On September 12, the vaunted and reputable Pew Research Center released the results of a poll on the ideologies of the two major American political parties: Democrat and Republican. According to Pew, 23% of those polled responded that the GOP was "Very conservative," up from 18% in June 2010. A mere 22% polled responded that the Democratic Party was "Very liberal," down from 26% in June 2010. Only 7% identified the GOP as "Liberal," while 11% identified the Democratic Party as "Conservative." Pew is quick to note, however, that "Overall, perceptions of the parties’ ideologies are little changed from June 2010" (when they last conducted a similar study).
What I found most fascinating was the results of "Partisans Rate Their Own Ideology," a section of the poll dedicated to measuring how "party loyalists" identify ideologically. Unsurprisingly, 74% of registered Republicans identify as "either conservative (55%) or very conservative (18%)." In the Democratic camp, 41% identify as moderates, 32% say liberal, and 23% claim allegiance to a conservative ideology. I was surprised by the 23% declaring themselves to be conservative Democrats. I recall reading some years ago about the Reagan Democrats in both Pennsylvania and Ohio, but I would be shocked to learn that they account for this 23%. Really: what makes for a conservative Democrat?
On a fundamental level, I have long been skeptical of polls that measure ideological leaning. If you oppose abortion but support gay marriage, are you to be considered a "conservative?" If you support abortion but oppose gay marriage, are you to be considered a "liberal?" How much stock (i.e., value) should we invest in political labels, anyway? If you are a true "moderate" (you adopt positions on individual issues, without an ideology to "dictate" your allegiance on all issues), shouldn't you also be a registered "independent?"
If you are a Ron Paulian, where do you fit in this anachronistic left-right political division?
The Republican primary season is when the party faithful show up, to cast their vote for the most dogmatically rigid Conservative--a phenomenon that is not all too surprising. For this reason, each one of the Republican candidates endeavors to adopt the title of "Mr. (or Mrs.) Conservative." Their ads and rhetoric are aimed at those polled who identified as either "very conservative" or "conservative" (whatever that terminology means).
As the political primary season progresses, it will be interesting to see how political labels and terminology help to frame the discourse and the audience's conception of the candidates. I mean, they all seem very conservative, to me.