GOP Base vs Traditional Conservatives

There is some interesting data from Pew. I had looked at this data many times before, but in looking at it again I noticed a distinction within the conservative demographics which I hadn’t noticed previously. This distinction seems to at least partly explain why many moderate conservatives have left the GOP in recent years and why some of the most strongest conservatives are also the most critical of other conservatives.

What is interesting is which specific demographics most strongly support torture and the Patriot Act. It’s most particularly clear with the latter. Conservative demographic groups (Enterprisers, Social Conservatives, & Pro-Govt Conservatives) have the strongest support for the Patriot Act. That isn’t surprising, but what is surprising is which specific conservative demographic groups have majority support (Enterprisers & Social Conservatives) and which don’t (Pro-Govt Conservatives).

Let me explain.

Enterprisers are essentially neo-cons, neo-liberals, and (neo-) libertarians which demographically translates as mostly rich white males who have partisan loyalty to the GOP and who are the most loyal viewers of Fox News. Social Conservatives are essentially the fundamentalists and rightwingers in general which demographically translates as older whites who represent the other big chunk of Republican voters. Both groups are known to criticize the government for different reasons and yet both love the idea of a strong military (the military, rather than democracy, being the symbol of their ideal government). They may use pro-constitutional rhetoric in their criticizing the government, but ultimately they don’t take the constitution all that seriously when it comes to protecting human rights and freedom for all.

It’s telling that Pro-Govt Conservatives are the one conservative demographic group that doesn’t have majority support for the Patriot Act. That is a very telling detail. To be a conservative who actually believes in the government serving a positive function means to be a conservative who also genuinely believes in strictly adhering to the constitution and to the moral vision upon which this country was founded. This is the group that I consider as being ‘real’ conservatives in that they are more moderate and traditional (i.e., they believe in conserving social institutions such as government) compared to the radicalized element within the GOP. But these down-to-earth conservatives don’t get as much attention as they’re too reasonable. Also, despite being the most traditional of conservatives, they aren’t the base of the Republican Party. In fact, they are almost evenly split between Republicans and Independents (which is the same role the Liberal demographic group plays in the Democratic Party).

The fact that traditional conservatives (traditional in the larger historical sense) are the least supportive of the Republican Party says a lot about what has become of the party that supposedly represents ‘conservatives’. It also explains a lot about why traditional conservatism is ignored in America. The GOP doesn’t care about traditional conservatives as much because it isn’t their base. These conservatives are the poor and working class people. Unlike the wealthy Enterprisers, they don’t have lots of money to donate to political campaigns. And, unlike the upper middle class Tea Party supporters, they don’t make for entertaining media coverage. These people are too busy just trying to get by and going by the media you would hardly know they existed.

Related to this, I was comparing conservatives between the parties. It might surprise some people to see how many conservatives there are in the Democratic Party. In particular, poor minorities living in the South are extremely conservative and yet loyal Democrats. Rightwingers like to argue that only liberal Democrats want big government for social issues, but government being involved with social issues has always been a traditional conservative position. Why are liberal Democrats defending the traditionally conservative role of the government as an institution upholding social order and the public good? Maybe because it’s in the nature of liberals in general to defend the powerless when attacked by the powerful.

So, what exactly is traditional conservatism?

Here is a very good explanation/description:

Conservative? Americans Don’t Know the Meaning of the Word
Guy Molyneux

True conservatism is a philosophy committed to conserving– conserving families, communities and nation in the face of change. Committed to preserving fundamental values, such as accountability, civic duty and the rule of law. And committed to a strong government to realize these ends. What passes for conservatism in America today bears only a passing resemblance to this true conservatism. It worships at the twin altars of free enterprise and weak government–two decidedly unconservative notions.

Real conservatism values security and stability over the unfettered free market. In Germany, for example, it was the conservative Otto von Bismark–not socialists–who developed social insurance and built the world’s first welfare state. Today conservatives throughout the world–but not here–endorse government-provided national health care, because they recognize public needs are not always met by the private sector. And they see a role for government in encouraging national economic development.

A true conservative movement would not ignore the decay of our great cities, or see the disorder of the Los Angeles riots only as a political opportunity. Nor would they pay homage to “free trade” while the nation’s manufacturing base withered. Nor would a conservative President veto pro-family legislation requiring companies to provide leave to new mothers, in deference to business prerogatives.

Traditional conservatives champion community and nation over the individual. They esteem public service, and promote civic obligation. They reject the “invisible hand” argument, that everyone’s pursuit of individual self-interest will magically yield the best public outcome, believing instead in deliberately cultivating virtue. Authentic conservatives do not assail 55 m.p.h. speed limits and seat-belt laws as encroaching totalitarianism.

Finally, a genuine conservatism values the future over the present. It is a movement of elites to be sure, but of elites who feel that their privilege entails special obligations. The old word for this was “stewardship”–the obligation to care for the nation’s human and natural resources, and to look out for future generations’ interests.

Such conservatives would not open up public lands for private commercial exploitation, or undermine environmental regulations for short-term economic growth. They would not cut funding for childrens’ vaccinations, knowing that the cost of treating illness is far greater. And a conservative political party would never preside over a quadrupling of the national debt.

In America, then, what we call conservatism is really classical liberalism: a love of the market, and hatred of government. Adam Smith, after all, was a liberal, not a conservative. As the economist Gunnar Myrdal once noted: “America is conservative . . . but the principles conserved are liberal.”

American conservatives have often celebrated the country’s historically “exceptional” character: the acceptance of capitalism and the absence of any significant socialist movement. Curiously, though, they often miss their half of the story: the absence of a real Tory conservatism. What Louis Hartz called America’s “liberal consensus” excluded both of the great communitarian traditions–ain’t nobody here but us liberals.

True conservatism’s weakness as a political tradition in America is thus an old story. When values confront the market here, the market usually wins. In recent years, though, conservative social values seem to have been eclipsed. Many of today’s conservatives are really libertarians–proponents of a radical individualism that has little in common with conservatism.

Liberals are the New Fiscal Conservatives

In a recent post (Cenk Uygur on Tax Cuts for the Rich), I asked the following question:

What is the motivation for Republicans being for and Democrats being against tax cuts for the rich? Many like to argue that both parties are in the pocket of the wealthy elite. But if that were the case, Democrat politicians should support tax cuts for the rich as much as Republicans do.

I often agree with those who criticize the two party system. It is mostly a sham, but I wouldn’t say it’s entirely a sham. Also, I’d point out that Republican and Democrat isn’t equivalent to conservative and liberal. I often argue that there are important differences that shouldn’t be ignored. I’ve often written about these differences, but one of my best posts on the subject (Liberal Pragmatism, Conservative Dogmatism) was where I gathered all of the data showing examples of how liberal policies are effective in the real world.

In that post, the most interesting examples are where the real world data contradict the ideologically commonsense assumptions. For instance, what many pro-lifers don’t understand is that pro-choicers also want to decrease the number of abortions. To the pro-lifer, it’s just commonsense that illegalizing abortions will decrease the numbers, but in this case commonsense is incorrect. Countries where abortions are illegalized have high rates of abortions and countries where abortions are legalized have low rates of abortions. It does make sense once you have all the data, but if you’re basing your decisions on ideology instead of data you will come to an incorrect conclusion.

My argument in that post was that liberals (who may or may not identify as Democrats) are more likely to prefer basing decisions on data… and the data does show that liberals are a very well-educated demographic. I explored this issue of liberal intellectualism and conservative anti-intellectualism in previous posts such as these: Conservative Mistrust & Ideological Certainty (part 1) and Conservative Mistrust & Ideological Certainty (part 2). The point I was making in those posts was that there are many conservatives, including intelligent conservatives, who are epistemologically mistrusting of all data, especially from the social sciences. There isn’t much that can be done about such people because there is no way to have an objective discussion with them. Their attitude of epistemological mistrust of data leads to an epistemologically self-enclosed worldview. It’s like talking to a Christian apologists. Such people have come to a conclusion before discussion even begins and any new data is meaningless.

Still, I like to believe that most people can be influenced by new data. I’ve come across examples of conservatives with very open minds and very rational intellects. Conservatism may make one more prone to anti-intellectualism, but that is a far cry from saying all or even most conservatives are therefore anti-intellectuals. In another recent post (Conservative Critics of Conservatism), I detailed some of the conservatives who I’ve come to respect for their independent thinking.

With Cenk Uygur’s video (linked at top), I was reminded of the example of economics. Conservatives love to talk economics because they’ve honed their rhetoric and talking points to near perfection. I even can agree with or can deem worthy some conservative criticisms which involve economics. There is some validity to fiscal conservatism, but the problem with fiscal conservatism isn’t in the ideology itself. Rather, it’s in those who use the ideology as rhetoric for winning votes. This is where data becomes so important which is why I just posted some of this data: National Debt, Starve the Beast, & Wealth Disparity. Both conservatives and liberals perceive themselves as moral (many seeing themselves as morally superior, maybe especially conservatives who think of morality in hierarchical terms), but I think an important aspect of morality is humility (Is that a liberal value? Conservatives do seem to have a talent for acting righteous.). I personally believe, which may simply be my liberal bias, that we should try to suppress our urge to be righteous until after the data is analyzed. If the data supports your position, then by all means untether your righteousness… but (with emphasis on that “but”) if the data doesn’t support your position, then instead of looking to criticize the data and rationalize your position maybe you should do some soul-searching.

Anyways, inspiration for this post began with thoughts I had about the data in the post about the national debt. In the post itself, I didn’t add any of my own commentary. I merely quoted in length the commentary of others and gathered some videos and charts. I wanted to add some commentary and so decided I should just start a separate post.

Whenever considering US politics (especially in terms of liberalism and conservatism), I usually think of one of my favorite sources of info: Beyond Red vs. Blue (and here is a short NPR segment about it). This is a survey done by Pew. They divided the US population into 9 demographics.

The two wealthiest demographics are the Enterprisers and the Liberals, the former being staunch Republicans and the latter being almost equally divided between Democrats and Independents.

Interestingly, the vast majority of Republicans identify as conservatives and so do almost half of Democrats with liberals being the minority in the Democratic party… which would seem to imply that the political debate truly has been pushed to the right and that Americans quite possibly have a confused sense of what conservative means – see: America: Conservative & Progressive and US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism. By the way, I noticed Wikipedia has some interesting articles: Conservative Democrat, Blue Dog CoalitionNew Democrat CoalitionLiberal Republican, and Rockefeller Republican. From the article, Conservative Democrat: “Prior to 1964, both parties had their liberal, moderate, and conservative wings, each of them influential in both parties… After 1980, the Republicans became a mostly right-wing party… while the Democrats, while keeping their left wing intact… grew a substantial moderate wing in the 1990s in place of their old conservative wing”. Only the Democrat party seems to be presently maintaining both liberals and conservatives within its membership. Conservatives out-number moderates in the Republican party, but moderates out-number liberals in the Democratic party. Furthermore, 35% of Liberals identify as moderate while only 14% of Enterprisers identify as moderate (which means many of the Liberals within the Democrat Party are moderate Liberals and the far left Liberals are probably those who identify as Independents). This means that the Democratic party (including the Liberal Democrats) now represents the moderate political position (socialists, elitists?). However, the perception that Americans have come to have, as provided by the mainstream media, is that Republicans are moderates and Democrats are far left.

Both the Enterpriser and Liberal demographics have the same percentage of those in the upper economic bracket, but what distinguishes the Liberals is that they have a higher percentage (than the Enterprisers) of those from the lower economic bracket and so Liberals also have higher percentage of those who have experienced unemployment. Besides the wealth issue, both have high percentages of small business ownership and high percentages of trading stocks and bonds, but Enterprisers have the highest rates among all 9 demographics and Liberals have the third highest rate in both categories. So, these two demographics represent the two ideological ends of the spectrum of the wealthiest Americans (However, if you’re talking about the wealthy elite ruling the country, Enterprisers fit that description better than Liberals). Also, both are the two most highly educated demographics with Liberals being slightly better educated on average and, according to other data (Response to Rightwing Misinformation and Liberal Pragmatism, Conservative Dogmatism), Democrats in general have higher IQ on average than Repbulicans (so maybe, if Enterprisers are the wealthy elite, Liberals could be considered the intellectual elite… although both demographics are relatively wealthy and well-educated as compared to the rest of the population and so there is a limit to how well they fit their respective stereotypes).

In terms of my present discussion, the differences between the two are what interest me… and, unlike what conservatives say in their moments of empty rhetoric, one of those differences isn’t that liberals lack real world experience in business and economics. Here are some of the actual differences:

Who exactly are they?

Enterprisers are more white, more male and slightly older than the national average.
Liberals are nearly identical to the national averages in terms of race, gender and age.

Enterprisers are most loyal viewers of Fox News which is their main source of news.
Liberals watch tv news the least of all demographics and get news from the internet the most of all demographics.

What do they support?

Enterprisers show the strongest support for the Patriot Act.
Liberals show the least support for the Patriot Act.

Enterprisers mostly think preemptive military attacks against other countries can sometimes be justified.
Liberals mostly think preemptive military attacks against other countries only rarely can be justified.

Enterprisers are the least in favor of raising minimum wage.
Liberals are strongly in favor of raising minimum wage.

Enterprisers are the strongest in favor of privatizing social security.
Liberals are strongly opposed of privatizing social security.

Enterprisers are the most opposed to government guaranteeing health insurance to all citizens.
Liberals are the least opposed to government guaranteeing health insurance to all citizens.

Enterprisers are the most in favor of outsourcing American jobs.
Liberals are strongly opposed to outsourcing American jobs.

What are their views about government financial issues?

Enterprisers are the most in favor of cutting taxes, especially tax cuts for the rich.
Liberals are the most opposed to cutting taxes, including tax cuts for the rich.

Enterprisers put less priority on balancing the budget deficit than any other demographic.
Liberals put more priority on balancing the budget deficit than any other demographic.

Enterprisers show the least support for raising the taxes in order to reduce the deficit.
Liberals are the only demographic to show majority support for raising taxes to reduce the deficit.

Enterprisers show the least support for lowering defense/military spending to reduce the deficit.
Liberals are the only demographic to show majority support for lowering defense/military spending to reduce the deficit.

Enterprisers show the most support for lowering domestic spending to reduce the deficit.
Liberals are evenly split in their support for lowering domestic spending to reduce the deficit.

I could add even more examples, but this gives a basic comparison (if you want to see the data for yourself, here is the pdf:

Basically, Enterprisers are social conservatives and fiscal liberals and Liberals are social liberals and fiscal conservatives.

Enterprisers are against any policy that favors the poor, the working class, and minorities; and are for any issue involving conservative morality and fundamentalist religion (such as wanting creationism to be taught in schools). Enterprisers, besides being neocons, are simply the religious right writ large with power and money. It’s because of the Enterprisers that the religious right have taken over the Republican party. One would be mistaken to think the religious right is simply represented by uneducated white southerners.

Liberals, despite also being mostly rich whites, support any policy that helps the poor, the working class, and minorities. It’s odd that Liberals support all the policies that directly cost them while only directly helping others. As a liberal, I assume that these Liberals believe that helping the least helps the entire society (which is proven by the data on wealth disparity comparisons: Mean Bosses & Inequality). As Enterprisers are the most religious demographic, Liberals are the least religious demographic. Liberals take seriously the Constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state. In general, Liberals seem to value the Constitution more than Enterprisers or at least they are less willing to sacrifice (e.g., against torture and the Patriot Act which Enterprisers strongly support).

Enterprisers are on many of the issues 10-30% stronger in their opinions than Liberals. Enterprisers are the most conservative of conservatives (to be precise they are the most conservative on social conservative issues while the most liberal of all demographics on fiscal liberalism… which esentially makes them typical neoconservatives who are presently the leaders of the Republican party). Liberals also are the most liberal of liberals, but the difference is that Liberals seem more moderate on most issues. As I pointed out earlier in this post, there are more moderate liberals than moderate conservatives and there are more moderate Democrats than moderate Republicans. For example, even though Liberals show the most support for domestic spending (i.e., social programs), they were evenly split on this issue. There are few things more important to a liberal than social programs and yet liberals apparently hold fiscal conservatism as at least equal to their social liberalism. The only thing Liberals value more than fiscal conservatism are issues involving civil and constitutional rights.

The reason I compared these two groups is because they represent the two wealthy demographics among conservatives and liberals. So, I thought they should be fairly representative of two distinct worldviews of those who have power in this country. However, I should point out again that there are many conservatives in the Democrat party whereas liberals in the Republican party are almost non-existent. In the context of Washington politics, most Democratic and Republican politicians are probably closer to Enterprisers than to Liberals, at least in terms of actual policy decisions (whether or not in terms of rhetoric). For example, Obama’s health insurance plan which Republicans have called socialist is based on a proposal made by Republicans in the 1990s. So, conservative ideas from a decade ago are now considered to be far left ideology. This demonstrates how far right has shifted the entire political spectrum.

The data I’m using is a few years old (2005). I’d like to see some more recent data that has this much detail. Even so, the fact that Republican politicians remain staunch defenders of tax cuts for the rich seems to show the data hasn’t changed much since Bush was replaced by Obama. I don’t know how many Democratic politicians would fit the Pew description of the Liberal demographic, but definitely this kind of liberalism does manage to maintain some small influence over Democratic politicians. Even though Democratic politicians may not be staunch opponents of tax cuts for the rich, the liberal influence within the Democratic party does keep them from being staunch supporters.

As one last comment, if you support fiscal conservatism (as real world policies rather than mere rhetoric), you’d be wise to vote Democrat (or, if as a conservative you can’t stomach the idea of voting for a Democrat, maybe you should at least consider a third party). All of the recent Democratic presidents have been, going by the actual results, more fiscally conservative than all of the recent Republican presidents. However, if you simply like the sound of rhetoric and don’t care about the real world, then by all means keep voting Republican.