The Republican brand problem

December 13, 2012

One thing comes through loud and clear in the new NBC/Wall Street Journal national poll: Republicans have a major brand problem.

Consider the following findings in the NBC/WSJ poll:

* Asked an open-ended question as to what single word or short phrase people would use to describe the Republican Party, 65 percent of the responses were negative, while just 17 percent were positive. (For Democrats, 35 percent were positive, while 37 percent were negative.) Among the most oft-mentioned phrases used to describe Republicans: "bad/weak/negative" (8 percent), "uncompromising/need to work together" (6 percent) and "broken/disorganized/lost" (6 percent). So, that happened.

* The poll tested the positive and negative ratings for 11 politicians or political institutions. The lowest rated -- in terms of the differential between positive and negative ratings -- was the Republican Party, with a 30 percent positive score and a 45 percent negative score. Of the five worst positive-to-negative ratios, Republicans claimed four of them. (The lone exception: Susan Rice with a 20 positive/24 percent net-negative score.) 

* When asked who they trusted more in "handling the fiscal cliff," 38 percent named President Obama while just 19 percent named House Speaker John Boehner and Republicans in Congress. (Fourteen percent said they trusted both equally, and another 28 percent said they trusted neither side.)

What those numbers make clear is that the Republican brand is badly damaged. It is regarded by too many people as an uncompromising relic of the past -- a party that lacks new ideas and is, therefore, forced to largely serve as a blockade to the other side. (That's the biggest reason, by the way, why Republicans should be interested in compromising on the fiscal cliff. They gap between how Obama is regarded and how they are seen is enough to make going over the cliff a genuine political loser for them.)

Republicans have and will continue to insist that they have put out new ideas, but the reality is that the American public doesn't perceive them that way.

The good news for Republicans is that some of the party's brand issues may well take care of themselves. Mitt Romney is headed off the national stage at lightning speed and is being replaced by the likes of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who not only look different than the Republican stereotype (Rubio is Latino, Jindal is Indian-American) but are also of a different generation (both men are in the early 40s) than most of the current national leaders of the Republican Party. 

But, that's only part of the equation. New faces help, but without one clear leader it will be hard for anyone on the Republican side to break through. Ideas also matter, and Republicans needs to find ways to surface new thoughts on issues people care about like education.

Remember that re-setting public perception of a brand takes years (and even decades); it's not an overnight fix. The Fix well remembers the perception from our childhood of Apple as the sad little brother to Microsoft. That's obviously changed, but it took time.

This reality means Republicans need to start now if they want to change how people think of them before the next presidential election. They have their work cut out for them.

Equal blame on fiscal cliff?: In contrast to previous polls, the NBC/WSJ poll doesn't show Republicans would get much more blame (24 percent) than Obama and the Democrats (19 percent) if the fiscal cliff isn't averted.

Instead, a majority (56 percent) say they would blame both equally.

Most other polls, including a Washington Post-ABC News poll last week, have shown Republicans would bear the brunt of a failed set of "fiscal cliff" negotiations.

But the new poll suggests there will be plenty of blame to go around.

Fixbits:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify next Thursday in front of a House committee on the contents of a report on the killings of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Mitt Romney's Jeep ad earns Politifact's "lie of the year."

As expected, Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will be on the Senate banking committee. Here are the highlights of the Democrats' committee assignments.

The Post's Ed O'Keefe recaps the Senate's retirement speeches in three minutes.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sends a warning shot to Republicans in the state Senate's controversial new power-sharing arrangement.

Chicago Democrats are going to select their nominee for former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr's. (D-Ill.) seat on Saturday.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) accuses the National Football League Players Association of trying to back out of Human Growth Hormone testing.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is being treated for prostate cancer.

Must-reads:

"Choose Your Own Voters" -- David Weigel, Slate

"Groups vow to push ‘right to work’ in other states" -- Felicia Sonmez and David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post

"To Save His Second Term, Obama Must Go Over the Fiscal Cliff" -- Noam Scheiber, The New Republic

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Sean Sullivan · December 12, 2012