Amid talk that the GOP could rebrand itself as the “parents party,” on the political right there’s a growing drumbeat of support for policies like paid family leave and monetary help for families. Those join what have typically been more cultural concerns like bolstering marriage or managing how children use tech.

A new report by two conservative organizations highlights pro-family policies that seem to offer a meeting place for progressives and conservatives. The report’s author, Patrick T. Brown, a fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, calls ”Five Pro-Family Priorities for the 118th Congress and Beyond” a roadmap “for an authentically pro-family Congress to champion.”

In the report, the center is joined by the Institute for Family Studies to showcase what the groups deem important public policy, backed by survey data showing broad bipartisan public support.

But will Congress pay attention?

An overwhelming majority of U.S. parents believe they should decide when — and if — their minor children have social media accounts. They want to be able to monitor their use, too. They also worry that the cost of living makes it hard to raise children.

“The family is the primary social institution oriented towards the bearing and rearing of children,” begins the report before offering five public policy suggestions geared to support families and protect them “from the economic and cultural forces that can undermine them.”

The report says that Congress should:

  • “Strengthen the child tax credit to bolster work and marriage in a fiscally prudent way.” The survey found more than 8 in 10 parents say a family where a working parent is present should be eligible for the full child tax credit.
  • “Give parents more tools to protect their kids online.” Per the survey, 81% support requiring parental permission for a minor child to get a social media account. And nearly as many — 77% — believe that parents need full access to minors’ social media accounts.
  • “Create a straightforward paid leave benefit for new parents with broad-based eligibility.” In the poll, 71% would support a federal paid leave program that provides moms six weeks and dads three weeks when they have or adopt a child. 
  • “Advance policies that strengthen the fundamental bonds between fathers, mothers and their children.” The research showed 65% of parents support teaching the success sequence (get an education, a job and marry before having a child) in school. And 63% support enforcing child support during pregnancy.
  • “Reduce or eliminate marriage penalties facing low-income and working-class families.” The poll said 62% of the adults support this.

According to the report, “families are under threat from a culture that often undermines family life and from economic trends that leave parents feeling squeezed.” The policy ideas, it said, “will support family life, strengthen marriage and stand up for parents.”

In a time of steep partisan divides, the hope is that members of Congress will listen and act, Brown told the Deseret News.

Finding the policy priorities

Brown said the report was born in 2021-22 as Republicans were beginning to “kind of pick up the mantle of the ‘parents’ party.’” He saw it in the Glenn Youngkin campaign for governor of Virginia; it was emphasized by Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida and among some Republicans in Washington, D.C., he said. “I don’t think it’s unfair to say that they tended to focus on the culture war side of things. We saw that as necessary but insufficient, in the sense of what does a parents’ party look like if it’s completely blind to economic policy?”

Democratic efforts on “Build Back Better” legislation showed they, too, had lots of ideas about what family policy should look like. But Brown said he and his colleagues wondered if they could find economic and cultural policies that resonate across the political aisle, which would “fit notes of family conservative policy but in a way that expands it?” 

The Republican Party has been changing in the last decade, said Brown, “becoming more working class, and less sort of the country club, Bob Dole-style Republican.”

He added, “You have to know what your base is looking for, and they’re not looking for strict limited-government principles and approaches. They’re looking for, how can policy help my family?”

The report uses data from a new Institute for Family Studies survey by YouGov of 2,557 U.S. adults, including an oversample of parents with minor children. They were asked a “battery of social stances and policy preferences” in late October and early November, the data then weighted on age, gender, race/ethnicity, education level and region of the country, per the report.

Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and a professor at the University of Virginia, said, “A majority of parents support efforts to eliminate marriage penalties, which are particularly hard on working-class couples and their kids.” Some exist at the state level, but most are federal, like the earned income tax credit, which he said needs to be reformed so “it doesn’t end up penalizing working-class couples. The same thing would be true for Medicaid,” he added, noting both force people to choose between marriage and robust help from a program.

With the exception of college-educated Democrats, Brown said everyone in the poll favored doing more to support marriage. He and Wilcox both said it’s within marriage that parents and children have the most stability and opportunity.

Brown wrote that “most of the parents polled were reluctant to support policies that could be viewed as trying to change people’s  behaviors.” 

He noted lower support for giving cash benefits to large families or newly married couples, compared to other policies they polled on. And fewer than 1 in 4 parents liked “explicitly pronatal policies.”

“Policy fixes alone cannot solve all the problems facing families, from housing to tech to the cost of living. But better policies can lay the groundwork for a cultural environment that eases some of the pressures on parents and prioritizes strong families,” Brown said in the report.

“There’s no silver bullet” for Congress to use, said Brown, “but it’s orienting policy in the right direction so states can experiment.”

Unpacking priorities

Asked what worries parents, the economy clearly topped the list, with more than 4 in 5 of those surveyed agreeing that families feel the economic pinch. But there were some partisan differences. Asked what was hard to afford, Republicans said gas, groceries, mortgage, clothing and child care. Health care and college topped the list for Democrats.

There were differences by education, too. College-educated folks listed inflation, then work-life balance. For those without a college education, inflation was followed by housing, health care and tech. 

Wilcox told Deseret News he was “struck by the overwhelming support of parents” — including Democratic and Republican parents — for giving them the power to decide when and if their minor children have social media accounts, including a requirement for parental permission. “That was the most popular item in the list of policy measures that we offered to parents.”

Wilcox described a “thirst for figuring out new ways to keep big tech in check.”

Brown said that while parenting worries regarding technology might be different “depending on whether one is more conservative or more progressive, both want tools to keep their kids safe, whatever that looks like for the parent.”

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States including Utah have been considering age verification laws so that TikTok, Instagram and others would not let children create accounts without a parent’s approval. Wilcox supports those measures and said third-party platforms can age verify pretty easily in terms of if you’re an adult, without keeping personal data.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democrat. If you’re a parent of teenagers, as I am, you can see how many challenges you as a parent are having to navigate today with these devices and social media applications. And how many challenges your kids are having to navigate as well,” he said.

“I’m not suggesting that government can raise children. But I think public policy could make it easier for us to parent our teenagers, and also protect them from the worst actors on the platforms as well.”

Money worries

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There are also economic issues that concern parents, including paid leave. And that’s an area where Brown and Wilcox suggest common ground between political parties is realistically possible because so many support it.

While some employees have paid leave, low-income workers or young parents who might need it may not have it because they haven’t had time to build up their earnings history and meet other requirements to be eligible. And some jobs don’t offer paid leave, Brown said.

The policy approach in the report is to “give everybody a modest floor,” said Brown. “If you want to negotiate with your employer for more than that, Godspeed, more power to you, but at least let’s say every parent deserves a little bit of a breather from the pressures of the marketplace and the economy around that time of childbirth.”

The survey explained more about the child tax credit than other policy suggestions when gauging interest because it’s complicated, said Brown, who expressed support for Republican Utah Sen. Mitt Romney’s Family Security Act 2.0 approach. Amid a number of proposals — by the Biden administration, by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, and others — Brown said that Romney’s version of the work requirements “hit that sweet spot of being achievable for 95% of families” with its requirement for $10,000 in minimum household earnings to get the full benefit. Brown called that a “modest amount that you can get working in a minimum wage job,” but not so low that it would decrease low-income families’ connection to the labor force, which was a concern for conservatives.

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