In the aftermath of the 2012 election, some Republicans are calling for the GOP to abandon its positions on “divisive” social issues such as abortion and gay marriage in order to broaden the party’s appeal particularly among young voters. They want the party to focus on economic issues to attract the votes of those who like to describe themselves with the feel good label of “fiscally conservative, socially liberal.” While I can understand why such an approach would seem like a reasonable course correction to some, it isn’t the answer to what ails the GOP in presidential politics. Instead of acting as a silver bullet for Republicans, such a move would instead be akin to shooting ourselves in the foot.
Ralph Reed explains why in a piece in today’s WSJ called Round Up the Usual Social Conservative Suspects:
Conservative evangelicals are arguably the largest single constituency in the electorate. According to a postelection survey by Public Opinion Strategies, self-identified conservative evangelicals made up 27% of voters in 2012, voting 80% for Mitt Romney compared with 19% for Barack Obama. This represented a net swing of 14 points toward the GOP ticket since 2008 and made up 48% of the entire Romney vote. Mr. Romney, a lifelong Mormon, actually received more evangelical votes than George W. Bush did in 2004.
White Catholic voters, meanwhile, went to Mr. Romney by 19 points, the largest margin among that constituency for a GOP presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972. This was no doubt due in part to their revulsion over the Obama administration's harsh mandate on religious charities to pay for health services, such as contraception, that assault their conscience and compel them to violate their faith. Catholics who frequently attend Mass (about one in 10 voters) broke two-to-one for Romney.
Whew. My faith in my fellow Papists is bolstered by this result.
Contrary to the prevailing stereotype, evangelicals and Catholics aren't single-issue voters. They care about jobs, taxes and the deficit, and their support for Israel rivals that of the Jewish community. They played an indispensable role in re-electing the Republican House majority, and in electing 30 Republican governors and hundreds of state legislators and local officeholders in recent years. Jettisoning these voters and their issues would be like a football coach responding to a big loss by cutting the team's leading rusher.
To be sure, the Republicans need to build bridges to Hispanics and minorities, women and younger voters. But unlike the conventional wisdom, social issues properly framed are one of the keys to a stronger, more diverse Republican coalition.
According to Gallup, a majority of Americans now consider themselves pro-life, including one-third of Democrats. Younger voters are one of the most pro-life segments of the electorate, with 51% of college-age "millennials" stating that having an abortion is morally wrong. A 2012 survey of voters 30 years or younger by Naral Pro-Choice America found that pro-life voters were twice as likely as their pro-choice peers to say abortion is an important issue in determining their vote.
Social issues aren’t the reason why Republicans failed to retake the White House or Senate in 2012. Those who believe they are and essentially want to remake the Republican Party into a more organized and efficient version of the Libertarian Party think that this will broaden the party’s base and produce election victories down the road. But whatever gains such a transformation would provide would be more than offset by losses of social conservatives who would abandon the party that had decided to abandon them.