Gallup charts a declining percentage of Americans self-identifying as conservative, which suggests bad things ahead for the GOP. Just 41% of Americans consider themselves economic conservatives, and 33% identify as social conservatives. Both of those figures are down from 2010 numbers, and the results seem to give weight to comments like those of Olympia Snowe about the Republican Party’s narrow appeal.
While this is a speed bump for the GOP, it really measures failure of the conservative movement. The constellation of groups churning out candidates and activists has not done a good enough job preparing them to appeal to non-conservatives. The most effective leaders are those who can talk to the middle from the edge – it’s what makes President Obama such a great politician. Going a step further: There’s no such thing as “too conservative to win” (or “too liberal to win”) a general election. There’s such a thing as “too crazy to win,” and there’s definitely such a thing as “too stupid to win.”
If fewer people self-identify as “conservative,” then Republican politicians will have to stop using it as a buzzword. That’s a smart thing to do, anyway. Then it’s up to the conservative movement to articulate policy positions in a way that sounds reasonable to non-conservatives.
It would be more illuminating to see the specifics. For instance, Gallup says that Americans remain suspect of government; the IRS suffering a predictable and precipitous dip. Those are both “economic conservative” positions, but that doesn’t mean the respondents would self-identify as such. And that could fuel exactly the type of issue-specific messaging that conservatives and Republicans can use to expand their influence – even if they don’t expand their brand.