Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Is the USA a Progressive Country?

Thomas Riggins

The answer is "YES" according to the latest (May 2009) issue the AMERICAN PROSPECT. John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira in an article entitled "Progressivism Goes Mainstream" have analyzed surveys taken of people's answers to 40 questions about their beliefs concerning the role of government as well as their social attitudes--split 20/20 between left and right beliefs. They don't give much information on the protocol they used, and we know how easy it is to manipulate polls, but, for what it is worth here are some of the author's conclusions.

The scores possible on the poll run from 0 [you must be a neo-Nazi] to 400 [you are waiting for the second coming of Lenin]. The results show that most of the nature is center-left and tipping in the progressive direction. "The American electorate as a whole records a mean ideological score 209.5--- solidly progressive in orientation." The population is clustered between about 160.6 (Conservative Republicans) and 247.1 (Liberal Democrats). So, trolling around for a sample population didn't turn up any radical progressives evidently, nor KKK types either. Obama voters came in at 244 while McCain's voters averaged 169.

"Despite claims to the contrary," the authors write, " there really is no 'far right' or 'far left' among the electorate in the country. American ideological attitudes tend to converge in the middle." The old Reagan-Bush (1) ideological model of government has been replaced by progressive views as reflected by the Obama victory.

The authors report almost 80% agree with the view that we should have the government invest more in education, science, and infrastructure. So, with regard to government in these areas "conservatives are out of step with the rest of the country."

Over 66% think it's the government's job to help take care the elderly, the poor and sick people. Even a "slim majority of Republicans" agree. Now here is a big one! When asked if they believed "government regulations are necessary to keep businesses in check and protect workers and consumers" even over 60% of people calling themselves Republicans or conservatives said "yes''.

Sadly, one big reason for the change, the authors say, is "the decline of the white working class." I say sadly because the class position of white workers should have put them on the other side of the divide between the progressives and conservatives. The dividing mean was 209.5 and the workers are in with the "whites" and the "men"-- 203.7 and 204.3 respectively (women were at 214.3). However, there is some good news, the number of white workers who consider themselves conservative is 11 points lower that in Reagan-Bush(1) days. "[The] progressive agenda will continue to strengthen ... in the future as the decline of the white working class and the rise in more progressive populations continues."

Of course, the prevalence of conservative attitudes in white workers has something to do with the assault on organized labor and the attempt to weaken and destroy the union movement. There is no rating for a separate category such as "union members" on the authors' scale.

There are also some contradictory statements in their report that don't seem to jibe with their conclusions. They reported that most people supported government spending more on science, education, infrastructure, and supporting the poor, sick and elderly, etc., yet they also say almost 66% "agree with the conservative stance on free trade" and 60% think "government spending is almost always wasteful and inefficient."

They also think "progressives" could be "tripped up" because "there are clear undercurrents of anti-corporate, anti-bailout populism across many segments of the electorate." I don't know just how the authors define "progressivism" but being "anti-corporate" and "anti-bailout'-- i.e., handing over billions to bankers and letting them then go ahead and foreclose on people' homes) is hardly "anti-progressive".

There are no questions on people's attitudes towards Iraq and Af-Pak either. So this study is, to my way of thinking, not all that convincing that we have become a progressive nation. I'm not saying we don't, it is just that this study, while encouraging doesn't seem to seal the deal.