In a recent Red Maryland Radio show Greg Kline, reading from and riffing off of this RedState article by Erick Erickson, suggested that libertarians and others who want the Republican Party to put some distance between itself and the social conservatives in its coalition need to provide some evidence that this is actually in the Party’s interest.
It’s a good point, and he’s right, if we want the Party to shift then we need to offer evidence for the electoral necessity of doing so. To be clear, that is the purpose of this post, not to argue the question of whether libertarianism or social conservatism is the superior or more correct philosophy. That is a wholly more complex question and one deserving of its own post(s) devoted to it.
Back to the question of political calculus though, in pushing back against the idea of a more libertarian GOP, Greg highlights the case of Question 6 and the fact that it was the closest ballot item in MD for 2012.
That’s true, but looking at that simple fact obscures a lot of context.
First, Question 6 wasn’t the clear-cut matter of Democrats imposing preferences only desired by Democrats. While it was Republicans that fought same-sex marriage the hardest and Republican voices that spoke out against it the loudest in the public square, it is a clear fact that Question 6 only passed in Maryland due to Republican votes. The data for this has been excellently made clear by Walter Olson, both at a county level and a precinct level.
Second, in the show Greg (quoting from Erickson’s piece) makes a frequent claim made by social conservatives, namely that the only way we can ever win over minority voters is by pushing social conservative agenda items. More specifically this refers to Hispanic voters, but I think it’s also important to look at black voters, so I want to address both briefly.
-On the question of black voters, there simply isn’t any evidence to support the idea that a socially conservative Republican Party will win over any meaningful amount of black voters. Just look here at Maryland where we had the Party run as hard on social issues as I’ve ever seen it. What did that get us? Take a look at several of the districts including parts of the state heavily populated by African Americans.
- In District 7 Frank Mirabile ran against Elijah Cummings and lost by 56 points. That’s 4 points worse than in 2010 and in a district where Democrats made up 1% less of the electorate and Republicans 1% more than in 2010.
- In District 2 Nancy Jacobs, probably the strongest of the losing Congressional candidates, ran against Dutch Ruppersberger and lost by 35 points, once again 4 points worse than in 2010 when a much weaker candidate ran. This also couldn’t really be blamed on the redistricting; Democrat registrations went down 1% as part of the electorate.
- Finally in District 5 Tony O’Donnell campaigned against Steny Hoyer, making his opposition to gay marriage a part of the campaign. He lost by 42 points, compared to the 30 that Charles Lollar lost by in 2010, while Republican registrations only went down by 1% as a portion of the electorate.
Some of these poorer performances can be attributed to it being a presidential year with Obama as a candidate. But not all of it. The numbers above certainly suggest that all Question 6 served to do was bring out black voters who overwhelmingly cast their ballot against same-sex marriage and then proceeded to vote for Democrats down the line.
-On the question Hispanic voters the story is a bit different. I will openly admit I don’t have the kind of hard data that I just put out above. I do have a few things I think worth noting though:
- If social conservatism was really the driving, make-or-break item for Hispanic voters, they wouldn’t be voting anywhere near so heavily Democrat, they’d either vote Republican or not vote.
- Immigrants are, on the whole, significantly more entrepreneurial than than native-born citizens. As such, they are likely to be more interested in what the Parties have to say about markets than they do about gay marriage.
- Finally, as both Joshua Culling of Americans for Tax Reform and Virginia Postrel, formerly of Reason, have noted, Hispanics in large part don’t vote for Republicans because they feel insulted and hated by Republicans. Even if they don’t list immigration as their number one issue, so long as Republican rhetoric on immigration is as nasty and hostile as it is, very few Hispanic voters are going to feel comfortable voting for Republicans, even if they like their stances on policy items.
Third, Greg (again quoting from Erickson) also brought up the argument that a move towards social libertarianism will both lead to a significant reduction in the current base and that said reduction will not be made up by new Republicans attracted to the newer stance on social issues.
As before, this is really two issues. On the first, there is the idea that a move away from strident social conservatism will lead to significant reductions in the current base of the Republican party. On this claim I’m pretty skeptical. In my experience, social conservatives are also among the most vocal in pushing the “We may not like (insert more socially moderate general election GOP candidate), but at least he’s better than the Democrat so we have to vote for him/her.” I don’t see much evidence to suggest that social conservative voters would be willing to set aside their economic concerns if the GOP moved away from vocally supporting the social conservative agenda. It seems much more probable that the vast majority would still vote Republican. There might be a bit less fervor but they’d still be there.
As for the second, I’ll openly concede that there is not likely to be an immediate boost in people registering Republican if the Party moves to a more libertarian tone and position. But that’s a short-term view and political parties ought to be concerning themselves with the long-term outlook. And that’s the one where a more libertarian stance will pay off.
Young people are substantially more likely to hold libertarian stances on social issues. Increasingly more often are polls finding a majority of people under 50 and near supermajorities of people under 30 support issues like marriage equality and legalizing marijuana. Furthermore, it increasingly seems to be the case that this isn’t simply a function of age, but that people are holding on to these views as they get older. This isn’t a big deal for the Party now, but if the trend holds it will cause issues as the older, more socially conservative voters, donors, & activists die off and younger people are not there to replace them due to distaste for the Party’s vocal support of social conservatism.
This seems to be holding up here in Maryland, at least based off of the percentage of the vote received by Libertarian candidates. Here’s a few data points:
- In 2012 Libertarian candidates gained a larger portion of the vote compared to 2010 in every Congressional district but CD-1 (where the total stayed constant at 3.8%).
- While those increases were small, they were still noteworthy. Two of the races saw increases of over 50% from 2010 and another 2 saw increases of 30% or more. And that’s not including CD-4, where no Libertarian ran in 2010 but the Libertarian candidate got 2% in 2012, almost twice what the Libertarian candidate in 2008 received.
- Finally looking at top of the ticket races there has been a steady improvement in performance by Libertarian candidates, with Gary Johnson more than tripling the Party’s share of the vote from 2004.
As I said, these are small numbers, but if the trends hold, they could quite well mean trouble down the road if the Republican Party sticks to its current approach on social issues.
Now, having covered all that, I want to make one last point, and it goes to something Greg also brought up on the show. I can’t speak for all libertarian Republicans and others who want a more socially tolerant GOP, I’m only speaking for myself, but I agree with Greg, the Republican Party is a coalition. That’s why I’m not calling for the ouster of social conservatives from the Party, I just want the Party to act like a coalition instead of a prayer group.
What exactly do I mean by that. Here’s a few things (and Greg, these aren’t aimed at you, they’re to the Party as a whole):
- Stop with the litmus tests on social issues.
- Parallel to that, and appropos of the latest episode of The Broadside, please stop calling people RINOs and liberals just because they don’t hold a social conservative viewpoint.
- Don’t pointlessly antagonize libertarians trying to work within the Party; it would have cost nothing for the RNC to read out the votes for Ron Paul at the convention or to send a letter to polling organizations insisting they include all candidates on the ballot in their presidential polls rather than just some.
- Consider dropping some of the particularly flagrant issues that I would think aren’t very high priority (I’m thinking of the platform plank opposing online gambling specifically here).
- Most importantly, the Party as an entity ought to focus on emphasizing the issues where we share commonality rather than continually focusing of those issues that divide us. Individual candidates and activists can obviously do what they want, but as an institution the Party should put its weight behind things the coalition as a whole stands for, not just a part of the coalition.
Those are a few things that would do a great deal to make the Party more attractive to libertarians and social moderates over the long-term, and I would think ought not to be all that off-putting to the social conservatives either.