Fiscal conservatism on the decline?

posted at 8:31 am on May 25, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

After two full election cycles where Americans debated the need to reign in spending, debt and the dubious future of entitlement programs and our nation’s fiscal viability, has the bloom started to come off the rose? A new poll from Gallup has some potentially worrying portents in the top lines.

Forty-one percent of Americans now characterize their economic views as “conservative,” or “very conservative,” the lowest since President Barack Obama took office in 2009 and on par with where views were in May 2008. This year’s downtick in the percentage of Americans identifying as economically conservative has been accompanied by an uptick in the percentage identifying as economically moderate — now 37% of Americans, up from 32% last year.

At the same time, this long running poll shows that the portion of Americans describing their views on social issues as either conservative or very conservative dropping to 35%, tying a low point for the last dozen years. Is this some sort of reason for celebration on the Left? Michael New at National Review sees it as a mixed bag, at least for social conservatives.

This week Gallup released their annual survey that asks Americans to rate the morality of various social issues. Overall, the news was not particularly good for social conservatives. On a variety of issues relating to sex and marriage, Americans are becoming more social liberal. Since 2001, a significantly smaller percentage of Americans are morally opposed to gay and lesbian relations, divorce, and sex between unmarried individuals. There was even a seven-percentage-point increase in the number of Americans who thought polygamy was morally acceptable.

Those numbers are more nuanced than the economic ones, as usually happens in these studies. But those seeking to reign in the government credit card do seem to be on the decline at the moment. But why? Part of the reason may be that people are seeing some signs of life in the economy. Not massive signs of improvement, obviously, but the stock market is up and some additional jobs are coming on line. The lack of a pressing threat, sadly, tends to make people more willing to put their problems off until tomorrow.

Also, fiscal conservatism is hard. Let’s face it… the idea of doing with less for yourself in exchange for a long term benefit for future generations requires a bit more vision than you’ll find in the average shopping mall skateboard club. It was never going to be an easy sell, and if it looks like the party lights are being turned back on – even slightly – there will be a percentage of the pack ready to stock up on drinks and head back to the festivities, running up the tab.

But it will take a few more quarters of trending before we should hit the panic button. Trends are important, but so is the final tally. While those describing themselves as either conservative or very conservative on economic matters reached a high of 51% in 2010, it’s still sitting at 41%. And that is in comparison to only 19% who self-identify as either liberal or very liberal. It’s a change, but winning by a more than two to one margin still ain’t peanuts.


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