October 11, 2006

Growing Number of Liberal Democrats

FigureThe percent of Democratic voters who think of themselves as “liberals” has been slowly rising in recent years, while the number of conservative Democrats has declined. In polling conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press from January to September of 2006, 32% of Democrats describe themselves as ideologically liberal, while 23% think of themselves as conservative. This reflects a starkly different balance of opinion from four years ago, when there were as many conservative Democrats as liberals (27% and 26%, respectively).

While more Democratic voters view themselves as liberals today, the percentage of liberals in the overall electorate has shown only slight growth in recent years. Among registered voters nationwide, conservatives continue to outnumber liberals by roughly two-to-one (currently 38% conservative vs. 19% liberal); another 38% of voters call themselves moderates. The margin was somewhat wider in 2002, when 40% described themselves as conservative, (and 40% as moderates), compared with just 16% as liberals. Even among Democrats, self-described liberals are outnumbered by moderates (by 41%-32%), though the gap has narrowed considerably since 2002.

In contrast to the movement among Democrats, there has been little change in the way Republicans and independents describe themselves. Since 2000, roughly two-thirds of Republicans have consistently thought of themselves as conservatives, with around 30% saying they are moderates and no more than 5% describing themselves as liberals. Just under half of independents say they are politically moderate, with the balance leaning more conservatives than liberals (currently 28% vs. 20%).

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