Sunday, March 24, 2013

Andrew Kohut: GOP Estranged From America

Andrew Kohut, former head of Pew Research and the Gallup Poll, had an interesting Op Ed in Friday's Washington Post of the dramatic disconnect between current Republican ideology and Americans' values as reflected in recent national polls:
In my decades of polling, I recall only one moment when a party had been driven as far from the center as the Republican Party has been today.

The outsize influence of hard-line elements in the party base is doing to the GOP what supporters of Gene McCarthy and George McGovern did to the Democratic Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s — radicalizing its image and standing in the way of its revitalization.
. . . .
The Republican Party’s ratings now stand at a 20-year low, with just 33 percent of the public holding a favorable view of the party and 58 percent judging it unfavorably,
. . . .
Americans’ values and beliefs are more divided along partisan lines than at any time in the past 25 years. The values gap between Republicans and Democrats is now greater than the one between men and women, young and old, or any racial or class divides.
. . . . 
For decades, my colleagues and I have examined the competing forces and coalitions within the two parties. In our most recent national assessments, we found not only that the percentage of people self-identifying as Republicans had hit historic lows but that within that smaller base, the traditional divides between pro-business economic conservatives and social conservatives had narrowed. There was less diversity of values within the GOP than at any time in the past quarter-century.
In Kohut's opinion, the shrinking number of persons self-identifying as Republicans, is a direct function of the  base constituency of the party (staunch conservatives, including Tea Party adherents) being adamant about maintaining ideological purity on such a wide range of issues including smaller government, lower tax burdens, foreign policy, immigration, abortion, same sex marriage and gun rights.  His view is that this problem for the GOP has primarily evolved from three developments:
According to our polling, three factors stand out in the emergence of the GOP’s staunch conservative bloc: ideological resistance to President Obama’s policies, discomfort with the changing face of America and the influence of conservative media.
If a Republican politician wants to avoid being written off as a RINO he or she isn't permitted to oppose the Affordable Care Act but favor same sex marriage and comprehensive immigration reform.  You could see this problem most starkly in the presidential primary campaigns of the 2012 election.  No one really stood out from the rest of the group of candidates as expressing more moderate or centrist views on any of the issues discussed other than former Utah governor, Jon Huntsman, who did abysmally with Republican voters and Newt Gingrich, on one issue, immigration reform.  The need to be ideologically pure was most dramatically underscored by the question posed in the Ames Iowa debate in August by Fox's Bret Baier, who asked all eight candidates to raise their hands if they would walk away from a deficit reduction deal that incorporated a dollar in new tax revenue for every ten dollars in spending cuts.

The vast majority of Americans have to compromise all the time in their daily lives.  The vast majority of Americans don't like control freaks.  While it is good to hold strong core values, and not change them without well thought out reasons, it isn't good to dismiss out of hand the values held by others.  The ideological purity being imposed by the current GOP base, its "small tent" approach, is going to have to change or the party will be confined to generally winning elections only where gerrymandering has successfully prevented a reasonably diverse electorate. 

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