Democrats move further to the left on social issues

Republicans are more likely to self-identify as socially and fiscally conservative. Democrats' self-identification shows a greater increase in liberal social and economic views.

Republicans are more likely to self-identify as socially and fiscally conservative. Democrats' self-identification shows a greater increase in liberal social and economic views. (Michelle Budge, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — While Republicans are more likely to self-identify as socially and fiscally conservative now than 20 years ago, Democrats' self-identification shows a greater increase in liberal social and economic views.

A new Gallup poll shows around equal parts of Americans identifying as either conservative or liberal on social issues — a shift from 2023. It's important to note this data is self-identification rather than detailed analyses of people's individual views on a subject. People's self-identification is based on a variety of factors — what some may consider socially conservative in a blue state may be considered moderate in another state.

For the poll, Gallup interviewed 1,024 U.S. adults across the country, and the margin of error is 4 percentage points.

Thirty-three percent of Americans self-identify as liberal and 32% as conservative on social issues. This differs from 2023. Thirty-eight percent of respondents had said their social views were conservative and around 29% said their views were liberal. The shift in those who identify as social conservatives is just outside the margin of error, so it may be too soon to tell how much of a change there really was from 2023 to 2024.

Gallup has data on this issue stretching back to 1999. "Despite some fluctuation over time, liberal identification on social issues has gradually increased, while conservative and moderate identification has each gradually decreased slightly," Justin McCarthy wrote for Gallup.

2009 marked the highest point for respondents saying their views were socially conservative at 42%, and 2022 was the highest point for those who said their views were liberal at 34%.

What is liberal and conservative?

Self-identification data is different than viewpoint data. The majority of Americans say abortion, doctor-assisted suicide, sex outside of marriage, having children outside of wedlock, gay marriage and birth control are morally acceptable, per Gallup data. With these shifts in public opinion, so has the perception of what is and is not considered conservative.

Other data from Pew shows the majority of people who identify as conservative also identify with a particular religion. It's true that the majority of liberals also identify with a religion. While 11% of conservatives are unaffiliated with a religion, it's 36% for liberals.

Gallup has observed a gap, too. Thirty-three percent of the religious nones, or people unaffiliated with a religion, lean Democratic; only 12% of nones lean Republican.

"Looked at differently, across the combined 2021-2023 data, equal proportions of Americans identified as Democratic or Democratic-leaning (46%) or Republican or Republican-leaning (46%)," wrote Frank Newport. "Yet, the group of Americans who are religious nones split 63% Democratic versus 26% Republican — far different from the population at large."

There are religious groups like Catholics that have a long history of affiliation with the Democratic Party, so religion is not a definitive predictor of political ideology. On social issues, religious people tend to be more conservative than unaffiliated people.

When the 2023 data showed something of an uptick in most demographic groups identifying as socially conservative, Daniel A. Cox, senior fellow at American Enterprise Institute, told the Deseret News that he doesn't think the country is becoming more conservative. Instead, he saw it as blowback to what conservatives may see as rapid shifts.

Social and fiscal viewpoints

What can be said about the 2024 data is that it shows there has been a steady increase in people identifying as socially liberal and a slight decrease over time in people identifying as social conservatives.

On economic issues, a plurality of Americans still self-identify as conservative.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they were economically conservative, which is down from 44% said in 2023. Another 23% said they were fiscally liberal, and 35% said they were moderate.

During the tea party movement, respondents self-identifying as fiscal conservatives reached its height at 51% — the only time Gallup's polling has ever showed a majority going one way. That year, 15% of respondents said they were fiscally liberal, and 33% said they were moderates. The tea party movement was marked not only by candidates saying they wanted to slash federal spending but also constitutional originalism — especially as it pertained to separation of powers. This may also be reflected in the data around social views. It was precipitated by a recession and global financial crisis.

A group of people self-identifying as moderates have remained the most steady compared to self-identified social and fiscal conservatives and liberals, which have seen some fluctuation.

Where they are and where they were

Party-specific data shows significant movement. In 2024, 74% of Republicans identify as social conservatives — that's up from 64% in 2004 and 68% in 2014.

Democrats have seen even more of a shift. In 2004, 39% of them said they were liberal on social issues, but now that number is 69%. It jumped almost 20 points from 2014 when it was 48%.

While 20% of Democrats said they were socially conservative in 2004, that number has decreased to 6% in 2024.

As for economic issues, Republicans are now more likely to self-identify as conservative, 82%, compared to 64% in 2004.

Democrats are more likely now to say they are economically liberal (49%), but a good amount of the respondents in the party still say they are moderate (44%). That's compared to 13% of Republican respondents saying they are moderate on economic issues.

Back in 2004, just over a quarter of Democrats said they were fiscally conservative. In 2024, that number is 5%.

"The growth in liberal views among Democrats has outpaced that in conservative views among Republicans, which were already the dominant position among the latter group," wrote McCarthy. "As the ideological makeup of political independents has remained steady, the liberalization of Democratic views has altered the national averages on both social and economic issues."

A gender divide

Breaking down the results by gender, men were more likely to say they were conservative or very conservative on social issues than women. Across political parties, 36% of men said they were conservative compared to 28% of women.

Around the same number of men and women said they were moderate.

More women said they were liberal or very liberal (37%) on social issues compared to men at 29%.

On fiscal issues, the trend is similar. Nearly half of men (46%) say they are fiscal conservatives and 33% of women say the same. Twenty-seven percent of women say they are liberal fiscally while only 17% of men respond in that same way.

This data point reaffirms what some experts have seen as a growing gap between men and women politically. Cox has been one of the most vocal in pointing toward this trend. Others like Josh Good have questioned whether or not this trend really exists because men and women poll similarly on specific issues. While Gallup's self-identification does not show us election voting trends or issue-specific differences, it does indicate that men and women may see themselves as politically different.

Education

Looking at the data from the perspective of educational attainment, the most liberal cohort socially are those who graduated from college, at 41%. Among respondents who have a high school diploma or less education, 39% identified as social conservatives.

Twenty-four percent of college graduates and 23% of people with a high school diploma or less said they were liberal fiscally. As for fiscal conservatives, 44% of respondents with a high school diploma or less said they were as did 34% of college graduates.

It's difficult to ascertain whether or not shifts in identifying as socially or fiscally liberal map onto party affiliation, but right now, the country is more or less evenly divided among Republicans and Democrats.

A report from Pew found that the 49% of respondents identify themselves as Democrat and 48% as Republican. This shift means there are fewer Democrats than they were before, especially in 2017 to 2021.

Gallup has tracked a similar shift — especially during the pandemic.

During 2021, Gallup said there was a drop among those who self-identified as Democrats. In the first quarter of that year, around 49% said they were, but by the end of the year, it was 42%. Whereas Republicans saw a gain, 40% to 47%.

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