Changing Political Fault Lines
For years liberals have been fostering the perception that "values voters" (alternately known as "cultural conservatives" and/or the "religious right") are somehow new to our American political system. As if their presence among us is the result of an "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" type scenario. The simple truth is that these voters have been here all along.
But the liberal vitriol is there. Especially among the press which, as numerous studies have demonstrated, is more liberal and Democratic in their sympathies. Gary Wills likened such voters to Al Qaeda in a NY Times article. Carl Bernstein claimed that minority religious groups were trying to impose (emphasis mine) values on a secular country. And ABC's Carole Simpson said that the election results reflected a triumph of the stupid. How un-biased of her.
"Values voters" exist simply because they see their values as being threatened. The more they see the threat, the greater their intensity of opinion for their values. The greater their intensity, the greater their level of support for conservative political candidates and, more often than not, the Republican Party.
This heightened level of support for Republicans has coincided with 1) the rise of the liberal counter-culture and its attacks on traditional mores, 2) the Democrat Party's embrace of (and/or cooption by) that counter-culture and 3) the rise of the Republican Party to majority status especially in the South.
At what point, mathematically speaking, does this trend become complete and there are no more "values voters" to bring into the GOP? What are the largest possible majorities in American politics, as far as issues and values are concerned? What is the largest possible coalition of such groupings that can be assembled and co-exist within one party and maintain a relatively common agenda?
Those are all good questions but one thing is certain, recent electoral victories and exit polls indicate that we are nowhere near maxing out the possibilities.
What we are seeing is the political alignment (albeit in slow motion) of all the various strains of conservatism under one political roof. Loosely this includes "economic", "social" and now "cultural or values" conservatives. Some fit neatly into one category or another, perhaps holding more liberal views on other issues. A great number of them however, perhaps a majority, could be said to fit into all three camps.
The movement of "values" conservatives solidly into the Republican camp (and their abandonment of the Democrats, especially across the once "solid south") is the finishing touch to that alignment. And they are, by all indications, the most "intense" of conservatives in terms of their willingness to either embrace or reject a candidate purely on the basis of "their" issues, (such as abortion, gay marriage, etc.).
If there is a potential cloud on this horizon it is likely to be the issue of immigration, which seems to be the only issue that could generate enough intensity to cut across some of the pre-existing political fault lines dividing even within strains of conservatism itself.
Groupings in politics are created by political fault lines. In the twentieth century, these were mostly of an economic nature. The percentage of the electorate on either side of such a fault line changes with the "location" of the fault, (equitable to the relative positions of the political parties on the issues).
Entirely new fault lines can arise with the prominence of a new set of issues. Civil rights and the liberal counter-culture of the 60's and 70's produced the fault line of "social issues". The rise of secular liberalism and the attacks on deeply held religious beliefs by our court system, (such as abortion, school prayer and marriage), gave rise to "values issues". These two new fault lines cut across the pre-existing ones.
The more prominent the fault lines of social and values issues become, the larger a percentage of Americans begin to move towards one side and away from the other.
The new Pew Center study bares that out. It notes that wealth is no longer the political predictor it used to be. Indeed, in many ways, the "elites" of the Democrats are equally as affluent as Republicans. Meaning people are casting ballots based less on money and more on social and cultural issues.
Some still claim a Democrat party identification, yet split their tickets between parties. Some vote for Republican candidates more often than not, especially on the national level. And slowly, but surely, many continue to switch parties entirely.
The University of Akron's National Survey on Religion in Politics demonstrates that, since 1992, as various religious groupings of Americans have become more conservative they have also become more Republican.
The current incarnation of the GOP and its platform represent a complete blue-print for a long-term majority party, but it is an incomplete structure. There are more conservatives of all stripes who have yet to move to the GOP side of the line. This trend has much more room to grow. And it's the cultural issues that will get it done.