Progressivism is Popular and Conservatism is Not!

By Colin Bowers (@colinsonofroy) and Brandon Williams (@bmwilly)

Due to gerrymandering and a flood of money from billionaire donors to the Republican Party tomorrow’s election is going to be close. Most forecasters think Democrats need to win the national popular vote by at least 5 points to take the House and have just more than a prayer to take the Senate (though prayers do happen!). Of course, regardless of the result, Trump will remain president with Republicans will still control a surprising range of states, including some deeply Democratic ones. A visitor unfamiliar with the American system could reasonably look at these results and conclude that the Republican party advocates for a popular set of policies. They would be completely wrong.

Much like last week’s post on swing district independents, we can look at the New York Times Upshot/Siena polling to see how swing district voters feel about the major political issues of the day. We used polls through November 4th for this post and weighted responses using the Upshot likely voter model. On five of six questions covering five major issues (guns, health care, taxes, race, and immigration), a majority swing of district voters favor the progressive position. The only exception is the Trump tax cuts, where swing district voters slightly favor the conservative position. Some of the Upshot/Siena questions ask about a specific policy preference, such as an assault weapons ban, while others cover more general attitudes, like whether an individual believes the president’s lies about immigrants and crime.


Moreover, swing district independents favor the progressive position on all six questions. Once again, the closest issue is the Trump tax cut, where independents (other) are nearly split in their support.


An exploration of the crosstabs on the single payer question demonstrates further the popularity of progressive policies. The Upshot/Siena team asked “Do you support the creation of a national insurance program, in which every American would get insurance from a single government plans?” Support for such a program goes beyond Obamacare and the standard position of the Democratic party, and doesn’t even mention the popular Medicare program. And yet, it is overwhelmingly popular among swing district Democrats and very popular among swing district independents. Even one-fourth of Republicans support this progressive dream!


Among self-identified independents, single payer support decreases with age. This trend does not really occur among Democrats or Republicans. Single payer support among Democrats is basically flat around 90 percent and single payer support among Republicans drops rapidly at 35 and then stays nearly constant around 20 percent. It’s possible this trend is a quirk of the sample size but independent voters may also be responding to the Republican lie that Democrats want to destroy the coverage provided by Medicare and Medicaid to pay for a single payer system. It should give progressives hope for the future that over 35 percent of young swing district Republicans support single payer health care.

The bottom of this post has similar heatmaps for the five other questions asked by the Upshot/Siena team. Since the questions were structured in different ways, blue visualizations means progressives support the policy in question and red visualizations mean conservative support the policy in question. With the tax cuts as an exception, every demographic slice of independents favor progressive policies to conservative ones. Even in the case of the tax cut support is weak, just over 50 percent of independents over fifty years old support them. Looking at the race crosstabs in swing districts, no overarching trend really emerges. Age, however, paints a different story. Younger independents and Republicans tend to be less conservative than the older peers. The most significant exception to this finding is on an assault weapons ban, which 28 percent of 18 to 34 year old Republicans support compared to 49 percent of Republicans older than 65. Guns aside, the Upshot/Siena polling paints an encouraging portrait for progressives.

The American system may be full of systemic disadvantages, but our ideas, especially single payer, really are popular.


Code for this analysis can be found here and here.

Colin Bowers (@colinsonofroy) is a data analyst and engineer with an interest in using data science to advance progressive causes, especially those related to the environment, international affairs, and social justice.

Brandon Williams (@bmwilly) is a data scientist living in Berlin, Germany whose interests include machine learning and prison abolition.

Ethan Winter