Unlikely that folding chairs will be thrown at tonight’s Democratic debate in west LA. Included in discussion will be the latest strike at Obamacare and the impeachment of Trump. Darned Democrats are generally more liberal.
The 2020 Democratic primary field has been touted as far more liberal than that of previous years. Candidates have proposed a number of progressive policies that were not even under consideration in the last presidential election, such as decriminalizing border crossings, levying higher taxes on the wealthy and offering reparations to descendants of enslaved men and women. What’s more, two of the field’s most liberal candidates, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, still sit atop the national polls.
Is this apparent leftward shift in the Democratic Party real? And if so, what’s driving it?
To answer this, we looked at data from the General Social Survey1 that tracks public opinion on the role of government in a variety of different policy areas between 1986 and 2018. And while that means we can’t track opinions on specific policies that have dominated the 2020 race, like Medicare for All, we can look at how public opinion more broadly has changed in the last 30 years.
The first thing to understand about this leftward shift is that although there is evidence that more people — especially white people — are shifting parties based on how their views on race fit into the party, this change is not just driven by more conservative voters leaving the Democratic Party.
One way we know this is through research that has tracked public opinion among the same group of Democratic voters over time. Andrew Engelhardt, a postdoctoral research associate at Brown University, found in a forthcoming paper that while Democrats’ movement on race in the 1990s was largely driven by more socially conservative Democrats leaving the party, the Democrats surveyed in the 2000s were updating their opinions to become increasingly liberal.