Will Christie run for president in 2024? Maybe, although at this point it seems unlikely that he would beat Trump in a primary. But it seems simpler to ascribe his current whiplash-inducing tour of cable studios to smart marketing that offers up an exception to the general unwillingness of potential high-profile Republican candidates to say anything negative about Trump.
For years, pundits across media have been flummoxed by the fact that Trump didn’t represent the Republican Party they knew. He was not like the Republicans who circulate in Washington, certainly, a difference that played to his benefit. But it was hard to understand how an electorate that kept sending D.C.-type Republicans to D.C. was now coalescing around a non-D.C.-type leader.
Last week, YouGov released polling conducted on behalf of the Economist magazine that illuminates one possible answer to that question. Respondents were asked whether they viewed each party as sitting to the respondents’ left or their right. As you might expect, a plurality of Americans saw the Democratic Party as being to their left and the Republican Party to their right. As you also might expect, a plurality of Democrats thought that their party was positioned right where they were, although a fifth thought it was too conservative and 3 in 10 saw it as too liberal.
Where things get interesting is with the numbers for Republicans. Most Democrats thought that the GOP was much more to the right than they were personally. But a plurality of Republicans also thought the party was further to the right than they were. About a quarter of the party said it matched their own ideology. About 4 in 10 said the party sat to their right — nearly the same response as was offered by independents.
There are margins of error at play, of course, but the difference is significant: Republicans are more likely to say that the party is more right-wing than themselves than they are to say that the party matches their ideology. They’re still Republicans, but maybe there is more space for a more-moderate, Christie-esque candidate than one might assume.
Among independents, there weren’t significant differences in how the parties were viewed in the YouGov poll. In Washington Post-ABC News polling released this week, though, independents did express a preference between parties.
We asked poll respondents whether each party was in touch with the concerns of most Americans or not. Democrats mostly thought the Democratic Party was in touch; Republicans thought the GOP was. Independents, always independent, thought neither was. But there was an important difference: Independents were significantly more likely to describe the GOP as being in touch with Americans’ concerns than they were the Democrats.
It’s not a huge distinction, certainly. But it does reflect one problem Democrats face. Since President Biden took office, his approval rating has eroded more among independents than any other group. That’s how it works these days; members of one party love their party’s president and members of the other party loathe him. But political success often means appealing to those middle-ground voters, and the Democrats would like to think that independents see their party as offering better solutions. That’s not the case.
On the plus side, there’s another set of data from the YouGov poll. Asked which party better reflects their views, respondents overall were evenly split. Democrats and Republicans picked their own parties, predictably, but independents, too, broke about down the middle.
Independents may see Republicans as being more in touch with the country, but that’s not spurring them overwhelmingly to align with the party. It’s worth noting that independents are often motivated by inverse partisanship: They lean toward one party not because they prefer it but because they vehemently oppose the alternative.
The picture is complicated, but we can summarize what we know. Most independents don’t think either party is in touch with the concerns of the public, but they give a small advantage to Republicans on that metric. Republicans themselves, meanwhile, are more likely to see their party as being more conservative than they are than to say that the party aligns neatly with their own ideology.
You know who would be interesting to talk to about this? A former governor who is pitching a less-extreme Republican Party. Stick around for after the break, when we’ll hear from Chris Christie on this very subject.