Whichever party leads with the social issues is leading with a glass jaw, playing to type in a way that is easy for the other side to caricature. The GOP can’t win without their positions on them, but are prone to hectoring; the Dems can’t win with their positions on them, so they try to leave their ‘clinging to guns and religion’ bigotry to private fundraisers.
Henry Olsen writes at RealClearPolitics about the battle for the suburbs.
He posits that first the rise of the suburbs allowed the GOP to finally defeat the New Deal Coalition (courtesy of Nixon & Reagan). Then rich boomers who came to take economic success for granted, and who see religion not so much as faith but as a cultural marker, drifted from the GOP in the non-south. He believes the new American suburbanites are now prepared for a GOP pitch, but cautions they’re not demographically similar to those Nixon & Reagan successfully wooed.
Not sure if there’s much new ground covered here, but there is interesting data. I also like his discussion of the cultural attitudes of these new suburbanites: traditional values – yes; hectoring – no; being perceived as “judgmental” – never. That’s how to thread the needle.
McCain’s share of the national popular vote also signaled trouble. On the surface, his total, 45.6%, seemed respectable. Many Republican presidential candidates had received less in recent memory. But all of those candidates save one, Barry Goldwater, had run races with serious third-party candidates. Goldwater aside, McCain’s showing was the worst GOP result in a two-party race since Wendell Willkie garnered 44.8% in 1940. To look at it another way, Obama’s 52.9% was the second-highest for a non-incumbent Democrat in American history, trailing only FDR’s 57.4% in 1932.
A national agenda to reform government in line with market principles should resonate with suburban voters-e.g., a health policy that encourages people to own their own insurance policies, thereby enabling them to choose their own doctors. Similarly, an education policy that focuses less on mandatory testing for basics and more on allowing parents to choose the teachers and curricula best suited to their children should also appeal. Finally, conservatives cannot forget that the financial crisis has given rise to a renewed desire for financial security: suburbanites who have spent their entire lives enjoying a relatively steady accumulation of wealth have been shocked by the steep and rapid depletion of their assets. Failure to address their legitimate worries could cost conservatives as much as liberals’ dismissal of popular anxiety over crime cost them in the 1980s.
The growing divide between religious and secular voters arose not because religious Americans sought to impose theocracy or because secular Americans sought to stamp out belief. Rather, modern Americans increasingly embraced or rejected a specific faith, even religion itself, because of its stance on cultural matters. …As a result, the Republican presidential electorate is now tilted toward culturally conservative voters much more than it was in the 1980s.
Nixon’s and Reagan’s successful suburban outreach required a subtle appreciation for what American suburbanites wanted, economically and culturally. A successful modern suburban outreach requires a similar appreciation. Suburban cultural life is nowadays a mixture of the traditional and the liberated. Suburban men and women may have had liaisons prior to marriage, but once they tie the knot they have extremely low divorce rates. Women work, but most work part-time and juggle motherhood and professional life in a harried, unsatisfying combination. Though they may have experimented with marijuana in their youth, suburban parents are fiercely anti-drug today. Most importantly, they are by no means complete moral agnostics, however much they may profess to be “nonjudgmental.” They have no problem teaching their children the virtues of honesty, marital fidelity, and hard work.
This cultural message is consistent with the rhetoric of individual choice, which dominates the suburban mentality. The typical suburban adult wants to make good choices, but he or she rarely wants to be hectored or prevented from making bad ones.
…opposing tax hikes is not enough. Suburbanites want their public services to work effectively, too. Republicans who understand this, like Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, employ market principles to deliver better public services. For example, he responded to the demand for more and better roads not by hiking sales or gas taxes, as other governors have done. Instead, he auctioned off the Indiana Toll Road to a private company for $3.8 billion, money the state will use to finance road maintenance and construction without higher taxes. He also reformed Medicaid by moving toward a system of Health Savings Accounts for the poor. These proposals were not initially popular, but he stuck with them-and was handsomely rewarded.