Those who loudly opposed Clinton in both of those races — including hard-left liberal supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) in the primary and staunch Trump conservatives in the general — have reacted to her new book tour with predictable disdain. And since Clinton is now largely unshackled from any electoral repercussions for that disdain, she’s taking the opportunity to say things that have not been okayed by any pollsters.
“We’ve shrunk the political process to such a narrow set of questions,” Clinton said in an interview with Vox News. “And that’s in the interest of both the far right and the far left, both of whom want to blow up the system and undermine it and all the rest of the stuff they talk about. I think we operate better when we’re kind of between center right and center left, because that’s where — at least up until recently; maybe it’s changed now — until recently, that’s where most Americans were.”
Clinton’s 2016 primary attitude of embracing the views of the far-left of her party has given way to what is clearly her earnest belief: America really wants someone to operate from the middle.
This is not a surprising belief for her to hold. It is not surprising because it is largely reflected in the political positions she embraced over the course of her career. It is not surprising because it is the strategy that her husband embraced when he was president, crafting proposals that were aimed at blending the concerns of the right and the left.
That this is clearly Clinton’s earnest belief also shows why she struggled as much as she did in the Democratic primary.
In January, Gallup released new data on a trend that we’d reported on right after last year’s Iowa caucuses: Democrats have gotten more liberal. This causality was the opposite of what some speculated early last year, though. It wasn’t that Sanders was pushing people to the left. It was that the leftward movement among Democrats helped create space for Sanders — and tension for Clinton.
Notice that Democrats (and Democratic-leaning independents, included in the mix) are now more likely to say they’re liberal than moderate, which is the equivalent of Clinton’s “between center right and center left.” When her husband was president, a plurality of Democrats were moderate. Now, they aren’t.
That drift among Democrats has powered an overall uptick in the number of Americans who identify as liberal. Again: It was true that America was heavily moderate during the Clinton administration. Now, it’s less heavily moderate, and a plurality of Americans identify as conservative.
Why? Because Republicans are much more likely to say they’re conservative than Democrats are to say they’re liberal. We have to adjust the scale on our graphs.
Most Americans are not between center-left and center-right. The 2016 data shows that 70 percent of the country identifies as conservative or liberal.
That line from Clinton’s Vox interview kicked up the predictable amount of dust, largely from liberal Democrats who viewed her political navigation as fatal to her presidential prospects — and to any claim she might make to represent the Democratic Party. Clinton isn’t going to care that her comments annoyed her opponents. But it is surprising that, after the past 12 months, she still holds that view.
Last year, a plurality of voters chose the candidate who was closer to that middle space. As the Gallup data shows, that doesn’t mean that most Americans are in that space, too.