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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 2/26/09

Yes, A Massive Ideological Shift Has Happened

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Message Chris Bowers

Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 11:17
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's speech last night was yet another example that, despite vast Democratic gains in the 2006 and 2008 elections, conservatives do not believe that this partisan shift has been accompanied by an ideological shift. Jindal's Republican response read from the exact same conservative script about government is part of the problem, rather than part of the solution, that we have been hearing for decades. While David Brooks referred to such a belief as "a form of nihilism," Jindal is hardly the only conservative clinging to this false hope. The numbers these commenters rely upon are the post-election ideological self-identification numbers from Pew, showing that significantly more Americans still self-identify as conservative than liberal.

However, the simple fact is that when polling firms stop asking Americans abstract questions about what vague ideological term they call themselves, and start asking Americans about what they actually believe, an enormous ideological shift is apparent. For example, last month the Harris poll found a huge popular shift in favor of government programs over the last three years (more in the extended entry):

    ROCHESTER, N.Y. - January 13, 2009 - A new study finds that public support for government services is substantially higher than it was in 2005. However, the level of support varies greatly from service to service.(...)

    For every one of 13 services that were asked about in 2005 and in this new Harris Poll, the percentage of people supporting them ("a great deal" or "somewhat") has increased over the last three years.

    The biggest increases in support are for:
        * Intelligence services, up to 18 points to 79%
        * Immigration and naturalization, up 17 points to 64%
        * Medicare, up 14 points to 90%
        * Defense, up 14 points to 85%
        * Federal aid to public schools, up 14 points to 83%
        * Crime fighting and prevention, up 14 points to 91%; and
        * Social Security, up 12 points to 88%.

These double digit shifts in favor of government programs since late 2005 mirror Democratic gains in terms of both timeframe and overall size. These shifts are why a massive new public spending bill like the stimulus / jobs package was politically possible.

A few conservative commentators, like Rich Lowry, are aware of this shift. Writing about what would happen if the economy does recover as a result of expanded government, last night Lowry wrote the following:

He's [Obama is] trying to redefine extensive government activism as simple pragmatism, and if he succeeds, might well shift the center of American politics for a generation.

Indeed. The public has shifted in favor of government intervention in the economy to the same degree it has shifted toward Democrats. If Democrats succeed in turning the economy around through increased government intervention, then the ideological gains measured by the Harris poll will be solid for a generation. Of course, if the economy does not turn around over the next three years or so, then this ideological shift might wellbe temporary.

Of course, there are other, even more obvious signs of an ideological shift in America than polling about support for governmental programs. Ethnic and religious identity are subsets of ideology, rather than something to be found in nature. That a rapidly increasing percentage of Americans are self-identifying as non-white and / or non-Christian is, in and of itself, demonstrative of an enormous ideological shift in America that does not bode well for conservatives. Republicans tried to paper up their problems on this front by using Bobby Jindal in their response to President Obama, but the depth of their problem in this area was revealed when many conservatives started spreading rumors that Jindal is a "secret Muslim," too. However, the truth is that Jindal is actually an exorcist. I think there was an ideological shift away from that belief back in the 19th century.
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Chris Bowers is a blogger for MyDD. His focus is polling and analysis of the political blogosphere. He tends towards data-driven analysis, such as his partisan index, a ranking of how far each state in the United States leans towards a political party. Bowers is also a member of the Pennsylvania (more...)
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