Joe Biden’s challenge is to be leading a party with a new liberal majority in its ideological preference, but with only the slimmest majority in Congress.
Over the last two decades, the Democratic Party has shifted 23 percentage points to the left, from 28 percent liberal in 2000 to 51 percent self-identified liberal in 2020. A party that was a quarter conservative in 2000 cut that in half the last 20 years, down to 12 percent conservative today, and self-identified moderates dropped 7 points down to 35 percent. So, the party’s ideological makeup is 51 percent liberal and 47 percent moderate-conservative, but all the momentum is with liberals.
Hence, President Biden, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer must craft legislation with the tiniest majority for a very liberal party, including many members of the congressional delegation. Their success passing covid relief and bipartisan infrastructure within their own ranks has been a major achievement.
As the table shows, independents are more conservative (29%) than liberal (20%), but primarily label themselves as moderate (48%). Republicans have been overwhelmingly conservative for several decades (75% today), with few liberals (4%) and moderates declining 11 points to 20 percent during the last two decades.
Besides leading a party that has shifted dramatically to the left in recent years, Democratic leaders’ other problem is that the public is still moderately conservative in its identified bent. Gallup reports that the ideology of the U.S. is today only a quarter liberal (25%) with most people claiming to be conservative (36%) or moderate (35%).