It's Monday morning pop quiz time.
Q. After comparing and contrasting Thomas Edsall's citation of exit polling of 2010's election turnout--in which "42 percent of voters identified themselves as conservative; 38 percent said they were moderate; and 20 percent said they were liberal"--with Gallup's 2011 polling of political ideology--which found "41% [of U.S. adults] self-identifying as conservative, 36% as moderate, and 21% as liberal"--what do you get?
(Possible A. Fear, trembling and loathing.)
Gallup's 2011 findings on self-identified ideology differed little--indeed, to a statistically insignificant degree--from previous years, hence one could logically venture that either Gallup's breakdown stood in close accord with actual voting patterns in 2010, or that 2010's actual voting patterns merely conformed to Gallup's traditional breakdown; in other and rather unnerving words, the conclusion might be drawn that the 2010 midterms were less a revolutionary aberration than a right/center-right confirmation.
I've always regarded American sociology as that of a vast, applicable rule complicated by roughly 300-million incorrigible exceptions--and so with political sociology. Naturally, as with any election, there were, in 2010, countless variables in motion: base motivation, candidate selection, special-interest money, the vulnerability of Democratic swing seats; one could go on. Yet there is in political sociology one constant, year after year, election after election, exit poll after exit poll and Gallup study after Gallup study: the average American voter fancies him/herself as fundamentally "conservative," be that really conservative, somewhat conservative (or moderate), slightly conservative (or moderate), you get the point. (Barack Obama certainly "gets it," which is why he is the extraordinarily successful politician he is.)
Whereas many on the left find this phenomenon spiritually depressing to the point of denial (hence the reason for this site's few, certified progressive readers), I find it to be both liberating and, perhaps, liberalism's greatest opportunity.
The Republican Party has abandoned conservatism--the principal, temperamental thread of Americans' political ideology--in favor of a cold, weird, atomistic reactionaryism with a political future about as bright as Know-Nothingism or Free Silver. The GOP, that is, has thrown conservatism up for grabs; and as long as liberalism--given budget constraints that are far from short-term--can do little more than preserve the sociopolitical gains it has made since domestic Wilsonianism, the New Deal and the Great Society, then liberalism might as well be honest with voters and with itself: It is the new, and what's more, authentic conservatism.
Thus with liberalism's reliable 20 percent of the vote would come a huge chunk of the moderate vote and, I'd wager, a sizable portion of the conservative vote from those authentic conservatives who still comprehend and appreciate authentic conservatism (but have nowhere else to go--think 2010--but to the one and only party that advertises itself as the conservative party).
In this maneuver there is nothing devious or coy or Machiavellian; liberals would simply be acknowledging their foreseeable political future--that of conservers acting on behalf of what are, by now, traditional American institutions of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as progressive taxation, T. Rooseveltian environmentalism, and so on.
There is an altogether guilty party here; and it's not the conservative party, which in contrast to the GOP's radicalism just happens to be the Democratic Party, led by a Democratic president. And that's where responsible, conscientious political journalists should start: getting their labels right.
Liberals could start there, too.