I used to think that political division of Americans is mostly left vs. right. But after studying the data in the General Social Survey, I have changed my mind.
The American political pattern is actually one of secular libertarianism on one end and religious populism on the other. The Political Compass, which is popular among bloggers, is wrong. The intelligent educated voters tend to be predominately secular libertarian, while the unintelligent voters tend towards religious populism. (See my previous post, Synthesizing my IQ and politics posts.)
But hold on. Everyone knows this is wrong! The parties align under a left-right continuum, with the Democrats being the leftist party and the Republicans being the rightist party.
But this was not the way things used to be. From the formation of the Republican Party in 1856 until the realigning election of 1932, the Republican Party was the secular libertarian party and the Democratic Party was the religious populist party.
The man who best represents the religious populist tilt of the Democratic Party is William Jennings Bryan. He dominated the Democratic Party between 1896 and 1908, but luckily he lost all three elections in which he was the Democratic nominee for president. William Jennings Bryan was a religious zealot who believed that teaching of evolution should be banned and that all teachers should be required to affirm that they believe in God. He was a supporter of prohibition because he believed that alcohol was sinful. We can be thankful that he never won a presidential election.
Where were the leftists during this period? Because they weren’t welcome in either of the two main parties, they mostly hung out in third parties. There was both a Socialist Party and a Progressive Party during this period. The best known leftist of this era is Eugene V. Debs who was several times the Socialist Party nominee for President.
The only Democrat to win a presidential election during the period of 1896-1928 was Woodrow Wilson, and he only won because Theodore Roosevelt was having a feud with William Howard Taft. Roosevelt formed the Bull Moose Party to challenge Taft, and unfortunately the Republican vote was split and Wilson won the election.
Wilson reminds me quite a bit of George W. Bush. Both graduated from Ivy League schools, both are heavily religious, and both somehow represent the common man despite their elite educational backgrounds. Check out the 1916 election map: it looks very much like the election of 2004, except the blue states voted Republican instead of Democratic.
Wilson was at least a moderate compared to Bryan. Some of Wilson's policies seem leftist: he was anti-big business and the first income tax was created during his presidency. But Wilson was also a racist who supported segregation and he was a fan of the Klu Klux Klan. When the anti-war leftists protested Wilson's involvement in WWI, he had them thrown in jail, including their leader Eugene V. Debs. As I wrote above, the leftists had no party to call home during this era of politics.
Everything changed with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. Such change wouldn’t have happened were it not for the Great Depression, an economic crisis of a magnitude that we have trouble imagining today. FDR was a leftist, and after his election the leftist parties all but disappeared because FDR represented their views so well.
Since 1932 the leftists controlled the Democratic Party, and were able to use the pre-1932 poor white Democratic voting base combined with a new post-1932 voting base of leftists, minorities and special interests to dominate our government and radically transform American society. Everyone knows the rest of the story.
But is the story changing? Are the political parties realigning to the way they were before the New Deal, except with the Republicans being the religious populists and the Democrats being the secular libertarians? Will this lead to the leftists being kicked out of the Democratic party and being disenfranchised the way they were before 1932?