that they are "somewhat conservative," only to find out they favor gay marriage, think their taxes are fine, want more gun control, believe we need to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan and support funding embryonic stem cell research but they're not liberal.
While this may appear to be an issue of semantics, it matters. The liberal vs. conservative associations, election-after-election, hold very strongly.
It leads to not-insignificant portions of the electorate voting against their own personal beliefs to support a candidate that they've been convinced - based on hyperbole and rhetoric - is aligned with them politically.
It's just not the case.
David Pakman of Northampton, host of "Midweek Politics with David Pakman," writes a monthly column. He can be reached at [email protected] and at www.midweekpolitics.com