Pew Research Center Founding Director Andrew Kohut wrote an important Washington Post column last month highlighting the Democratic drift leftward during the Obama administration. Backed by decades of Pew data, Kohut concluded that Democrats have grown just as liberal as Republicans have become more conservative in recent years. "They are much more socially liberal than they were even a decade ago, more supportive of an activist government, more in favor of increased regulation of business," Kohut writes.
It's a useful corrective to the notion, fueled by the White House, that the Republican Party alone is responsible for gridlock in Washington. But Kohut downplays one significant factor that has expedited the Democratic polarization: President Obama himself.
In the piece, Kohut instinctively labels the Obama administration as centrist. But on all five major issues that divide the Democratic Party's liberals and moderates—the budget deficit, income inequality, the environment, social issues, and America's role in the world—Obama is on the leftward side.
Kohut's analysis avoids the biggest factor expediting Democratic polarization: the president's health care law. Obama entered office with a near-filibuster-proof Democratic supermajority in the Senate and his party holding 59 percent of seats in the House. Despite widespread opposition, he spent immense political capital to pass health care reform, which depleted his party's moderate Congressional wing. The Democrats who retired or lost reelection in the 2010 cycle disproportionately hailed from the party's middle. In just four years, the number of moderate Blue Dogs shrank from 54 to 19 members—with three more retiring this year, and at least five others facing tough reelection campaigns.