The culture war in the United States has been raging for more than 50 years, since the 1960s, when divisions over values (civil rights, diversity, sexual liberation) began to emerge. These divisions have intensified to the point that today the defining questions of American politics concern race, gender, religion and education more than the economy.
From the 1930s to the 1960s, the question that best defined partisanship was, “Which side do you favor more – business or workers?” Today the defining questions – at least for white voters – would be, “Do you have a college degree? And “How often do you go to church?” “
Liberals dominate American culture. According to statistics recently cited by Elisabeth Zerofsky in the New York Times, “Conservatives make up a tiny percentage of Silicon Valley; their influence is diminishing in the business world; and they are almost absent from mainstream media, academia, and Hollywood. All institutions dominated by educated elites.
Conservatives use their political power to challenge liberal domination of culture. Left-wing populism has always been economic, driven by the resentment of the rich. Populist hero and three-time Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan once called Republicans “a party of nothing but organized appetite.” Right-wing populism is cultural, driven by resentment towards educated elites and their cosmopolitan values - especially educated elites who tell them what to do, like get vaccinated or mask their children, or obey quarantines and lockdowns.
The Liberals sometimes fuel this resentment by condescending. Barack obamaBarack Hussein Obama Subpoena is a real concern for lawmakers facing Jan 6 issues Don’t let China distract us from Russia Biden appoints Sara Minkara as US special advisor on international disability rights MORE criticized voters in small towns for “clinging to guns and religion”. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump Steps Up In Calling For Removal Of Pulitzers From WaPost, NYT Iowa House Cards Create Competitive Seating Educational Blunder Ignites Suburban Parents Sparks McAuliffe, Virginia Panic MORE called Trump supporters a “basket of deplorable things.”
Conservative political power is based on two things: structural advantages and opinion intensity.
Many votes in the House of Democrats are wasted because Democrats are more likely to live in densely populated urban areas. In the 2020 election, the average margin of victory for House Democrats was 31.5% and that of House Republicans was 26.0%.
The fact that each state elects two senators creates a disadvantage for large urban Democratic states like New York, California and Illinois. Article V of the Constitution provides that “No State, without its consent, may be deprived of equal suffrage in the Senate”. It is the only provision of the Constitution that can never be amended (something insisted on by the slave states of the South, which feared to be outnumbered by the free states of the North).
After the 2000 and 2016 presidential elections, when the popular vote winners lost the electoral vote, Democrats protested the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College. But no action has been taken to change the system.
Currently, gerrymandering is aimed at securing Republican control of the US House and most state legislatures. Republicans control the redistribution process in 20 states, with 187 seats in the US House. Democrats control the redistribution in eight states with 75 House seats. (The remaining seats in the House are in states with single seat or divided party control, or independent redistribution committees.)
Preservatives usually have another advantage: intensity. Polls have a dirty little secret: Polls don’t measure the intensity of opinion very well. Typically, polls can tell you how many people are on either side of an issue, but not whether they are so attached to the issue that it’s likely to motivate their vote. And that’s what really matters to politicians.
Suppose you take a poll and show a politician that his constituents divide 75 to 25 percent in favor of gun control. The politician knows what will happen if he votes for a gun control law: maybe 5% of the 75% of the majority cares enough about the issue to vote for him for that reason alone, but he can lose 20 of the 25% on the other side. Gun owners may be a minority, but many view gun control as a threat to their Second Amendment rights. It motivates their votes. And they make sure the politicians know that.
On many issues of society, the right is more intensely engaged than the left. Call it “the passion gap”. That is why the Conservatives have often won battles over gun rights, abortion and immigration. They are more vigilant, better funded, better organized – and angry. They let politicians know that if they dare to take a bad stance, a bunch of voters will come after them.
“Why are gun owners so powerful politically? A pro-choice activist once told me in an interview. “There are more uterus owners than gun owners. And when uterus owners start voting on this issue, we will win. “
The left is generally passionate about anti-war issues. It is then that the gap of passions tilts in their favor and the Democrats prevail (2006, 2008). But when there is no controversy over the Vietnam War or Iraq War, the right is usually angrier and more intense. This is what sustains the talk radio industry.
Right now, conservatives feel like a persecuted minority because of the cultural domination of the left. He radicalized the right. Donald trumpDonald Trump’s lawyer attack on climate change at a dangerous time PLUS did something that has never been done before: he brought the radical right to power and gave them a (temporary) rise over the cultural left. Neither he nor his supporters intend to give up on this without a fight.
Bill Schneider is Professor Emeritus at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and author of “Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable” (Simon & Schuster).