The idea for my research topic developed through a discussion with a good friend in a coffee shop. We are both extremely interested in political science, and as we discussed political ideology, I realized how little I understood about the development of each party’s fundamental ideology. The Republican Party’s union of fiscal and social conservativism puzzled me. I don’t know that I had ever before really considered how the two types of policy fit together. I’m an informed and active citizen, but did I really even understand what the GOP stands for? Was I just projecting my own expectations onto the party and drawing unfounded conclusions about the basis of its priorities? Was I basing my entire understanding of political ideology in the United States on what Mrs. Keller, my eighth-grade social studies teacher, glossed over during the 2004 election when a classmate asked about the distinction between the two parties? (Even then, she tried to skirt the issue to avoid offending anyone—especially our parents, to whom we would inevitably report her opinion.)
After some early research, it seems that I’m not the only one confused about the GOP’s ideology and how its fiscal and social policy are reconciled. Various callers to Tom Ashbrook’s recent On Point radio broadcast from the Republican National Convention echoed similar confusion. Robert from Charlotte, North Carolina, asked RNC delegates about the incongruous connection he sees in the GOP’s definition of marriage and its stance on reproductive rights in the context of church-state separation. Elina from Providence, Rhode Island asked the delegates how they would appeal to her as a voter who identified herself as a fiscal conservative, social progressive, and a moderate democrat who was willing to be convinced to vote for the Republican Party. To me, these comments suggest that not all Americans are sure about just how the pieces of the Republican Party’s policy puzzle fit together.
In the current context of the 2012 election, understanding a party’s ideological foundation is extremely important, especially given how uninformed many voters are and the role that the parties play as one of the most obvious and easiest voting heuristics. For that reason, I’m planning to investigate the development of Republican Party ideology, from fiscal and social fusionism that developed in the 1950s at National Review magazine through the 2012 Republican Party platform, in order to identify how the party conveys itself and whether that image is received and understood clearly by voters. The contradiction to which Robert from Charlotte, Elina from Providence, and I have alluded may or may not truly exist, but it is nevertheless important to evaluate the party’s self-proclaimed position and to identify how the public understands it within our political system.