Social conservatism in the United States

Social conservatism in the United States is a political ideology focused on the preservation of traditional values and beliefs. It focuses on a concern with moral and social values which proponents of the ideology see as degraded in modern society by liberalism.[1]

Social conservatives in the United States are concerned with many social issues such as abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, same-sex marriage, school prayer and sex education, among others.[2] They oppose many of the cultural changes brought on by the culture wars and the sexual revolution. As many of them are religious, more specifically Christian, social conservatives push for a focus on Christian traditions as a guiding force for the country on social issues.[3]

As a term, social conservatism describes conservative stances on socio-cultural issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage as opposed to what is termed social liberalism (cultural liberalism). A social conservative in this sense is closer to the meaning of cultural conservatism than the broader European social conservatism and may hold either more conservative or liberal views on fiscal policy.[4]



Social conservatives often support the overturning of Roe v. Wade and are generally "pro-life" (belief in the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death). These beliefs are often based on the argument of "fetal personhood".[5][failed verification] Personhood arguments focus on giving a fetus the status of a person which then entitles them to the right to life.[6]


Social conservatives are accommodationists and hold that the Establishment Clause solely prevents the establishment of a state Church, not public acknowledgements of God nor "developing policies that encourage general religious beliefs that do not favor a particular sect and are consistent with the secular government's goals."[7][8]

Same-sex marriageEdit

Social conservatives are skeptical of the legalization of same-sex marriage, supporting instead laws such as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. They prefer civil unions instead of same-sex marriage over concerns on parenting, religious concerns, concerns of continued changes to the definition of marriage, and concerns about social stability.[9] While social conservatives typically support basic LGBT rights, they sometimes are concerned with "normalizing" same-sex relationships through the institution of marriage. Some conservatives support same-sex marriage. The Log Cabin Republicans is an organization that supports LGBT rights.[10]

Sex educationEdit

Social conservatives are concerned with the moral education and possibly age-inappropriate information children receive from sex education classes in public schools. Some prefer abstinence-only sex education as opposed to comprehensive sex education.[10] This view stems from strong beliefs in parental authority and strict moral values.[citation needed]


The 1960s saw a surge in grassroots social conservative activism in response to the successes of liberal politics in changing American culture. Democrats continued to put forward increasingly liberal policy ideas that ran counter to the beliefs of many conservative Americans which mobilized them to protect their interests. Some social conservatives supported candidates such as Barry Goldwater in the 1964 Republican Party presidential primaries. There was a rise of social conservatism that advocated a strong moral code and increased religious authority.[11]

Historians have pointed to the 1970s as a turning point where "a vast shift toward social and political conservatism" really began. Meg Jacobs and Julian E. Zelizer argue that this period saw an increase an activism and concern with personal and social issues which lead to a growth of social conservatism.[12] There are multiple theories on the growth of social conservatism in this period. Some of the possible reasons or combination of reasons for this phenomenon are the backlash to the Vietnam War, the expanded conversation on civil rights, the economic changes in the United States and the overall changes in culture in this period.[13] Some commentators refer to social conservatism and renewed conservative grassroots activism as a reaction to the counterculture and cultural upheaval of the 1960s–1970s.[14] A notable event regarding social policy in the 1970s was the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973 which recognized a legal right to abortion.[15]

Starting in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan, a prominent conservative Republican, exemplifies the rise of social conservatives in mainstream politics. Reagan appealed to social conservatives who felt marginalized by the growing liberalization of American culture, calling on the "forgotten man" or "moral majority".[16][17] After the tumultuous period of political and cultural changes in the 1960s–1970s, Reagan's moderate traditionalism appeared as a source of needed stability for many Americans.[18]

Major conservative welfare reform took place in the 1990s. In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA) was passed narrowing the benefits of welfare recipients and encouraging work. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) also came into effect during this period, limiting the time benefits can be received.[19]

Social conservatives again became powerful in American politics in 2001 with the election of socially conservative President George W. Bush. It has been argued that many of Bush's policy decisions were strongly influenced by his religious beliefs.[20] During his time in office, Bush would pass influential conservative social policies such as the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and support an increase in funding of abstinence-only sex education.[21] While President Bush did not strongly promote "pro-life" policies, he supported the movement through an emphasis on parental rights and focus on strict regulation of taxpayer funding.[22]

Electoral politicsEdit

In American politics, the Republican Party is the largest political party with some socially conservative ideals incorporated into its platform. Social conservatives predominantly support the Republican Party, although there are also socially conservative Democrats who break ranks with the party platform. Despite this, there have been instances where the Republican Party's nominee has been considered too socially liberal by social conservatives. This has led to the support of third party candidates from parties such as the Constitution Party, whose philosophies sometimes parallel that of social conservatism.[23] While many social conservatives see third parties as a viable option in such a situation, some high-profile social conservatives see the excessive support of them as dangerous. This fear arises from the possibility of vote splitting.[24] Like any other interest group, social conservatives usually must find a balance between pragmatic electability and ideological principles when supporting candidates.[25]

Commentator Randall Hoven of the American Thinker has remarked: "Using the National Journal's ratings of Senators in 2007, the correlation coefficient between "economic" scores and "social" scores is 90%. That means they almost always go together; financial conservatives are almost always social conservatives and vice versa".[26]

The American Tea Party movement is generally regarded as fiscally conservatives who tend to avoid social conservative issues.[27] The Tea Party Patriots is officially neutral on social conservatism.[28] While social conservatism tends to emphasize community, faith and family as core values, the Tea Party Patriots identifies its core values as "Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, Free Markets".[29] Some branches are opposed to social conservatism.[30] However, independent polls have repeatedly shown that Tea Party supporters are nearly indistinguishable in their views from traditional Republican social conservatives, despite their choice to emphasize economic issues.[31][32][33][34] While not allying itself officially with the Christian conservative movement,[35] members of the Tea Party movement statistically identify with Christianity and social conservatism more often than the general American populace (44%[36] compared to 34%[37] of the population). Some social conservative leaders have criticized the Tea Party movement for "libertarian" and "irreligious" views.[38] Nearly 80% of those in the Tea Party movement are members of the Republican Party.[39]

Notable social conservativesEdit



See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Bell, Jeffrey (2012). The Case for Polarized Politics: Why American Needs Social Conservatism. New York: Encounter Books. pp. 6–10. ISBN 9781594035784 – via Proquest ebrary. The Case for Polarized Politics: Why American Needs Social Conservatism.
  2. ^ Thompson, Michael (2007). Confronting the New Conservatism: The Rise of the Right in America. NYU Press. pp. 2–3. ISBN 9780814782996.
  3. ^ Marietta, Morgan (2012). A Citizen's Guide to American Ideology: Conservatism and Liberalism in Contemporary Politics. New York: Routledge. p. 32. ISBN 9781136593659.
  4. ^ Chideya, Farai (2004). "The Red and the Blue: A Divided America". Trust: Reaching the 100 Million Missing Voters and Other Selected Essays. Soft Skull Press. pp. 33–46. ISBN 9781932360264.
  5. ^ Farrell, Courtney (2010). The Abortion Debate. ABDO Publishing Company. pp. 6–7. ISBN 9781617852640.
  6. ^ Seipel, Peter (2014). "Is There Sufficient Common Ground to Resolve the Abortion Debate?". The Journal of Value Inquiry. 48 (3): 517–31. doi:10.1007/s10790-014-9436-y.
  7. ^ Warren A. Nord. Does God Make a Difference?. Oxford University Press. First Amendment Politics: At the risk of oversimplifying a very complicated situation, I suggest that conservative justices tend to favor a weak reading of both the Free Exercise and Establishment clause, while liberals tend to favor strong readings. That is, conservative justices have been less concerned about the dangers of establishment and less concerned to protect free exercise rights, particularly of religious minorities. Liberals, by contrast, have been opposed to any possibility of a religious establishment and they have been relatively more concerned to protect the free exercise rights of minorities.
  8. ^ Robert Devigne. Recasting Conservatism: Oakeshott, Strauss, and the Response to Postmodernism. Yale University Press. Conservatives claim that liberals misinterpret the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment. They point to the opinion written for the Supreme Court by Hugo Black in Everson v. Board of Education: "The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: neither a state nor a Federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another." The establishment clause, conservatives insist, precludes the national state from promoting any religious denomination but does not prohibit state governments and local communities from developing policies that encourage general religious beliefs that do not favor a particular sect and are consistent with the secular government's goals.
  9. ^ Dombrink, John (2012). "After the Culture War? Shifts and Continuities in American Conservatism". Canadian Review of American Studies. 42 (3): 301–21. doi:10.1353/crv.2012.0018.
  10. ^ a b Luker, Kristin (2006). When Sex Goes to School. New York: Norton. pp. 101, 112.
  11. ^ McGirr, Lisa (2001). Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton. 150
  12. ^ Jacobs, Meg; Zelizer, Julian E. (2008). "Swinging Too Far to the Left" (PDF). Journal of Contemporary History. 43 (4): 683–93. doi:10.1177/0022009408095423 – via Sage.
  13. ^ Schulman, Bruce; Zelizer, Julian (2008). Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 3. ISBN 9780674027572.
  14. ^ Robin, Corey (2010). "Conservatism and counterrevolution". Raritan. 30 (1): 1–17 – via ProQuest.
  15. ^ Di Mauro, Diane; Joffe, Carole (2007). "The Religious Right and the Reshaping of Sexual Policy: An Examination of Reproductive Rights and Sexuality Education". Sexuality Research and Social Policy. 4 (1): 67–92. doi:10.1525/srsp.2007.4.1.67.
  16. ^ McGirr, p. 216
  17. ^ McGirr, p. 214
  18. ^ Troy, Gil (2013). Politics and Society in Modern America: Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400849307.
  19. ^ Weicher, John (2001). "Reforming welfare: The next policy debates". Society. 38 (2): 16–20. doi:10.1007/s12115-001-1035-4.
  20. ^ Ashbee, Edward (2007). The Bush Administration, Sex and the Moral Agenda. Manchester University Press, Oxford University Press. p. 2. ISBN 9781847796424.
  21. ^ Ashbee, p. 112.
  22. ^ Ashbee, p. 212
  23. ^ "huffingtonpost news story on NY23". October 29, 2009. Retrieved March 30, 2011.
  24. ^ Drake, Bruce. "Romney tells Tea Party not to split vote". Retrieved March 30, 2011.
  25. ^ "Third Party Alternative to McCain". CBS News. February 14, 2008. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  26. ^ "A Libertarian Defense of Social Conservatism". American Thinker. Retrieved March 30, 2011.
  27. ^ Ben Smith. "Tea parties stir evangelicals' fears". Politico.Com. Retrieved March 30, 2011.
  28. ^ Zernike, Kate (March 12, 2010). "Tea Party Avoids Divisive Social Issues". The New York Times.
  29. ^ "Mission Statement and Core Values". Tea Party Patriots. Retrieved March 30, 2011.
  30. ^ "» Tea Party Leaders Release Letter Urging House and Senate GOP to Avoid Social Issues". November 23, 2010. Retrieved March 30, 2011.
  31. ^ "Tea Party and Religion". Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. February 23, 2011. Retrieved March 30, 2011.
  32. ^ Siegel, Elyse (June 2, 2010). "More Than Half Of Tea Party Supporters Say Gays And Lesbians Have Too Much Political Power (POLL)". The Huffington Post. Retrieved July 1, 2010.
  33. ^ New poll looks at tea party views toward minorities The Seattle Times; June 1, 2010
  34. ^ "'Tea party' groups plan Arizona rally against illegal immigration", The Washington Post, August 11, 2010
  35. ^ "Survey – Religion and the Tea Party in the 2010 Elections". Public Religion Research Institute. Retrieved January 31, 2016.
  36. ^ Przybyla, Heidi (March 26, 2010). "Tea Party Advocates Who Scorn Socialism Want a Government Job". Bloomberg News. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
  37. ^ Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar (2009) "American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2008" Archived April 7, 2009, at the Wayback Machine Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, USA; Retrieved April 1, 2009 (PDF)
  38. ^ Ben Smith. "Tea parties stir evangelicals' fears". Politico.Com. Retrieved March 30, 2011.
  39. ^ "Tea Party Supporters Overlap Republican Base". Retrieved March 30, 2011.
  40. ^ Harnden, Toby (2010). "The most influential US conservatives: 20-1". Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  41. ^ "Sarah Palin making rounds among socially conservative groups". Los Angeles Times. February 17, 2011.
  42. ^ Lee, Tony (May 16, 2010). "A Conservative's Case for Sarah Palin's Genius". The Atlantic.
  43. ^ "Who Wants to Make Sarah Palin the Leader of the Republican Party?". Cato Institute. December 9, 2009.
  44. ^ "Brownback: Social Conservatives 'Pumped' By Palin".
  45. ^ Smith, David (May 21, 2017). "President Mike Pence? Dems should be 'careful what they wish for', experts say". the Guardian. Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  46. ^ Micklethwait, John; Wooldridge, Adrian (April 2, 2009). God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 95. ISBN 9781101032411. He also, to litigate on behalf of socially conservative issues, helped in 1994 to foundthe Alliance Defense Fund, which has notched up more than twenty-five victories before the U.S. Supreme Court and hundreds more before the lower court.
  47. ^ Padusniak, Chase (Winter 2015), "Why You Should Vote Third Party", Intercollegiate Review, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, retrieved July 21, 2016, For the socially-conservative American who thinks government intervention has some place in the economy, the American Solidarity Party might fit.
  48. ^ Engdahl, Sylvia (2007). Religious Liberty. Greenhaven Press. ISBN 9780737738551. ... supposed the federal law, as did the socially conservative Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
  49. ^ Rimmerman, Craig A.; Wilcox, Clyde (October 1, 2007). The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage. University of Chicago Press. p. 245. ISBN 9780226720005. In 2003 Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, questioned the Republican commitment to fighting for the socially conservative policies that defined the group.
  50. ^ Bennett, Daniel (June 10, 2015). "The Rise of Christian Conservative Legal Organizations". Religion & Politics. Retrieved April 27, 2017.