Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Forecasting the 2016 election: the "gatekeeper" role of social and moral issues

 - by New Deal democrat

Tom Schaller made a convincing case in "Whistling Past Dixie" that in the South, moral and social issues are threshold issues, writing that there, Democrats "flunk the litmus test:"
Why do Democrats struggle so mightily in the South? ....  The short answer [ ] is that social and cultural isues tend to trump economic considerations for many voters in the South....
In other words, only candidates whose views on those issues are acceptable then get their economic positions considered.  In other words, a socially liberal Democrat with historically populist economic positions stands no chance in the Old South.

I think Schaller's analysis is more universally true than he considered, and is equally applicable to the left.  For example, in 2012 Huckabee had very populist anti-Wall Street positions.  Was there the slightest feeling on the left that he might be an acceptable GOP candidate?  Hell no!  Because of his position on social issues.  In other words, I think Dixie only stands out because its moral "screen" is half a standard deviation to the right of that of the relatively conservative Midwest or Mountain states.

In the last few weeks, we have had two more demonstrations of this "gatekeeper" role of social and moral issues.  Jim Webb, an economic populist with RW views on a number of social and foreign policy issues, got zero traction as a democrat and is considering running as an independent.

More importantly, look at what just happened in Canada.  The NDP was leading until its leader made comments about the Muslim face covering, the naqib.  At that point their poll numbers collapsed and their voters turned to the Liberals as an acceptable second choice even though apparently the Liberals are within the "neoliberal" economic mainstream.

BTW, historically this same tension has played out in countries like Mexico and in Europe, where RW parties come to power by highlighting socially unacceptable positions held by economically populist LW parties.

The bottom line is, there isn't just a trade-off between social and economic issues. Rather, voters will vote their pocketbook, but they will only vote their pocketbook from among those candidates who hold acceptable positions on social and moral issues.