Republican voters say it's time for the party to change. But simply moderating the GOP's views is not the prescription they are offering. In fact, what they want is just the opposite, a more conservative Republican Party.
On the heels of two straight presidential election defeats, Republicans have been doing a whole lot of soul searching, with a broad consensus emerging that the party must retool to be viable in the future. It's going to be a complicated process, a new Pew Research Center survey shows. The poll indicates there is remarkably little agreement over how the party should remake itself, with GOP voters split over whether the party needs to move to the right or left on several hot button issues.
By a 54 percent to 40 percent margin, Republicans and GOP-leaning independent voters want party leaders to be more conservative rather than moderate. This makes intuitive sense - most Republicans themselves identify as conservative. But it runs counter to the takeaway that most Americans, the media and even some leading Republican figures have been trumpeting in the aftermath of 2012, which has been that the GOP needs to move to the middle, away from right-leaning views on social issues seen as hindering the party's efforts with independent voters.
So how to change? Well, nearly seven in 10 Republican leaners (67 percent) agree that the party needs to address major problems, and 59 percent say it needs to reconsider its positions.
But that's where the consensus ends.
On gay marriage, GOP voters are split over whether the GOP's position is too conservative, not conservative enough, or about right. On abortion, there are just as many who say the GOP position is insufficiently conservative as say it is too conservative. And on government spending, there is scant appetite for a less conservative stance.
Republicans also blame personalities rather than policies for the party's electoral woes, opposite of the diagnosis of the public at-large. A December Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that a majority of Americans (53 percent) said the GOP's problem is that it is too conservative and needs to offer a program focused on the welfare of the people, while just 38 percent said the policies are good, but it needs a better leader. But among Republicans, 64 percent of Republicans polled said they saw leadership and communication as the main issue.
So even in the face of calls for more moderation, it should come as no surprise if Republicans actually move in the other direction, sharpening their conservative positions.
Another finding in the Pew poll that could nudge Republicans to the right, or at least keep them from moving to the left: The enthusiasm with which tea party voters participate in elections. While tea party-aligned supporters make up just 37 percent of all Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, they make up about half of the primary electorate (those who say they always vote in primary elections). In 2012, tea party supporters made up an average of 61 percent of the electorate in Republican primary contests contests where network exit polls were conducted.
The result? More conservative Republicans nominees up and down the ballot.
You may have heard a lot in recent months about how the Republican Party should moderate its ways in the wake of the 2012 election. But this much is clear: Most Republicans don't want it.