At the 1992 Republican National Convention, Pat Buchanan famously declared that American politics had become a “cultural war.” In the years since, social issues and identities have become more important in dividing Democrats from Republicans.
Traditionally, the two parties fought mostly over economics. But now cultural issues like abortion and gun control divide Americans more sharply along regional lines than economic policies. One impact of the rise of the culture war in the 1990s was to reorder the popular coalitions of the parties — for example, by attracting evangelical Protestants to the Republicans while propelling secular voters toward the Democrats. This also redefined their geographic constituencies.
But while it has been fueled by widening divisions over social issues within the American electorate, this regional realignment has left a much larger imprint on the direction of federal economic policy than on the nation’s prevailing cultural zeitgeist.
You might say that the winner of the culture wars is neither Democrats nor Republicans. In legislative terms, American corporations have claimed the biggest victories so far.
The growing sectional divide — the coasts and a handful of Midwestern and Mountain West states vote blue, while voters in the culturally conservative heartland of the South and interior West largely vote red — is magnified by winner-take-all electoral rules that concentrate representation in the hands of local partisan majorities. The Alabama Senate race was an exception, but this largely produces a stable arrangement of “red” and “blue” states and districts that seldom deviate from their normal partisan alignments regardless of the individual candidates seeking office.
On balance, the trend of rising geographic polarization has worked to the advantage of Republicans in both houses of Congress. The Republican Party has captured more seats in culturally conservative red America than it has relinquished in culturally liberal blue America, allowing it to control at least one legislative chamber in all but four years since 1994 after six decades of near-permanent minority status.
– New York Times