Maybe a Majority of Americans Really Are Conservative

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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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We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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