Republicans Continue To Have An Image Problem
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.