More Americans still identify themselves as conservative than liberal, but that gap is the smallest since Gallup began asking about political ideology in 1992, the polling firm reported Tuesday. The current 11-point gap — 36 percent of Americans self-identify as conservative versus 25 percent who call themselves liberal; the other 34 percent are self-described moderates — is half of what it was in 1996 and down from 14 points in 2014.
The main factor, Gallup says, is the steady rise of Democrats and left-leaning independents adopting the liberal label since 2000, but there has also been a decline in the number of Republicans and right-leaning independents calling themselves conservative, at 63 percent in 2016 from a peak of 67 percent in the Tea Party heyday of 2009 and 2010. In fact, the conservative sliver of the electorate is lower than the 37 percent when President Obama was elected, and at any point since.
In all, the conservative faction in Gallup's survey has been the steadiest of the three political ideologies, fluctuating between 36 percent and 40 percent while the moderate slice has steadily shrunk and Democrats warmed up to the liberal designation. Starting in 2015, self-described liberals became the largest group of the Democratic coalition, and now beat out moderates, 44 percent to 41 percent. The growth in people calling themselves liberal has mostly come from older Democrats and white people.
That leaves America more polarized than at any time in 25 years, probably, says Gallup's Lydia Saad. "The most obvious implication of this after the 2016 election is that the parties may increasingly nominate candidates who are wholly unacceptable to the opposing party," and elect more ideologically homogeneous people to Congress, she says. "On the other hand, if the term 'liberal' is simply growing in public acceptance, the shift could be more a matter of semantics than a paradigm change." You can read more about the findings at Gallup.