According to polls, Americans are already convinced that Republicans are more principled than Democrats. A 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that the only category in which Republicans were viewed more favorably than Democrats was in having "strong principles." Sixty-three percent agreed that the phrase accurately described Republicans, whereas 57 percent said the same about the Democrats. Republicans have conveyed their philosophy to voters. What they haven't done is convince them that their policies will improve the average voter's life. Only 45 percent of respondents agreed that Republicans "look out for the country's future," whereas 51 percent said as much for the Democrats.
Among younger voters, expressing alarm about socialism is probably counterproductive. Chalk it up to liberal control of K-12 education, the increasing number of college graduates among the electorate or Jon Stewart, but among the 18-29 set, the word "socialism" is viewed positively by 49 percent, versus only 46 percent who have a positive view of capitalism.
Conservatives are fond of citing polls suggesting that self-described conservatives outnumber self-described liberals 2 to 1. There's probably less there than meets the eye. The Pew poll, for example, found that 62 percent of Americans had a positive view of the word "conservative," versus only 50 percent for the word "liberal." But 67 percent had a positive response to the word "progressive."
My own sense is that most Americans give very little thought to political principles or ideologies. I wish they were all Hayekians, but they're not. When they enter the voting booth, they're asking: Will the streets be safer, taxes be lower, schools be better, jobs be more plentiful? Will the nation be stable or thrown into disorder?
Successful conservative candidates stress the real-world consequences of liberal versus conservative policies. Ideally, if Republicans had been able to field a candidate not inhibited by his own record of endorsing something like Obamacare in Massachusetts (though the comparison was overdone), they might have been better able to convince voters that re-electing Barack Obama meant higher health insurance premiums, more dropped coverage and bureaucratic incompetence.
Going forward, Republicans should be assembling clips of Obama promising that his health reform would not add "one dime" to the deficit, would bring down premiums by an average of $2,500 and would solve the problem of the uninsured.
The disillusioned will have new reasons to listen. They even may be willing to give "progressivism" a failing grade.