Yes, polls of self-identification on this scale do show a very stable "center-right country" in which conservatives typically outnumber liberals three-to-two or even more. This is how Scott arrives at his fundamental argument that polarized elected officials don't adequately represent the people who elected them, and also how he somehow concludes that the notable shift of Republican opinion to the right in recent years has made the system more, not less representative (that's his major refutation of the Hacker-Pierson contention that the GOP has dragged the political center to the right).
The kicker here though is what this belief in a "center-right nation" does to the GOP:
It’s worth noting as well that the “center-right nation” meme has the perverse effect of holding Democrats to a higher standard of “bipartisanship” than Republicans, since “liberals” obviously have to move further to reach the actual political center than “conservatives.” And indeed, that’s pretty much what Scott suggests.
Now, Kilgore is a lefty and this is a blog with a liberal bias, but he does share some truth here. I believe one of the reasons that the Republicans have for the most part held their ground and not cooperated with the Democrats is on the belief that the American people don't want a "government takeover of healthcare." They believe that the public is on their side since this is a "center-right nation." In essence, they believe they don't have to give an inch because most of the nation agrees with them ideologically.
But is that really true? Voters put a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President in office last year. The Democratic President said he was going to reform health care and yet voters voted for him. Also this Democratic President is the first Northern Liberal in the White House in about two generations. If we are such a center-right nation, one would think that President Obama would have had a hard time getting elected.
The danger of believing that we are a center-right country is that it allows Republicans to live in denial. Why do they have to change? Why bother with trying to appeal to independents, or why bother running moderates in Democratic areas? The last two elections should have woken us up and allowed us to make strategic changes, but the belief in the center-right nation allows us to think that 2006 and 2008 are abberations and that sooner or later, America will come back home to the GOP.
But I think there is even a bigger danger: it leaves Republicans thinking they don't have to solve issues like health care reform or the environment, or the economy. Their vision of the right makes these issues irrelevant.
2010 will be an interesting year to find out if this belief in a center-right nation is real or just something a convenient little lie to hold on to during hard times.