Despite Today’s Headlines, It’s Not Democrats Who Have a Problem With Their Base, It’s Republicans

I’m not at Netroots Nation nor am I watching it online, so I won’t comment on what’s happening there. But the session this morning with White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer has generated some good questions from some of the better journalists covering the event.

Huffington Post reporter Sam Stein wondered if “a top GOP official [would] get grilled like @pfeiffer44 is at NN in front of conservative crowd?” It’s a good question, and I suspect the answer is “it depends.” If it were the typical conservative event, like CPAC, probably not, because most of the attendees would be movement conservatives who ultimately want access to Republican power, so the crowd would not likely include many people prone to publicly distancing themselves from Republicans in power. But I think Dave Weigel is right that a tea party events the Republican party is an ideological pinata.

Stein’s question does raise a few related points: how much does activist sentiment reflect the wider sentiment of the party’s broad voting base, and how are the parties faring with their voting bases. Again, I’ll leave the analysis of Netroots Nation to those in attendance, but on the question of base satisfaction with its party, polling shows the Democrats in much better shape than the Republicans.

In a 2010 CBS poll Democrats were 6 points more likely to report favorable views of their party than were Republicans (pdf).  Winning control of the House and limiting Democratic power in Washington appears to have done little to change these views; last month Pew reported the same 6 point difference.

A CNN poll in March found Democrats 9 points more favorable toward Congressional Democrats than Republicans were to Congressional Republicans (pdf). In April Fox reported a 4 point(pdf) difference in the same direction.

Republicans also don’t appear to expect liking their party more in the future. In 2007 and 2008 Democrats were very happy with their candidates for President, and Republicans weren’t horribly unhappy. But last week NBC/Wall St Journal reported 45% of Republicans were dissatisfied with their choices for president (pdf). In May AP/Roper reported Republican dissatisfaction with their presidential options was growing (pdf); in March it had only been 33% but by May it had jumped to 45%.

Gallup has even reported that for the first time since they’ve been asking the question that a majority of Republicans favor the creation of a third party (pdf). 52% of Republicans say they would support creation of a third party, while only 33% of Democrats say a third party is needed.

And of course, Barack Obama’s current job approval among Democrats averages 80% positive, only 15% negative.

It’s normal for any president to have some portion of the activist base unhappy for not achieving as much as was promised or might have been accomplished.  The discontent being reported from Netroots Nation may include a lot of valid criticism. But for now, at least, it’s not Democrats who have a bigger problem with their base, it’s Republicans.

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One Response to Despite Today’s Headlines, It’s Not Democrats Who Have a Problem With Their Base, It’s Republicans

  1. POBRE says:

    The GOP doesn’t control its base. This is very very true. The Tea Party is very different from the religious right of the 90s. In the ’94 wave, despite what most D’s think, the Christian Coalition and Ralph Reed weren’t pushing a Christian Right agenda on the GOP so much as they were pushing a GOP agenda on Christians. Ralph (and Atwater and Barbour) saw a base out there that was up for grabs … so they just wrote a marketing plan and went out and captured it. Sure they talked like ideologues … but that was a marketing strategy. These guys were partisans first and foremost. When the time came, they fell into line for Dole, McCain and 2 Bushes … none of whom were really true believers (W was even really a moderate kinda sorta). The conservative activist base of the 90s was built for one reason only – to beat the D’s in November. Now, you’ve got this Tea Party thing which doesn’t seem to have any purpose whatsoever. The GOP isn’t controlling it at all … at best they’re just reacting to it. I’m not saying that there wasn’t a master design behind the Tea Party movement … there’s clearly some interests at play here. But, those aren’t really true partisan interests. Now, we’ve got Romney at bat … and he’s the guy who’s supposed to be there and his pedigree is as good as anybody in the party not named Bush. It’s his turn … but the base isn’t picking up the signals. This is because the current GOP activist base isn’t really there’s. They benefitted from it in ’10, but they didn’t build and they don’t control it. The situation is ripe for one of two things: (1) a Goldwater-style rebellion within the party, or (2) a Wallace-style third-party rebellion against the party. Either way, it’s four more years for Obama. And, despite last year’s elections, the Republicans are stuck in reactionary mode, and the D’s have this neat opportunity to re-build and re-brand for the future.

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