Behind The Impasse: An Ideological Gap

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The nation seems polarized, Washington is gridlocked, Republicans don't want anything to do with the president's policies, and even Democrats, who control Congress by big margins, can't pass long-sought initiatives. What gives?

Perhaps it's President Obama's politics, which according to a new IBD/TIPP Poll are significantly out of alignment with the majority of Americans.

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Specifically, three of five Americans see themselves as politically to the right of where they see Obama. This includes not just eight of 10 Republicans but also two of three independents. Even a third of Democrats see themselves to the right of their party's leader.

Twenty percent gave themselves ratings to the left of the president, while 16% gave themselves and Obama the same rating.

These breakdowns were derived by asking 901 Americans earlier this month to rate themselves ideologically on a 10-point scale where 1 means very liberal and 10 means very conservative. Respondents also rated Obama on the same 10-point scale.

The average score respondents gave themselves worked out to 6.0 vs. an average score of 3.6 for Obama. The average ideology gap was 2.4.

The average scores of Democrats were 4.5 for themselves and 4.3 for Obama, with an ideology gap of 0.2 points. Thirty-two percent see themselves to the right of the president, 35% to the left and 30% the same.

Sixty-eight percent of independents see themselves to the right of Obama, with the rest split 15% left and 14% ideologically similar. Their average score for themselves was 6.2 vs. 3.5 for Obama, yielding an ideology gap of 2.7.

Republicans had the biggest ideology gap of 4.5, with the average for themselves at 7.3 and 2.8 for Obama.

Investors and noninvestors were very close regarding their self-description with averages at 6.0 and 5.8. But the ideology gaps with Obama were somewhat wider for investors at 2.7 vs. 1.8 for noninvestors.

The country's polarization can be traced to this ideology gap. It's also the biggest factor behind Obama's plummeting ratings. In addition, it helps explain the rise of the Tea Party movement as well as the impasse on the health reform.

Take the Tea Party movement. Nearly one in five (19%) of right-of-Obama households familiar with the movement said a member of their household was a member of it. This figure was only 3% and 4% for left-of-Obama and same-as-Obama households.

Overall, 64% of households familiar with the movement regard it favorably. But that jumps to 81% among households to the right of Obama. Comparable figures were 24% for left-of-Obama households and 35% for same-as-Obama households.
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Americans to the left of Obama support the health reforms proposed by the president and congressional Democrats 71% to 21%. Among those who are ideologically the same, the support is 65% to 15%. Right-of-Obama Americans oppose the proposed reforms 63% to 28%.

Overall, only 27% of respondents felt that the reforms under consideration early this month should be passed, and 67% felt Congress should start over on new legislation.

We are faced with a conundrum: President Obama won handsomely in 2008 with support of independents. They believed in him. But on becoming president, his positions swung to the left, and this simply was not palatable to the majority. Now everything feels like fitting a square peg in a round hole.

If the situation is to change, the president must narrow his ideology gap with Americans.

• Mayur is president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which directs the IBD/TIPP Poll that was the most accurate in the last two presidential elections.

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