Are the Republicans the socially conservative party?

Charles Murray ruminates on why Asian Americans are not Republicans. Many of his observations are broadly consonant with my supposition that Asian American disidentification with the Republican party has to do with cultural markers (i.e., Asian Americans have become less Christian, the Republican party has become more self-consciously Christian). But Charles finishes with a curious turn:

Republicans are seen by Asians—as they are by Latinos, blacks, and some large proportion of whites—as the party of Bible-thumping, anti-gay, anti-abortion creationists. Factually, that’s ludicrously inaccurate. In the public mind, except among Republicans, that image is taken for reality.

There are four factual assertions we can test. The one about Creationism is the easiest, because it’s clear and distinct. First, I went to the GSS and constrained the data set to Democrats, Republicans, and Independents from the year 2008-2010. Now let’s look at the EVOLVED variable, which asks people if “Human beings developed from animals.” The results by party:

TRUE FALSE
Democrat 60 40
Independent 55 45
Republican 42 58

The reality is that the Republican party is the party of Creationists. That shouldn’t be surprising, about half of Americans are CXreationists, and there are segments of the Democratic coalition, such as blacks, and lower income folk generally, who tend toward Creationism.

Abortion is the next easiest question to tackle. Let’s look at two abortion questions: ABANY and ABRAPE. The former basically is a question which tests for the most supportive of abortion rights positions. Basically you support abortion on demand. The second tests for the most anti-abortion element, those who reject the right to an abortion even in cases of rape:

Abortion for any reason? Yes No
Democrat 49 51
Independent 39 61
Republican 33 67
Abortion in cases of rape? Yes No
Democrat 84 16
Independent 73 27
Republican 71 29

As you can see the Democratic party is actually notionally split on abortion-on-demand. And when it comes to the more radical anti-abortion positions, though a substantial number of Republicans hold to an extreme stance, so do many Independents interestingly. But the reality is that the Republican party is the pro-life party, and the Democrats are are the pro-choice party. George H. W. Bush became pro-life in 1980, and Al Gore shifted to a pro-choice stance over his political career. That was just plain necessity in light of their ambitions. Let’s limit the above variable to only college educated people:

 

College Educated Cohort
Abortion for any reason? Yes No
Democrat 72 28
Independent 58 42
Republican 34 66
Abortion in cases of rape? Yes No
Democrat 92 8
Independent 90 10
Republican 71 29

The major takeaway is that Democrat elites are very supportive of abortion-rights. To a greater extent than the rank & file. This is in contrast with Republicans, who have a greater top-down cohesion on this issue. Republicans are the pro-life party. But Democrats are definitely the pro-choice party.

To ascertain whether Republicans are “Bible-thumping” let’s look at the BIBLE variable, which queries attitudes toward whether the Bible is the literal Word of God.

Bible Word of God Bible Inspired Bible Book of Fables Other
Democrat 30 44 24 2
Independent 32 46 21 1
Republican 38 48 13 1

 

Now let’s limit to college educated:

College Educated Cohort
Bible Word of God Bible Inspired Bible Book of Fables Other
Democrat 9 50 38 3
Independent 12 48 38 2
Republican 25 58 15 2

A substantial number of downscale Democrats have conservative religious views. And, it turns out that Christian fundamentalists broadly understood are not the majority of Republican voters. They are a substantial bloc, but as the Republican primaries indicated they can’t win a contest for a favored candidate alone. Especially at the elite levels “Bible-thumpers” are a notable presence among Republicans, and very rare among Democrats (one can infer that the proportions of Democratic religious fundamentalists among politicians is very low, as opposed to the general college age population).

Finally there’s the gay question. How to parse this? Let’s look at two variables. HOMOSEX and LIBHOMO.

 

Homosexual sex is… Always wrong Almost always wrong Sometimes wrong Not wrong at all
Democrat 41 3 7 49
Independent 47 3 8 42
Republican 62 4 7 27

 

Remove homosexual books from library Yes No
Democrat 19 81
Independent 25 75
Republican 24 76

 

Now, college educated:

Homosexual sex is… Always wrong Almost always wrong Sometimes wrong Not wrong at all
Democrat 14 3 9 73
Independent 31 1 9 60
Republican 52 4 9 34

 

Remove homosexual books from library Yes No
Democrat 6 94
Independent 8 92
Republican 14 86

 

I think the key thing here to note is that Democratic elite have become extremely gay-friendly over the past few years. Republicans can’t really compete. I think one can make a philosophical case that one isn’t necessarily anti-gay if one always thinks that gay sex is “always wrong,” but as a pragmatic matter I think it’s hard to defend that position in the public forum.

Overall I’d say that the data here is confused. Though the perceptions are as Murray outlines them. I think it is defensible to consider the Republicans the socially conservative party and the Democrats the socially liberal party. But that’s mostly a function of the political position of the party elites, which tend to be more uniform than the rank & file (especially for Democrats).

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