More Americans identify themselves as conservative than as liberal on economic and social issues, but the gap has shrunk to the smallest in the 14 years Gallup has been conducting its annual Values and Beliefs research, the polling company revealed on Wednesday.
According to the poll, which was conducted in early May, 34 percent of Americans said they were conservative on social issues, while 35 percent said they were moderate and 30 percent liberal.
That 4 percent difference between conservative and liberal stands in stark contrast to where the country stood a half decade ago. In both 2009 and 2010, the conservative advantage on social issues stood at 17 percent, according to Gallup poll data.
Gallup said that while Republican views on social issues have been steady the past four years, Democrats are now more likely to identify as socially liberal, especially regarding same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana.
“Because Republicans have stayed where they were on social issues while Democrats have shifted in a more liberal direction, overall the country is significantly more liberal on social issues than it was,” said William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton. “If you look at Democrats on social issues, they have shifted very sharply since Obama’s election.”
With respect to economic issues, 42 percent identified as conservative, 34 percent said they were moderate and 21 percent identified as liberal. While conservative economic identification remains dominant, the 21 percent advantage over liberals is much lower than in 2010, when the conservative advantage was 36 percent.
Since 2007, with the exception of one year, Democrats have been more likely to identify as liberal than conservative on economic issues, contrasting a trend from 2001 to 2006 when the opposite was true. As with social issues, Galston pointed to the Obama election victory as a central factor in the shifts.
“A lot of the change on economics was really brought out by Obama's first term and the reaction to it. I think Obama’s first term had the effect of making Democrats more liberal on economic policy and Republicans more conservative,” he said, pointing to an “increased polarization on economic issues.”
Overall, Gallup said the implications of the data showed that while conservatism was "still the dominant ideology in the U.S.," those advantages were shrinking because of "Democrats' increasing likelihood of describing their views as liberal rather than conservative or moderate."
Furthermore, the poll said that while the Republican and Democratic trends in economic ideology offset each other "to some degree," it is possible that in the "next few years there will be more Americans describing themselves as socially liberal than as socially conservative."
"There are reasons to believe that the movement toward social liberalism will continue because young people are more and more liberal with every passing year," Galston said. "And ultimately, as they become a larger share of the adult population, and current elderly Americans fade from the scene, I think the center of gravity is going to continue to shift toward social liberalism."