The Elusive Conservative Majority

Article excerpt

REPUBLICANS MAY HAVE trounced the Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, but if history is any indication, their big gains will be fleeting. The GOP failed to cement electoral wins in 1966,1980, and 1994 into a permanent governing majority. Henry Olsen, a vice president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says Republicans need to face some facts about the voters who are the decisive swing bloc: the white working class.

Many conservatives have long believed that as a whole, the American electorate tilts center-right. In surveys, self-described conservatives outnumber liberals by as much as two to one. Well over half the voting public says it favors smaller government. But those same polls also find strong support for large government programs such as Social Security and Medicare, and other surveys show high levels of backing for education spending. When Republicans come to power and try to reverse liberal policies, voters respond by voting Democratic in the next election cycle.

"Voters," Olsen says, "may hate the house of government, but [they] love the bricks used to build it" It's this paradox that has pushed many Republican governors--as it did President George W. Bush--to drastically expand government spending under their watch.

Many Republican-leaning voters are not conservatives at all. They are antiliberal: They prefer low taxes and balanced budgets, but fearing they could lose everything they've worked for, they also support state-sponsored welfare and retirement benefits. …