Dissecting the Elephant
Wed September 5, 2007 9:38 pm

Fabrizio McLaughlin and Associates has just released its second decennial survey of the attitudes and views of members of the Republican party ("The Elephant Looks in the Mirror Ten Years Later"). It is a very interesting document, not least because it reveals how much the party has evolved since the previous survey in 1997. The results are based on 2000 contacts with Republican voters, including both telephone and Internet respondents.

FACTIONS

The GOP in 1997 consisted of two major groups, with five sub-groups. The economic Republicans included the "Deficit Hawks" and the "Supply Siders." Since these groups do not reappear in 2007, at least not by the same name, they are undefined, but I presume that the former were the Grover Norquist budget cutters and the latter were the tax cutters. The other major group, of course, was the "Social/Cultural" Republicans, which included the "Cultural Populists," "Moralists," and "Progressives." I would think that cultural populists were rural and/or Southern, and were influenced by racial issues, guns, gays, and anti-elitism. The moralists were the religious conservatives, and the progressives (which made up only 5 to 10 percent of the party) were ... well, I guess they were clean-government reformer types. Think Sibley, Ratliff, Bivins, Bush (on education), Tom Luce. The GOP was almost evenly split between the Economic Republicans and the Social/Cultural conservatives, with the social conservatives having slightly greater representation.

Instead of the two major groups that made up the party in 1997, the survey found three today. Foreign Affairs Republicans have joined the Social/Cultural Republicans and Economic Republicans. This is really a restoration of the Ronald Reagan Cold War coalition, except that there is less unanimity about the Iraq War than the Cold War. The major difference between 1997 and 2007 is that ten years ago the party was more or less evenly divided between Economic and Social/Cultural Republicans, while today the Social/Cultural Republicans dominate the GOP, accounting for 51% of Republicans.

I should point out (since readers may have already seized on this point) that the boundaries between the various groups are not hard and fixed. The questions were designed to polarize and to force respondents to choose the issue that is their primary concern. Clearly, Republicans share many values in common--though not so many as they used to.

The Social/Cultural Republicans today fall into three categories:
*Dennis Miller Republicans. (I would have called them "talk radio Republicans.") They are found predominantly in the South and the Mountain West. Disproportionately male, this is the group that is most likely to be gun owners. They're against everything: illegal immigration, anybody who gets a "free lunch," new government programs, timelines for withdrawing American troops from Iraq. This is Dan Patrick's audience.
* Government Knows Best Republicans. (I would have called them "Soccer Mom Republicans.") Disproportionately female by nearly two to one, they are the counterweight to the Dennis Miller Republicans. They support government intervention to address social and economic problems; they don't like the Patriot Act or the war. In Texas, they'd be for expanding CHIP and increasing spending on public education. They wouldn't be big fans of Rick Perry. Think Kay Bailey.
* Moralists. They are the largest of the seven sub-groups, constituting roughly a fourth of the Republican party. They are disporportionately female, evangelical, and weekly churchgoing. They don't care about anything except social issues. The moralists consider themselves "strong" Republicans and "very" conservative. They like Bush, dislike Rudy. Think Debbie Riddle.

This grouping seems flawed to me. I don't see how the surveyors can put the "Government Knows Best" Republicans in the same broad category as the Moralists and the talk-radio folks. They're moderates who have nothing in common with the rabid conservatives.

The Economic Republicans come in two types:
* Free Marketers are economic and social libertarians. They aren't regular churchgoers and they don't care for the Moralists; on the social issues, they're more likely to identify with the Dennis Miller Republicans. They want less spending and lower taxes. They're Fred Thompson's strongest supporters.
* Heartland Republicans were the core of the Republican party before the rise of Barry Goldwater (and later Ronald Reagan) shifted the party's center of gravity southward--Main Street Republicans, many of them from the Midwest, lifelong GOPers (as opposed to the Johnny-come-lately Moralists). They're pragmatic and nonideological and unafraid of government, since their local and state governments have been run by Republicans for decades. They're strong for John McCain.

The Foreign Affairs Republicans consist of two nearly opposite groups, one of which--"Fortress America Republicans--is a traditional Republican constituency, the other of which--"Bush Hawks"--is a brand-new constituency.
* Fortress America Republicans are isolationists. They want to see an orderly end to the war; their number one priority for government is to protect the homeland. Although the survey doesn't speak to their views about illegal immigration, it is logical to assume that Fortress America Republicans are against it. Nearly half of the members of this group are Southerners. This is Bush's weakest group.
* Bush Hawks are the president's strongest supporters. This is fastest growing group in the party and the only one of the seven in which a majority believe the country is on the right track. Disproportionately male, they support the war, support the use of American miltary power to spread democracy (isn't there a contradiction here?), and oppose a timeline for withdrawal in Iraq. This group includes many newcomers to the party. They, not the moralists, are why Bush won the 2004 election.

Here are the percentages represented by each of the three major groupings and their sub-groups:

Social/Cultural Conservatives 51%
* Dennis Miller 14%
* Government Knows Best 13%
* Moralists 24%

Foreign Affairs Republicans 28%
* Fortress America 8%
* Bush Hawks 20%

Economic Republicans 16%
* Free Marketers 8%
* Heartlanders 8%

These numbers are very revealing. Economic issues, once the heart and soul of the Republican party, today represents the smallest segment of the party. No wonder so many Republicans lament that the party has abandoned its basic principles. Scorned by the Moralists and the Bush Hawks, the libertarian tradition that is the basis of classical conservatism has all but disappeared from the Republican party. And with the Heartlanders likewise losing influence in the party, the Jeffersonian idea that the government that governs best is the government closest to the people--likewise has fallen out of favor. Instead, we have seen a move to centralize power in the executive, both in Washington and in Austin.

DEMOGRAPHICS

How well do you know GOP demographics? I'll do this in the form of a quiz. Answers below.

% who live in suburbs?
% white?
% Hispanic?
% Southern?
% Pro-life?
% who believe a woman, her family, and her doctor should decide about an abortion?
% who belong to a country club?
% with guns in their households?
% with incomes > $100,000?
% with incomes % married/divorced?
% Protestant?
% evangelical and/or born again?
% who attend church once a week?
% OTHER than Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Mormon?
% moderate?

Answers: 48, 93, 2, 37, 61, 72(!), 7, 54, 17, 37, 68/9, 47, 50, 35, 20, 21

Nothing here is particularly surprising except ... Hispanics constitute 2% of the Republican Party. There are only two ways to explain this. One is that the Republican position on immigration is universally seen as racist by Hispanics. If that is the case, we are wasting our time on these numbers and on all these presidential debates; the Republicans are doomed to suffer an historic cataclysm in the 2008 elections. The other is that something went wrong with the numbers--maybe the sample was too small, maybe Hispanics are reluctant to reveal their party identification over the telephone. I don't know the answer. But I do know that Bush got 40% of the Hispanic vote in 2004, and they weren't all crossovers. There are a lot of Hispanic Republicans in this state. You can look at Rick Perry's contributor list and see that. And there are a lot of Hispanic Republicans in Florida, including U.S. senator Mel Martinez. I don't believe 2%.

FACE OF THE GOP

This section of the survey seeks to define the Republican party. The first question is, What issue best defines the Republican Party today? The choices are:

War in Iraq/Terrorism
Immigration
Abortion/Stem cell research
Homeland security/national defense
Taxes
Economy/jobs
Moral issues
Anti-liberalism
Traditional marriage/family values

Overwhelmingly, Republicans answered "War in Iraq/Terrorism" (36%). No other issue reached double digits, with immigration ranking second at 9% and the other issues shown in the order of their declining support. I suppose one could look at the remaining 8 issues and conclude that the sum of the interest in traditional Republican concerns outweighs interest in the war, but the reality is that Republicans are betting the farm on an unpopular war based on a dubious premise (WMDs) that proved not to be accurate, resulting in several thousand American casualties with little likelihood of achieving its goals--to all of which I could add that the administration's handling of the war has been marked by a series of missteps and mishaps. I'm not trying to debate the war here; I strongly oppose the Democrats' attempts to impose a timeline for withdrawal. I'm just noting that Republicans are putting a lot of chips on what looks like a losing bet.

Another crucial question: Which is more important to you, leadership qualities or a candidate's position on issues? Six of the seven sub-groups were closely divided, with small majorities generally favoring issues. But the Moralists regarded issues as more important by a 64-29 margin. This comes as no surprise, but it gives you an idea of the rigidity of the Moralists. Not that this comes as any surprise either.

The survey also asked whether respondents agreed or disagreed with the statement that the GOP has spent too much time focusing on moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage and should instead be spending time focusing on economic issues such as taxes and government spending. Every sub-group except the Moralists agreed. (They dissented by a 72%-22% margin.) The other sub-groups agreed with the proposition by at least 63% except the Bush Hawks (53%), probably because they see the war as a moral issue. The same split surfaces on the question of whether respondents would vote for a candidate who disagreed with their position on abortion but agreed with their positions on a majority of other issues. Every sub-group agreed by 63% to 75%--except the Moralists, who disagreed by 63% to 33%.

What you see in these last three questions is a split in the party between the Moralists and everybody else. This is the Faustian bargain that the traditional conservatives struck. George W. Bush did it at Bob Jones University. They allowed the Moralists to take over the party in order for the GOP to become the majority party in the country, and now they are stuck with a faction that demands fealty to issues like stem cell research and "saving" Terry Schiavo but doesn't have a clue about governing. And, because Moralists are the largest and most committed faction in the party (24%), there's nothing the rest of the party can do about them.

When you move away from moral issues, Republicans have have large areas of common agreement: (a) the federal budget should be balanced; (b) illegal immigrants shouldn't be given special treatment; (c) federal spending is too high; (d) federal taxes are too high; (e) the federal government is too big and does too much; (f) that going to war in Iraq was the right decision (74% average of all seven sub-groups); and (g) that employers should be able to fire an employee based solely on sexual orientation.

I'm not going to go deeply into issues that divide Republicans, because they are not very revealing. The question of whether Republicans believe it is more important to cut taxes or balance the budget doesn't seem meaningful to me, since most Republicans would want to do both. But there are a few items of interest:
* A small majority (52%) think that federal involvement in education is just about right or should be greater.
* 49% believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military (42% disagree).
* By 51% to 43%, Republicans believe that universal health care should be the guaranteed right of every American.
* 59% believe that the federal government is doing enough, or too much, to deal with global warming.
* On the issue of whether government should provide a safety net for people who can't make it on their own, 49% agree and 49% disagree.
* A majority of Republicans believe that abortion always should be legal (28%) or should be legal under certain circumstances (52%).

THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE

Not much to comment upon here, since the survey was taken three months ago, between May 28 and June 3.

Giuliani 30%
McCain 17%
F. Thompson 15%
Romney 9%
Gingrich 9%
Huckabee 2%
T. Thompson 2%

Of the seven sub-groups, Giuliani led the field in all seven, even the Moralists. McCain had four second-place finishes, Fred Thompson three. The situation was still fluid; 74% of respondents said they could still change their minds. Doesn't matter. Giuliani will be the nominee.

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