|Support For Social Spending By Conservatives As A Whole
If we combine conservatives (self-identified 6) with extreme conservatives, operational liberalism increases to almost 2 ½ to 1: 64.7% to 25.2% And if we combine all those self-identified as right-of-center (self-identified 5,6,7), operational liberalism leaps to better than 3 ½ to 1: 71.0% to 19.3%. This last, broadest definition of "conservative" equals 34.1% of the population-close to the number of people commonly identified as conservative. This can be seen in the right-hand column of the chart below.
Some might argue that conservatives have changed since 1984. And indeed, they have. But not in this respect. If we limit ourselves to 2000 and later, the operational liberalism increases slightly: 73.0% to 17.7%.
Dissecting Support For Social Spending: Liberals vs. Conservatives
There are differences between liberals and conservatives, of course. Liberals are noticeably more supportive of social spending. But the differences in attiude have a structure to them, as can be seen in the following chart, that breaks down spending into three categories-welfare state core (things like health care, child care, education, welfare, etc.), welfare state periphery (the environment, parks, mass transit), and night watchman state (crime, roads, military spending, space, foreign aid):
Liberals and conservatives have the least disagreement over functions of the night watchman state (7.9%), followed closely by the welfare state periphery (9.7%). There is almost twice as much difference over the welfare state core (15.6%) as there is over the night wathcman state. Still, that's not very much disagreement (especially compared to the ideas you'd get from listening to the Versailles punditalkcrazy): less than 1 out of 6.
Significantly, though there is slightly more support for the welfare state core than there is for the night watchman state. We measure this two ways: (1) the combined total of those saying we're spending "too little" or "about right." This is the combined total of those who don't want to cut spending--a reasonable definition of support. Using this measure, support for the welfare state core is 83.7% compared to 70.2% for the night watchman state. (2) The "liberalism index" cuts out the middle--it's the percentage of those saying "too little" or "too much" who say that we're spending "too little." (Normally, the liberalism index is reversed for military spending, because long-term data shows an inverse relationship between support for military and domestic spending. But here we want to focus on what kinds of spending get what kinds of support, so we're treating all items the same for this specific purpose.) Using this measure, support for the welfare state core is 75.2% compared to 53.2% for the night watchman state-an even bigger margin.
The number of items in our sample is small, so it wouldn't be wise to make too much of this comparison--yet. Still, it's a significant warning that those think the welfare state unpopular, and controversial compared to "basic government functions" cannot just assume they are right. The evidence here is that they are wrong. Not only is the welfare state popular with everyone--not just liberals--it is more popular than the night watchman state, at least from the data we have here. So let's look at some other sets of data.
Here's another set of series data from the GSS, which began in 1984:
Here the big picture pattern remains the same. The liberal/conservative differences between the three categories have shrunk a bit, 9.9% for the night watchman state compared to 16.4% for the welfare state core, with the welfare state periphery at 14.0%. But the difference in support levels has increased: 72.6% to 38.5% in terms of liberalism index, and 83.1% to 60.1% in terms of those not wanting to cut spending. And once more, the welfare state periphery is most by both measures: 87.3% and 91.1% respectively.)
Turning to a third set from the GSS, with different wordking that only used in 1984, we find the following:
The liberal/conservative difference are the same as for the first sequence for the night watchman state 7.9%) and the welfare state periphery (9.7%), but the difference for the welfare state core has dropped to just 12.0%--less than one in eight. Again, we find that the welfare state core is much more popular than the night watchman state: 85.9% to 50.7% in terms of liberalism index, and 91.3% to 69.1% in terms of those not wanting to cut spending. The welfare state periphery again scores highest of all, with 87.1% and 93.4%, respectively.
A fourth set of questions was also asked less frequently, and the wording template differs as well. Respondents are allowed to opt for large cuts or increases, for a total of 5 choices rather than the 3 used in the questions above. This is a smaller sequence, and perhaps because of that, there's a break in the pattern, as seen in the chart:
The welfare state core has the least disagreement between liberals and conservatives: 12.5% compated to 14.9% for the night watchman state and 19.9% for the welfare state periphery, which is also the least popular of the three--a dramatic shift from the other results. But one thing stays constant: The welfare state core is much more popular than the night watchman state: 81.5% to 60.3% in terms of liberalism index, and 89.2% to 76.3% in terms of those not wanting to cut spending. The welfare state periphery again falls to third, with 59.6% and 72.3%, respectively.
From all this, it is clear that the welfare state enjoys strong public support-stronger even than the minimal "night watchman" state favored by libertarian ideologues. This is where the great American center lies-and it's directly opposed to the politicl elites, such as the odious Peter G. Peterson, whose generational warfare ads have been running on our website this past week. More on that in a later diary.