Conventional wisdom tells us that Independents swing elections. Logic tells us that the two major parties should be trying to court as many Independents as possible. So why are Republicans emphasizing a legislative agenda that falls out of synch with the priorities of most independent voters?
According to recent polling data compiled by CQ Weekly, the views of Independents align more closely with Democrats than with Republicans on social issues such as funding Planned Parenthood. Interestingly, Republicans are pretty evenly split on the issue, and independent voters are in favor of continuing funding. The majority of Independents also believe that gays and lesbians should be allowed to legally marry and that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Why, then, are Republicans actively alienating Independents by threatening to shut down the government over issues that they oppose? As noted in the CQ article, One House, Two Agendas [paywall], even Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who manages communications strategy for Senate Republicans, fears the consequences of this shift in priorities:
“Our focus needs to be on reducing spending,” Alexander said. “We can’t preach the whole Bible in one sermon, so sometimes we have to take it one step at a time.”
Alexander’s views are reflected in the opinions of more libertarian-minded tea party groups. Last November, several tea party leaders and gay conservatives sent a letter to lawmakers asking them not to become distracted by the concerns of social conservatives.
“The tea party movement is a non-partisan movement, focused on issues of economic freedom and limited government,” they wrote. “We urge you to stay focused on the issues that got you and your colleagues elected and to resist the urge to run down any social issue rabbit holes in order to appease the special interests.”
In a recent essay describing a growing coalition between fiscal and social conservatives, PFAW Foundation’s Peter Montgomery explains how the Tea Party, supposedly concerned only about the size and scope of the federal government, is being co-opted by the Religious Right:
Now effectively in the employ of the libertarian David Koch, who founded Americans for Prosperity and chairs the board of its foundation, [Koch political operative Tom Phillips] has deep ties to the evangelical Right, most notably with Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Rev. Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, who now heads a new entity, the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Reed and Phillips go way back; the two were partners in Century Strategies, the political consulting group through which Reed played a role in the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal. Now, it seems Phillips is partnered with Reed and other Religious Right leaders in a much greater conquest: a merger of the Religious Right and the ostensibly secular Tea Party movement to create an electoral juggernaut that will determine the outcome of the 2012 Republican presidential primary.
Republicans continue to force extreme social issues on the American people, and independent voters are finding it less and less palatable. Hopefully, they’ll get the message.