The headline may appear, at first glance, to be good news for the Democratic Party. In some ways, it is. The problem, for the American Right, is the growing schism between values and party loyalty. In the realm of purely electoral politics, the Republican Party is losing the ideology war and the polls show it. To determine the reason why, one has to look beyond the party politics and consider the values Americans hold dear.
The political Left overwhelmingly tends to put party before principle, whilst the Right does not. If one is in any doubt about this statement, the determining test is simple: Firstly, one must take care to avoid the terms “Republican” and “Democrat.” Find ten people who identify themselves as Liberal, or Progressive, and ask them if they consider themselves loyal Democratic Party voters; almost certainly, most – if not all – of the ten will answer in the affirmative. Find ten people who identify themselves as Conservative or Libertarian; it is unlikely that more than half of them would describe themselves as loyal Republican Party voters – and those who do will, likely, add the caveat that they vote Republican only because they see the party as the lesser of two evils.
Liberals vote Democrat regardless of values, whilst most Conservatives and Libertarians vote Republican only if and when they feel that the party is truly reflecting their values and beliefs and is pursuing a truly Conservative agenda. The exception – as previously noted – is that some will gladly vote Republican only to defeat the Democratic Party; many on the Right, however, are less and less inclined to do even this.
Therein lies the problem faced by the modern Republican Party; Conservatives and, more especially, Libertarians, are losing faith in the party; they see prominent Republicans, such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell as big government, big spending politicians who are driven mostly by self-interest. These Republicans, and others like them, are labeled “RINOs”; Republicans In Name Only. More and more, they are even seen, by the Conservative and Libertarian movements, as Progressive.
Conversely, try to find a Liberal or Progressive who expresses distrust of any Democratic politician, or who is willing to criticize the Democratic Party in any way; chances are extremely slim.
Much of this can be explained by political ignorance; most Liberals simply are not aware that the Democrats are capable of any wrong-doing. The overwhelmingly left-wing mainstream media simply does not report events that cast Democrats in a negative light. Other than Fox News, no mainstream media outlets have given more than a cursory mention to any of the numerous scandals that have plagued the Obama administration. Operation Fast and Furious; the Benghazi Consulate attack; the IRS targeting of right-wing political groups are three prominent examples. Ask any random selection of Liberals about any of these issues and the reactions will be predictable; either they will have no knowledge of the events or they will repeat the Democratic Party talking points that these were all “phony” scandals that, in fact, never happened and are all figments of the imaginations of crazy, right-wing extremists.
By contrast, if any of these scandals had come to light whilst George W Bush was in the White House, they would each have been extensively covered by the media and the American Left would, justifiably, have demanded Bush’s impeachment – after all, the Left called for the former President’s impeachment over far lesser issues.
Polling of the American people tells an interesting story; a wide selection of polls show that the Republican Party is losing the ideology war because it has drifted away from the values of the American Right.
In an AP/Ipsos poll from early 2007, 41 percent of those questioned identified themselves as Conservative, with just 21 percent identifying as Liberal and 34 percent Moderate. The question asked was “Generally speaking, do you consider yourself liberal, moderate or conservative?” with the follow-up question “would you say you are very liberal/conservative or somewhat liberal/conservative? It is interesting to note that the sampling included 47 percent Democrats or Democrat leaners and 43 percent Republicans or Republican leaners. In addition, 68 percent of those polled believed the country was on the wrong track and 65 percent disapproved of President Bush, in terms of job performance. Even in the face of overwhelming disapproval of a Republican President and an over-sampling of Democratic voters, the overwhelming percentage of those polled identified as Conservatives. The exact breakdown of results were as follows, and note that the numbers represent a percentage, rather than the actual number of those polled:
Very liberal: 6
Somewhat liberal: 15
Somewhat conservative: 27
Very conservative: 14
Four percent refused to answer. Polls always have a margin of error, although it was not determined for this poll.
In Gallup polling, Liberalism, on average, was an ideology claimed by 17 percent of Americans throughout the 1990s. Between 2005 and 2011, an average of 21-22 percent of Americans identified as Liberal. Yet, Barack Obama was elected President in November 2008 and the Democratic Party gained overwhelming control of the United States Congress in the same year. These facts indicate a distinction between ideology and party loyalty.
In an August 2011 Gallup poll, 41 percent of Americans identified themselves as Conservative, 36 percent as Moderate and 21 percent as Liberal – almost identical results to the AP/Ipsos poll of 2007. In the Gallup survey, the exact question asked was “How would you describe your political views; very conservative, conservative, moderate, liberal or very liberal?” The margin of error is, again, unknown.
Tracking Gallup polling results back to 1992, the number of those identifying as Conservative had risen from 36 percent, the number of Moderates had declined from 43 percent and the number of Liberals had risen from 17 percent. These numbers represent yearly averages. The trend would appear to indicate that, ideologically, the nation is becoming more polarized; moderate ideology has lost out to both Conservatism and Liberalism.
A June 2013 Gallup poll on the subject of patriotism also revealed an interesting divide: The question asked was
“How proud are you to be an American – extremely proud, very proud, moderately proud, only a little proud, or not at all proud?” When divided between party identification and ideological bent, the numbers tell an interesting story; 89 percent of Conservatives said that they were “extremely proud” or “very proud,” whilst 93 percent of Republicans responded similarly. The indication, undoubtedly, is that Conservatives are more disillusioned with the direction of the country than Republicans. On the other side of the same poll, 76 percent of Liberals described themselves as “extremely” or “very” proud, whilst 85 percent of Democrats said the same thing. Interestingly, the Left appears more divided than the Right, here, and yet that divide does translate into voting intentions; even when dissatisfied with the direction of the country under Democratic rule, Liberals continue to vote Democrat with seemingly, no hesitation or reservation.
Backing this up is the latest (January 2013) summary of numerous polling results published in the Huffington Post: This regularly updated trend – which concerns party affiliation, rather than ideology – currently shows that 32.5 percent of those surveyed consider themselves Democrats, 23.6 percent Republicans and 33.8 percent Independents.
A January Gallup poll on party affiliation showed that 42 percent identified as Republican or leaned Republican, whilst 47 percent either identified as Democrat or claimed they were Independents who leaned Democratic.
Whilst poll after poll, over many years, clearly shows that America is a predominantly Conservative nation, the Republican Party continues to lose elections because they continue to lose the ideological battle. Their base no longer trusts them. In the eyes of most Conservatives – and the overwhelming majority of Libertarians – the Republican party is hardly more Conservative than their opponents in Congress. True Conservative Republicans are fighting hard to bring the party back to those values it clams to hold dear – Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz among the most prominent, but not alone. The old guard Republican establishment has lost the trust of the Conservative base. Were the party to fully embrace the Conservative and Libertarian values of low taxes, limited government, a free-market economy unshackled by useless and expensive regulation and strict adherence to the Constitution and Bill of Rights, they would – statistically speaking – never again lose an election. Until that time, the polls show they will continue to lose the ideological war.
An editorial by Graham J Noble