Friday, November 20, 2009

Commentarama Readers Define Conservatism

Recently, we asked each of you to tell us how you define conservatism. The results are in and they’re rather interesting. Commentarama readers favor freedom and demonstrate strong support for federalism. You proved surprisingly nuanced on the most controversial issues, and you showed little support for the media’s version of conservatism as a theocracy waiting to happen. Let’s discuss. . .

First, a note about the poll. The purpose of this poll was not to get at basic beliefs; we know what those are. The purpose of this poll was to get you to explain what those beliefs meant. Put another way, anyone can say “I’m for smaller government.” The real question is, where do you think it should be smaller?

To that end, I strove to include questions that stood at the crossroad between policy and principle. I couldn’t include all the questions I wanted, none of you would have sat for that, but what emerged still gives us an interesting portrait of how Commentarama readers define conservatism. Here are the specifics:

Economic Issues
The greatest uniformity occurred on economic issues. Indeed, three of the top four vote-getters were economic issues. Yet, there were still many differences, and some surprising results.

For years now, the entire left and some on the right have turned against free trade. Few seem to be defending it. Yet, 91% of you thought that supporting free trade was a conservative principle. And half of you felt that a candidate who did not hold this view, could not be considered a conservative. I’m impressed. This response more than any other tells me that you are independent thinkers, who are not swayed by public opinion.

At the same time, only 21% felt that conservatives should end foreign aid. Apparently, we’re not the isolationists that some would have us believe.

Almost all of you (93%) said that ending government ownership of private business is a conservative value. And only 14% of you thought conservatives should support subsidies to achieve energy independence. So much for the age of big government.

A huge majority of you (89%) favored balanced budgets. But as several of you pointed out, you favor this only with a bias toward shrinking spending. This was no surprise, and I hope to delve deeper into spending priorities in future polls.

It was surprising that a strong majority of you (78%) thought conservatives should seek to eliminate the inheritance tax. Apparently, this tax upsets many of you. Indeed, this result can't be written off as merely being the product of an anti-tax sentiment, as evidenced by the tepid support given the two forms of tax reform that conservative think tanks often promote: repealing the income tax (27%) and replacing the income tax with a consumption tax (21%).

And few of you (25%) felt that conservatives should seek to eliminate the Federal Reserve.

All in all, this paints a picture of a group that supports fiscal restraint, smaller government, and capitalism, but doesn’t seem too interested in upturning the current system.
Social Issues
When it comes to social issues, everyone knows that conservatives are seething cauldrons of hate and intolerance, right? We all share the same social views, and we’re bent on remaking the United States into a theocracy, akin to a Christian version of Iran. Apparently not.

Despite the media contention that conservatives hate gays, only 54% of you thought conservatives should oppose gay marriage (that mirrors the vote tally in liberal Maine, by the way, so it can’t just be conservatives who believe this), and only 21% of you thought it was necessary for a candidate to share your view before you would consider them to be a conservative. That hardly makes us a strident group. Even more interestingly, only 6% of you thought conservatives should oppose civil unions. Moreover, only 38% of you oppose extending anti-discrimination laws to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation. So much for gay hate.

Your responses on the abortion issue were definitely surprising. Despite the notion that all conservatives oppose abortion, only 52% of you think it is a conservative position to oppose abortion in most circumstances, and only 35% of you identified this as a make or break issue for you to define a candidate as a conservative. This one may deserve further elaboration in a follow up poll. In any event, one thing is completely clear, you don’t want the federal government deciding this issue. Only 6% of you agreed that conservatives should use federal law to ban abortions. That shows strong support for federalism.

When it comes to school prayer, 68% of you support allowing voluntary prayer in schools. But only 11% of you favored allowing schools to sponsor prayer. Again, this shows a very nuanced set of beliefs. While the vast majority of you support the freedom of religious expression in public, few of you want the government leading that expression. So much for the theocracy.

On immigration too, the nuance was through the roof. Sixty-three percent of you want our borders sealed (you’ll be happy to know that Janet Napolitano has now achieved that ** rolls eyes **) and 63% of you want illegal aliens deported, BUT only 9% of you thought conservatives should strive to lower legal immigration. So much for hating immigrants. . . won’t MSNBC be disappointed? Moreover, while 75% of you want employers punished if they hire illegal aliens, only 11% of you thought conservatives should oppose guest worker programs that bring foreigners to the United States to fill certain jobs. So what’s the message? Apparently, you aren’t anti-immigrant, you’re just opposed to law breakers.

The same is true for unions. Fifty-seven percent of you said that conservatives should support right to work laws. So we’re anti-union right? Actually, no. Apparently, we’re pro-right-to-choose. Indeed, when we asked if conservatives should promote policies that actively discourage unionization, only 14% of you agreed.

One area where there was near unanimity was the 97% of you who claimed that conservatives should protect firearm rights. This issue received the highest percentage of votes. It also had the strongest support in the make or break category, with 78% of you saying that a candidate must share your view on this issue to be considered a conservative. That said, however, support crashed to only 15%, when we asked if you thought conservatives should oppose all gun control laws.

As a group, you were also strongly, strongly (88%) opposed to judicial activism. And this was principled opposition, because when offered the chance to use the courts to impose a conservative agenda, all but 4% of you rejected that. Further, 66% of you felt that opposition to judicial activism was a make or break issue before you would consider a candidate to be a conservative. There is a strong lesson here.

You were also strongly opposed (65%) to hate crimes legislation. And you seem strongly opposed to drug legalization, with only 15% stating that conservatives should support drug legalization.

Finally, click on the chart below to see the generic Commentarama Platform. The blue bars show the positions that received a majority of support as being conservative views. The red bars show the number of people calling that issue a make or break issue. Would you support this platform?

(click to enlarge)


Tennessee Jed said...

Interesting results, although, I suppose, by statistician standards the sampling is too small to hold significance. It is interesting to me to see thedivergence on some issues since we have all, at times, talked about our basic "sameness" at this site. If you care to, it would be interesting to get some idea how many samples you got outside of what I will refer to for lack of a better term, the core group of people who have signed up to "follow" this site. I, for one, would welcome you continuing your quest with further bite sized samples of the many questions you wanted to ask.

AndrewPrice said...

I thought it was interest too Jed -- though I've seen for some time that there is a great deal of disagreement on some issues.

In any event, it certainly shows that conservatives have a variety of opinions, even if it's not a large enough sample to make conclusions about the population at large.

Writer X said...

Andrew, thanks for analyzing these poll results. I was very interested in the results concerning illegal immigration. The results are very similar to polling in Arizona--law breakers vs. illegal aliens.

AndrewPrice said...

You're welcome Writer X. I couldn't resist taking a deeper look.

It's fascinating to me that we aren't by any stretch of the imagination the unthinking, group thinkers that the media likes to portray us. Not only were the views varied, but people made very interesting distinctions, and immigration is one of those areas.

I think this should also remind us that when two people say "conservative", they don't necessarily mean the same thing.

By the way, the idea that we're not opposed to immigrants, but are opposed to illegal aliens, is entirely consistent with recent polling on the issue by the big polling companies.

(Immigration is an issue I still need to discuss on my Rebuilding the Republican Party series.)

USArtguy said...

I just heard this quote the other day for the first time:
"The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor." -Ronald Reagan

Thanks for doing this poll and analyzing the results. I always knew that conservatives weren't the mob marching in lockstep (an oxymoron to be sure) that the Left and the MSM portray us to be. So, for me, this is not so much proof as it is reassurance and a confidence booster.

AndrewPrice said...

USArtguy, You're welcome.

I agree. This is very comforting to me too because it shows that we do use our brains and we don't meld our opinions or beliefs just to please the crowd.

By the way, that's a very astute quote from Reagan. If you're waiting for the person who agrees with you 100%, you'll never find them.

StanH said...

Conservatism means freedom! You find lockstep myrmidons in the democrat party.

AndrewPrice said...

Freedom is definitely a consistent theme.

patti said...

i think the immigration numbers would be higher in border states, as we are the ones dealing in the reality of how it impacts our daily life. and we still call them by their proper name here in texas: ILLEGALS! they needs to go.

AndrewPrice said...

Could be Patti. I haven't seen any polling broken down by state. Still, whenever you get into the mid- to high- 60% range in public opinion, that's a pretty clear result.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: Overall, I didn't find the results too surprising, but as you said, pleasantly nuanced. We've mentioned the "80% Reagan formula" several times on this site in relation to losing elections because of insistence on doctrinal purity. The poll seems to indicate that among our readers, that need for purity is not as stong as it might be among some other groups of conservatives.

I know it's a hot button issue, but I think we do indeed need to address abortion a bit more specifically. For example, opposition to federal abortion laws is a solid conservative position, but it doesn't tell us how many of those same conservatives want to restrict "on demand" abortions at the state level. In my case, a principled pro-lifer who makes exceptions for rape, incest and the physical health of the mother is acceptable. But any funding for abortion or support of late-term abortions is a deal-breaker for me. And even at that, if the liberal candidate is typically pro-abortion, I'm not going to vote against the otherwise conservative but "pro-choice" candidate to "register a protest," but I'm not going to actively support the candidate either.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, The nuance made me happy because that tells me that our readers are thinkers! :-)

Abortion is one of the areas that I agree needs further exploration. There is a good deal of ambiguity in the second question. As you note, there are questions of funding. There are also questions about personal view versus political view, and what types of restrictions people would agree to or not, etc. That's definitely one of the three or four areas where I would like to dig a little deeper.

JG said...

Broken record, but yes, very interesting. I am surprised by the order of the "priorities," but not by the nuance of them (i.e. law-breakers vs. all immigrants). This reflects my own experience within the Republican party, even here in the reddest of red states (according to the 2008 election). And yes, as others have already pointed out, the abortion issue needs to be fleshed out.

AndrewPrice said...

JG, I've had the same experience whenever I've interacted with large numbers of Republicans. I've found them to be much more varied than people believe. The problem for the party is that the media portrays them as mindless drones, and some of the party leaders exploit that to make their issues seem more important.

JG said...

One thing I did notice, though, was the (apparent) absence of foreign policy issues. There are a lot of people - usually Paulites, but some others as well - who see America as needing to be more isolationist in her foreign policy, scale down defense spending (because that's "spending money we don't have" and "can't be conservative") or perhaps change alliances (such as the idea that we need to break ties with Israel and that will miraculously bring peace in the Middle East). Was that in the original polling sample or did I just imagine that?

AndrewPrice said...

JG, I didn't go too much into foreign policy due to space restrictions and because most of it is too situation-specific to be meaningful in this kind of broad survey.

Where we did touch upon it, our readers rejected isolationism. First, they support free trade overwhelmingly (91%). And only 20% felt that we should cut foreign aid entirely.

Moreover, if you add in the limited support for keeping out legal immigrants, I think a picture starts to emerge of a group of people who overwhelmingly reject the kind of isolationism that Paul supporters advocate.

Individualist said...

"only 11% of you thought conservatives should oppose guest worker programs that bring foreigners to the United States to fill certain jobs."

Andrew great analysis all around.....

Specifically I am wondering if we are having trouble in the mass media illustrating our message as it concerns illegal immigration.

Case in point your statement above. It seems to me that whenever a conservative politician starts to promote their support for a guest worker program they immediately get saddled by other pundits in consevative circles with the admonistions that this is the democrats gateway to amnesty.

Is it possible there is a disconnect in our message that needs improving? Just a thought.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Individualist.

You ask an excellent question. I suspect that our problem is a combination of things.

I think there is a sense that we've "been had" too many times before to give up anything until they fix the other problems. In other words, I think that the public has learned that it can't trust the politicians on this issue. So once a politician starts talking about a guest worker program, everyone immediately assumes they're up to something. Thus, everyone comes down on them like a ton of bricks, not for what they're proposing, but for what we think they're really up to.

Secondly, I think that this issue is often dominated by the fringe elements. I think you've got the people who want to stop all immigration on one side, and those who want to legalize everyone on the other, and they both do their best to attack anything that isn't 100% of what they want. That poisons the debate.

These two factors make it very hard to reach reasonable solutions, even if the public at large accepts them. It's like fixing social security. We all know it needs to be done, but no one wants to be the one to touch that electric wire.

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