October 13, 2008
John McCain and the Limbaugh Effect
A majority of Americans consider themselves conservative. If only John McCain knew....
In late August I recounted that since early 2002 the Battleground Poll, a bipartisan poll which always asks a core set of questions and which always reveals the battery of questions asked, shows an astounding fact: In answer to Question D3, sixty percent of Americans in twelve consecutive Battleground Polls taken over six and a half years asking virtually the same question each time, call themselves conservatives.
On September 17, a new Battleground Poll asked a new group of Americans Question D3. The result? Fifty nine percent of Americans called themselves conservative. Very recently, on October 6, Battleground released yet another poll asking a large number of questions and, as always, it asked respondents to answer Question D3. Fifty nine percent of Americans in this third Battleground Poll in less than two months called themselves conservative. In the August Battleground Poll, sixty percent of Americans had called themselves conservative.
This is the single most consistent response in any area of any poll over the last decade or so. It ought to be very, very big news. Since early 2002, there have been no less than fifteen Battleground Polls and Question D3 is always asked. If you take all the polls, add the percentages of respondents who call themselves conservative, and divide by the number of polls taken, that percentage is 60%. If you look at the polls over these years individually, the number of Americans in any particular poll who have called themselves conservatives has been as high as 63% in May 2008, and it has been as low as and see the highest percentage of people who call themselves conservative has been as low as 58% in December 2007, but 12 out of the 15 Battleground Polls had the percentage of conservatives at 59%, 60%, or 61%.
Conservatives, doubting how they could be majority, and liberals, certain that they are America, posted at blogs and comment sections many "problems" with my article. Some assumed that the Battleground Poll has an "agenda" - indeed it does. It has a high reputation for precision without any partisan leaning. That is the Battleground Poll agenda and that agenda reinforces, rather than weakens, my argument.
Many people questioned if the respondents really "knew" what conservative meant. The Battleground Poll, Question D3 does not ask if someone is conservative or not; it does not ask if someone is conservative or liberal; it instead provides a number of different and mutually exclusive answers for respondents. One allowed answer is "moderate." Another allowed answer is "unsure/refused." And, of course, respondents can choose "somewhat liberal" or "very liberal." Those sixty percent of respondents who call themselves "somewhat conservative" or "very conservative" reject all four of those other answers. Why would they affirmatively choose conservative if they were really a moderate or if they really did not know or would prefer not to answer? The respondents obviously had a very clear idea of what conservative means.
And why would Americans from different polling groups answer that question, and that question alone, so consistently? In every other area, public responses to questions jump all over the place. Responses are moved by events or by unpopular political leaders. The only response that never varies much is the question on political ideology. In statistical analysis, when a percentage that could vary never does, that means something.
But a couple of weeks ago I was having dinner with Daniel Pipes and a group of collegiate conservatives at the University of Tulsa. Professor Pipes asked me a question that is harder to answer: Why does it feel like we are so much less than sixty percent of the population? If three fifths of our countrymen are conservatives, why do we conservatives feel like a minority?
In answering that, we should consider the "Limbaugh Effect." Remember when Rush Limbaugh first began to be an unapologetic national voice for conservatives? What did callers say first? They thanked him for speaking for them. More than that, they thanked him for showing that they were not some "nutty right-wing loner," as the media, Hollywood, academia and other organs of information, entertainment, and communication had portrayed conservatives.
The Left long ago stopped trying to win arguments. The Left long ago adopted the Alinsky school of political warfare: Destroy your opponent. Portray conservatives as racist, homophobes, wife-battering moronic paranoids and that campaign of political annihilation is largely won. The political movement which sanctimoniously prides itself on rejecting stereotypes smeared sixty percent of America with a savage, humorless defamation. And, as long as no one raised the banner of conservatism for others to join, sixty percent of America sat quietly in their living rooms, wondering if anyone else really believed what they believed.
After Rush, people realized that they were not alone. No: We are not alone at all. We are the majority, really the overwhelming majority, in America. Consider other evidence. How does the Left win many of its policy battles? Through unelected federal judges who are appointed for life. How does the Right win many of its policy battles? By referenda and similar votes of the people.
When did McCain get a bump? When he picked an unapologetic conservative running mate. How is Obama winning this election now? By never calling himself a liberal at all, by never mentioning his true allies and mentors, and by pretending not to be a radical Leftist. Conservatives lose when they deny that they are conservatives: When they seek that two percent of America that calls itself moderate at the cost of that sixty percent of America that calls itself conservative. When was the last time an unapologetic conservative ran against a nice, old-fashioned liberal? Twenty-four years ago. The result? The conservative got about sixty percent of the vote.
John McCain desperately needs to understand the Limbaugh Effect, and apply its lessons to his campaign. If Rush lost his guts the way that Republicans have these days, he would lose most of his audience as well. But he sensed, before Battleground Polls said it, that America is a profoundly conservative nation.
Now all we need is candidate and president who understands this.
Bruce Walker is the author of Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie, and the recently published book, The Swastika against the Cross: The Nazi War on Christianity.