A naturally conservative nation

In a recent Gallup poll, only 21 per cent of Americans called themselves liberals.
Thomas C. Reeves | Aug 26 2011 | comment  

A few years ago I wrote a piece on the eventual victory of the Left in America. Almost all of the most relevant indicators pointed in that direction: The mainstream media, the public schools, colleges and universities, and the major Protestant denominations were dominated by liberals. There were numerous stories of the federal government increasingly cracking down on free speech and thought. The traditional family and marriage were widely ridiculed. Porn was commonplace and available to all. Much of popular music was anarchic. Tattoos and assorted clips and mutilations were routine. The welfare state had hooked millions. Secularism seemed to dominate. The election of Barak Obama, a man of stern leftist ideology, seemed to seal the argument. America appeared to be on its way toward becoming modern-day England, a nearly bankrupt nanny state that flaunts its political correctness and base culture while at the same time being unable to defend itself against the internal violence generated by its own leftist commitments. 

But there is a strong argument to the contrary, and one of the best sources to consult for documentation is the Gallup Poll. After surveying more than 10,000 adults across the United States in the first half of 2011, Gallup and USA Today/Gallup reported numbers that should encourage conservatives and perhaps curtail a bit of leftist triumphalism. Today, 41 per cent of Americans call themselves conservatives, 36 per cent say they are moderates, and only 21 per cent declare themselves to be liberal. What that appears to indicate is that 77 per cent of the public does not share the leftist agenda that dominates much of contemporary American life. The sweeping Republican gains of 2010 are perhaps a reflection of this poll data.  In my own "purple" state of Wisconsin, Republican victories were stunning, and included the ouster of ultra-liberal Senator Russ Feingold, in office since 1993.

Data about the two major political parties are also revealing. Among Democrats polled, 39 per cent were moderates, 18 per cent were conservative, and 5per cent were "very conservative." Liberals came in at 29 per cent while 9 per cent were "very liberal." That means that even in the party of Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, 62 per cent are not closely identifying with the leftist agenda. (As of August 16, according to Gallup, a mere 13 per cent of Americans approved of Congressional activity. Obama's popularity in early August dropped to 39 per cent; this is in the Jimmy Carter league.)

Among Republicans, 21 per cent told pollsters that they were "very conservative," 50 per cent called themselves conservative, 24 per cent were moderate, and 3 per cent were liberal. Therefore, 71 per cent of Republicans are neither moderate nor liberal. Is there still a culture war in America? Of course, even though it largely involves the better educated (self-declared or actual) who attempt to mould public opinion.

Among independents, 44 per cent describe themselves as moderate, 27 per cent are conservative, and 8per cent are "very conservative." Only 14 per cent of independents are liberal, and a mere 6 per cent are "very liberal." There again we see the Left as a distinct minority.

That the hard Left stands at 6 per cent nationally should be remembered the next time you read the New York Times, watch CBS News, and go to the movies. America is a largely conservative and moderate nation. Ideology in 2011, Gallup tells us, is almost the same as it was in 2009 and 2010. Data from 1992 to the present shows a modest increase in political polarization, however. The percentage of moderates has declined from 43 per cent to 36 per cent, while the combined liberal and conservative categories have climbed from 53 per cent to 62 per cent.

How does one explain the leftist domination of the culture and a public that by large numbers appear to reject much of what it hears and reads. A great many on the Left simply dismiss the general public as incapable of understanding "truths" propounded by "the brights". And the pomposity is not limited to the professoriate.  On a more serious intellectual level, there must be reasons, many of them complex, for the popularity of the Right and Middle in contemporary America. Let me briefly suggest four.

I'm hardly the first to think that the Internet has liberated the minds of millions. One does not have to accept the liberal line in the major media as there are tens of thousands of web pages devoted to a wide range of opinions on every subject. You watch what you are, and the variety is endless. The issue of authority, while perplexing, is not insurmountable. National Review Online and Townhall, for example, present first-rate commentary and analysis designed for conservatives and others who simply want a point of view that the major networks and tax-supported PBS and NPR will not present.

I think too that Fox News and Fox Business News have opened the doors of intellectual opposition to millions. No, the Fox outlets are not "fair and balanced." In fact, they present favorable and informed views of conservatism, libertarianism, and capitalistic doctrine to a degree that liberals have rarely tolerated in the mainstream media or on campus. It should not be surprising that Fox is extremely popular with millions who watch cable and satellite programming.

A third suggestion is not so easily documented. It may be important that colleges and universities rarely require courses in the liberal arts and social sciences. This limits the powers of ideologues to mould minds. Aren't there any conservative professors, say of history or anthropology? A huge quantity of literature and data answer this question with a resounding "not to speak of". Their exclusion, in the halls of tolerance, is deliberate.

In the fourth place, it is illusory to think of all America as secular. Almost as fast as liberal and "progressive" churches are dying, conservative churches are prospering and growing. And not all of them are Protestant and Evangelical; conservative and traditional Catholics have made major steps in recent years to reclaim and beauty, dignity, and orthodoxy of the past. They own and operate the two major Catholic media outlets on television and radio and publish a very large assortment of books and magazines. Monastic orders that embrace traditional styles of worship and doctrine are beginning to thrive here and abroad.

True, there remain a great many areas of American life where liberal thought and morals thrive. One thinks immediately of abortion, political correctness, a dominating federal government and horrendous debt. But let us refuse to demonize the Left. It has achieved a great deal in the past; it's a history that should not be ignored or twisted. Still, let us not forget the Gallup polls telling us that conservatism, moderation, patriotism, and religious faith still represent the majority view in this country, however unacceptable it may be to the "brights".

Thomas C. Reeves writes from Wisconsin. Among his dozen books are Twentieth Century America: A Brief History, and biographies of John F. Kennedy, Joseph R. McCarthy, Fulton Sheen, Walter J. Kohler, Jr and Chester A. Arthur.


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