Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Conservative is to Liberal what Republican is to Democrat... or is it?

I remember those word association questions on the SAT, and if the test designers had put the above question in the test, I would have certainly gotten it incorrect, according to Gallup.

I've always associated conservatism with the Republicans and liberalism with the Democrats, so I've found this poll by Gallup to be quite counterintuitive. At a time when the Republican party seems to be trying to find it's voice, has gotten it's arse kicked in a few recent elections and when various pundits are writing it off, people who self identify as conservatives match the highest recorded level going back to 1992.

For me, the only part that makes sense is that the number of self-identified liberals has gone up 4 percentage points since the low in 1992... but that's still only half the number of self-identified conservatives and not much more than the rise in the number of people self-identifying as conservatives in just the last year. Do liberals just prefer to call themselves moderates because of some stigma attached to the word "liberal?" Has the Democratic party become the "big tent" that all the folks in the middle want to flock to? Has the Republican party lost it's bearings so that conservatives no longer feel welcome? Is the idea of conservative so broad in the vernacular, that it offers relatively little in predictability of people's political ideology? Off the top of my head, those seem like obvious potential reasons, but I'm sure there are more and I have no idea which reasons are the primary drivers in this phenomenon.