In the years since President Barack Obama initially rode his message of “hope” and “change” into the Oval Office, the American public has had the opportunity to see what the President’s idealistic vision of American liberalism looks like in practice. Many of the President’s most ardent initial supporters see simply years of continuing war in the Middle East, an unprecedented lack of transparency from the White House and revelations that Obama’s love of social welfare is trumped only by his disdain for citizen privacy.
That could be why the Nation is experiencing a shift in public opinion toward conservatism in all 50 U.S. States.
Cornell political scientist Peter Enns recently took a look at the political policy moods of Americans in each State from the 1950s to 2010 and concluded that a “statistically significant” shift to conservative ideas has occurred in each.
In The Washington Post, Enns explained his conclusion:
Surprised by this uniform shift across states, we examined two questions about government that the American National Election Study asked in the early 1960s and 2000s. Because we were dealing with much smaller sample sizes, we analyzed regions instead of states. Again, the data suggest that all regions of the country have shifted in a conservative direction.
The first question, reported in the left panel of the figure below, asked whether the government in Washington should see to it that every person has a job and a good standard of living or whether the government should let each person get ahead on their own. … Interestingly, in 1964, the South appears to have been the most supportive of the liberal response (the government should ensure a job and a good standard of living). The second question, reported in the right panel, asked whether or not the government in Washington was getting too powerful. Across all regions, we again see opinion has shifted to the right.
While the researcher notes a trend toward conservatism on fiscal issues, the trend did not hold when applied to matters of social policy such as gay marriage. Enns also notes that even as conservatism is gaining steam today, it could simply be an example of public opinion moving in the opposite direction of government policy. In the 1980s, for instance, the opposite trend was realized as government rolled out many conservative policy directives.
“The public’s policy preferences typically move in the opposite direction of public policy (especially for policies related to government spending),” Enns concludes. “Thus, if a Republican is elected president in 2016 and policy shifts in a conservative direction, we should expect a liberal turn in public opinion.”
Enns’ research is backed by the “policy mood” index researcher James Stimson developed more than 20 years ago to gauge public policy preference. The latest update of Stimson’s policy mood index illustrates that the American public in 2012 was more conservative than at any point since 1952.