US Leftist census?

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Thu Apr 1 11:06:05 PST 1999

Margaret wrote:

>Anyone have any plausible numbers for how many people
>there are in the US who are at least somewhat Leftist.
>More than 'parlor pinks', i mean. To the level, say,
>of the Labor Party membership, i.e., actual social
>democrats or better -- not 'liberals' or Republicrat
>Doug? Max? Anyone?

Hard to say, since pollsters never ask questions like that, and the U.S. public is so politically demobilized that most people don't even think in terms like that. Maybe 5% by your definition?

But the very fact that you asked the question sets you apart from mainstream discourse. As Paul Smith says in Millennial Dreams, "The proliferation of consumptive mechanisms in the culture - with the media being in many respects amongst the most important of these - seems to lead to the simultaneous proliferation of unrooted discursive positions for subjects and to a whole realm of uncertainty in administrative and governmental discourse. It might seem strange to say this, but it is exactly this generalized confusion that acts as a social control, to a large extent alleviating the need for the control of the civic life by...repressive apparatuses.... This tendency in millennial economic formulation depends on the devalorization of collectivity and of shared meaning...." And, a little later: "[T]he mainstream versions of the social divisions in the US tend to be construed in terms of ethnicity and race - cultural divisions, essentially - and leave room for only the most crude and unhelpful representations in terms of the relations of production, the rich, the poor, and the mammoth middle class: these categories are the hallucinations, peculiarly American abstractions, of class formation that pass for knowledge of the social. Furthermore, this kind of representation forecloses on one of the central features of class formation: the cultural understanding of these 'classes' is that they comprise otherwise unconnected and separate individuals whose relation to one another in this regard is merely a function of a similarity perceived by statisticians. There is, in other words, no sense that these 'classes' can construe any solidarity or shared experience of their state."

I don't think "ethnicity and race" are "merely cultural," but he's right about the effacement of class and production relations. They barely exist in our political discourse.

Back to numbers. Here are some either/or responses to some fundamental political questions from an old Pew Center poll.




Political Values by Party Identification*

Total Republican Democrat Independent

% % % % Government efficiency

Gov't is wasteful & inefficient 65 71 57 67

Gov't does better job 32 27 40 30

Government regulation

Reg. is in the public interest 42 31 51 42

Reg. does more harm than good 53 64 42 53

Elected officials in Washington

Lose touch with constituents 73 74 68 77

Try hard to keep in touch 24 24 28 20

Elected officials in Washington

Care about people like me 32 35 36 29

Don't care about people like me 64 63 61 68

Poor people

Have it easy 52 65 42 50

Have hard lives 39 26 50 39

Government should

Do more to help poor & needy 48 35 60 48

Can't afford to do more to help 46 59 36 46

The position of blacks**

Has improved in recent years 73 76 71 73

Hasn't improved much 23 21 26 23

Racial discrimination**

Is the reason blacks can't get ahead 31 25 37 32

Blacks responsible for own condition 59 65 54 58

Best way to ensure peace

Is through military strength 36 47 29 34

Is through diplomatic means 57 47 64 60

Willingness to fight for country

Everyone should be willing to fight 50 62 46 45

It's acceptable to refuse to fight 46 35 51 52

Power of a few large companies

Too much power concentrated 76 67 82 78

Largest co.s don't have too much power 19 27 14 18

Business corporations

Make too much profit 52 38 62 54

Make a fair amount of profit 43 57 34 41

Environmental protection

Should do whatever it takes 77 67 84 81

We've gone too far 20 30 14 16

Stricter environmental regulations

Cost too many jobs/hurt economy 34 43 30 31

Are worth the cost 61 53 64 66


Society should accept it 46 34 54 50

Society should discourage it 49 62 41 45

Books with dangerous ideas

Should be banned from public

school libraries 45 48 46 41

Should not be banned 52 50 52 57

*This analysis is based on 9,652 interviews conducted from July 1994 - October 1995. Percentages in this and subsequent tables do not add to 100% because "Don't Know" responses are not shown. ** These percentages are based on whites only.

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