The election of Donald Trump has created a misperception that America has lurched far to the right. But as a nation – and on a slate of issues – America is more progressive than ever. Take some glaring examples: Trump, whose election was funded by more than $30 million from the NRA, has vowed to curb background checks for gun purchases, even though more than 90 percent of Americans want background checks applied to all gun sales. In his first week, Trump targeted millions of undocumented Americans for “priority” deportation. But according to a national exit poll, 70 percent of voters want “illegal immigrants” to be granted legal status, with only 25 percent favoring deportation.
With numbers like these, how did Trump ever get elected? His campaign strategy was to stake out multiple, and often conflicting, stances across dozens of issues, tempting voters of all political stripes to convince themselves that the version of Trump they found appealing was the authentic Trump. In fact, Jane C. Timm at NBC News cataloged 141 different Trump positions across 23 major campaign issues – an average of six positions on each – amounting to “the most contradictory and confusing platform in recent history.” The strategy worked; Trump won support from a quarter of voters who said they wanted policies more liberal than those of the Obama administration.
As president, Trump has moved to the right. But national polls underscore that an agenda reflective of American priorities would look almost nothing like the policies now being crafted by the White House and Republican leaders in Congress.
On the question of climate change, for example, Trump has unveiled a fossil-fuel-first energy plan, and the White House says it is “committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.” Americans strongly disagree with this approach. Seventy-one percent want the U.S. to stick with the Paris Agreement to reduce global climate pollution, including 57 percent of Republicans. Fifty-five percent of the president’s own voters believe he should continue the climate-change policies of the Obama administration, and 73 percent want to maintain or increase government support for green energy. “There’s a lot of talk about this being the divided states of America,” says Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace. “But on some issues we’re not divided – a majority of people want the Earth’s climate to stay within that temperature range in which human life can continue.”
On women’s health, Speaker Paul Ryan and House Republicans have vowed to fast-track legislation defunding Planned Parenthood. But 80 percent of Americans approve of Planned Parenthood receiving federal funds – including 65 percent of Republicans – when they are informed that tax dollars cannot be used to pay for abortion services. Vice President Mike Pence wants to relegate Roe v. Wade to “the ash heap of history,” but that’s at odds with the 70 percent of Americans who support a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. “One of the most heartening but somewhat perplexing things,” Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards says, “is the number of Trump voters who are deeply concerned now about losing access.”
Trump and congressional Republicans have taken the first steps to repeal Obamacare, without presenting a plan for its replacement – a strategy opposed by 75 percent of Americans. Obamacare is now more popular than at any time since its passage. Nearly half of all Americans support the law as it stands, and only 16 percent support full repeal. Much of America’s discontent with the law, polls reveal, is that it is not generous enough. Nationwide, nearly 60 percent of Americans would favor replacing Obamacare with a federally funded national health plan.
Despite campaigning as a champion of the working man, Trump tapped as his labor secretary the fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder, a multimillionaire who opposed an Obama-era proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. A strong majority of Americans (60 percent) want to go much further; they support doubling the current minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Trump’s pick for education secretary, the billionaire GOP donor Betsy DeVos, is one of the nation’s leading proponents of using vouchers to pull federal dollars out of public education and into private schools. But 57 percent of Americans, and even 46 percent of Republicans, oppose using federal vouchers for private-school tuition.
In his confirmation hearing for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said he would not protect Americans who consume state-legal medical marijuana from federal harassment: “I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law,” he said. Across the country, Americans have left the U.S. government behind on this issue; 75 percent favor legal medical marijuana, and 60 percent favor the full legalization of cannabis. More than 60 million Americans already live in jurisdictions where recreational marijuana is legal under state law.
The wide divergence of public opinion from the agenda of America’s GOP-led government highlights a dark reality: Republicans are only in command in Washington because our republic is undemocratic. Every Hillary Clinton supporter knows that Trump won in the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote by more than 2.8 million ballots. The undemocratic skew of the Senate is even more striking: Republicans now hold 52 seats in the majority – despite these senators having received 23 million fewer votes than the 48 Democrats who sit in the minority. These institutions privilege the votes of inland and rural voters above the populations of the coasts and America’s urban centers.
The next page is a snapshot of what most Americans – including many GOP voters – support, in sharp contrast to the radical agenda of the Trump White House and Republicans in Congress.