Good news, but a tad underwhelming when you look at the numbers. Right now it breaks out at 40/37/20 among conservatives, moderates, and liberals, respectively. Between 2006 and 2008, when the left was routing us at the polls, it was roughly … 37/37/22, a testament to how toxic progressives’ brand is even at the best of times. In fact, between the second and third quarters of this year, conservatives actually lost a point while moderates gained two. Not sure what explains that, although as The One moves further left, crazy wingnut ideas like “we shouldn’t create a new federal health-care entitlement that will never, ever pay for itself” gain traction among the center and become de facto moderate positions. Same with the left vis-a-vis opposition to Iraq over the last three years.

If you want to see where the real movement is, follow the link, scroll down, and note the net gains from last year to this year among independents on seven individual issues. All of them are in double digits except one, and the net gain there is nine points. Quote:

Conservatism is most prevalent among Republicans. However, the overall increase in this ideological stance since 2008 comes largely from political independents, among whom 35% say they are conservatives thus far in 2009 — compared with 29% last year. Independents have also become more conservative on a number of specific policy issues, including government and union power, the role of government relative to promoting values, gun laws, immigration, global warming, and abortion. Republicans, most of whom considered themselves ideologically conservative in 2008, have also grown more conservative on several of these issues this year, while less change is seen among Democrats.

All of this has potentially important implications at the ballot box, particularly for the 2010 midterm elections. The question is whether increased conservatism, particularly among independents, will translate into heightened support for Republican candidates.
Right now, it appears it may. Although Gallup polling continues to show the Democratic Party leading the Republican Party in Americans’ party identification, that lead has been narrowing since the beginning of the year and now stands at six points, the smallest since 2005.

This is probably less a case of conservatism winning over independents than The One’s liberalism simply driving them back into the tent. As disaffected Republicans drained out of the GOP over the last few years, doubtless many of them identified (for a time, at least) as not only independent but, relatively speaking, moderate. Now that they’re reacting to Obama instead of Bush, they’re going to trend back the other way, first as conservatives and then — per Gallup’s trend in party ID — as Republicans. Exit question: Is that good news for Palin, Pawlenty, and other self-styled “true conservative” candidates ahead of 2012, though? The bigger the tent gets before the primaries, with indies bleeding back into the GOP, the less potent the “true conservative” brand is.

Update: Even better than the Gallup poll: In a state won by Obama last year by six points, Republican Bob McDonnell is cruising to victory on an 11-point cushion.