Is Donald Trump’s brand of turmoil politics giving the ‘conservative’ label a bad name? Maybe Republican members of Congress who aren’t very conservative? Or perhaps Nancy Pelosi’s liberal charisma is attracting converts?
Something is going on.
When asked over the past quarter-century, more Americans have considered themselves conservative than liberal, sometimes by as much as 20 percentage points. That’s one reason why — have you noticed? — in recent years liberals have tried to re-brand themselves as ‘progressive.’ Liberal has a bad taste for many.
Among genders, Gallup only polled men and women. There, consistently males have gone for the conservative label (by 16 points), while females remained closely divided in self-description between conservative and liberal.
More Americans still do claim to be conservative. But the lead is shrinking. And the reasons are revealing.
Gallup just reported that, according to its survey of 12,766 adults last year, for the first time since 1992 when it began asking adults to self-identify politically, the conservative label lead in 2017 fell into single digits, 35% to 26%. That’s a slippage of two points — 36% to 25% — in just one year.
Gallup’s numbers are intriguing. When the polling organization first began surveying the question, actually more Americans described themselves as ‘Moderate’ politically (43%) to ‘Conservative’ (35%) and lonely ‘Liberal’ (17%). The country and major parties have both become increasingly polarized.
Since then, their chart lines have gradually converged as moderates faded to 35% now, relinquishing the lead to conservative, which generally held steady with occasional surges to 40%. Liberal, meanwhile, crept up to 21%, slipped some during E.B. (Early Obama), then inched up to today’s 26%.
Since conservative has held basically steady over these years, Gallup traces the increase in liberal labeling to shifts away from moderate and, surprisingly, within the Democratic Party.
Analyzing those professing to be Democrats, Gallup found in 2001 one-quarter of that party’s members considered themselves conservative Democrats, 30% considered themselves liberal Democrats while by far the largest proportion of Democrats considered themselves moderate.
Crawl forward to 2017 and liberal has surged while moderate and conservative declined. Gallup observed:
As a result, the Democratic Party has moved from a fairly mixed party ideologically at the start of the century to one that is now decidedly left-leaning.
Among GOP members, changes have been far more, well, conservative. In the last 17 years no more than six percent ever called themselves liberal Republicans. They are likely undergoing re-education.
The only real change since 2001 is a decline among Republicans considering themselves moderate (now 25%) with a matching six point increase in those calling themselves conservative.
Among independents, by far the largest segment (43%) consider themselves — wait for it — moderate. Twenty-nine percent felt more comfortable as conservative, 24% went liberal.
By age, as you might expect, older experienced Americans are wiser and more conservative while callow ignorant youths are more liberal.
Regional data also goes as you might suspect. The most conservative areas are the South (40%) and Midwest (36%) and the West (32%) diluted by coastal states. The East limps in at 29%.