New polling brings good news and bad news for beleaguered Republicans yearning for a comeback in the Age of Obama.
The encouraging message suggests that Americans strongly prefer conservative policies and values to the liberal approaches preached by the president. On the other hand, the same polls indicate that the two revival strategies most commonly discussed by the GOP will both lead to political dead ends. Neither a shift to more moderate positions nor an emphasis on rousing, uncompromising, us-vs.-them right wing rhetoric will bring Republicans back to power in Washington D.C. The only workable strategy for long-term GOP gains requires a combination of conservative substance and more moderate tone.
First, the good news for endangered elephants: a recent Gallup Poll (August 14) shows that in nearly all 50 states more people identify themselves as conservative than liberal. As the Gallup organization concluded (based on a total of 160,000 interviews with U.S. adults during the first half of 2009): “Conservatives outnumber liberals by statistically significant margins in 47 out of the 50 states, with the two groups statistically tied in Hawaii, Vermont and Massachusetts.” Even in Massachusetts, the most liberal state in the union according to the polling, only 29% associated themselves with the label worn so proudly by their late Senator Ted Kennedy. By contrast, in the most conservative states (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Utah, South Carolina) more than 45% defined themselves as “very conservative” or “conservative.”
Nationwide, the preference for the conservative brand persists, even in the midst of Democratic triumphs at the ballot box. In the election of 2008, with Barack Obama winning a convincing margin of nearly 7% of the popular vote, exit polling actually showed a landslide victory of 12% for self-identified conservatives over liberals who showed up to vote (34% to 22%). If anything, the ideological rightward tilt has intensified since the election, with steadily increasing numbers for those Americans who describe themselves as “pro life” or opponents of “big government” and deficit spending. In this context, it’s no surprise that the most “progressive” elements of President Obama’s health care reform have run into stubborn and mounting opposition.