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Republicans Continue To Have An Image Problem

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As the 2012 campaign dragged on, it became rather apparent that, in many respects, the Republican Party had huge image problems with the public as a whole. While many on the right tried to blame the Romney campaign’s problems on Romney and asserted that views such as those expressed by Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock regarding rape and abortion were anomalies, polling both during and after the election made it clear that the GOP’s problems went much, much deeper and included a general perception by the public that was very negative toward Republicans. Based on a new poll from ABC and The Washington Post, that attitude hasn’t changed much at all in the six weeks since the election:

What ails the GOP?

In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, it’s the message that appears to be the problem, not the messengers who are delivering it.

A majority of Americans (53 percent) say the Republicans’ problem is that they are overly conservative and unconcerned “with the welfare of the people, particularly those in the lower and middle income levels.” By contrast, 38 percent say the bigger issue is that  Republicans “need a better leader to explain and win support” for their policies.

The Republican Party faced similar questions in 1949, after losing the previous five presidential contests. (Today, the party has lost the popular vote in five out of the last six elections.) That’s when Gallup first asked the question that is repeated in the new Post-ABC poll. After Harry S. Truman won in 1948, some wondered about the future of the GOP as a national party, with Gallup asking the question in April 1949, just before the 100-day-mark of Truman’s full term.

Just like today, more people in that poll 63 years ago described the GOP’s problem as one of policies more than leadership — although, at the time, more people saw both as problematic or expressed no opinion to the in-person survey.

In the new poll, nearly two-thirds of self-described Republicans see insufficient leadership and explanation of policies as the reason the party has endured a string of popular vote defeats. About eight in 10 Democrats take the opposing view — that the issue with the GOP is that it is too conservative from a policy perspective — as do a slim majority of political independents.

Not surprisingly, the GOP also doesn’t compare very favorably to the President:

President Obama has a whopping 26-point advantage over congressional Republicans in the new Post-ABC poll when it comes to whom people trust to protect the middle class (58 to 32 percent). That certainly puts the pressure on the GOP to adjust, as does the well-documented lack of support among non-white and younger voters.

It’s a perception that appeared to hurt Republicans at the ballot box in 2012. According to the 2012 exit poll, a slim majority of voters said Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s policies, if he had won, would have favored the rich. By contrast, a plurality of voters said Obama’s policies generally favored the middle class.

But, there are divisions within the Republican Party about how to proceed. Fully 73 percent of conservative Republicans see the main issue as one of leadership and communication, a number that slides to 55 percent among moderate and liberal Republicans, 38 percent of whom see a need for a policy shift.

Political independents also divide along ideological lines, with a majority of conservatives seeing leadership as the bigger issue (56 to 36 percent). Moderate and liberal independents see policy as the larger problem for the GOP by about two-to-one, 61 to 32 percent.

These are problems that have been developing for the GOP for quite some time now. In many respects, I’d submit that they started in the Bush Administration but that their full impact was largely minimized by the fact that, eight months after Bush became President, we were thrust into a War On Terror that diverted public attention from other aspects of the Bush Administration’s agenda. Had the 9/11 attacks not occurred at all, then the history of the first decade of this century would have been very different and things like the Terry Schiavo case would have had a far more devastating impact on the GOP’s image than they actually ended up having.

More importantly, though, the GOP has spent the last four years or so completely misreading the American public. Despite poll after poll showing that the majority of Americans want leaders in Washington to work together to solve the nation’s problems, Republicans have engaged in a strategy of gridlock and delay that clearly hasn’t helped their image with the public. When they won a House Majority in 2010 based largely on the state of the economy at the time, they misinterpreted it as an endorsement of the Tea Party agenda and proceeded to spend two years adopting measures in the House that had no chance at all of succeeding in the Senate. Indeed, they voted to repeal Obamacare some thirty-three times over the course of two years for reasons that nobody seems able to explain. Now, they’re approaching the fiscal cliff negotiations by taking a position on taxes that is in complete opposition to where the majority of Americans stand on the issue.

This can’t continue for much longer if the GOP wishes to continue to be a true national party.

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. grumpy realist says:

    May I point out that for a gaggle of so-called Tea Partiers worried about the deficit and the lack of jobs, they certainly spent a hell of a lot of time fulminating about abortion and “legitimate rape.”

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 39 Thumb down 0

  2. David says:

    The GOP’s image problem is that they are willing to deep six the economy if they don’t get their way 100% of the time. It’s no longer a political party, it’s kindergarten.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 36 Thumb down 0

  3. cd6 says:

    Say what now? An image problem?

    An “image problem” is when you’re a sane, rational party who appears to be crazy

    What he have here is actually an insane party.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 59 Thumb down 0

  4. Jen says:

    The ping-pongs and TVs of death are not unrelated to this issue. They are an obstinate, loony bunch, who seem to have a high proportion of members who say utterly stupid and ridiculous things. This is what happens when you denigrate intelligence.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 0

  5. David says:

    @Jen: intelligence has a liberal bias.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  6. Geek, Esq. says:

    The Republicans don’t have an image problem.

    They have a “people see them for what they are” problem.

    Their problem is that public perception of them is catching up to reality.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 58 Thumb down 0

  7. grumpy realist says:

    @David:Right now what Bohner is trying to do is herd a collection of toddlers having temper tantrums.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  8. legion says:

    Doug, I give you a hard time when I think you’re wrong, but I gotta say this stuff is absolutely spot-on. Gingrich laid some of the foundations when & his buddies ran Congress, but the Bush admin was truly the beginning of the total hollowing-out of any moral pretense the GOP had for governance and became, full-on, the party of, by, and for the Ruling Class. There has been no substantive effort by Republicans in recent memory to do anything other than give more money to rich people, and all the PR in the world won’t change that now that a majority of voters recognize it. It’s _product_, not _packaging_ that is running voters away from them.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  9. People think that cancer is bad for them and might hurt them or people in their families. So cancer has an image problem, too. Maybe if cancer just had more minority spokespeople and better talking points, that image problem could be ameliorated.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 0

  10. rudderpedals says:

    Unpopular policies lead directly to the Image Problem. Geek nailed it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  11. Brummagem Joe says:

    They don’t have an image problem the Republicans have a reality problem. At least Doug seems to recognise it.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  12. michael reynolds says:

    Here’s the problem the GOP has:

    They believe a bunch of stupid bullsh!t.

    That’s essence of the problem. Glad I could help.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 32 Thumb down 0

  13. swbarnes2 says:

    Sigh.

    In the new poll, nearly two-thirds of self-described Republicans see insufficient leadership and explanation of policies as the reason the party has endured a string of popular vote defeats. About eight in 10 Democrats take the opposing view — that the issue with the GOP is that it is too conservative from a policy perspective — as do a slim majority of political independents.

    It’s hilarious how the front-pagers here talk about conservatives and Republican politicians as if they were smarter and more aware than them, when it’s obvious they are not. James and Doug don’t exhibit any more interest in policy than Republicans, and that’s why they are conservatives.

    As an example, all those posts that Doug finds so hilarious where Republicans say awful lies about women’s health? Women do not find it hilarious to live under the policies that flow from that ideology. Explaining them better will not make women, and the men who care about women, like them more. And laughing at the poor people who have to suffer under them isn’t all that persuasive either, but I supposed Doug just can’t help it.

    It’s not an image problem. It’s a reality problem. Republicans want to pass policies that hurt people. They do this because they think that women and non-white men and poor people are barely humans, let alone real Americans, and they resent passing policies that treat those persons like real people.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 1

  14. Moosebreath says:

    @Geek, Esq.:

    +1.

    @cd6:

    + a lot more than 1. This isn’t an image problem, which can be changed by putting a friendlier face out there. It’s a substance problem, which will only be solved when the Republicans return to the same planet as the rest of the country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  15. swbarnes2 says:

    This can’t continue for much longer if the GOP wishes to continue to be a true national party.

    Of course it can. The very first step would have to be for educated conservatives to stop voting for Republicans. But you aren’t going to do that, are you? Little things like mandatory vaginal probes and legalizing anti-gay discrimination don’t deter you from voting Republican, right?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 0

  16. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Certainly the title of this blog post is a true statement, but let’s not be so naive as to ignore the effects of the national liberal media and left-wing education.

    Imagine if the media-academe roles were reversed.

    How bad would the Democrats’ image problem be if ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, Time and Newsweek, along with virtually every major circulation newspaper, and the vast majority of local and regional papers too, were like Fox News? What would the Democrats’ brand image look like if the overwhelming majority of K-12 teachers and the overwhelming majority of college and university profs were conservatives and not looped-out liberals? What if the public hadn’t been dumbed down to a state nearly of catatonia?

    That aside, the GOP’s primary problem is not its elected politicians. It’s the horrible demographics of its erstwhile “base,” which in turn results in extreme fringe elements with loud microphones and access to substantial sums of money.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 40

  17. Scott F. says:

    @legion: you’re right that it’s product, not packaging, but alas…

    Fully 73 percent of conservative Republicans see the main issue as one of leadership and communication, a number that slides to 55 percent among moderate and liberal Republicans

    …Republicans just don’t see it that way. Even “moderate and liberal Republicans” think they can put lipstick on the pig that is their preferred policies. Until they figure out nobody’s buying what they are selling no matter how they dress it up, things will continue downhill for the GOP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  18. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    The smart people are never going to vote for us…..Rick Santorum………This leaves the dumb people Nicko

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  19. gVOR08 says:

    You seem to realize, Doug, that it’s not a “perception” problem, it’s a recognition problem.

    Terry Sciavo did have a large effect. I’ve seen several people cite the Sciavo case as the tipping point in realizing the Republican Party had changed and they needed to leave it. When are you and James coming over from the dark side? Steven, sorry, don’t read the blog regularly enough (day job) to know if you have a stated party affiliation. I’d be curious.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  20. Brummagem Joe says:

    @swbarnes2:

    James and Doug don’t exhibit any more interest in policy than Republicans, and that’s why they are conservatives

    JJ and Doug are basically apologists for the craziness when you get right down to it……they are bright people so it’s a pity but it does reveal the extent of the tribalistic dogma we’re dealing with.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  21. Nikki says:

    The GOP’s devolution to the party of the Ruling Class began in 1980 with Ronald Reagan and his voodoo economics; 2012 is simply the natural conclusion of that movement.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  22. mattb says:

    Best @Tsar Nicholas evah…

    First paragraph — it’s all the faulty of the media/academic.
    Second paragraph — no wait, it’s the fault of the Republican base for nominating people who represent their actual views.

    So basically even Nich agrees with Doug.

    I also don’t see how the NRA helped the Republican’s image problems today.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  23. wr says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Pretty impressive for you to say the Republican party has terrible demographics a day after you said the Democratic party has terrible demographics. Maybe you should just come out an admit you loathe everybody.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  24. gVOR08 says:

    @Nikki: Hacker and Pierson in Winner Take All Politics date it to the mid seventies and say it flowed from corporations stepping up lobbying in reaction to OSHA and EPA regulation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. swbarnes2 says:

    @gVOR08:

    When are you and James coming over from the dark side? Steven, sorry, don’t read the blog regularly enough (day job) to know if you have a stated party affiliation. I’d be curious.

    I had mentioned Steven in an earlier draft of my own post, but yeah, he, unlike James and Doug, talks about policy. Doug and James could be less interested, and perhaps it’s that disagreement in subject that keeps Steven from posting more often.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  26. Sejanus says:
  27. Rob in CT says:

    The GOP used to win elections by promising their policies would help the many (not the few, or the one), and getting people to believe them.

    Far, far too many people still believe, in spite of all the evidence available. But not enough to win nation-wide elections (we’ll see about the 2014 mid-terms).

    There are real reasons for this. It’s not a PR issue. It’s not those dastardly Democrats fooling people – the Dems can barely get out of their own way half the time. No. This is people actually looking at the GOP’s policy preferences and recoiling in horror.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  28. mattb says:

    @swbarnes2:

    it’s that disagreement in subject that keeps Steven from posting more often.

    I suspect that Steven’s posting frequency has far more to do with his teaching (or rather grading) responsibilities and trying to finish his current book and other publication projects.

    Not to mention the fact he either posts quick little thoughts and reactions or longer, more “scholarly” posts that take longer to compose.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  29. Ron Beasley says:

    Charles Pierce says it well:

    There is no possible definition by which the Republicans can be considered an actual political party any more. They can be defined as a loose universe of inchoate hatreds, or a sprawling confederation of collected resentments, or an unwieldy conglomeration of self-negating orthodoxies, or an atonal choir of rabid complaint, or a cargo cult of quasi-religious politics and quasi-political religion, or simply the deafening abandoned YAWP of our bitter national Id. But they are not a political party because they have rendered themselves incapable of politics.

    On top of that the Republicans in House are terrorists and suicide bombers to boot. That’s why they have a well deserved image problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  30. swbarnes2 says:

    @Sejanus:

    On related news, Gingrich has recently said that Republicans should come to terms with same-sex marriage.

    It doesn’t much matter. The crazy 27% love their sexism and homophobia, and people like Doug and James aren’t going to change their vote over something as unimportant as policy. The platform is what it is for a reason. It’s crafted by people that Doug and James and worse people vote into office, because it’s what all those guys want.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  31. legion says:

    @wr: Clearly, the problem is all these damn _people_.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  32. Rob in CT says:

    Merry Christmas/Festivus/other, Happy New Year and all that jazz. See you in 2013 (assuming I’m not so silly as to log on here and post between now and then)!

    Try not to get into too many heated arguments with relatives about politics, take things easy and stay safe.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  33. stonetools says:

    The Republican Party doesn’t have an “image” problem-it has a constituency problem. Its designed to appeal to a particular consistency-conservative, older, white, rural. Its message and ideology is designed to appeal to that constituency, and it has a reality distortion machine that efficiently pumps out that message 24/7/365.
    The Tea Party is that natural representative of that constituency, and because of gerrymandering, those representatives appear safe from challenge for another eight years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  34. John Cole says:

    They don’t have an image problem. They have a policy problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  35. al-Ameda says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    What if the public hadn’t been dumbed down to a state nearly of catatonia?

    Then we would probably have a non-dysfunctional Republican Party, right?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  36. superdestroyer says:

    Once again, Doug writes about the collapse of the Republican Party while refusing to think about the long term policy and governance issues. The easiest question is what happens to the behavior of the Democrats when they no longer have to worry about losing elections to the Republicans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0