Republican brand: Still ‘dog food’

October 3, 2012

Mitt Romney's got his own problems, but the letter behind his name isn't helping things.

The Republican Party remains at a low point in terms of its popularity, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, with a majority of voters (53 percent) saying they have an unfavorable view of the party and more than one in three (35 percent) saying they view Republicans in a strongly unfavorable light.

The popularity of the GOP also continues to languish among several groups that could decide the election.

While 52 percent of self-described moderates view the Democratic Party favorably, just 35 percent view the Republican Party favorably.

Fully 60 percent of moderates view the GOP in a negative light, including 33 percent who view it very unfavorably. By contrast, just 11 percent of moderates see the Republican Party in a "strongly favorable" light.

And while Republicans used to be able to draw from moderate and conservative Democrats -- once referred to as "Reagan Democrats" -- today just 11 percent of those voters have a positive view of the GOP.

Even traditional GOP constituencies have dimming views of the party. Only about two-thirds of conservatives and tea party supporters have a positive impression of a party they vote for almost universally. 

All of which tells use one thing: The Republican Party's brand continues to be, as former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said in the runup to the 2008 election, "dog food." In fact, the GOP brand is actually worse than it was four years ago, with most of the numbers above falling by between five and 10 points over the last four years.

"Romney's asset as an outsider has not been utilized to rebrand the party," Davis told The Fix.

The good news for Republicans is that Democrats aren't as popular either, though they continue to have about as many favorable reviews (48 percent) as unfavorable ones (46 percent).

But Democrats had a very good year in 2008, so it's not surprising to see their brand fall from a high point. The GOP brand, meanwhile, has fallen from a low point.

Part of this is just party politics. The Republican Party as a whole has fewer members than the Democratic Party, while more independents lean slightly conservative but don't identify with the GOP. So the GOP's brand generally lags slightly behind the Democrats'.

Where the GOP gets into trouble is when those independents don't jump on board or when they get wooed into the Democratic camp. And Republicans are at risk of that.

Now, we should make clear that party brand isn't everything. After all, even as Republicans made huge gains in the House and Senate in 2010, their party brand was about where it is today and was actually worse than the Democratic brand in most polls -- albeit slightly.

So if the GOP made big gains in 2010 with a damaged brand, who's to say it can't win the White House with a damaged brand? It could certainly happen.

The problem is that the 2010 race was all about one party: the Democrats. They controlled all the levers of power in Washington, and they were largely helpless to make the election about anything besides themselves.

This year, Republicans control the House, and President Obama's campaign has done a deft job of making the race -- at least to some extent -- into a choice rather than a referendum.

That's when the GOP's candidates and brand start to matter. And just as Romney's popularity and stumbles are something of a weight around his ankles, so too will be the party brand -- both up and down the ballot.

Still tight in Florida: While other swing state polls have shown the presidential race tipping toward Obama, one state has held relatively firm: Florida.

A new Suffolk University poll is no exception, showing Obama at 46 percent and Romney at 43 percent.

Meanwhile, expectations are higher in tonight's debate for Obama, with 52 percent of Floridians expecting him to perform better. Just 19 percent expect Romney to win.

The poll also shows a tighter Senate race than other recent surveys have. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) leads Rep. Connie Mack (R) 40 percent to 34 percent.

GOP poll shows Rep. Guinta ahead: Democrats have made Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) a top target this year, but a new internal poll for the National Republican Congressional Committee shows him with an edge

The Public Opinion Strategies poll, which was conducted Sept. 24-25 and shared with The Fix, shows Guinta leading former congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D) 51 percent to 43 percent. It also shows Romney and Obama in a virtual tie in the district -- the more Republican of the state's two congressional districts -- with Romney at 47 percent and Obama at 46 percent.

Polls in New Hampshire have shown Obama with a significant lead. The Fix currently rates Guinta's district as a "toss-up."

 Fixbits:

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Obama's lead nationally is at three points.

Paul Ryan said in 2011 that 30 percent of Americans "want the welfare state."

CNN interviews the First Lady and the would-be First Lady.

The Democratic super PAC American Bridge is up with 25 issue briefs on Romney in advance of tonight's debate.

Romney is asking three states -- including Wisconsin -- to extend their deadlines for receiving military ballots.

A new University of New Hampshire poll of the state's open governor's race shows Democrat Maggie Hassan at 38 percent and Republican Ovide Lamontagne at 36 percent.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has the most Twitter followers of any senator -- by a mile.

Must-reads:

"Ann Romney's new role: Defender in chief" -- Kasie Hunt, AP

"For election losers, many paths through the political wilderness" -- Bill Turque, Washington Post

"8 questions about the first presidential debate" - Dan Balz, Washington Post 

"Moderating presidential debates: harder than it looks" -- Paul Farhi, Washington Post

"In congressional races, underdogs abound, but why?" -- Corrine Reilly, Washington Post

Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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