Shifting Perceptions

Rasmussen Reports identifies an interesting trend in poll data over the last several months: compared to four years ago, public perceptions of the two Presidential candidates have changed very quickly.

Between December 2007 and the present, Barack Obama’s image grew strikingly more liberal. The percentage of respondents describing Obama as “liberal” increased from 47 to 67, while 36% call him “very liberal.” That’s good, you might think; people are rapidly catching on to the fact that Obama is on the far left edge of the American political spectrum.

Except that the same thing is happening to John McCain. From December to the present, the percentage of respondents calling McCain “conservative” has risen even faster, from 31 to 67. For what it’s worth, however, only 19% consider McCain “very conservative.”

It’s hard to know what to make of this, but there is still some statistical advantage to being viewed as a conservative rather than as a liberal. In Rasmussen’s current polling, 36% of respondents describe themselves as conservatives, with 16% saying they are “very conservative,” while 25% call themselves liberals, 8% “very liberal.” So it is still plausible to say that America is a center-right country.

Still, it wasn’t many years ago when a candidate who was considered a liberal by two-thirds of the population would be a dead duck. (Think Dukakis.) Indeed, a principal goal of national Republican campaigns in recent years has been to drive up the perception that the Democratic candidate is a liberal. This year, though, I doubt that Obama is fazed by what would once have been a fatal association with the “L-word.”

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