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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Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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