When Ronald Reagan was elected president, many political observers argued that the election of a conservative Republican signaled a fundamental change in the political preferences of Americans--that the electorate had tired of the old Democratic liberalism and had embraced the new conservative approach. A new era in American politics had begun. Howard Gold challenges this and other assumptions about the nature of the "conservative shift" as reflected by the political preferences of the American electorate. Examining American public opinion from the Johnson administration through the Reagan years, Gold uncovers the true nature of American public opinion, showing that, in fact, the American public has not embraced a conservative ideology. He goes on to evaluate the mechanisms of change in American politics and to discuss the implications of his findings for the future of electoral politics in America.
Introduction: The Conservative Shift in American Politics -- Defining Conservatism in the United States -- Changing Campaign Rhetoric -- Changes in Policy -- Issue Preferences and Ideological Symbols -- Assessments of the Political Parties -- Generational Change and the Conservative Shift -- The Rise of De Facto Conservatism -- Conclusion: Leading with the Right -- Survey Questions and Figures -- Tables of Partisan Assessments by Generational Cohort -- Description of Partisan Assessments