What Conservatives Really Believe

After taking a long look at the Media Matter report discussed in the previous post, I asked myself, what would the results look like if we restricted the analysis just to those who actually label themselves “conservative.”  Are we conservative compared to most other modern democracies?  You
bet, but the degree of our conservatism is way overstated by the very
successful efforts of Conservatives to demonize the term “liberal” over
the past 20 years or so (I blame Bush's dad).  The fact that
self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals causes
many to conclude we are a Conservative nation, but the truth is most American have but the vaguest clue what “liberal” or “conservative” really mean.  Chances are then, conservatives aren't really all that conservative.  I did some quick analyses with the 2004 National Election Study data (the gold standard for us Political Scientists) to see what self-identified “conservatives” actually believe about issues.  Conservatives only what “small government” in the abstract.  Ask them about a real issue and they are all for spending money on it. A brief summary of results (all percentages are for “conservatives” only):

  • 47% favor increasing social security spending, 45% keeping it the same, and only 7% decreasing it.
  • 53% favor more spending on public schools, 35% the same, and 12% decrease
  • When it comes to crime, a whopping 59% favor spending more money
  • Only 15% would decrease federal spending on “child care” (clearly a “liberal” policy)
  • 57% oppose school vouchers
  • 80% think the rich pay the right amount (42%) or not enough taxes (38%)
  • Of course, despite all this 68% believe “the less government, the better”

So, basically conservatives have no idea what they are talking about.  They want to maintain or increase spending on virtually every government program except welfare (a tiny portion of the budget), yet are convinced that we need “less government.”  Maybe there would be more “liberals” if they were willing to hold such patently contradictory beliefs.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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