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Battleground Poll: Is the Conservative Movement Losing Momentum?

September 12, 2011

The latest Battleground Poll numbers have been released. There have been more than twenty Battleground Polls over the last ten years, and the most consistent datum in these polls has been the response to Question D3, which asks Americans to identify their ideology. Sixty percent of Americans called themselves "very conservative" or "somewhat conservative," while thirty-six percent of Americans called themselves "very liberal" or "somewhat liberal." The Lilliputian "moderate" or "refused/don't know" has seldom for either been higher than two percent.

The poll taken in late August 2011 appears to show a trend away from this overwhelming conservative majority. Question D3 in this poll shows a decade-low fifty-five percent of Americans call themselves conservative while the percentage of Americans who call themselves liberal has risen to a decade-high thirty-nine percent. If the numbers in all the past polls had not been so extremely consistent, regardless of how Americans felt on other issues or about political leaders, this sudden jolt would not be particularly curious.

Conservatives heartened by past responses to Question D3 could look at the latest Battleground Poll and compare it to the last Battleground Poll before May 2011 and wonder if the conservative movement was not beginning to lose some steam. The May poll showed that fifty-seven percent of Americans called themselves conservative and thirty-seven percent of Americans called themselves liberals. The May 2011 numbers showed a slight diminishing of conservative support in America over prior Battleground Poll data.

Yet, if this was a trend, it was in stark contrast to what Gallup had been reporting. Last month Gallup polling showed that conservatives were not only the largest ideological group in America but that more Americans were conservative than in at least twenty years. As I have observed before, Gallup is not exactly enthusiastic about polls which show conservative strength. When two years ago the Gallup Poll showed that conservatives outnumbered liberals in every single state of the union, the title chosen for the article was "Conservative Label Prevails in the South."

So what gives? The Battleground Poll demographic data began to shift in an area that common sense would suggest should not change at all: the age of respondents. In response to Question D1 of the poll, "What is your age, please?" the age groups of 18-24 and 25-29 began to grow much larger. The 18- to 29-year-old group would represent that group of Americans which Rush Limbaugh has called "skulls full of mush." They are internees or reject parolees of those reeducation camps which we call "college." Obama polls very well in this group and the left has always held greater appeal among these young Americans than any other group.

In Battleground Polls taken in 2005, 2007, and 2008, the two age groups (18-24 and 25-29) were small -- together these two generally were about 7% of respondents to Battleground Polls. Beginning with the April 2010 Battleground Poll, however, these two groups began to grow thus: April 2010 (18-24, 6%; 25-29, 6%-12% combined), early September 2010 (18-24, 6%; 25-29, 6%-12% combined), late September 2010 (18-24, 5%; 25-29, 7%-12% combined), October 2010 (18-24, 6%; 25-29, 6%-12% combined), and then May 2011 (18-24, 6%; 25-29, 6%-12% combined). This particularly liberal age group had almost doubled within the population, and the percentage of Americans who call themselves conservative was nudged down too.

What does the August 2011 Battleground Poll show? Americans, apparently, have been becoming even younger (which, I suppose, could be very good news for the solvency of the Social Security System.) Question D1 in August 2011 shows this: (18-24, 8%; 25-29, 10 %). In other words, over the last couple of years, the percentage of respondents to the Battleground Poll in the 18-24 age group jumped by 50%, and the 18-29 age groups jumped even more, from 7% a few years ago to fully 18% of respondents.

So it sure looks like the Battleground Poll -- justly respected because it was consistency itself, it was bipartisan in development, and it revealed its internal polling questions -- has shifted from polling one slice of America and now polls a different slice which, predictably, makes the percentage of Americans who called themselves conservative and liberal look like it has changed.

But this shift to a more liberal and younger polling sample also means that the answers to all the other questions in the August 2011 Battleground Poll, which pundits are sure to be musing soon, have been skewed from earlier Battleground Polls to underestimate the weakness of the left. The August 2011 Battleground Poll, as it is, cannot give the left much to cheer about. Using a consistent polling model, however, things for the left must look downright desperate.

But even that tends to underestimate the problems facing the left next November. The dramatically inflated age group of 18-29 also represents that part of the electorate least likely to vote. So as you hear folks talk over the next few days about how weak the August 2011 Battleground Poll makes Obama and Democrat prospects look in 14 months, recall that things for them are actually much, much worse.

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Copyright ©2011 Bruce Walker

Bruce Walker is a long-time conservative writer whose work is published regularly at popular conservative sites such as American Thinker.