Thus far we’ve talked about general electoral math, swing state strategies, and campaign focus; now I want to look more closely at the electorate. Polls have a bad reputation among conservatives, but much of that, I think, is due to the way the media reports them or administers their own, focusing on the agenda they wish to promote. Still, there are some useful things we can learn from polling, especially non-presidential polling.
Gallup has been surveying Americans on where they fit in the political spectrum of right versus left for years. Take a look at the trend over the last twenty years or so:
You can see some interesting things in just this one chart. The number of people identifying as conservative hasn’t changed much at all. But the number identifying as liberal is increasing almost exactly as much as those identifying as moderates is decreasing. So essentially, moderates seem overwhelmingly to be shifting towards the liberal part of the spectrum when they move, instead of moving towards conservatives.
This is interesting because for years we’ve been talking about surveys that pegged the ideological divide in this country as a 2 to 1 advantage for conservatives. That advantage is slowly slipping, and note that even as conservative identification rose after the election of Barack Obama, so, too, did liberal identification. The difference is that liberal identity is still moving upwards. And Obama won a second term in 2012, even as this polling shows a significant conservative advantage that year.
But let’s look at this chart another way; let’s look at the combined percentages of the conservatives and moderates, and compare that to the liberals. In 1992, that’s 79% versus 17%. Who won that year? Bill Clinton. In 2008 it was 74% to 22%, and Obama won. People may honestly answer surveys about their ideological leanings, but they don’t seem to be voting consistently with that measure. If they did – if we were getting such reportedly moderate candidates that would appeal to the self-identified moderates AND capture enough of the duty-bound conservatives to vote Republican – Republicans would never lose a national race.
And yet they do.
AND keep in mind, the range of this chart nearly encompssses the rise of Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, Levin, and all conservative new media.
Some questions arise:
- Do moderates go back and forth between parties for elections?
- Are they late adopters who jump on the winning bandwagon and ignore ideology?
- Are some of them really aligned with one party or another but prefer the way ‘moderate’ sounds?
- Do many of them choose ‘moderate’ as an answer because it’s perceived to be in the middle and thus ‘balanced’?
Regardless of the answers to these questions, though, the fact remains that there is a large chunk of respondents who do not identify with either end of the left-right spectrum, and a good portion of them vote. I would venture a guess, backed up by Jim Geraghty, that many of them could not correctly identify or articulate either conservative or liberal positions. So it’s very likely that they’re getting their information about politics, political issues, the political spectrum, and the respective political positions of the parties from vague impressions rather than any ethic to be properly informed.
Restated, this means:
we have a LOT of seemingly unaligned voters,
who don’t know much about politics,
who regularly decide elections,
and are increasingly trending leftward.
And the Republican strategy, since I can remember, is to turn out the conservative base. Look at the chart above again and let that sink in.
In the next installment, we’ll take a closer look at the left, and why – if their numbers are so small – they seem to be dominating national politics.