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Are Conservatives More Conservative?

Tom PattonAre conservatives becoming even more conservative? A Gallup Poll released Monday shows more people identify themselves as conservative than moderate or liberal, and it's by a wide margin.

In the poll, 40 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as conservative or very conservative, 36 percent said moderate, and 20 percent said liberal or very liberal.

Interestingly, the year with the highest percentage of people identifying as liberal was 22 percent, and that was last year when Barack Obama was elected President.

Conservatives are on a bit of an upswing, according to the poll. Those identifying as conservative touched a low point at 37 percent last year, so the only way to explain Obama’s election that he brought most of the moderates and independents to the “D” side of the ledger, which is the conventional wisdom.

Breaking down the numbers a bit further, 72 percent of Republicans identify themselves as conservative, 24 percent moderate, and 4 percent liberal. 35 percent of independents say they are conservative, compared to 19 percent saying they’re liberal. But last year, only 29 percent of the independents said they were conservative.

The biggest percentage of independents identify as moderate… they are the valued “swing" voters.

But if conservatives are on an upswing, what does that mean for upcoming mid-term elections?

William Kristol writes in the Washington Post that it means that Republicans are going to be “unabashedly conservative,” but will that translate to Florida?

Charlie Crist is, by all counts, a moderate. He’ll run as a conservative, of course, but Marco Rubio is already staking out the more conservative ground. Crist, however, is staking out the money, and that could certainly make the difference.

Kristol predicts that there will be very few moderate winners in inter-party elections, and Florida is in for some big ones next year. The highest profile contest will be the U.S. Senate race, and it could show us whether the mood of the electorate is truly moving in a more conservative direction, or if a combination of more moderate ideas and a tsunami of money will be what wins the day.

Locally, the recent special election in State Senate District 8 may have been something of a precursor to what we’ll see in 2010. The four GOP candidates in that race, which was only open to Republicans, tried very hard to claim the most conservative ground. Each went to great lengths to stake out his conservative bona-fides. The eventual winner, John Thrasher, is certainly a conservative. Second-place finisher Dan Quiggle tried to carry the banner of Ronald Reagan, who most would say is the gold standard of conservatism. In the end, it was Thrashers fundraising prowess and ability to purchase advertising in ton-lots that got his message in front of more voters.

What remains to be parsed is whether it was the message, or just the number of exposures to that message that won the day for State Senator Thrasher, and will that formula translate into a U.S. Senator Crist.

Then, too, one has to wonder how “conservative”, “moderate”, and “liberal” are defined by the voters. Is there any hard and fast definition, or is it in the eye of the beholder? And does a message that focuses on the concept of being conservative, without saying what that means, take the place of a campaign that goes beyond the label and talks about issues?

In the end, for those of us who prefer smaller government and lower taxes, the number of people identifying themselves as conservatives is encouraging. But while social conservatives are often fiscal conservatives as well, the reverse is not always true. Ross Perot proved in 1992 that there was a large portion of the electorate that was drawn to his plain-spoken fiscal conservatism, but largely stayed away from the social issues. Could there be more than the 19 percent he captured in that election? We’ve never had a mainstream Republican candidate really try it, so there’s no way to know.

In Florida, though, Charlie Crist will be difficult to beat. The state is enough of a melting pot that there may be more moderate conservatives here than in other places, and Crist has been a popular Governor. But no matter who is elected, more important than how they campaign is how they will govern, and it seems we often don’t know the answer to that question until the election is far astern.

5 Responses »

  1. "Charlie Crist will be difficult to beat"

    I think we're going to see him get beat like Mondale in the primaries.

    Go check out REDSTATE today. There's some of the dirty politics revolving around a anti-Rubio website and a Hitler video.

    Apparently someone in the Crist campaign, Rich Heffley, is allegedly engaged some dirty politics, possibly illegal.

  2. Obama's 52% victory in the 2008 presidential race, his on-going high approval ratings and the Democrat control of both houses of Congress show the country's shift to the Left.

    This poll claiming a majority of Americans are conservative to moderate is obviously flawed.

    As to the Republican Party, the 72%-24% conservative to moderate split in Republicans was not reflected in the Thrasher-Quiggle primary race. Voters elected Thrasher, a moderate, over Quiggle, a conservative to the right of Thrasher, showing a move of the Party toward the center in that district.

    • "his on-going high approval ratings"

      I'm sorry what?

      • In the study, 20% say they are liberal. For Obama's approval rating to rise above 20% requires the support of conservatives and moderates, assuming all liberals approve of his radical left policies, which I doubt they do.

        Although his approval ratings have decreased in the last nine months, they are still much higher then 20%.

        The results of the study just do not jive with reality.

  3. It'll be a mistake if this uptick encourages conservatives keep going more and more hardcore right. If they appeal only to conservatives, then conservative candidates will reliably get... 40%. That approach is what we call strategically flawed.

    A lot of voters in the center have gone conservative before, and will again if offered the opportunity.