Republicans have long argued that America is a conservative nation, but Democrats have now outnumbered Republicans in four of the past five presidential elections.
In article about the rise of moderates, Charlie Cook broke down the Democratic advantage in party identification,
But last year, Mitt Romney won the independent vote 50 to 45 percent, yet lost the election by almost 4 percentage points. For many avid election-watchers, if all that we knew was that Romney would carry the independent vote by 5 points, many of us would have bet on Obama losing the election. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans carried the independent vote nationally by an even wider 7 points, 51 to 44 percent, yet narrowly lost the popular vote for the House.
What has happened is that the gap between the share of voters who identify themselves as Democrats compared with those who consider themselves Republicans has grown so wide that, for the GOP, winning a majority of the independent vote nationally is necessary but no longer sufficient for winning a national popular vote. In this past election, 38 percent of voters called themselves Democrats, and just 32 percent called themselves Republicans. In 2008, it was Democrats at 39 percent and Republicans at 32 percent. Over the past five elections, only in 2004 were the two parties evenly matched at 37 percent each. In the other four elections, the Democratic advantage has been 4 points in 2000 (when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College), 5 points in 1996, 6 points in 2012, and 7 points in 2008. This is certainly one reason why Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the past six elections; generally there are more Democrats than Republicans. When the gap gets really wide, independents can’t make the difference.
Cook argues that those who were predicting a Romney victory were looking in the wrong place. While Romney was winning with Independents, he was absolutely getting crushed by Obama with moderates. (It is no coincidence that the last three two term presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama were all able to successfully court moderates.)
Republicans have spent decades arguing that America is really a conservative country. (This bit of myth making can be traced back to Richard Nixon’s silent majority.) The numbers actually tell the story of a country that over the two decades has been moving left. However, one specific shift that is blowing the notion of America being a conservative country to smithereens.
The Republican Party’s move to the far right has resulted in moderates moving more in line with the Democratic Party. Conservatives are fond of using Gallup’s ideology poll to justify their America is a conservative country rhetoric, but the 2012 poll showed conservatives outnumbering moderates and liberals 40%-35%-21%. The problem for Republicans is that Obama carried moderates, 56%-41%. The majority of moderates are currently moving away from the Republican Party.
In real world terms, this change is visible in national attitudes on everything from same sex marriage to taxes and gun control. While 2013 isn’t a golden age of liberalism, the popular rejection of the Republican/conservative ideology in national elections dispels the notion that America is a conservative nation.
The mainstream media and the Republican Party both operate as if an American conservative majority actually exists. (It may feel like there is a conservative majority, because conservatives have been very effective at dominating everything from talk radio to cable news.) The reality is that the media and Republican Party both devote an outsized amount of resources to the Fox News niche audience, while ignoring 99.5% of the country.
The Republican decision to embrace extreme conservatism has caused their banishment to the fringe of national politics. By understanding that America isn’t a conservative nation, Democrats have embraced moderates and moved them and the country to the left.
By its own choosing conservatism is becoming a fringe movement, while the bulk of the nation resides in the center/left. Conservatives aren’t “losing” the country. The country is moving forward without them.