, late 20th, early 21st century)
Not all social conservatives are Republicans; this point is widely accepted.
At present, I regard both Bill Clinton and Al Gore as social conservatives (and economic moderates), at least on many of the key social issues where a plurality of voters tend to be in favor of relatively conservative public policies.
For instance, at least in public statements as President, Clinton was a strong proponent of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), an instance, in my view, of social conservative pandering, since for most people who have a fair grasp of the workings of the Judicial branch of U.S. government knew it was a foregone conclusion that the Act would be struck down on Constitutional grounds.
The distinction Saige strives to makes in this node is a valid one, however, and one DMan seems to have verged away from in his response.
Social conservatism has been of practical importance in many recent elections for national office, certainly since Reagan, and I would say increasingly so ever since the Nixon-McGovern race of 1972. Kevin Phillips is among the more cogent political analysts who has described and discussed these trends, and did so earlier than most.
DMan makes a very good point, that not all social conservatives are Christian or Republican, nor are they members of the Christian right. Some issue-based positions, such as support for anti-pornography statutes, have cut across lines that have tended to separate American voters along party lines. These issues often concern as well matters seen as favoring child welfare, or "for the good of the child" and have cropped up a great deal in public discourse on family law, and in the durable inequalities that now exist in child custody cases, as well as in issues like gun control.
In Machiavellian terms, such issues are of great importance to political strategists, and have been particularly divisive since women's suffrage. Such issues were of social, and therefore political importance as well, before that time, however. See Peter Gay's The Bourgeois Experience as well as the works of Gertrude Himmelfarb, the leading politico-intellectual proponent for a restoration of Victorian values.
It is particularly important to note that an economic conservative is not necessarily a social conservative. The internal conflicts that have led to strife and lost elections for many recent Republicans have stemmed from conflicts and contradictions within the G.O.P. between these two camps of conservatives.
It is probably a relatively safe generalization to say that social conservatives in the G.O.P. do tend to sympathize, at least, with many positions of the Religious Right, even if they are not members of that group. Then again, on policy issues, a subset of feminists, soccer moms and concerned citizens probably sympathize with the Religious Right, at least on some of their more marketable positions.
On the other hand, I fully expect the absurdities of U.S. drug policy to be resolved by political forces that are economically conservative to moderate, while being socially libertarian to neutral. When such forces will gain control of a major U.S. party is anyone's guess, but it is likely to happen eventually, possibly through some sort of compromise where no party can be saddled with blame for "losing" the War on Drugs.
See also: wedge issues.