Why America Keeps Getting More Conservative
Even with the president’s approval rating showing signs of life and the Republicans busily bashing themselves over the head — “one is a practicing polygamist and he’s not even the Mormon,” retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor recently quipped about her party’s two frontrunners — America continues to track right, according to polling data released by the Gallup Organization last week.
Americans at this political moment are significantly more likely to identify as conservative than as liberal: conservatives outnumber liberals by nearly two to one. Forty percent identify as conservative, 36 percent as moderate, and 21 percent liberal.
The map above charts the ideological divide across America’s states. There are four states where conservatives make up more than half the population: Mississippi, Utah, Wyoming, and Alabama. Conservatives make up more than 40 percent in 20 more states. Liberals now outnumber conservatives in just one state, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.
Last March, I took an in-depth look at the factors that might be associated with America’s increasingly conservative ideological cast; I update that analysis here with Gallup’s year-end data. The ongoing economic crisis only appears to have deepened conservatism's hold. America is becoming a more conservative nation, at least at the state level.
My MPI colleague Charlotta Mellander ran a series of correlations on a range of political, economic, demographic and other factors. The associations we found, I hasten to add, are just that — associations; correlation does not show causation. Nonetheless, they reflect the deep cleavages of income, education, and class that divide America.
As before, conservative states are considerably more religious than liberal-leaning states. The correlation between conservative political affiliation and religion (the share of state population for which religion is an important part of daily life) has grown stronger, increasing from .63 to .70.
The correlation between religion and the increase in conservatism over the past year is also considerable. As American states become more religious, they also become more conservative.
Conservative states are also less educated than liberal ones. The correlation between conservative affiliation and the percent of adults who are college graduates) is also substantially higher than before (-.76 vs. -.53), as is the correlation between human capital and the increase in conservatism (-.79).
States with more conservatives are less diverse. Conservative political affiliation is highly negatively correlated with the percent of the population that are immigrants (–.56), or gay and lesbian ( -.60). There is no correlation to race or ethnicity, however, whether measured as percent white, percent black, or percent Hispanic.
Class continues to play a substantial role. Conservative political affiliation is strongly positively correlated with the percentage of a state's workforce in blue-collar occupations (.73), and highly negatively correlated with the proportion of the workforce engaged in knowledge-based professional and creative work (-.61). Both are also associated with the tilt toward conservatism in the past year.
States with more conservatives are considerably less affluent than those with more liberals. Conservative political affiliation is highly negatively correlated with state income levels (-.73) and even more so with average hourly earnings (- .77). This is in line with the findings of Andrew Gelman's Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State, which finds that while rich voters favor Republicans, rich states favor Democrats.
That said, conservatives across America appear to be split along class and income lines when it comes to the issue of whether government should provide help for the poor. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, more than half (57 percent) of lower-income Republicans (those with family incomes of less than $30,000) said that government does not do enough for the poor, while less than one in five (18 percent) said it does too much. Richer Republicans (those with incomes of $75,000 or more), perhaps not surprisingly, overwhelmingly think government does too much.
The ongoing economic crisis only appears to have deepened America's conservative drift - a trend which is most pronounced in its least well off, least educated, most blue collar, most economically hard-hit states.
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