Targeting the GOP Coalition
There are a number of things worth discussing with regard to the Fabrizio poll
of Republicans. One thing I haven't seen widely mentioned is that the poll was underwritten by a number of groups dedicated to moving the GOP toward the center on social issues: the Republican Leadership Council
(which "supports fiscally conservative, socially inclusive Republican candidates"), Republican Main Street Partnership
, Republican Majority for Choice
, and the Log Cabin Republicans
-- all of whom must be pleased with the survey's finding that Republican voters are much more socially moderate than the conventional wisdom would suggest.
But what I want to focus on in this post is how the data indicate that progressives should not
pursue an alliance with libertarians, but should instead focus on building consensus around government-backed social insurance.
Debate about the prospects for a "liberaltarian" coaltion has been bubbling for several months (see Brink Lindsey's initial essay on the subject here
; see also Jonathan Chait's rebuttal
). Six years of Bush administration assaults on civil liberties and pandering to the religious right have lent the idea an undeniable appeal, but the results of the Fabrizio poll suggest that Lindsey's particular version of "progressive fusionism" would lead liberals in the wrong direction, away
from a genuinely strong progressive coalition.
The poll breaks GOP voters down into seven categories, the largest of which are the "moralists" -- social conservatives as we know them, heavily evangelical and defined by a "laser-like focus" on issues like abortion and homosexuality. Yet these moralists constitute only a quarter of Republican voters, and even they
retain a surprising degree of flexibility -- 33% would vote for a candidate with whom they disagreed on abortion, if the candidate shared enough of their other views.
Overall, by 53-42%, Republicans believe their party "has spent too much time on moral issues...and should instead be focusing on economic issues." Judging by the poll results, there's little evidence that the views of the moralists represent a GOP consensus on social issues. By 49-42% Republicans favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. By 77-18% (including a large majority even of moralists), GOP voters believe it should be illegal for employers to fire workers based on sexual orientation. Only 28% believe that abortion should be illegal under all circumstances (this does not of course mean that the majority of Republicans are pro-choice, but it does mean that the issue continues to be defined by its nuances, rather than by moral absolutes).
Particularly notable is that, setting the moralists aside, the most anti-government segments of the party -- "Free Marketeers" and "Dennis Miller Republicans" -- are not appreciably more socially liberal than the other groups
. Only on one question -- how much impact religion should have on public policy -- do the Free Marketeers stand out as significantly more liberal than their compatriots, and even here the other non-moralist groups are closely divided. In fact, on the abortion and sexual orientation questions, two non-moralist groups stand out as more progressive
than the anti-government groups.
These two factions -- the "Heartland Republicans" and the "Government Knows Best Republicans" -- are the most intriguing, from a liberal standpoint. The former, constituting 8% of the GOP electorate, are "more pragmatic and less ideological," worried about gas prices but supportive of government action on economic issues and climate change, and somewhat Midwestern. The latter group are 13% of the party, the "strongest supporters of government intervention to solve social and environmental problems," as well as being "skeptical of the Patriot Act" and of military spending generally, heavily female, and "more likely to be found on the coasts."
These two groups look to be classic examples of voters who are "theoretically conservative and operationally liberal." By large margins, they share with their fellow partisans the broad feeling that government is too big and spends too much, taxes are too high, and the budget should be balanced. But on questions of specific priorities
, their views are much different. On economic issue after economic issue they favor government intervention over the invisible hand of the market: they believe that universal health care should be a right; they prefer fully-funded Social Security to private retirement accounts; they believe the federal government should be more
involved in the education system; they think the government is not doing enough to combat global warming; and they agree that "government should be there with a helping hand for those who can't make it on their own." On some of these issues, they are even joined by a third group -- the "Fortress America" isolationists.
These groups look not unlike the independent voters
Democrats seek to court. And keep in mind that, again, they are pro-government, but for the most part no less socially liberal than the libertarians.
All of this comes in the context of a new divide within the GOP, over war and terror issues. Republican voters overwhelmingly believe that Iraq and the war on terror now define
the Republican party, though they are less united in how they feel about that fact. Here it's instructive to return to Reihan Salam's theory
about the two Republican narratives most likely to emerge:
I see two ways to do this: a moralistic domestic reformism that ties together the applied neoconservatism of welfare reform and crime-fighting, the social conservatism of moving to reduce the number of abortions (through restrictions or abortion alternatives) and income-splitting and other marriage-friendly and family-friendly measures, and a civic nationalism that emphasizes America's common culture and the central importance of assimilation and integration.
Or War on Terror nationalism, which focuses on the defeat of America's enemies to the exclusion of domestic issues.
I largely agree with Salam, which is why I think that the kind of conservatism that he and his ideological compatriots advocate represents the right's best chance to build a majority over the long term. But I think that these numbers are even more promising for Democrats, if we take advantage of them.
Liberaltarianism represents an effort to build a firewall against moralist and authoritarian conservatism. But Fabrizio's data suggests that such a firewall is unnecessary, because it already exists within
the Republican coalition. And building the liberaltarian wall would mean shutting out the very constituencies we should be trying to peel off
: socially moderate, operationally-pro-government Republicans and independents. In this regard liberatarianism seems like a cousin of DLC triangulationism, which was driven in part by an elitist distaste for moralists and economic populists alike, and which sought to exploit the right's divide on social issues while ignoring the possibilities of exploiting its divide on economic issues (though, in fairness, the latter divide has widened significantly since the Clinton era).
There is, I think, room to assemble a coalition around sensible, well-considered social insurance ideas. Conservative reformists like Salam are hoping to get there first, and Democrats should realize the danger in allowing them to do so. One advantage for progressives, though, is that efforts to build a "moralistic domestic reform" conservatism will be slowed both by conservative institutional resistance to anything that smacks of compassionate conservatism redux, and by the right's current pre-occupation with war and terror. At the very least we should be in a position to negotiate social insurance policy with the conservative reformers from a position of strength. We should take advantage of the space these delays offer us to get a head start on building a real progressive fusionism.Cross-posted at MyDD.
Labels: conservatives, Fabrizio poll, polls, progressives, Reihan Salam, Republicans