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‘Center-right nation’ myth

Well, the old chestnut is back, having been gleefully revived in the wake of Scott Brown’s special-election victory in Massachusetts. But empirical evidence still shows that Americans, by and large, don’t favor the right.

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Republicans did jump on the news that “conservatives” were the largest self-identified group in Gallup’s 2009 polling, totaling 40 percent of all respondents. That compared to 36 percent who considered themselves “moderate,” and 20 percent “liberal.” But that’s just a three-point increase from the 37 percent who considered themselves conservative in 2008 — the year Democrats locked in those big congressional majorities. And even Karl Rove’s math can’t make 40 percent a national majority.

But here’s something else that Gallup found that won’t be trumpeted by conservatives — according to its aggregate polling over 2009, just four states have dominant majorities of self-identified Republicans and independents who lean to the GOP: Alaska, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. Yet 23 states (plus D.C.) had solid Democratic majorities.

Of course, having an edge in self-identified partisans is of little comfort in places like Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina — places where Democrats have been on the retreat in recent years. The GOP’s ability to use divisive social issues to drive wedges among traditional Democratic voters can never be underestimated, and these tactics have proven particularly successful in states with strong evangelical traditions. Yet it’s telling that despite all the Democratic Party’s woes — even in those particular states — most respondents continue to identify with the party of the working class.

Still, none of this seems to matter inside the political circus that is D.C. Only the Democratic Party could take 59 Senate seats and act like it was in the minority, and only the GOP could claim 41 seats and pretend it’s in charge. Little surprise that the Beltway media seemed to treat Sen.-elect Brown not as the most junior member of a deep minority caucus, but as the new majority leader and president of the United States.

After decades of hearing pundits make the claim, Democrats inside the Beltway seem to have internalized the fiction that they are a minority in a conservative country. There is no other way to explain their lack of faith in their own policies and their inability to fight for strong progressive legislation, even after voters gave them an unambiguous mandate to govern. The last thing voters thought they were choosing was a Democratic Party too afraid of its own shadow to govern. But it appears that’s what they have.

So it’s no surprise that Republicans believe they are the majority. Still, even as bad as Democrats look today — disorganized and fearful — the Republican Party has gained very little ground with the broad electorate, remaining unpopular, bereft of ideas and without any real interest in governing.

Gallup’s own analysis confirms this truth. Noting the small gains in Republican self-identification, Gallup concluded, “[T]hese shifts were generally not large enough to fundamentally shake up the political map … Despite the modest shift toward a decreased affiliation with the Democratic Party and an increased affiliation with the Republican Party in 2009 compared to 2008, the United States remained a Democratically oriented nation last year.”

If only Democrats got the message.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos

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