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The Revenge of the Social Conservatives

Right now, the biggest issue for voters is the economy, and recent polls have shown that voters are becoming increasingly in favor of allowing gays to marry.

But that doesn’t matter in Iowa, which seems to have gotten stuck in the politics of the last century. The Iowa caucuses are the first test of the presidential primary season, and social and religious conservatives are going all out to drive the debate away from economic issues and toward social issues like gay rights and abortion. Indeed, in 2008, the surprise winner of the Republican caucuses was minister Mike Huckabee.

So, somewhat ironically, Republican presidential candidates who will have any chance against Obama will probably have no chance to win in Iowa. The situation is so bad that Indiana governor and presidential candidate Mitch Daniels suggested that the party call a truce so they can stop fighting over social issues while the economy is in such trouble. But social conservatives in Iowa reacted with disdain. “Anybody who calls a truce when the abortion clinics are running 24/7 is not a true pro-lifer” says the head of the Iowa Family Policy Center.

Even more ironically, conservative activist Ralph Reed said to a cheering crowd “If you turn your backs on the pro-family, pro-life constituency you will be consigned to permanent minority status.” Is he really saying that in order to avoid being consigned to permanent minority status, you have to completely focus on the views of a group that is not only a minority, but one that is decreasing in numbers, and ignore the biggest concerns of the majority of voters?



  1. Politicians don’t have to make sense, they just have to make waves. And they know this.

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  2. Mad Hatter wrote:

    “true pro-lifer”….what a laugh…

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink
  3. TJ wrote:

    It has always confused me why some people/organizations let that one specific issue be so important and all-consuming to them that they let it drive all of their decisions – even though it may defy their own interests and morals on nearly every other issue out there.

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink
  4. AJP wrote:

    pro-life is not a minority nor a shrinking one. please replace your opinion with facts.

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  5. ebdoug wrote:

    Glad no one asked me. I’m prolife for myself. Having worked in social services type settings and seeing all the unwanted children, I’m prochoice for everyone else. I could not answer the question. Sad to see the brainwashing. The conservatives teach us that all children should be born and that taxes should be lowered with no way to care for all these unwanted abused children. We have one of the lowest rates of abortions than any developed country; yet the conservatives use the topic as a “smoke screen”. And as you say they brainwash away from our sick economy where all the jobs are in China.

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  6. Drew wrote:


    I’d be more curious to see a poll that shows how many people are not only pro-life, but will actually vote solely on that basis. While I know many people who will tell you that they are pro-life if you specifically ask them “are you pro-life or pro-choice”, for many of them that is not the most important thing they think about when voting.

    The “minority” that I think IK is speaking of are the voters who say “I am pro-life and I will never consider voting for anyone who is not adamantly pro-life himself/herself.” Based on the overall number of pro-life people identified in the poll you provided, I believe that it is fair to call that group a minority, although it would be interesting to see actual numbers to know whether that group was growing or not. But we can’t tell that from the poll in your link.

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink
  7. Iron Knee wrote:

    AJP, first of all, I never said that people who identify themselves as “pro-life” are a shrinking minority. I said that people who think gays should be allowed to marry is increasing, which it is (see

    According to your link, the number of people who call themselves “pro-life” is still less than half of the people in the US, and has increased only slightly, while the percentage who are in favor of gay marriage has increased by more than 20% in the last five years. So taking those two issues together, the percentage of people who think gay marriage and abortion should be illegal is definitely a shrinking minority.

    Furthermore, your link only asked people if they were “pro-choice” or “pro-life”. As Eva points out, that is stupid. Many people are pro-life and pro-choice. I’m against abortion, but it is none of the government’s damn business. Just because you are pro-life doesn’t mean you think abortion is murder.

    The groups we are talking about believe that abortion is murder and want it to be illegal in all cases. But the percentage of people who believe abortion should be illegal in all cases (even rape or incest, let alone when the mother’s life is endangered) is around 20%. See

    Those are the facts. And yet those are the people who are going to pick the next Republican candidate for president.

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Permalink
  8. PatriotSGT wrote:

    I agree with IK on this issue.

    Abortion is not an all or nothing issue. I’d guess only 5-10% (maybe less) of the far edges in both directions think its all or none. Most of the polls depend on how and with what words the questions are asked. Its too easy to sway an outcome with wordsmithing. My only caveat is late term abortions, which IMO should only be done when a patient and physician reach a decision that concerns the patients health or viability of the fetus.

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Permalink
  9. Sammy wrote:

    Of course, what distorts the abortion issue are the endless claims that the “left” wants abortion on demand, abortion as birth control, abortion at 39 1/2 weeks. The choice to abort a fetus is extremely personal, agonizing and I would venture a guess that less than a hundredth of a percent of the time is it done cavalierly.

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Permalink
  10. Dan wrote:

    This is one Iowan that is pro-choice and pro-life, and was appalled when the justices where voted out. Equal protection under the law means just that. As for the sanctity of marriage, I’ve know plenty of people who married for convenience, and don’t understand why two people who actually love each other should be disqualified from publicly acknowledging their love and have the same protections under the law afforded opposite sex couples.

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Permalink
  11. A wealthy and crooked man with evil and selfish intentions announces his intention to run for public office one day. One of the people in the crowd shouts, “But you’re a liar and a criminal, we can’t trust you to serve the public good!” Immediately the crowd goes into a frenzy, ready to tear the politician limb from limb. His friend, standing next to him, says, “Now you’ve done it. They’re going to tear you to peices!”

    The politician replies, “Don’t worry, I know a magic word that will turn this crowd on itself and cause them to forget everything they know about me.” He then turns towards the people and shouts, “Abortion!”

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink
  12. Tim Firch wrote:

    Between the gerrymanders, the electoral college, the overall patterns of voting/nonvoting, who is up for election in the Senate next year, etc., e. g. Citizen’s United, “the minority” looks to do just fine with the upcoming election, thank you very much.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink
  13. Jason Ray wrote:

    I thought Jon Stewart’s exposing the conservative conflict between anti-abortionists and birthers said everything that needs to be said 🙂 I also agree you have to be careful what questions you ask if you want poll results to be meaningful.

    That said, the Gallup results AJP links to are noteworthy. IK – your point that the question itself is bad is true, but Gallup has been doing this poll for a while and they have probably been asking the same question. So the trend is real. And it’s a trend that made a statistically large shift, about a 10% point swing. And note also that they point out that the shift is primarily in Republicans and Independents, not in Democrats.

    So what’s the conclusion? Obama’s election and Republican rhetoric has stirred up and energized the far right wing, which pulls everyone leaning right in their direction due to the law of contamination of commentary. The constant assault by the Republicans and Fox News have made it more of a front-of-mind question, and painted the “average American” as being pro-life. It is a known and repeatedly demonstrated FACT that people tend to say that they agree with whatever they think the majority of people think – even when the “majority” is flatly wrong, and critically even when the person themselves does NOT agree.

    End result – people that were ambivalent or tend to go with the majority have shifted in answering this question to pro life, thus the swing. The key point of the Gallup poll to me is that a significant majority of respondents (50%+) think abortion is morally wrong, while only about 40% think it’s morally acceptable – and that those numbers haven’t fluctuated much over the entire period. So underlying attitudes are the same, but the public question of “pro-life/Pro-choice” is being answered differently.

    My personal position is that I am anti-abortion but pro-choice. More precisely stated, I think abortions should be safe, available, and as rare as possible, and that the ultimate decision is up to the woman, her doctor and her spritual counselor(s). The government (and all of us) should stay out of it.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  14. Jason Ray, I’m pretty sure you’ve just described pretty much exactly what the reality generally is: Abortion is usually safe, it is usually available, and it is as rare as can be expected.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink
  15. In all honesty, I don’t think anyone is ever going to overturn Roe v. Wade, and if someone did, the country would go bananas. This is why I think abortion is basically a non-issue in politics, and is only used as a magic word to distract and confuse voters.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Permalink
  16. C.S.Strowbridge wrote:

    IK: “But the percentage of people who believe abortion should be illegal in all cases (even rape or incest, let alone when the mother’s life is endangered) is around 20%. See

    There’s an entire discipline of psychology dedicated to creating proper polls, yet it seems half these groups have no clue.

    One of the first things you learn is to avoid loaded language. “Pro-life” and “Pro-choice” are both loaded terms.

    Pew does the best, but it’s still a little vague.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink