Reason magazine is much too libertarian for me to agree with it too often, but I do appreciate its honesty. They have a great post out today that debunks this myth, promulgated for years, that there is a giant majority of conservatives in our country. They site polls that show self reporting of people saying that they are conservative or moderate… but when you look at where these people actually stand on the issues, you find that this just doesn’t bear out.
About one-third of Americans say they fall in the middle of the road. But “a very large portion of the people who tell pollsters they are ‘moderates’ are in fact loyal, partisan Democrats who view their own party as representing moderate views,” writes Olsen in the journal National Affairs. “These voters are clearly not open to persuasion by the right or center-right, and they constitute a hidden ‘liberal’ component of the electorate that traditional poll questions tend to overlook.”
Not only that, but when people say they are conservative, they don’t mean they subscribe to the philosophical tenets of the intellectual right. This is particularly true of white, working-class voters, whom Olsen credits for the Republican House sweep.
As a rule, they don’t like taxes or deficits, but they value public schools and Social Security. They resent welfare dependency but want a government safety net.
The temptation of any political party is to interpret any impressive triumph as an enduring affirmation of its ideology. Democrats did it after their 2008 triumph, with the left-of-center magazine The New Republic running an article titled, “America the Liberal.”
But Obama won more because of the lousy economy than his worldview—which, as it happens, was also true of Reagan in 1980. Since taking office, Obama has been forcefully reminded that America is much less liberal than his party imagined.
These kinds of polls merely ask the wrong questions. Polling on the issues shows that most people are not as ideologically extreme as either party, and those identifying with either party dwindles after each election cycle.
I see this all the time on Twitter, and in comments of blogs. The country does seem to tilt a smidge to the right overall, but is by no means a conservative country overwhelmingly.