A New Republican Wave? despite the Obama Phenomenon, Americans Are Breaking Conservative

By Taube, Michael | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 30, 2013 | Go to article overview

A New Republican Wave? despite the Obama Phenomenon, Americans Are Breaking Conservative


Taube, Michael, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Michael Taube, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Things are not always what they seem. Phaedrus wrote this famous line in his fourth book of fables. In other words, something that seems logical at first glance isn't as clear cut as it may appear on the surface.

Consider these three simple statements: Barack Obama is one of the most politically liberal presidents in U.S. history. He has won two consecutive presidential elections with more than 50 percent of the popular vote. Ergo, a majority of American voters have either shifted, are shifting or react positively to political liberalism since they voted for President Obama.

This seems like a rational train of thought. Phaedrus, the Roman fabulist, would have encouraged people to dig deeper. If they do, they'll be surprised by what they find.

Enter James A. Stimson. He's a well-respected professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has also written many important academic papers and books on party politics and public opinion, including Public Opinion in America: Moods, Cycles and Swings (1991).

One of Mr. Stimson's more interesting theories is the Policy Mood measure. In a nutshell, public opinion of government programs such as health care and welfare can be measured on a liberal-conservative continuum. By examining the way the political winds are blowing at a particular time, combined with public support or rejection of certain social programs through survey data, you can gauge the country's policy mood and political direction.

Mr. Stimson's recent policy-mood update showed something rather interesting. In 2012, liberalism appears to have been at its lowest point in a half-century. Or, in the words of Vanderbilt University political science professor Larry Bartels in The Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog on Sept. 30, The American public in 2012 was more conservative than at any point since 1952. (Mr. Bartels also wisely adds this statement: "Since mood in each year is estimated with some error, it seems safer to say that the current level of conservatism roughly equals the previous highs recorded in 1980 and 1952.)

Think about it. According to Mr. Stimson's data, American voters were more conservative than liberal in the 2012 presidential election. Yet they ultimately supported a liberal, Mr. Obama, over his moderately conservative challenger, Mitt Romney. It's an even more stunning analysis when you consider the fact that Americans have been voting for more liberal politicians than conservative politicians in recent congressional elections. …

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