Was last night a victory for conservatism?

This election leaves me more doubtful than ever that America is still a “center-right” country. In my view, center-right countries don’t provide decisive margins of victory to left-wing presidential candidates, even when they present themselves as only a bit to the left of center, as Obama did. However, Kellyanne Conway’s post-election polling convinces her otherwise:

Last night was a decisive victory for Barack Obama, but also a decisive victory for conservatism. Our post-election polling reveals no embrace of liberalism in this country. Fundamentally, Americans continue to prefer a limited government, a restrained judiciary, fiscal discipline, and traditional values. Actual voters are indicating that they prefer judges who apply the law equally over those who take into account the personal circumstances and life experiences of individuals who find themselves in a courtroom. They are as pro-life as they were in 2004 and believe that the Second Amendment is a crucial part of the Constitution. In California and Florida, they voted decisively to preserve traditional marriage.

Barack Obama likely understands the core beliefs held by majorities of Americans. That must be why after winning the nomination based on his status as the anti-war candidate, he tried to sprint to the center on tax cuts and charter schools energy and FISA protections. He says he opposes same-sex marriage and universal health care.

In our post-election poll we asked two unique questions “Are you more favorable toward ‘Republican’ or ‘conservative’ and ‘Are you more favorable toward ‘Democrat’ or ‘liberal’? ACTUAL voters participating in an election that gave Obama over 300 electoral votes and strengthened the Democratic advantage in the U.S. Senate also said the following: 41% of them preferred conservative and 25% Republican. Startlingly, by a 3-1 margin (55%-18%), actual voters preferred ‘Democrat’ to ‘liberal.’

In two self-identification questions, just 33% of actual voters said they considered themselves Republicans, but 41% thought of themselves as conservatives. On the other end of the spectrum, 39% aligned as Democrats, but just 20% described their ideological alignment as liberal. That number is unchanged from the 20% of actual voters in our 2004 Post-Election survey said they were liberal.

The real issue, of course, is how these voters will see things in 2010 and 2012, after President Obama has implemented a liberal domestic agenda (as I assume he will). To the extent people believe Obama’s program is working, liberal self-identification will increase. To the extent they believe it is not working, both conservative self-identification and Republican self-identification should increase.

Unless we have an economic slump more prolonged than any since the 1930s, and barring a deterioration in our national security, people will probably tend to believe in 2010 that Obama’s program is working.

JOHN adds: It’s interesting to consider why “conservative” is so much more popular than “Republican.” There are two obvious possibilities: 1) Republicans have deviated so often from conservative principles that the association has largely been lost; or 2) the news media’s and the entertainment industry’s incessant beating up on Republicans–they tend to focus explicitly on the party and only implicitly on the ideology–has taken a toll. My guess is that both are true.

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