The Key Question for Republicans Regarding November 2012

Is public dissatisfaction with Obama also a cry for a conservative revolution?

The Economist posits (in a wide-ranging piece on the state of the GOP in general) the following in regards to the pending presidential contest:

Are Americans looking for nothing more than a safe alternative to a president who has failed? If so, they might do worse than plump for Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and a primary candidate last time: a known quantity with what looks like a safe pair of hands. Or are they hankering after a revolution?

The main impetus for the question is to be found in the following numbers:

An average of polls maintained by RealClearPolitics, a website, suggests that 44.8% of voters intend to vote for a Republican in 2012 and 41.8% for Mr Obama.


The RealClearPolitics average shows that the proportion of Americans disapproving of Mr Obama’s performance jumped to 51% in October from 20% in January 2009. Around 75% say the country is on the wrong track.

These are, no doubt, numbers of concern for the Democrats and of glee for Republicans (or, as the Economist puts it:  “For the Republicans, these are mouth-watering numbers”).  But back to the question above:  what kind of change do these numbers suggest is being desired by the public?

Now, I recognize that for Tea Partiers and other various movement conservatives, the assumption is that ideological purity is what is needed.  But, I would note, the numbers don’t support that contention.   See, for example, a recent Gallup poll:

Detailed responses.gif

The key here is the “very conservative” number, which is at 11% for national adults.  These are the people who want a radical restructuring of the government.  Further:  the sum of self-described “moderates” and “liberals” is 51%, suggests that the sweet spot for electoral victory is closer to the middle than it is to Tea Party HQ.

Along the same lines is the another Gallup poll, this time on Tea Party support, which is a good measure of support for the more extreme GOP candidates/goals:

Relationship to Tea Party Movement, August 2011

Even if we sum “Strong Supporters” and “Supporters” we get 25% of adults and 26% of registered voters.  This is a large bloc of voter, to be sure, but it is still a marked minority.  And yes, even a Tea Party friendly candidate will attract a great deal of general Republican support, but such a candidate will not appeal to moderates and independents and may turn off Republicans leaners in those groups.

Also, back to the Economist, the numbers from the debt ceiling debate tends to indicate that the more radical approach of the Tea Party faction is not what the public wants to see:

The Republicans boast that, by refusing to raise the amount the government could borrow until the Democrats agreed to reduce spending, they forced Mr Obama to make a belated start on tackling the deficit. But they also brought the United States close to its first-ever default, prompting Standard & Poor’ s to downgrade its AAA credit rating to AA+. Though none of the politicians emerged with much credit in voters’ eyes, a poll afterwards showed that more (72%) were inclined to disapprove of how the Republicans had handled the crisis than blamed the Democrats (66%) or Mr Obama (47%).

The Republicans say they won a victory. But the showdown exposed the party to the charge of recklessness, highlighted its rigidity on taxes and seemed to reveal a rift. At one point John Boehner, the speaker and nominal leader of the Republicans in the House, started to talk to Mr Obama about a “grand bargain” entailing not only the spending cuts the Republicans insisted on but also the tax increases Democrats call unavoidable to protect vital programmes. These talks broke down, however, leaving the impression that the pragmatic Mr Boehner had been overruled by the anti-tax ideologues in his own caucus.

The Tea Party’s rigidity in that debate was a) not in sync with the majority of the public and b) gives Obama and the Democrats a campaign theme (i.e., that segments of the GOP simply cannot be trusted with power).

All of this leads back, to the proposition, that of the candidates in the GOP field the one that has the best chance of taking the White House is Mitt Romney.  This is not, by the way, a guarantee, but rather an assessment of the odds at the moment.

Of course, the Republicans can still hope that the bad economy alone will propel their candidate to victory next year.  There is, of course, a great deal of political science to indicate that, in fact, it is the economy, stupid, most of the time.  I do wonder, however, as to the degree to which the fact we have been in a sustained economic slump (and the fact that said slump started before the current occupant of the White House took residence) will temper expectations (indeed, I think this an interesting question worthy of research).  In other words, the trend line has been relatively level (indeed, it has been slightly positive) and I wonder as to the degree to which the trend line (on growth and jobs specifically) will be as influential and the absolute position of the economy (compared to historical norms).

Regardless, we are seeing segments of the GOP clinging to their fantasy that they are poised for a “true conservative” (the definition of which is rather unclear) revolution if only the party would show the strength of its convictions and nominate someone like Herman Cain and numbers are not going to dissuade them.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The RealClearPolitics average shows that the proportion of Americans disapproving of Mr Obama’s performance jumped to 51% in October from 20% in January 2009. Around 75% say the country is on the wrong track.

    I wonder how many of those in the 51% and the 75% are like me? I think the country is on the wrong track because for the past year the GOP has been trying to drag us back to the 14th century, and I am dissatisfied with Obama’s seeming inability to effectively fight them. If they think I wish for a President McCain, or Romney, or Perry, or…. whomever, I want some of what they are smoking.

  2. Mr. Prosser says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Correct, there is nothing on the Republican side which persuades me to lean toward one of their candidates. I may be PO’d at the President and the Democratic Senate and House leadership but not enough to support any of the conservatives.

  3. James in LA says:

    The map that matters is the Electoral Map, and the only GOP candidate with any prayer on it is Romney, and that is being gracious.

    The problem for my conservative friends is that since Macaca, no campaign event has gone uncovered, and come voting-time, and voters who do not already know want to know, the picture of the GOP is a regional party based mainly in the South, and beholden to the very rich people who have made it clear they have no interest in governing, other than draconian intrusions into the private medical decisions of women. The choice they offer is drowning of government by bathtub via subversive oaths to a single man. And the day after that? Theocratic Oligarchy.

    On the electoral map, as structured, that argument will fail. Barely. But it will fail.

    Meanwhile, the President is out in front of crumbling bridges, and naming leadership names, secure in the knowledge that he enjoys wide public support for paying for infrastructure repair with taxes on the very wealthy. It’s very effective, because it will lead to jobs, and everyone knows it. It’s effective because it unites us in work. Oh yes, and terrorists far and wide now turn their faces away in fear of Cool Hand Obama. Has Assad yet picked out his Culvert?

    What Americans want are policies which unite. We have had quite enough of those which divide. The Preamble is clear: we’re all in it to win it, for us, and those who come after.

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    This is what happens when a political party cultivates a superstitious and ignorant base still firmly in the 16th century.

  5. jan says:

    When I come to this site it seems all but over for any R candidate. For the most part, the political persuasion here is one that looks at the GOP field as clowns (which, in some cases is earned), and continues to view Obama as a straying progressive who is still better than any of his opponents.

    However, when going to other moderate to far right of center blogs, it’s a different story.

    Obama is hated by the far right, as much as GWB was on the far left. Indies are disenchanted with his economical policies. Hispanics have gone south on their poll numbers. Even younger people and conservative democrats have lost their feelings of ‘hope and change,’ or the pride in having the first AA President in our midst.

    Therefore, even though so many of you laugh at the opposition facing this president, I don’t think many realize the tonnage of disappointment Obama has generated with so many factions of the populace. His promises have been lacking. His transparency has been clouded. His bemoaning the rich and siding with OWS is almost laughable, considering how intensely he courts the rich, raking in the riches from Wall Street, and other high rollers. The very hypocrisy of the left is being highly magnified by events such as the cronyism of Solyndra, the secrecy of Fast and Furious, economical failures of throwing so much good money after bad in the failed stimulus. Many of you won’t construe these examples as abysmal samples of Obama’s inept leadership. However, there are over 300 million people in this country, and many, if not most, don’t see it as you do.

    Therefore, the election of 2012, IMO, is not only a hill for the GOP clowns to climb, but also for Obama to scale as well, considering that now he has a genuine record to run on, replacing the soaring rhetoric of 2008, with a reality-based one filled with glitches, mismanagement, and an economy with a light still on ‘stall.’

  6. @jan:

    When I come to this site it seems all but over for any R candidate.

    Speaking as the author of this piece, I would note that the main thesis is that the GOP has a choice between the clowns and Romney and that Romney has a shot at winning. If I may quote myself:

    All of this leads back, to the proposition, that of the candidates in the GOP field the one that has the best chance of taking the White House is Mitt Romney.

  7. jan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    My comments were directed not at your piece, but to posters’ POVs, in general, of many here relating to the current 2012 R and D contest. While you and I do differ on perspective, I respect your presentations as being fair and cogent.

  8. jan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    ….BTW, I agree that Romney, thus far, seems the best, most well-rounded GOP choice. However, I have no spark of hope for 2012 being generated by anyone, least of all Obama, who I definitely won’t vote for.

  9. HAVE A NICE G.A. says:

    Jan, This site is simple. The authors are reasonable and thoughtful but a bit to brainwashed with the evolution worldview, with a bunch of totally evolutionary world view kook aid drinking liberal misanthropes that infest this site because the authors don’t ripe them a new one every stupid(AND I MEAN EVERY!!!) lol(well I have been being honest and giving out likes because some are so, so, so stupid that they actually are funny) lol( I guess its how you take them) comment because they are truly fair and congenial, while also thinking they won’t appear smart if they whoop up on the worldly consensus.

    Once we had many great conservative minds commenting here, but they got sick of being called racists and the such by the infestation…
    Now we have a few, but man it used ti be great, even the regular liberals tried to be more then regurgitators of rule attacks…

    lol we only had a couple true idiots vs. now, we got us a large varsity team of kookroid abusers….

  10. Jeremy says:

    Yes, but Steven, if you look at the numbers, while there is 51% moderate and liberal combined, there is also 66% moderate and conservative combined.

    Even if we take that moderate portion and chopped it in half, we would have a 33% combined moderate and liberal bloc, and a 48% combined moderate and conservative block. So yes, it’s not nearly as close to Tea Party HQ as some in that movement think it is, but it’s also quite a ways away from being over to Center for American Progress.

    I agree with your basic assertion that what Americans are looking for is more centrism (although, personally, I think a lot more just want a smaller government that stays out of foreign countries, the economy, and their bedrooms equally), I just wanted those numbers noted.

  11. @Jeremy: It’s a fair observation. However, I would argue that at this particular moment of US politics that the moderates are not especially likely to ally with the current state of conservatism.

    More to the point, I think, as per my argument, that a Republican can win in 2012 by finding a way to bridge the moderate/conservative divide but probably the only candidates in the field capable of so doing are Romney and Huntsman. The conservatism represented by Cain, Perry, Bachmann, Paul, Santorum, or Gingrich simply can’t, in my estimation, bridge that gap.

    In other words: my argument is predicated on what the reasonable/likely voters coalitions might be in the general election.

  12. Jeremy says:

    Good point. I agree that the more radical aspects of conservatism are turning moderates off, and why if either Cain, Gingrich, or someone like Bachmann was nominated, the GOP would flunk the election. On the other hand, though, most Americans are deeply unhappy with big government statism and want a leaner federal government, so they’re still going to lean conservative to some degree.

    Now I’m wondering if the Vice Presidency is in the cards for Huntsman…

  13. @Jeremy:

    On the other hand, though, most Americans are deeply unhappy with big government statism and want a leaner federal government, so they’re still going to lean conservative to some degree.

    I think this is philosophically and rhetorically true to a point. The problem is that a truly smaller government requires affecting three major policies: defense, medicare, and social security. And I do not see a true commitment to shrinking any of these.

  14. Jeremy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: And again, I sadly must agree, which frustrates me to no end with the Tea Party and the so-called “true conservatives.”

  15. Linton says:

    Romney is the man if the GOP wants to win. To quote a co-worker of mine who is going on 60 and has never voted for a candidate who wasn’t a Republican in his life, “those Tea Partiers are worse than a bunch of damn liberals.”

  16. Argon says:

    I actually think Huntsman is the man if the GOP wishes to win.But he’s too sane for the GOP right now. Romney is a pure cipher and trusted by nobody.

  17. Linton says:

    @Argon: Agreed on Huntsman, it breaks my heart, but in discussions like this I discount him since most Republicans seem to have already. Although who knows what madness will happen if Cain and Perry keep imploding? Maybe his New Hampshire bet will pay off.