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In America, there has been more acceptance of liberal leaning issues, such as marijuana legalization and gay marriage. Though democrats have been found to be more accepting of these issues, the surveys have found republicans and independents as well becoming more accepting of socially liberal issues, including those two. Is this true?

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    In the header you refer to the parties, while in the body you seem to refer to the voters. Are you asking about the parties, or about the people that vote for the parties? While it does seem unintuitive, there are several major disconnects between the two, which are usually explained with the 2 party model and partisanship.
    – Peter
    Commented Mar 13, 2020 at 11:41
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    Depends on the focus. Socially the US is more liberal, but its rulership is not. Obvious examples include: domestic economy, (mode average adjusted wages and benefits went down, oligopolies & oligarchy), military, (secret wars, augmented presidential powers, propaganda), civil liberties, (torture, surveillance, TSA, zero tolerance drug laws, voting rights, etc.), have all slid the other way...
    – agc
    Commented Mar 13, 2020 at 21:43
  • @peter is right. the question mixes up independents with the parties... per gallup party affiliation website, roughly 40% of people are independent, and 30% are affiliated with republican, 30% with democrat.
    – don bright
    Commented Mar 14, 2020 at 18:10
  • USA has the oldest ditature in the world. Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 1:22
  • Hm, does recent behaviour of the ICE strike you as liberal?
    – Strawberry
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 12:58

6 Answers 6

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The NYT has analyzed the Republican Party and found that it has slightly moved to the right since 2000. Note that the Republican Party stood already far to the right of conservative parties in Western Europe and Canada.

Pew Research observed a move to the right from 1994 to 2014 among Republican voters as well.

FiveThirtyEight has also noticed a rightwards shift among Republican voters as well as Republican congressmen from 1976 to 2012.

The move can be seen in the rise of the Tea Party, Donald Trump and his association with the far right, a rise in support of antisemitic conspiracy theories, etc. As you specifically mention gay marriage, the GOP remains strongly against it.

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    While not a bad answer, I'd say it is too narrow as it only focuses on one half of US political parties. Commented Mar 13, 2020 at 14:42
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    @mariomario The first two links go into shifts in the Democratic party as well (there was a left-wing shift, though they are still pretty centrist from a non-US view; this can eg also be seen in their presidential nominees, who tend to be centrists). I didn't go into depth about this as it seemed less relevant to the question.
    – tim
    Commented Mar 13, 2020 at 14:48
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    Could it be partly because of an aging population? Commented Mar 14, 2020 at 0:09
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    @tim Why would the shift in the other party be "less relevant" to your answer? This answer is compatible with a scenario in which one party moves a smidgen to the right and the other moves far left. It is also strange that a constant position on gay marriage is taken as evidence of a move to the right, rather than a move to the left of the other party. Finally, what in fact does not seem relevant is a party being "still pretty centrist from a non-US view", since the question is comparing the trajectories of US parties, not US versus non-US parties.
    – Hasse1987
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 2:34
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    @mariomario If at least one of two party is not becoming more liberal, then the answer is NO, regardless what happens with the other party, right?
    – user2701
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 16:07
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It's really not possible to understand things like this on a left-right scale, since they're essentially libertarian issues. To a certain kind of leftist/liberal, they might be anathema because they (supposedly) interfere with societal productivity &c*. Likewise, to the limited government kind of conservative – as opposed to the religious right/social conservative – things like that aren't the government's business as long as you don't do it in the street and scare the horses.

The bottom line is that, despite rhetoric from extremists on such issues, people in general have become more accepting of them, therefore the mainstream of the parties has to reflect that (while still appeasing their extremists), or lose the votes of the middle. And neither party can win an election with only the votes of its committed membership.

*Or just because adopting socialist/Marxist economic policies doesn't mean you necessarily abandon ingrained prejudices. See any of numerous articles on the treatment of gay people in various Communist & Socialist countries, for instance.


Related: Is Libertarianism left wing or right wing?

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    'the parties have to appear to reflect that, while still actually appeasing their extremists'
    – Mazura
    Commented Mar 14, 2020 at 19:58
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Assuming that by “more liberal”, you mean towards opinions that have recently been associated with the Democratic party. Which does not necessarily correspond to self-identification as “liberal”/“conservative” or “left”/“right”, or to non-US definitions of “liberal”.

Pew Research Center asked Americans the same 10 questions between 1994 and 2017. and the shifts in opinions are graphed on Page 7. The phrasing of the statements in the chart titles is such that agreeing with them reflects the Republican or “conservative” position.

Over that 23-year period, the shifts within the Republican party have been:

  • -21 (58%-37%) on “Homosexuality should be discouraged by society”
  • -20 (64%-44%) on “Immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care”
  • -5 (74%-69%) on “Government is almost always wasteful and inefficient”
  • -2 (54%-52%) on “Most corporations make a fair and reasonable amount of profit”
  • -1 (64%-63%) on “Government regulation of business usually does more harm than good”
  • +2 (63%-65%) on “Poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return”
  • +9 (66%-75%) on “Blacks who can't get ahead in this country are mostly responsible for their own condition”
  • +9 (44%-53%) on “The best way to ensure peace is through military strength”
  • +11 (58%-69%) on “The government today can't afford to do much more to help the needy”
  • +19 (39%-58%) on “Stricter environmental laws and regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy”

That's a strong shift towards “liberalism” on homosexuality and immigration (even after Trump's “build the wall” campaign), towards “conservatism” on environmental regulations, welfare, and the military, but on average there's not a consistent trend in either direction.

In contrast, the Democratic party has consistently moved towards “liberal” positions.

  • -50 (62%-12%) on “Immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care”
  • -29 (42%-13%) on “Homosexuality should be discouraged by society”
  • -26 (44%-18%) on “Poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return”
  • -25 (53%-28%) on “Blacks who can't get ahead in this country are mostly responsible for their own condition”
  • -16 (46%-30%) on “Government regulation of business usually does more harm than good”
  • -15 (28%-13%) on “The best way to ensure peace is through military strength”
  • -14 (59%-45%) on “Government is almost always wasteful and inefficient”
  • -13 (37%-24%) on “The government today can't afford to do much more to help the needy”
  • -11 (35%-24%) on “Most corporations make a fair and reasonable amount of profit”
  • -9 (29%-20%) on “Stricter environmental laws and regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy”

An average of 20.8 percentage points in the “liberal” direction, with their view of immigrants being the most dramatic shift.

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    The conclusions taken are somewhat biased due to the way the data is presented. The way the whole comment is structured is based on the view that there's a right (conservative) and a left (liberal). The Republican Party hasn't shifted to the left, it has, however became more liberal. This is because being liberal isn't an exclusive economic issue. While certain parties believe that certain issues should be XYZ, the Republican party became more libertarian: you do whatever you want. Ironically, the Democrat party became more conservative if we go by your reasoning, while shifting pro-socialism
    – Oak
    Commented Mar 15, 2020 at 10:07
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    Well, like I said, I'm using "liberal" and "conservative" in the sense they're used in modern US politics (i.e., association with "blue" and "red" views, respectively) even if it has little to do with the etymology of the words.
    – dan04
    Commented Mar 15, 2020 at 16:36
  • @dan04 : yeah, don't forget that there was a time when Democrats were literally fighting to preserve slavery and the Republicans were fighting to give more rights to black people...
    – vsz
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 8:50
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Liberal is a direction, away from "here", not a destination.

Since gay marriage is the law of the land, supporting it is literally conservative; conserving the status quo instead of changing it. Any change now would be liberal. Wanting to change the current laws on abortion (or anything else) is a liberal position. In that respect, the country actually becomes more conservative as formerly-liberal ideas become mainstreamed.

In some sense, this sounds backwards, or like playing with semantics, but you have to step above any current battles to spot the historical arc.

Generally people in democracies tend to get things they want over time, so they become more conservative as they age. Youths are less accustomed to prior concessions, so they tend to advocate for more change from "here", which makes them liberal. Education offers insight into means of improving (aka changing), which means that the educated are often more liberal than the not. People who serve put their life on the line for a country that's good enough to die for as-is, so changes aren't as appealing, thus they skew conservative. Disadvantaged people have incentives to change the status quo to more benefit them, making them liberal.

Thus there's no long-term trend towards more liberal or more conservative; they ebb and flow in response to events. You can correlate such a mood using surveys of "right/wrong direction". If "right direction" is high, society is conservative (satisfied). If "wrong direction" is higher, then society at the time is more liberal (wanting change).

Under that rubric, I suppose an argument could be made that satisfaction trends down, and thus the country becomes more liberal, but not in the manner your question assumes.

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    “Generally people in democracies tend to get things they want over time” - as we say in New Zealand - “yeah, right”
    – Jeff
    Commented Mar 14, 2020 at 15:09
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    "Wanting to change current laws [on anything] is a liberal position"? That is a strange definition of liberal. Commented Mar 15, 2020 at 2:33
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    @PaŭloEbermann:Not a definition, an attribute, in contrast to conserving laws. As alluded to in my answer, these constructions may surprise some more used to a popular usage of liberal and conservative labels, but the term as explained is common in an academic context of political science, and illustrative still.
    – dandavis
    Commented Mar 15, 2020 at 5:37
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    According to this definition wanting to change the law so abortion is illegal is liberal. I find that a difficult idea. Commented Mar 15, 2020 at 22:01
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    @TonyDallimore: the current predilections of folks self-identifying as lib/con aren't always congruent with scientific definitions; eg. not all "liberals" believe in the ideals of a free market but "Liberals" must. US political parties partially flipped in the 60s; before that the south was a democractic stronghold, so when dissecting the political socialization of a society over time, the only clear way is to stick with (sometimes pedantic) academic definitions. In many ways, they are still accurate anyway, as my grouping examples show.
    – dandavis
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 2:24
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It's impossible to make blanket statements on this sort, because of the nature of modern politics. On one hand we have parties that rely on hard-line issue-driven polemics to motivate their bases. This creates an appearance of political absolutism, like a huge game of tug-of-war where the goal is to pull the general public across to 'our' side by main force. On the other hand, the American public usually gravitates towards a commonsensical laissez faire (don't bug me and I won't bug you) attitude about things. Certain issues — like homosexuality, equal rights, gay marriage, marijuana, etc — have been held up by hard-line political actors as important, world-altering problems, while the general public has gradually acceded that they are non-threatening non-issues. Other issues — like abortion — actually reflect a serious and growing divide. As a loose rule, liberal positions tend to win by default in the long run, because it is difficult for people in democratic societies to maintain positions which clearly deny the rights of others to lead their lives. But that isn't so much a shift towards liberalism as much as stolidly American "Oh, what-ever!" to prolonged argument.

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  • @SEistoopoliticallycorrect: You can make that argument if you like... Elsewhere. This answer is not the correct place for that. Commented Mar 13, 2020 at 22:28
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conservatism /kənˈsəːvətɪz(ə)m/

noun

1. commitment to traditional values and ideas with opposition to change or innovation.

Conservatives have always been against change. Whether that be the end of slavery, universal suffrage, legalizing weed or gay people getting married. Sure you can say that conservatives have gotten more liberal. But this is not something new. It's a natural progression of history that has always happened and that will always keep happening. No matter what labels you assign it.

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    Not true, since many conservatives would certainly like to change the way things are.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 13, 2020 at 23:18
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    @Jasen: Using the words regress and progress only displays your personal bias. ANYONE would describe changes they favor as progress. (And there is no such thing as "a natural progression of history".)
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 14, 2020 at 18:19

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