GOP Variations On Birtherism and Rushism

This morning I mentioned PPP’s three-state battery of primary polls from OH, TN and GA in the contest of the presidential nominating contest. But PPP also asked some other questions of interest. The answers to one indicated that “birtherism” remains exceptionally strong among GOP primary voters, as a sort of Rorschach Test of their perception of Barack Obama as The Other; the other indicated that Rush Limbaugh’s slut-shaming exercise aimed at Sandra Fluke may have cost him more than some advertisers.

On this latter point, here is Tom Jensen’s summary:

Our numbers suggest that Rush Limbaugh has seen significant erosion in his popularity with Republican voters over the last week. The last time we polled on him nationally he was at 80/12 with GOPers. But now we find him below 50% in all three of these states: he’s at 45/28 in Ohio, 46/29 in Tennessee, and 44/30 in Georgia.

Republican women in particular have become very skeptical about Limbaugh in the states holding tomorrow’s 2 most competitive contests. He’s at only 39/28 with them in Ohio and 36/30 in Tennessee.

Digging a little deeper in the crosstabs, however, some pretty big splits appear on both subjects, beyond the relatively modest gender gap on Rush.

The most startling, to me at least, is the extraordinary support for both birtherism and Rush among self-ID’d Tea Party members in all three states. They reject Obama’s U.S. nativity by margins of 56/25 in OH, 62/22 in TN, and 54/24 in GA. Tea Folk also do not seem to share the issues with Limbaugh’s slut-shaming, approving of him by margins of 73/11 in OH, 72/12 in TN, and 69/14 in GA. Evangelicals are just as likely as Tea Folk (with whom, of course, they overlap greatly) to be birthers (50/25 in OH, 53/24 in TN, and 50/25 in GA); but do support Rush a bit less (54/23 in OH, 51/26 in TN, and 53/25 in GA). Indeed, it’s probable the varying sizes of the evangelical segment of the electorate (43% in OH, 66% in TN and 55% in GA) largely explain the statewide variations on these questions.

The other number that jumps out from the crosstabs are pretty notable generational splits. 18-45 year-olds reject birtherism by 54/27 in OH and 48/28 in GA, though in heavily evangelical TN they favor it 46/37. Over-65 voters are big birtherists everywhere: 44/34 in OH, 52/28 in TN and 47/30 in GA. Younger voters only narrowly approve of Rush in all three states, while over-65s give him near-majority support.

Even in the relatively monolithic GOP, some issues produce real divisions. But to the extent that the noisy “activist base” is older, more evangelical, and more pro-Tea Party than the party as a whole, it’s no wonder there’s incessant pressure on GOP pols to lean hard and sometimes crazy right.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.