GOP Debate on Social Issues Likely to Emerge

GOP Debate on Social Issues Likely to Emerge

By Scott Conroy - November 14, 2012

As the leader of the Tea Party Express, Amy Kremer has spent the better part of the last three years preaching a simple message to establishment Republicans: Emphasizing divisive social issues will lead the GOP to electoral doom.

Kremer and her Tea Party colleagues by and large have been satisfied, as Republican candidates for the most part focused on limited government and free-market principles throughout the 2010 midterms, the 2012 nominating contest and the general election.

But as conservatives continue to dress their wounds from last Tuesday’s losses and face an extended period of self-analysis and soul-searching, Kremer points to her own 22-year-old daughter as a warning to anyone who might ignore those previous admonishments.

“My daughter’s a conservative and has a lot of friends who are conservatives, and they’re not social conservatives,” Kremer said. “Obviously, there are groups of kids who are social conservatives, but I’ve been in meetings where they’re like, ‘This is not the stuff that we’re concerned about.’ We need to figure out how to bring everybody together.”

While the Tea Party movement’s future strength remains an open question, the increasing impact of young voters on national elections is indisputable. According to exit polls, 18-to-29-year-olds composed 17 percent of the electorate in 2004, 18 percent in 2008, and 19 percent in 2012.

Within the GOP, a preponderance of empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests that the next generation of Republicans is both more splintered and less-focused on social issues than are their older ideological brethren.

Meanwhile, issues like same-sex marriage, the war on drugs, and abortion have played a significant role in the Democratic Party’s success at motivating younger independents and Democratic-leaning voters to turn out at the polls.

And the broader challenge for the Republican Party isn’t simply generational, as dramatic shifts on social issues at the statewide level have shown.

As recently as 2004, constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage passed in all 11 states in which they appeared on the ballot. Ohio’s ballot measure, which defined marriage as “only a union between one man and one woman,” passed with 62 percent of the vote that year. What’s more, it was credited widely for driving up turnout among social conservatives and helping deliver the decisive state for George W. Bush.

Four years later, voters in deep-blue California approved Proposition 8, making the Democratic stronghold the latest and largest state to approve an amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Indeed, before last Tuesday, every statewide ballot initiative seeking to ban same-sex marriage had passed, while each Election Day measure aimed at legalizing it had failed.

But this year voters orchestrated a 180-degree turn on the issue, passing the first ballot-driven measures to approve same-sex marriage in Maryland, Washington state, and Maine, and rejecting a constitutional amendment that would have banned it in Minnesota.

The results in each state were propelled by 18-to-29-year-old voters, who overwhelmingly cast their ballots in support of same-sex marriage by roughly a 2-to-1 margin in each state, exit polls showed.

Also on Tuesday, Colorado and Washington became the first two states where voters passed measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and they did so by double-digit margins in each case. A more radical measure that would have initiated a form of state sponsorship of recreational marijuana was rejected in Oregon -- though it was supported by a majority of younger voters there.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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