Is America Still a Center-Right Nation?

Published November 7, 2012

Before Mitt Romney’s election night belly flop was complete, the big question was thrown before the deans and doyennes of political television for hearty discussion. It is a question that will doubtlessly inspire altogether too much jejune navel gazing and surely more than two dozen books before the next president is chosen: Is America now a center-left nation? Throughout the modern era, the conventional wisdom has been that regardless of partisan label, American voters are ideologically center-right. The mythical voter at the absolute middle of the electorate favored lower taxes, a strong defense, welfare reform, gun rights, and capital punishment. These issues limited Democrats’ ability to hold swing districts and states. More recently, it has led to the successful recruitment and promotion of moderate, pro-business, tough on crime candidates within their party … But it is now abundantly clear that America is a center-left nation, and healthy majorities of the American people agree with Mr. Obama’s liberal economic policies. My apologies. I have altered the name of the Republican candidate. I wrote this in November 2008, in the wake of John McCain’s defeat. My conclusion then: voters who favored small government and liberty “found themselves outnumbered… by voters who are tired of the status quo, who have heard no case for the free market on the national stage in a generation, and who want to give Mr. Obama’s policies a shot, and see what happens. Voters who remember the latter part of the 1970s have little interest in reenacting them. But the advantage of repeating history is knowledge of what’s coming. As Walker Percy once wrote: ‘According to the opinion polls, it looks as if you may get your way. But you’re not going to have it both ways. You’re going to be told what you’re doing.'” So, four years later: how do you answer the question? I will offer my answer at AEI next Friday.