I don’t know about you but I am sick of seeing editorials and news stories that cite studies by politically motivated (and, often, funded) scholars and experts who attempt to classify the political ideologies of Americans as genetic abnormalities, mental diseases, or some other kind of social dysfunctional problem. In most cases, political ideologies are a result of life experiences and completely rational people can change political views for a countless number of reasons that do not include genetic or mental abnormalities.
Fundamentally, the difference between conservatism and liberalism boils down to the size of government and how much legislation is passed. Neither side has any intentions of plummeting the United States into anarchy or subjecting it to tyrannical government rule, but that is exactly what happens if either side completely disappears. Ideally, the goal should be to allow Americans as much liberty as possible without turning government back into “Uncle Sam”. You know, that undesirable family member that shows up unannounced, with bad news, and unwanted advice.
U.S. Political Ideologies
Assuming that most Americans are not completely radicalized with thoughts of total anarchy or dreams of communism, I took a look at the annual Gallup polling data that ask potential voters three simple questions:
- How would you describe your political views: very conservative, conservative, moderate, liberal, or very liberal?
- How old are you: 18-29, 30-49, 50-64, or 65 and older?
- Which political party do you identify with: Democrat, Republican, or Independent?
Gallup has tracked U.S. political ideology polls since 1992 and it doesn’t look like much has changed:
The latest statistical information shows that 40% of Americans describe themselves as conservatives, 35% view themselves as moderates, and 21% see themselves as liberals. For the last 18 years conservatives have held a 15 to 20 percent lead over liberals while moderates have slowly declined by 8 percent, evenly increasing both, liberal and conservative, constituencies by 4 percentage points. While none of this is particularly impressive, it does indicate that American political ideology is not set in stone.
So, what turns a conservative into a liberal, a liberal into a conservative, or makes a moderate choose a side?
Political Ideology By Age
Among the top reasons for a logical shift in personal political preferences are the life experiences that come with age because it takes time to see the actual result of legislation enacted by government.
Clearly, younger Americans, overwhelmingly, view themselves as moderates but the dichotomy changes between the ages 30-49 and the older people get, the more apt they are to abandon their moderate and liberal views for a more conservative flavor.
The life of a young adults, between the age of 18-29, takes a dramatic turn as they break the financial ties that bind them to their caregiver(s). As they enter the workforce, they find themselves financially bound to a new “caregiver” that withholds money from every one of their paychecks – government. Eventually, working people figure out that taxes are a substantial part of their own financial burden and become agitated with the lack of government frugality as they struggle to make ends meet.
This is where things go awry for liberals because government officials have a LONG track record of wasteful spending, over-regulating the private sector, under-regulating their own welfare programs, redistributing wealth through the tax code, and boldly lying to the American public about where the money went.
It’s interesting to note that senior citizens, the primary beneficiaries of government assistance programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, were 3 times more likely to relate to conservatives than liberals when it came to political ideologies. Perhaps they are all hypocritical, but I suspect their views are based on firsthand experiences in dealing with government agencies throughout the years.
Political Ideology By Party Identification
Political ideologies are a set of beliefs in how government “should” be run but they do not, necessarily, reflect the agenda(s) of any given political party. Historically, liberals are stigmatized as Democrats, conservatives as Republicans, and moderates as Independents, however, the information from this same Gallup poll has an interesting twist.
The above graphic represents the original Gallup poll results from the same survey but it’s worth noting that this is the only graph that separates liberals and conservatives into two separate entities. So, for consistency sake, I made another graph that displays the “very conservative” responses with the “conservative” and “very liberal” responses with the “liberal” ones below.
- A full 71% of conservatives still identify themselves as Republicans while only 39% of liberals remain Democrats.
- Independents and Democrats poll almost equally, but in opposing ideological directions (as indicated by the red arrows).
Conservatives completely dominate the Republican Party and, for all intents and purposes, Republican lawmakers should have no problem appealing to their base by adhering to conservative ideologies and principles.
Independents have no national political party representing their interests and, for the most part, are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. These are people who are disgruntled by the “establishments” that exist in both political parties which accounts for the wide range in political ideologies.
Democrats, on the other hand, have a problem. They deal with such a diverse range of people with different ideological views on how government should be run that anything they do, legislatively, is bound to alienate a substantial portion of their own party.
Enter The Progressives
In 1991, 5 Democrats and 1 Independent member of the United States House of Representatives started the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and now, in 2012 , it is largest and most powerful caucus in the Democratic Party.
It’s goal is “organized around the principles of social and economic justice, a non-discriminatory society, and national priorities which represent the interests of all people, not just the wealthy and powerful“.
For the CPC to attain it’s stated goal, it must increase the size and scope of government to monitor and regulate the actions and finances of every United States citizen. The CPC calls this political ideology “progressive” and would gladly take credit for it’s inception if they could, but they can’t because this particular ideology is ancient and Americans, by and large, cringe at the sound of it’s old-fashioned name — “communism“.
Voters should be aware that the concerns of liberal, moderate, and conservative Democrats will continue to take a back seat to progressive interests so long as the CPC remains in control of the Democrat party.
Enter The TEA Party
In 2009, conservative Americans gathered together around the United States to protest the tax and spend policies that politicians in Washington had grown accustomed to.
The goal of the TEA party is to “lower taxes, reduce government spending, and make Republican lawmakers represent conservatives whether they want to or not“.
For the TEA party to attain it’s goal it must uproot Republican lawmakers who refuse to lower tax rates and reduce government spending. It doesn’t require government growth, it doesn’t require monitoring or over-regulating the actions and finances of every person in the United States, and the TEA party has referred to it’s political ideology by the name it was given from it’s inception — “conservatism“.
Republican lawmakers should be aware that conservatives control the Republican party and will not be intimidated by the politicians they elect to represent them.
American Politics In General
The vast majority of Americans are busy trying to make ends meet and could care less about politics. They have no aspirations of entering the political arena, no interest in controlling the actions or opinions of others, and no time to analyze every piece of legislation discussed or enacted by Federal, State, and Local government officials.
All they see are the eventual results of legislation passed by lawmakers and how it affects the lives of their families, friends, and society as a whole. Naturally, when government rules and regulations become oppressive people respond by wanting less government intrusion in their lives. Likewise, when people are protected or benefits from government assistance they respond by wanting more protection and a wider variety of benefits.
Unfortunately, the wealth, power, and prestige that government officials acquire tend to attract more liars, charlatans, and narcissists to run for public office than honest people with good intentions and common sense.
Here’s a typical scenario:
Government creates a law that imposes a tax or regulation on American businesses. In turn, businesses pass the additional cost down to the consumer in price. This kind of “hidden tax” causes the prices of everyday goods to artificially inflate for everyone — including government. Before long, government finds it must increase taxes to adjust the cost of living for it’s employees and those receiving assistance or benefits.
In the meantime, working Americans have a substantial portion of their income withheld from every paycheck and find themselves crushed between taxes and an ever inflating economy. As their income dwindles so does their spending power and businesses start cutting costs which, in most cases, boils down to a reduction in employment, resulting in an increase in the number of people who receive government benefits.
So what do a room full of politicians decide to do about it? Chances are, you already know the answer. Despite poor employment figures and soaring inflation, politicians and their political pundits choose to continue the cycle by appearing on the news with more regulations for American businesses, demand higher tax on the people who own them, and incite class warfare to seal the deal.
It’s not rocket science but many people do not immediately correlate unemployment with tax rates, nor are they meant to see the “hidden taxes” added to the prices of goods caused by government regulations and tax burdens on business owners that they, ultimately, wind up paying as a consumer. As people begin to realize the depths at which their own government representatives (or lack thereof) are lying to them, they become less inclined to relate to the two party system and declare themselves as “Independent” of both, regardless of their political ideologies.
For some, government is a “tool” to further agendas that society, otherwise, unfairly rejects; for others, government is a bunch of “tools“, unfairly, furthering agendas that society, otherwise, rejects.
Everyone has their own reasons for the political ideologies they hold and they aren’t genetically abnormal, mentally impaired, or socially dysfunctional for retaining or changing them. It is far more likely they are simply responding to the constant pull of opposing political forces that either increase or decrease the role government plays in their everyday lives.