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Nick Gardner: Despite Obama reign, Ronald Reagan’s conservative revolution marches on in America

TWENTY-three years on from the end of the greatest US presidency of the 20th century, the conservative revolution led by Ronald Reagan continues. America may be led by the most Left-wing American president of the modern era, but the nation remains at its core a deeply conservative country, with conservatives holding a huge lead over liberals in the latest Gallup poll. According to Gallup:

Political ideology in the U.S. held steady in 2011, with 40% of Americans continuing to describe their views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal. This marks the third straight year that conservatives have outnumbered moderates, after more than a decade in which moderates mainly tied or outnumbered conservatives.

… Sizable segments of Americans identify with each of the three major ideological groups on the U.S. political spectrum; however, in recent years, conservatives have become the single largest group, consistently outnumbering moderates since 2009 and outnumbering liberals by 2-to-1.

Significantly, there has been a shift to the Right in recent years among Independents. As Gallup notes:

Independents — who make up the largest political group in the country – have been steadier ideologically than either major party group over the last decade. However, since 2008, the proportion describing themselves as moderate has declined slightly, from 46% to 41%, and the proportion who are conservative has increased slightly, from 30% to 35%. Currently, the largest segment of independents describe their views as moderate, while significantly more identify as conservative than as liberal, 35% vs. 20%.

What explains the continuing strength of conservatism in America, and the resurgence in conservative support since Barack Obama took office? There can be no doubt that the Obama administration’s big government agenda has given conservatism a significant boost in the past three years, illustrated by the huge impact of the Tea Party in shaping the political debate. As Gallup’s surveys show, Americans’ fear of big government is now at near-record levels, with nearly two thirds of Americans identifying it as the greatest threat to the country in a December 12 poll:

Americans' concerns about the threat of big government continue to dwarf those about big business and big labor, and by an even larger margin now than in March 2009. The 64% of Americans who say big government will be the biggest threat to the country is just one percentage point shy of the record high, while the 26% who say big business is down from the 32% recorded during the recession. Relatively few name big labor as the greatest threat.

Most Americans are disillusioned with the direction the country is taking, with an increasing role for the government in people’s lives, whether it is socialised health care, taxpayer-subsidised bailouts for government agencies and favoured manufacturers, mounting business regulations, or rising stealth taxes. As Gallup found: “throughout 2011, an average of 17% of Americans said they were satisfied with the way things are going in the United States. That is the second-lowest annual average in the more than 30-year history of the question, after the 15% from 2008. Satisfaction has averaged as high as 60% in 1986, 1998, and 2000.”

European-style excessive government spending and interference in the economy doesn’t cut it in the United States, and the growing power of conservatism and the stagnant position of liberalism is a reflection of that. There is a vibrancy in the conservative movement that is sorely lacking on the Left, which is stuck in a 1960s radicalised mindset. Significantly, the Occupy Wall Street movement is a flop, the impact of which has been minuscule compared to the conservative advance that swept Congress in the mid-terms of 2010. In contrast to an ideologically arid Left, conservatives are offering bold solutions to America’s economic problems – solutions inspired by the original vision of the country’s Founding Fathers.

Conservatism is thriving in America today because liberty, freedom and individual responsibility are at the heart of its ideology, one that rejects the foolish notion that government knows best. And its strength owes a great debt to the conviction and ideals of Ronald Reagan, who always believed that America’s best days are ahead of her, and for whom the notion of decline was unacceptable. As the Gipper famously put it, in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in 1988:

'Those who underestimate the conservative movement are the same people who always underestimate the American people'.