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Spectrum shifts and public opinion polls

By Bruce Walker
web posted September 15, 2003

Leftists seriously and often contend that President Bush pushes an "extreme right-wing agenda." It seems that no Democrat politician, except Zell Miller, can open his mouth these days without trying to associate any Republican position with "ultra-conservative" or "radical extremist" politics.

Why? The Republican Party is filled with people who are not very conservative (often to the consternation of conservative Republicans) and there are clear gradations of conservatism within Republican conservatives (President George W. Bush, Congressman Ron Paul and Senator Peter Fitzgerald are all conservative, but in clearly different degrees.)

Is Schwarzenegger really to the right of the mainstream?
Is Schwarzenegger really to the right of the mainstream?

So why do leftists insist that Arnold Schwarzenegger or Tom Ridge or Colin Powell are to the right of the American center? Why do Democrats insist that Republicans like Senator Chuck Richard Lugar or Senator Hagel are "ultra-right wing extremists" when to any sensible, honest person those two men are moderate conservatives?

Leftists attempt to create by manipulation and artificially skewed ideological spectrum, which places all of their political opposition as far to the right as possible. This makes Leftist positions - which really are extreme! - appear in the mainstream of American opinion.

This contortion appears dramatically in public opinion polling, including those questions never asked and those questions absurdly posed. How often have we heard about a particular policy issue from a polling organization which leads to the conclusion that the Leftist position on an issue is "mainstream"? Serious review of these polls produces a radically different conclusion: true leftism is a tiny fraction of American opinion. Consider these examples.

Polls on abortion create the impression that Americans favor the actual holding in Roe v. Wade or are at least evenly divided. Indeed, when Americans are asked whether they consider themselves pro-choice or pro-life or whether they support Roe v. Wade, opinion is divided evenly. But a closer inspection produces a starkly different result.

CBS News in 2003 presented respondents with three options regarding abortion. While only 22 per cent of Americans wanted all abortions banned, 38 per cent wanted more restrictions on abortions than are allowed today. In other words, 60 per cent of Americans wanted more legal restrictions on abortion.

ABC News in 2003 gave a more detailed, and more damning, picture of leftism. Only 23 per cent of Americans wanted abortion "legal in all cases" (the current state of law under Roe v. Wade) while 34 per cent wanted abortion legal in most cases, 25 per cent wanted abortion illegal in most cases, and 17 per cent wanted abortion illegal in all cases. In other words, 77 per cent of Americans wanted more legal restrictions on abortion.

CNN polls showed that 24 per cent of Americans wanted abortion always legal, 57 per cent wanted abortion sometimes legal, and 18 per cent wanted abortion always illegal. Again, more than three out of every four Americans disagreed with the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade and subsequent cases. If Roe v. Wade were overturned, Americans would get what they wanted: the right to impose reasonable, legislatively determined restrictions on abortions. Those who favor Roe v. Wade are extremists, but the Leftist spectrum shift through polling makes these radicals appear mainstream.

Polls on affirmative action present the same weird distortion. The Gallup Poll recent reported that Americans were about evenly divided on affirmative action, with a slight plurality favoring affirmative action. Conservatives oppose affirmative action, so Leftist positions on affirmative action are mainstream - right?

Hardly. Details of the very same Gallup poll tell the true story. Only 27 per cent of Americans believed that it was right to consider race as a factor in college admissions and 69 per cent believed that college admissions should be based solely on merit. In fact, 59 per cent of Hispanics and 44 per cent of blacks believed that college admission should be based solely on merit.

Hart and Teeter, a respected bipartisan polling organization, recently posed the question directly, asking respondents to say whether they favored using race as a factor in college admissions. Only 26 per cent of Americans favored using race as a factor in college admissions and 65 per cent opposed using race as a factor in college admissions.

The actual policy mandated by federal courts and academic bureaucrats is not just consideration of race as a factor, but actually assuming that a disproportionately small number of blacks or Hispanics requires watering down of admissions standards for those minorities.

In the aftermath of the Clinton era, Americans have been led to believe that concern about traditional ethical values like marital fidelity are hopelessly out of synch with the hip world of modernity. Do Americans no longer believe certain actions are "right" and "wrong"?

Gallup this year asked people about what was morally acceptable and morally unacceptable. Adultery, the parlor game of the Clinton White House, was considered morally unacceptable by 93 per cent of all Americans, while only 6 per cent believed that it was morally acceptable.

Abortion, which is a genuinely wrenching decision in many cases, was consider morally unacceptable by 53 per cent of Americans, while only 37 per cent of Americans believed that abortion was morally acceptable. Americans believed that homosexual relations were morally unacceptable by a margin of 52 per cent to 42 per cent.

Sometimes polls unintentionally reveal just how out of step government has become with Americans. FOX News in 2003 asked what was the maximum percentage of any person's income that should go to government at all levels - federal, state and local. Only 1 per cent of the American people thought than anyone should have to pay more than half his income in taxes and 53 per cent thought no one should have to pay more than twenty percent of his income in taxes.

Most Americans pay about forty percent of their income in federal, state and local taxes. Only 7 per cent of the American people thought that anyone should be forced to pay more than thirty percent of his income in taxes.

If Republicans proposed a constitutional amendment prohibiting government from taxing more than thirty percent of anyone's income in federal, state and local taxes, how many Democrats would be leaping on chairs, shrilly screaming "Extremist! Ultraconservative! Right wing lunacy!" Yet fully 84 per cent of Americans believe precisely that (and 14 per cent responded "Don't Know," so the real percentage is probably higher.)

America, apparently, is teeming with hordes of "right-wing extremist ultra-conservatives." And we are "protected" from these hordes by tiny numbers of sensible Leftists who protect us from ourselves (and we are so ungrateful!)

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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