Americans don't like the word liberal

The Center For American Progress has a new report out profiling the ideological disposition of the American populace. It simply repeats the old finding that the United States prefers Left-liberal policies a la carte to a far greater extent than the label liberal. This is natural, the electorate tends to favor lower taxes and greater spending simultaneously. I can't but notice the similarity with atheism here; many more Americans adhere to the atheist position than are willing to call themselves atheists. But in the younger cohorts this disjunction seems less noticeable, so I wonder if much of this semantic aversion has to do with the Cold War era, when godless Communism and the collapse of the liberal ascendancy loomed large.

There is some interesting data on abortion rights in the report though:

For nearly four decades now, public opinion research has explored attitudes on the volatile issue of abortion, with both sides finding ample data to support their respective positions that the country is fundamentally pro-life or pro-choice. Objective research has demonstrated for years that the majority of Americans do not fit entirely under either banner. Nonetheless, it is striking that 58 percent of Americans agree that "human life begins at conception and must be protected from that point forward," with 16 percent neutral and just 24 percent disagreeing with this opinion. More striking is the intensity underlying this, with 46 percent strongly agreeing and just 14 percent strongly disagreeing. This does not, of course, mean that 58 percent of the country is pro-life or opposes Roe v. Wade, but it does show the resonance of the underlying principle of the pro-life position.

Support for this position is highest among Republicans (73 percent), but small majorities of Democrats and Independents (51 percent each) also agree. Unlike on the traditional family position above, where there was a 12-point gap between liberals and progressives, there is no gap between these groups on this measure (44 percent each). Instead, it is once again the educational divides within these two audiences that are most telling. Non-college liberals (57 percent agree, 26 percent disagree) and progressives (51 percent agree, 21 percent disagree) both side with this conservative position, while college-educated progressives(33 percent agree, 38 percent disagree) and especially liberals (23 percent agree, 59 percent disagree) reject it. Most interestingly, we find that women are significantly more likely to agree (62 percent agree, 22 percent agree) that life begins at conception and must be protected than are men (54 percent agree, 26 percent disagree).

The surprise says a lot about the Progressive/Left-liberal movement and its relative insulation from the wider populace and reliance on stereotypes. It's an implicit assumption among many liberals that opposition to abortion rights involves men who wish to remove this liberty from women. As a matter of women's rights then it follows that women will support abortion rights to a greater degree than men. In Progressive/Left-liberal circles most support abortion rights, so naturally people rely on stereotypes and intuitions (though when liberals make generalizations about non-liberals I think it is called an "educated guess," since they're guessing and liberals are educated). But, it is a robust social science finding that there is little sex difference in attitudes toward abortion. The wording of this question was broad, and as noted in the report did not map directly onto support for abortion rights, so I think that explains the deviation from the minimal sex difference you normally see.

Note: It seems that women who support abortion rights care more about the issue than men who do. There is no difference among those who oppose abortion rights. So I think it is plausible to argue that ideas about how men and women view abortion in the pro-life camp from a liberal perspective involves some projection.

Related: Who supports abortion on demand?.

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"This is natural, the electorate tends to favor lower taxes and greater spending simultaneously."

You're not kidding. Let the average voter read the unlabeled policy goals of the socialist party and they'll think "Yay, free stuff!" Let them read same thing but with the goals of the libertarian party and they'll think "Yay, freedom!"

In short, I think people don't think very hard about what they want from government.

Of course the stereotype of men who support abortion among PaleoCons is not "Liberal" but "Libertine" and not wanting responsibility.

I don't doubt that in the wake of the Iraq War and the financial meltdown progressive ideas would find more favor among the American public. But this report seems to present some cherry-picked polling results that targeted a few hot-button issues - it was a little light on data, I thought.

A quick run-through the latest Rasmussen summary of recent polling provides ample opportunity to make the counter argument. For example:

75% Believe Constitution Guarantees Right To Own A Gun

Plurality Oppose Obama budget

Most oppose another stimulus pachage

59% Still Believe Government Is the Problem

The above are obviously cherry-picked, but without the full context of all the polling results one could easily make an argument that these results demonstrate that Americans are still conservative at heart.

I wonder how much of this is the blame of liberals such as Dukakis, who when confronted by Reagan as being a liberal during a national debate denied it like he had been called a syphilitic whore.

It was astounding. Reagan with contemptuous sneer dismisses his point with, "You're a liberal!", as if that was the height of ad hom. Dukakis, "No I'm not!" When the only correct reply should have been, "And you're a right wing nut!"

The unwillingness of people with liberal beliefs to proudly call themselves liberal has reinforced the use of liberal as an epithet, as something fundamentally wrong. Even now, our president would never refer to himself as liberal, even though he clearly is.

Agreeing that life (and right to protection) begins at conception really doesn't get to the heart of the controversy over abortion rights. Because for most, the nuts and bolts of the issue turn on what is meant by "life" and what sort of "protection" is due.

While it's highly likely that someone who disagrees with the statement would be pro choice, agreement would be entirely compatible with, for example, the opinion that the Roe v Wade framework is appropriate.

"Horrors, no! How dreadful. Myself, I'm a serf."

(Willful miscontext quote; originally said in response to the assertion that Heinlein was a libertarian.)

I always thought of life as starting at spermatogenesis, but that doesn't mean I believe every sperm is sacred.