The Democratic Party Left vs. the Center
The Two Are Not Compatible
On Tuesday, John Halpin introduced our new survey project on the important issues and political ideas shaping the 2024 presidential election. He recounted some of the findings from our initial 3,000 voter survey, the first of five we plan to do over the next year or so.
I’ll do the same here, focusing on a set of questions we asked to tap voters’ views on three culturally freighted issues that are sure to loom large in the impending campaign: immigration, climate, and transgender controversies. The data strongly indicate that Democrats’ positions on these issues appear to correspond closely to the views of the left of the party but not to the views of the rest of the electorate, especially those voters who occupy the electorate’s center ground.
Taking immigration first, we asked voters to choose from three options:
People around the world have the right to claim asylum and America should welcome more immigrants into the country;
America needs to secure its borders and create more legal and managed immigration paths to bring in skilled professionals and workers to help our economy grow; or
America needs to close its borders to outsiders and reduce all levels of immigration.
Under a quarter (24 percent) chose the first option, emphasizing the right to asylum and admitting more immigrants, which is closely associated with the Democratic Party. By far the most popular option was the second one, emphasizing border security and skilled immigration, which 59 percent favored. The draconian third option, which favors just closing the border and reducing all immigration was chosen by 17 percent. The latter two positions outnumber the permissive first position by three to one.
Among moderates, the second position was chosen by an overwhelming 66 percent and just 18 percent favored the permissive first position, not much more than the 16 percent who favor the draconian third position. Among the swing-y pure independent group, the story was similar: 62 percent chose the second position and the same number—19 percent—chose the first and third positions.
It's clear Democrats do not occupy the center ground here.
Turning to climate and energy, we offered voters these three choices:
We need a rapid green transition to end the use of fossil fuels and replace them with fully renewable energy sources;
We need an “all-of-the above” strategy that provides abundant and cheap energy from multiple sources including oil and gas to renewables to advanced nuclear power; or
We need to stop the push to replace domestic oil and gas production with unproven green energy projects that raise costs and undercut jobs.
Once again, the Democratic-identified first position, emphasizing ending the use of fossil fuels and rapidly adopting renewables, is a distinctly minoritarian one, embraced by just 29 percent of voters. The most popular position is the second, all-of-the above approach that emphasizes energy abundance and the use of fossil fuels and renewables and nuclear, favored by 46 percent of voters. Another 25 percent—not far off the number backing the first position—flat-out support production of fossil fuels and oppose green energy projects.
Moderates are even more heavily skewed toward the all-of-the-above approach, favoring it by 58 percent, compared to 23 percent support for the rapid green transition and 19 percent for fossil fuels production. Similarly, 54 percent of independents support the all-of-the-above, energy abundance approach, with a mere 18 percent favoring a rapid green transition away from fossil fuels and a larger 27 percent group backing continued fossil fuels production.
Once again, Democrats seem out of touch with the median American voter on a critical issue.
This distance from the center is even more obvious when we take a look at voter views on transgender controversies. Here are the three choices we offered voters:
States should protect all transgender youth by providing access to puberty blockers and transition surgeries if desired, and allowing them to participate fully in all activities and sports as the gender of their choice;
States should protect the rights of transgender adults to live as they want but implement stronger regulations on puberty blockers, transition surgeries, and sports participation for transgender minors; or
States should ban all gender transition treatments for minors and stop discussion of gender ideology in all public schools.
The first position here, emphasizing availability of medical treatments for transgender children (euphemistically referred to as “gender-affirming” care) and sports participation dictated by gender self-identification, is unquestionably the default position of the Democratic Party today. Indeed, to dissent in any way from this position in Democratic circles is enough to earn one the sobriquet of “hateful bigot”—or worse. Yet only about a quarter (26 percent) of voters endorse this position. Indeed, the most popular position of the three is the most draconian: that medical treatments for transgender children should simply be banned, as should discussion of gender ideology in public schools. That’s embraced by 41 percent of voters; another third of voters favor the second position, advocating stronger regulation on puberty blockers, transition surgeries, and sports participation for transgender minors. Together, the latter two positions make it three-to-one among all voters against the Democratic position.
A mere 18 percent of moderate voters back the Democratic position. In contrast, a healthy 47 percent favor the stronger regulation of transgender medical treatments approach and another 35 percent want transgender medical treatments banned for children. And only 15 percent of independents are in favor of the “gender-affirming” Democratic position while roughly equal proportions (42 and 43 percent, respectively) back the middle regulatory approach and the total ban approach.
The rather startling unpopularity of Democratic positions in these areas and their obvious distance from the views of the electoral center raises the question of where these unpopular views came from. Part of the answer is that not all Democrats have been enthusiasts for these positions, but the ones that have been punch way above their weight in the party.
Consider how the views of “very liberal” Democrats—only slightly more than a quarter of the party—differ from other Democrats, spanning ordinary liberals, moderates, and the small number of conservatives. In each of these areas, overwhelming majorities of very liberal Democrats back the standard Democratic position. On immigration, 65 percent of very liberal Democrats support the permissive Democratic position but only 35 percent of other Democrats—and these Democrats are almost three-quarters of the party! On climate and energy, 69 percent of very liberal Democrats are all-in on ending fossil fuels and rapidly transitioning to renewables—but just a minority (44 percent) of other Democrats; instead more (48 percent) favor the all-of-the-above energy abundance approach. And on transgender issues, 71 percent of very liberal Democrats endorse the “gender-affirming” care approach but only 42 percent of other Democrats do so. Instead they favor stronger regulations on the treatment of transgender children (43 percent) or an outright ban on drugs and surgery for these children (16 percent).
So cultural leftism not only does not represent the views of most voters; it also doesn’t represent the views of vast segments of the very party—the Democrats—that is now identified with promulgating said cultural leftism. This is not how a big tent party should act. Many Democratic politicians appear to believe they can get away with indulging, if not promoting, such cultural leftism because Trump and the Republicans are so terrible. This is short-sighted. The best and surest way to beat Trump and Trumpism is to embrace the electoral center of the country (not to mention the views of tens of millions of their own partisans) and assure these voters that Democrats are their party and not beholden to an aggressive leftist minority in their own ranks.