Conservatives started spinning even before the dancing stopped on election night. Obama's victory is impressive, but "this is still a center right nation," went the mantra. "This was a good Democratic year, says Bill Kristol, "but this is still a center-right country. Conservative and the Republican Party will have a real chance for a comeback. National Review editor Rich Lowry is less sanguine, but concludes:
"Even in unimaginably challenging conditions for Republicans, the ideological composition of the election was essentially unchanged from 2004. Only 22 percent of voters identified themselves as liberals. The rest were moderates or conservatives. It is indeed, as conservatives have been insisting in recent days, a center-right country. The question is how to appeal to the center again."
Sure, this is a center-right country, but only if you substitute addition for analysis. There are more conservatives than liberals - as there has been for years. So add them to the 44% of the electorate that says they are "moderates," and you get a center-right majority.
But do a little analysis. "Moderate" isn't a place holder, as voters who describe themselves that way have attitudes on the issues of the day. And when you look at attitudes, rather than addition, there is no question: Conservatives have had their day. This is a center-left, not a center-right nation.
The Center for America's Future joined with Democracy Corps to do a nation wide poll on election eve (for full report and poll go here) and with an expanded sample, we could probe attitudes of voters by political identification. What we found was clear: on both values and issues, moderates line up with liberals to form a strong majority that isolates conservatives.
On national security, does our security depend on building strong ties with other nations or on our own military strength? Liberals say ties with other nations 76-20; moderates 63-31. Conservatives go the other way 51-43.
Should we begin to take troops out of Iraq or stay the course until we reach stability? Liberals 92-7 for getting troops out; moderates 64-33. Conservatives? By two to one -- 66-33 -- they would stay the course.
Does government regulation do more good or more harm? Liberals believe it does more good than harm by 75-18; moderates by 60-36. Conservatives go the other way, even after the financial collapse, 52-44.
Are you worried that we will fail to make investments we need to create jobs or worry that we will spend too much and have to raise taxes? Liberals worry about not making needed investments 73-23; moderates by 53-44. Conservatives worry about spending and taxes 69-29.
Did you worry more that Barack Obama would raise taxes or that John McCain would continue Bush's economic policies? Liberals by a margin of 58% worry about McCain; moderates the same by 29%. Conservatives by 46 - 70-24 - worry about Obama.
Should homosexuality be accepted or discouraged by society. Liberals say accepted by 82-17; moderates by 61-28. Conservatives want homosexuality discouraged by 63-31.
When we asked whether Republicans lost because they were too conservative or not conservative enough, or whether they should move to the center or reaffirm their principles and stay on the right, liberals and moderates were clear. They lost because they were too conservative and should move back towards the center. Conservatives, not surprisingly, reaffirmed the faith.
On issue after issue, moderates stand with liberals, not conservatives. This is a center-left nation.
Republicans are not only an aging, monochromatic, regional minority party. They not only must now suffer the circular firing squad that follows defeat. They not only struggle to find a compelling leader or a relevant agenda. They swim against the tide. They are a largely conservative party in a center-left nation. Obama's mandate is clear. And they'd be well advised to get out of the way.