Gallup Poll Confirms; America Is A Center-Right Country

Gallup Poll Confirms; America Is A Center-Right Country


Despite the election of Barack Obama and the continuing misfortunes of the GOP, the United States is still a center-right country:

PRINCETON, NJ — Conservatives continue to outnumber moderates and liberals in the American populace in 2009, confirming a finding that Gallup first noted in June. Forty percent of Americans describe their political views as conservative, 36% as moderate, and 20% as liberal. This marks a shift from 2005 through 2008, when moderates were tied with conservatives as the most prevalent group.

The 2009 data are based on 16 separate Gallup surveys conducted from January through September, encompassing more than 5,000 national adults per quarter. Conservatives have been the dominant ideological group each quarter, with between 39% and 41% of Americans identifying themselves as either “very conservative” or “conservative.” Between 35% and 37% of Americans call themselves “moderate,” while the percentage calling themselves “very liberal” or “liberal” has consistently registered between 20% and 21% — making liberals the smallest of the three groups.

Changes among political independents appear to be the main reason the percentage of conservatives has increased nationally over the past year: the 35% of independents describing their views as conservative in 2009 is up from 29% in 2008. By contrast, among Republicans and Democrats, the percentage who are “conservative” has increased by one point each.

As is typical in recent years, Republicans are far more unified in their political outlook than are either independents or Democrats. While 72% of Republicans in 2009 call their views conservative, independents are closely split between the moderate and conservative labels (43% and 35%, respectively). Democrats are about evenly divided between moderates (39%) and liberals (37%).

This isn’t really a surprise, it’s pretty similar to what we’ve seen from the public before, and it sends a signal to the GOP:

As I have noted repeatedly, data from the 2008 exit polling showed that more people considered themselves “conservative” than “liberal.” This new Gallup poll is in accord with that.

This goes straight to NY-23, where both the DCCC and NRCC are attacking Doug Hoffman, the conservative candidate. Apparently, unlike the NRCC, the DCCC sees a path to victory for Doug Hoffman.

When the GOP paints a clearly distinct picture of ideas and issues from the Democrats, they win. Voters do not want to vote for Democrat-lite when they get have the real thing. Instead, the GOP should present and alternative, better vision of moving this country forward.

I agree that far, but that strategy has to recognize that the “alternative, better vision of moving this country forward” may not be the same in, say, New Jersey as it is in Alabama.

The mistake that most on the right will make upon seeing a poll like this is to believe that it confirms that America is, mostly, just like them and that what the GOP needs to do is become more conservative. Past results, and other polls, however, would clearly indicate that isn’t the case.

In Virginia, for example, Bob McDonnell is succeeding not because he has run on a hard-right platform, but because he’s done a much better job of communicating alternative Republican solutions to the problems that Virginians are facing. Those ideas can largely be described as “conservative,” but they aren’t ideologically extreme in any respect, and they are packaged in a way is attractive to the generally center-right voters in areas like Northern Virginia. Except for the amazingly unsuccessful negative campaign that Democrat Creigh Deeds has been running, here’s been no talk of issues like abortion or gay marriage, and it’s pretty darn significant that the McDonnell campaign didn’t both to request a visit from conservative icon Sarah Palin — largely because they know that her presence would do as much to turn off the moderate voters McDonnell needs as it would to fire up the conservatives he already has.

There’s a lesson for the left here as well, but it can be seen in the declining poll numbers for the President, and the increasing sense that he’s been governing as something other than the moderate he campaign as in 2008.

Personally, I doubt either side will learn the right lesson from these numbers.

  • wj

    The problem with polls like these is that they do not clearly define their terms. Which means that everybody can read into them whatever they like.

    For example, if asked this question, I would have to say that I consider myself a conservative. But if asked about the current Republican Party, I would have to say that between the candidates that they put up, especially at the state and local level, and the people currently leading the Party, I find it rarely is the case that I can vote for a Republican in a general election. That doesn’t keep me from voting in the Republican Party primaries . . . just from voting for a candidate that I opposed in the primary in the general election.

    Why not? Because, although I think of myself as a conservative and as a Republican, I view the current crop of “conservative Republicans” as far right nut cases. And, not surprisingly, making my party yet more conservative is unlikely to improve that situation.

  • rl

    I don’t think a center-right pronouncement follows from this poll. It’s like pointing out that Fox News has higher ratings than other networks without ever mentioning that right-wingers go exclusively there or that the combined totals for other networks is larger.

    Most of the country (56%) are moderate-to-left, and the moderates seem to be getting further from the right. Conservatives are becoming nut cases, as wj points out, and today’s moderates seem to come mostly in the ‘socially liberal, fiscally pragmatic’ variety.

    In addition, you have to deal with the connotation Conservatives have built into the word ‘liberal’ and how that affects self-identification. I think the ‘conservative’ branding may run into similar problems in coming years.

    Echoing wj again, the lack of definitions makes this essentially meaningless.

  • wj

    rl, it’s not that conservatives are “becoming nut cases.” Because lots and lots of us have not changed at all.

    What is the case is that the VISIBLE (not to mention loud) folks who claim to be conservatives are mostly nut cases. Not to mention the minor detail that they are not really conservatives at all — apparently they just like the label . . . as long as they don’t have to actually act conservatively.

  • gerryf

    Nice to see you posting again, Doug.

    I am afraid I have to agree with the others; center right does not have much meaning anymore. I think most people would consider themselves “fiscally conservative”.

    Even that term is hard to pin down. Some people think all it means is jumping up and down and yelling “No taxes” or “Lower taxes” or “Too much spending”–nevermind they only do that when the opposing party is in office, but are fine with “too much spending” when their guy is in office.

    Indeed, labels like center right and center left, righ or left, liberal or conservative don’t have much resonance with most people outside the beltway.

    We just want to see some friggin common sense.

  • Nick Benjamin

    I’ll go with the majority here.

    The poll isn’t totally meaningless. It does show that a GOP candidate who could brand his opponent liberal would probably win. The trouble is that the current crop of Republicans screams “liberal” at fairly boring moderates.

    For example support for Roe vs. Wade is widespread. Support dipped below 50% once, in 2006, and has always outpolled opposition. This means support for Roe vs. Wade is, by definition, moderate. Yet anybody who says they support Roe vs. Wade is viciously savaged as a far-left loon by most conservative pundits.

    Prominent conservatives are calling wolf bit too much lately.

  • wj

    Support for Roe v. Wade? Or support for abortion being legal?

    Perhaps the moderate position on Roe v. Wade ought to be phrased something like Abortion is a tragedy, but should not be illegal. However as Constitutional law, the decision in Roe v. Wade is garbage.

  • Nick Benjamin

    You got any polls backing that up? I do:
    Thus, by definition, the moderate position is that Roe vs. Wade was a good thing.

    You can argue that people don’t know all the details of Roe vs. Wade, or that most have major problems with certain parts of the decision. I would actually agree with you on those points.

    But you cannot argue that someone is an extremist for saying they support Roe vs. Wade. Which is probably why the people who argue Roe vs. Wade was extremist are almost all right-wing.

    Thus my point:
    Current Republicans are in trouble because they don’t know where the center is. It actually hasn’t moved very far in the past 15-20 years, what’s happened is that the GOP has consistently moved rightward. In 1985 somebody who had reservations about abortion, but in general supported Roe vs. Wade could win a GOP primary and become an important national figure. Now somebody like that is simply doomed.

  • wj

    Unfortunately IMHO Rowe v Wade has become a shorthand for “do you believe abortion should be legal?” Which means that the actual question, as perceived by the responders, was not actually about the decision, but about the results of the decision.

    But your point about the GOP moving rightward is well taken. One might argue that what they have become is not so much more conservative as more extreme. And in several directions, many of them far more populist than conservative. But either way, vigorously moving away from the center. Which means that the Democrats’ challenge is to refrain from moving too far to the left, in the belief that they can’t lose. They might be correct, in many cases. But it would be counterproductive in the long run; not to mention bad for the country.

  • kranky kritter

    I agree that support for RvW is in no sense a fringe or kook view. Conservatives that claim this are way off. But I don’t buy the idea that support for RvW is “by definition” moderate. There are plenty of sensible and fairly moderate Americans on both sides of thew abortion issue, and there are also kooks. IMO, abortion is an issue where neither the pro-life nor the pro-choice position is inherently moderate. Either position can be, or fail to be. I think one shows their moderation on the issue not by which side they take, but only through a demo of their thinking which respects and accounts for both perspectives.

    I also agree with everyone else who questions the utility of this simple poll where people report their self assessment. It’s so much less useful than a poll which allows people to say grade themselves on a 5-point scale on various issues.

  • Jhawk23

    Just a note for your consideration: Sometimes captcha characters are not totally legible. When the wrong characters are entered, some systems offer a different set so you can try again. Yours, unfortunately, tells commenters to press the back button, in which case the text of their comment is lost.

    I’ve just lost a lengthy comment that way, and I’m not going to take the time/effort to try to recreate it, (maybe I’ll try a short version) but I thought you might want to know about the issue.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Jhawk23

    Interesting to compare the Gallup poll with the Washington Post – ABC poll taken about the same time, which deals with PARTY identification. In the latter, only 20% of voters identify themselves as Republicans – a new low in the many years this question has been asked.

    Suggests what you (and I) have noted, that pols can and do take away the wrong message. See William Kristol’s item October 28 in the Washington Post, which concludes the GOP just needs to hold to its conservatism like some bright shiny talisman, and voters will flock to them. In fact the clear message is that the Republican Party isn’t satisfying conservative voters, and that will need to be fixed.