Last week, the Washington Post ran an interesting piece by pollster Andrew Kohut, former president of both the Pew Research Center and the Gallup Organization. The column, entitled “The Numbers Prove It: The GOP Is Estranged From America”, cites a recent Pew poll showing that the Republican Party’s public approval rating now stands at a 20-year low.
Kohut blames the influence of “hard-line elements” within the party for promoting too rigid of a stance on political issues, thus narrowing the diversity of opinions within the GOP, and diminishing the party’s overall appeal to the electorate.
Whether or not you agree with his analysis, the numbers suggest that he’s at least correct from a public perception standpoint. 62% of poll-takers feel that the Republican party is “out of touch with the American people” and 52% said the party is “too extreme”.
None of this should come as much of a surprise. Ever since the GOP’s huge gains in the 2010 mid-term elections, there’s been a concentrated, successful effort by the Democratic Party and the mainstream media to portray Republicans as the party of extremists, and thanks to people like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, it’s been easier than it should have been.
Conservatives like myself can complain about the unfairness of it all, and we wouldn’t be wrong. After all, without a media firmly in the tank for President Obama and the Democratic party, the extreme makeover strategy would have never worked. But that doesn’t change the reality of the situation. The Republican Party just isn’t liked right now.
What’s pretty fascinating, however, is that while Americans are turned off by the Republican party, they sure aren’t turned off by the results of Republican governance.
A column by Arthur B. Laffer and Stephen Moore this week in the Wall Street Journal details the increased migration of Americans from blue states to red states.
As the column points out, new Census Bureau data on metropolitan areas show that the South and Sunbelt regions of the country continue to grow, while the Northeast and Midwest regions continue to shrink.
The data shows that the ten fastest-growing areas last year included Raleigh, Austin, Las Vegas, Orlando, Charlotte, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio and Dallas – all of which are in low-tax red states. On the other hand, high-tax blue-state cities including Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, Providence, and Rochester lost the most residents.
As Laffer and Moore point out, the migration is not accidental. The areas with the most population growth have been following the Reagan-era economic model of lowering tax rates and easing regulations, thus creating a more business-friendly environment. They also have right-to-work laws that have been drawing in businesses to set up shop there, and have expanded oil and gas drilling which has created a plethora new jobs and a sharp increase in tax revenue.
Keep in mind that these are the very economic policies that the Democratic party has successfully convinced much of the electorate are not only “too extreme”, but also unfair and harmful to the economy.
Conversely, the areas losing the most people are implementing President Obama’s economic policies of raising taxes on businesses and wealthy people (to fund government projects and maintain union power), and increasing regulations on energy sectors and numerous other industries.
In other words, Americans may not have the stomach for those “extreme”, “out of touch” Republicans, but they’re pursuing prosperity under their “extreme”, “out of touch” policies.
This is counter to the way the country feels about President Obama. Most Americans like him personally, but his policies and views are far less popular.
What does all of this mean?
I think it divulges more than just additional evidence of the wide gap between perception and reality that exists in this country. I also think it offers some hope to the Republican party that they can repair their image problem by demonstrating that action speaks louder than words.
One has to only look as far as Republican governors Scott Walker, John Kasich, and Chris Christie for proof. Thanks, in part, to the Tea Party movement of 2010, all three men came into power not in red states, but in blue states. All three were portrayed as “out of touch” and “extreme”. All three had to deal with state-wide, catastrophic economic situations that they inherited from their big spending, liberal predecessors. All immediately pursued squarely conservative economic policies, despite meeting fierce resistance every step of the way from very powerful groups within their states. Most importantly, all three have demonstrated significant success with those policies in fixing their states’ economic problems.
Voters have noticed.
Walker survived a heated recall election that few believed he would, winning by a wider margin than he did in 2010. Kasich is currently enjoying his highest approval rating since taking office. Christie has the highest approval rating of any governor in the United States. Again, these three are Republicans in blue states.
President Obama and the Democratic party have an adoring national media promoting and protecting them. That’s obviously a huge advantage when it comes to public perception. But what they don’t have is demonstrable success on the issue Americans still say is the most important to them: The economy.
As the red states and the Republican governors continue to dramatically out-perform their Democratic counterparts on the economy, the Republican Party has a prime opportunity to promote those achievements as a real-time alternative to Obamanomics. I emphasize the term “real-time” because, as we learned from the 2012 election, Americans aren’t paying much attention to history or reason right now. They need to be slapped in the face with something tangible and current. And if statistics aren’t enough to do the trick, how about a little bit of envy?
If “envy” is as powerful of a political weapon today as it was during President Obama’s re-election campaign, maybe it’s time for the Republicans to create a campaign of their own that stirs the pot. Instead of stoking envy between social classes, however, how about doing it between constituencies in neighboring states? That way, people struggling under Democratic governorship could be reminded of just how better off they could be right now if they had voted differently… and how much better things could get if they vote differently the next time.
It’s hard to say if that specific tactic would work, but I doubt proven results at the state level could be effectively marginalized by the Democrats as being “too extreme”.