Politics & Policy

Public Support for Republicans Has Dipped & Here’s How They Should Respond

(Stephen Coburn/Dreamstime)

A new report from Pew finding a nine-point drop in the public approval of the GOP has Republican consultants wailing and Democrats rubbing their hands together with glee. In late 2014, the Republicans and Democrats were closer to parity, but now 16 points stand between the two parties. Republicans have a 32-percent approval rating, while 48 percent of the public approves of the Democratic party.

Some of this decline in public approval for the GOP can be traced to alienation on the part of Republicans from the national party. Republican approval for the party dropped by 18 points over the past six months (from 86 percent to 68 percent). Independent approval of the GOP also fell, though by not as much — from 37 to 29 percent. The last year has witnessed a number of divisive battles within the Republican coalition — on stopping the president’s executive overreach, on trade, on spending issues, and, now, the presidential primary – so this drop in Republican support is not surprising.

Republicans and conservatives should not don Pollyanna curls, but digging into the numbers of this Pew report reveals a number of missed opportunities and persistent possibilities. Republicans have an advantage on three issues: gun control, the budget deficit, and terrorism. They fight Democrats to an essential draw on four: taxes, immigration, foreign policy, and the economy. And they lag far behind Democrats on abortion, education, health care, and the environment. For many of those issues, Republican support has fallen and Democratic support has increased over the past six months.

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Even more striking is that Republicans fall far short of Democrats on certain perception issues. Democrats have 16- and 22-point leads on governing more ethically and being concerned with average people, respectively. Fifty-two percent of voters think that Republicans are “more extreme” in their policy positions than Democrats; only 35 percent think that Democrats are more extreme. When the party headed by Barack Obama is viewed as less extreme than the one led by John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, clearly Republicans have had a failure to communicate.

The high support for the Republican approach to gun policy and terrorism show that the GOP is capable of fighting on an issue and persuading the public. But on other issues, it will have to make the case.

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Some of that case could involve targeting Democratic extremism and administrative failures. After the meltdown at Netroots Nation this weekend, where self-described socialist Bernie Sanders was shouted down for being too moderate, it’s quite clear that an insurgent and angry far Left is gaining traction in the Democratic coalition. As President Obama runs to the left in the twilight of his administration, he offers numerous political opportunities for Republicans to call out his executive absolutism. For instance, as Stanley Kurtz has noted, holding hearings on the Obama administration’s attempt to run all housing policy from Washington could both help Republicans — by showing how extreme the administration has become — and draw attention to a crucial public-policy decision.

#related#But some of this case will also involve making affirmative steps. Republicans have spent a lot of political capital delivering key policy items for their business allies (such as giving the president trade-promotion authority), but they will need to do more to show how their policies will help Main Street. On education, Republicans helped pass in the House and the Senate a major, though imperfect, reform of No Child Left Behind. This legislation has been lost in the headlines, and Republicans can do more to show how their educational policies could help American parents have a say in their children’s education. In offering their own version of health-care reform, Republicans will have to stress how it will improve access to health care for the average family. Instead of pushing for more guest-worker programs, Republicans will need to advance an economic-policy agenda that addresses the concerns of the aspiring worker.

This drop in support is not solely due to the rise of a certain presidential candidate, whose name I can’t remember right now. It points to broader structural challenges. This drop is also not electoral destiny, but it is a warning to the GOP that it still needs a more vigorous and innovative campaign of ideas and policies.


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