Gallup: America the 'conservative'?

For the third time since 1992, more Americans consider themselves 'conservative' than 'moderate' or 'liberal,' a Gallup poll finds. But 'liberals' are up, too, meaning the number of 'moderates' is shrinking.

Seth Perlman/AP/file
Protesters carrying signs and American flags participate in a tax day tea party rally at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. in April. The tea party movement has added to the number of Americans calling themselves conservative.

America, rife with political polarization? Barack Obama ran for president on ending that, but gave up about a nanosecond after he was sworn in. Or maybe it was a few weeks.

Sure enough, per pollster Gallup, the nation has grown only more polarized in the past year. By the end of 2009, 40 percent of Americans self-identified as conservative, up from 37 percent in 2008. Moderates clocked in at 36 percent, down from 37 a year earlier. And 21 percent of Americans self-identified as liberal, down a point from 2008.

'Moderates' waning

Viewed more broadly, during the past decade, the numbers show an increase in the percentage of those self-identifying as either conservative or liberal, while “moderate” has seen a decline. In 1999, 40 percent of American adults were moderate, 38 percent were conservative, and 19 percent were liberal.

Since 1992, conservatives have topped the ranking only three times – in 2003, 2004, and 2009. And Republicans are shouting the latest ranking from the rooftops.

“We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1!” announced the headline on the Republican Study Committee press release.

Extreme right and left growing

Another sign of growing polarization, if ever so slight: The percentage of Americans calling themselves “very conservative” has grown in the last 10 years from 6 to 9 percent. “Very liberal” has gone from 4 to 5 percent.

Note bene: “Conservative” doesn’t always equal Republican, and vice versa. Gallup found in its latest annual average that 71 percent of Republicans consider themselves conservative, as do 35 percent of independents and 21 percent of Democrats. In the last year, it was the independents who saw the biggest growth in conservative ID – from 30 percent to 35 percent.

Republicans have to be asking themselves, why don’t these independent conservatives belong to our party? This question is especially acute as the anti-tax Tea Party movement – many of them independent conservatives – prepares for its first convention in early February.


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