Let’s Start with Exit Polls
Here’s a fascinating trend chart from exit polls concerning the presidential campaign.
The interesting thing is that movement toward the Republican candidate was much more pervasive across demographic groups than one might have thought. And the motion toward the right tended to be stronger.
I suppose that’s not surprising, given everything that’s happened over the last four years, as well as the fact that the overall vote count was down. But still, President Obama was clearly fighting erosion.
One curious exception was a slight move toward the Democrat among the early middle-aged (30-44) — the only age cohort to move toward the president at all. Of course, we must remember that people have aged since the last election, so there are now folks in this cohort who were under 30 last time and those who have moved on toward late middle age.
I’d wager, too, that this is the age group that naturally experiences the greatest increase in income, which would decrease the impact of the economy as an issue. People who have more money, whether because they’ve gotten raises or because they’ve joined their household incomes through marriage (or its budgetary equivalent), may know intellectually that the economy is suffering, but they feel better off. (Of course, they can’t know how much better better off they’d be in the alternate reality in which John McCain won in 2008.)
And if we consider that the most substantial (near total) shifts in blue versus red voting were on the question of whether people were better off financially, we have evidence that age cohorts are mostly relevant based on what’s going on in their lives.
What’s This Have to Do with Policy?
The reason that I’m straining the self-imposed topical chains of the Current to talk politics rather than policy, here, is that the hoary old cliché that Republicans should drop social conservatism has once again reared its head. It’s appeared on the commentary sites, and it’s come up in personal and group conversation that I’ve had since the results of the election began coming in.
I’ve already written, on Anchor Rising, about the paucity of evidence to justify this assault, so I’ll pull the idea toward its policy implications, here. The summarizing rhetorical question is whether same-sex marriage on the ballot in Rhode Island would have passed with the same gigantic margins that the inadvisable bonds received. I’d suggest that the answer is “no,” which is most relevant as evidence that small-government fiscal conservatism is not a winning position that is being thwarted, in Rhode Island, by the albatross of social conservatism.
Instead, the electorate has bought into precisely the sales pitch of government operation that fiscal conservatives wish to challenge. I’d go so far as to suggest that such an electorate would be pushed away, not attracted, by a political philosophy that doesn’t offer some evidence of community conscience. You can believe it to be poorly explained, but that (not a desire to control the lives of others) is really the more accurate description of social conservatism.
David French puts the case well:
First, each of Obama’s core constituencies (single women, African-Americans, and Latinos) is seriously — and disproportionately — economically disadvantaged compared to the classic paradigm of the white, college-educated Republican voter. The rates of poverty and near-poverty among these groups are much greater, thus causing a critical mass of both populations to suffer — even if they’re technically middle class — from a greater degree of economic insecurity. Even as Mitt won the votes of those who make over $50,000 by nine points, Obama won those who make less by a whopping 22 points — enough to give him the victory.
Second, while classic identity-group issues like abortion, affirmative action, and immigration undoubtedly matter, conservatives are deluding themselves if they think they can simply take those issues off the table and then compete on equal terms for this slice of voters. In fact, economically insecure voters can even agree with conservatives on social issues yet will still consistently pull the lever for statist candidates. Ideologically and historically they are pre-disposed towards statism as the means of alleviating economic insecurity and distress. In other words, for the single mom, “Julia” is an appealing paradigm — because at least someone is taking care of her family.
It’s About the Statism
The can’t-miss takeaway from French’s essay, in keeping with the mission of the center-right overall, is that the ultimate opponent isn’t the guy who tells you what to do, which is where libertarians begin to lump us social conservatives in with the liberals. It’s statism.
Libertarians, moderates, and fiscal-not-social conservatives tend to feel opposed both to liberals who want to control via government and conservatives who want to control via culture. But the flip side of that is the target audience that all small-government types want to persuade, who are happy to have both the government and the culture as safeguards against destitution.
The challenge for the political right is to explain that too much reliance on the government is a glass that creates the illusion of being half full when it’s mostly empty. Profess the primacy of the individual or promote the need for traditionalist institutions, the common message is that the government can’t simply make risk or personal responsibility go away.
I’ve seen no better expression of this common conclusion than the first paragraph of this article about the collapse in Greece — or, rather, the collapse of Greece:
A sign taped to a wall in an Athens hospital appealed for civility from patients. “The doctors on duty have been unpaid since May,” it read, “Please respect their work.”
You can extol the role of individualism in the free market or you can cite the family and good behavior as the ultimate safeguard, but social issues aren’t the challenge; explaining why government is not the solution is.
Ending with a Hug
There’s no real policy relevance to this, but it’s more ideological than partisan, so I’m going to take some liberties for the sake of fun.
Mollie Hemingway got a good laugh out of Washington Post writer Philip Kennicott’s politicization of hugging. Writes Kennicott:
The [photo of Barack and Michelle Obama hugging] shows another reality, what might be called the limitless possibilities of true mutuality, of marriage beyond strict definitions. The Obama marriage appeals to many people, because it seems so comfortable, as if no one is worried about who wears the pants in the house, which is the reality of many healthy marriages today. In a healthy marriage, the partners don’t simply step into ancient gender roles and enact a drama of fidelity and obedience, they invent their own roles in the manner that serves both people best. Marriage is improvisatory, and every marriage is unique. Variation flourishes, and people work it out.
Kennicott expands the point into the politics of same-sex marriage, and I’d humbly suggest that my “moderate” friends should be more embarrassed by association with people who think like that than with people like couple pictured here or, for that matter, here.