The Inherent Flaw of the “Socially Liberal, Fiscally Conservative” Political Ideology

Before diving into the inherent logical fallacies of the political ideology, ‘socially liberal, fiscally conservative’, it’s essential to lay out the definitions of the two terms.  A social liberal government is expected to address economic and social issues such as poverty, health care, education, and the climate using government intervention whilst also emphasizing the rights and autonomy of the individual. Meanwhile, fiscal conservatives largely advocate for lower taxes, reduced government spending, and minimal government debt. 

Issue for the left': how climate change can shake this tag
(Credit: MARK DIXON)

Recently, there have been many people (and even candidates) wearing the tag of ‘socially liberal, fiscally conservative’ as they attempt to somehow find a healthy way to balance between the two clashing ideologies, but inherent discrepancies confute this theory. Climate change and how to tackle it has been a large conversation in the recent elections as well as the world of politics in general. While a social liberal would agree to (and even advocate for) spending money and forming cross-country partnerships to take on this problem, the traditional values of fiscal conservatives would prevent them from agreeing. This is because conservatives generally believe in using the money for personal gain and not compromising freedom to form partnerships. A similar problem exists in the issue of taxation. While a social liberal would advocate for more progressive taxation, i.e. charges a higher tax rate from high-earning individuals, a fiscal conservative would want lower taxes to allow people to retain their wealth and limit government intervention, therefore benefiting the wealthy 1%. They are often provided with fines for illegal or unethical business practices, which is an easy pass since the amount is not likely to affect their wealthiness. Lastly, social liberalism has cared about social justice ingrained in its definition, while fiscal conservatives attempt to devalue it at many turns. A social liberal would be all for a policy paving the way for more racial equality while a fiscal conservative would prefer freer business practices even if they come at the expense of equality. 

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Fiscal conservatives outside Statehouse in New Hampshire (Credit: DARREN MCCOLLESTER/GETTY IMAGES)

Therefore, the two sides are bound to lock horns on certain issues, which makes it impossible for a person to be both since they would always lean towards one side over the other. Socially liberal and fiscally conservative voters in the 2016 presidential elections made about 15% of the electorate (Five Thirty-Eight). Out of these, the data showed that the majority ended up voting for Trump (therefore leaning into their conservative side) instead of Hillary. These voters are thus often classified as swing voters (a floating voter who may not be affiliated with a particular political party or who will vote across party lines) and may determine the course of the election in some cases.

Claiming to be ‘socially liberal, fiscally conservative’ would be to disregard the heavy entanglement of economics with social issues. Studies show that many liberal policies such as the Civil Rights Act and the War on Poverty have boosted the aggregate incomes since they gave unprivileged people more opportunities. Therefore, it can be concluded that fiscal conservatives and social liberalism are simply incompatible, and even oxymorons in nature.



Suhani Agrawal

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