dr seuss books library
CNN  — 

This week, as congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden passed and signed into a law a popular economic relief package, Republicans had a different priority in mind: the supposed “cancellation” of children’s author Dr. Seuss.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises removed a number of Dr. Seuss books that the organization thought to be racist from the market. Republicans spoke out against the move, and Democrats blasted the GOP in return.

The Republican game plan, however, is part of a larger movement of Republicans ramping up critiques of “cancel culture”, which, as an article from Pew Trusts points out, is seen by the GOP “as the latest iteration of political correctness”.

They do it for a simple reason: It’s one of their best political plays.

While Democrats may mock them, the fear of cancel culture and political correctness isn’t something that just animates the GOP’s base. It’s the rare issue that does so without alienating voters in the middle.

We can see this well in the 2020 American National Elections Studies’ pre-election survey. This academic survey asks questions on a bunch of topics. This includes a question about political correctness, which, if anything, is a less extreme version of cancel culture.

Respondents were asked whether they thought people needed to change the way they talked to be with the times or whether this movement had gone too far and people were too easily offended.

People being too easily offended won by a 53% to 46% margin over people needing to change the way they talked.

Keep in mind, the voters in this sample claimed they had either voted or would vote for Biden over Donald Trump by a 53% to 42% margin. This just gives you an idea of how much more popular the opposition to cancel culture and political correctness is than the baseline Republican presidential performance.

Perhaps more intriguing for the GOP is why political correctness is more popular than the party itself: the age gap on the question, while existent, was quite small.

Among those younger than 30, the two options were split 50% to 50%. Among those age 65 and older, too easily offended won by a 52% to 47% margin. It was the people who fall between those two age brackets who chose the too easily offended option (54% to 46%).

Now compare that to how respondents said they had or would vote in the presidential contest by age. Those younger than 30 favored Biden over Trump by 30 points, which means the cancel culture position was something that attracted youth support at a far higher level than Trump. Voters between the ages of 30 and 64 said they were for Biden over Trump by a 9-point margin. For those over the age of 64, Biden led Trump by 4 points.

What we see is that there was the greatest separation between respondent choices on the cancel culture question and the presidential race, the lower down on the age ladder you go. This means that it’s not only the case that opposition to political correctness and cancel culture won’t age out of the electorate, but it’s something that could conceivably win Republicans a lot more youth support than their baseline.

The fact that the GOP’s position on cancel culture and political correctness is clearly more popular with Americans than a position you might associate with the left is unusual. On most of the big issues, the Republican position is less popular.

Take a look at these issues.

On abortion, the pro abortion rights position (i.e. abortion shouldn’t always be illegal or be just for cases of rape, incest or health of the mother) beat out the anti-abortion position (i.e. abortion should always be illegal or be just for cases of rape, incest or health of the mother) by a 61% to 35% margin.

On whether the government should spend more and provide more services or spend less and provide fewer services, more spending and a bigger government won by a 23 point margin. That’s in-line with recent polls showing the coronavirus relief package quite popular.

On building a border wall with Mexico, opposition was 10 points higher than support.

When it came to the protests against police brutality last year, the conservative position wasn’t popular. When asked what the best way to deal with the problem of urban unrest and rioting, 48% of respondents said it was more important to address racism and police violence compared to 32% who said it was more important to use all force to maintain law and order.

Even on whether the protests were mostly peaceful or violent, Americans were 2 points more likely to say peaceful than violent.

In other words, the Republicans really do seem to be making a smart political play. Of course, it may be their only political play.