Despite the media narrative supporting this, there is no contradiction in the polling.
According to media dogma in the United States, for a country to be definitively center-right, it would need to have a fundamental distrust of the government. It would feel the social obligation to devolve power from the federal to more responsive, local levels of the state apparatus. Its people would demand selflessness in their commitment to self-governance and the self-governance of others. The national identity must be the center of the patriotic culture, which faithfully serves to sustain the social order.
There is, then, little difference between a country that is center-right and one that is Leninist.
Lenin in theory and Lenin’s actual record were very different things. In The State and Revolution, for example, he laid out the case for why the state should be unequivocally disliked and buried by the public, which is motivated by the need for more participation in the political process. In practice, Leninism constructed the Soviet government based on what he called a “state-capitalist” model, whose’s primary differences with the US model ended up being less efficiency, a history of 3rd world serfdom, and thus less capability for economic prowess. That began to change by the early 1950′s through rapid industrialization, but only as a result of Lenin’s radical violations of his own theories about state coercion.
The Democrats and Republicans haven’t discovered anything different than what Lenin discovered to be true. Populations around the world have always opposed centralization, regardless of the institution in question. It started with the Roman Catholic Church, and the same skepticism shifted to the state, and moved to the private sector with the rise of corporations and business power. This is not ideological, and may carry some inference to why most public uprisings have had socialist tendencies throughout history. And given this history, opposition to institutional concentration of power can thus be considered a conservative idea; the point, however, is that there is nothing right-wing about this opposition.
Ezra Klein, among several other prominent analysts, points to a contradiction:
We know that self-described conservatives outnumber self-described liberals, and appear to have done so for as long as we’ve been polling the question. But we also know that self-described Democrats outnumber self-described Republicans — even when conservative pollsters are asking the question – and that’s been true for decades, too. So we’re a conservative country … that leans towards the Democrats? Huh.
America’s center-rightness is supposedly proven by the fact that we don’t have a government-run health-care system. But we love our Medicare. We prefer it, in fact, to our private insurance. And we’re less satisfied with our system than Europeans are with theirs. So we’re a country that opposes government-run health care — except when we have it…
There is only a contradiction if the term “conservative” is defined as ideologically aligned with the Republican Party, and there is no evidence that it is. Because reactionary commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Dick Morris define it as such and construct the alignment means very little. Especially since, as Ezra points out, all the evidence (what the public unremittingly states) points the other way: that conservatism is not right-wing precisely because the public supports responsive public institutions.
The other argument against this contradiction is that the public is constantly bombarded by propaganda supporting the alignment between conservatism and the Republicans. The venues range from MSNBC’s liberal panels to libertarian political journals and the business press. In this context, Noam Chomsky’s comment that “the public is a game amongst intellectuals” is quite applicable. Instead of looking to carefully define the term “conservative” according to the overwhelming evidence that the public presents, intellectual opinion seeks to marginalize the public by redefining its integrity. Overwhelmed by the intellectual demands of politics, the masses are caught in a striking contradiction between supporting big government and hating it.
The real contradiction is the role that intellectuals are supposed to play in public life, and the contemptuous role they unrepentantly choose.