Moderate Republicans are marooned in their own party, poll suggests

A Democratic pollster looked into the divisions within the Republican Party. What he found, he suggests, shows that moderates are vastly outnumbered by the GOP's more conservative elements.

Michael Bonfigli/Special to The Christian Science Monitor/File
Stanley Greenberg, chairman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and a founder of Democracy Corps, speaks at a 2011 Monitor breakfast in Washington. He released a new survey about the GOP at a breakfast Tuesday.

A new, in-depth national survey examining the makeup of the Republican Party reveals major divisions between the views of the 25 percent of the party that describes itself as moderate and the evangelical and tea party segments that make up a majority of the GOP.

“What that means is that there is a group that is disaffected with its own party and has almost no ability to control the future of the party given the strength of the evangelical and religious segments and given the strength of the tea party segments,” says Stanley Greenberg, chairman and CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.  

“It becomes very hard for those moderates to find a place,” Mr. Greenberg said Tuesday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast where the polling data was released.  “The divisions within the party itself are very stark.”

The poll, conducted in July surveyed 2012 voters and likely 2014 voters, was sponsored by Democracy Corps, an organization founded by Greenberg and James Carville, both Democratic Party activists. The poll divides Republican voters into the following major types which, for purposes of the survey, do not overlap:

  • Evangelical Christians (30 percent of the party).
  • Religiously observant individuals who are not evangelicals (17 percent)y.
  • Tea party supporters (22 percent).
  • Self-identified moderates (25 percent).

Attitudes toward President Obama were among the most striking differences between GOP moderates and the rest of the party. Some 54 percent of Republican moderates disapprove of President Obama versus 93 percent of tea party adherents and 85 percent of evangelicals. Among independent voters, 40 percent disapprove of the president.

There are also sharply differing views on social issues. For example, 37 percent of GOP moderates have strongly unfavorable views on gay marriage. That figure jumps to 82 percent for evangelicals. Only 29 percent of independent voters share those feelings.

On the issue of homosexuality, 75 percent of the evangelicals and 50 percent of others who are religiously observant think homosexuality should be discouraged by society. By contrast, only 31 percent of moderate GOP voters and 24 percent of independent voters share that view.

Health-care reform is one area of some shared feeling among segments of the GOP. Some 85 percent of evangelicals, 92 percent of tea party adherents, and 59 percent of moderates are opposed, versus 46 percent of independent voters.

What does the data mean for Republican presidential hopefuls? “If I were Jeb Bush, I would run as a moderate,” Greenberg says. “I would try to grow that 25 percent in the party, create a base.”

But he adds that such a course “is hard” given the demographics of the party. 

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