Gallup: Americans of all political stripes becoming more conservative...or libertarian?

Following up on their poll showing that conservatives are the largest ideological group in America, Gallup (hardly a right-wing organization) released a survey yesterday showing that regardless of party affiliation and despite the results of the last election, the self-identified political views of Americas across party lines are becoming more conservative. Note that even Democrats have become more conservative rather than more liberal. I'll write more about it later in this note, but I actually believe that this poll shows Americans becoming somewhat more libertarian rather than purely conservative. This reinforces what I've been writing repeatedly: Liberals will learn the wrong lesson from 2008. As I noted in October, "Politicians and political activists of all stripes have a tendency toward a particular error: Believing that their side winning an election means the voters have given them a mandate and have made clear that they support all the ideas espoused by the winning candidates." While people across political parties say they've gotten more conservative, people who self-identify as "liberal" say they have gotten more liberal: Two key points to make here: Although liberals, particularly in liberal enclaves like NYC or Boulder or Berkeley, think that a majority (or at least a large minority) of the population shares their views (think of Pauline Kael’s famous quote about the 1972 election: “I don’t know how Nixon could have been elected; nobody I know voted for him.”), Gallup notes that only 18% of those polled describe themselves as liberal. What's key in this poll -- as in all polls these days -- is the views of moderates and independents, both groupings which show about twice as many people becoming more conservative rather than more liberal. [Brief tangent into electoral politics: This bodes very badly for Democratic electoral prospects in 2010 but, as I've said before, only if the GOP gives them a decent alternative. Some have argued that the recent events surrounding John Ensign, Mark Sanford, and Sarah Palin have done great damage to the GOP's chances, but I think it's far too early to make such pronouncements. Furthermore, don't think Palin was going to be a candidate for President or VP and I don't think John Ensign matters very much. Sanford's errors -- not just the affair(s) but the apparent spending of gov't money -- are worse. Which is why he needs to resign. Not just because he's broken the most important trust of the people regarding the use of their money but also because the longer he's around, the longer he'll be fodder for Democrats.] If you look at the issues Gallup polled specifically, you might agree with my conclusion (though I can't say it's not partly because it's what I want to see) that Americans are becoming more libertarian. Yes, becoming more "pro-life" is not a libertarian change -- although having that view is not the same as saying you'd support Federal regulation of the issue, so the 7-point increase in pro-life views could still contain some libertarian content in much the same way that I'm pro-choice but against Roe v Wade and believe there is a legitimate debate to be had over state regulation of abortion. The possibility that more pro-life views can still mean more libertarian views is strengthened by the poll's 7-point drop in people who say the government should promote "traditional values." Looking at issues outside of the "social" or "values-based" sphere, I think there's a distinct pro-libertarian trend: There was a 7-point jump, to 51%, of respondents saying protect the economy over the environment, a 6-point jump in people who do not favor a ban on handguns, and interestingly a 10-point drop in people who want to lower immigration levels into the country (I believe the question does not differentiate between legal and illegal immigration.) On one of the major issues of the day, Gallup notes first that the percentage of Americans "in favor of maintaining the current healthcare system" dropped 7 points. Next, however, we learn that "Gallup saw a seven-point increase, from 34% to 41%, in views that it is not the government's responsibility to provide all Americans with healthcare coverage." What this says to me is that we may see a repeat of HillaryCare: It polled very strongly until people learned what it really meant and what it would really cost. Then it didn't even get a vote in the Senate. Yes, it will almost certainly get a vote this time, in part because Reid and Pelosi won't give people time to read the bill. But despite the corrupt Democratic momentum which let them squeak Waxman-Markey through the house, the health care debate is not just enormous but also easier for people to understand -- and therefore argue against. In questions about the "power and role of government", there was a bit of movement toward the liberal view on questions of tax levels (4% drop in people saying taxes were too high...which is not the same as a 4% increase in saying they are too low, but that's Gallup's subtle spin.) But by far the biggest move was conservative, with a 10% jump in people saying that government has too much power. Here's Gallup's conclusion:
Aside from the trends, Gallup's recent polling from 2008-2009 indicates that a majority of Americans concur with the Republican Party's general philosophy on the death penalty, defense spending, gay marriage, the role of government, environmental protection, and handgun legislation. Americans are about as likely to agree with the Republican Party's general philosophy as they are to agree with the Democratic Party's in terms of abortion, government activism, government promotion of "traditional" values, taxes, changing the power of labor unions, and certain aspects of the need for healthcare reform. They are more likely to agree with the Democratic Party's philosophy on other aspects of healthcare reform, embryonic stem-cell research, government regulation of business, the Iraq war, and immigration.
Look at the issues on which they claim that Americans are more likely to agree with Democrats: On health-care reform, it's only half-true. Americans aren't extremely happy with the current system (though they are happy with their own coverage -- a real problem for "reformers"), but they do not believe providing health care is the government's responsibility. Their poll shows only 38% believe industry is over-regulated, but Gallup doesn't say what percentage said regulation levels were about right, we we should not infer that a majority of Americans want more regulation. Most Americans don't understand the stem cell issue -- what is banned is not the research with embryonic stem cells but the funding of such research by the federal government. It's true that 43% of Gallup's respondents say the Iraq War was "not a mistake", but that number is up from a year ago, and 66% say Afghanistan was not a mistake. Finally, the immigration results are worth reiteration. I'm very pleased that the country is moving away from xenophobia and toward understanding that legal immigration is a clear net benefit to our nation, not to mention that it's our true foundation. On balance, it seems clear to me that Americans are becoming more libertarian, even if they don't know it. And while that's bad news for Democrats, it also has real implications for Republicans, namely that if they're going to keep any focus on "social issues", if they want to win elections they will have to make those issues secondary to issues of liberty, economic and otherwise.
  • Snaggle-Tooth Jones
    Comment from: Snaggle-Tooth Jones
    07/07/09 @ 11:05:22 am

    Ross, I posted the following over at Ben DeGrow's blog Mt. Virtus: Pray for gridlock, 2010. I think you’re probably aware that I voted third party last Nov. I did so because I simply could not cast a vote for McCain/Palin (mainly because of McCain). I was glad to see crotchety old warmongering Juan sent back to the Senate, but I knew that a McCain defeat likely meant the kind of liberal-leftist power grab that we are indeed now witnessing. We third-party conservatives got chided for not voting pragmatically, and all, but none of that swayed me. And I rather looked forward to fighting the Obamanoids tooth and nail. One of the reasons I did was because the backlash you reference in your blog entry here was sure to occur. Obama would over-reach, and the electorate would react, swinging back to the right. At least that’s what I *beleived* would happen, so I am happy to see the results of this Gallup poll. However, I am even more heartened, if Rossputin is correct in his analysis, so see the American electorate move in a more *libertarian* direction. Because that, ISTM, is what we need to curb *both* GOP and Democrat excesses. Let us hope and pray that 2010 will be 1994. But more than that, let’s hope and pray that the country will move in a more libertarian and states-rights direction, and that the GOP has the sense to capitalize on it. Because if it doesn’t, I’m pretty certain there won’t be much of a future for the GOP. I should add, however, that the one disconcerting thing to me about the Gallup poll is the apparent trend toward a more “libertarian” view on immigration. Rossputin notes that the survey doesn’t distinguish between legal and illegal immigration, and that might be a fatal flaw as to that question. I suspect there’s still much public antipathy to illegal immigration. I sure hope that’s the case, anyway. As to *legal* immigration, I think most Americans don’t have a clue as to the deleterious demographic effects of the liberalized immigration policy Teddy Kennedy and others effected back in the 1960s, and Ross is simply wrong in a very PC sort of way when he writes that “legal immigration is a clear net benefit to our nation, not to mention that it’s our true foundation.” Both assertions are quite dubious, and I’m afraid that the American people will wake up to that fact only after it’s too late. It absolutely mystifies me why Europe’s experience isn’t instructive to us. Such is the blinding power, I guess, of political correctness and “proposition nation” nonsense.

  • Comment from: Rossputin
    07/07/09 @ 11:15:39 am

    Thanks for the comment, Snaggle-Tooth. Of course, I disagree with your assertions about immigration...