Moderates, Liberals, and Why Democrats Have No Spine.

Democrats really want compromise, says a new poll by USA Today and Gallup. Republicans? Not so much:

Americans think it is generally more important for political leaders to compromise to get things done (47%) rather than sticking to their beliefs (27%), but Republicans and Democrats hold differing views on the matter. Republicans tilt more toward saying leaders should stick to their beliefs (41% to 32%), while Democrats more widely endorse compromise (by 59% to 18%).

As Kos notes, this could explain the party's gutlessness on virtually everything:

My half-baked theory is that partisans are responding to the rhetoric of their leaders. Republicans speak forcefully about defending their principles as they stand firm in the way of Democratic communism. Democrats speak forcefully about nothing, apologize constantly for being Democrats, and literally beg Republicans for bipartisan cover for their initiatives.

If the Democratic leadership acted with confidence, their supporters might actually follow suit.

Elite signaling matters a lot, so I wouldn't be shocked if this explains some of the results. My half-baked (well, three-quarters-baked) theory is that this partially reflects the ideological composition of the Democratic Party. Democrats, according to a 2008 Pew survey of ideological identification within the parties, are an ideologically diverse bunch: 34 percent identify as liberal, 37 percent as moderate, and 25 percent as conservative. To put that in broader context, in November 2008 -- at a high point of American liberalism -- only 34 percent of Democrats could bring themselves to identify as liberal.

Compare that to the overwhelming conservative dominance of the GOP; 69 percent of Republicans call themselves conservative, with a small moderate wing of 25 percent, and a confused liberal wing of 4 percent. In light of last week's elections, I think it's fair to say that self-described conservatives are a larger share of the party than they were in 2008, with far fewer moderates and almost no liberals.

As a final demographic note, we should also keep in mind that among Americans as a whole, 42 percent describe themselves as conservative, while 35 percent call themselves moderate, and 20 percent claim liberal.

I don't disagree that Democrats are spineless, but how much it has to do with cowardice, and how much of it has to do with the simple fact that liberals are a minority in the Democratic Party and the country at large? When Republicans go hard against Democrats, they have the advantage of ideological unity and a country that likes the conservative label. Democrats don't have that luxury and risk alienating moderates if they go too far with their rhetoric.

Believe me when I say that I would like Democrats to have a bit more backbone, but given the demographics of the party, it's understandable that they don't.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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