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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Nixon's America, Palin's America

Suggesting that conservatives such as Sarah Palin face political doom, a Daily Kos writer observes:

When Richard Nixon won the presidency, the silent majority of Americans was white and conservative. The demographics of this country have changed, and that change is now accelerating. Voters are getting younger, more racially diverse, and less tied to organized religion.

There is some truth here, but a careful look at the data reveals a different picture.

Black and Hispanic political participation has grown over time. Even so, new Census statistics show that three-fourths of the 2008 electorate consisted of non-Hispanic whites.

In 1974 (RN's last year in office), the General Social Survey found roughly equal percentages of liberals and conservatives in the population. In 2006, conservatives outnumbered liberals by 8 points, and a Gallup survey indicates the conservative lead has grown even more. Granted, self-identification can be slippery, since the definition of terms can shift over time. And on certain social issues (e.g., gay rights), opinion has become more liberal. But in other respects, it is hard to argue that RN's America was more conservative. Despite a modest inflation rate, he faced pressure to impose wage-price controls. When he yielded -- which he later acknowledged as a mistake -- public reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Today, even President Obama is not talking about such measures.

As for religion, there has been a great deal of hype about a Newsweek cover proclaiming the end of Christian America. According to the American Religious Identification Survey, the share of Americans who say they have no religion is at a high -- but is still only 15 percent. That figure has barely increased since 2001, and self-identified atheists and agnostics make up less than 2 percent of the population. When Gallup asked respondents if they had attended services during the last seven days, 39 percent said yes. That figure was statistically the same as the 1972 figure of 40 percent.

Of couse, serious problems do confront Republicans in general, and Sarah Palin in particular. But it is a serious misreading of the data to suggest a sudden leftward shift that rules out GOP victory.