Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Democratic Debate: Why This Isn't Bill Clinton's America Anymore

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Democratic Debate: Why This Isn't Bill Clinton's America Anymore

Article excerpt

According to recent polls, Democratic candidates for the 2016 presidential nomination are facing a party that is more liberal now than at any point in the past 15 years.

In a June Gallup poll, 47 percent of Democrats identified as socially and economically liberal, compared with 39 percent in 2008 and 30 percent in 2001.

Since 2001, the proportion of self-described liberals in the Democratic party has been increasing, compared with a shrinking number of conservative Democrats. In 2015, 53 percent identify as liberal, 31 percent as moderate and 14 percent as conservative. The gap between liberal and conservative Democrats used to be much smaller, with 35 percent identifying as liberal in 2005 and 23 percent identifying as conservative.

The evidence from these polls shows that a liberal trend has been steadily growing since 2000, so we can't simply give Bernie Sanders' campaign all the credit. In fact, Senator Sanders, who calls himself a democratic socialist, has recently adopted a more restrictive stance on gun control and has raised the prominence of his support of the Black Lives Matter campaign.

So, if not just Bernie, what's behind the Democrats slide to the left?

This time around, Democratic candidates seem less eager to emulate the "triangulation" strategy that served Hillary Clinton's husband so well in the 1990s.

"Gone are the defensive politics practiced by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who felt that the center-right nature of the American electorate in the 1990s demanded such caution," Jonathan Martin writes for The New York Times.

A more-liberal Democratic party might have less to do with Democratic success and more to do with Republican failure. "Many of the key trends that nurtured the Republican resurgence in the mid- 1990s have moderated," Pew Research found in 2007:

Yet the Democrats' growing advantage in party identification is tempered by the fact that the Democratic Party's overall standing with the public is no better than it was when President Bush was first inaugurated in 2001. Instead, it is the Republican Party that has rapidly lost public support, particularly among political independents. …

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