New Report on Why Social Plus Economic Conservatism Succeeds

by Ryan T. Anderson

new report was released yesterday by the American Principles Project (APP) that marshals data showing that a majority of Americans support policies held by social conservatives. The report argues that a unified platform of social and economic conservatism is a winning electoral strategy. Today at First Things I discuss the report and argue that, most importantly, advancing such a governing agenda is the principled thing for Americans to do.

The conservative movement exists to uphold the truths of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The right to life is not only for the strong and powerful, the rich and famous. It is for all human beings, including the weak, marginalized, and infirm — wanted or unwanted, born or unborn.

The right to liberty takes on particular importance when addressing the most important — and sacred — things. After all, the first right protected in the Bill of Rights is the free exercise of religion. Citizens, the groups they form, and the businesses they run should be free to act in the public square according to their conscientious beliefs.

The right to the pursuit of happiness normally is protected by allowing autonomous adults to act without government interference. But when it comes to non-autonomous children, policy protects their rights to pursue happiness by promoting the truth about marriage — encouraging a man and a woman to commit to each other permanently and exclusively so that any children that their union produces will have access to the love and care of their mother and father. Marriage, the fundamental institution of civil society, remains the best protector of the rights of children to pursue happiness.

As the American experience over the past 40 years has shown, limiting the size and scope of government is impossible without a strong civil society and stable marriages. When the family disintegrates, social-welfare programs multiply — and as they grow, civil society weakens. In truth, social and fiscal conservatism are, as a Heritage Foundation collection of essays put it, Indivisible.

The new APP report shows that this indivisible message is a winning one with the American public. In the 2012 election, for example, in all four states that had marriage on the ballot, traditional marriage vastly outperformed the Republican presidential ticket. In liberal Maryland, Romney got 36 percent of the vote while marriage got 48 percent.

Women, independents, youth, and Latinos all favor moving policy in a pro-life direction, as the APP report explains:

59 percent of men and 57 percent of women say that they believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases (producing a pro-life advantage of 22 points for men and 17 points for women).

Meanwhile, young voters are the most pro-life generation ever. The May 2013 Gallup poll showed that Millennials (ages 18-34), support making abortion illegal in all or most cases by a margin of 57 percent to 41 percent, a +16 pro-life advantage. . . . Only 29 percent of Millennials support the Democratic Party’s position on abortion.

Meanwhile, the APP report suggests that conservatives need to do more to explain how our economic policies will help all Americans, particularly middle-class and low-income Americans.

As conservatives, we want all our fellow citizens to flourish. And for that reason we stand for life, for religious liberty, for marriage, for economic freedom, for low taxes, for markets in health care, for school choice.

At the end of the day, economic conservatism and social conservatism spring from the same source. They are grounded in the same principles of natural right and natural law that informed our nation’s Founding — principles that the conservative movement exists to protect.

I say a bit more on this over at First Things; read it all right here.

— Ryan T. Anderson is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and editor of Public Discourse. He is co-author, with Sherif Girgis and Robert George, of the book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.