A few years back, a study was released by two prophets of the Washington corporate front group circuit that purported to show that Democrats must move sharply to the right in order to win elections. The purported proof of such an assertion by Democratic Leadership Council mouthpieces Elaine Kamarck and Bill Galston was this finding:
"In 2004, only 21 percent of voters called themselves liberal, while 34 percent said they were conservative. The rest, 45 percent, characterized themselves as moderate."
The Washington media joined with Kamarck and Galston in billing this as an extraordinary finding that proved once and for all that Democrats must become more "moderate" or "conservative" because so few voters labeled themselves "liberal." Few, if any, in the Beltway seemed to remember the concept of "specious" or "spurious" from high school chemistry class - that is, the idea that X may seem to prove Y, but it doesn't because there's actually other factors at play. (And no one seemed to see the idiocy of the poll question itself. By putting in an utterly definition-less term like "moderate" the entire poll is meaningless - It's like conducting a poll asking people whether they are a Philadelphia 76ers fan, a New York Knicks fan, or a basketball fan. The Sixers might have fewer fans than the Knicks for a variety of reasons, but most people facing that question probably identify themselves as merely fans of the sport, meaning the data doesn't tell you much of anything).
As the Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum notes, conservative pundit James Joyner shows exactly what I'm talking about. Responding to a new Gallup poll showing more Americans label themselves conservative rather than liberal, Joyner admits:
"This is especially interesting considering that the public seems to continue to demand liberal policies, opposing even nominal market-based reform of Social Security, continuing to push for the socialization of health care, expecting instant bail-outs for poor financial decisions, and generally wanting more federal spending on a variety of social programs."
Put another way, all that corporate front groups inside the Democratic Party really prove when they cite polls on "liberal" vs. "moderate" vs. "conservative" labeling is how well the right has vilified the term "liberal" and how nebulously appealing and Apple Pie-ish a term like "moderate" is - but they prove nothing about where the public actually is on issues. That the Washington media goes out of its way to ignore this by, for instance, continuing to label as "fringe" antiwar Democrats representing the antiwar position of most Americans is a testament to how powerful the Beltway status-quo-defending propaganda system really is.
I spelled this out in a Washington Post op-ed last year and a Nation article in 2005, showing that on most major economic and national security issues, the public is fairly progressive. Democrats major problem in recent years has been their willingness to listen to the tired - and inaccurate - rhetoric of people like Kamarck and Galston who have continued to push the party away from America's true center.