Monday, July 27, 2009

How Conservative Are Americans Really?

As a sea of blue ballots swept the Republicans from the Congress and the White House, many on the left (and the RINOs on the near left), rushed out to declare the end of conservative America. The era of Reagan was dead. The country had moved left. It was time to consider a new way.

But have Americans really moved left? No, they didn't. Let’s look at some recent polling data. . .

The Democratic Party Is Crashing

Despite the Democrats total control of the Congress and the White House, the American public is very unhappy with the course the Democrats have charted. Indeed, only 30% of Americans think we are headed in the right direction -- a number that should be much higher if the public had shifted left.

And this reflects in people’s opinions about the parties. A full 54% of Americans now say the average Congressional Democrat is too liberal (only 36% believe the average Republican is too conservative). Consequently, for four weeks now, the Republicans have led the Democrats in the generic Congressional ballot (42% to 38%). This lead is similar to 1994, when the Republicans captured the Congress for the first time since dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

Moreover, Americans now trust Republicans more than Democrats on eight of ten key electoral issues:

(click on chart to enlarge)

Obama Is Crashing Too

Obama too has lost steam. He is now seen as liberal by 76% of Americans, with 48% describing him as "very liberal." This is not good news for Obama as only 20% of Americans view the description "liberal"” as a positive.

This fact reflects in his approval rating, which has fallen to 49% for the first time. And this is after his 55% June approval rating made him the tenth least-liked President of the last twelve at that point in his presidency. He beat out only Clinton and Gerald Ford.

Further, a majority (53%) of Americans now think that it is somewhat likely that the next President will be a Republican. In fact, while Obama beat McCain by a comfortable margin (53% to 46%), Obama only ties Mitt Romney in the latest poll (45% to 45%) and he only beats Sarah Palin (48% to 42%). This is hardly a recipe for success.

Americans Remain Deeply Conservative

But opinions about politicians are one thing, how do Americans feel about the issues? The answer is that they are remarkably conservative. Let’s take a closer look at the data.

Below is a chart, in which I’ve listed various issues and plotted how the public (as well as Republicans, Democrats, and the Unaffiliated) line up on those issues. Note that the further to the right each data point rests, the more conservative that group was in its response, and vice versa. Anything above 50% should be considered a conservative response, anything below should be considered liberal.

The results are quite interesting. Take a look and then we’ll talk. . .

(Click to Enlarge)

** All data from Rasmussen and/or Gallop
** Questions rephrased for brevity and clarity

Consider this. . .
• The public as a whole only dips below the 50% demarcation line once. This indicates a generally conservative public.

• Unaffiliated voters only drop below the 50% demarcation line once. Moreover, they respond more often above 60% than they do below 60%, thus indicating a very conservative group.

• Republicans consistently responded between 65% and 90%, again indicating a very conservative group.

• Democrats are the outliers. They fall significantly lower than any other group on each data point, although they often respond above the 50% demarcation line as well.

So what does this tell us? It tells us that America remains a conservative country. It tells us that the electoral failures of the last two elections were not the result of a shift to the left by the public, but by a failure of the Republican party to connect with voters.

It also tells us that shifting to the left is the wrong idea. Indeed, between 60% and 70% of non-Democrats favor the conservative view on virtually every issue. Thus, there is little to be gained and much to be lost by a shift to the left.

The first chart further tells us that the areas in which the Republicans must improve their connection with the electorate are (1) health care, (2) education, and (3) government ethics. (Might we suggest CommentaramaCare? We will also discuss education reform and ethics reforms in the future.)

Finally, this tells us that the Democratic agenda will remain deeply unpopular, as is being borne out now in Obama’s poll numbers and in those of the Democratic Congress.


StanH said...

This country is inherently conservative, put forth a conservative candidate (Reagan) and sweep the field. I fear however this is not what Washington wants, everyone in Washington loves government right and left the only difference is by degree.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, I think you're right and I think the data bears that out.

There was some data about the opinions of politicians, but not enough to include in the charts. But what was there showed that they were far left as a group -- even much further left that the Democrats on the chart in the post (only journalists were further left).

What I think is interesting, is how many times do you hear the media say "the Republican party is out of the mainstream." This data really puts the lie to that. The Democrats are the ones out of the mainstream.

LoneWolfArcher said...

If Republicans can't recapture congress in 2010 then they have really fumbled the ball. The 2010 election is ripe for the picking.

AndrewPrice said...

LoneWolfArcher, I'm not convinced yet about 2010 for two reasons: (1) the numbers are so large that it will be difficult to grab the entire Congress in one election, and (2) the Republicans have yet to show that they are an acceptable alternative. People not trusting the Democrats is one thing, starting to trust the Republicans is another.

Hopefully, over the next several months, they will outline who they are in a postive way, to give voters something to believe in.

If they don't do that, then I'm not sure how they will do in 2010, AND, even if they win, I'm not sure they will have any mandate to act.

Writer X said...

Two things jumped out at me from reading your most excellent post today, Andrew:

1) These opinions, this mood, is not refected anywhere in anything I read in the MSM. Not a huge surprise, but still...

2) The Republican Party is doing a lousy job of making this data work for them. Are most Republican politicians too liberal? Or too dumb? As you said, "It tells us that the electoral failures of the last two elections were not the result of a shift to the left by the public, but by a failure of the Republican party to connect with voters."

Couldn't agree more.

Unknown said...

Andrew: I think the single conservative principle that pops out of all the statistics is the inherent American distrust of big government. When Bush and the Republicans continued to expand government, the public viewed them as not conservative and only different from the Democrats in the details. That's a recipe for disaster. Republicans just suffered that disaster in the two waves of 2006 and 2008. Until the Republican Party recognizes that people want government out of their lives and off their backs, and makes it clear that it is a bedrock principle of the party, there will be no Republican resurgence.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, Thanks. I'm glad you liked it.

Those were the exact two thoughts that struck me. Isn't interesting that we don't hear about this in the MSM -- all we hear about is how the Republicans are out of touch, AND why haven't the Republicans been able to connect with the voters? I think the answer to that has to do with the Republicans losing their philosophical core over the last eight years -- huge budgets, intrusive government, and poor management, and with the strong hint of corruption that has come out of DC.

Hopefully, all that will change.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I think you're right. The guiding principle seems to be less intrusion on all fronts. Let's hope somebody's listening.

freedom21 said...

I’m pretty certain that I am not the youngest one who reads this blog, but I am going to go out on a limb and speak for the twenty-somethings.

We are a brain-washed generation.

We are a liberal generation.

Those of us that aren’t liberal are too concerned with paying off our loans and becoming successful/making a family/making a life to be concerned with politics. Indeed, most conservatives are smart enough to see that politics is a dead end road for career development, especially if your politics the “keep the small and restricted” type.

We are the generation that *believes* in global warming, that America is imperialist, that thinks that homeless people have just had a bad hand dealt to them, that Africa could really succeed if we threw even more money at it. I want to stress the word believe because nothing we think is based on fact. Our education was based on theory, not figures or outcomes.

While it is probably true that the country as a whole is conservative, I can unequivocally say that the 1980-and after are not.

Ok, after that, I want to redeem your hope in our generation. One of the kids in my law school actually ran the Nader campaign for the past two elections. I say this to stress to you that he is very very liberal…and even he is beginning to realize the effect of some of the leftist policies. (He is the liberal I trust most to give me hard core facts when I call him late at night and say "Please please please tell me cap and trade/card check/stimulus bill" isnt the worst idea in the history of man kind")

AndrewPrice said...

Freedom21, don't despair.

When I went to high school, we were all Reaganites. By the time I got to college, everyone seemed to have become hard core leftist. But they weren't really, it was just trendy.

The conservatives remained uninvolved or sat quietly as the idiot brigade loudly proclaimed that we could solve world hunger and homelessness and man's imhumanity to man, if only we would try what had already been tried a dozen times, but this time spent more money doing it.

And once they left the room, it was business as usual among the rest of us.

And as everyone moved out into the work force (and learned that they weren't God's gift to the planet) and as they started having kids (and they learned a little thing called responsibility), they slowly but surely shifted right.

So far, the younger generation has been pampered and coddled to an amazing degree, but the economic downturn is slowly knocking a little reality into them. You see it every day in the business news as company after company abandons the "internet model" and returns to requiring productivity and weeding out the slacker population.

freedom21 said...

AP, thats good to hear. I like to think that we're not all that different from generations past...but I am just not so sure. I find it comforting that "weeding out" is back. The fact that it is completely gone from the schooling system is beyond disconserting.

Still, I fear that no one fears responsibility any more. So many people go and get govt jobs where its nearly impossible to get fired...or go non profit...or stay in academia for waaaaaay too long.

Perhaps I shouldnt be blogging today...I clearly am without hope.

AndrewPrice said...

Freedom21, read the chart again, it will give you hope. :-)

Also, think about this, they put so many eggs into the "Obama as messiah" basket, and with such intensity, that his increasingly inevitable failure will act like a dose of reality as well.

Reality has a way of sorting most people out. . . not all, but most.

The biggest danger for us would have been a calm, rational, moderate Obama/Pelosi, hooking people on the idea that government is the solution to all problems -- followed by their bigger plans years down the road. But they over-promised and they over-reached and they will slowly turn people off their politics again.

The Republicans just need to learn to offer a good alternative.

ScottDS said...

freedom21 and Andrew -

I'm 26, yet why do I feel there has been this huge generational change, like I barely escaped by the skin of my teeth? I don't feel as if I have been coddled by my parents and I've been working steadily since my sophomore year of high school. I sure as hell don't think I'm God's gift to the planet. Most of my friends from film school are working, not necessarily in the film biz, but working nonetheless. Many of my school friends have gotten married and I'm (slightly) envious of them. I see their family photos on Facebook and I mockingly shake my fist: "You and your happy family and your middle-class American dream lifestyle!" :-D

I'll go out on a limb and say I've gotten a tad more conservative in the last, oh, five years. I never considered myself "liberal" (at least in the way it's currently defined) but when people ask, I tell them I'm for small government and low taxes. Yes, the right has a marketing problem. Most of my friends hear "Republican" and think Jerry Falwell (I was not a fan). I've come to learn that is not the case and, despite some vocal nutjobs, that there are plenty of people on the right who aren't like that. Sure I lean to the left on a couple of big issues (one begins with "g" and the other begins with "a") but I lean to the right on a few others, including affirmative action and the death penalty.

So where does a guy like me fit in? I joked on a thread here last month that I would register with the Republican Party if Obama and Co. started taxing soda (I don't think they will). Then I look at the talking heads. Not that Olbermann and Maher are paragons of civility but I admit I look at people like Ms. Coulter and I ask myself, "Do I really want to be on her side?" Maybe that's why I like Andrew Sullivan - he seems to annoy everyone. :-)

freedom21 said...

ScottDS. Please tell me that the G issue is the gay issue and not the green issue.

I'm still mad that they tax booze. I only travel internationally so I can shop at duty free.

ScottDS said...

freedom21 -

It's the gay marriage issue, although I would be okay with civil unions (I'm straight, by the way). And I don't expect anyone else to agree with me; I can only speak for myself.

As for the green issue, I am of two minds on the subject: while I do believe humans have an impact, I am not about to go into a paranoid frenzy about it. And I don't think the government should be telling us what light bulbs to use. The market will take care of that. And I fear the "going green" marketing buzz is 1.) in danger of jumping the shark, assuming it hasn't already, and 2.) taking attention away from real eco developments made by scientists and colleges and corporations around the world (just look at any issue of Popular Science... cool stuff!). :-)

Tennessee Jed said...

Very interesting. I have always felt that Obama won, not because he was all that popular, but the financial markets had just crashed, McCain was a singularly poor campaigner, and people were looking for a change. Even though the signs should have been clear, Obama's handlers went to great length to make it appear he would govern from closer to the center.

There is no reason on God's green earth if the Republicans can find a candidate who is reasonably articulate and who can come forward with real alternative proposals to curb spending, reform health care to attack costs they can win. My feeling on education is the same as health care. Colleges never attack their costs, they just raise tuition. A person who comes up with a program to address that will be effective.

Unfortunately, Republicans have the reputation as good on foreign policy, crummy on domestic policy. Democrats are the opposite, but have always been vulnerable on the cost be damned approach to that policy. The Republicans did lose because they deserted the financial principles that originally put them in power

AndrewPrice said...


I am glad to hear that you have not been coddled. :-)

Let me say first, that obviously no broad brush statement can apply to everyone, nor is that my intent. But it's pointless and confusing to caveat every statement we make.

Secondly, let me give you an example of how the coddling has manifested itself.

For years, we have heard stories of hyper-grade inflation in colleges, threats of lawsuits (by parents) at the merest hint of a slight to their child in any activity, soccer games that don't keep score, schools dumping grading entirely, school track programs being eliminated, dumming down standardized tests, and on and on.

Each of these was done on the basis of protecting the self-esteem of the children.

As a result, many of these kids ended up with a super-inflated opinion of their own ability because they'd never faced criticism. They also had no idea how to handle criticism.

Then a few years ago I read a story that seemed incredible to me. After receiving a poor evaluation from a boss, a Gen-Yer asked their mother to call the boss to demand an explanation.

This was so stunning I literally thought the story was fake. What kind of bizarre thought process would lead someone to ask their parents to act as a go-between with their boss?

Then it happened again. . . and again. Soon, a great many HR administrators and bosses had stories of being contacted by angry parents who complained that "the boss isn't being fair" to their fully-grown child.

When people started putting two and two together, they realized, these were the same parents who had been blaming the teacher when their student didn't do well (ask any teacher: the numbers of these people is growing year by year), who contacted college professors to complain about how their kids were being treated, and who did their kid's homework for them in K-12.

These lessons clearly had carried over into the employment arena. And for a time, that worked for them because the country had an employee shortage. But with unemployment rising, employers are now taking back all of the ground they gave. And ultimately, that will reshape them politically.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, (part 2)

Don't worry about disagreeing with anyone here on any particular view -- heck, our contributors don't even agree on many issues.

The Republican party actually has many facets. Part of it is religious right, part is libertarian right. Part of it is classical liberal. Part of it is generic pro-business. Part of it is just good-old-fashioned-fuddy-duddy -- people who don't have a particular philosophy, but who don't like the left messing with a system that has served us so well in the past.

Each of these has good qualities and bad qualities. Unfortunately, the Republicans have been very bad at getting out the message of how broad and dynamic the party really is.

This has allowed the media to define the party according to the most extremist elements of each group. Hence, people see the party as Jerry Falwell, pro-Big Business, anti-government, and seeking a return to the 1950s.

The truth is that there is room in the party for all of us, and we can disagree about individual issues so long as we do it respectfully and so long as we take the time to realize that the people we disagree with are not evil, they just see things differently.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, agreed. And that's the reason that I think the Republicans need to come up with good plans to reform health care and education, and ways to assure people that they will act in a fiscally responsible manner.

Unknown said...

ScottDS: If you've read my comments on this site and Big Hollywood, you'll know that there's plenty of hope. I wasn't just a liberal, I was an activist in the New Left at Berkeley in the 60s. It's amazing what getting married, having kids, working for a living and getting back to your moral or religious roots can do. Although my fellow lefties took over the universities and the Democratic Party, many of us emigrated to the traditional life. And as bad as it seems, considering the current apparent political climate, our generation was the largest bloc of votes electing Ronald Reagan, twice. Be of good courage--the conservative movement is alive and well and germinating right this minute in your generation. As the great philosopher said, "it ain't over 'til it's over."

ScottDS said...

Andrew - thanks for the reply. Man, I'd drop dead before asking my parents to intervene on my behalf at my job. It's just not part of my programing. I've always liked the term "classical liberal" for some reason. In the book Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, Dana Carvey describes himself as a "radical moderate" and I like that too.

LawHawk - since I can't seem to participate in a thread without dropping a movie reference, I'll say your post about Berkley reminds me of the line from Star Trek IV (the whale movie) when Kirk explains Spock's eccentricities: "Back in the 60s, he was part of the free speech movement at Berkeley. I think he did a little too much LDS." :-)

Individualist said...


In reading your comments it got me thinking. The times that I was most politically active in my life were 1992-1994 and now 2008. The obvious reason being the rise of democrats in power. But in truth the only reason dems offend me is their insistence of involving themselvs in my life.

When Republicans are in power I have kind of go into a cocoon politically. I ignore politics because the truth is that on both sides there are so many crooked opportunists that sickens me.

The left are not like this. They are always on, always involved and with the (it seems to me singleminded view) of gaining power. I think that is the issue with conservaties and libertarians. We don't involve ourselves in politics to transform the world we involve ourselves in Politics to be left alone. IF we want change we give to charity, attend church events help out with the community in groups that are not associated with the government.

Just a thought.

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, I think you make a good point. We have a natural disadvantage in that we really are quite happy when Washington just leaves us alone, but the left is always working to change things -- so they do try harder.

Scott, Great line! I too would be mortified if my mother started calling my boss to argue about an evaluation. I think most people would. But apparently, not everyone.

jenniebird said...

The words "liberal" and "conservative" don't accurately describe the two sides I think...for instance..I would think of a "liberal" as someone dedicated to liberty and freedom, yet liberals today all seem to want to control every aspect of our is that "liberal"?
It seems to be the "conservatives" that want change and less government control... I like to describe myself instead as a "small government constitutionalist".

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