A fascinating article from the NYT’s FiveThirtyEight blog makes the case that the Republican Party has become dependent on the conservative block, which in turn is the reason it is difficult for GOP candidates to moderate, for fear of losing their voting base.

The essence of the post is exit poll data on the political ideology of those who voted for Republican candidates. The chart shows just how many GOP voters consider themselves conservative in elections since 1984.

Here’s what the chart will show: The Republican Party is dependent, to an extent unprecedented in recent political history, on a single ideological group. That group, of course, is conservatives. It isn’t a bad thing to be in favor with conservatives: by some definitions they make up about 40 percent of voters. But the terms ‘Republican’ and ‘conservative’ are growing closer and closer to being synonyms; fewer and fewer nonconservatives vote Republican, and fewer and fewer Republican voters are not conservative.

And here is the magical chart:

GOP voting

The jump in conservative voters and the decline in moderate voters since 2000 makes for an interesting analytic. Are more people becoming conservative or are more conservatives voting Republican? Where are moderates going?


  • Rob

    I think dw nailed it.

    libertarians are heavily economically conservative and most of us are moderate or liberal socially

    Neo-conservatives are economically liberal (though many of them delude themselves otherwise) and socially extremely conservative

    Christian conservatives (those who arent neocons) are usually moderate to conserative economically and very socially conservative

    So maybe the reason more people identify as conservative is a result of more people understanding what conservative means.

  • Gary Russell

    Republicans = Conservative?
    I’m glad the NYT cleared THAT one up for us!

    I can’t wait for the other two installments in their riveting trilogy:

    Part II: Democrats = Liberals

    Part III: Undecideds = Moderates

    Act now and they’ll throw in, for no extra cost:

    “Why We Believe Tea Partiers = Kooks”
    “Hating Sarah Palin For Dummies”

  • dw

    The biggest problem with the label, “conservative”, is that there is no clear definition of what that means. Does it mean that someone is fiscally conservative, socially conservative, or both?

    The Libertarian party, for example, runs on a fiscally conservative platform, but a more liberal social platform.

    And, where do the ideas of a small / limited federal government fit in? It could be said that conservatives support a smaller federal government. Bush W was definitely NOT a small government proponent, and not very conservative fiscally. But, he was definitely more socially conservative.

    The same problem exists with the party labels. Several years back Georgia had a Democratic US Senator who was actually more “conservative” than the two GOP Senator goofballs we have today.

    That’s why I don’t vote party lines, or labels. Being way too anal, I have a spreadsheet of issues with a score I give candidates (from -3 to a +3). I tally them up and vote for the person who most closely represents how I feel about the issues.

    • Troy La Mana

      Just like I say that I am not unopposed to voting for a Democrat if they agree with me on the issues. The only problem is that never happens.

  • Whodat

    There are changes in some “Republicans” after they are elected which need be factored in. They might have been “conservative” before being elected, but they change. When I was county chairman of our local Republican Party, I once went to a new Republican office holder to complain about some issues she was leaning left on. She told me, “Whodat, I represent all the people now.” It was not the first indication that I had been wasting my time, but it was the brightest.

    “W” turned out to be a real disappointment for we who are first fiscal conservatives. Rick Perry is another prime example of where the term RINO is an understatement.

    So, the importance of the Tea Party type person is underscored. We who are more Tea than anything, tend to say, “I don’t care what you say you are, I am conservative and let me know where you stand on these issues…” And, we listen.

    Point is, the recent move (excluding 2008 when many conservatives stayed home)from just Republican to conservative has come because, as Republicans, we were taken for granted (“where you gonna go?”) and with challenges in some Republican primaries, sometimes kicking out incumbents, they are getting the message while we are feeling empowered. If you look at my own blog, for example, I built a website around harassing and defeating local RINOS – some I helped elect years ago. This is revolution and it is good. http://www.rinoroundup.net

  • http://scottslant.blogspot.com/ Scott A. Robinson

    There may be a question of whether the definitions of “conservative”, “moderate”, and “liberal” have changed over the years that confounds this data.

    • David Kaiser, Editor

      I’m not sure the definitions change, as much as people’s perception of what those titles mean at a particular point in time.

      That said, the issues that have separated liberals and conservatives have been pretty stable in the time frame of the data set.

      Taxes, abortion, gun control, and the like have all have been pretty cut-and-dry positions for liberals and conservatives for a while.