According to a new Gallup Poll, “Thus far in 2009, 40% of Americans interviewed in national Gallup Poll surveys describe their political views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal. This represents a slight increase for conservatism in the U.S. since 2008, returning it to a level last seen in 2004.”
These results correspond to others we have seen. It demonstrates, I think, several things. The first is that America remains a center-right nation. The second is that President Obama’s victory in 2008 was an impressive personal achievement; it was not an ideological turning point for America. Third, the Republican Party remains in significantly worse shape than the conservative movement (Gallup found an average of 37 percent of Americans consider themselves independent, 36 percent of Americans considering themselves Democratic, and 28 percent Republican). And fourth, many of those who now claim to be independent are “getable” for the GOP. For example, 22 percent of Democrats consider themselves conservative (v. 3 percent of Republicans identifying as liberal) and among independents, 45 percent describe their political views as moderate, 34 percent as conservative, and 20 percent as liberal. Many of them could find their way back to the Republican Party, if it is seen as principled, revitalized, and modern.
President Obama is extremely popular personally, and one should not underestimate the value of that. He is both liked and trusted by much of the public, which gives him latitude to act in ways that others could not. And Obama is exceptionally good at making his policies sound different than they are. Still, the danger for President Obama is that he is governing to the left of where he ran, in a nation that is significantly more conservative than it is liberal. Americans are growing increasingly wary of his policies, particularly his economic policies. And while much of the public has been willing to defer to him so far, its patience is nowhere close to endless. And if Obama’s policies are seen as contributing to our problems rather than solving them – and the staggering deficit and debt we are seeing are going to trigger some unpleasant outcomes and choices – the political climate can change rapidly and dramatically. President Obama remains in a strong position, but he is far from invincible.