A conservative advocacy group concerned about inflation has suggested a new game plan for the GOP that could revive social issues as an asset for the party. The group, American Principles in Action (APIA), challenges the GOP's fear of losing on social issues, restating the importance of issues like abortion as part of an economic vision focused on restoring the middle class family.
A new AIPA analysis released late last week also encourages the GOP to stop framing issues from an employer's viewpoint in favor of speaking to issues that affect employees, such as cost of living and wages.
"The consultant-driven conventional wisdom is that social issues are distracting voters from the GOP's winning economic message; therefore candidates are encouraged to mute the social issues," Frank Cannon, president of APIA, said in a press release for the report.
"Scapegoating the social issues prevents Republicans from focusing on their most important task: explaining to voters why voting for a conservative GOP candidate will improve their families' economic fortunes," said Maggie Gallagher, co-author of the report.
Cannon listed two problems with the conventional wisdom: "social issues are a key asset, not a distraction to building a winning GOP coalition – and the GOP's economic message, as currently structured is not yet a winning message, because it fails to connect with the current economic suffering of the middle class." Rather than focusing on job creation – as Republican candidate Mitt Romney did in 2012 – the GOP should address the cost of living and stagnation of wages, two issues that hit the middle class hard.
The APIA report suggested six essential reforms for the Republican Party:
1. Value the Social Issues, Don't Mute Them
At the top of the list of reasons for Mitt Romney's loss in 2012, the APIA report mentioned a "truce strategy" on social issues that allegedly forfeits the trust of voters. "The strategy of retreat, rather than counterpunch, abjectly fails because it leave the GOP's political enemies free to define the meaning of the GOP's position in voters' minds," the report argued.
When Republicans stand back from hard stances on abortion and gay marriage, Democrats continue to push and their arguments – including the unaddressed accusations that Republicans are extremist on these issues – impact voters. This strategy also forfeits a chance for Republicans to expose their opponents' extreme positions on family issues, and it convinces voters who value social issues that Republicans are untrustworthy.
2. Use Value Issues to Attract Hispanics
The report cited polls that illustrate a support for big government and social conservatism among the Hispanic population. On the question of a 20-week abortion ban, "Hispanics are more likely to back the restriction than either blacks or whites, by a 39 point margin," the report claimed.
While Americans are equally divided (49 percent for, 49 percent against) on whether "family instability and the decline of two-parent families is a primary cause of America's current economic problems," a majority of Hispanic Americans agree (62 percent).
Connecting with Hispanics on social issues will also gain their trust in other matters, the report argued. One study using Republican ads on social issues revealed that "among Hispanic swing voters, the anti-abortion ad boosted trust in Republicans on taxes by nine points, on spending by eighty points, and on education by seven points."
3. Run Against the Shrinking Dollar
While the 2012 election polls confirmed the widespread belief that unemployment was a top concern for voters (38 percent), they also revealed a hidden problem – "rising prices" – cited by 37 percent of voters as their top concern. "What voters dubbed 'rising prices' is really a declining standard of living, which many perceive to be the consequence of the 'shrinking value of the dollar,' as one Ohio focus group participant told us," the report argued.
In addition to high levels of unemployment, the middle class is suffering higher costs for food, clothing, transportation, insurance, and education while wages remain stagnant, according to the report. Republicans can tack into this concern by supporting a stable currency.
4. Tie Attacks on Obamacare to Workers' Shrinking Standard of Living
The major concern behind "rising prices" surprised many elites because the Consumer Price Index, the official measure of inflation, has remained low since 2008. Nevertheless, over the past five years, employee's share of healthcare costs have increased from $3,199 in 2008 to $4,404 in 2012, the report argued, citing a study by Aon Hewitt.
Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, health premiums in Ohio are set to increase 41 percent as those in Florida jump 35 percent, the report argued, citing a CNN Money report. By connecting Obamacare costs to middle class pocketbooks, Republicans can gain more support.
5. Run Against Tuition Scams
Student loans represent another cost increasing while paychecks remain largely stagnant, the report claimed. Almost 40 million Americans now owe student debt, an increase of 70 percent since 2004, and 34 percent of those with student debt are over 40. Many of those with student debt have not attained a degree, and some pay as much as 35 percent of their income to pay off loans.
6. Less of the "Job Creators" Pitch and More "Workers, Wages, and Middle-Class" in Our Language
A central weakness of the Republican economic pitch in 2012, the report argued, was its focus on "job creators" as the solution to high unemployment. "When Republicans say 'job creators,' voters hear 'bosses.' And by and large ordinary people (a.k.a. 'voters') hate their bosses," the report argued. Instead of focusing on businesses, Republicans should tap into the concerns of the struggling middle class – in both policy and language.
Stressing stagnant wages, the increasing cost of healthcare, inflation, and the breakdown the family will show middle class that the GOP is on their side and cares about what they care about.
"The report argues that polls show voters reject the Democrats' increasingly extreme position on abortion, marriage and religious liberty," the APIA press release declared. "But the consultant-driven truce strategy on social issues means Democrats never have to pay a price for their social-issue extremism, while values voters who might support the GOP are demoralized."
"Republicans focus on the future consequences of issues like the growing debt, but they have not won the political argument about the cause of voters' current economic suffering, and they will not win elections until they win that argument," Gallagher, a co-athor of the report, proclaimed.