The cultural war or a very vocal minority
Perhaps it was Pat Buchanan that fired the first cultural war salvo at the 1992 Republican National Convention: "There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America," declared Buchanan in prime time. "It is a cultural war." (A good friend of mine was a Republican delegate and came home from Houston that year admitting he was going to vote for a Democrat (Bill Clinton) for the first time in his life.) Maybe the first shot was some Greenpeace activist prior to that? Though I generally agree on fiscal issues with Pat Buchanan, I remember his speech and dismissed him as a lunatic.
Yet that speech seemed to set off a more intense "left" versus "right" battle that escalated throughout the Clinton years and in many ways gave us the Bush Presidency. That anachronism of the Republican Party, Sarah Palin seems to be a reaction to that very furor even 16 years later. While I don't often pay much attention to voter stastitics (who votes for a party and why), I have always assumed that about 40% of voters fell in to this "cultural warrior-voter" category. Granted, I live in a "blue" state, I rarely run into these extremists that I have been told exist out there either trying to make me use socialized healthcare and buy an electric car or require me to start going to church.
That is why I found it very heartening to read "What Culture War?" by LA Times columnist Dick Meyer. The gist of it is this: "The idea that there is a vast war over the moral and spirtual compass of the nation is a dramatic narrative, and it has dominated popular political analysis for nearly two decades. It just doesn't have the added virtue of being true. The vast majority of Americans are pragmatic, independent, and unpartisan in their basic views. They are eclectic: 'liberal' on some matters, 'conservative' on others. As a percetage of the total population, the extremist factions-right and left combined- remain a small slice, 6.6 percent. These happen to be the people who not only go to conventions, but whom the cable news bookers corral to argue about politics on their shows. They are also the people who host televsion and radio talk shows, who publish blogs, and who make civic noises. But they are not us."