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Opinion polls show that on almost all of the major positions Obama espoused in his speech — entitlements, immigration, climate change and same-sex marriage — a majority of Americans agree with him.
By that measure, Obama did not advance a liberal agenda. A consequential one, certainly, but one that reflects centrist views or center-left ones at most. The agenda seems liberal only when judged against the liberal-conservative divide we’re used to in Washington.
Over the past four years, politics in the nation’s capital has been consumed by the fight between the president and tea party Republicans.
But because Obama is far closer to the center than the tea party is, what counts as middle ground in Washington is more conservative than the political center nationwide. In this setting, even centrist proposals face mighty legislative hurdles.
Beyond the capital’s divisions, citizens across the country resist the “liberal” label — even though polls showthat they tend to hold liberal positions on individual issues. Political scientists call this “symbolic” vs. “operational” ideology.
According to one poll, 74 percent of Americans support regulating greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change. According to another, 68 percent oppose cutting spending on Medicaid, the public health insurance program for the poor. And other polls show that more than half of Americans favor a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a vast majority opposecuts in education or transportation funding, and a slim majority support same-sex marriage. [MORE]