Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Is “America is a Conservative Nation” a Myth?

A new study reviewing decades of public opinion research suggests that the conventional wisdom that “America is a deeply conservative nation” is a myth.  But, if this is so, how do we explain the political victories of conservatives and reactionaries since 1980?  How do we explain the demonization of the term “liberal?”  How do liberals, progressives, and others capitalize on these findings and change the terms of debate in this nation?  These are important public questions.


June 13, 2007 - Posted by | human rights., politics


  1. “But, if this is so, how do we explain the political victories of conservatives and reactionaries since 1980?”

    Looking at political victories from a purely mechanical point of view, the winners were those most able to mobilize their respective bases; they found the leverage to move the most people. While granting that most of these leverage points were found in generally conservative issues – national security, economics, social concerns over gay marriage & abortion, etc – it is obvious that many of the people most exercised by these issues are either quite liberal, or decidely un-conservative, in other respects. Evangelicals oppose gay marriage & abortion and yet have a divorce rate that is equal-to, if not higher than, the national average. They want the church to reach out to the poor, but not the government. They want to restrain spending in areas they don’t like and increase it in areas they do. All told, I agree that the notion is a myth because so many “conservatives” today are not truly conservative, as many “liberals” today aren’t really liberal. Its just like the modern church in America, which cherry-picks its theology & praxis based on individual tastes. Why should we be surprised when people do the same thing in politics? A large majority stands pretty firmly in the middle only leaning slightly to the left or to the right – these people are hard to mobilize and get excited about politics because 1) the rhetoric is so extreme on both sides and 2) they’re pretty well convinced that nothing much is going to change no matter who’s in office (at least that’s what I think).

    “How do we explain the demonization of the term ‘liberal?’”

    Its an interesting question, but I think it probably follows the same lines as to why people would rather describe themselves as “spiritual” instead of “religious.” “Liberal” was demonized by some savvy conservatives who were able to caricature the title because of the stereotypical behavior of liberals. If not for their behavior, then the caricature would have never taken hold, just as “religious” would not have fallen out of favor if the religious hadn’t been so darn stodgy. Plus, I think it also comes down to insecurity on the part of liberals. They bought into the hype and became afraid of the title. But ultimately, I think it comes back to the fact that America is neither conservative nor liberal – most of the country is within a standard deviation or two of the mean and would likely eschew both descriptions.

    Comment by Nathan | June 13, 2007

  2. Michael, I think we both know that this country has an incredible liberal bias, mostly due to prayer being taking out of schools, the Ten Commandments being taken out of courthouses, and “under god” being taken out of the pledge of allegiance. Those, and the fact that temperance petered out in the 19th century. The only media outlet with any degree of freedom from the taint of liberalism is, of course, Fox News.


    Comment by Halden | June 13, 2007

  3. “But, if this is so, how do we explain the political victories of conservatives and reactionaries since 1980?”

    How long has Diebold been delivering states for the Right candidates?

    Comment by Dan Trabue | June 13, 2007

  4. Part of the confusion is that poll taking isn’t a neutral activity. The pollster usually has a political objective to shape opinion, rather than merely report it. Thus, we should expect a gap in how people vote relative to the polling, unless the polling is done in the last week before an election. At this point, the pollster’s credibility is on the line so the purpose of the polling changes drastically and the numbers shift suddenly.

    If America really were that liberal, Massachusetts would have allowed the marriage amendment to be voted on.

    One final observation is that it seems the world is breaking into two major camps: The boldly going where no depravity has ever gone before camp and the Sharia Law camp.

    Comment by Looney | June 15, 2007

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