Polls Show Americans Embracing Conservatism

A growing segment of Americans are uncomfortable with the expanding presence of government in every facet of modern life.

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By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

"By almost every conceivable measure,” reads the latest Pew research poll out this week, “Americans are less positive and more critical of government these days.” Calling it a “perfect storm” of conditions that have brought about a widespread distrust of the federal government, Pew points to the bad economy, bitter partisanship, an unhappy mood among voters, and “epic discontent” with Congress and elected officials.

I didn’t need Pew to tell me that fiscal conservatism is becoming more popular than either political party. When I ask folks I meet what their political outlook is, very few say “Republican” or “Democrat.” Almost everyone now starts by saying they’re a fiscal conservative, then places themselves on the spectrum of social issues from conservative to liberal. I have yet to hear anyone say, “Well, I’m a fiscal liberal ...”

That’s because no one outside of the White House and the speaker’s office thinks government spending is the answer--to problems in the healthcare system, to the environment, and to some degree, to the problem of failing schools. Most people want to talk about solutions that work, and innovative ideas bubbling up from neighborhoods, counties and states. There isn’t a problem that isn’t being solved by someone somewhere in America. And you can bet that most people believe that “someone” is not a government bureaucrat.

And while most agree that financial institutions’ excesses need to be reined in--for example, derivatives need more oversight--most voters don’t think the government needs to be involved in the economy as much as President Obama does. There’s been an ongoing debate about the size and scope of government since he took office, and I think the answer is becoming clearer to more and more people.

Today’s independent voters may not remember it, but their parents probably do: a similarly unhappy time in America, 1974, after Watergate and in the midst of an economic recession. President Ford gave his first address to a joint session of Congress and said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” That same anxiety about the government still exists now, nearly 30 years later.

That fear of a massively expanding government--and the debt that it brings--is the biggest concern of independents today. A new Gallup poll out this morning shows the percentage of independents who lean Republican has grown dramatically, all but erasing the Democrats‘ lead in party identification. So while the small percentage of people who identify themselves as “Republican” and “Democrat” has remained stable, that large swath of people who answer, “Well, I’m a fiscal conservative ...” is growing rapidly and leaning Republican. I suspect a lot of them are sympathetic to the Tea Partyers, despite media portrayals of the Tea Party supporters as racist, mean, and elitist.

The Pew poll proves what the Tea Partyers have been saying all along: there is a growing segment of Americans who are uncomfortable with the growing presence of government in every facet of modern life, and they worry about what it means for our liberty in the long run. And they’re uncomfortable enough to do something about it--whether that means speaking up in public, showing up at a rally or casting a vote this fall.

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