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Is America Still a Center-Right Country? AEI Political Report, December 2012

Is America Still a Center-Right Country? AEI Political Report, December 2012

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Is America still a center-right country? The data points to America as solidly centrist. This issue of Political Report examines self-reported ideological identification of adults and voters over time, views on social issues, attitudes on moral issues, and opinions on the role of government. It also explore whether the Republican brand is damaged and presents some closing data points on the 2012 election. Here are some highlights:
• The number of Liberals in the electorate reached an all-time high in 2012 (25 percent), and the number of Conservatives came very close to the all-time high point (36 percent in 1984 and 35 percent in 2012). Yet, Moderates still make up the largest segment of the vote.
• On economic issues, 46 percent of Americans identify as conservative, while 20 percent say they are liberal. On social issues, 38 percent say they are conservative while 28 percent say they are liberal.
• In recent surveys on issues such as gay marriage, Americans have moved in a more liberal direction on the policy questions, even as they say that for them personally, the behavior is morally wrong. Half believe that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized as valid, while 52 percent believe sex between two adults of the same gender is morally wrong.
• Most Americans have long embraced social welfare programs for the poor as an important government responsibility. In a fall 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll, 63 percent agreed that government policies aimed at helping the poor serve as a critical safety net.
• Republicans have lost the popular vote for president in five of the past six elections. Current poll responses show a GOP deficit as well. In October, 44 percent said they had negative feelings about the Republican Party, and 39 percent said they had positive ones.
• Satisfaction with the candidates in 2012 was high, and voters felt they learned enough during the campaign to make an informed choice. Two-thirds said the debates were helpful.
Is America still a center-right country? The data points to America as solidly centrist. This issue of Political Report examines self-reported ideological identification of adults and voters over time, views on social issues, attitudes on moral issues, and opinions on the role of government. It also explore whether the Republican brand is damaged and presents some closing data points on the 2012 election. Here are some highlights:
• The number of Liberals in the electorate reached an all-time high in 2012 (25 percent), and the number of Conservatives came very close to the all-time high point (36 percent in 1984 and 35 percent in 2012). Yet, Moderates still make up the largest segment of the vote.
• On economic issues, 46 percent of Americans identify as conservative, while 20 percent say they are liberal. On social issues, 38 percent say they are conservative while 28 percent say they are liberal.
• In recent surveys on issues such as gay marriage, Americans have moved in a more liberal direction on the policy questions, even as they say that for them personally, the behavior is morally wrong. Half believe that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized as valid, while 52 percent believe sex between two adults of the same gender is morally wrong.
• Most Americans have long embraced social welfare programs for the poor as an important government responsibility. In a fall 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll, 63 percent agreed that government policies aimed at helping the poor serve as a critical safety net.
• Republicans have lost the popular vote for president in five of the past six elections. Current poll responses show a GOP deficit as well. In October, 44 percent said they had negative feelings about the Republican Party, and 39 percent said they had positive ones.
• Satisfaction with the candidates in 2012 was high, and voters felt they learned enough during the campaign to make an informed choice. Two-thirds said the debates were helpful.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: American Enterprise Institute on Dec 17, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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Volume 8, Issue 11 • December 2012
A M
O N T H L Y
P
O L L
C
O M P I L A T I O N
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036 202.862.5800 www.aei.org
Is America Still a Center-Right Country?
Soon after Ronald Reagan’s election, the editors of AEI’s
Public Opinion
magazine looked at ideology in America andespecially at the social characteristics and policy preferences of conservatives. The editors noted “how lacking in ideologi-cal rigor or coherence conservatism and liberalism are in the populace at large.” They showed that conservatives with lessthan a high school degree were often very different in their beliefs from conservatives with college training and that dif-ferences among self-identified conservatives were often greater than differences between conservatives and liberals.The editors also noted that the polls provided different impressions of the ideological composition of the country.More than 30 years later, that is still the case. Some national surveys show moderates narrowly outnumbering conserva-tives among adults, but others show conservatives leading them. Liberals continue to lag both groups. When voters stepinto the voting booth, most describe themselves as moderate. Of the rest, more consistently say they are conservative thanliberal. Still, the number of liberals in the electorate reached an all-time high in 2012 (25 percent), and the number of conservatives was very close to the all-time high point (36 percent in 1984 and 35 percent in 2012).Self-reported ideological identification is a blunt question, and when Gallup probes and asks people about economicand social issues, more people say they are conservative when it comes to economic issues than on social issues (see page2). On some prominent social issues, Americans are moving in a more liberal or permissive direction. They have alsomoved away from the notion that government should promote traditional values. For the first time in Gallup’s data, amajority in 2012 said government should not favor any particular set of values. The observation of AEI’s
Public Opinion
editors in 1980 still holds true: “the choice of one [ideological] tag or the other is not random or meaningless. But thereasons are not ideological. That is, they do not, for the most part, involve adherence to a formal package of politicalideas and prescriptions. Instead, they are generally narrow, specific, and individualistic.”We suspect that the terms conservative and liberal have more resonance for Americans than they did a generation ago.The country is clearly centrist, with evidence of center-right and center-left impulses.
Voters’ Ideological Identification
Source:
Congressional Quarterly 
compilation of national presidential exit poll data.
010203040506032%36%35%30%33%29%34%34%35%49%51%47%47%49%47%50%46%44%41%20%18%17%18%21%20%20%21%22%25%197619801984198819921996200020042008201232%
Conservative Moderate Liberal
 
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036 202.862.5800 www.aei.org
2
Q: Thinking about _________ issues, would you say that your views on ___________ are . . . ?
Source: Gallup, latest that of May 2012.
Q: Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government  should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your view?
Government should promoteGovernment should not favortraditional valuesany particular set of values
199353%42%19985538200454412008494520114846
20124452
Source: Gallup, latest that of September 2012.
Q: Do you think . . . ?
Democratic PartyRepublican Party
Is too liberal47%15%Too conservative846About right4132
Source: Marist/McClatchy, December 2012.
46%38%20%28%01020304050601999200020012002200320042005200620072008200920102011Conservative on economic issuesConservative on social issuesLiberal on social issuesLiberal on economic issues2012
AEI POLITICAL REPORT CONTRIBUTORS
Karlyn Bowman
, Senior Fellow;
Norman Ornstein
, Resident Scholar;
Michael Barone
, Resident Fellow;
Henry Olsen
, Vice President.Research Assistants:
Jennifer Marsico
, Editor;
Andrew Rugg 
, Editor.
(continued on the next page)
 
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036 202.862.5800 www.aei.org
3
Social Issues Over Time
On some social issues, the country is moving in a more liberal direction as the line graph below shows. There is clearmovement on gay marriage and legalization of marijuana. On abortion, there seems to be little movement. Support forapplying the death penalty has fallen, but a majority still approves its use.
Source: Gallup, latest that May 2012 (gay and lesbian relations and abortion); Gallup, latest of October 2011 (marijuana); Gallup, latest that ofOctober 2011 (death penalty).
Public Policy vs Private Morality 
In recent surveys on issues such as gay marriage, Americans are moving in a more liberal direction on the policy ques-tions, even as they say that for them personally, the behavior is morally wrong. In other areas, views are moving in tan-dem. Around half now say the use of marijuana should be legal and nearly that many say that it is morally acceptable.When it comes to the death penalty, most favor its use and believe it is morally acceptable. On other issues such as abor-tion, policy views have not changed. Most Americans tell Gallup that abortion should be legal only under certain circum-stances, while a bare majority believes that it is morally wrong to have an abortion. On other issues, from extramaritalsexual relations to cloning to wearing fur, there has been little movement over the past decade.
Gay marriage
15%46%61%40%0102030405060708090
1975197719791981198319851987198919911993199519971999200120032005200720092011
Favor death penalty for a personconvicted of murderMarijuana shouldbe made illegalOppose allowing gays andlesbians to marry legallyAbortion should be illegal under all circumstances
2012
Q: Do you think . . . ?
19962012
Marriages between same sex couplesshould be recognized by the lawas valid with the same rights astraditional marriage 27%50%Should not6848
Note: In 1977, when the National Opinion Research Center askedwhether homosexual couples should have the right to marry oneanother, 12 percent said yes, and 73 percent no.Source: Gallup, latest that of 2012.
Q: Next, I’m going to read you a series of statementsabout personal behavior. Regardless of whether or not  you think it should be legal, for each one, please tell mewhether you personally believe it is . . .
2012
Sex between two adults of the samegender is morally acceptable42%Morally wrong52
Source: PRRI, October 2012.
(continued on the next page)

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