Conservative Is A More Popular Word Than Liberal


The Gallup poll above (click on chart for larger view) proves what we already knew: the word conservative is more popular than liberal. This provides evidence that the conservative effort do demonize the word liberal has been effective, but proves little else.

Conservatives win on the label but lose on both the issues and in the voting booth. Numerous polls have showed that only about 20% support the Republican Party, with Republicans doing poorly among almost all democraphics. Polls based upon positions on issues have showed that a majority generally supports the liberal issue, apparently with many of these people still calling themselves conservative. This poll shows that more Democrats prefer the moderate label (40%) than liberal (38%) with 22% of Democrats calling themselves conservatives.

Based on this poll the Democrats are a center-right party. Conservatives love to claim the country is a center-right country but this would only be the case if they consider the Democrats to be representative of the center-right position. This poll doesn’t support the desire of many Republicans to brand the Democratic Party as the Democrat Socialist Party.

Many conservatives are still excited about this poll even though it means nothing as long as it only measures self-identification with labels. They have an advantage in this poll due to years of attacks on liberals from the right, but this has less impact on the young:

The pattern is strikingly different on the basis of age, and this could have important political implications in the years ahead. Whereas middle-aged and older Americans lean conservative (vs. liberal) in their politics by at least 2 to 1, adults aged 18 to 29 are just as likely to say their political views are liberal (31%) as to say they are conservative (30%).

Conservatives will have to enjoy their lead for now, as it does not look like it is going to last.

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  1. 1
    Izabelle says:

    Ron, good analysis, but we might disagree about some of your points and conclusions.

    The country has moved to the left in the last 20-25 years, a phenomenon that accelerated during the last 7 years of the Bush administration. 

    A lot of people refer to themselves as “conservative” but they have widely divergent understandings of what that means. 

    Likewise, a lot of politicians and members of the media call themselves moderate or even conservative but are actually progressives.

    The term liberalism lost currency not just because of right-wing efforts to stigmatize the word. The Democratic left also started using the term to distinguish themselves from the old school Mondale/labor/Jesse Jackson liberals.

    These “progressives” tend support or are sympathetic to ideological currents like deep ecology, multiculturalism, cultural postmodernism.

    The 2006-08 Democratic coalition was driven by the progressive base, although many centrists, fiscal conservatives, old-style liberals, social libertarians, low information voters, etc. joined the coalition.  You’re right, this coalition does not represent socialism, but it does promote a 21st century version of social democracy.  Until or unless the ledership of this coalition is forced to change, U.S. politics will be on balance center-left.

    As you suggest, this coalition is strong right now and appears to have many advantages – demographics, immigration patterns, cultural transformations, etc. But that can change fast. The young get older. The low-information, libertarian, and centrist voters are fickle. Coalitions are inherently unstable since most political decisions will have negative political implications one way or another.  

    The Republican Party had a poor fiscal record in this decade. But part of the reason was that, circa 1996 – 2008, constituencies were not prioritizing and/or rewarding fiscal disclipline, but that might be changing in the near future.     

    I’m a classical liberal and, you’re right, the poll did not excite me for reasons you mentioned and for several reasons I mention above. At the same time, the argument that the progressive Democratic coalition will rule for the next 40 years is also dubious. 

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    “the argument that the progressive Democratic coalition will rule for the next 40 years is also dubious.”

    I agree. What is happening is that opposition to conservatism as practiced by the Republicans encompasses a wide variety of views (many of which could fall under different definitions of liberalism). The trend is towards more socially liberal policies and rejection of many Republican economic policies, but not necessarily support for “tax and spend” liberalism (other than as a short term response to the economic crisis).

  3. 3
    Izabelle says:

    “The trend is towards more socially liberal policies and rejection of many Republican economic policies, but not necessarily support for ‘tax and spend’ liberalism (other than as a short term response to the economic crisis).”

    Your comment reinforces the point that, while moderate liberals and classical liberals will often be on opposing sides of an issue, we’ll have to work together in a few essential areas in coming years – call it a temporary truce.  Whatever brand of liberalism ones embraces, all forms of liberalism are imperiled by unconstrained state expansionism.

    For example, if we set aside partisan differences for a moment, I expect that both you and I are very concerned about the trajectory of crony capitalism (or crony corporatism). Yeah, we might tend to rail against diferent transgressors, but we’d probably agree that the few are often benefitting at the expense of the many.         

    It’s not enough to simply be against “tax and spend” approaches because both parties have contributed to the gradual expansion of government, altough they do tend to have different priorities, or wish lists. If the government is already too expansive, but then you say that short-term Keynesian approaches are okay in an emergency, then the net effect is unsustainable. It’s like trying to stay thin eating a 3,500 calorie a day diet, except when you don’t feel well, in which case you eat 7,000 calories a day. And the thing about government is that, when it gets really fat, it doesn’t lie down on the sofa, it comes knocking on your door.   

    I’m not real big on pointing fingers or assigning blame. For example, the voting public has not rewarded fiscal discipline and it is very difficult to have responsible governance when we look to the government to solve most of our problems. We’re all in the same boat together, and incidentally many of us have also spent beyond our means. 

    To address this “exestential” problem will require a large coalition of people to recognize that we’ll need to get a firmer foundation if our liberal values are to be preserved. Many voters do not pay much attention to government policies that might produce net negative benefits because those policies affect the majority in imperceptible ways (drip, drip, drip), while benefiting other groups who will reward the policymakers (indeed, we all have policies that are favorable to our interests). Until there is a widespread awareness of the dangers we are facing, the policymakers will not make fundamental changes (they are risk averse).

    Ron, once we’ve got our national house back in order, we could go back to disagreeing about many other things.

  4. 4
    b-psycho says:

    I always find it amusing when right-wing mouthpieces jump all over polls like this, & then completely ignore polls showing that even many self-described conservatives disagree with them on several issues.
    On another note w/ the poll: I’ve been skeptical of the meaningful existence of a “center/moderate” position for awhile.  In practice, people either pick a side anyway based on their most important issue, shift with who they think is more competant at the time, or don’t really think about it enough to have coherent opinions anyway.

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