The new Gallup numbers have been a hot topic of conversation over the last few days. Most of the discussion has focused on how the electorate is slowly but surely shifting away from the GOP and conservatism in general, which is true.
But some other interesting points stand out as well when you break down the numbers. Let’s take a look:
First off, let’s look at “independents.” Like most pollsters, Gallup is once again treating “independents” as some special class of voter with their own more centrist views. While that’s a comfortable fiction for centrist-leaning establishment types, it’s not an accurate reflection of the electorate. So-called independent voters may not identify themselves with either party to a pollster or on their voter registration form, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a strong partisan preference. The vast majority of “independent” voters are just as partisan as nominally Democratic or Republican voters. In fact, they’re often even more so as many independents are far left or far right types unhappy that their otherwise preferred party doesn’t tilt far enough in their direction. Only 12% of voters switched sides between 2008 and 2010–and there were just as many GOP-to-Dem switches as the reverse. The 2010 “shellacking” wasn’t the result of voters changing their minds on party or policy, but the result of Democratic-leaning voters staying home from the polls.
So it shouldn’t surprise us to see that on most issues, the “independent” opinion falls pretty squarely in the middle of the Democratic and Republican ones. That’s what you should expect when you take an equal aggregate of Democratic and Republican opinions, throw them into a jumbled mix, and call it the “independent” vote.
Second, Gallup reached new record highs of acceptability for a wide range of issues and practices, including divorce, premarital sex, abortion, stem cells, LGBT relationships, and doctor-assisted suicide. Even cloning and polygamy have seen record high upticks. Society is certainly moving away from conservative morality on sex, science and death with dignity.
Even so, the Republican resistance on issues that have largely been decided in the public sphere is a little shocking. Only 6 in 10 Republicans think it’s OK to have a divorce, and barely a majority think it’s OK to even have sex outside of marriage–even though the average marriage age is approaching 30 years old. Meanwhile, in a world that is increasingly concerned about animal rights and welfare, wide supermajorities of Republicans support wearing fur and conducting animal testing.
This is part of why the Republican party is having such trouble reinventing itself. The base voters of the GOP aren’t even successfully adjusting to where society is today or even where it was 10 years ago, much less where it’s going over the next 10 years. That’s a big problem for a party facing a tidal wave of Hispanic and Millennial voters.
Many GOP strategists are assuming and hoping that “independent” voters will flock to their side as social mores continue to shift. But that’s a faulty assumption based on a false premise. Most independents are squarely set in their ways, and the percentage of the electorate that holds the GOP’s antiquated values shrinks every day.