To the dismay of the conservative movement, on virtually every burning issue that preoccupies the right, the country has moved steadily leftward. Election Day exit polling found, by a margin of 49 to 46, that a plurality of voters supported same-sex marriage. The same survey found that 59 percent of voters believe abortion should be legal in all (29 percent) or most (30 percent) cases, while only 36 percent believe it should be illegal in most (23 percent) or all (13 percent) cases…

Essentially, the new core of the party – minorities, unmarried men and women, young voters and whites with advanced degrees – is in general agreement on this broader spectrum of issues, forming a coalition of shared ideas.

The aggregation of a broad set of issues in forming a left or right political orientation marks a major change in American politics. Philip Converse, of the University of Michigan, studied data from the 1956 and 1960 elections and found that only a small minority of highly educated and well-informed voters viewed politics through what might be called an ideological lens.

But things have really changed since then.

Alan Abramowitz of Emory University has documented a major shift as voters have made decisions based on a collection of variables that once would have been seen as unrelated. In a study based on 2008 polling, Abramowitz found majorities or solid pluralities of voters formed consistently liberal or conservative views – not centrist positions – on a continuum of issues including gay rights and abortion; off-shore oil drilling; the Iraq war; health care; financial regulation; climate change and mortgage assistance to low-income homeowners.