Skip to comments.Blue Movie - The "morality gap" is becoming the key variable in American politics
Posted on 01/18/2003 3:00:52 PM PST by Timesink
The Atlantic Monthly | January/February 2003
arly in the 1996 election campaign Dick Morris and Mark Penn, two of Bill Clinton's advisers, discovered a polling technique that proved to be one of the best ways of determining whether a voter was more likely to choose Clinton or Bob Dole for President. Respondents were asked five questions, four of which tested attitudes toward sex: Do you believe homosexuality is morally wrong? Do you ever personally look at pornography? Would you look down on someone who had an affair while married? Do you believe sex before marriage is morally wrong? The fifth question was whether religion was very important in the voter's life.
Respondents who took the "liberal" stand on three of the five questions supported Clinton over Dole by a two-to-one ratio; those who took a liberal stand on four or five questions were, not surprisingly, even more likely to support Clinton. The same was true in reverse for those who took a "conservative" stand on three or more of the questions. (Someone taking the liberal position, as pollsters define it, dismisses the idea that homosexuality is morally wrong, admits to looking at pornography, doesn't look down on a married person having an affair, regards sex before marriage as morally acceptable, and views religion as not a very important part of daily life.) According to Morris and Penn, these questions were better vote predictors—and better indicators of partisan inclination—than anything else except party affiliation or the race of the voter (black voters are overwhelmingly Democratic).
It is an axiom of American politics that people vote their pocketbooks, and for seventy years the key political divisions in the United States were indeed economic. The Democratic and Republican Parties were aligned, as a general rule, with different economic interests. Electoral fortunes rose and fell with economic cycles. But over the past several elections a new political configuration has begun to emerge—one that has transformed the composition of the parties and is beginning to alter their relative chances for ballot-box success. What is the force behind this transformation? In a word, sex.
Whereas elections once pitted the party of the working class against the party of Wall Street, they now pit voters who believe in a fixed and universal morality against those who see moral issues, especially sexual ones, as elastic and subject to personal choice. Just after the 2000 election a map showing the percentages of porn movies in the home-video market state by state "bore an eerie resemblance to Tuesday night's results," as Pete du Pont, the former Republican governor of Delaware, put it in a column he wrote for the Wall Street Journal Web site. "Mr. Gore carried the areas with the highest percentages [of sex movies in the video market] ... Mr. Bush carried the area[s] with the lowest percentage." (If nothing else, this correlates with Morris and Penn's finding that Democratic voters generally are more likely to look at pornography.)
The 2000 election revealed remnants of the old New Deal alignments: people making $15,000 to $30,000 voted for Gore over Bush by a 13-point margin, according to Voter News Service (VNS) exit polls, while those making more than $100,000 voted for Bush over Gore by an 11-point margin. But among the 14 percent of voters who attend religious services more than once a week, Bush held a powerful 27-point margin (63 to 36 percent), whereas the 14 percent of voters who never attend services backed Gore by a margin of 29 points (61 to 32 percent). The 23 percent of voters who say that abortion should "always" be legal backed Gore over Bush by an extraordinary 45-point margin (70 to 25 percent); the 13 percent of voters who think abortion should "always" be illegal were even more decisively for Bush, by 52 points (74 to 22 percent). Compare these differences with the ones that used to create the major dividing line between the parties: voters calling themselves "working-class" went for Gore by only 51 to 46 percent, whereas those calling themselves "upper-middle-class" tilted slightly toward Bush, by 54 to 43 percent. Meanwhile, the four percent of voters who consider themselves "upper-class" went for Gore by 56 to 39 percent. In the 2000 election even one's view of Hillary Clinton proved to be a far stronger predictor of one's vote than such historically accurate barometers as social class and education level.
f Red and Blue America are now divided most strongly by sexual and moral values, what does this mean for elections in the years ahead? The 2002 elections, of course, were a great triumph for the Republicans, who gained seats in both the House and the Senate—a rare midterm-election feat for the party that holds the presidency (in fact, this was the first time since 1902 that the Republicans had accomplished it while holding the presidency). But the elections were dominated not by sexual or moral values but, rather, by the one thing that trumps sex: war. As long as a terrorist attack is a serious threat, war talk will dominate elections. But sex, unlike war, does not go away; its return to political center stage is inevitable. And that is decidedly to the Democrats' advantage.
In a 1998 paper on American sexual behavior Tom W. Smith, the director of the General Social Survey of the National Opinion Research Center, at the University of Chicago, found that among people born before 1910, 61 percent of the men and just 12 percent of the women reported having had sex before marriage. These percentages have grown through the generations, much more dramatically among women than among men. Ninety percent of the men born in the 1940s had sex before marriage, as did 63 percent of the women. And of the women born since 1952, only 20 percent reported having been virgins when they married. Many women—and many men, too—cherish the rights that fall under the post-1960s rubric of autonomy and personal freedom, strongly valuing their sexual and reproductive independence. They are willing to vote based on this cluster of issues—and when they do, they vote Democratic.
The demographic reality is that as currently constituted, liberal Blue America is growing and conservative Red America is in decline. Take church attendance. Exit polls in 2000 showed that the more often a voter attended religious services, the more likely he or she would be to cast a ballot for the Republican Party. But long-range trends in religiosity (the term sociologists use for "depth or intensity of religiousness"), as measured by the National Election Studies polling series on church attendance, do not favor the Republicans. From 1972 to 2000 the proportion of voters who said they attended services every week dropped from 38 to 25 percent. The proportion who said they went "almost" every week remained nearly constant at 11 to 12 percent, and the proportion who attended "once or twice a month" rose only slightly, from 12 percent to 16 percent. The proportion who attended just "a few times a year" dropped from 30 to 16 percent. The one group that has grown dramatically consists of those who never go to church or synagogue. This group, which has become a mainstay of liberal politics, made up just 11 percent of the population in 1972 but 33 percent in 2000.
Thus if the Republican Party hopes to build on its 2002 gains, it must continue to mute its social conservatism when speaking to the public. President Bush did just that at a press conference right after the November election, when he pointedly ignored a question about whether social conservatives should "push for new restrictions on abortion," instead focusing on issues of national security. In that press conference he used the words "war," "threat," "terror," "terrorism," "terrorists," and "nuclear" a total of forty-five times.
Many House and Senate Republicans, however, are eager to revive a conservative social agenda. In order to keep his party ascendant Bush will have to hold in check both the Senate conservatives, who have already promised to bring to the floor legislation banning so-called partial-birth abortion, and the House majority leader Tom DeLay, an adamant opponent of abortion rights. (Currently, congressional conservatives are seriously promoting at least three anti-abortion bills.) Bush and his strategists are fully aware that positioning the Republican Party as the party of sexual repression would be devastating to its electoral prospects—but the conservative right is not likely to accede to further delay of its agenda after years of waiting for action under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. For this reason judicial appointments will also present a major challenge for Bush, because social conservatives consider the federal judiciary to be the prime vehicle for reversing the sexual revolution.
As long as al Qaeda, Iraq, and North Korea dominate the news, the Republicans will be able to maintain their slight advantage. But should war fade into the background, or as soon as emboldened congressional Republicans begin moving to restrict Americans' sexual autonomy, the currently weakened Democratic Party will be positioned to push back with the kind of vitality that propelled Bill Clinton to victory in 1992 and 1996. Lest 1996 seem like ancient history to Republicans, they should recall that more-recent elections demonstrated the power of the electorate's new morality quite vividly: in both 1998 and 2000 (the former a midterm election, when the presidential party traditionally loses ground in Congress) the Democrats gained seats in the House. And these gains came despite—and perhaps because of (insofar as they represented a reaction against the Republican-led drive to impeach Bill Clinton)—their following soon after the most explicit sex scandal in the history of the Oval Office.
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We really can't help it. It's that damn reptilian brain stem buried in the midbrain that does it everytime. In all seriousness, except for "fight or flight" the drive to reproduce is the most powerful controlling agent in our body.
You may be able to live with that, but I doubt the majority of the conservative base can. :-)
(Not coincidentally, didn't our nation have a similar conversation on another vice back in the 1920s? Prohibition anyone?)
That makes two of us.
Its kinda sick and they seem prone to do bad things.
Do you ever personally look at pornography?
Would you look down on someone who had an affair while married?
In most circumstances. Do you believe sex before marriage is morally wrong?
The fifth question was whether religion was very important in the voter's life.
Not organized religion per se.
I agree. The conservative base can have just about the entire pie if it gives just a little while the totalitarian intolerant left stands to lose it all. Conservatives need to learn to drawn the line in the sand between the rules of their religion and the things that they should not have any say over because it steps on others personal freedom.
Conservatives need to learn strategy. They need to learn how to be relentless and crush the left. Once you do that you can get more of what you want without opposition.
"Not withdrawl Sir..., Redeploy!"
Yes, Thank You!!!
Otherwise conservative republicans act like democrats...they both actively want the government to enforce certain codes and standards...they just differ on "what" those codes and standards are.
There is a lot of that going around. Caught it myself.
My dubious response if premised rather on the fact that I see Republican clumsiness, rather than the moral issues, per se, as a major factor in these reactions. Had we had more skilled spokesmen, who understood what is really essential and what is not, in terms of traditional sexual values, and discussed the underlying issues from that vantage point, many who reacted negatively to what they saw as a repressive attitude, would not have done so.
It is too late to go into this at great length at this time. My own views on sex and sexual conduct are reflected in my writing; and while on the surface may seem too liberal for some of my fellow Conservatives; properly understood, are really more Conservative than almost anyone else's. (See, for example, The Feminist Absurdity, for example.)
Let me, however, for the sake of brevity, simply suggest what the Republican response to the five inquiries should have been:
Do you believe homosexuality is morally wrong?
Most certainly. However, I do not believe it to be the function of Government to go out of its way to harass people suspected of certain private practices with other adults. On the other hand, we cannot accept the studied campaign in the media and entertainment industry, to make us accept homosexuality as normal. [Put the emphasis where it should be, on who is actually picking on whom there.]
Do you ever personally look at pornography?
My viewing habits, as yours, are no one's business but my own. However, I think Society does need to act to protect children obtaining distorted images, at ages when they have no basis on which to judge or really understand what they are seeing. Society has always acted to protect the innocent, and that means some strictures on what may be shown where and to whom.
Would you look down on someone who had an affair while married?
I ascribe to the policy of trying not to judge the personal lives of other people, where their actions do not involve me. As a gentleman, I really do not want to know anything which could compromise the reputation of any woman (whether wife or mistress). That does not mean that I approve of particular conduct. It does mean that I believe in a non-judgmental privacy. What the media appear to be promoting, of course, is a whole other subject.
Do you believe sex before marriage is morally wrong?
I am not a hypocrite. Nor have I ever judged the girls who accommodate bachelors by a harsher judgment than those bachelors. On the other hand, there are valid moral reasons for a double standard, which reflect both natural and moral concerns--both as to the birth of children and the strength of the marital institution--which is vital to a healthy society. It is just not for me to be judgmental of any individual. (On the other hand, I take a very negative view of people having children out of wedlock, and expecting others to support them.)
The fifth question was whether religion was very important in the voter's life.
Yes. But I do not judge those, who feel that they cannot believe strongly in anything they cannot see.
I realize that my answers will seem a gross "cop out" to some. But they reflect not only my personal tolerance, but an understanding of where Government in a free society can and cannot go. I can assure you, also, because they are indeed my responses, that I have no problem with expressing them and explaining them to those whom the writer suggests would otherwise reject the more Conservative candidate.
William Flax Return Of The Gods Web Site
I seriously question that. If it's so, why is sexual experience among teens being curtailed? Why is the number of abortions on the decline? And why is popular enthuasiasm for abortion so obviously on the downside? I know that my wife and I vote Republican because we were so repulsed by the excesses in which our generation indulged. I can't help but think that some of those "experienced" folk whom the author cites may likewise question the wisdom of what they did when they were less mature.
"Public virtue cannot exist in a nation without private virtue, and public virtue is the only foundation of republics." -John Adams
"God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure if we have removed their only firm basis: a conviction in the minds of men that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever." -Thomas Jefferson
"We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God." -James Madison
"A general dissolution of the principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy.... While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but once they lose their virtue, they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.... If virtue and knowledge are diffused among the people, they will never be enslaved. This will be their great security." -Samuel Adams
"Your supposed right to destroy yourself infringes on my right to pursue happiness, being sad at having to sit by and watch people needlessly suffer and die. When you abrogate the unalienable right to life, doing so abrogates my unalienble right to pursue happiness, being sad at watching people needlessly suffer and die." -The Forecastle
"[N]either the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen onto any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man." -Samuel Adams
"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom...go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels nor arms. May your chains set lightly upon you and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." -Samuel Adams
"Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants." -William Penn
"Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles." -Patrick Henry
"Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined," -Patrick Henry
"Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated." -Thomas Paine; 1776
"[I]f we and our posterity reject religious instruction and authority, violate the rules of eternal justice, trifle with the injunctions of morality, and recklessly destroy the political constitution which holds us together, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us, that shall bury all our glory in profound obscurity." -Daniel Webster
"No country upon earth ever had it more in its power to attain blessings. Much to be regretted indeed would it be, were we to depart from the road which Providence has pointed us to, so plainly; I cannot believe it will ever come to pass. The Great Governor of the Universe has led us too long and too far to forsake us in the midst of it. We may, now and then, get bewildered; but I hope and trust that there is good sense and virtue enough left to recover the right path. " -George Washington
"Out of every hundred new ideas ninety-nine or more will probably be inferior to the traditional responses which they propose to replace. No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history." -- Will and Ariel Durant
I think it was alot more then 2%, considering how many votes he had, and how close it was, and what an absolutley bad canidate he is, and how his previous run was a disaster when he sought the nomination. I honestly think, he knows he would have gotten his clock cleaned in '04 and thats why he's not running.
"It felt like I was in the Roman Colosseum."- Patricia Heaton
That makes three of us.
Just what kind of restrictions against Americans' sexual automony are Republicans going to persue at the national level?
Even some of the most hard-core social conservatives on this site don't support sex laws on the national level, wanting them instead on a state level. You could arguably point to Federal anti-abortion laws, but those only concern sex in a very indirect way, and opinions are still split pretty evenly in this country on that matter.
. . . because the Republican Party is the party not of the rich but of the middle class.