The Post’s polling guru Peyton M. Craighill has some interesting stats on the makeup of the Republican primary electorate. The most recent Post/ABC News poll of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who are registered to vote shows this breakdown for Tea Party supporters:
— 80 percent support the Tea Party (28 percent support it strongly, while 53 percent support it somewhat);
— 15 percent oppose the Tea Party;
— 5 percent have no opinion.
The amount of Tea Party support sounds like good news for Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). But wait: The “somewhat supportive” voters vastly outnumber the hard-core Tea Party support.
Then look at ideology:66 percent of those leaning toward the GOP identify themselves as conservative (30 percent saying they’re very conservative, and 36 percent saying they’re somewhat conservative), 27 percent identify as moderate and 5 percent identify as liberal. These numbers again suggest that the less-than-hardcore conservative voters collectively outnumber the very conservative voters.
And yes, Craighill confirms that “there is a great amount of overlap between strong Tea Party supporters and very conservative among that population of registered Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. About half of the very conservative strongly support the Tea Party and vice versa.”
This suggests that Republican candidates can overplay their hand. Perry right now has a lock on very conservative voters, but he’ll have to show some appeal to voters who want a more restrained, practical form of conservatism.
Mitt Romney is plainly angling for the voters who aren’t in the “very conservative” or “strongly supportive” camps. For him, the task is to show these voters that Perry is too risky. Bachmann and the other GOP candidates, if they are to move up, need not only to eat into Perry’s base but to collect some support from the less conservative elements of the party. Can they do it?
This is a good reminder that, even within the likely GOP primary electorate, there is some ideological diversity. The candidate who can put together all the pieces of the party will be the nominee.