Elephant in the mirror

Yesterday, Marc Ambinder reported about a poll taken by Fabrizio McLaughlin. Liz Mair had some of the top-line numbers. The Hill and the Boston Globe wrote a little about it, but frankly, I think that they missed the real stories in here. I got my hands on the presentation, and I thought I would write a little about it. It shows some very striking things about the GOP. So, some conclusions.

First, the GOP is getting older. Somewhat dramatically older. This is not good news. We already know that we are struggling with younger voters. These results, at the right, confirm this and point out just how old our base is shifting. This probably represents several things including, aging of the people involved in the conservative backlash to the 60s, losing the younger generation due to the war, and the dying, frankly, of the New Dealers. It also suggests that it could become increasingly difficult for the GOP to enact real entitlement reform. Related to this last point, on of the points that the MSM did notice is that 51% supported some sort of universal health care. (the specific form was not clearly defined). In addition, this found that the GOP was split 52%-44% on private accounts in social security, with the 52% for. Hardly a base to advance from on an issue that is unlikely to split Democrats.

Second, to Republicans, terrorism was seen as the unifying issue, not taxes or small government. 36% thought that terrorism or Iraq were "the issue that best defines the Republican party today." Next was immigration at 9%, abortion at 8%, national defense and taxes at 7% each, and the economy at 6%. That’s a pretty steep drop. It is also interesting that only 13% identify economic issues.

And that leads to the third observation. Whereas in 1997, somewhere between 45 and 53% of the base was understood by Fabrizio as economic conservatives or driven by economic concerns, that has fallen to 16% divided equally into two groups, "Free Marketers" and "Heartland Republicans," which loosely maps onto a group that is highly suspicious of government and a group that is much less suspicious of government. (one is more worried about tax rates, the other about deficits. One is very enthusiastic about strong entitlement reforms, the other is very supportive of the current social security model and universal healthcare)

Debates in the party are often framed as economic conservatives versus social conservatives. This poll identifies about 25% as "Moralists", who would be clearly identified as social conservatives. However, with only 16% of the base being primarily economic conservatives, this seems like an overly simplistic perspective. Another 59% of self-identifying Republicans are left including 28% between varieties of defense conservatives, about 13% split between people like soccer moms and retirees, and 14% for a group that would be stereotypically gun-owning men suspicious of government and immigrants. ("Dennis Miller" Republicans, but perhaps somewhat Buchananite?)

I suspect that these various subgroups vote at different rates in primaries, so you probably cannot take this as a map of the primary electorate.

In addition, Rudy Giuliani leads in this poll with 30% and among every subgroup. McCain is second in 4 of the 7 subgroups, while Fred Thompson is second in the remainder. (this poll was taken before the main dust-up on immigration, so take with salt)

All in all this is interesting and a little scary, I think. Polls have indicated that the GOP is no longer viewed as the fiscally conservative party. Whatever underlying phenomenon that it, this might be represented by the fact that only 16% are driven by economic issues. It seems to me that the party needs to work very hard on re-establishing its credibility on these issues.