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Culture Wins (Again)

The reason that voters under the age of 30 are now significantly more Democratic than older voters is that they are much less likely to be married, white, and Christian. ~Alan Abramowitz [1]

Steve Sailer’s article [2] in February identified the strong correlations between marriage and children, and the affordability of both, and support for Republican candidates.  This would seem to confirm that finding in a dramatic way, and it reveals much more profound long-term problems for Republicans and cultural conservatives in the coming decades.  It shows that the collapse of party identification with the Republicans in my age group is the result of significant structural changes in the rising generation.  Bush’s misrule and the war in Iraq are likely compounding factors, reinforcing the existing tendency of unmarried, non-Christian and nonwhite voters to support the Democrats, but probably even if these had never happened the pro-Democratic leaning of most 18-29 year olds today would be roughly what it is.  The deeper problem for the GOP is that there is not really much that it can do about this.  Meanwhile, this trend reveals the bankruptcy of trying to fight the culture war primarily through political means.  Not only has little concrete progress been made, but while the GOP has been biding its time and using cultural conservatives to win elections the next generation has become a naturally pro-Democratic constituency for the reasons Sailer has outlined.  Furthermore, even if the rising generation ends up marrying and even becoming regular church-goers in the future, voting patterns tend to be set early in life, which means that this generation is not going to come back to the GOP later.  Beyond that, as marriage is generally being put off longer and longer for professional or other reasons, this pattern will keep recurring with every new cohort of 18-29 year olds.  Cultural change has devoured the future of the Republican Party as it exists today.  This is somewhat fitting, since it never saw fit to do much more than strike poses about culture change in any case.

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8 Comments To "Culture Wins (Again)"

#1 Comment By Tom Piatak On May 2, 2008 @ 7:22 am

Outstanding analysis.

#2 Comment By chrisgbr On May 2, 2008 @ 8:01 am

After an era when Gingrich put an end to unconditional AFDC benefits for those having children out of wedlock, Bush held firm in the defense of ethical constraints to ensure that the biotechnological revolution serves rather than enslaves human dignity, and Giuliani put an end to the mau-mauing of urban agitators, how can you claim that the GOP “never saw fit to do much more than strike poses about culture change”?!?!

#3 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On May 2, 2008 @ 8:05 am

Will the decline in house prices make family formation more affordable and help the GOP?

#4 Comment By John On May 2, 2008 @ 9:35 am

Another cultural factor to consider, which has gotten a good deal of attention lately (e.g. [3]), is the trend toward desuburbanization. Conservatives – by which I don’t mean Republicans, mind you – have got to find ways to make this shift compatible with pursuing a pro-family agenda; continuing to hitch themselves to suburbia, as opposed e.g. to working to make – and show people how to make – urban areas into places where families can thrive, is the last sort of strategy conservatives ought to embrace if they want to have any sort of political (or cultural!) future.

#5 Comment By jaloren On May 2, 2008 @ 9:56 am

While I am a liberal who views this party identification as mostly salutary, I would add a cautionary note to my liberal brethren and a ray of hope to cultural conservatives.

Fusionism as a basis for a political coalition has fallen apart. This shouldn’t be surprising; what’s amazing is that such a paradoxical partnership between social conservatives and corporatists lasted so long.

However, like any well functioning market, political parties will change in order to maintain or gain power (e.g. Democrats in the 1990’s). In the near future, the Republican party’s prospects to hold political power are dire. But as Republicans loose power and loose their leaders, unorthodox candidates and philosophies will start to emerge. At some point the Republican party will find a philosophy that will garner electoral support and political power.

While its too soon to tell what kind of philosophy the Republican party will adhere to (this process will probably take a generation at least), I believe that Huckabee and Huckabeeism is the Republican party’s future.

What progressives and liberals have forgotten (to their peril), is that cultural conservativism is enormously popular–it is Grover Norquist and the corporatists that are held in ill favor by the electorate. Combine Huckabee with right-wing economic populism and you would find a very formidable political coalition.

Now, of course, the future of any political party with power adhering to small government philosophy is profoundly bleak. Of course, that has been the case since the Great Society, but it seems that this philosophy’s last dying gasps will occur in the next decade.

#6 Comment By grigory On May 3, 2008 @ 12:44 am

I’m not sure that the end of cultural conservatism is nigh. Even in my hometown of Long Beach, a suburb of Los Angeles, I noticed a substantial pro-life sentiment among my classmates – something that was not often shared by faculty members. Can you really say that people of my generation are any more liberal than, say, the youth of 1968?

#7 Comment By tedschan On May 3, 2008 @ 8:34 am

Now, of course, the future of any political party with power adhering to small government philosophy is profoundly bleak. Of course, that has been the case since the Great Society, but it seems that this philosophy’s last dying gasps will occur in the next decade.

That does seem likely, but it’s lamentable nonetheless.

#8 Pingback By Eunomia » It’s More Like A Marriage Chasm On June 12, 2008 @ 4:56 pm

[…] The age and party affiliation table from the latest Pew survey shows the demographics of party identification in great detail.  Pay attention especially to the marriage gap in the very bottom of that table: among 18-29 year olds, where the greatest gap between the two parties is to be found (58-33 D/R overall), there is essentially no gap among married people (44-43), but among the unmarried it remains a vast 30-point difference that benefits the Democrats (61-31).  As the overall number suggests, there are far more unmarried than married 18-29 year olds and significantly more than there have been in previous generations.  This is consistent with what others have been finding, and helps confirm one of the basic structural reasons why the GOP continues to have as much support as it still does and why its future in its current form is extremely bleak.        […]