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Parsing the Polls: Choosing the Right (or Left) Words

Words -- and the images they provoke -- matter in politics. Whether it's the back and forth between two candidates in a particular race or a long-term linguistic struggle between the two national parties, choosing the right words to describe yourself and your opponent is as crucial to winning and losing as your issue positions or the amount of money you can raise.

Take the word "liberal" for example. Thanks in large part to the work of conservative operatives and politicians who reached an apex in the 1980s, "liberal" has gone from simply a descriptive term to a pejorative one. Democrats -- especially those in the South, Plains and Rocky Mountains -- bristle at being described as a "liberal" either because of the negative connotations it evokes among voters, or because they assert that the term doesn't accurately describe their political philosophy. Some of these Democrats who might be accurately described as "liberal", have taken to referring to themselves as "progressive" or "populist" in recent years, which are generally considered less loaded terms in the political debate.

A new Gallup survey, conducted at the end of November of a national sample of 1,003 adults, sheds light on how familiar people are with terms like "liberal", "conservative" and "progressive" and what each of those words mean to them.

Let's parse the polls!

It's immediately apparent from the Gallup poll that "liberal" and "conservative" remain the best known terms to describe a person's political ideology. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said they were "very familiar" with the word "conservative" in a political context; 58 percent said they were "very familiar" with the term "liberal". Just eight percent of voters said they were either "not too familiar" or "not familiar at all" with the term "conservative," while 10 percent said the same about the word "liberal."

Other terms regularly used within the political debate were less familiar to the Gallup sample. Just 22 percent described themselves as "very familiar" with the word "progressive," 20 percent called themselves "very familiar" with "libertarian" and a mere 12 percent said they knew the term "populist" well.

Asked to name which words fits their political thinking best, "conservative" ruled the roost with 54 percent saying it applied to them. Contrast that with the 34 percent who said "liberal" was an apt description of their political philosophy and you quickly see the image problem Democrats have struggled with in recent elections.

Even in the national exit poll conducted in this year's midterms, just 20 percent of the sample identified themselves as "liberals" -- twelve percent fewer than called themselves "conservatives." Self-identifying moderates made up nearly half -- 47 percent -- of the sample. (In the Gallup survey, 53 percent said the term "moderate" applied to them while 40 percent said it did not.) When asked their party identification, however, 38 percent said Democrat compared to 36 percent who said Republican and 26 percent who called themselves independents. That means that many Democrats no longer see themselves as liberals and choose to identify their ideology as moderate or even conservative while still retaining their Democratic party affiliation.

People in the Gallup poll largely avoided using lesser-known political terms to describe themselves. Twenty-eight percent said "progressive" described their political thinking as compared to 10 percent who said the same of "libertarian" and seven percent who said "populist" applied to them. Roughly one-in-five individuals in the survey said they didn't know enough about the meaning of "progressive" or "libertarian" to make a judgement about its applicability to them; 28 percent said they were too unfamiliar with "populist" to pass judgement on whether it fit their political thinking.

The results of the Gallup survey should give Democrats pause even amid the ongoing celebration following their gains on Nov. 7. The terms that frame the political debate in this country remain skewed toward Republicans -- "liberal" remains a dirty word, "conservative" an acceptable one. Whether or not "liberal" or "conservative" can or should be automatically applied to either party is debatable, but the fact remains that many voters associate conservatism with the GOP and liberalism with the Democratic Party.

Over the decades these labels and the movements to which they are applied have risen and fallen in popularity. Many 1940s New Dealers were proud to be known as liberals. "Conservative" was not at all a popular term before the rise of Barry Goldwater in the the late 1960s. By the late 1980s Reagan Republicans had succeeded in making "conservative" a proud banner, while "liberal" became more and more radioactive (think George H.W. Bush and the "L" word in the 1988 campaign).

So given the stark numbers in this Gallup poll, which are backed up by recent national exit polling, Democrats seem to be at a linguistic crossroads: Either they work to rehabilitate the meaning of "liberal" or scrap it entirely in favor of a lesser-known (and therefore less politically potent) terms like "populist" or "progressive".

Which rhetorical road the party chooses to take over the next weeks and months -- and how rocky that road turns out to be -- should serve as one of the leading indicators of the sustainability of Democrats' congressional majorities in 2008 and beyond.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 6, 2006; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Parsing the Polls  
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Oh and one thing Chris didn't mention. He talks about Democrats being less likely to see themselves as liberal. Well, Pew's typology consistently found that liberals were more likely than other Democrats to consider themselves Democratic leaning independants.

Posted by: college kid | December 8, 2006 9:05 AM | Report abuse

Chris notes in his "analysis"-

"That means that many Democrats no longer see themselves as liberals and choose to identify their ideology as moderate or even conservative while still retaining their Democratic party affiliation."

Hey Chris, exactly where is your proof that Democrats EVER DID see themselves as "liberals"? I am a proud liberal and have been for over 40 years. In all that time, I have never seen the Democratic Party embracing what I consider to be strict liberal philosophies. Democrats have always tended to the moderate. Republicans USED to. Show me Democrats in Congress that advocate the right to use recreational drugs, or promiscuous( but protected) sex. These are issues that might typically be embraced by your Far Left liberals. The truth is, "liberal" denotes a way, or perhaps a process, of looking and interacting with the world. It's not, strictly speaking, a political philosophy. It's a social philosophy that is often observed to have consequences within the political realm.

Posted by: DKinUT | December 8, 2006 8:32 AM | Report abuse

It's time to give conservatives their day in court. Call them for what they are - "radicals." Since the 1960's they want to radicalize not only the constitution, but also to change the American culture. The term "conservative" is just a smoke screen for them to hide behind.

Posted by: Jim from Portland, Oregon | December 7, 2006 9:51 PM | Report abuse

The fact is the vast majority of Americans are not ideologues.

Too many from either political spectrum are anxious to interpret wins by one candidate or the other as some kind of mandate for ideological purity of their own making.

Speaking of "parsing the polls" I have seen many polls, where, when the labels are erased and people are asked just their position on issues, the results are a long way from any ideological purity.

Frankly, that is why negative campaigning is so popular. The people who are going to vote for a candidate on ideological grounds, right or left, are already committed. No amount of advertising will sway them. It's the majority in the middle the negative ads are aimed at.

With us in the middle turned off by the ideologues from each side, the ads try to make us feel more native toward one than the other.

I suppose this might be an argument for plural parties that allow more nuances of the American political spectrum to have voice. But our traditions and Constitutional system mean we will live with the two-party system forever.

Moderates once controlled both parties. The Republicans have chased most of their moderates out. It remains to be seen if the moderates will reign supreme amoung the Democrats.

Republican analysts I've been reading seem to believe they lost the last election because they were not ideologically pure enough. It will probably take another election loss before moderates start creeping back into that party. Here's to that day!

Posted by: And from the middle... | December 7, 2006 9:35 PM | Report abuse

TG, I saw an interesting book while walking through Books-A-Million a few months ago (but, alas, I couldn't afford it at the time so I had to get something else instead) that argues that conservatism is an angry philosophy (Tell me with a straight face that you think that Rush Limbaugh is more mellow than Al Franken.) because, in fact, over time conservatism loses. The author used essays from leading conservatives of their day arguing against the income tax (1890's), direct election of Senators (1910's), and integration (by William F. Buckley in the 1950's) and says that such desperation stems from this steady erosion of the questions of conservatism.

George McGovern lays a similar version of this theory out in his 2004 book "The Essential America" where he points out that he can't think of one nearly universally accepted law or policy today that has sprung from conservatism. (The only one that I can think of is the National Bank, which was augmented by Woodrow Wilson, a liberal, with the creation of the FED in 1913.)

I think college kid's points are very accurate because I've noticed a disturbing pattern of general statements on the right that "I believe..." when in practice, this has not been the case.

Posted by: Steve | December 7, 2006 7:35 PM | Report abuse

Jason, I would agree with you that there is no inherent problem with the word "progressive" per se. For example, I have no problem with people using the word interchangibly (i.e. Paul Wellstone) but the problem to me is how so many on the left get offended by the word "liberal."

Some resort to the "I don't like labels" defense, others say "but liberal is tainted," others say "but liberal reminds me of imperialism" (as if Theodore Roosevelt had no imperial ambitions) and, worst of all, "we're the REAL conservatives" (i.e., John kerry insisting on the CBS debate before Super Tuesday that he voted against the Bush tax cut because he thought it was the conservative thing to do).

If someone doesn't duck the word liberal, I have no problem with using other words, but I see way too many times that progressive is used from a position of weakness, and I think that it is a crying shame when people can't stand up for their governing philosophy.

Posted by: Steve | December 7, 2006 7:29 PM | Report abuse

And rational moving was a part of post-Civil War Republicans in the North and the New Deal Coalition. Thadeus Stevens was thought of as a Radical Republican and he tried to impeach President Johnson which was definitely not in line with norms of the time, and normative conservatism. It wasn't until the 20s that the GOP fully embraced that.

Posted by: college kid | December 7, 2006 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Well, you start this off by referring to how there are more conservatives than liberals in the figures CC is talking about, and then you go to government theory. But, you run into problems in that the people who consider themselves 'conservatives' don't necessarily agree with your views, which might not completely fly . On Schiavo for instance, according to an ABC poll 69% of liberals and 70% of moderates opposed the Terry S. ordeal, whereas conservatives were not opposed over 50%. The problem though is that you're referring to belief systems and comparing them to numbers like the ones Chris is offering and juxtaposing them in a way that doesn't hold up perfectly. So when you're talking about how many liberals versus conservatives there are, and saying that it affirms a view that there have been persistantly more conservatives, you're counting people in the conservative who don't fit your theories and hence that's sort of a contradiction.

Also, I'd say that there are other problems. Again, it's more of a post-Vietnam conservative rage than a persistant over time thing. Up until the 40s-60s courts often gave social liberals some of their biggest obstacles. Woodrow Wilson's labor reforms were overturned by the Supreme Court. One of the most negative things in FDR's presidency was the court packing scheme. Well, would it really have been discussed if courts were liberal-friendly, or if courts were one of the better places for liberals? Plessy Vs. Ferguson? Dred Scott Vs. Sanford for abolition? Most of the courts attempts fit much more the post-Vietnam world. Now if you're talking about limited government, then the New Deal and post-Civil War GOP coalitions would not support that.And I'm not sure you can talk about 'always' and exclude the post Civil War Republican dominance (Democrats only victories were Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson, and Wilson was more of a big gov't guy, b/w 1860 and 1928) and the New Deal Coalition.

I'm referring to self-identification largely because it's what this post is referring to.

Posted by: college kid | December 7, 2006 5:44 PM | Report abuse

This myth of liberals using the courts instead of Congress doesn't hold up statistically -- at least not at the highest level. "Conservative" Supreme Court justices are the most likely to vote against Congressional policies:

Posted by: MischaDC | December 7, 2006 5:25 PM | Report abuse

This myth of liberals using the courts instead of Congress doesn't hold up statistically:

Posted by: MischaDC | December 7, 2006 5:24 PM | Report abuse

College Kid,

I think where you and I differ is that I am speaking in terms of political theory and philosophy where I think your examples relate to a political party and how they identify themselves traditionally. For example, I would not call republican leadership, on the contrary, their free spending and expansion of the federal power (Bush v. Gore, Terry Schiavo, and a proposed amendment federalizing the concept of marriage, not too mention the erosion of civil liberties) runs completely counter to what I would consider to be traditional conservative principles.

As for history,I think if you are going to look to the electorate as a guide for conservative vs. liberal, you should look at the fact that historically, much of the liberal agenda has sought to be advanced in the courts, not the electorate because of the better prospects for success.

Also, I think our federal system in its inherent make up is a conservative system that was set up on notions of eternal or enduring rights and principles which at bottom rejects the sort of rationalist ad hoc nature of the moving ethic of liberalism.

Posted by: TG | December 7, 2006 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Hi, Steve

I agree with your post with the exception that I also like the word Progressive too and don't mind that word as it contains the word "progress" and that in my view fits with a liberal philosophy. However, this does not mean I am necessarily against preserving the good from the past and believe we should learn from history as well.

Posted by: Jason from Whittier, CA | December 7, 2006 12:45 PM | Report abuse

I am a liberal, and I am proud of the label. Pretty much every great and good policy of the last 75 years (Social Security, Medicare, the minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, collective bargaining, student loans, civil rights, Pell Grants and OSHA laws) were championed by liberals and opposed by conservatives.

Quite frankly, I am sick and tired of hearing the word "progressive." It is a copout that is used by people who are afraid to defend our word. (I was at a bookstore and I read an introductory chapter of a book where the author, answering the liberal vs. progressive question, said something to the effect of, "When we have rehabilitated the word 'liberal,' and we will, we will start using it again. Until then, we will use progressive." At that moment I decided not to give that author my hard-eanred $10, because you can't defend a word if you are too weak to use it.) "Progressive" makes us look weak. If we would restore liberal to its proud history, and stop letting the right define it for us, it will stop being a dirty word that people don't want to use.

Posted by: Steve | December 7, 2006 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Going back further in history - 19th century liberals advocated a strict laissez faire approach to the economy. The liberal interventionist approach did not come into play until the Liberal Party in England drastically raised taxes, enacted some social insurance programs and reduced the power of the House of Lords in 1910 or so. Of course, the New Deal famously adopted that approach in the US. In those days, conservatives were staunch advocates of a balanced budget - a central tenet of Republican policy until the Reagan era.

Posted by: JimD in FL | December 7, 2006 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Why is it that conservatives think that insulting people is witty?

Posted by: Sean Fairfax, Virginia | December 7, 2006 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Some very interesting posts here. I particularly commend college kid for the historical perspective. I would also point out that liberals used to be the group most disposed to foreign interventionism. Conservatives were isolationists. One of the most divisive political issues of the late 1930's was whether the US should actively oppose the spread of Fascism, and, when war broke out, whether we should assist Great Britain in the struggle against Hitler. Generally, the further left one was, the more one supported intervention - until the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August 1939. The official Communist position suddenly changed from opposition to fascism to non-intervention in a "capitalist struggle" and many US leftists went along. Many others became disillusioned and left the Communist Party. After the war and upon the creation of the "Iron Curtain", the extreme right advocated "rolling back" Communism. The liberal policy of containment was derided as "Dean Acheson's (Secretary of State under Truman) Cowardly College of Communist Containment". I can remember Goldwater conservatives criticizing Kennedy for his handling of the Cuban missle crisis because we promised not to invade Cuba as long as no nuclear weapons aimed at the US remained there. Vietnam changed all that and the left became the non-interventionists. McGovern ran an explicitly isolationist campaign in 1972 - "Come Home America". The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis highlighted the need for a strong and vigilant US. Democrats have had trouble winning presidential elections ever since due to lack of credibility on national security. Remember that the two presidential elections Democrats won since then were post Soviet collapse and pre 9/11.

Posted by: JimD in FL | December 7, 2006 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Democrats won the election--big. That's the reality. Call it anything you want, but what it is, is victory.

You can spin it anyway you want, chris, and I'm sure you'll try. But the party politics really break down now into populist/progressive vs. rightwing/corporatist. Neo-conservatism is not about conserving anything. It's about radically changing everything -- the constitution, the balance of powers, the laws.

I think in the last few years people have begunn to see exactly what has happened to the republican party -- it no longer represents the citizens of this country--it is in obseisance to global corporations who don't have our national interests at heart.

And I belive the Democratic party's position has now become that of conservator. It is we that want to contain the erosion of the middle class and stanch the downward mobility of working people-- who after all are the vast majority of citizens. It is we who want to help people find ways to send their kids to college. It is we who want to get rid of tax incentives for job outsourcing. It is we who want to preserve our natural resources, the safety of our food supply and drinking water, our farmland, our industries. It is we who want to rebuild and strengthen our military, which has been run into the ground.

It is we who want to stop the vicious cycle of borrowing and spending, which has sunk us under a h uge burden of debt. Wait until you see the damage that the combination of deregulation, artificially low interest rates, and 'novel' subprime mortgage loans wrought by this administration will do. It's just starting -- just like the savings and loan debacles of the 80's. Remember Neil Bush and Silverado? They never change.

What we as progressives have not had for many years is the message machine of talk radio and national media, which is owned by -- global corporations. But as people move away from traditional media and into more alternative communication forms, as they are doing, I believe our message will begin to take hold and prevail. I think this election is just the beginning.

Posted by: drindl | December 7, 2006 8:04 AM | Report abuse

or 42.
but even if the latter, 42-26 is a pretty dramatic advantage.

Posted by: college kid | December 7, 2006 1:47 AM | Report abuse

30% of voters 18-24 identify as liberal, and 24 or 25% identify as conservative. This study identified four kinds of young voters and there are: religious centrists, secular centrists, traditional liberals, and traditional conservatives. Traditional liberals make up 43% of the college (18-24 voters, not necessarily students) population, traditional conservatives make up 16%, religious centrists make up 21%, and secular centrists are 18%. Secular centrists are pro-Republican, though.

BTW, TG, do you have an answer to my comments? The data that you suggest should give Democrats pause even illustrates more of post-Vietnam outlook than a basic set-in-stone reality. There's not much evidence that there were more conservatives than liberals before 1966. And there's quite a bit that suggests the opposite. If you have some data or info that disputes that, I'd be interested in finding out about it. In 1962, there were 47 Democrats for every 26 Republicans.

Posted by: college kid | December 7, 2006 1:06 AM | Report abuse

Btw, I think any discussion of semantics should include the dictionary definitions, if only for context. So here ya go (I only included what I thought were the applicable word usages):

lib·er·al /ˈlɪbərəl, ˈlɪbrəl/

1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.
7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant
8. open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.

con·serv·a·tive /kənˈsɜrvətɪv/

1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
3. traditional in style or manner
6. having the power or tendency to conserve

Personally, I find these to be pretty accurate. And if you ask me, one of them clearly defines American values. Let's just say that I don't think the original colonists decided to settle in what was a hostile, difficult land in order to preserve their old way of life and traditional institutions. George Washington didn't risk life and limb to be the first President of America "The Great Experiment" b/c he was resistant to change.

In my mind this resistance is, conceptually, the reason why the Republican/Conservative Party will never succeed. Chaos reigns the physical universe, and thus humanity, and there's nothing any of us can do about it but adapt. Resistance to change is, imho, quite literally futile.

Posted by: F&B | December 7, 2006 12:25 AM | Report abuse

Chris, don't read too much into this poll, on why there was such a spread between those who identified as "conservative" and those who identified as "liberal." What Gallup didn't tell you up front is that the sample they constructed for this poll had more self-identified Republicans in it than Democrats, something that no other pollster since the midterm has done.

Posted by: Steve Soto | December 7, 2006 12:14 AM | Report abuse

>>>Take the word "liberal" for example

Take the words "FIERY WRECK" for example.

Posted by: F&B | December 6, 2006 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Drindl, glad to hear you're not a liberal. I was starting to worry about you.

Posted by: TG | December 6, 2006 11:28 PM | Report abuse

Thank you sean for pointing out how silly and useless those terms have become. 'Conservative' now means 'radical', 'liberalism' has no meaning at all. I would bet that someof you regular folks here would call me a 'liberal'-- but I don't. I call myself a moderate or libertarian or progressive, because those are the words that to me, define what I feel.

Time to get beyond the Beltway CW bubble, Chris and look at things the way real people do.

Posted by: drndl | December 6, 2006 8:21 PM | Report abuse

Well said Sean!

We are so far from 'conservative' = 'against change' that a dictionary is useless. It must be awfully confusing for immigrants.

As for deinition changes my favorite is 'gay' which used to be synonymous with 'happy' and is now used as a synonym of 'sad' - to mean 'silly' or 'pathetic'. "Those pants are gay."

Posted by: Adam Hammond | December 6, 2006 7:51 PM | Report abuse

This kind of survey is worse than meaningless because, while most people consider themselves "conservative" they include in that description quite a number of "liberal" ideas, such as some form of national health care or legal access to abortion.

By themselves even somewhat narrow terms like "libertarian" belie the growing gap between social and economic values - it's very easy to be a social libertarian while still not trusting the marketplace to regulate environmental policy, for example.

Many of the missteps of the last congress seem to have come from misunderstanding what the American people ment by "conservative" - when it was pointed out to them that their elected leaders thought it ment injecting the full weight of the federal government into a private end-of-life dispute, most of them were quite shocked.

Getting back to my original point, both public health care and legal abortion actually *are* obvious "conservative" positions (although of different brands of "conservativism") if you are logically consistant: for a free market, personal responsibility (libertarian) conservative abortion is between you and your doctor, and government is only justified in making sure that the transaction is safe. For a social conservative, Christ told us to care for the least of our brothers as we would for ourselves, and this means not denying them basic things like food or even minimal healthcare. Even for social conservatives who won't go that far, many of them still think that all children should be covered. Moderate socialism is still socialism ;). Obviously just knowing that a person thinks they are a "conservative" tells us almost nothing about their opinion on specific issues.

The 21st Century is going to be a very different place than the 20th, and 20th Century terms won't hold the same meanings. 21st Century "progressive" values are not exactly the same as "liberal" ones (they're not even the same as 20 Century "progressive" ones!) the truth is that they are not very well defined as of yet. Maybe having "progressives" in power for a few years will help do that, but I actually think they will congeal naturally as Gen-Xers age into positions of power.

The main difference I see between 20th and 21st C. ideologies will be that both main sides of the political debate assume that government has an active roll to play in our lives, but not the roll suggested by 20th C. liberalism. Social conservatives seem to feel that government should enforce public morality, while progressives feel it should be used to offset the negative impacts of the global free market. neither side has really finalized its ideology yet, but obviously both reject the 20th C. "liberal/conservative" positions on the issue: social conservatives now recognize that a largely unregulated entertainment industry is responsable for their losing the "culture war", and no one in the public sphere is suggesting the nationalization of any industry, except maybe health insurance, and even there most won't admit it.

It's time we stop thinking in terms of meaningless tags and start asking people what their positions are on specific issues, rather than what they call themselves. The Rove plan of making "Conservative"=Republican has failed, and it failed because Democrats made it clear that their party was not wedded to any ideology, even though talking heads spent 10 years telling them they had to or else. Clinton regularly pissed off the Right by being able to adopt their better ideas without having to adopt their ideology. As long as the Democrats remember how to do that, it won't matter what they call themselves.

In that reguard, at least, the Democrats show remarkable historical consistancy. As Will Rogers famously put it, "I am a member of no organized political party: I, sir, am a Democrat!"

Posted by: Sean in VA | December 6, 2006 7:28 PM | Report abuse

"The country as a whole has always been more convervative than liberal."

That statement is also somewhat impossible given the fact that the meaning of conservative and liberal have changed over time.

Posted by: college kid | December 6, 2006 6:28 PM | Report abuse

"The country as a whole has always been more convervative than liberal."
Not always. It wasn't up until the mid-to-late 1960s that liberal became a dirty word. If the country was always more conservative, Barry Goldwater would have lost, but by a much smaller margin than 61-39, and he probably would have won the nomination more easily. If the country was always more conservative then it's interesting that from 1932-1964, the only Republican elected was a moderate one who played a big role in winning World War 2. If the country was ALWAYS more conservative than liberal, then Republicans should have had more than 26% of voters in the 1950s. Post-Civil War, Demcorats were the more conservative party, and they won less than 30% of the elections until the great depression. If being a conservative was an asset, you'd have expected a stronger performance from them.

The conservative Dem story is exaggerated according to some.Certainly, there's Ellsworth and Schuler, but those tend to be less common than you'd think. Steve Kagen, Jerry McNearn, Jonathan Yarmouth, Carol O'Shea Porter, were mostly elected in pro-Bush districts in 2006.

Posted by: college kid | December 6, 2006 6:26 PM | Report abuse

The country as a whole has always been more convervative than liberal. This is not surprising and should give some guidance to the new congress not to go too bonkers in the Pelosi vein. A good deal of the dems ousting republicans in this race were more conservative democrats that appealed to a moderate to conservative majority of the electorate.

Posted by: TG | December 6, 2006 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Heck, what about the label 'conservative' actually having anything to do with conservatism? Bush is fiscally illiberal and everyone knows it. And when did his brand of Big Government fit into social conservatism?

I'd rather see a poll asking questions about what, exactly, they think a 'conservative' is.

And, along with 'wingnut,' who identifies with 'moonbat?'

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | December 6, 2006 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Of course the labels are mostly assigned, and certainly interpreted by the press. I propose the Democrats call themselves Democrats.

Posted by: Alan in Missoula | December 6, 2006 5:25 PM | Report abuse

(1) Conservative is generally acceptable nationally, but it's not particularly acceptable in the Northeast.

(2) Democrats can't scrap the 'liberal' label for all eternity. The truth is there will always be that perspective, and those views, and several of their lawmakers will have it. It's also an important part of what Dems are about.

Posted by: college kid | December 6, 2006 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Two 'liberals' basing their identification on what a comedian has to say. Says a lot about the liberal perspective of the world.

I consider myself a libertarian, by the way.

Posted by: Bill | December 6, 2006 4:43 PM | Report abuse

If you're going to parrot George Lackoff's arguements, you may as well mention him.

I know there is a lax (non) standard of plagarism applied to blogs, but what harm is there in mentioning the guy?

Posted by: Cali49 | December 6, 2006 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Another proud liberal here seconding Intrepid Liberal Journal's post and thank you Intrepid for posting Stephen Colbert's outstanding quote which should make the Hall of Fame of Great Quotations if there is such a thing. And if there isn't, there should be!

Posted by: Jason from Whittier, CA | December 6, 2006 4:22 PM | Report abuse

I'm a liberal and proud to say it. As Stephen Colbert said, "reality has a renowned liberal bias."

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal Journal | December 6, 2006 4:14 PM | Report abuse

It seems like the discussion is putting the carriage in front of the horse - if the Dems succeed over the next two years they can call themselves liberals, communists, bouncing clowns, and the term will mean something good - their actions will define the tone the term takes on and not the term or any particular text book definition.

One only need look at how communism, which has as its final stage the whithering of the state, has come to mean control by the state - the meanings of words are meaningless - what matters is the actions by those who claim to define the word.

Did you know that in 1612 when the King James Bible was published effeminate meant cowardly - words chaneg meaning every day-

Bobby Wightman-Cervantes

Remember it is wrong to by Chrismas presents from China when China does not allow Christians to freely practice their faith

Posted by: Bobby Wightman-Cervantes | December 6, 2006 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Was the word "wingnut" surveyed? Everyone knows "wingnut" is the new "conservative."

Posted by: Tab King-Khan | December 6, 2006 3:56 PM | Report abuse

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