America's big shift right
Why the country's conservative drift, on a wide range of issues, has accelerated.
(Page 4 of 7)
"The New Deal programs have been weakened and destroyed over decades, and there are just many fewer elements in the safety net," says Alan Brinkley, a historian at Columbia University and author of "Liberalism and its Discontents."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Conservative America: The big shift right
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Conservatives, of course, would argue that any tilt to the right is a validation of their ideas. Yet the situation is more complex than that. Many factors have contributed to the nation's rightward drift.
For one thing, frustration over what is perceived as wasteful government spending – under both Democratic and Republican administrations – has grown. The Bush administration's massive spending on everything from a new prescription drug bill to the war in Iraq pushed the national debt to new heights, a trend that has continued during President Obama's tenure. Voters saw the government spend huge sums on such things as financial bailouts and health care – little of which seemed to make a noticeable difference in people's lives.
For many voters, it's a sense of, "we've spent all this money, and there's still 9.2 percent unemployment," says Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg. "There's this larger question: Can government actually do anything?"
IN PICTURES: Conservative America: The big shift right
Voters still strongly support Social Security and Medicare, and do not want to see those programs dismantled. When Fox News asked voters last May to choose between making cuts in defense or Social Security and Medicare to balance the budget, respondents chose defense, by 54 percent to 22 percent. But between the rising costs of entitlements and an aging population, the nation's finances have grown increasingly dire – and voters place blame on both parties.
Indeed, one of the main forces behind the recent rise in conservative views – particularly on the issue of the size and role of government – is a widespread sense that the political system is fundamentally broken: Politicians on both sides of the aisle are seen as big spenders who are tools of special interests.
As a result, while the nation may be moving right in its attitudes about what government can and should do, it has also been moving away from traditional party loyalties. Many people are identifying themselves as conservatives first and Republicans (and to a lesser extent Democrats) second.
"One of the reasons you're seeing a more conservative attitude among conservatives is a belief that Washington and both parties have ignored their concerns," says Republican pollster Glen Bolger. "The spending continues to go up, the debt continues to go up. I think they're saying, 'Look, we're kind of getting tired of people saying, "Yeah, we hear you," and then doing nothing.' "