Ron Guhname has a pretty interesting blog, Inductivist, in which he primarily analyzes data from a publicly available sociological survey.
In a recent post, he revealed that the extent to which Americans identify themselves as “conservative” has steadily increased since 1974.
In retrospect, this should not be the least bit surprising. All one has to do is look at the composition of Congress to realize that there has been a change. It was once unthinkable that Republicans would ever control the House of Representatives, but that finally happened in the 1990s. “Conservative” and “Republican” have become nearly synonymous, so when people say they are “conservative” it just means that they are saying they vote Republican, and we already know that by looking at the elections returns.
At my suggestion, Ron then analyzed the change in voters’ more specific views. It turns out that the percent of respondents who believe that government should be spending more money on education, healthcare, and social security has been increasing. Supporting increased government spending has traditionally been the hallmark of liberalism and not conservatism.
In a classic chicken and egg conundrum, it’s hard to say whether politicians reflect voters’ attitudes or vice versa. Ronald Reagan was the last president to champion reducing government spending. That was one of his major platforms and every year he fought with Congress to lower spending.
The Republican president we have today does not talk about reducing spending and his administration makes no attempt to push Congress for spending cuts.
So perhaps people’s views changed because our political leaders are no longer telling us that we need to reduce spending. To this extent, the views of the people reflect the changing views of the political leaders and not the other way around.