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The Christian Right in U.S. Politics  

Kimberly H. Conger

The Christian Right has been an active force in Republican and American politics for over 40 years. Its focus on morality politics (abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, pornography, and sex and science education) has had an impact on the fortunes and expectations of conservative candidates, activists, and organizations all over the country. Its comprehensive activity demonstrates the multifaceted changes in society and religious engagement that brought the Christian Right as a political force into supporters’ consciousnesses, their churches, and the voting booth. Success in mobilization and the ballot box has not always created policy change, though the movement can claim policy victories in many states and localities. The largest impact the movement has had is in the Republican Party in all of its incarnations, altering the policies and strategies that are important and successful for the party. The incarnation of the movement shows signs of significant change, however, as the Republican Party is transformed by the populist messages and policies of the Trump administration. Scholars of the Christian Right movement and religion in American politics more generally should pay attention to the varying narratives, issues, sources of power, and social cohesion that the movement and its constituency, largely conservative Protestants, display. Like research on many social and political movements, the study of the Christian Right benefits from an interdisciplinary approach and a good grasp of the lived experience of the supporters, activists, and leaders within the movement.

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The Inclusion-Moderation Thesis: The U.S. Republican Party and the Christian Right  

Andrew R. Lewis

Conservative Christianity’s alignment with the Republican Party at the end of the 20th century is one of the most consequential political developments, both for American religion and American party politics. In the proceeding four decades, what has been the nature of this relationship? The inclusion-moderation thesis suggests that once religious movements are integrated into political parties, their interests are often co-opted by broader party interests and their positions moderate. For the Christian right in the U.S. there is mixed evidence for the inclusion-moderation process. Considering all the evidence, the most apt description is that conservative Christianity has transformed the Republican Party, and the Republican Party has transformed conservative Christianity. With its inclusion in the Republican Party, the Christian right has moderated on some aspects. The movement has become more professional, more attuned to the more widely accepted, secular styles of democratic politics, and more engaged in the broader goals and positions of the party. Conservative Christianity has also failed to fully achieve some of its most important goals and has lost some of its distinctiveness. In these ways, the party has changed the Christian right. At the same time, the Christian right has altered Republican politics. National candidates have changed their positions on important social issues, including abortion, gay rights, and religious freedom. The party’s platforms and judicially strategies have been strongly affected by movement’s interests, and conservative Christian activists have come to be central to the Republican Party. It’s stability and strength within the party have given the movement power. In these areas, the Christian right has evangelized the Republican Party rather than moderated. A fair assessment is that for the Christian right there has been partial but quite incomplete adherence to the inclusion-moderation process.

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Party Politics and LGBT Issues in the United States  

Melissa R. Michelson and Elizabeth Schmitt

Political parties are a core feature of the American political system, and partisan identification is a major determinant of both individual attitudes and political behavior. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the major political parties in the United States have become increasingly polarized, and partisan affect has intensified, with individuals more hostile toward the opposing party. This increased polarization and tendency to follow elite cues has also affected LGBT politics. Among openly LGBT candidates for political office, almost all have run as Democrats. In June 2018 only 2.9% of openly LGBT elected officials in the country were affiliated with the Republican Party. Outreach to LGBT voters by Democratic candidates has increased over time; in contrast, Republican candidates have been generally hostile to LGBT people and issues. This growing gap in outreach is reflected in vote choice patterns. Since 1988, at least two-thirds of LGBT voters have supported the Democratic nominee for president. In the 2016 election, 78% of LGBT voters supported the Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton, while only 14% supported Republican Donald Trump. In the 2018 midterm elections LGBT voters favored Democratic candidates by a margin of 82% to 17%. LGBT interest groups also tend to be affiliated with the Democratic Party, with the notable exception of the Log Cabin Republicans. Until the 1990s, most straight Americans were not interested in or aware of LGBT public policy issues, but today the members of both political parties reflect the increased partisan polarization of the country. Democrats are more likely to support same-sex relationships and marriage, laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination, transgender rights, and other supportive policies; Republicans, in contrast, are more opposed to those policies and support religious exemptions from antidiscrimination laws. This increased sorting among the LGBT public reflects an increasingly salient national divide between the two major political parties, including their understandings of LGBT identity. Democrats have for several decades understood LGBT identity as permanent (that people are born that way) and thus deserving of maximum legal protection. In contrast, many more Republicans understand LGBT as a choice or as a result of one’s upbringing and environment and thus not a basis for claims for equal rights. This represents a shift over time; in 1977, only 13% of Americans believed that homosexuality was something that people were born with. As more Americans became familiar with the science demonstrating that being gay is genetic and not a “lifestyle choice,” a partisan split emerged. Scholarship suggests partisanship is likely driving acceptance of the science. Regardless of the cause of the partisan split on the nature vs. nurture debate on LGBT identity, that split is reflected in the increasingly large differences between representation of LGBT people in elected office, in party support for LGBT policies, and in LGBT partisanship.