What is social conservatism?
Conservative Republicans seem bound and determined to keep the culture wars alive, most recently by using “religious liberty” as a screen to protect their legal right to discriminate against gay Americans.
In Louisiana, for example, Gov. Bobby Jindal this week issued an executive order explicitly guaranteeing that people who discriminate against gay couples and gay individuals can’t be penalized by the state for doing so. The move came after the state Legislature refused to pass a bill to that effect, and is widely seen as an effort by Jindal to win conservative support for his presidential bid.
And here in Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal has backed away from his previous insistence that any so-called “religious liberty” legislation include a provision that bars its use in discrimination cases. His statement makes it much more likely that we’ll see another high-profile legislative battle over the bill when the General Assembly reconvenes next year, which also happens to be an election year.
For the first time since the question has been asked, Americans are just as likely to identify themselves as socially liberal as they are to call themselves socially conservative. One group is growing steadily in size, the other is steadily shrinking, closing an 18-point gap between them. And the trend line from this point forward looks pretty strong and sustainable.
That’s not merely a sign of trouble for the Republican Party and its culture-war strategy. I would argue that it is in part a consequence of that strategy. According to Gallup, even the percentage of Republicans and Republican-leaners willing to self-identify as social conservatives has dropped to at an all-time low of 53 percent, down from the high of 67 percent in 2009. (That spike in social conservatism in 2009, also notable in the chart above, is pretty interesting in its own right.)
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