The Economist disdains social conservatives, which is its right, but it lets its disdain get in the way of seeing American politics clearly.
Republicans have also whipped up a storm of opposition among middle-of-the-road voters on social issues. The religious right’s opposition to abortion has always been an electoral liability: only 30% of voters favour overturning Roe v Wade. But in the past few years social conservatives tested people’s patience still further over a federal marriage amendment and Terri Schiavo. Fully 72% of Republican voters opposed the Republicans’ attempt to use the might of the federal government to keep the severely brain-damaged woman alive. The voters got their revenge in the 2006 mid-term elections—“bloody Tuesday” in the words of Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group. Rick Santorum, once the religious right’s most prominent champion in the Senate, barely scraped 41% of the vote in Pennsylvania. Ken Blackwell, social conservatism’s most prominent black champion, went down to a humiliating defeat in the race for the Ohio governorship. Social conservatives lost ballot initiatives on everything from abortion to gay marriage.
All of this is highly misleading. The poll question on Roe hardly proves that Republican opposition to abortion is “an electoral liability.” Anti-abortion voters are highly motivated, and more of them have become Republican voters over the last generation than pro-choicers have become Democrats. There is no evidence that the Schiavo intervention or the marriage amendment hurt the Republicans in 2006. Almost all of the ballot initiatives against gay marriage won; social conservatives did much better at the ballot than other types of conservatives did. And Santorum lost to an opponent of abortion, as The Economist points out later.
I was going to say that The Economist was reflecting the most tedious kind of conventional wisdom, but that’s not actually true: It is reflecting the conventional wisdom of a decade ago.
(Thanks to my friend DS, who sent me the link.)