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Jun-03-2009 07:05printcomments

Solving the Republican Conundrum

The decline in social conservatism is largely a result of the changed values of younger generations, who take a more tolerant view of the differences amongst people.

Republican conundrum

(LOS ANGELES) - The poll just released by The Pew Research Center For The People & The Press, entitled, Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2009, confirms the conclusions reached by the recent Gallup organization polls (April-May, 2009), namely, that the Republican Party is in trouble. Both of these organizations revealed that a mere 23% percent of voters now identify themselves as Republican.

As a result, Republican standing in public opinion polls is at the lowest point since the Watergate scandal (1975). The polling demonstrates that Republicans have lost much of their once popular governing philosophy.

The reason for this is that Republican political identity is based on unifying two contradictory political ideas, which can no longer peaceably co-exist; that is, social conservatism and libertarianism.

The Party’s social (religious) conservatives promote government regulations of private conduct. By contrast, libertarians base their political philosophy on respect for individual rights, and oppose coercive governmental regulations.

‘Fusionism’, or the attempt to combine these two, opposite political ideas, no longer attracts the voter support necessary to transform the Republicans into a majority political party. Socially conservative Republicans, in fact, alienate moderate and independent voters, who might otherwise support Republican free market and pro-business policies.

Unfortunately for Republicans, changing voter demographics have intensified the contradiction between libertarians and social conservatives on the question of government regulation of private conduct.

New voters display only marginal support for Republican social conservatives who endorse government interference in the private sphere, on questions such as marriage or family planning. Over the past decade, there has been erosion in the percentage of Americans holding socially conservative views on family, ethnicity, homosexuality, and gender roles.

The decline in social conservatism is largely a result of the changed values of younger generations, who take a more tolerant view of the differences amongst people. For these younger voters, political strategies that exploit questions of difference harms Republican electoral opportunities, in part, because these voters view many of the positions advanced by social conservatives as obnoxious.

The best-known examples of these are restrictions on marital rights that target gays, regulation of women’s ability to seek to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, and prohibitions against stem cell research that seeks medical cures for human diseases.

In the past, social conservatives went even so far as to support a ban on so-called ‘inter-racial dating’ between whites and Afro-Americans (a policy Bob Jones University refused to end until March, 2000), as well as apartheid in South Africa and segregation in the US (the late Rev Jerry Farwell who founded the Moral Majority once promoted these positions, though later, he recanted them).

In addition, the Pew Research Center poll demonstrates that Republicans no longer reflect the growing ethnic diversity of the electorate, 32% of which comprises members of minority groups.

For example, whites constitute 88% of the Republican Party, whilst making up only 56% of the Democratic Party. Latinos and other ethnic minority groups account for 44% of Democrats. Additional social changes concern women and youth.

Women, for example, take a particularly harsh view of Republicans, with 57% of women identifying themselves as Democrats, or saying they are independent but leaning toward the Democratic Party, compared with 35% who identify with or lean to the Republican Party.

Republican attacks against Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a distinguished women jurist of Puerto Rican-American ethnicity, the first Latino to be nominated to the highest court, only serves to further erode minority group support for Republicans.

Judge Sotomayor, like President Obama himself, stands as a trail-blazer and symbol for ethnic groups, including her own Puerto Rican-American community, as well as women. Her nomination solidifies the popularly-held belief uncovered by the Pew Research Center poll, namely, that hard work and self-discipline leads to the kind of personal success illustrated by Sotomayor’s impressive life story.

The Gallup organization polls also concluded that younger voters come to age in the post-George W Bush era identify themselves with the diversity themes embodied by President Obama’s administration. Similarly, Gallup reported that only 20% of the so-called ‘Generation Y’ (18-29 year olds), or ‘Millennials’, identify as Republican. By contrast, two-thirds of Generation Y identifies themselves either as Democrat or Independent.

The emergence of independents as a political force demonstrates that most voter groups do not approve of governmental restrictions that are promoted by religious and social conservatives.

For example, according to another recent Pew Research Center study (April, 2009), even amongst religious groups, majorities of white mainline Protestants (66%) and white non-Hispanic Catholics (62%) supported President Obama’s decision to end Federal restrictions on stem cell research.

However, the poll results suggest that Republicans could yet achieve electoral success if they were prepared to focus on their libertarian, anti-statist preferences and at the same time discard at least the more intrusive government restrictions they promote in relation to the conduct of private and family life.

The Pew Research Center’s study concludes that voter defections away from the Republican Party are due to the divisive core beliefs promoted by religious (and national security) conservatives, and not the party’s anti-big government stance.

The Pew study also revealed that Independent voters now comprise 36% of the electorate, the highest level in seventy years. Most Independents do not support the kind of government regulations advanced by social conservatives.

In fact, a majority of voters (54-57%), continue to believe that government does more harm than good whilst more voters continue to view government as wasteful and inefficient, as well as controlling too much of daily life. More tellingly, a majority of these voters continue to believe that the government does not work for the benefit of all.

The polls provide an awkward message to Republicans, who, in the past, were known for their anti-big government sentiment. There appears to be substantial voter support for a libertarian approach, but only one that abandons social conservative baggage.

A successful example of this was demonstrated by Congressman Ron Paul (R-Tx), himself once member of the Libertarian Party, who attracted enthusiastic support from Independent voters for his Presidential campaign last year.

It is interesting that, on national security questions, some libertarians, such as Ron Paul, stand to the left of both Democrats and Republicans because they philosophically oppose the idea of state-initiated invasions against foreign nations, and hence oppose military adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. These views on national security are also attractive to liberals, moderates and Independents, large numbers of whom question the value of war-making as an instrument of national security policy.

If Republicans want to halt their political marginalization, they will have to re-examine their allegiance to social conservatism. Given the Party’s religious-evangelical base, this will be a difficult challenge.

However, Republicans may find a way out of the political wilderness through stressing their essential philosophy, namely, a minimal state that respects the rights of individuals and ends coercive governmental regulations. At the very least, such an approach would steer public discourse away from distracting debates about what constitutes the good (and moral) life, such as arguments about gay marriage or abortion rights, and instead promote a constructive discussion about defining a proper role for government.

This is not to suggest that voters oppose regulation of the free market; indeed, most voters (62%) support regulation. However, such a change of focus by Republicans would at least stimulate more debate about the kind and quality of government regulations the public wants in their lives.

(Dr. William K. Barth is a lawyer who earned his D.Phil. degree in Politics from the University of Oxford, where he researched the politics of minority rights. His book is entitled On Cultural Rights: The Equality of Nations and the Minority Legal Tradition, and was recently published by Martinus Nijhoff).

Dr. William K. Barth, a graduate of the University of Oxford, Oxford, UK, is a lawyer who researches the politics of minority rights. Dr. Barthʼs doctoral thesis entitled On Cultural Rights: The Equality of Nations and the Minority Legal Tradition, was recently published by Martinus Nijhoff. Prior to initiating his research in Oxford, Dr. Barth served as a senior lawyer for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He received his Master of Public Administration Degree from Harvard Universityʼs John F. Kennedy School of Government (ʼ86) and his Juris Doctor from Loyola University School of Law (ʼ79). He has been a member of the California State Bar in good standing since 1979. .

Dr. William K. Barth's book link is:

You can visit his blog page at this address:

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Westmiller June 13, 2009 4:05 am (Pacific time)

The political amalgam called "Conservatism" has always been a vapid conglomoration of incoherent ideas with no consistency and no application whatever when one of them achieves office.

Henry Ruark June 5, 2009 8:31 am (Pacific time)

"Anon" et al: You wrote: "...the spontaneous order of free individuals in autonomous communities, operating on principles of mutual aid, voluntary association, and direct action." THAT describes a totally different situation than ever yet achieved in any capitalistic-system society. IF you can document even one-such, please do so with as authoritative link as yours here for def., understood by any cogitating person caught in current system to be both "utopian" and highly impractical while corporate dollars and lobbyists more than 100-deep control what was once representative republican democracy. Re quoted "Anon", meant to emphasize fact you so unable to suggest any forward step you fail to sign your own stuff --surely proof of the impracticality you impose on us via this waste of space, time, and attention. Why not write self memo and let it go at that ? Would have at least as potent effect as yours here, so obviously exposed as political pander.

Anonymous June 4, 2009 2:11 pm (Pacific time)

Anarchy (from Greek: ἀναρχία anarchía, "without ruler") "A social state in which there is no governing person or group of persons, but each individual has absolute liberty (without the implication of disorder).The word "anarchy" is often used by non-anarchists as a pejorative term, intended to connote a lack of control and a negatively chaotic environment. However, anarchists still argue that anarchy does not imply nihilism, anomie, or the total absence of rules, but rather an anti-authoritarian society that is based on the spontaneous order of free individuals in autonomous communities, operating on principles of mutual aid, voluntary association, and direct action." From the Oxford English dictionary 2004 edition.....Myself, I like this idea....

Corey June 3, 2009 6:12 pm (Pacific time)

Vic it is not about me being right, I just provided some sources that point out that "Independents" are now the largest voting block. Which means they are to be courted for their far ranging values and political interests. I have noticed that in several random surveys of the young voters, including "man in the street" interviews (for example By Jay Leno, and others more focused) that many of these young voters are quite misinformed. Many did not know for example who the VP was or what Obama stood for other than the "bumper slogans" they heard about "change" and "yes we can." My opinion is that their future voting may not be in the numbers we saw in 2008, plus if they don't have a job in 2010 or a poor paying job, well there probably will be considerable change going on in congress. It's clear that what we have going on now in leadership is a bunch of people just groping in the dark. Most of these politicans and their staff have never been employed in the private busines world but are now running businesses with no experience. Big mess.

Jason June 3, 2009 5:09 pm (Pacific time)

Great article William. You hit the nail on the head. Social conservitism is killing the Republican Party.

Vic June 3, 2009 1:52 pm (Pacific time)

I hope you are right , Corey ! The two-party system is a joke. It reminds me of utah, where a condemned man gets to choose the means of his own execution...but no matter what he chooses, the bottom line is the same.

Henry Ruark June 3, 2009 11:18 am (Pacific time)

Friends All:
  You are fortunate to be witness to profound shift in American perception of where we are and where we must now go, for the arriving 21st Century.
  The horrendous moaning sound you report comes from FarRight supporters so uninformed and misinformed as to shape their malign misunderstandings and massive machinations driven by unavoidable fear of inevitable consequences from many past proven-perverse policies and distortions of true will of enraged citizens.

  The continuing GOPster noise machine mechanism now generates mostly echoes of the same already-failed and now futile political warfare built on "Anything goes to win !" with little regard for the commonweal or the once-holy Constitution itself.

 New millions, esp. among the young and just-maturing, are now cogitating for themselves via obvious results from past forty years.

  They know and are feeling the inevitable penalty paid by incoming generations for the apathy, indifference, neglect and avoidance of most hard decisions by the preceding generation.

  We can hope their continuing actions may well be wiser and better conceived to make of America what it can still be, in the pattern and by the protocols of our prescient Founders and their supporting vociferous patriot-supporters.

Walter June 3, 2009 12:03 pm (Pacific time)

It is appalling that Dr. Barth calls Judge Sotomayor as having "Puerto Rican-American" heritage. Surely he knows that there has NEVER been a country called Puerto Rico and that EVERYONE born in Puerto Rico is in fact a US Citizen. In other words, American. The idea of the "hyphenated Anerican" person assumes a country of origin. Since no country has ever existed, it is ridiculous.

Editor: Walter, your point is noted but please consider that Puerto Rico for most Americans, is not very different from a foreign land.  The culture is very distinct and I would assume that people from Puerto Rico at least in part appreciate the recognition that it is a unique place. 

Jeff June 3, 2009 12:02 pm (Pacific time)

I'm a little disappointed in your reasoning ability. It seems that your answer to the Republican conundrum is the Ron Paul form of libertarianism, with its hidden Bircher subtext. Sure, that's the answer for the GOP, the John Birch Society, not.

Daniel Johnson June 3, 2009 11:39 am (Pacific time)

The Herbert quote is from me. Guess I forgot to put my name in and it comes up "anonymous" by default.

Anonymous June 3, 2009 10:11 am (Pacific time)

NYT columnist Bob Herbert calls right-wingers a “profoundly destructive force in American life”. “The howls of a fading species”, June 1, 2009

Michael June 3, 2009 9:37 am (Pacific time)

The GOP is going out of their way to reach out to the ignorant and biased. They are too cowardly to even try to go against the hard-core right that controls the party, witness the refusal of any Republican to speak against Operation Rescue or Bill O'Reilly after the Tiller assassination.

Corey June 3, 2009 8:15 am (Pacific time)

I found this article to be very interesting. Though when one researches the Generic Ballot, the democrats and republicans are quite close in the vote count. But it is the "Independents" that are the fastest growing voter ID base, and largest at this time, which is now at 40% of the electorate( ).
"The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 38% would vote for their district’s Democratic congressional candidate while 37% would choose the Republican.

Support for Democrats is down three points from last week. In June, 2008, democrats had a 48% to 34 lead over the republicans, now it is 38% to 37%. It appears that the Independent voter is getting stronger while the two major parties are losing voters.

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