Pew Research just released some new polling that confirms the GOP is seen as far more uncompromising and ideologically extreme than the Democratic Party, while Dems hold a big edge on which party is concerned with the needs of ordinary people:
By a margin of 52% to 27%, the public says Democrats are more willing than Republicans to work with political leaders from the other party. A 54% majority also says the Republican Party is more extreme in its positions, compared with 35% of Democrats.
By a 20-point margin, the public sees Democrats (52%) as being more concerned than Republicans (32%) with the needs of people like themselves, while a plurality says Republicans are more influenced by lobbyists and special interests (47% vs. 30% saying Democrats). In addition, four-in-ten believe the Democratic Party governs in a more honest and ethical way (41%), compared with 31% who choose the Republicans.
It’s hard to know how much this will matter in 2014. After all, the same poll also finds that the GOP holds a small edge on which party should be trusted on the economy (Dems view this as a “technocratic” know-how number that doesn’t go to views of each party’s priorities, the more important metric). And at any rate, the structural factors underlying the 2014 elections will probably dominate.
But these findings are interesting, because they suggest Americans may broadly perceive that there’s a basic imbalance in our political system that has led to all the chaos and dysfunction.
In his interview with the New Yorker, Obama suggested he thought Republicans would eventually articulate a more moderate and affirmative agenda for the middle class. But as Brian Beutler notes, there are “structural” reasons this may not happen anytime soon:
[T]he idiosyncrasies of the Republican base make appealing to moderate voters a zero-sum game for the party, and thus eliminate the incentive that, for instance, impelled Democrats in the 1980s and 1990s to cater to less-liberal voters.
Beutler notes that while Republicans have become more rigidly conservative, Democrats have not retreated into an “equally rigid reactionary leftism,” with the result that there simply may be no policy space left into which Republicans can moderate:
Both parties have become more ideological over the years, but only one has become culturally extreme and inflexible. One of the consequences is that the country’s policy commitments have become more conservative than they might have been if this polarization had been symmetric. But another is that Republicans have a hard time tacking left without bumping into a niche that’s already been filled.
This is what I was getting at last week when I argued that the electorate isn’t nearly as polarized on the issues as Congressional dysfunction makes it appear. On many major challenges — immigration reform, the need for infrastructure investments to spur the recovery, how to tackle long term fiscal challenges, the need to maintain a strong safety net — there is broad majority support for what can loosely be described as Democratic solutions. Even on Obamacare — where there is more polarization and overall disapproval remains high – there is more public agreement than you might think on at least some of its core principles.
But this broad consensus is obscured by the fact that the House GOP positions agenda is heavily skewed towards the preoccupations of the Tea Party base. Indeed, as I noted in a breakdown of more recent polling, this is particularly visible on economic and poverty issues, where the party’s positions on inequality, the minimum wage, and unemployment benefits are overwhelmingly shared by Tea Party Republicans, while large numbers of non-Tea Party Republicans side with the rest of the public.
It’s frequently argued that the electorate is neatly “polarized” down the middle. I’d argue that this impression has been exaggerated by an unconventional situation in the House of Representatives, where most Republican lawmakers are cossetted away in safe, conservative districts and have every incentive (such as plaudits from the conservative entertainment complex) to maintain maximum opposition to the Obama agenda.
Today’s Pew poll suggests Americans may broadly grasp the basic imbalances at play in our politics, even if many pundits continue to refuse to reckon with them.