- - Tuesday, October 29, 2013

“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.

This brings up another pertinent question. If Americans are more conservative, why is the Republican Party failing to attract them? Alas, the answer seems rather clear: There is no direct correlation between conservative values and conservative voting patterns.

Voters are likely frustrated with Republicans for a variety of reasons. For instance, they may think the party is too conservative on some issues and too liberal on others. They may be disappointed with the party’s lack of political direction or where they perceive it will go. They may not care for the candidates running under the party banner. They may dislike the influence of Tea Party activists. They may even be frustrated with the controlling hand of senior Republican representatives.

Whatever the reason or combination of reasons may be, the fact that the GOP isn’t an attractive political option in a more conservative America is rather worrisome.

Can the political pendulum swing back to the right? I think so, if Republicans create a healthy mix of fiscally conservative and moderately social conservative policies.

As I’ve argued in previous columns in The Washington Times, the Republicans must create a party platform in the style of two great conservative politicians, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Economic conservatism could, therefore, be promoted through smaller government, lower personal and corporate taxes, more private-sector influence, economic freedom, trade liberalization and fiscal prudence. Meanwhile, social conservatism could encompass policies that potentially have mainstream appeal, including traditional family values, freedom of religion, opposing judicial activism and tax deductions for charitable contributions to houses of worship.

By doing this, the Republicans would be in a far better position to attract more conservatives, libertarians and other right-leaning individuals from all walks of life. They would, in turn, be able to take advantage of this new conservative wave in the public’s mood before the 2014 midterm elections and 2016 presidential election.

Like Phaedrus wrote, things are not always what they seem. There might just be a way for conservatives to beat back the threat of liberalism in Mr. Obama’s America.

Michael Taube is a contibutor to The Washington Times.