Are you a liberal and you didn’t know it?

I found this report on America’s “Progressive Majority” interesting. I’ve long held a sneaking suspicion that Americans aren’t as conservative as they think they are (or as the media tells them they are), but it’s nice to see some data reinforcing that point.

Some of the sections are a little fuzzier than others, and I noticed a few of the graphs were designed somewhat misleadingly, but the overall message is on. Americans lean to the left, even if they think otherwise. The final section is especially useful in this regard. It discusses the flaws in commonly cited polls that ask respondents to self-identify. The problem is, most people just aren’t that ideological, and they’re not really sure what “conservative” or “liberal” even means. But when you have Fox News talking heads barking at you 24/7 that liberals are Satan incarnate, it’s hard to have a (pardon me, I can’t help it) fair and balanced view of the issue. As the report states:

(A)t a time when the parties are more ideologically distinct than ever, one-third of the public can’t name correctly which party is more conservative. If this bare minimum of knowledge is unavailable to such a large proportion of the population, it is fair to say that their self-placement on ideological scales will not be a particularly reliable guage of their actual beliefs on issues.

In 1967, Hadley Cantril and Lloyd Free famously observed that Americans were “ideological conservatives” but “operational liberals.” They didn’t like the idea of government, but they liked what government does and can do.

This last portion really resonated with me: I have an online acquaintance who’s a proud member of the Libertarian Party, and who rails whenever possible against the evils of big government. Yet, he was the same person who, when his family hit a rough patch and needed some financial support, became frustrated with the limited availability of public assistance and healthcare.

Which all leads me back to a potent quote from an unlikely source: I’m sure Ayn Rand is rolling over in her grave that I should be using her words in my argument. Unfortunately I think she failed to follow this maxim herself at a fundamental level, but it still bears repeating:

Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.