One of the big stories hitting the intertubes, the Tweeter, blogs, you name it, is the recent Gallup Poll that shows Americans getting more conservative:
Despite the results of the 2008 presidential election, Americans, by a 2-to-1 margin, say their political views in recent years have become more conservative rather than more liberal, 39% to 18%, with 42% saying they have not changed. While independents and Democrats most often say their views haven't changed, more members of all three major partisan groups indicate that their views have shifted to the right rather than to the left.
This is all well and good if you're a conservative, but as even Gallup acknowledges, there's a lot less going on here than implied. Consider, for instance, Gallup's own long-time trend line on ideological affiliation:
Basically, it's same as it ever was, with self-identified conservatives in a four percentage point range since the early 1990s, moderates in a similar band, and liberals in one well below the other two groups.
Such findings comport broadly with a longer-running Harris Poll series that asks adults "How would your own political philosophy: conservative, moderate or liberal?" Broken down by decade, conservatives averaged 32 percent in the '70s, 36 percent in the '80s, 38 percent in the '90s, and 35 percent in the '00s so far. For liberals, the corresponding numbers were 18 percent, 18 percent, 18 percent, and 19 percent.
Despite these large and persistent preferences for "conservative" ideology over "liberal" ideology (self-defined, so who knows exactly what it means), political outcomes have not always been Republican-friendly. Though presented as a mystery to be solved, I think it simply reflects that fact that party affiliation and ideology are not particularly tightly connected among most of us (though it may be for the office seekers and political ops) and that voters get swayed by particular candidates and vote accordingly. To acknowledge that Barack Obama was the far more attractive candidate last fall (or, more precisely, to say that he sucked much less than John McCain) tells us absolutely nothing about the deep or even the shallow beliefs of the American people.
Though hopefully the rise of unaffiliated voters in the wake of Obama's vision deficit, not to mention that brave majority of Democrats who admit that Congress today is no "better than a random group from the phone book," is a sign that Americans (god bless us all, everyone) are waking up to the idea that it is better to run your own life in every way, shape, and form than to cede power to Washington, state houses, and other distant, indifferent, and incompetent rules.