They still trail their conservative-minded counterparts but a record number of Americans now consider themselves to be liberals.
Conservatives outnumber liberals–38 percent to 24 percent–but, according to Gallup, the 14 percent gap between the two is the smallest it’s been since 1992.
The percentage of U.S. adults who consider themselves liberal rose one percentage point for the third straight year, while the percentage for people who consider themselves politically conservative or moderate remained unchanged from 2013 to 2014.
The increase in the number of liberals could be the natural settling of the electorate after the high-point of conservatism in the 1990s, which included the Reagan-Bush era and the 1994 Republican Revolution, when the GOP picked up 54 seats in the House of Representatives and eight seats in the Senate during the 1994 midterm elections.
But George Mason University political analyst Mark Rozell thinks there’s more going on.
“Young people today are overwhelmingly socially liberal and tolerant,” he said. “As you have generational replacement–the older generations who are more socially conservative leaving the population, and then younger people [who] are much more socially progressive than their parents and grandparents–you’re naturally going to see some shifting in the overall numbers.”
Meanwhile, a record number of Americans now see themselves as political independents. The percentage of political independents climbed from 35 percent in 2008 to 43 percent in 2014.
Yet, even Americans who self-identify as independents tend to be partisan voters.
“Even though there are more independents in the electorate, there are more people who are voting predominantly for one political party in elections,” Rozell said. “So it raises the question of whether the rising percentage of independents is all that important when we look at the actually voting patterns of Americans which seem to be separating out as either, almost exclusively Democrat or exclusively Republican for most people.”
This suggests that the political middle is disappearing in the United States, which threatens the American tradition of political adversaries sitting together to reach a compromise for the good of the nation.
“Now it seems the ethic is more to defeat and vanquish one’s enemies on the other side of the aisle and there’s little ground for negotiation or compromise,” Rozell said. “I don’t know at what point the American public understands how damaging these developments have been to democratic processes in the country and begins to demand that political leaders shift back to a different method of operation where it was OK to sit down with opponents on the other side and work out reasonable compromises and make good public policies.”