Here‘s a recent Gallup poll that some on the right have been circulating as proof that the GOP will make a comeback in 2010:
Conservatives continue to outnumber moderates and liberals in the American populace in 2009, confirming a finding that Gallup first noted in June. Forty percent of Americans describe their political views as conservative, 36% as moderate, and 20% as liberal.
So conservatives outnumber liberals by 2:1–that has to be proof of an impending Republican victory, right?
First, it’s hard to translate a poll like that into electoral results–Americans don’t vote for ‘conservatives,’ ‘moderates’ or ‘liberals,’ they vote for Democrats and Republicans. And if you look at the graph accompanying this poll, you’ll see right away just how electorally relevant it is:
[Click for larger]
That graph goes all the way back to 1992, yet the lines remain essentially unchanged. Across major Democratic victories, minor Democratic victories, major Republican victories and minor Republican victories, those three trendlines stay pretty much in the same places.
But that sort of makes sense, doesn’t it? There are certain sets of acceptable beliefs that correspond to the Democratic and Republican parties. And since there are objective, consistent sets of criteria outlining what makes someone a Republican or a Democrat, it’s pretty easy to tell where you stand in regards to the two major parties.
Unfortunately for this survey, the same cannot be said of ‘conservative,’ ‘moderate’ and ‘liberal.’ Those terms have highly subjective meanings that could change drastically from person to person–if you asked 10 different people what those 3 words meant, you would probably end up with 10 different sets of definitions. ‘Conservative,’ ‘moderate’ and ‘liberal’ have different connotations for different people, so it’s difficult to translate the results of this survey into allegiances with the major parties.
For instance, some people would argue that George W. Bush is a textbook conservative, while others would argue that he isn’t really conservative at all. Yet, nobody could dispute that he’s a Republican.
Similarly, some people would describe Barack Obama as a strong liberal, while others would contend that he’s moderate or even somewhat conservative. But nobody could dispute that he’s a Democrat.
In other words, it would be extremely hasty for anyone to assume that this poll–or any poll like it–somehow proves that a Republican resurgence is just around the corner. The only real proof as to where our two major political parties stand are polls like these, which should have the right panicking, not celebrating.