Gallup is out with a revealing poll showing a deep divide between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to the economy and the role of government: “Democrats have a more positive image of the federal government than they do of capitalism, by a 20-percentage-point margin, while Republicans are more positive about capitalism than the federal government, by a 45-point margin.” And when it comes to “socialism,” only 23 percent of Republicans have a positive view, while 53 percent of Democrats do. To all of this Republicans are inclined to say: “Told you so!“
Overall, Americans are still fond of capitalism (61 percent) and wary of socialism (39 percent). That may explain why Democratic candidates repeatedly reject the accusation they are anti-capitalist, infatuated with government and have a soft spot for socialism. If they said differently, they’d have an electoral problem. And while Democratic pols like President Obama mouth platitudes about the wonders of the free market, their base — wink, wink — understands the game.
The data should be somewhat comforting to conservatives. They have a receptive audience that likes entrepreneurs (86 percent), adores small business (95 percent), approves of big business (58 percent) and barely approves of the federal government (51 percent). That suggests they need better messengers and a clearer explanation as to why their policies are good for entrepreneurs and small and big business and help restrain the federal government. But it is a mistake, I think, for Republicans (as Mitt Romney did) to speak to the entire country as if everyone were a small business owner. There may be a lot of small business owners and a lot of people who would love to be small business owners, but there are a whole lot more employees and self-employed voters out there for whom the GOP message has not resonated. The challenge for Republican candidates is to connect their pro-business, pro-free market beliefs with policies that ordinary voters can appreciate.
Republicans also make a mistake in getting caught up in abstractions without recognizing that politics is not a debating society (although politicians do debate). It is also an arena in which personality, humor, empathy and relatability matter, as Romney learned the painful way in losing the “cares about people like me” question by over 60 percent. Republicans can’t then simply re-write their list of policies or describe them more vividly (although that would help in certain cases). In fact, the search for the most eloquent conservative is really not an effective way to find winning candidates. Rather, they need to rethink the way they campaign, the sort of candidates they select, the types of ads they run and the image the GOP projects. You see, dear conservatives, you can be “right” on the issues and even have a majority of voters agree with you and still lose an election. Republicans just did.