Democratic Pollster Sees Republican 2016 Weakness as Brand Lags

The Republican Party is losing ground with moderates and is increasingly dominated by social and fiscal conservatives, endangering its chance to capture the White House in 2016, according to a Democratic pollster who is studying the rival party.

“It would be hard” for a Republican to win the next presidential race, said Stan Greenberg, the chairman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and a founder of the Democratic-leaning Democracy Corps. He presented the first research of the polling group’s “Republican Party Project” to reporters today at a Washington breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

Republicans “probably have to go through another election” before they could elect a president, Greenberg said.

His research reflects what many strategists in both parties see as a structural challenge for Republicans after they failed to regain the White House and control of the Senate in November. The Republican National Committee began a process of self-examination that yielded a report in March recommending changes to broaden its voter base and win national elections.

One central problem for Republicans is the low number of its voters -- just one quarter -- who identify themselves as “moderate,” Greenberg said, citing his national survey this month of 950 voters in the 2012 elections and 841 respondents who will likely vote in 2014.

‘Disaffected’ Moderates

“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” as well as those who identify with the anti-tax Tea Party, Greenberg said.

“It becomes very hard for those moderates to find a place, and so the divisions between the Republican Party and the rest of the country -- in fact, the divisions within the party itself -- are very stark,” he said.

Among the key groups within the Republican Party, the poll found 30 percent are evangelical Christians, 17 percent are religiously observant, attending church at least weekly, and 22 percent identify with the Tea Party.

At the same time, Greenberg said he still sees the race for Congress in 2014 as a dead heat and Democrats as insufficiently aggressive in working to exploit the problems for Republicans illustrated in the poll.

Democrats ‘Defensive’

“I don’t know what the odds are, but there’s some chance that the House gets more competitive than now, and that the Senate breaks” in Democrats’ favor, Greenberg said. “Democrats have been on the defensive and acting like Republicans are in control,” he added, describing the goal of his new project as “to push Democrats to be more active” in defining Republicans and setting the terms of political debate.

The survey, in line with other recent national polls, found fewer voters identifying themselves as Republicans and the party suffering from an unpopular brand. It also found Republican voters are less enthusiastic about their party than Democrats are about theirs.

About two-thirds of Republicans had a positive view of their party, including one-fifth who had a “very warm” opinion of it. Among Democrats, four-fifths felt positively about their party, including two-fifths with a very favorable view.

Republicans have no advantage among any generational group, and Democrats have large edges with millennials and baby boomers, Greenberg’s study indicated. Republicans are strong in rural and exurban areas and with married voters, while Democrats dominate in suburban and metropolitan areas and with unmarried voters.

Competitive States

The research will continue with more polls and focus groups in politically competitive states, including North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado, Greenberg said.

The poll shows Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky well-positioned to capture the party’s presidential nomination, with 52 percent of Tea Party identifiers viewing him very favorably. The 2008 vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, a former Alaska governor, is popular with 31 percent of evangelical voters, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is popular with 23 percent of religiously observant Republicans, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is viewed very favorably by 17 percent of the party’s moderates.

Bush, the brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush, should try to expand Republicans’ moderate bloc, Greenberg said.

“If I’m the Jeb Bush, or whoever will play that role, I wouldn’t try to move to the right to show that I’m really on the right,” Greenberg said. “I would own, I would begin with that base.”

Paul’s Supporters

Paul, on the other hand, already has a strong group of core supporters, he added.

“There is a majority base of the party he can run from,” Greenberg said.

The strongest Republican blocs are defined by a dislike of President Barack Obama that dwarfs that of other groups, according to the survey. It found that 93 percent of Tea Party identifiers, 85 percent of evangelicals, and 61 percent of those who are religiously observant strongly disapprove of the president.

By contrast, just over half of Republican moderates strongly disapproved, as well as two-thirds of Republican-leaning independents and two-fifths of independents.

The Republican base is less disdainful of, yet still disproportionately negative toward former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a potential Democratic candidate in 2016.

She was rated very unfavorably by three-quarters of Tea Party Republicans, two-thirds of evangelicals, and 46 percent of those who are religiously observant. About a third of Republicans and two-thirds of Republican-leaning independents had a strongly negative view of Clinton, compared with about a fifth of independents.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington at jdavis159@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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