According to many in the punditocracy, there’s a liberal Democratic revolution bubbling just under the political surface that’s about to explode. Frustrated liberal revolutionaries led by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren are committed to wresting power from the Democratic establishment, pushing the Democratic agenda to the far left and threatening Hillary Clinton’s chance at the 2016 nomination. But, if there is this liberal/moderate split in the Democratic Party, I haven’t seen any evidence of it.
If there is a revolution brewing, we should see some signs of it at the grassroots level. There should be intra-party primary fights on the Democratic side like we’ve seen between the GOP establishment and the Tea Party. Red state Democratic Senators Mark Pryor and Mary Landrieu are a lot closer to the moderate middle than GOP Senators John Cornyn or Mitch McConnell. Yet, only the Republicans are getting challenged from their more extreme flank.
The reality is that Democrats are more unified ideologically than the GOP. Much of this unity can be attributed to the fact that a Democrat sits in the White House. There’s something about winning two national elections that helps unite a party. Losing, meanwhile, exacerbates intra-party divisions and disagreements. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is also much smaller than the self-identified conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Democrats are also more unified about the role of government than they were back when another two-term Democratic president was in office. According to data provided by Pew, polling taken in December of 2013 found that liberal Democrats favored bigger government over smaller government by a 71-20 percent margin, while conservative and moderate Democrats favored bigger government by a smaller 57-31 percent margin. By contrast, in August of 1998, there was a much larger divide between liberals and moderate/conservatives on the role of government: liberals favored bigger government 62-25 percent, while conservatives and moderates favored smaller government 63-29 percent.
In December, Pew asked respondents to pick the issue that was more important to them: taking steps to reduce the budget deficit or keeping spending for programs that help the poor and needy at current levels. An equal percentage of moderate/conservative Democrats and liberal Democrats (84 percent) said that keeping spending for poor and needy at current levels was the more important priority. Republicans, however, were divided on the question. Among conservative Republicans, 61 percent chose the deficit as a higher priority, while almost half (48 percent) of moderate/liberal Republicans chose spending on the poor and needy.
|More Important Issue||Total||Conserv. R||Mod/Lib R||Cons/Mod D||Liberal D|
|Spend on Poor/Needy||59%||30%||48%||84%||84%|
On almost every major issue, from gun rights to entitlements to energy policy, there is a significant gap between the priorities of Tea Party Republicans and non-Tea Party Republicans. Fifty-three percent of non-Tea Party Republicans would like to see more focus on developing alternative energy over expanding traditional energy, a sentiment shared by just 16 percent of Tea Party GOPers. While a majority (54 percent) of non-Tea Party Republicans oppose gay marriage, the anti-same sex marriage opinion is even more firmly held by GOPers who align with the Tea Party (69 percent).
To be sure, there are disagreements within the Democratic ranks. Fifty-eight percent of liberal Democrats want to see their leaders in Washington go in a more liberal direction, something just 24 percent of moderate/conservative Democrats want to see. This 34-point divide is larger than the 23-point gap between the Tea Party and non-Tea Party GOPers over whether Republican leaders should move in a more conservative direction.
And, of course, just because we don’t see cracks in the Democratic coalition today, doesn’t mean that we won’t see them in the future. Pew’s Mike Dimock tells me that “as we move into the 2016 election cycle it's hard to believe some of these frictions won't become more visible. So right now we'd be looking for *potential* divides, which are pretty hard to see. It's like knowing in January 2006 what the Tea Party movement would ultimately look like.” And, with so much focus on the GOP intraparty divide, very little research has been done thus far on the potential friction points within the Democratic Party. Issues like entitlement reform and higher taxes on the wealthy have divided the party in the past and can certainly do so again in the future. Still, said one Democratic strategist, “the center of gravity is still on the pragmatic side in our party.”
Here are some things we know to be true in January of 2014: The Republican Party is divided. The Democratic Party is not. The Tea Party has a tremendous influence in primary elections. Liberals do not. The Tea Party agenda diverges markedly from that of the more establishment/moderate wing of the party. There is no such gaping divide among liberal and moderate Democrats. We know that this can change by 2016. Today, however, there are no signs that a band of hungry liberal locusts are ready to emerge and devour the Democratic Party.
- November 20, 2013On ACA, Democrats Need More Offense, Less Defense
- December 5, 2013Everyone Hates Washington, but Democrats More Vulnerable
- December 18, 2013Step Away From The 2016 Polls