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The · Psychohistorian


The transformation of the Republican party

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After 2008, the Republican party was in complete disarray. They'd lost two consecutive elections and both houses of Congress. Infighting started between various camps - those who wanted to focus on the religious right, those who wanted to emphasize economics and a libertarian approach to the economy, those who felt that a "strong defense" against terrorism was the way to go - was fierce.

So who won? One could say the Tea Party won, but who are the Tea Party? The stories highlighted in the popular press would have one believe that they're a eclectic collection of wackos, but that's anecdotal evidence selected for entertainment value. What do the numbers say?

Well, here are the results from a poll of about 35,000 recent contributors to the Republican National Committee:

bar graph


The Republican party has clearly shifted away from the religious right emphasized by Rove and Bush, as evidenced by minority support for "pro-life" or even "family values" as part of the platform. National security is more prominent, but not at the top. With "limited government" and "fiscal issues" topping the list, it seems clear that the libertarian - or "classical liberal" - economic wing of the party is now ascendant.
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On March 5th, 2011 04:43 am (UTC), harrock commented:
Do you have similar polls from previous years handy? It doesn't surprise me that those two are at the top right now, but I wouldn't have guessed that pro-life/family-values would be much higher than that in recent years.

It looks to me like #2 is worded more sentimentally, and #3 more tactically. #2 could be interpreted as "strategic" instead of "sentimental", but the wording doesn't seem very strong to me. Was #1 something else entirely, or was it another question with these options that might have soaked up the sentimental responses? (Not that I claim any expertise in building or interpreting surveys.)

Fiscal Discipline and Limited Government both have swings of over 1500 up for #3, and all three of Social Issues, Family Values, and Pro-life were down by over 1500. That looks just as interesting to me as the relative strengths of the bars.
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On March 5th, 2011 06:44 am (UTC), psychohist replied:
This is actually the first time I've seen a poll like this made available semipublically, so I don't have direct comparisons. I think this is mostly the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, trying to figure out where the party members stand.

I think Q.2 is more like, "what is your position", and Q.3 is more like, "what should we emphasize in the 2012 campaign"; sometimes the answers to those are different for tactical reasons, though in this case they are pretty similar. Q.1 was different, and as with most of the other general questions, was focused more on the operational implementation of a campaign.

If you guessed that pro-life and "family values" - which I read as "anti-gay-marriage" - would be minority positions within the Republican Party even now, I think you're ahead of Priebus, who until recently emphasized his own social conservatism at least as much as his economic conservatism. I notice he has now toned down the social conservatism a lot, perhaps based on this poll or similar feedback.

I don't know what you mean by "recent years", but it's to be remembered that Bush's solid victory in 2004, which is fairly recent by my count, was achieved by getting out the vote among the religious right rather than by appealing to the middle. That's part of the reason he polled so well among the heavily Catholic hispanic community, which is usually much more strongly Democrat. If the actual behavior of the nationally elected Republicans from that period is any guide, I'd have expected the votes for "pro-life" to be double those for "fiscal discipline" rather than the reverse.

However recently it happened, though, for me it's gratifying to see that the religious right has lost their hold on the Republican party. Hopefully the party leaders will fully recognize that soon.
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