Monday, March 26, 2007

An End To The Republican Conservative Era?

That was Bruce Bartlett's reaction on hearing about the new Pew Research center survey on the political views of Americans. Bartlett is a conservative analyst but also the author of an anti-Bush book. And what caused his strong statement? This:

Increased public support for the social safety net, signs of growing public concern about income inequality, and a diminished appetite for assertive national security policies have improved the political landscape for the Democrats as the 2008 presidential campaign gets underway.

At the same time, many of the key trends that nurtured the Republican resurgence in the mid-1990s have moderated, according to Pew's longitudinal measures of the public's basic political, social and economic values. The proportion of Americans who support traditional social values has edged downward since 1994, while the proportion of Americans expressing strong personal religious commitment also has declined modestly.

Even more striking than the changes in some core political and social values is the dramatic shift in party identification that has occurred during the past five years. In 2002, the country was equally divided along partisan lines: 43% identified with the Republican Party or leaned to the GOP, while an identical proportion said they were Democrats. Today, half of the public (50%) either identifies as a Democrat or says they lean to the Democratic Party, compared with 35% who align with the GOP.

Survey findings can be tricky to interpret. As an example, one of the questions used to elicit information about the support for traditional social values asks whether the respondent believes in "traditional family values". I have never been able to find out a list of those values anywhere and I'm not sure what the responses might mean.

Setting that problem aside, the survey findings are good news to the Democrats, for the time being. For the time being, because the shift in attitudes it portrays has two separate causes: the long-term slow change in general social attitudes and the disastrous consequences of the most recent Republican administration. It is the latter which most likely created the increased suppport for a social safety net and the decreased tolerance for war-waging, not some fundamental shift in the underlying attitudes of the respondents. If I'm right about this the attitudes could shift back once a Democratic administration is elected and has finished the needed spring cleaning. Which means that I'm not quite as optimistic as Bartlett about this signaling the end of an era for the conservatives. Heh.