A recent poll revealed some startling facts about America’s political perceptions. Which party does America see as the most extreme? The Democrats. That answer is surprising, not only by its margin, but in the recent and dramatic change in viewpoint. And the answer is even more important, because nowhere does perception equal reality more than in politics.
USA Today/Gallup released a recent nationwide poll (6/14) of the public’s perception of the two parties’ ideological views. Surveying 1,049 adults (5/24-25, margin of error +/- 3%), pollsters asked a simple question: “Do you think the political views of the Democratic/Republican party are – too conservative, about right, too liberal?”
Respondents rated both close to equal in the center. The “about right” score for the Democratic party was 38% and 41% for the Republican party. It was at the ends of the spectrum where responses diverged the most.
While 40% of respondents rated the Republican party “too conservative,” 49% said the Democratic party was “too liberal.” Rounding out the survey, 10% felt the Democratic party was “too conservative” and 15% thought the Republican party was “too liberal.”
What do these figures tell us? If the fulcrum of American politics is in the center, both parties need to grow there, with Republicans having a slight 3% headstart.
The most interesting figures are at the positions which respondents implicitly label “extreme”: “too liberal” for Democrats and “too conservative” for Republicans. Here Democrats had a decided 9% deficit – with just under half of respondents identifying them as too ideological.
Equally compelling is how this perception has changed over time. In 1999, just over a third of respondents (36%) saw Democrats as “too liberal” and almost four in ten (39%) rated Republicans “too conservative.” Eleven years later, popular perception of Republicans is virtually unchanged, while perception of Democrats as “too liberal” has skyrocketed.
Since 1999, Republicans’ extreme score peaked at 43% in 2008. Thus over the last two years, the public’s perception of the GOP as extreme has dropped slightly. In contrast, Democrats’ extreme score is now at its highest point in the last eleven years – increasing 10% in just two years!
The two parties have done more than just switch places in the public’s mind. While Republicans have stood relatively still, Democrats’ position has moved dramatically – opening the largest gulf between the parties since 1996.