Special Report

America the Beautiful

In the Bush years and since, America has moved further to the right.

By 1.8.10

Last May, the Campaign for America's Future and Media Matters for America released a report that laughably claimed America was a center-left nation. The report, "America: A Center-Left Nation," claimed "all indications today" are that America leans politically to the left. 

The primary sources of this claim were Barack Obama's job approval ratings and politically meaningless poll questions, such as "Would you like to see major corporations have more influence in this nation, less influence, or keep their influence as it is now?" The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder commented on such bad polling at the time, remarking, "Even if you're conservative, do you necessarily want major corporations to have 'more influence'?" 

The study proudly cited Gallup polling data on Obama's approval ratings. Its authors said they used Gallup and two other sources because of their "reputations for methodological rigor and nonpartisan analysis." So they must have no complaint then about Gallup's finding that America is, in fact, a center-right nation. 

"The increased conservatism that Gallup first identified among Americans last June persisted throughout the year, so that the final year-end political ideology figures confirm Gallup's initial reporting: conservatives (40%) outnumbered both moderates (36%) and liberals (21%) across the nation in 2009," Gallup announced on Thursday. 

"The rather abrupt three-point increase between 2008 and 2009 in the percentage of Americans calling themselves conservative is largely owing to an increase -- from 30% to 35% -- in the percentage of political independents adopting the label," Gallup said in its press release. "Over the same period, there was only a slight increase in professed conservatism among Republicans (from 70% to 71%) and no change among Democrats (at 21%)." 

Since 1992, conservatives have outnumbered moderates three times in Gallup polling. Liberals have never outnumbered moderates in that time. The CAF/MM claim that "all indications" show a left-leaning nation is the exact opposite of what is demonstrably true. All indications are, and have been for years, that America is a center-right nation. 

That is not to say that America is a Republican nation or even a conservative one. Self-described moderates outnumber conservatives most years. But far more Americans lean to the right than to the left. Only a fifth of Americans describe themselves as liberal, while more than a third call themselves conservative. Maybe the people at the Campaign for America's Future and Media Matters just can't do math. 

One interesting Gallup finding is that liberals are becoming more liberal but are not recruiting a lot more moderates, while conservatives are moving both themselves and the rest of the country to the right. 

In 2000, only four percent of Americans called themselves "very liberal" while 15 percent said they were merely "liberal." So 19 percent of the country self-identified as liberal that year. By 2009, only 5 percent said they were "very liberal" while 16 percent said they were liberal. That single percentage point increase in each category is within the poll's margin of error, so that small bump in self-described liberals might be a statistical error. The left essentially stagnated. 

Meanwhile, in 2000, 6 percent of Americans self-identified as "very conservative" while 32 percent said they were simply "conservative." By the end of 2009, 9 percent said they were "very conservative," but the percentage who said they were "conservative" fell by a point to 31 percent. The percentage self-identifying as "moderate" fell from 40 percent to 36 percent. In the last decade, Americans not only moved to the right, but deeply to the right. 

There can be no mistake. America is a center-right nation and has grown more conservative in the past decade. That the trend has accelerated in the past year does not bode well for the president, his party, or their policies. 

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About the Author

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @Drewhampshire.