Washington — The most puzzling of those puzzling polls that turned up this year were the two which appeared in the middle of page one on the same day in both the New York Times and Washington Star shortly after the election.
The Star's headline read, "Conservative Wave Indicated in New Poll." The story, as ald Reagan was swept into office on a national wave of conservatism," went on to say: "It was shown most clearly in the strong support voiced for a kind of domestic financial conservatism that would mean a major cut in programs for the poor."
The Time's story said that other factors "clearly outweighed a possible slight movement to the right on economic matters." It went on to say that "the poll ofered little evidence that the electorate was moving to the right on economic questions."
What is surprising is that both stories were based on the same New York Times/CBS News poll. Just different interpretations from the same findings.
A conservative trend is of course being perceived today, certainly in political circles. Talk to liberals on Capitol Hill -- those who will be up for election two years from now -- and you hear a lot of apprehension expressed about the conservatism taking over the country. These members of Congress fear they may be on the "hit list" of conserative groups that were so effective in purging liberal office holders in this election. More than that, they talk about a new mood in America which makes survival very difficult for any candidate who has expounded the theory that government spending is the best route to solving problems.
Thus, whether the public is indeed markedly more conservative or not, the perception among liberal politicians is that conv servatism is on the wing today -- and that it is an extremely effective force.
And conservative leaders, in Congress an around the United States, are certainly flexing their muscles these days. They seem [text omitted from source ] their own strengthened political positions -- stem directly from a new voter tilt toward the right.
My impression from conservations with voters during the past political year leads me to be a little cautious (a little conservative, if you will) in proclaiming that a new rightward trend has set in.
People didn't like inflation and joblessness and high interest rates and the generally flagging economy. And they tended to blame the President for not solving problems. But this didn't mean they were conservatives. Most of the people I talked to didn't know what the Kemp-Roth economic solution, pushed by Reagan, was all about. And they usually had never heard of "supply-side" economics and other terms being used by Reagan's economic experts to describe their proposals.
No, voters just didn't like the economic conditions and how they were being personally hurt by them. So they voted their pocketbook. And this helped to oust Carter and elect Reagan. But that didn't mean that all these anti-Carter people were born-again [text omitted from source] probably most of them weren't.
So if Republicans are counting on a conservative trend to move them forward and keep them in the presidency for some years to come, they perhaps had better think again. The voters got rid of Carter because they were dissatisfied with him. They mainly wanted a change. And they wanted a new leader, someone who it was hoped would improve the economy and, additionally, make the United States a nation that once again had the respect of the international community.
But if Reagan fails on either or both of those counts, it is very likely that the so-called conservative trend will evaporate rather quickly. A lot of Republican "ins" -- at every level of government -- will be thrown out. And this will of course include Mr. Reagan, particularly if his economics doesn't get the job done.
The Republicans may be reading this election incorrectly if they conclude too soon that they now are riding a great wave of public conservatism.