Why a Conservative America is a Myth
The principles of conservatism are small government, free markets, and individuals managing as much as possible. While the principles of progressives are active government, a government that performs more functions and provides more services. A recent survey by the National Election Studies found that, “Sixty-seven percent of Americans said we need a strong government to handle complex economic problems. Nearly fifty-eight percent said government should be doing more, not less; and fifty-nine percent agreed that government has grown because the country’s problems have grown.” Except for a brief period from 1992 to 1996, Americans have expressed this preference for more government for the last twenty years.
When it comes to economic justice, Americans express similar views. According to The Pew Research Center, “More than two-thirds (69 percent in 2007) believe the government ‘should care for those who can’t care for themselves.’ They feel so strongly about it that more than half (54 percent) are willing to incur greater debt to get it done.” This data coincides with the findings of the General Social Survey that revealed, “A clear and steady preference for government action to achieve income equality.” The Pew Research Center also found that fifty-eight percent of Americans thought businesses did not strike a fair balance between making profits and serving the public interest. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll, from March 2007, found that, in general, forty-six percent of Americans think that free trade agreements between the United States and foreign countries have hurt the United States, while only twenty-eight percent think free trade agreements have helped the United States. It may surprise you to discover unions are popular with Americans. A Gallup poll found fifty-nine percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of unions and fifty-three percent thought they helped the U.S. economy. Even more Americans are progressive when it comes to helping our lowest-wage workers. A Los Angeles Times 2006 poll found seventy-seven percent of Americans favored an increase in the minimum wage.
Now when it comes to taxes you probably think Americans are conservative. After all, they own that issue. But while most Americans think their own taxes are too high, a Gallup poll found that sixty-six percent also think that upper income people don’t pay their fair share of taxes; and when it comes to corporations, seventy-one percent think they pay to little taxes. Americans were not adverse to government spending on things that matter to them. A Los Angeles Times poll found that sixty percent of Americans felt that an economic agenda focused on spending for improvements to the country’s infrastructure such as roads, bridges and schools was more effective in stimulating the nation’s economy than tax cuts. When a NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll asked
Americans how they felt about the Bush taxes cuts, fifty-three percent said it had not been worth it because they increased the deficit and caused cuts in government programs.
Social issues belong to conservatives, don’t they? After all the exit polls from the 2004 elections showed most voters said that moral values determined how they voted. But when Americans said moral values, did they mean the hot button issues conservatives favor? A Zogby poll taken after the election found that the most pressing moral issues for thirty-three percent of Americans was greed and materialism, while thirty-one percent chose poverty and economic justice. But only sixteen percent said abortion and only twelve percent said same-sex marriage were the most pressing issues. In fact a CNN/Opinion Research Corp January 2007 poll found sixty-two percent of Americans do not want the Supreme Court to overturn its 1973 Roe Vs. Wade decision concerning abortion. So when conservatives talk about moral values, remember those are not the same values as the majority of Americans.
How about security? Americans want a strong defense, but do they think our current conservative administration is achieving that? According to a 2006 Pew poll, sixty-three percent of Americans think America is less respected in the world. According to The Foreign Policy Index, sixty-seven percent of Americans think the U.S. should emphasize diplomatic and economic efforts over military efforts in fighting terrorism, with sixty-three percent saying that improving the effectiveness of our intelligence operations would strength our nation’s security. While fifty-five percent, felt becoming less dependent on other countries for our supply of energy, and forty-two percent felt that showing more respect for the views and needs of other countries would enhance our security a great deal. Only seventeen percent said attacking countries that develop weapons of mass destruction would enhance our national security.
Even a lot of democrats think most Americans don’t share the party’s stance in favor of gun control, but once again the polling show that is a misconception. A 2006 Gallup poll found that fifty-six percent of Americans said that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict and fifty-three percent said that current gun laws should be enforced more strictly. While the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s, April 2004 poll found that sixty percent of Americans said the federal government should impose more restrictions on the kinds of guns that people can buy and that seventy-one percent said that Congress should renew the current federal law banning assault weapons when it expires. And it is not just guns, Americans are surprisingly progressive in their views on punishing crime. Polling in 2006 and 2007 by Zogby International revealed that eighty-nine percent of Americans polled believe that rehabilitation and treatment for incarcerated youths can help prevent future crime, and eighty percent thought spending money on rehabilitative services and treatment for youths will save money in the end. Seventy-eight percent supported the Second Chance Act that would allocate federal funds to prisoner re-entry programs.
Only “tree huggers” care about the environment. Well if that the case then a lot of Americans are “tree huggers.” When it comes to pollution, a Gallup March 2007 poll found that eighty-four percent of Americans are concerned about rivers, lakes, and reservoirs; eighty-two percent, drinking water; eighty percent, soil and water contamination by toxic waste; seventy-nine percent, Air pollution; seventy-eight percent, fresh water for household needs. When it comes to solutions for environmental issues, once again Americans are progressive. They support enforcing federal environmental regulations (82 %), setting higher auto emissions standards for automobiles (79%), setting higher emissions and pollution standards for business and industry (84%), imposing mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases (79%), spending more government money on developing solar and wind power (81%), spending government money to develop alternate sources of fuel for automobiles (86%), an they oppose (51%) the opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for oil exploration. They feel strongly enough about protecting the environment that according to the same Gallup March 2007 poll, fifty-five percent said protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth. A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found fifty-two percent of Americans believe the best way for the U.S. to reduce its reliance on foreign oil is for government to invest in alternative energy sources.
When it comes to health care, Americans want more government involvement, not less. According to a Gallup 2006 poll, sixty-nine percent of Americans think it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have access to health coverage. They are even willing to pay for it. According to a CBS/New York Times’ February 2007 Poll, seventy-six percent of Americans think is more important for the country to make sure all Americans have access to health care than to maintain the tax cuts enacted in recent years. The same poll also found sixty percent of Americans would you be willing to pay higher taxes so that all Americans have health insurance they cannot lose, no matter what. Eighty-two percent said they would you be willing to pay $500 a year more in taxes so that all Americans have health insurance they can’t lose, no matter what.
So why does the myth persist that more Americans are conservative than liberal? In part, because more Americans identify themselves as conservative. The National Election Studies shows that thirty-two percent of Americans self identify as conservative, twenty-six percent as moderate, and twenty-three percent as liberals. Christopher Ellis wrote in a study of ideological labeling that “Many conservatives are not very conservative… nearly three-quarters of self-identified conservatives are not conservative on at least one issue dimension [size and scope of government, or abortion and homosexuality], and considerably more than half hold liberal preferences on the dominant dimension of conflict over the size and scope of government. Simply put, many conservatives are not very conservative.” So next time one of your friends tells you he is a conservative, stop and take a look at where he stands on the issues. He might be a lot more liberal than you think.
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