The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans’ biggest problem: Voters don’t take them seriously

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) arrives at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. (Samuel Corum/Bloomberg)

It turns out that what’s keeping the MAGA cult intact — dumb cultural memes, White victimhood, devotion to the disgraced ex-president, voter suppression — is a poor strategy for a national party. Republicans got trounced in the battle for public opinion regarding the covid-19 rescue plan. What’s more, they lost confidence in their ability to handle just about every major policy issue.

The latest Morning Consult/Politico poll, wherein President Biden gets a 60 percent approval rating, reveals that, among registered voters, Democrats in Congress hold the advantage over Republicans on which party is best able to handle the economy (45 percent of respondents say they trust Democrats, compared with 39 percent who trust Republicans), jobs (46/37), health care (52/30), immigration (45/38), climate change (54/23), the environment (54/25), energy (48/33), education (49/30), guns (44/38), protecting Medicare and Social Security (52/29), the coronavirus (51/26) and voting rights (49/33). Republicans come closest on national security but still trail Democrats 39 percent to 41 percent.

That’s right: In not a single policy area do Republicans enjoy greater trust than Democrats. And why should they? They have adamantly opposed an overwhelmingly popular bill that includes money to maintain jobs (via small business aid), conduct covid-19 testing and vaccination, subsidize Affordable Care Act and COBRA costs, and reopen schools. The only thing voters have heard from Republicans is that such spending is unnecessary.

In other arenas, Republicans have adopted hugely unpopular positions. On guns, Morning Consult reports on its survey, "84 percent of voters support requiring all gun purchasers to go through a background check — making the measure more popular than the widely backed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan or the policing and voting rights bills the chamber advanced last week.” That is also close to the level of support “after deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, indicating that the measure’s broad popularity.” Even 3 out of 4 Republican voters support universal background checks. Congressional Republicans do not.

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Likewise, Americans by a huge majority favor aggressive federal action on climate change. The Post reported last year on a Pew Research Center poll that found: “Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the federal government should act more aggressively to combat climate change, and almost as many say the problem is already affecting their community in some way.” In addition, “Americans overwhelmingly want the government to do more to reduce the greenhouse gases linked to a warming climate, with significant majorities backing policies that would plant huge numbers of trees, greater restrict power plant emissions, require more fuel-efficient cars and tax corporations based on their emissions.” That’s straight out of the Democratic policy handbook. Despite Republicans’ catastrophizing over the Green New Deal (which they never quite define), they are once more on the wrong side of the issue.

It’s easy to understand, therefore, why Republicans want to roll back access to voting in ways they imagine will disadvantage all but their base and why they talk about nonsensical issues that government has no ability to control (e.g., Dr. Seuss books). Their problem becomes self-reinforcing: The more chum they throw out for the base, the less credible they look to the majority of voters; hence, the greater need to restrict voting. It is the dilemma most authoritarian movements face: They must resort to anti-democratic means to keep power and enforce policies disfavored by the majority of the electorate.

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