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Liberalism growing in U.S., polls say

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Results of a series of Gallup polls released on January 10 offer progressive political promise for the new year: the number of Americans who self-identify as liberal reached a new high of 23 percent in 2013.

The results don’t necessarily indicate any changing of conservative minds, who retain a 38-percent presence, but a shift from center, instead.

According to Gallup:

The changes in ideological identification among party groups has resulted in a rise in the percentage of Americans overall who call themselves liberal and a decrease in the percentage of moderates.

The growth doesn’t automatically mean changes in beliefs, though. Instead, Gallup finds, a growth in social acceptability of liberal principles has more lefties coming out of the Democratic Party’s closet.

Now, the plurality of Democrats consider themselves to be politically liberal, whereas a decade ago, Democrats were most likely to say they were moderate. That could be because Democrats are now more comfortable calling themselves "liberal" -- a term that was less popular in the recent past -- even if their current and past views on issues are similar. But it could also reflect an evolution in their views to favor more traditionally liberal issue positions.

Borrowing from results of another recent Gallup poll, progress in recent implementation of the Affordable Care Act could also be a trigger to this growth in liberal self-identification. Public approval of ACA slowly grew to 45 percent overall last year, shortly after national enrolment began in October.

Also, while a slight majority of the population has regularly disapproved of the program when identified collectively by one name, an overwhelming majority favor individual benefits of the Act, such as lifetime cap removal, tax credits and Medicaid expansion, when identified. As a result, more exposure to and positive experience with ACA could be prodding moderates to the left.

While the moderate-to-liberal flow isn’t affecting the size of conservative America, it’s definitely weakening its presence, says Gallup’s January 10 summary.

Even though the percentage of conservatives has generally held steady, the rise in liberal identification leaves conservatives with their smallest advantage over liberals in the last two decades.

Conservatives might be retaining their beliefs, but they’re flocking away from the Republican Party, Gallup says in another recently-released summary of its 2013 polls.

In the fourth quarter of 2013, only 22 percent of Americans identified as Republicans, a 25-year low; self-identification as independent reached an all-time high of 42 percent in annual average.

This growth could also indicate more success for liberal ideals in the future, too. A plurality of independents now say they lean Democratic on political issues.

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