October 15, 2019 | By Jack Benjamin

6 Ways in Which Liberal and Moderate Democrats Diverge on Key Issues

A total of 37 percent of the 2019 Chicago Council Survey sample self-identify as supporters of the Democratic party; of this portion, 57 percent identify as liberals and the rest as moderate/conservatives. Here are 7 key areas in which liberal Democrats diverge from moderate/conservative Democrats.

  1. Foreign adversaries’ nuclear programs as a critical threat

Moderate/conservative-leaning Democrats are more concerned than liberal Democrats over nuclear threats posed by Iran (68% vs. 39%) and North Korea (69% vs. 57%). However, both liberal (75%) and moderate/conservative (80%) Democrats believe the world is becoming a more dangerous place overall.

  1. Political polarization in the US as a critical threat

A majority of liberal Democrats (59%) view political polarization as a critical threat, but only 41 percent of moderate/conservative Dems feel the same way. In 2018, liberal Democrats were the most likely out of any group to say they have participated in campaigns and contacted public officials about personal or political problems and were also most likely to be interested in national, electoral, and international news stories. This may have heightened their attention to political polarization.

  1. Climate change as a critical threat

For the first time since the question was asked in 2008, a majority (54%) of Americans consider climate change to be a critical threat, primarily driven by Democrats and younger respondents. Though strong majorities of both liberal and moderate/conservative-leaning Democrats listed climate change as a critical threat, liberal Democrats (90%) were far likelier to do so than moderate/conservative Democrats (63%).

  1. Military vs. diplomatic security preferences

Liberal Democrats differ from moderate/conservative Democrats on preferred foreign policy tactics. Liberals are more likely to favor diplomatic initiatives such as maintaining alliances with other nations (85% vs. 68% moderate/conservative), participating in international organizations (76% vs. 53% moderate/conservative), and providing humanitarian (72% vs. 48% moderate/conservative) and economic (64% vs. 41% moderate/conservative) aid to other countries.

Meanwhile, moderate/conservative Democrats are more likely to say that maintaining US military superiority makes the country safer (68% vs. 56% liberal). Further, while only by minorities, moderate/conservative Democrats were more likely to say that increasing the US nuclear weapon arsenal (38% vs. 20% liberal), conducting drone strikes against suspected terrorists (44% vs. 37% liberal), and intervening militarily in other countries to solve conflicts (31 vs. 26% liberal) makes the US safer.

  1. American Exceptionalism

Belief in American exceptionalism has been dropping over the past decade (57% overall vs. 70% in 2012, the first year the question was asked), but the change has primarily been driven by liberal, rather than moderate/conservative Democrats. Just 39 percent of liberal Dems say the US is the greatest country in the world, whereas 57 percent of moderate/conservatives Dems say the same. This gap in opinion has widened since Donald Trump was elected to office in 2016.

  1. Immigration

    Immigration has continued to be a hot button issue this election cycle, and though Democrats are generally in a pro-immigration consensus, moderate/conservative Democrats are more likely than liberal Democrats to favor punitive measures such as imposing new fines on businesses that hire illegal immigrants (61% vs. 49% liberal), increasing border security (66% vs. 47% liberal), and carrying out more arrests and deportations (42% vs. 19% liberal). However, both groups agree that creating a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants that speak English, pay taxes, and have steady employment is an effective policy solution (89% liberal, 86% moderate/conservative).

    For more, read the full brief here.





      The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

      The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

      The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.


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