BOSTON — If you watched this week’s Democratic National Convention, you saw well-meaning, patriotic, politically active delegates from around the country fully participating in American democracy.
But what you may not know about them is that they were well to the left of most rank-and-file Democrats on the fundamental economic, social and national security issues — more so than the general electorate.
For example, an ideological gulf exists over the Iraq war between the 4,300-plus convention delegates who were gathered here, their party at large and the general voting population. Nine out of 10 delegates said the war to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime “was not worth the loss of life and other costs,” according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.
Although 93 percent of the delegates held that view, another poll shows that the country is much more evenly divided over Iraq, with 46 percent of all voters still supporting the invasion. Even 21 percent of all Democratic voters still say the war was the right thing to do.
A similar gulf separates the delegates from their party and the rest of the country on the war on terrorism. Seventy-seven percent of the delegates said they were more worried that anti-terrorism laws will restrict civil liberties. But only 53 percent of all Democratic voters hold that view, and 43 percent of all voters.
Notably, very few delegates — barely one in six — see the Iraq war and terrorism as one of the most important issues in this election. Instead, more than half see the economy and jobs as the chief issues, compared to one-third of all voters who hold this view.
Another survey by the Associated Press similarly found that 70 percent of all delegates ranked the economy and jobs as the most important issue in the country right now. That was followed by health care (52 percent), Iraq (44 percent), education (37 percent) and fighting terrorism (17 percent).
Most surveys have alternately placed the economy and the war on terrorism and Iraq in the top two tiers of issues that most concern the American people. But the convention delegates do not see the need to give terrorism the same priority that the rest of the country does.
The Times/CBS survey, which polled 1,085 of the delegates at random over the past month, stated that the delegates also saw themselves as far more liberal than most voters and most Democrats.
Asked to describe their views, 41 percent of the delegates identified themselves as “very or somewhat liberal,” 52 percent called themselves moderates and 3 percent said they were “very or somewhat conservative.”
A much smaller percentage off all Democratic voters surveyed, 33 percent, called themselves liberals and 19 percent said their views were conservative.
Among the general electorate, though, only 20 percent said they were liberal, while 42 percent called themselves moderates and 35 percent said they were conservative.
Another area that separated the Democratic convention delegates from the rest of the country was their views on social issues. Among the biggest differences:
- The death penalty: Only 19 percent of delegates say murderers should be executed versus 66 percent who favor life in prison. But 39 percent of all Democrats favor capital punishment, as do 50 percent of all voters.
- Religion: 62 percent of the convention delegates say the candidates should not “make this a part of a presidential campaign,” while 33 percent said they “should discuss the role of religion in their lives.” Democrats as a whole agree with that.
But voters overall are almost evenly divided, with 48 percent saying that religion should be discussed and 50 percent saying it shouldn’t.
- Same-sex marriage: 44 percent of the delegates support same-sex marriage, 43 percent back civil unions and only 5 percent opposed both.
This is in contrast to 33 percent of all Democrats and 40 percent of all voters who oppose all legal recognition of such marriages.
- Abortion: Three-fourths of the delegates think abortion “should be available to those who want it,” compared to 49 percent of Democratic voters and 34 percent of all voters who take that position.
The racial makeup of the delegates generally mirrors the population as a whole: 18 percent were black and 12 percent were Hispanic. But the convention was over-weighted with union members, a major power bloc in the party. Union activists made up more than one-fourth of the delegates, even though union members represent only 13 percent of all voters.
What this all boils down to is that the Democratic nominating process is fully in the grip of the dominant liberal wing of the Democratic Party. When Howard Dean’s antiwar candidacy collapsed, the party turned to the man who has the most liberal voting record in the Senate, John Kerry. Dean-like, Kerry voted against giving the troops we sent into war the funds they needed to fight the terrorists. The party’s centrists were completely shut out of this nomination race. Just ask Sen. Joe Lieberman.
The result was an ultra-liberal Democratic convention that was totally out of sync with mainstream voters and a left-wing Democratic ticket that pessimistically says the United States has been divided into two countries. That’s not positive or optimistic, and that, of course, is not America.