Is The Democratic Party Getting More Extreme? The Public Doesn't Think So.

The party's self-described liberals are growing in rank, but a new poll finds no evidence that people see the party as becoming more radical.

A lot has changed inside the Democratic Party since the last time it elected a president. Self-described liberals, once outnumbered by or on par with the moderates, now make up about half of the party. It’s not just labeling: Democrats are increasingly unified on everything from a preference for stricter gun laws to opposition to the Hyde Amendment to a belief in man-made global warming. The change has been especially stark on topics revolving around immigration and race. In the past six years, the percentage of Democrats who said that immigrants strengthen the U.S. rose from 58% to 83%. Between 2011 and 2016, the share of white Democrats saying that “over the past few years, black people have gotten less than they deserve” roughly doubled, from 27% to 55%.

That shift in the party’s center of gravity was tangible in the topics up for discussion during the first Democratic debates in June, which included decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings and abolishing private health insurance in favor of a “Medicare for All” plan. Though the ideas didn’t receive anything close to universal support from the candidates, neither were they viewed as fringe.

Progressive groups exulted. Party moderates urged caution about the political implications of steering the party visibly leftward. Conservatives concern trolled.

What does the American public think? Some of the progressive policies being championed poll a whole lot better than others: taxing the wealthy, for instance, is consistently popular, while ideas like abolishing the death penalty or providing reparations for slavery remain a much harder sell. Framing also matters a great deal: support for “Medicare for All” looks a lot skimpier when Americans are told the plan wouldn’t provide for people to stay on their current private insurance.

But beyond the political viability of specific policies, there’s also a broader question: whether Democrats’ growing liberalism, or their increasingly visible debate over progressive issues, has actually redefined Americans’ image of the Democratic Party or their perceptions about how well the party’s values align with the mainstream.

So far, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds, the answer is no. Views of the Democratic Party, in fact, haven’t really budged in more than four years. The share of Americans calling the Democrats “too extreme,” which stood at 41% in November 2014, now stands at an identical 41%, with only minimal fluctuation in the interim.

The GOP has seen more variation over that time period. About half viewed the Republicans as too extreme in 2015, but that number has receded in recent years, even as President Donald Trump has scored considerably worse on the same metric. Right now, both parties are about equally likely to be seen as “too extreme.” There’s also parity on how each party is seen by its own members: Just about a tenth of Americans on each side of the aisle are actively uncomfortable with the direction their co-partisans have taken.

Like any single data point, this one deserves a few caveats. It’s just one question, and, by design, a subjective one: What people think constitutes “too extreme” will vary broadly. It also doesn’t touch on perceptions about where the parties stand ideologically or which issues they view as central, let alone make an argument for the electoral wisdom of any particular strategy. But it does offer some evidence against the existence of a groundswell of people newly concerned that the party has taken a radical turn.

Meanwhile, the survey also finds that in a change from past polling, Republicans are now growing less likely to see their party as internally disjointed ― 61% of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say their party is mostly unified, while just 43% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters say the same of their party. Democratic and GOP voters are also about equally likely to express enthusiasm or satisfaction with their current elected officials, with GOP voters very slightly more bullish about the future of their party. Democrats, however, are generally content with the outlook heading in 2020: 77% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters say they’re at least satisfied with their presidential field, up from 68% who said the same in March.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted July 18-19 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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