As a progressive, I tend to think the Republican Party is much more ideologically extreme than the Democratic Party. There are many reasons, some of which may be more legitimate than others. But it turns out that my opinion isn’t representative. According to this research from the Pew Research Center, the typical Democrat thinks the GOP is kind of conservative, while the typical Republican thinks the Democratic Party is really, really liberal.
Waldman went on to wonder why Republicans think the Democratic Party is so liberal,
What’s really interesting here isn’t so much the views about Democrats — that’s pretty much what you’d expect, that voters of the opposing party would find it to be far more extreme than its own partisans, who know where their own party has disappointed them, would place it. What’s odd, though, is the fact that on average there’s so little difference between how Republicans and Democrats see the GOP. There’s obviously some diversity within those groups — some Democrats see the GOP as extreme, while others see it as moderate — but it’s still notable.
So why is this? It’s hard to say, but my nominee would be the differing media systems partisans are drawn to. Conservatives are more likely to seek out highly partisan information sources — Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc. — than Democrats are. The latter may take in the occasional episode of Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow, but they’re getting most of their news from more neutral places like NPR and CNN. What makes the difference is that the idea that the Democratic Party is a bunch of socialists with a radical leftist agenda is a core component of the rhetoric on Fox, Limbaugh, et al. If you get your news from them, you’ll hear that message every day, again and again. And eventually you’ll start to believe it.
Let me suggest an alternate theory that explains why all three groups have a relatively homogenous view of the GOP and a divergent view of the Democratic Party.
Simply put, liberalism is unpopular, while conservatism isn’t. That means conservatives feel comfortable campaigning as conservatives, while liberals, outside of left-wing enclaves, don’t tell the truth about their views.
In other words, far left-wingers often campaign as moderates, but they govern as liberals. Republicans notice this more than independents because they see these “Democratic moderates” voting for bills that they find abhorrent, while independents simply may not pay as much attention to bills they’re not as passionate about.
There’s an entirely different dynamic with Democrats.
First off, the Democratic Party is roughly split, in theory, between moderates and liberals. However, because the liberals have the money, the energy, and the intellectual firepower, they dominate the party. So oftentimes, moderate Democrats end up voting for politicians who ceaselessly claim to be moderate, but actually vote like Barney Frank. It’s easy for these moderate Democrats to delude themselves about the type of candidate they’re supporting.
On the other hand, the liberals in the party understand the game: lefties have to lie to get elected in most of the country. So, they’ve come to expect that Democratic politicians will lie to the public about being moderate and then will swerve way over to the Left the moment they get into power. Jimmy Carter did it. Bill Clinton did it and only moved back towards the middle after the enormous thumping the Democrats took in 1994. Now, Barack Obama is doing it — and yet many of the libs are still disappointed because even though Obama’s extremely liberal and far to the Left of the American people, they expected him to be an even bigger liar. In other words, Obama campaigned like Evan Bayh and has led like Jimmy Carter, but they wanted Obama to govern like Michael Moore. So, the libs not happy and view Obama as being moderate — which in all fairness he is — compared to them.
PS: The real news here? America is, without question, a center-right nation. No wonder the incredibly liberal agenda of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid Axis has been so unpopular.