We may be six months away from Election Day, but I’ve already racked up nearly 100,000 miles this year crisscrossing the country and listening to voters in more than 20 states. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney are already in full campaign mode, and opinions and analysis of their chances to win are flowing fast and thick. I study what Americans think and how they communicate. And I can tell you firsthand that there are widespread misconceptions about conservative voters — what they believe in and what they are looking for from their leaders. Let’s look closer at this key demographic and debunk some of the biggest whoppers.
1. Conservatives care most about the size of government.
They may have rallied around President Ronald Reagan’s call for smaller government three decades ago — but it’s not the 1980s anymore. Today, conservatives don’t want a reduced government so much as one that works better and wastes less.
It used to be that conservatives supported smaller government on theoretical grounds: The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen; government should only do for people what they truly cannot do for themselves; government isn’t the solution, it is the problem. You’ve heard such comments from conservatives, and they’re the mantra of the tea party movement. They’re still part of conservative orthodoxy — which is why Republican candidates invoke them — but the underlying conservative belief system is shifting.
2. Conservatives want to deport all illegal immigrants.
Conservatives don’t want to round up all the illegal immigrants and deport them. They believe in the American dreamand understand that immigrants built our country. That’s why conservatives embrace legal immigration. A solid majority believe that there should be an eventual path to earned legal status.
3. They worship Wall Street.
While the left may perceive and portray the right as a bunch of greedy Gordon Gekkos, the truth is that conservatives are highly critical of Wall Street and wholeheartedly celebrate Main Street. The business leaders that conservatives respect most are entrepreneurs, not chief executives; conservatives value small-business owners above big bankers.
In a poll I conducted early this year, I asked conservatives whom they most trusted to get our country on the right economic track. By nearly two to one, they chose small-business owners over corporate America (only “political leaders” did worse). They believe that our economy will be rebuilt by hard work on Main Street, not by book-cooking on Wall Street.