Recent Gallup polling reveals social conservatives are fighting windmills. A substantial majority of registered voters aren’t particularly interested in a Presidential candidate’s position on social issues (e.g. abortion and gay marriage). Over 90% of respondents say the economy is critically important, more than 80% cite unemployment, and at least 70% see the budget deficit, the healthcare law, national security, and taxes similarly. Only 38% are anxious about social issues.
Conventional wisdom (and a good deal of experience) suggests that presidential elections are frequently won by the candidate who appeals to centrist voters. Said differently, neither party has enough purists to win a presidential election without moderate help. This is particularly true given the weight each state possesses in the electoral college. Consequently, Presidential candidates often fight over moderate voters in politically divided states; without these independent-minded voters a candidate will most likely lose the state in question, and perhaps the presidential election.
Herein lies the problem for staunch social conservatives: unlike Republicans, 46% of whom see social issues as quite important, only 35% of Independent voters prioritize these issues in a similar fashion. Moreover, given their independent status, it’s possible that a noteworthy percentage of these Independents have passionately liberal views on social issues. As a result, if the eventual Republican nominee focuses on social issues, he will have an incredibly difficult time winning the support most moderate voters, and thus little chance of winning the swing-states or the general election.
Although the poll may be disheartening to social conservatives, it’s encouraging to Republicans who are focused on federal spending: about 80% of Independents think a candidate’s position on the federal budget deficit is quite important. Admittedly this is 12% lower than the concern expressed by Republicans, but it’s also 14% higher than the concerned expressed by registered Democrats. No other issue surveyed offers such a clear opportunity.
The eventual Republican nominee must avoid many pitfalls and thoughtfully articulate many opinions, but most importantly he must not forget to focus on the deficit. Dissimilarly, Democrats can only hope Republican primary voters will nominate a candidate who is unable to avoid mistakes and disturbingly prone to emphasize social issues at the expense of the deficit. Hopefully socially conservative Republican primary voters will make the right choice.