Maybe a Majority of Americans Really Are Conservative

| Thu Feb. 16, 2012 1:14 PM EST

Today I defend Marco Rubio and Politifact. But Rubio more than Politifact.

Last weekend Rubio gave a speech at CPAC and said, "The majority of Americans are conservatives." Politifact checked up on this:

The Gallup Poll has been regularly asking Americans about their political ideology since 1992, and they compile the results of many polls each year and release an annual report. For 2011, Gallup found that the largest group of Americans identify as conservative, at 40 percent. Another 35 percent identify as moderate, while 21 percent identify as liberal.

....Rubio said that the majority of Americans are conservative. A respected ongoing poll from Gallup shows that conservatives are the largest ideological group, but they don’t cross the 50 percent threshold. So we rate his statement Mostly True.

Liberals pounced, and with good reason. This is mind-bogglingly dumb. 40% of Americans identify as conservative, so it's "mostly true" that a majority of Americans are conservative? Seriously?

But guess what? Gallup is not the only pollster in the world! Here's a Politico Battleground Poll from a few months ago that forced people to choose whether they leaned left or right:

In this poll, 61% of the country identified as conservative. That's a majority!

Now, this is a poll of "likely" voters. It forces a choice between liberal and conservative. And even though we all know that "independent" voters mostly lean left or right pretty reliably, I imagine this poll still understates the number of true centrists.

Nonetheless, it's a poll. And Rubio could quite reasonably point to it as evidence that a majority of the country is conservative. Liberals, just as reasonably, could point to other polls suggesting that a majority of Americans support liberal goals regardless of what they call themselves. It's kind of complicated!

Which is why Politifact probably shouldn't have pretended to fact check this in the first place. And if they insisted, they should have pointed to multiple polls instead of pretending that a single Gallup poll was gospel. It's a dog's breakfast.

But Rubio is off the hook. All he needs is one good poll to justify his statement, and he's got one.

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