Center for American Progress

Ideology Plays a Big Role in the Presidential Race

Ideology Plays a Big Role in the Presidential Race

A new CAP report illustrates how ideological differences have joined demographics and questions of economic stability in shaping the presidential election.

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Throughout the Republican nomination period and the summer campaign, President Obama and the Democrats concentrated their campaign efforts and messaging to maximize support among key demographic groups and raise doubts about Gov. Romney’s business career and commitment to economic fairness. In turn, Gov. Romney and the Republicans focused (or at least tried to focus) almost exclusively on the president’s perceived failures on the economy and how his spending and social plans will affect more traditional white working-class voters. Since then the race settled into a fairly stable pattern, with President Obama leading narrowly nationwide and in most of the key battleground states.

The recent addition of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to the Republican ticket as the vice presidential candidate adds an important third dimension to the race: ideology. Although vice presidential candidates rarely make a large impact on the overall outcome of a presidential election, the selection of Rep. Ryan—the acknowledged intellectual and policy leader of the contemporary conservative movement and author of the House Republicans’ far-reaching budget proposals—has the potential to influence the basic formula of demographics versus economics in important ways.

With this pick Gov. Romney and the Republicans ensure that the race is no longer exclusively a referendum on President Obama’s stewardship of the economy. It is now a choice between two competing visions of American society and governance—one that promotes an active role for government in advancing individual opportunity, economic security, and national prosperity, and one that embraces personal responsibility, market forces, and limited government as a means for achieving growth and greater freedom. The Romney-Ryan and Obama budget blueprints serve as clear markers for strong ideological divisions in America over how best to grow the economy and jobs, the proper size and scope of government, who should pay for and benefit most from government services, and where limited resources should be concentrated over the next decade. The ideological debate presents interesting demographic questions as well, most importantly in the debate over the future of Medicare.

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