Why Moderate Republicans are Ripe for the Picking

Back in October 2013, Stanley Greenberg and James Carville’s Democracy Corps did a few focus groups of Republican voters to see what was driving them. It’s the kind of research that we need to see more of, and it’s worth revisiting some of their findings as we try to understand why the Republican primaries aren’t unfolding the way most “knowledgeable people” expected them to. I might do a deeper dive into their analysis of Tea Party Republicans and Evangelicals at a later date when I have more time. I’m traveling today, so this will have to be brief.

I’m more interested at the moment is what moderate Republicans were saying back in late 2013. Among other things, they were saying that they can’t sell the GOP to their kids.

“I can’t sell my kids on this party. I agree with…some of their positions. But the stupid things… for instance, the rape crap they were saying… I can’t sell them on my party. These kids are smart, they know these stupid politicians are saying crap. And these guys are representing us and they show their ignorance often. And just shut their mouth and do – again, get out of our bedrooms, get out of our lives and do what they’re supposed to do.” (Moderate man, Colorado Springs)

They were more inclined to see undocumented workers as go-getters than as drug dealers and rapists.

“And they work hard and they actually realize the American dream. And a lot of us Americans complain, we won’t do what we think we’ll do. (Moderate man, Colorado)

“Many immigrants come into our country do better than we do… they don’t complain.” (Moderate man, Colorado)

“I need more customers. I need more people to sell things to. I need more people to do business with. And I can see that these people are potential customers. And the jobs they did… we won’t do… We just flat won’t do it…We don’t have some of the worth ethic they have…I want it to all be legal… I don’t mind that they’re customers. They can pay taxes.” (Moderate man, Colorado)

They were generally supportive of gay marriage:

“It just doesn’t really make any sense why they shouldn’t be allowed to…have that kind of special bond.” (Moderate woman, Raleigh)

“I mean they’re together anyway. You know? The world is going to change anyway. And it is changing anyway every way.” (Moderate woman, Raleigh)

“That’s what I don’t understand, is like a have houses together and they do everything that a married couple would do together and I just don’t understand.” (Moderate woman, Raleigh)

“I don’t understand why you can regulate what the hell I think and do. This is a free fricken country. There’s been homosexuals since the Roman times and before. What the hell are you scared of them? Are you scared they’re going to get you? Are you? Are you scared they’re going to get your kids?” (Moderate man, Colorado)

They were willing to acknowledge that climate change is a problem and also supportive of a federal role for conservation:

“I’m glad we’re starting to do [more on] energy standards, I wish it was higher…I’m glad that we’re seeing more efficient cars. I’m glad they passed that to where in 2015, we have to have cars that run more efficiently.” (Moderate man, Colorado)

“Watching landfill and watching vehicle emissions, watching what we’re pumping into our rivers, that’s very, very smart, period. Regardless of climate change.” (Moderate man, Colorado)

“I mean, that’s just part of good stewardship of the earth that we’ve been given. And I think that you find a lot of Republicans will feel that way too because a lot of Republicans hunt. They’re very sensitive to what the environment does to the hunting, you know, the changes that they see and anything like that.” (Moderate man, Colorado)

Perhaps most interesting, though, was their attitude toward Hillary Clinton. At least among the moderate Republican women in one focus group, they preferred her to a generic Republican male candidate:

In the group of moderate women in Raleigh, participants were very supportive, surprisingly so, of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Weighing the option of voting for Hillary Clinton versus a Republican male, the moderate Republican women in Raleigh chose Clinton, on balance. One woman said, “I don’t consider myself a Democrat but… if she was the nominee…I would seriously consider…voting for her more than a Democratic male candidate.”

As a blogger with a consistently progressive audience, I see a lot of comments about Republicans. These comments rarely distinguish between different types of Republicans. There just doesn’t seem to be much appreciation that there are a lot of moderately conservative people in our country who are feeling uncomfortable about and unwelcome within the modern iteration of the party. According to this study, these moderates make up a full quarter of self-identified Republicans.

I believe the number would be bigger except that a lot of these folks already left to vote for Barack Obama, especially in 2008. They have a lot of values that are hard to reconcile with progressivism or even mainstream Democratic thinking, but they’re getting pushed out by candidates like Trump, Cruz, Carson and even third-tier candidates like Santorum and Huckabee.

The GOP needs to pick up moderate Democrats, but they’re so out of step with the moderates in their own party that they haven’t even begun to make progress in the middle of the electorate.

And these were apparently all white voters in these focus groups. We’re already familiar with demographic challenges the GOP is facing with minority voters.

If there is going to be a landslide election in 2016, a lot of the moderate voters in this study are going to be crossing over.

Without pandering to their conservatism, the Democratic nominee would be well advised to make their passage as easy as possible.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.