Republican Brand Still Damaged, Little Hope Of Repair Coming Soon
Notwithstanding their clear victories in the 2010 midterm elections at both the Federal and State level, Republicans have seen their party fall out of grace over the past two years. Most obviously, of course, this can be seen in the 2012 election results, where Republicans lost the Presidential election, failed to take control of the Senate, and lost seats in the House. More broadly, though, poll after poll has shown that the pubic has rejected Republican policy positions on issues ranging from taxes and spending, to foreign policy, to same-sex marriage. Now, we have more evidence that the GOP has a serious public image problem that, if not dealt with soon, will post serious problems with the GOP in election years to come. First up, there’s a new survey from Pew showing that, while voters see the GOP as principled, they also consider the party as being out of step with the country:
At a time when the Republican Party’s image is at a historic low, 62% of the public says the GOP is out of touch with the American people, 56% think it is not open to change and 52% say the party is too extreme. Opinions about the Democratic Party are mixed, but the party is viewed more positively than the GOP in every dimension tested except one. Somewhat more say the Republican Party than the Democratic Party has strong principles (63% vs. 57%). The national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Feb. 13-18 among 1,504 adults, comes at a time when Republican leaders are debating the party’s future in the wake of Barack Obama’s reelection. The Republican Party’s image has been hit hard over the past decade. In January, just 33% said they viewed the party favorably, among the lowest marks of the last 20 years. The GOP’s favorable rating has not been above 50% since shortly after George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004. (…) Republicans are more critical of their party than Democrats are of theirs on most issues. For example, 36% of Republicans say the GOP is out of touch with the American people. Just 23% of Democrats say their party is out of touch. And while 30% of Republicans say their party is not open to change, just 10% of Democrats make the same criticism of their party. However, Republicans overwhelmingly credit their party for having strong principles; 85% say the GOP has strong principles while 13% say it does not. And 80% of Republicans say their party is looking out for the country’s long-term future. The GOP also gets high marks from independents and Democrats for having strong principles. Fully 62% of independents say the Republican Party has strong principles, the most positive measure for any party trait tested. Even about half of Democrats (52%) say the Republican Party has strong principles. Partisan views about whether the Republican Party is too extreme are mirror images: 78% of Republicans say the GOP is not too extreme, while 19% say it is; 78% of Democrats view the Republican Party as too extreme while 19% disagree.
The numbers in the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll are about the same:
While Obama has seen his poll numbers drop – albeit within the survey’s margin of error – his political standing remains significantly stronger than Republicans’. Only 29 percent of respondents say they agree “with most” of what Republicans in Congress have proposed (versus 45 percent for Obama and 40 percent for congressional Democrats). An identical 29 percent have a favorable view of the Republican Party (compared with 49 percent for Obama and 41 percent for the Democratic Party). And the public believes the GOP is more interested in partisanship than Obama is: 48 percent say Obama is pursuing a path on unifying the country in a bipartisan way, while 43 percent say he’s taking a partisan approach that doesn’t unify the country. By comparison, 64 percent say Republicans are taking a partisan approach, versus 22 percent who say it’s focused on unity. What’s more, the polls shows the Democratic Party beats the Republican Party on almost every issue – looking out for middle class (by 22 points), Medicare (by 18 points), health care (16 points), reducing gun violence (15 points), Social Security (14 points), immigration (7 points) and even taxes (3 points) and the economy (2 points). The only issues where the GOP holds the advantage in the survey are reducing the federal deficit (by 6 points), controlling government spending (16 points) and ensuring a strong national defense (26 points).
Numbers like this explain quite well why the GOP consistently seems to be losing public relations battles with the President regardless of what the issue gripping the nation happens to be. When near-majorities of the the public have a negative view of your party, and less than one-third of the public has a positive view, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to gather them to your side in a political battle. There are vast numbers of voters out there in America who are, for the most part, not ideological. They tend not to vote for candidates because of specific political principles, but because of what happens to be going on in the country at the time. The economy, obviously, is the most prominent issue on voters minds today, and it has been for quite some time, but in the past issues like foreign policy have also played a large role in voters minds. What this means, though, is that there are a lot of voters out there that are potentially persuadable by one party or the others. That’s one of the reasons Ronald Reagan was able to win two landslides in a row, because he was able to reach out beyond the narrow confines of the Republican Party of the 1980s and get support from Independents and even Democrats fed up with the state of the country. It’s also the reason why political parties tend not to spend very much time in the political wilderness. The post Great Depression GOP was back in the White House by 1952, and the post-Vietnam/post-Carter Democratic Party was back by 1992. Similarly, the GOP could come back from it’s current problems. Indeed, it probably will. But, it’s not going to happen so long as the party keeps posting numbers like this and continuing to alienate itself from the American public.
The one thing these polls make clear, and which Republicans still refuse to recognize, is the extent to which the GOP still has not recovered from the Bush years. As the Pew poll notes, the favorable numbers for the party have not been above 50% since Bush let office four years ago. They didn’t even approach those levels in 2010 as the party was heading for its historic victories at the Federal and State levels. Meanwhile, Republicans continue to fail to recognize that they have not fully dealt with the legacy of George W. Bush, whether it concerns either domestic or foreign policy issues. Indeed, the leaders of the GOP in the House and the Senate today are the same people who were rubber stamping Bush’s actions for eight years from 2001-2009. It’s no wonder that the American people continue to associate the GOP with George W. Bush because, in the end, the party really hasn’t changed in either substance or style in the four years since he left to go home to Texas.
The GOP’s final problem, of course, involves the Tea Party, which seems to have now become just another name for the base of the Republican Party. Because of the influence that this movement has on intra-party politics, Republicans are unable to engage in even sensible discussions with the opposition party about fixing the nation’s fiscal problems because of the threat that they will be challenged in a party primary and attacked as a RINO. In just the last two years, they’ve managed to claim the scalps of people like Bob Bennett and Richard Lugar, both of whom, in a not to far gone era would have been considered quite conservative. The result is gridlock as the GOP uses negotiations with the Democrats to pander to the Tea Party rather than propose things that have a realistic chance of passing Congress, and that once again leads the public to feel even more negative about the GOP.
So, the Republican Party finds itself in a bind. The forces that control it at the moment are the very ones that are causing it to become more unpopular with the public as a whole. At some point, something must change, but it seems like it’s going to take a lot more electoral setbacks for the GOP finally get some sense knocked into it.