MODERATES AND CONSERVATIVES….Brendan Nyhan takes issue with David Broder’s contention that George Bush won the election by “fighting John Kerry to a near-standoff among self-described moderates.” Say again?

A near-standoff? Bush lost among moderates by nine points, comparable to his eight-point loss with moderate voters in 2000. But moderates went down from 50% of the electorate in 2000 to 45% in 2004, while conservatives went up from 29% to 34%. This change in the composition of the electorate was apparently not driven by “moral values” as most people think, but it was where Bush made most of his gains in going from losing the popular vote in 2000 to winning it by more than three million votes in 2004. The self-identified moderate vote is the wrong place for Broder to look for Bush’s “real success.”

I think that’s right, but the electoral switch Brendan points to really deserves an exclamation point. We all know that conservatives have gained ground in America ever since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, but the process apparently accelerated considerably after 9/11. Of the one-half or so of the country that typically thinks of itself as moderate, a full 5% of them decided to get off the fence this year and identify themselves as conservative.

That’s a big switch, and it’s hard to attribute such a sudden change to anything other than 9/11. However, while national security may have been the motivation, there’s an even bigger potential danger sign here for liberals: once people change teams, they tend to adopt their new team’s views on lots of issues, not just the one that caused the switch in the first place. That’s bad news for liberal principles beyond just those associated with national security.

This demonstrates, again, that the big problem for liberals isn’t George Bush. The big problem is that 51% of the country agrees with George Bush. We should stop worrying quite so much about Bush himself and worry a little more about shifting public opinion. After all, the next presidential election is only 48 months away.