A new poll released Monday found that, even in the Age of Obama, there has been a “slight increase” in the number of Americans who call themselves conservatives, outnumbering self-described liberals by a 2-to-1 margin.
The Gallup Poll organization said 40 percent of Americans interviewed in 10 surveys from January to May described themselves as conservative, 35 percent as moderate and 21 percent as liberal - a finding that could have a significant influence on the way President Obama’s agenda is perceived in the months to come.
The 40 percent figure for conservatives is the highest in nearly two decades.
“While these figures have shown little change over the past decade, the nation appears to be slightly more polarized than it was in the early 1990s,” Gallup officials said in an analysis accompanying the poll.
“Compared with the 1992-1994 period, the percentage of moderates has declined from 42 percent to 35 percent, while the percentages of conservatives and liberals are up slightly - from 38 percent to 40 percent for conservatives and a larger 17 percent to 21 percent movement for liberals,” Gallup said.
The new findings that self-described conservatives continue to represent “the largest ideological group” in the country were consistent with other surveys over the past five months.
“All the major organizations that ask a question like Gallup’s, and most do, show substantial stability in the findings on ideological identification,” said Karlyn Bowman, public opinion analyst for the American Enterprise Institute. “So there is a lot of evidence that we are still a center-right country.”
But, she noted, 73 percent of Republicans call themselves conservative, while only 38 percent of Democrats call themselves liberals. About 40 percent of Democrats like to describe themselves as “moderate.”
“While Democrats prefer the ‘moderate’ label, ‘liberal’ still isn’t a very popular label,” she said.
Various polling and political analysts reached different conclusions Monday about the surveys’ numbers.
Peter Wehner, an analyst for Commentary Magazine, wrote in the journal’s blog that the Gallup survey demonstrated that Mr. Obama’s election in 2008 “was an impressive personal achievement; it was not an ideological turning point for America.”
The polling showed that “the Republican Party remains in significantly worse shape than the conservative movement,” he wrote, noting that Gallup foundthat 37 percent of Americans consider themselves independent, 36 percent consider themselves Democratic and just 28 percent identify themselves as Republican.
Moreover, the numbers suggest that “many of those who claim to be independent are ‘gettable’ for the GOP,” he said.
But independent pollster John Zogby saw little, if any, political significance in the latest numbers beyond the fact that they remain “relatively stable” and show “that the election of 2008 was not a liberal victory or a liberal mandate.”
“Basically, it is a personal victory [for Mr. Obama] and a repudiation of the Republican Party,” Mr. Zogby said. “It doesn’t mean Americans turned liberal but rather that they wanted problem-solving and consensus-building. As for conservatives, 40 percent is not a winning number,” he said.
Democrats had a different take on the numbers.
“What is striking is that even though 40 percent of the country considers itself conservative, over 60 percent of Americans give President Obama a positive job approval rating,” said Israel S. Klein, a former Democratic congressional communications strategist now with the Podesta Group. “So either every single moderate/liberal American approves of his work to date, or the president is appealing to conservatives, moderates and liberals broadly, which is much more likely.”
The Pew Research Center reported largely similar findings last month, noting that “centrism has emerged as a dominant factor in public opinion as the Obama era begins. The political values and core attitudes … since 1987 show little overall ideological movement.”