More Conservatives, But No Republicans

If every American self-described as conservative identified with the Republican Party, nearly half of all Americans would support the GOP -- while barely one-quarter would back the Democrats. Yet while our political parties increasingly divide themselves along ideological lines, those line are not always straight. Indeed, according to the latest Gallup poll, more than one in five (22 percent) Democrats describe themselves as conservative.

This poll, which found that conservatives remain the largest ideological group in America, is welcome news to those of us who believe America is a center-right nation, but sobering to those of us who identify with the GOP. According to Gallup:

Forty percent of Americans describe their political views as conservative, 36 percent as moderate, and 20 percent as liberal. This marks a shift from 2005 through 2008, when moderates were tied with conservatives as the most prevalent group.

And this shift to the right has accelerated since the election of Barack Obama -- ranked by National Journal in 2007 as the most liberal member of the United State Senate -- along with increased, and more liberal, Democratic majorities in Congress. The poll shows clearly that their election has not succeeded in moving Americans leftward.

These numbers may show growing opposition to the president’s big-spending initiatives, but Gallup’s polling has also shown a public still wary of the GOP. According to its September poll on party identification, only 27 percent of Americans identify as Republicans, 35 percent as Democrats. Including those who lean toward one party or another, Gallup found that 42 percent of Americans favor the GOP and 48 percent favor the president’s party. Given that 27 percent of Republicans describe themselves as "moderate" or "liberal," and assuming that percentage applies to the “leaners” as well as the identifiers, this suggests that as many as one in five conservatives neither support nor lean to the GOP.

Simply put, if Republicans wish to recapture their majorities, they need to figure out why so many conservatives continue to remain wary of the party considered the more conservative of the two. Indeed, Gallup found “the main reason the percentage of conservatives has increased nationally over the past year” has been the number of independents moving right:

The 35 percent of independents describing their views as conservative in 2009 is up from 29 percent in 2008. By contrast, among Republicans and Democrats, the percentage who are “conservative” has increased by one point each.

They’re moving right, but not moving (in any significant number) to the GOP. After eight years of a Republican president who did not hold the line on federal domestic spending, many Americans still don’t see the GOP as a fiscally conservative party. And it’s not just President George W. Bush. At least three successive Republican Congresses lost sight of the principles which helped the party, after a 40-year hiatus, regain its congressional majorities in 1994. That year, Republicans campaigned on their "Contract with America," which included a pledge “to restore fiscal responsibility to an out-of-control Congress, requiring them to live under the same budget constraints as families and businesses.