“You’ve lost.” That’s the message social conservatives been hearing from an increasing number of pundits as we draw closer to 2016. The media is drawing this conclusion from a two factors: a Gallup poll showing the number of social liberals deadlocked with social conservatives for the first time in years (as if a tie was something to celebrate), and a perceived reluctance by Republican candidates to talk about social issues:
Regarding abortion—a genuine social issue—something similar has happened. Few people have actually changed their minds about the morality or legality of abortion, but Republicans don’t look forward to arguing about it on the campaign trail. They wish it would just go away. They may honestly believe that human life begins at the moment of conception, or they may have adopted that position cynically, but in most places the candidates would just as soon not dwell on it.
Abortion, marriage equality, gun control, drugs, prayer in the schools, affirmative action, the “War on Christmas”: these are all classified as “social issues” (as opposed to economic and foreign-policy issues) and have generally been regarded as “wedge issues” too—issues that the Republicans can use like a wedge to pry voters away from the Democrats. But the wedge isn’t what it used to be.
There is some truth in these arguments: conservatives have lost ground on marriage and some candidates have been squishy on abortion. On the flip side, however, is the fact that most serious Republican candidates are now on the attack on abortion:
But Republicans and anti-abortion groups believe they have an opportunity to flip the debate. The 20-week abortion ban, they have argued, is supported by the majority of Americans. The Republican party’s more aggressive approach was perhaps best reflected in a statement made by Paul, shortly after he announced his bid for president.
Why would Republicans do that if they thought social issues were a lost cause? Probably because they know it’s not, Gallup poll notwithstanding.
The evidence? Earlier this year, Gallup also found that Americans were very dissatisfied with U.S. abortion policies (the worst since 2001), and it hasn’t been the GOP setting them lately. Also, a surprise series of polls in late 2013 showed support for 20-week restrictions were higher among women than men, so unless there has been a very drastic shift in opinion over the past year, people are a lot more critical of abortion-on-demand than pundits are willing to admit. When you get right down to it, opinions about social issues (sans marriage) haven’t shifted all that much, and that’s good news for Republicans in 2016.
Nick Arnold is a researcher for American Principles in Action.