Culture Wars: The Gift That No Longer Gives For Today’s Conservatives

Several weeks ago, I did a post examining the state of play in the “culture wars’ between conservatives and progressives. I argued that:

The culture wars as we have known them are…likely coming to an end. Demographic change is undercutting both the level and salience of conservative cultural views, thereby reducing the effectiveness of such politics…..[T]here will be diminishing incentives for [conservative] politicians to take up these causes for the very simple reason that they are losers.

Ron Brownstein expands interestingly on this point in his latest column. Brownstein summarizes the incredible changes we have seen in the political dynamics of culture wars issues:

Republicans gained from wedge issues when the blue-collar whites they were aimed at constituted a majority of voters. But the growing number of nonwhite or religiously unaffiliated voters and the socially liberal tendencies of the rising millennial generation have reversed the equation. At the presidential level, these noneconomic issues are mostly benefiting Democrats, not so much by dividing Republicans as by unifying the Democratic coalition of minorities, millennials, and college-educated whites, especially women.

Is he exaggerating the extent of this shift? I don’t think so. Indeed, that shift is going to become more and more obvious over time. Consider these data from Nate Silver’s projections of national and state-level ballot initiative support for legalizing same-sex marriage:

Silver’s analysis indicates that if a national-level ballot initiative on same-sex marriage actually would have lost in 2012, falling just short of a majority at 48 percent. Such an initiative would also have lost in six states that Obama carried in 2012 (New Mexico, Michigan, Virginia, Florida, Ohio and Iowa) and would have not have won in any of the states that Romney carried.


Fast forward four years to the 2016 election. According to Silver’s analysis, at that point a national-level same-sex marriage initiative should garner a solid 54 percent of the vote. And such an initiative should pass in every state Obama carried in 2012 plus five states that Romney carried (Arizona, Montana, Alaska, North Dakota and Nebraska).

Jump forward to the end of the decade and a same-sex marriage initiative should be pulling 61 percent of the national vote and gaining a majority in an additional 13 Romney states, including the biggest red state of them all, Texas (which some suggest might coincide with Texas going fully blue, but that’s a subject for another post).

Clearly, when it comes to the culture wars, we’re not in Kansas anymore. In fact, Kansas isn’t even in Kansas anymore! By 2020, according to Silver, Kansas voters should give a same-sex marriage ballot initiative 55 percent support. The times they are a-changin’.