Poll: ‘Very Conservative’ Voters Are Angry Because They Are Most Optimistic About Future

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Just days away from the Iowa caucus, a new poll shows that voters identified as “very conservative” are the most hopeful about the country’s future.

More than two-thirds of “very conservative” voters, or 67 percent, believe America can recapture its past success, exemplified by the 1960s race to the moon, according to a poll of national political attitudes from Monmouth University.

In contrast, just 57 percent of all Americans believe the country can recapture the spirit that first put on a man on the moon. And only 44 percent of liberals are confident that optimism of the 1960s can be recovered.

Thirty-eight percent of all Americans believe the days of that “American spirit” are gone forever, while only 29 percent of very conservative voters believe those days are in the past. In contrast, 50 percent of voters who identify as “very liberal” say the days of the confident American spirit are in the past.

Republicans in general are also far more optimistic about the future than Democrats. By a 14-point margin, Republicans are more inclined to believe America can recapture its spirit than believe the country’s best days are in the past.

This simple question explains much of the difference between the two parties. Republicans, especially conservatives, believe more Americans are angry at Washington and political leaders than Democrats do. Republicans and conservatives are also far more likely to believe that “harsh rhetoric” today is justified.

It is precisely because conservatives, and most Republicans, are hopeful that America can recapture its spirit that they also tend to by angry and believe harsh rhetoric is justified. There really is no point to be angry about politics if one believes that the country’s best days are in the past.

All Americans, regardless of political or ideological affiliation strongly disapprove of the job Congress is doing. The most liberal and most conservative voters share an equal amount of disdain for Congress.

Democrats, however, believe the chief problem in Washington is a lack of compromise from all political leaders. Republicans, and especially conservatives, believe a lack of principle is the biggest problem. On this question, the most liberal and most conservative voters are polar opposites.

More than 70 percent of very liberal voters say it is a lack of compromise that plagues Washington, while 66 percent of very conservative voters say it is a lack of principle.

This too, though, can be explained by whether or not one believes the country’s best days are behind it. The question Monmouth asked about “recapturing the spirit that landed a man on the moon” is a very good proxy for this belief.

If one believes, as Democrats and especially liberal voters do, that America’s best days are behind it, it makes sense to worry about issues like pay equity, minimum wages and income inequality. If America’s best days are behind it, the political debate will necessarily focus on equally dividing a static, or declining, number of resources.

Resolving issues of diminishing resources is itself a function of compromise.

Believing however that America can recapture its past glory tends to focus one’s priorities on economic reform, deregulation and removing obstacles to growth. Republicans and conservatives believe federal government regulation and tax policies impede growth and prevent the country from “recapturing” the past.

Removing an impediment to growth is difficult to achieve through compromise. Does one remove half of a policy that blocks growth?

This view also goes a long way to explain anger and the question of whether harsh rhetoric is justified. If one believes that America’s best days lie ahead, but are simply blocked by a dysfunctional political class, anger and frustration are entirely rational responses. Voters who believe a broken political system is preventing the US from regaining its past success are going to be angry with that system.

Liberals and Democrats, though, who believe America’s best days are in its past have already moved on to the acceptance stage of grief. If we can’t recapture our past success, there really isn’t a need for anger or harsh rhetoric. Probably best, from that point of view, to just compromise a little and muddle through.

Democrats, after all, are far less likely than Republicans to believe that adopting the other party’s policies would greatly harm the country. The stakes, i.e. America’s future prospects, simply aren’t that high for Democrats.