The leftist tail is wagging the American dog. Whether the left are proportionally larger than previously in America’s history is doubtful; that they have never had more influence is undeniable.
The left are enjoying a unique coincidence of circumstances that is greatly magnifying their political impact, while the rest of America — especially its moderates — are too preoccupied to complain.
The left’s message is everywhere, and their agenda is advancing at the local, state and national level. It follows that the left must be proportionally larger than at any point in America’s history, right? Wrong. The left’s seemingly ominous size is an illusion.
What is larger is not the left but the left’s influence. This is due to several uniquely favorable circumstances for the left, the greatest of which is American moderates passively accepting the left’s agenda.
Despite the left appearing to be America’s new majority, the left are a small minority. Exit polling from 2020’s presidential election found just 24 percent of voters self-identified as liberal. Even if all these voters were the radical left, which they are not, they would be just a quarter of America’s electorate.
That every liberal voter is not a leftist supporter is indicated by the fact that 10 percent of liberals voted for Donald Trump in 2020. Subtracting these out lowers the possible leftist ceiling to just 21.6 percent of America’s voters. It is safe to assume that even within this roughly one-fifth of the electorate there is opposition to the radical left. It is therefore plausible that the radical left are outnumbered by over four to one in America.
Although not predominant in the population, the left are in the establishment media. This is hardly new. The establishment media has been perceived to have a leftward bias for decades. What has changed is not their bias but their boldness. This boldness arises from unique factors that have appeared to greatly magnify the left.
One of these factors was the pandemic and their accompanying lockdowns. The pandemic allowed governments to take unprecedented control over Americans’ daily lives. Of course, the governments that seized the most control were also the most left. Locked in, shut out and often both, a lack of options made a large part of the American public a captive audience to the establishment media’s message.
Another factor was the 2020 presidential election’s unusually favorable coincidence for the left. The left dominated the Democrats’ contest and Joe Biden, lacking his own base of support, inherited them. Conversely, former President Trump was never able to command broad popular support; when the pandemic and its resulting crises hit, he lacked sufficient personal support to weather them — though he came remarkably close and, absent the pandemic, would likely have been re-elected.
Effectively, COVID-19, President Biden and Mr. Trump created vacuums that the left opportunistically filled. The resulting illusion is one of a looming left instead of the lucky one it was.
If the left’s illusion is due to such unique factors, why does it still continue? The left are preoccupied with retaining their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; the rest of America are preoccupied with regaining their normal lives. There is a reason why virtually all protests are the left’s: The left live to protest, while the rest of America have lives to live.
Wagging the dog is a cynical political expression. It describes a small minority ludicrously reversing the normal situation. In America, this can only happen if the dog allows itself to be wagged.
Despite their persistent insistence and the establishment media’s echoing, the left remain a small minority of Americans. At their largest, they are still outnumbered four to one nationally, and the more extremely left they are, the more lopsided the ratio is. Likely this ceiling is falling with each radical left misstep.
Certainly, there are pockets of America where the left comprise a local majority. They are not hard to find; merely look where conditions are bad and getting worse and there you will almost certainly find left majorities. Such a search is an exercise worth undertaking — especially by America’s pivotal moderates (38 percent of 2020’s voters). Until they do so, believe their eyes, and then join with conservatives to refute what they see, America can expect to continue being wagged.
• J.T. Young served in the Office of Management and Budget and at the Treasury Department.
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