Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Is America moving left or right?

By Matt Heffler

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Depending on who you talk to, you might think that Liberals have been slowly taking over the country for the last 40 years, or you may believe that America has been drifting to the right for just as long. While there’s no doubt that we recently took a step to the right with the election of Donald Trump, the overall trajectory of the country is still up for debate.

Abortion has been one of the leading social issues in the United States for decades. Personally, I was surprised at what the polls tell us about this issue. In 2008, 54 percent of Americans believed it should be available “only under certain circumstances” and 28 percent under most or any circumstances, according to Gallup. The numbers really haven’t really moved much since then, sitting at 50 and 29 percent in 2016.

Abortion policy has not changed all that much since the Roe v. Wade ruling legalized it nationwide in 1973, but that could very well change if Trump has the opportunity to nominate a second Supreme Court justice during his term.

Marijuana legalization has seen a significant rise to an important social issue in the last few elections, with many states legalizing it at a recreational or medical level in recent years, despite the drug remaining illegal at the federal level.

In this instance, public opinion and public policy seem to be in agreement, which makes sense considering most changes in marijuana laws have been a result of ballot initiatives. According to Gallup, support for legal marijuana rose to 60 percent in 2016, up from the low 30s in the early 2000s and up from just 12 percent when the poll was first taken in 1969.

Same-sex marriage is another issue that has seen a dramatic rise in approval over the last few years. According to Gallup, 61 percent of Americans now believe that same-sex marriages should be recognized by the law as valid, with just 37 percent against it. Just eight years ago, when Democrats gained full control of the government through landslide victories, only four in 10 Americans thought these marriages should be recognized.

This is another instance where policy and the public agree. The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees the right for same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states June 26, 2015.

While the nation certainly seems to be headed to the left on many social issues, there is one issue that has undoubtedly jumped to the right: guns.

An ABC-Washington Post poll taken a few months after the Columbine massacre in 1999 put those favoring stricter gun control 36 votes ahead of those opposing it. When the same poll was taken a few months after the Newtown massacre of 2013, the 29 point margin had been cut to just seven.

While gun control advocates still hold a small advantage on public opinion, the anti-gun control lobby has been a stronger force in influencing most politicians, and the Trump administration has already begun to repeal the few gun control laws that the Obama administration was able to write.

We also begin to see a long list of economic issue where America has been drifting to the right, though in these cases, public opinion doesn’t seem to agree.

The minimum wage, which was a big talking point in the 2016 elections, has increased just seven times in the past 35 years, but increased 20 times in the preceding 35-year period, according to the Department of Labor. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation and gains in productivity since the late 60s, the minimum wage would be over $20/hour today, but the federal minimum wage is currently $7.25/hour.

However, more than 70 percent of Americans, including half of all Republicans, think the minimum wage should be increased. Gallup has not found this number to fall below the 70 percent mark since the poll started tracking in 1995.

Another hot-button issue during the elections was, and will always be, taxes.

The top marginal tax rate is 39.6 percent as of 2015, and has been between 28 percent and 40 percent since Reagan’s second term. From the end of the Great Depression until Reagan’s election, we never went below a top rate of 70 percent.

According to Gallup, 61 percent of Americans believe upper-income people are not paying their fair share of taxes, which is up a couple points from five years ago, but down from 67 percent 10 years ago.

Overall, the American public certainly does seem to be moving left on many social issues and staying left on many economic issues. However, while policy has been following the public on social issues, it has been gradually shifting right on economic issues like the ones mentioned above, as well as organized labor, corporate power and single-payer health care.

Matt Heffler is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “Is America moving left or right?”

  1. David Hunt 1990 on February 21st, 2017 10:03 am

    We’re not becoming more Left or more Right, but rather more polarized.

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




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