There’s been a lot of discussion of a recent Pew Research Center study of US voters, mainly focusing on this graph, which certainly suggests a strong reaction against the Bush Administration and the Republican Party
But the underlying picture is much worse for Republicans than this, as Gary Kamiya observes. On the one hand, the Pew Survey shows that Democrats and Independents are becoming pretty similar in the views to people elsewhere in the developed world (such as Europeans) – liberal on social issues, moderately social-democratic in social policy, preferring peace to war and so on. Not surprisingly, this translates to a strongly negative view of the Republican party, just as it does everywhere else in the world.
On the other hand, Republican support is contracting to a base of about 25 per cent of the population whose views are getting more extreme, not merely because moderate conservatives are peeling off to become Independents, but also because of the party’s success in constructing a parallel universe of news sources, thinktanks, blogs, pseudo-scientists and so on, which has led to the core becoming more tightly committed to an extremist ideology.
There’s plenty to support this account outside the Pew survey. This Gallup poll shows that a majority of Democrats and a large plurality of Independents think that the US is spending too much on the military – hardly any Republicans take this view. The proportion thinking spending is too high is the highest since 1990 and one of the highest on record.
Looking at the Republican side of the aisle, Jonathan Chait points out (via Matthew Yglesias), that even as scientific evidence on global warming has become overwhelming and most of the oil industry has ceased to promote delusional thinking on this issue, the same thinking has hardened within the Congressional Republican party, to the point where Republican members of Congress who are qualified scientists (amazingly, there are some) are barred from sitting on committees where they might disrupt the anti-science orthodoxy. The position of rightwing blogs is even worse, with a recent survey 59-0 score in favour of the delusional position.
Looking at the evidence, Gary Kamiya asks whether this is just a swing of the pendulum, and in some respects it is, but some effects are likely to be longer-term. The general liberalisation of thinking on social issues is unlikely to be reversed. Moreover, while American faith in military power bounced back after Vietnam, I doubt that the same will be true after Iraq. If you wanted a textbook lesson in why resort to violence is rarely a sensible choice, Bush’s presentation of that lesson could hardly be bettered.
I’ll end with one stat that ought to worry any Republicans who think sticking with the Rove strategy is a good idea. According to the Pew study, members of Gen Y (18-30) are about as likely to be atheists/agnostics (19 per cent) as Republicans (no age group breakdown, but it must be less than the 25 per cent for all voters given low party identification in this age group).