Nearly a year removed from a presidential election that put its electoral and demographic weaknesses on full display, the Republican Party has been badly hampered by the ongoing government shutdown as it tries to rebrand itself in advance of both the 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential election, according to an analysis of three weeks' worth of Washington Post-ABC News polling data.
In choosing to take the hard-line stance favored by its most conservative wing, Republican leaders in Congress have not only alienated electorally critical independents and other key demographic groups that their 2012 presidential nominee won but also further revealed the deep schism within their own party.
Start with political independents who supported Mitt Romney over Obama by five points nearly one year ago. Now 76 percent disapprove of Republicans' budget wrangling, slightly more than the 68 percent who disapprove of Democrats. Among white voters, the story is similar. Romney won whites by 20 points in 2012, but 74 percent of whites in the Post-ABC poll disapprove of Republicans’ handling of budget negotiations. And while Romney won 56 percent of voters ages 65 and older, a much larger 73 percent of seniors disapprove of Republicans on the budget.
Then there are the problems within the GOP that the shutdown strategy has revealed. Nearly half (47 percent) of Republicans disapprove of the the way GOP has handled budget talks, a remarkable level of discord across the country that mirrors infighting in Washington.
Look deeper into the numbers and the divides become even clearer. More than six in 10 Republicans who call themselves “very conservative” approve of their party's handling of the budget negotiations, according to combined Post-ABC polls over the past two weeks. Approval drops sharply to 48 percent among those who are only “somewhat conservative” and again to 42 percent among those who are moderate or liberal.
By focusing so heavily on tying the delay or defunding of Obamacare to the government shutdown -- an unpopular position, according to polls -- Republicans in Washington played to the wishes of their base. But, as the 2012 election showed, the Republican base is not what it once was, and to win the White House in three years' time the party needs to find a way to broaden its appeal. The shutdown is a clear setback in those efforts at a time when the GOP can ill afford it.
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"Cuccinelli has drawn deep lines between what he believes is right and wrong" -- Marc Fisher, Washington Post
"Past Stalwarts of Congress Would Be Ashamed" -- Charlie Cook, National Journal
Clement is a pollster with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media.