Paul Krugman of the New York Times is at least a little bit “giddy” about the results of last Tuesday’s elections. Krugman feels this way not just because the results marked the end of a Republican “reign of error,” but also because he believes “that this election marks the beginning of the end for the conservative movement that has taken over the Republican Party” (see Krugman’s Op-Ed, “The Great Revulsion“).
I’m not convinced, however, that Krugman’s analysis of the election results is on target. Dr. Gary C. Jacobson is a professor of political science at University of California, San Diego and an expert on congressional elections. He was interviewed by Newsweek after the election and was asked if the Democrat sweep of Congress indicates a nationwide shift to the left. Dr. Jacobson responded:
There was a national trend towards the Democrats, but this election doesnâ€™t portend any fundamental reordering of peopleâ€™s political preferences. Itâ€™s much more of a short-term reaction to a current administration and a current set of policies. There are a still a lot of partisans who vote that way down the line. Democrats and Republicans each voted with their party by margins of 90 percent or more. The real difference was the independents and moderates. They went strongly Democratic by more than 55 percent. About 22 percent of voters call themselves independent, and of those, only 5 or 6 percent are truly independent, the others lean toward one party or another but are persuadable (see “A More Liberal Electorate? Not Yet“).
My hunch is that Dr. Jacobson probably has a more realistic view of what happened and that Paul Krugman has indulged in a bit of wishful thinking. No matter what one thinks about political coalitions within the Republican party, conservatism is not going away anytime soon among the electorate.
Conservatism is fundamentally about conserving those cultural institutions and norms that are required to maintain the life and health of a just society. There are many such institutions and norms that are under siege today, and many people still believe that their overthrow would have deleterious effects on our national culture.
Despite Mr. Krugman’s claims, there are reasons to believe that many Americans desire to conserve cherished ideals such as the family and the rights of the weakest in our society. The Republicans may be out of power in Congress, but that hardly amounts to the end of conservatism. In fact, it may be an indication that the Republicans were not as conservative as they should have been.