Is the Country Moving Left? St. Thomas style….
Objection 1: It seems that the country is moving to the left. In the recent election, the Democratic party picked up seats in both houses of Congress and won the Presidency.
Objection 2: A disproportionate number of younger voters voted for the Democratic party in the recent election.
Objection 3: The polling on social issues such as same-sex marriage has moved dramatically leftward over the past thirty years.
Objection 4: The recent bailouts will result in expanded government intervention in the economy.
On the contrary,
to the extent the question is meaningful, the country as a whole cannot be said to be moving either left or right. Rather, on certain issues public opinion is moving towards the Democratic party, and on others towards the Republican party. For example, President-elect Obama ran on a platform of tax cuts for 95% of Americans, which is traditionally a Republican issue. Traditionally, Democrats are opposed to the death penalty (and rightly so, it’s unnecessary), but President-elect Obama not only supported the death penalty, but criticized the Supreme Court recently when they banned the practice for child rapists.
I answer that, the question is perhaps meaningless, but that the returns of one election (itself radically different from the preceding election in 2004) are not sufficient to draw a definite conclusion.
Reply to Objection 1: The recent election returns were in large part a reaction to a very unpopular incumbent President and an economic collapse. As the blogger and former philosophy-major Matthew Yglesias has said, it seems likely that voters chose the Democrats because they were not the Republicans rather than because of newly discovered virtues in the Democratic party.
Reply to Objection 2: Younger voters did vote heavily for the Democratic party, which is not surprising considering their exposure to the leadership of the Republican party consists almost entirely of the last eight years. This could signal an emerging Democratic majority, or it could not. To a large extent, younger voters impressions of the Democratic party will depend on the successes and/or failures of President-elect Obama.
Reply to Objection 3: There has indeed been a dramatic shift in polling on same-sex marriage over the past thirty years. At the same time, there has been either no change or a slight increase in the number of individuals self-identifying as pro-life. It is incorrect, then, to say the country as a whole is moving left on social issues. It depends on the issue.
Reply to Objection 4: The bailouts do point to additional government intervention in the economy. Nevertheless, the bailouts are unpopular with the public. Nearly 60% of voters in the recent Presidential election indicated that they opposed the financial industry bailout, and there is evidence of strong resistance to the automobile bailout. It is premature to conclude that the bailouts will move the country to the left (or to the right).