Monday, July 20, 2009

Demographic Trends and the Diminishing Importance of the Culture Wars? (updated)

The Center for American Progress released a rather convincing study proposing that the culture wars, because of trending demographics, will, in the coming years, no longer hold any political salience. Those demographic shifts:
First, Millennials—the generation with birth years 1978 to 2000—support gay marriage, take race and gender equality as givens, are tolerant of religious and family diversity, have an open and positive attitude toward immigration, and generally display little interest in fighting over the divisive social issues of the past.
Second, the culturally conservative white working class has been declining rapidly as a proportion of the electorate for years.
Other demographic trends that will undermine the culture warriors include the growth of culturally progressive groups such as single women, and college-educated women and professionals, as well as increasing religious diversity. Unaffiliated or secular voters are hugely progressive on cultural issues and it is they—not white evangelical Protestants—who are the fastest-growing “religious” group in the United States.

These demographic trends are having their greatest effects in America’s metropolitan areas, especially the largest ones, and it is here that the culture wars are dying down the fastest.
To which the study concludes:
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. That will not prevent conservative activists around particular culture wars issues from continuing to press their case. Indeed, reaction to their current desperate plight may lead them to intensify their efforts in some states, especially where demographic change has been slow or where local right-wing culture war institutions retain strength. But there will be diminishing incentives for politicians to take up these causes for the very simple reason that they are losers.
That last sentence is important. In theory, with these demographic trends and their likely resulting electoral mandates in mind, law makers will be less inclined, vis-a-vis the decreased political incentive, to use the culture war issues as part of their platforms, thereby diminishing both the political strength of these issues and the politicization of culture.

While the long-term prognosis of the culture wars looks bleak indeed, the current political atmosphere has also relegated these issues to the margins. The current economic and healthcare crisis, not to mention the continued importance of Iraq and Afghanistan, are the national priorities - the attention grabbing, higher-order concerns. But, don't be lulled into a sense of complacency. In the near future, however, if conditions improve, we could easily see their re-emergence, and long-term, don't count out the possibility of a re-fashioned movement or the emergence of new, unforseen issues.

Update: interviews Ruy Teixeira, the author of the CAP study, on this issue.

(h/t Mother Jones via Tripp)


rebecca sager said...

Never discount an embattled minority to try new ways to create divisions. The culture wars are never over, they only float around the margins until the time is right.

CWPNRG? said...

Agree. The future of the GOP doesn't really care about the gay issue. I always crack up when I hear Virgil Goode talking about "boys trying to marry other boys."

Abortion, however, will stick around, I think. Most CRs I know are definitely pro-life, and they may not be not pro-gay, but they're definitely not anti-gay. It's actually nicely libertarian on that issue. I always like it when I can agree with libertarians.

We also might see a move toward some drug legalization as the old GOP dies off and the younger contingent moves in, but that's not exactly relevant.