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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Decreasing Influence of Social Conservatism in the GOP and the Rise of Economic Populism

Thomas Edsall cites evidence of the decreasing relevance of social/cultural issues in the GOP, and Thomas Palley relates the declining influence of social conservatives to the rise of what he calls the "new populism" on economic issues:

Party On, by Ramesh Ponnuru & Thomas B. Edsall, TNR: ...My central argument was summed up in the following sentence: "In brief, among Republican voters, the litmus test issues of abortion and gay marriage have been losing traction, subordinated to the Iraq war and terrorism. According to the Pew Research Center, 31 percent of GOP voters name Iraq as their top priority, and 17 percent choose terrorism and security. Just 7 percent name abortion and 1 percent name gay marriage." I stick by that point.

As for Ponnuru's allegation that "The Republican Party of 2007 is no less socially conservative than the Republican Party of 1995" -- a considerable body of poll data lays that misapprehension to rest. To quote from the Pew Research Center, which tracked respondents' answers to six questions testing social liberalism and conservatism: In 1987, 49 percent of those surveyed "gave conservative answers to at least four of the six questions. In 2007, just 30% did so. This trend has occurred in all major social, political, and demographic groups in the population. While Republicans remain significantly more conservative than Democrats or independents on social values, they too have become substantially less conservative over this period."

The reality is the culture wars are over everywhere but in politics. The left has won on every front: television, movies, music, academia, public opinion, personal behavior, and in the views of younger voters. Most smart people in the Republican Party know this, and they understand that, at best, social conservatism is a rearguard action of diminishing utility in elections. ...

My point was simply, to quote again from the story, "For the moment, at least, September 11 has replaced abortion, gay marriage, and other social-sexual matters as the issue that binds the GOP together as a party." The collateral damage, if you will, of the war on terrorism is the decreasing relevance of social/cultural issues...

Here's Thomas Palley's view of these trends:

Beyond Red and Blue, by Thomas Palley: It is widely recognized that the debacle in Iraq has contributed importantly to disenchantment with the Bush administration and Republican Party. However, less recognized is the potential long-term political impact of Iraq, which has opened the door to moving beyond the red state – blue state division that has marked US politics for the past generation. That in turn could create a lasting progressive majority.

American electoral politics has operated historically along two dimensions of “values” and “economics”. The values dimension concerns issues of abortion, guns, religion and flag. The economics dimension concerns the perceived efficiency of markets, corporate power, income inequality and trade. For the past twenty-five years economics has played second fiddle to the values dimension, which has dominated electoral politics and defined the division between red and blue states. ...

Now, America’s searing experience in Iraq has unexpectedly opened the door to reversing this... In a sense, Iraq has discredited all religious fundamentalisms by showing what happens when religions try to enforce their views on all. That stands to reduce support for the Christian right’s agenda and strengthen support for separation of church and state and the right to privacy.

A second plank of the right’s values agenda has been the construction of patriotism in terms of muscular militarism. That construction grew out of the humiliations of US defeat in Vietnam and the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, and it is reflected in the popular “Rambo” fantasy. This neo-con fantasy has been permanently discredited by the dismal military outcome in Iraq. Despite easily defeating Saddam Hussein, the US has been unable to achieve victory. That failure stands to diminish the appeal of framing patriotism and national security in terms of unilateralist militarism.

At the same time that Iraq has exposed these failings of the right’s values agenda, economic issues have increased in salience. Globalization, wage stagnation, and rising income inequality and economic insecurity have all become major public concerns in both red and blue states. ...

These changes are captured by the “new populism” associated with the likes of Senators Jon Tester of Montana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Jim Webb of Virginia. All won election in 2006 in red states running on messages that contained a strong economic component.

The success of new populism is driven by two factors. First, growing willingness of red state voters to see through the veil of values-based identity politics. Second, recognition that red states share common economic challenges with blue states. Once the veil of identity is pierced, it becomes clear that farmers, factory workers, and urban white-collar workers share many similar problems. ...

Just as global sourcing has squeezed manufacturing workers and shifted profits to large retailers and brands such as Nike, so too small farmers are receiving less of the value created in the farm-to-food production chain. In effect, workers, small manufacturers and farmers all compete on a tilted playing field, which calls for new policies restoring a balance of power.

Growing recognition of this reality has created the possibility of a new politics spanning red and blue states, auguring well for a future progressive majority. Iraq has played an important role by lifting the political fog generated by the right’s divisive values agenda.

    Posted by on Saturday, May 19, 2007 at 02:43 AM in Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (31)

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