Last year, the majority of US Democrats self-identified as “liberal” for the first time. That’s just one important highlight from Gallup’s latest survey on Americans’ assessment of their political ideology. With a newly divided Congress and a highly anticipated 2020 presidential election, this data is worth your attention. As Democrats sort out which candidate will lead the party into the next presidential cycle, for example, Gallup’s data is an early look at what sorts of messages will resonate with their base.
Here are the rest of our key takeaways with a link to all the survey results at the end:
- Conservatives do continue to outnumber liberals. That said, “the gap in conservatives’ favor has narrowed from 19 percentage points in Gallup’s 1992 baseline measurement to nine points each of the past two years.” Americans’ ideology was unchanged from the prior year in 2018: 35% on average said they were conservative, while 35% said they were moderate and 26% said they were liberal.
- Americans have grown more liberal overall. Americans describing themselves as liberal rose from 17% in 1992 to 26% now. This likely came from a fall in people identifying as moderate, which dropped from 43% to 35% over that time period. While about 36% to 40% said they were conservative from 1993 to 2016, it slipped to 35% in 2017 and 2018.
- Most Democrats now identify as liberal. Democrats have grown more liberal since the 1990s, but last year was the first in which more than half (51%) viewed themselves as liberal. By comparison, about half of Democrats said their views were moderate in 1994, while 25% said their views were liberal and 25% described them as conservative.
- Republicans have grown more conservative over time. The percentage of Republicans describing their views as conservative increased by 15 points since 1994. Last year matched 2012’s high of 73% of Republicans identifying as conservative. The percentage of Republicans identifying as liberal has never exceeded 8% in any year since 1994. The remainder say their views are moderate.
- Independents are mostly moderate, but conservative views have lost ground with this cohort. Nearly half (45%) of Independents describe their views as moderate. The “remainder have been more likely to identify as conservative than liberal, although conservatives’ edge with this group has been shrinking in recent years and is now just six points — it was 17 points at its widest in 2009.”
- Demographics most strongly identified with conservatism include:“seniors and adults aged 50 to 64, men, residents of the South and adults with no college education… lean conservative by more than 15 percentage points.” Additionally, “whites, adults with some college education (but no degree) and residents of the Midwest lean conservative by at least 10 points.”
- Americans most strongly identified with liberalism include: “adults with postgraduate education (15 points more liberal than conservative) and blacks (nine points more liberal).” Also, “adults aged 18 to 29, 30 to 49 lean more liberal than conservative by four points, and adults aged 30 to 49, women, and residents of the East lean marginally more liberal.”
Why this matters to the US political scene: Republicans and conservatives will have their work cut out for them in 2020. Americans are growing more liberal over time and Democrats have the tailwind of a growing base of young adults who skew to their views. Pew reports that millennials are approaching Baby Boomers as the US’s biggest generation in the electorate, giving Democrats and liberals a large base of voters to rally next year. While young people do not vote as much as their older counterparts, their general dissatisfaction with President Trump should obviously help.
As far as what this means to markets: we’re going to test the old maxim that “investors like gridlock in Washington”. The recent government shutdown feels more acrimonious than previous stoppages because (in part) both sides feel their bases have moved further “left” or “right”. The Gallup data shows they are correct. But ultimately even gridlocked traffic starts to clear; otherwise you just have a parking lot where nothing ever moves. And that doesn’t sound like something investors actually want.