Poll reflects GOP’s changing views on traditional values

The percentage of Republicans who feel the government should promote a “traditional set of values” has dropped 14 points over the last eight years, according to a new Gallup poll.

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The findings highlight a notable change in the GOP since then-President George W. Bush won his second term.

Since 2004, the amount of Republicans who feel the government should be propagating a set of morals on society has decreased from 79 percent to 65 percent. That’s a 6-percent drop from 2008.

Some attribute the shift to the increasing significance of libertarians in the Republican Party, noting libertarian Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-Texas) rise in the party as well as his son’s (Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)) bright future.

Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute (a libertarian think tank) believes the increased social tolerance and insurgence of young voters has caused this shift in the Republican Party and the nation as a whole.

“Young people’s views on the moral issues of gay marriage and abortion have a lot to do with it, they’re more live and let live than older voters,” said Tanner.

“That’s why the Republicans haven’t brought attention to their views on social issues. They know that America wants to talk about the economy, and also that a majority of Americans wouldn’t agree with their stance on the moral issues.”

Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson argued that this trend happened more as a matter of emphasis in an election year than as a substantive or permanent change.

“We’ve seen social and moral issues being placed on the back burner,” said Anderson. “If there has been any shift in the Republican Party it’s not on the issues themselves, but what the party is choosing to focus on.”

The religious right has long been the bedrock of the Republican Party. Yet, their numbers seem to be declining, and their sway in the party is not what it was during Bush’s reign.

A poll conducted by the Pew forum found that one in five Americans ages 18 and up has no religious affiliation, the highest percentage ever in Pew polling. One-third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation.

“As America becomes more religiously diverse and unidentifiable, the idea that America can promote a sense of values beyond the mere basics becomes less pragmatic,” said associate professor at George Mason University Jeremy Mayer.

Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution says that people with fewer ties to religion are less inclined to think that government should play a role in promoting traditional values, an important fact given that their share of the population is growing.

“Evangelicals, who typically are more socially conservative, may be a greater share of the Republican Party than libertarians, but they are not growing,” said Galston.

“These changes are so consistent with what we’ve seen in these last few years. The energy for the libertarian party, especially Ron Paul has been so high. The enthusiasm for him was greater than the more traditional candidates. Libertarians are much more prominent than they were four years ago, and I expect that to continue.”

Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones said his organization’s poll implies that the country is leaning more libertarian, favoring "increased social tolerance and decreased government involvement.”