US Conservatives Aren't Nearly As Right-Wing As Opinion Polls Suggest

US constitution photo

photo: Jonathan Thorne/Creative Commons

Nearly every opinion poll TreeHugger has reported on has broken down the results along political lines, conservative, moderate, or liberal. It's standard procedure and not un-illuminating on many issues, hinting at why or why not US voters support a particular issue. A new piece at Miller-McCune sheds some light on those philosophical distinctions though, showing that, at least for self-identified conservatives, far more Americans like the idea of conservatism, the symbolism of it, than truly support right-wing values and action. The study shows that among people calling themselves conservatives there are four broad categories,:

First, there are the what researchers from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Bucknell University call "moral conservatives", 34%--conservative on social, cultural and religious issues but not on government programs or intervention in the marketplace.

Second, are "conflicted conservatives", 30% --people who for some reason seem to like the idea of calling themselves conservative but whose beliefs on specific issues is no consistently conservative.

Third, "constrained conservatives", 26%--people who genuinely know what it means to be conservative in the current political climate and express this philosophy across all issues.

Fourth are essentially libertarians, the smallest group at 10%--conservative economically but liberal socially.

In contrast to these sub-distinctions, the researchers found that two-thirds of self-identified liberals are consistently liberal, "constrained liberals".

We Don't Actually Talk To One Another, Just Past One Another
Christopher Ellis of Bucknell really nails the underlying situation that seems to have existed in the US political debate for the better part of a century at least (the paper gives examples back to the late 1930s):

People don't hear conflicting arguments, but rather two sets of arguments. Conservatives talk about a commitment to conservative values, and liberals talk about what we can do for you on education or the environment. Elite conservatives never say cut education spending, and elite liberals never say we're proud to be liberals. The two groups of people talk past each other.

Pick your environmental debate and the sides talk past one another, based on which aspect on the issue is viewed as more important. Climate for example, which aspect is motivating to either act or not act: Fear of what acting will do to jobs and business, concern over creating a world less-hospitable for our children or preventing that from happening, abstractly arguing that this isn't the place of government?

Beyond that, the research also muddies the waters of opinion polling based on self-identified political categories, in terms of determining true motivation and what messaging could influence it.

Here's the original paper: Pathways to Ideology in American Politics: the Operational-Symbolic "Paradox" Revisited
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More on Opinion Polls:
Americans Support Strong Climate & Energy Policy: Yale Poll
National Survey: 74% of US Voters Support 60 MPG Requirements by 2025
Which of Global Warming's Americas Do You Live In? The Alarmed, the Concerned, the Dismissive?
Just 57% of US Residents See Evidence of Global Warming & 23% Know About Cap-and-Trade

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