August 24, 2020

One of the more contested political issues is whether America is becoming more conservative over the past three or four decades.

There is no doubt that people do become more conservative as they age. Most psychology studies blame this trend on the decline of intellectual curiosity as people age, which leads to increases in conservatism. (That’s assuming you had any intellectual curiosity to begin with.)

Whether a person considers themselves conservative or liberal does affect their views on many political and social issues. For example, the recent #Me Too Movement, which reflects peoples concerns over sexual violence, is a good example of how both conservatives and liberals see this issue differently. The graph below displays the thermometer rating of the movement by their liberal-conservative identity.

Data from the GSS 1972-2020 surveys.

Ratings above 50 indicate positive views of the movement and those below 50 indicate negative positions. As you can see, all conservative responses are negative and all liberal ones are positive.

From this we can conclude that people’s conservative/ liberal values do have a significant effect on important issues. In other words, its not like calling oneself a Floridian, but a set of values that can significantly affect social and political beliefs and sometimes, actions.

To determine whether the country is becoming more conservative or liberal, I am using the General Social Survey (GSS), which has been collecting social and political data since 1972. The below chart is based on respondents self reports if they consider themselves conservative, from 1974 through 2018.

What is remarkable about this data is how consistent voters’self-identification has been over the last 46 years. This stability suggests that being conservative is an important self-identity, like a person’s religion or ethnic group. But when we break it down by party identification, we see a completely different picture, as shown in the graph below.

Red line = Republican / Blue line = Democrat / Green = Independent

The red line, which represents Republican conservative responses, started to increase in 1974 and still continues on an upward track. Democrats (blue line) conservative responses rose initially until 1980, when it began a slow decline until 1998, when it took a sharper drop.

In 2018, 70% of Republicans said they were conservative and only 13% of Democrats said the same. From 1974 to 2018, the gap between the two parties went from 20% to 57%. And the divide is continuing to increase. Fox News and CNN represent these two America’s.

So is America becoming more conservative or liberal? The answer depends on your political identification. Republicans are becoming significantly more conservative and Democrats are increasingly more liberal. In the Chart below, I compare just the Republican and Democratic responses on whether they are liberal.


This chart clearly delineates the increasing differences between the two parties over the past 42 years. During this time period, the liberal gap between the two parties increased from 14% to 47%.

This ideological divide is showing its ugly side during this current presidential election. America has always been divided on policies, that is why we have two parties. The difference today, however, is a growing cavern between the two parties’ beliefs, which makes compromise almost impossible to bridge. Be safe…

By Jim Kane

Jim Kane is a pollster and media advisor, and was for fifteen years an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida. Kane is founder of the polling firm USAPoll and served as the Director of the Florida Voter Poll. His political clients have included both Republican and Democratic candidates, including the Republican Party of Florida, and both the Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel newspapers. At the University of Florida, Professor Kane taught graduate level courses in political science on Survey Research, Lobbying and Special Interest Groups in America, Political Campaigning, and Political Behavior. In addition to his professional and academic career, Jim Kane has been actively involved in local and state policy decisions. He was elected to the Broward County Soil and Water Conservation Board (1978-1982) and the Port Everglades Authority (1988-1994). Kane also served as an appointed member of the Broward County Planning Council (1995-2003), Broward County Management Review Committee (Chair, 1990-1991), Broward County Consumer Protection Board (1976-1982), and the Broward County School Board Consultants Review Committee (1986-1990).

1 comment

  1. I think most people become more conservative as they grow older because they are more mature and because of life’s experiences.

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