This article is from our January symposium issue, in which 53 leading writers and thinkers answer the question: “What is the future of conservatism in the wake of the 2012 election?” Click here to read the entire symposium.
Buried under the avalanche of dismal election-night numbers are some encouraging indicators for conservatives.
Exit polls showed that 60 percent of all voters are currently married and chose Mitt Romney over Barack Obama by a margin of 58 to 42 percent. Fifty-nine percent of voters live in households earning more than $50,000 a year and went Republican by a margin of eight points. Among households with incomes above $100,000–28 percent of the electorate–Mitt Romney won 54 to 44 percent.
Religious involvement also correlated powerfully with support for the GOP. Fifty-five percent of Americans attend church or synagogue once a month or more, and such people preferred the Republican ticket to the Democratic by 56 to 43 percent. Among the 42 percent of voters who participated in religious services once a week or more, Romney won by 59 to 39 percent.
If Romney won by a landslide among the hefty majorities who are married, middle or upper class, and religiously affiliated, how did Obama manage to prevail? He won by piling up even bigger landslides among the 41 percent of voters who are unmarried, the 27 percent who earn less than $30,000 in family income per year, and the 12 percent who list their religious affiliation as “none.”
The good news for conservatives is that few of these Obama voters will remain single, economically insecure, or religiously disconnected for the rest of their lives. And if well-established patterns apply to today’s younger voters, they will shift right as they move through life, building careers and beginning families and connecting with organized faith.
Because of low birthrates and increased longevity, the population of eligible voters is aging. In the last election, voters older than 45 swamped voters younger than 30 by a margin of nearly three to one.
And because prosperous and religious couples are more likely to produce big families, a disproportionate number of future young people will have been raised as conservatives. Between 2008 and 2012, the percentage of Republican voters between the ages of 18 and 29 increased from 32 to 37 percent.
Conservatives should easily grab more of those voters as they get older. When people make more money, start families, and head back to church, they naturally and inevitably depend less on government for their sustenance and salvation. Conservatives count on their own earning power more than on federal programs, trust their own spouses rather than bureaucracy for comfort and support, and turn to the big G, God, rather than the little g, government, to answer their prayers.
These attitudes reliably encourage greater happiness. Major surveys suggest that conservative political attitudes correlate strongly with more cheerfulness, optimism, and personal satisfaction, even adjusting for other major variables.
This should provide conservatives with a crucial tool in facing our greatest challenge in upcoming election cycles. There’s little question that most Americans will drift to the right as they age, but how can we encourage them to move in this direction at an earlier age, and thereby persuade voters in the most instinctively liberal segment of the population?
The secret is that even among those who are currently unmarried, financially struggling, and religiously unaffiliated, very few want to stay that way permanently. In other words, the Democratic base deeply desires what conservatives for the most part already have: steady and growing income, marriage and family, and some connection to faith. In the 2012 exit polls, 78 percent of all voters identified themselves as either Protestant or Catholic (tilting to Romney by 14 points combined), while only 12 percent claimed membership in Obama’s core group of irreligious “nones.”
The most important argument to make is that conservative values offer a better way to live our lives, not just a more effective plan for organizing society. The ideals we proffer to the new generation will work personally, as well as politically. In making this case to the young, we start with a crucial advantage. They may not realize it yet, but most of them instinctively yearn to become conservative when they grow up.
Michael Medved is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and the author, most recently, of The 5 Big Lies About American Business.