The unpopularity of the Republican Party is almost as long-standing as it is obvious. The GOP has lost the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections. In the 2012 election, it lost the presidential bid, lost seats in the Senate and lost the cumulative popular vote for the open House seats. Obama won nearly every demographic group except senior citizens and white men. In January, most voters (51%) gave the GOP a negative rating and only a third rated the party very negatively.
The Right’s own “autopsy” report found that the public views the Republican Party as, among other things, “scary,” “narrow-minded,” “out of touch” and “stiff old men.” What’s a party to do?
The Right’s leadership insists it’s just a matter of marketing, as if a new billboard will draw Americans in to dine where most of us simply cannot stomach most of what’s on the menu. Ever helpful, I hasten to point out the problem isn’t the slogan, it’s the swill they’re slopping on the plate.
If the GOP hopes to ever again win elections, they must drop the following issues.
Marriage equality. Marriage equality has a remarkable trend line from 1996, when two thirds of Americans opposed it, to today, when a solid majority (58%) supports it. Among Republicans, a mere 34% support marriage equality. Nate Silver predicts that by 2020, voters in 44 states would support marriage equality.
Regardless of the outcome of the current cases before the Supreme Court, the cultural shift has already been made in the US. Marriage equality is the overwhelming and growing will of the people and will be the law of the land in just a few years. Meanwhile, most Republican politicians continue to oppose gay marriage; it is the GOP House leadership that is funding the anti-marriage equality effort in the courts; and the GOP 2012 platform called for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
LGBT rights in general. Gallup finds that 63% of Americans agree that discrimination against the LGBT community is a serious problem, while fewer than half of Republicans — ver out of touch — think it is. The trend toward support for LGBT rights is even surpassed, it seems, by a cultural shift in how American interact with gays and lesbians: a whopping 91% of LGBT adults say people in their community have become more accepting of gays and lesbians in recent years. A strong majority of Americans say that homosexuality is an innate characteristic rather than a choice, with 62% saying it’s “just the way” people are. Gallup notes that because younger Americans are far more accepting of gay rights than are older Americans the trend will continue to grow.
As with marriage equality, acceptance of LBGT men and women as fellow citizens is a cultural tide that cannot be turned. Yet, just yesterday, an RNC official posted on Facebook a screed that refers to the “filthy” lifestyle of homosexuals. And you may recall last May, when GOP anti-gay bigotry forced the resignation of the openly gay foreign policy expert Richard Grenell from the Romney campaign. On the rights of gays, 60% of Americans view the Republican Party as extreme, 41% strongly.
Birth control. According to Gallup, 89% of Americans say birth control is morally acceptable, including 82% of Catholics and 90% of non-Catholics. Clearly, in the public’s mind, the debate is over. Yet, in 2012, Republicans pushed state and federal legislation with the aim of treating zygotes as legal “persons.” If a sperm meeting an egg meets the legal definition of personhood, then hormonal birth control and barrier devices that prevent zygotes from implanting in the uterine wall are illegal. Uusing an IUD would be murder. Rick Santorum, for a while a GOP presidential primary front-runner, opposes all birth control as immoral and favors overturning the court decision that said states can not deny married couples access to contraception.
Abortion. In exit polling of last november’s voters, 59% said that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. According to a recent Gallup national poll, only 18% of Americans say abortion should be illegal and only 29% want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Gallup’s trend line shows that the percentage of Americans wanting to ban abortions has never exceeded 22% over the past 38 years.
The GOP platform in 2012 contained language that would ban all abortions, and the GOP’s vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, openly opposes exemptions for victims of rape and incest. On women’s issues, 55% of Americans view the Republican Party as extreme, 40% strongly.
“Traditional values.” Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who think the government should promote “traditional” values has fallen from 53% to 44%, and a majority of Americans now say the government should not promote any particular set of values. A strong majority of Republicans, 65%, favors promotion of traditional values, but even that level of support has fallen, down from 79% in 2004.
Demonstrating how out of touch the party is with mainstream America, the GOP still proudly proclaims itself the champion of traditional values. Much of the GOP base is morally and politically committed to “traditional values” – it is the reason they are Republicans.
Marijuana. Gallup has a remarkable 40-year trend line showing the percentage of Americans favoring legalization of marijuana growing from just 12% in 1970 to a majority in 2011. In 2012, Public Policy Polling found that 58%, and the Angus Reid polling firm found that 54%, of us favor legalization. Two out of three of us predict that marijuana will be legal nationwide within 10 years. Colorado and Washington voters approved legalizing “recreational” use of marijuana last November. In total, to date, 27 states have approved it for medical use, decriminalized it for recreational use, or completely legalized it. Because people under 29 favor legalization of marijuana by a much larger percentage than people over 65 (62% to 31%), the trend will continue. Only 35% of Republicans favor legalization.
Immigration. In exit polls of last November’s voters, 65% said most illegal immigrants should be offered a chance to apply for legal status. The 2012 Republican platform called for encouraging undocumented aliens “to return home voluntarily, while enforcing the law against those who overstay their visas.” This week, Rep. Don Young referred to Mexican farm workers as “wetbacks.” In 2011, Sen. Rand Paul teamed up with Sen. David Vitter on an attempt to end birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. In 2010, Sen. Marco Rubio said that illegal immigrants should leave the country and reapply for citizenship from their homelands. He also opposed the Dream Act. Republicans have supported bills ills that would limit birthright citizenship, limit family reunification preferences and end the diversity visa lottery. And, of course, it is the GOP that is pushing the absurd “papers please” laws. On immigration, 55 % of see the GOP as extreme, 33% strongly.
Safety Net. On providing aid to the poor, 59% of us view the Republicans as extreme, 39% strongly; on setting tax levels for millionaires and big corporations, 59%view the Republicans as extreme, 43 % strongly. The majority of Americans don’t want serious cuts or large charges to our major retirement programs. The majority supports higher taxes on the wealthy and making the tax code marginally more progressive. Republicans, meanwhile, are dug in with policies that tell the public the GOP favors the rich over the middle class and cares nothing for the poor.
Charles Stewart III, a political scientist at M.I.T. who studies the evolution of American parties, was quoted in a NY Times piece about partisan restructuring. Republicans, he said:
“…need to figure out what the settled parts of American politics are these days — settled matters that they, in their heart of hearts would like to change, but which they agree not to change. That probably includes a much more tolerant society and a dedication to a certain level of social insurance as an obligation embraced by the federal government. The Tea Party leaders won’t be able to do that, unless they change their spots thoroughly.”
There are a lot of other issues – voting rights, gun control, income and wealth disparity, to name only a few – that separate the GOP from the majority of Americans. There’s a great deal of ingrained sexism, racism and religious bigotry that undermines the GOP’s appeal. There’s the recurring problem of GOP leaders saying things that insult wide swaths of the electorate. And, of course, there’s the influence of the conservative illiterati. But these are all subjects for another day.