America Has a 'Progressive Majority,' Liberal Group Claims

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

(Correction: The Campaign for America's Future and Media Matters for America released the report.)

( - American attitudes toward political and social issues are trending in favor of "progressive" positions and have been for some time, according to a report released Wednesday by the liberal Campaign for America's Future and Media Matters for America.

"America is a progressive country, and it's getting more progressive all the time," Paul Waldman, a senior fellow at Media Matters, said during a conference call announcing the report. He said the survey shows an "inexorable movement" toward liberal positions on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to taxes to national security.

"The most conservative generation is that pre-boomer greatest generation, whatever you want to call them," Waldman said. "Now the fact is that they are not going to be around very much longer. And then you see after that the baby boom generation is less conservative than they are, and their children are even less conservative."

The report, released less than a week before the Campaign for America's Future' fifth annual "Take Back America" conference in Washington, D.C., examined polling data as far back as 1978 to determine trends in public opinion.

It concludes that "the movement of public opinion, particularly on social issues, seems to be in one direction: to the left."

A majority of Americans support stricter controls on gun ownership, higher taxes on the wealthy, an increase in the minimum wage, and government responsibility to ensure that Americans have health insurance, according to data examined in the report.

In overall political philosophy, 58 percent of Americans want a "more active government that performs more functions and provide more services," according to the report, which cited a 2004 National Election Studies survey on the subject.

Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, attributed the trends to "the growing political sophistication and activism on the progressive side of the spectrum."

He said liberal groups like his own have begun establishing a Washington infrastructure of think tanks and activist groups to combat the conservative establishment with roots going back decades.

Borosage described the conservative movement as "demoralized" and "in disarray" after years of dominating American government and the debate over issues, including recent debates within the movement's own party over issues like immigration.

Next week's "Take Back America" conference will host the three frontrunners for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination -- Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina -- as well as New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, also running for the nomination. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California will receive honors at the conference's civil rights dinner.

Bill Lauderback, a spokesman for the American Conservative Union, which sponsors the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., said he hadn't read the liberal groups' report but questioned its findings.

"Congress is now controlled by the liberals, and their approval rating is below that of the president," he told Cybercast News Service. "Is that an indication that the country is more liberal?"

Lauderback was referring to recent polls showing congressional approval ratings below 30 percent. In a Los Angeles Times poll released Sunday, 65 percent of respondents said they disapprove of Congress' performance, while only 27 percent approve.

The same poll found that 34 percent of Americans approve of President Bush's performance, while 62 percent disapproved.

Borosage attributed the poor congressional approval rating to disappointed members of the Democrats' base, saying there is a "huge portion of the activist base of the party that saw this victory [in 2006] as a mandate to end the war and were very disappointed."

"Some of that [support] will get recaptured as they continue to fight to change the course on the war," he said.

Polls vary

The report released Wednesday by the liberal groups says that even on issues where a majority of Americans support a traditionally conservative position - opposition to easily accessible abortions and opposition to same-sex marriage and adoption, for example - the data suggests Americans are beginning to abandon those positions.

It says that 56 percent of Americans oppose making it more difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion, up from 49 percent in 1985, citing Pew Research data. Other polls, however, paint a different picture.

A May 2007 CBS/New York Times poll found that 58 percent of Americans want it to be harder, or impossible, to obtain an abortion, while 39 percent said it should be "generally available."

A 2006 Pew Research poll found that 31 percent of Americans believe abortion should be "generally available" while 35 percent believe it should be available only in cases of rape, incest, and to save the mother's life. Eleven percent said it should not be available at all.

The report says views on same-sex marriage are also changing in favor of more liberal policies. Support for homosexuals and lesbians to marry has risen 10 points in the last 13 years of Pew Research surveys, but public support is still at only 37 percent. A majority of Americans (55 percent) still opposes same-sex marriage.

In a May 2007 CNN/Opinion Research poll, 24 percent of respondents supported same-sex marriages, 27 percent supported civil unions and 43 percent supported neither.

The numbers were largely unchanged from October 2006 and were down from a November 2004 Associated Press/Ipsos poll, which found that 35 percent of respondents favored allowing homosexuals to marry, while 61 percent opposed it.

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