Commentators again tout poll results to make flawed claim that America is a "conservative" country

››› ››› ADAM SHAH

Several conservative commentators have touted a Gallup poll finding that 20 percent of respondents identify themselves as "liberal," 36 percent as "moderate" and 40 percent as "conservative" to criticize President Obama and his agenda and to claim America is ideologically a "conservative" country. But political scientists dispute the reliability of voters' identification with political ideologies, and other polling has found that a strong majority favors the more progressive position on a number of issues.

Media conservatives claim Gallup poll shows America is "center-right"

Brit Hume: United States "is clearly center right. The president, though, is thought to enact an agenda which is clearly left of center." On the October 26 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Hume said: "If you're wondering why President Obama and his party are finding health care reform and much of the rest of his agenda such heavy lifting, look no farther than a Gallup poll out today. It finds 40 percent of Americans call themselves conservatives, 36 percent said they're moderate, and only 20 percent said they are liberal. That's no doubt why liberals today prefer to call themselves progressives. The findings are of a piece with a poll taken on Election Day last year in which people were asked to rate themselves on a scale of one to nine, with one being far left, nine being far right. It averaged out to 5.88, the answers did, which is clearly center-right. The president, though, has sought to enact an agenda which is clearly left of center." [10/26/09]

RedState.com's Erickson cites Gallup to claim, "When the GOP paints a clearly distinct picture of ideas and issues from the Democrats, they win." In an October 26 blog post RedState.com managing editor Erick Erickson quoted from Gallup's website and said:

I hope the RNC, GOP, NRSC, NRCC, etc. are paying attention to this.

As I have noted repeatedly, data from the 2008 exit polling showed that more people considered themselves "conservative" than "liberal." This new Gallup poll is in accord with that.

This goes straight to NY-23, where both the DCCC and NRCC are attacking Doug Hoffman, the conservative candidate. Apparently, unlike the NRCC, the DCCC sees a path to victory for Doug Hoffman.

When the GOP paints a clearly distinct picture of ideas and issues from the Democrats, they win. Voters do not want to vote for Democrat-lite when they get have the real thing. The GOP should offer competing ideas, not just repacked Democrat ideas that have lower price tags. [10/26/09]

NRO's Lopez cites Gallup to claim United States is a "conservative nation." National Review Online's (NRO) Kathryn Jean Lopez quoted from Gallup in a post on NRO's The Corner blog titled "Conservative Nation." Later, NRO editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg wrote of the Gallup poll: "I do think one plausible theory as to why the Democratic party is having some of its problems these days is that they misread their pre-election unity. I think this is understandable. Lots of polls suggested that America was becoming more liberal under Bush (at least on a bunch of issues). The differences between centrist and left-wing Democrats seemed trivial. Barack Obama won handily without ever tacking back to the center in the general election. In short, those eager to find evidence that the country was poised to lurch leftward had lots to go on." Goldberg later added: "I don't think they're doomed or anything like that. But, they've managed to rebrand themselves as a very liberal party again, and that's a problem when 80% of Americans don't describe themselves as liberals." [10/26/09]

Political scientists dispute reliability of voters' identification with political ideologies

Political scientists Erikson & Tedin dispute effectiveness of asking about political ideologies. As Media Matters for America has documented, in the 2005 edition of American Public Opinion, Robert S. Erikson and Kent L. Tedin, political science professors at Columbia University and the University of Houston, respectively, questioned the reliability of poll questions that ask voters to self-identify with a political ideology. Noting that "a standard poll question is to ask respondents their ideological identification, usually with three choices of liberal, moderate, and conservative," Erikson and Tedin wrote:

Ideally, ideological classification is a convenient way to measure individuals' core political values and to summarize their political views on a variety of issues. In practice, the result is mixed. The most politically sophisticated segment of the public approximates the ideal. For them, ideological identification goes a long way toward describing their political convictions. But when less sophisticated people respond to the ideological identification question with a response of liberal, moderate, or conservative, we can be less sure of what the response means. At worst, the response represents some idiosyncratic meaning known only to the respondent, or perhaps a doorstop opinion made up on the spot. [Page 67]

After listing traditionally conservative and liberal views, Erikson and Tedin continued: "These kinds of relative distinctions are familiar to people who follow politics closely. But the language of ideology holds less meaning for the public as a whole. One test is whether the individual can both identify the Republican as the more conservative party and offer a plausible definition of the term conservative. Roughly half the public passes this test of understanding of ideological labels" [Page 68].

Political scientists Ellis & Stimson: 34 percent "of self-identified conservatives rejects operationally conservative beliefs" in both "social welfare" and "moral issues" areas. In a working paper titled "Pathways to Ideology in American Politics," political scientist Christopher Ellis and James Stimson studied the positions self-identified liberals and conservatives take in areas dealing with "social welfare" and "moral issues." They defined "social welfare" to include "traditional 'New-Deal' spending and redistribution issues along with issues of race and civil rights." They defined "moral issues" to include "preferences for and against abortion, gays in the military, and the rights of gays to adopt children." The found that 34 percent of conservatives took the liberal position in both the social welfare and moral issues area, while only 4 percent of liberals did not hold liberal views in either area:

Only about one in five self-identified conservatives holds consistently conservative issue positions: right of center positions on both dimensions. Put another way, almost 80% of professed conservatives are not conservative on at least one of these dimensions. A larger group (30%) of conservatives is operationally conservative only on the narrow set of issues related to traditional morality, not the broader social welfare dimension. The "economic conservatives," conservative on social welfare issues alone, are not very numerous (15%). But the largest group (34%) of self-identified conservatives rejects operationally conservative beliefs on both the social welfare and the moral issue domains. This stands in contrast to the less than 4% of self-identified liberals who hold no liberal issue views. [emphasis in original] [Ellis & Stimson working paper]

Polling on a variety of issues shows that public holds progressive positions

Media Matters, Campaign for America's Future study shows public holding progressive positions on a variety of issues. In a study produced by Media Matters and Campaign for America's Future found that, based on several polls: "Polling data regarding a wide range of issues, including the role of big business, health care reform, gay marriage, stimulus spending, international trade, and Social Security, indicate that Americans are increasingly receptive to and comfortable with a progressive agenda."

Polling has found that public option has widespread support. Media Matters has also documented that polling consistently shows broad support for inclusion of a public option in health care reform legislation.

Transcript

From the October 26 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:

BRET BAIER (host): Senior political analyst Brit Hume is here tonight with some insights into why perhaps the reform debate has been so difficult. Good evening Brit.

HUME: Hi, Bret. If you're wondering why President Obama and his party are finding health care reform and much of the rest of his agenda such heavy lifting, look no farther than a Gallup poll out today. It finds 40 percent of Americans call themselves conservatives, 36 percent said they're moderate, and only 20 percent said they are liberal. That's no doubt why liberals today prefer to call themselves progressives.

The findings are of a piece with a poll taken on Election Day last year in which people were asked to rate themselves on a scale of one to nine, with one being far left, nine being far right. It averaged out to 5.88, the answers did, which is clearly center-right. The president, though, has sought to enact an agenda which is clearly left of center.

That same Election Day poll also asked people their top priority issue: 44 percent said the economy. Only 5 percent, as you can see, said health care reform. Even after all the talk about it, health care still ranks far below the economy in current polling. After accepting what millions saw as a bloated stimulus bill to revive the economy, the president has spent much more time and effort on health care reform, even as the unemployment rate has climbed far past what his advisers said it would be.

Making great big changes on an issue as big as health care was never going to be easy, but especially not with a left-of-center program for a right-of-center country -- a country focused on an entirely different issue.

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