As David Kirby and I have argued here and here, the tea party has shifted the GOP’s focus from social to fiscal. This strategy has proved successful as libertarians and fiscal conservatives steer the political narrative toward reevaluating the proper role of government in society. Despite the Akin debacle, some still wonder if the GOP should begin emphasizing social issues again to mobilize social conservatives. However, polling data suggests why the GOP has no reason to do this.
Barna Group surveyed 1005 likely voters and found a surprising finding. Seventy-nine percent of women who attend religious services frequently say they “definitely plan to vote” in the 2012 presidential election compared to 52 percent among women who do not attend religious services frequently. So being a woman who frequently attends religious services increases the likelihood of voting by 27 points—a striking result if accurate. In contrast, men who often attend religious services are only 16 points more likely to vote than men who rarely attend religious services.
Consequently, there is less reason for Romney to emphasize social issues to mobilize social conservatives, because most of these voters are planning on voting in the election anyway. However, the Obama campaign should be concerned because especially among female social moderates and liberals, about half plan to stay home on election day. For this reason Obama's campaign has taken clear efforts emphaize the social issues they believe will mobilize female Obama voters.
Source: Barna Group
Moreover, high religiosity woman are not currently prioritizing divisive social issues like gay marriage or abortion. Instead, they are most concerned with fiscal issues including taxes, employment policies, and health care. Concern over gay marriage and abortion were second and third to last respectively; only concern over environmental policy was lower.
Source: Barna Group
if the GOP goes social, or tries to place too much emphasis on divisive social issues they risk alienating socially moderate fiscal conservatives and libertarians who are necessary for Romney to win. Moreover, they would do this for the sake of winning over social conservatives already planning on voting for Romney in November.
Lower voting propensity among liberal and moderate women in this election also explains the Democrat’s strategic focus on the women’s issues. The Democratic National Convention includes Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke made famous by Rush Limbaugh’s “slut” comment. Nancy Keenan, head of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Lilly Ledbetter, named in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act making it easier to sue employers over pay discrimination by extending the statue of limitations.
In sum, the Obama campaign’s focus on women’s issues is intended to mobilize those who probably would only vote for Obama anyway, but need motivation to get out and vote. If Romney’s campaign shifts it’s strategy and begins emphasizing social issues, he risks losing the fiscal conservatives and libertarians who are the critical voting block for his campaign. The GOP’s focusing on social issues would not likely gain more voters than it would lose this November.