A Gallup poll from this year shows the fraction of Americans who identify as conservative over those who call themselves liberal is at its lowest point in the poll’s history. The share of Americans who describe themselves as conservative has declined by nearly 20% since 1992, while the portion who identify as liberal has increased by nearly 50%.
What’s the reason for this decline in the conservative population? It’s certainly not due to a lack of conservative think tanks and advocacy groups. There are hundreds of conservative state and national organizations across the country. These have helped achieve numerous conservative public policy reforms over the years, but they have evidently failed at growing the conservative ranks.
While conservatives are leading in the battle of ideas, they have all but surrendered the culture war. Academia, entertainment, and high- and low-culture are completely dominated by liberals. Conservatives must enter the cultural fray if they’re going to expand their base.
Entertainment taps into people’s emotions, reaching a deeper level of the brain than rational appeals that usually don’t penetrate the frontal cortex. We’ve all had that feeling of understanding something intellectually but not emotionally. Until someone laughs out loud, wells up with tears, or feels heartbreak or a frisson from a public policy white paper, appeals from entertainment will always have more impact.
When it comes to Hollywood, which is my domain as a filmmaker and actress, the story is more nuanced. Sure, movies push the latest PC claptrap, universally depict shrewd businessmen as bogeymen, and treat conservative characters as dweebs or worse. But the fundamental and time-honored Hollywood themes remain essentially conservative.
Even movies that ostensibly espouse liberal values are usually undergirded with conservative concepts because audiences still root for good values and right over wrong.
Such common themes include using ingenuity to overcome obstacles to achieve dreams; taking responsibility for actions that have consequences; and the importance of character over situation. Until there’s a summer blockbuster where characters laze around performing self-destructive behaviors without consequence, the Hollywood product will never be truly liberal.
Other inherently conservative Hollywood themes include the importance of family; the glorification of the American dream; and rewards for hard work and sacrifice. Masculinity, freedom, and a willingness to fight in self-defense are also almost universally glorified. Even the common Hollywood critiques of capitalism — warnings against consumerism, corporatism, cronyism — are ones with which most conservatives would agree.
Imagine the cultural influence if conservatives seized this opportunity by creating and promoting conservative story lines to match these universal themes.
I will make this case to conservatives at the annual State Policy Network conservative think tank confab in Colorado Springs. I will ask attendees to focus a little more on entertainment and a little less on Excel spreadsheets.
What does this look like in practice? At the most basic level, this simply means conservative think tanks supporting the conservative offerings that come out of Hollywood by highlighting them to their audiences in blog posts, newsletters, and op-eds. Who doesn’t like a good movie recommendation?
More ambitious think tanks should offer a film festival such as The Steamboat Institute does every summer in Steamboat Springs to highlight the latest and greatest in conservative cinema.
Ultimately, conservatives must build up their creative content producing capacity. This doesn’t mean starting with a full-length feature. But it does mean expanding video departments and providing them with the decision rights to pursue their creative visions. In addition to tapping into their followers’ emotions, these organizations will expand their audience to demographics that traditionally don’t care about public policy.
There’s a market for such conservative content. My husband Kevin Sorbo, well-known from “Hercules” and “God’s Not Dead” and I have recently produced the conservative film “Let There Be Light,” and his career spans several other conservative offerings such as “What If” that have clearly tapped into latent demand.
Our newest film, “Miracle in East Texas,” due out next spring, tells the true story of the world’s biggest oil strike, highlighting entrepreneurship, conservative values, and freedom as themes.
By supporting such conservative films and engaging in the culture wars, conservatives can reverse their dwindling population. It’s time for conservatives to trade their green eyeshades for purple eyeglasses.
Sam Sorbo is a film producer, screenwriter, actress and adviser to The Steamboat Institute.