When the electorate gave control of Congress to the Democrats in 2006 and then the White House in 2008, everyone from the most elite talking head on TV to the local bus driver had their reasons: dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq; Republican corruption; a sense (among their base) that the Republicans had forgotten why they were elected; and even just not liking Dubya much anymore. Whatever the truth, the fact is that the voters were tired of the Rs and wanted to give the car keys to the Ds.
The Democrats seem to have interpreted this as a fundamental shift of the electorate away from free-market capitalism toward a desire for much greater involvement by the state in the economy and everyday lives, a willingness to accept European-style social democracy. Thus the push for a state takeover of large sectors of the economy (two major auto companies, health care), massive Keynesian stimulus spending funded by public debt and (likely) massive taxation, corporatist-style interweaving of government, big business, and labor, and extensive regulatory control over anything that might have to do with the environment (cap and trade).
They likely guessed wrong.
Byron York reports on a Gallup survey that shows Americans by a large margin want government to promote traditional values over “no values:”
Gallup’s question was simple: “Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view?” In the new poll, taken in the first days of September, 53 percent of respondents say they want the government to promote traditional values, while 42 percent say they do not want the government to favor any particular set of values. Five percent do not have an opinion.
The results are a significant change from recent years. For most of the last two decades, a majority of people have been in favor of the government promoting traditional values. But that number began to decline in 2005, and the number of people who believe the government should not favor any particular set of values began to rise. Last September, when Gallup asked the same question, the public was split down the middle on the issue, 48 percent to 48 percent. Now, opinion has rather abruptly gone back to the old position, and there’s an 11-point gap between the two, in favor of traditional values.
The question the survey doesn’t answer, of course, is what are those “traditional values.” According to Gallup, however, the pattern of responses “…suggest(s) that respondents understand traditional values to be those generally favored by the Republican party.”
That’s one more indicator that the Democrats are heading for a very bad fall in the 2010 elections, because the survey shows a huge shift among self-described independents and moderates:
But it is the turnaround among independents — Gallup also found similar numbers among people who called themselves moderates — that put a screeching halt to the shift that had been taking place in the last few years. “Americans’ views of the proper government role in promoting traditional values had moved in a more liberal direction since 2005, to the point that last year, as many said the government should not promote traditional values as said it should,” Gallup writes. “If that trend had continued, 2009 would have marked the first time Gallup found more Americans preferring that the government refrain from actively promoting traditional values. Instead, Americans’ attitudes reverted to a more conservative point of view on the matter. Now, Americans favor the government’s promoting traditional values by an 11-point margin, similar to the double-digit margins favoring that view through much of the prior two decades.”
To me, this shows that the Democrats badly misread their mandate from 2006 and, especially, 2008. Recall the situation in late August, 2008, before the financial crack up and panic of September: McCain had come out of the Republican convention with what looked like a solid 3-5% lead, based on the popularity of his selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate and the Obama campaign’s summer ego-trip that turned many voters off. Then came the financial crisis, and the American public did what it often does in such times: it voted the current bums out of office, replacing them with the other bums and giving the new crowd one mission – make us prosperous again. It was not a mandate to subvert individual liberty and remake society into a European social democracy.
Hence the shifting numbers as voters realize they aren’t getting what they voted for. (In fact, they’re getting everything but, including a “stimulus” program that’s been a huge, debt-accumulating failure.) And thus, too, we see the Democrats’ unseemly haste to ram through all these bills before they can be read and analyzed (or even written) before the public puts on the brakes. They know they misunderstood their mandate and that their time is very limited; they need their long-cherished program passed soon, so that the inertia will be against undoing it.
If this poll is correct, their fears seem justified. By November, 2010, this progressive moment could well turn out to have the lifespan of a candle left out in a hurricane.