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Saturday, February 6, 2010

New Poll Results Are Proof That Republicans Don't Think

A poll commissioned by DailyKos shows just how far to the right the GOP has been dragged by its right wing...and how far out of step they are with the rest of America.
February 5, 2010 |

A village cannot revise village life to suit the village idiot. -- Frank Schaeffer

On Tuesday, the Daily Kos published a new Research 2000 study showing the current state of belief in the GOP. Though the results aren't anything new -- indeed, the study just puts hard numbers to everything we already thought we knew about the right wing -- the data also show, in sharp detail, just how far to the right the GOP has been dragged by its right wing...and how far out of step they are with the rest of America as a result.

The data also show that Frank Schaeffer was more than fair in characterizing these people as America's "village idiots." For one thing, they really are a bitterly small minority. Last week, I laid out some numbers of my own, which showed that the conservative movement as it's currently constituted only represents the views of about 25 to 30 percent of Americans. (And, historically, that's about as big as conservative movements ever get in the US -- though it's plenty big enough to do some real damage.) Furthermore, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll done last October, only about 20 percent of Americans currently identify as Republican, which is a 40-year low. There's nothing about our current GOP that can be supportably described as "mainstream."

Kos's pollsters did a valiant job of getting inside the heads of this 20 percent. But the story they tell also shows how severe the conservatives' level of derangement has become; and just how little introspection the conservatives have done to reckon with the causes and consequences of their own failures. And it also documents the vast chasm this willful refusal to deal with reality is creating between this noisy minority and the vast majority of Americans.

To grasp the size of the gap, you only have to compare Kos' numbers on conservative beliefs with the most current available stats on the attitudes of the country as a whole. So -- that's what I did below. This discussion doesn't address all of the the questions in Kos's summary, because good data wasn't available on some of them; but a look at most of the high points gives you an accurate picture of just how far out of the mainstream the GOP is pulling.

Should Barack Obama be impeached, or not?

Yes 39
No 32
Not Sure 29

Over a third of Republicans say Obama should be impeached. ("For what? Who the heck knows?" asks Kos. The beauty of being a village idiot is that you never have to explain yourself.) Nearly another third think it's an open question; only one-third say no.

But out in the Real America, Obama's Gallup approval ratings are well within the normal range for a one-year president. Since his TV appearances last week, they're up over 50% again -- and, as Rachel Maddow notes, the Omentum is rising.

Do you think Barack Obama is a socialist?

Yes 63
No 21
Not Sure 16

OK, fine. All faithful FOX watchers know that Obama is a socialist. But the problem for the village idiots is: it's increasingly true that socialism is a terrifying boogeyman that only they can see. For them, it's Mao and Stalin. For the rest of us, it's just another day of government-built roads and schools.

An April 2009 Rasmussen poll (and remember, Rasmussen's findings generally skew rightward) found that only 53% of Americans thought that capitalism was better than socialism. A full 20% though we could do with some more socialism around here; and 37% didn't have an opinion either way.

When nearly half the country no longer thinks that Socialism is Evil Incarnate, red-baiting just doesn't pack much of a political punch any more.

Do you believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be President than Barack Obama?

Yes 53
No 14
Not Sure 33

For those of you thinking the "village idiot" metaphor is bit of hyperbole, consider for just a moment the sheer surreality of the idea that there could be any group, anywhere, in which half of everybody thinks that Sarah Palin would make a good president. Enough said?

But let's skip ahead to the facts. Which are these: A CBS News poll taken two weeks ago found that 71% of Americans do not want to Sarah Palin to run for president in 2012. Only 20% of us (apparently the same ones the Kos poll talked to) think this is a good idea.

Should Congress make it easier for workers to form and join labor unions?

Yes 7
No 68
Not Sure 25

This is "I've got mine -- get off my lawn" conservatism in a Faberge jewel-encrusted nutshell. A Gallup survey done last May found that 57% of Americans think that it's "very important" or "somewhat important" that Congress pass new law to "make it easier for labor unions to organize workers." Only 39 percent opposed such a law.

Would you favor or oppose giving illegal immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and learn English?

Favor 26
Oppose 59
Not Sure 15

The village idiots can never resist tuning up their perennial anti-immigration noise machine in advance of an elections. In their minds, it's just not a party until you've got the hate spewing at full volume all the way down Main Street.

But this issue is becoming more of a loser for them with every passing election. An America's Voice poll released on January 19 found that 87% of Americans favor comprehensive immigration reform that includes fortifying the border, penalizing employers, and a citizenship path for current immigrants that includes working, paying taxes, and learning English.

Do you support the death penalty?

Yes 91
No 4
Not Sure 5

The whole country is still conflicted about this issue, and the consensus is far from clear. The Death Penalty Information Center summarizes how Americans' views have changed in the last two decades:

The latest Gallup Poll on the death penalty shows 65% of Americans support the death penalty, significantly lower than the 80% support recorded in 1994 and near the lowest support of 64% in the past 25 years recorded last year. Only 57% believe the death penalty is fairly applied, and 59% of Americans believe that an innocent person has been executed in the last five years. Gallup reported that support for the death penalty is lower if Americans are offered an explicit alternative, such as life imprisonment with absolutely no possibility of parole. The last time that Gallup offered such alternatives in 2006, only 47% preferred the death penalty, while 48% supported life imprisonment with no parole.

Stlll, 91 percent of Republicans favor the death penalty, compared to 65 percent of Americans generally. There's no more reflection, soul-searching discussion, moral wrangling, or complex and nuanced thought going on over there than there was back in the good old days when executions were public entertainment, and the village idiots never failed to show up.

Should openly gay men and women be allowed to serve in the military?

Yes 26
No 55
Not Sure 19

Media Matters cites four studies done last spring by Gallup, CNN, Quinnipiac, and the Washington Post, all showing that between 56 and 81 percent of Americans favor allowing gays to openly serve in the military. Now that the Joint Chiefs are fully on board with this as well, that 55 percent of Republicans against are increasingly the only people left in the country who are opposing this.

Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry?

Yes 7
No 77
Not Sure 16

The demographics of this issue put the historical momentum firmly on our side when it comes to the rights of LGBT people to form legal families. Full marriage rights are still controversial among some groups (like African-Americans), and in some parts of the country (like the south). But a wide range of studies last year found that Americans are generally running about 40% in favor, and that number grows by a percent or two each year as the very pro-gay-rights Millennials replace the more deeply conflicted Silent Generation in the voter base.

The better news: according to a Pew survey done last October, 57 percent of Americans are fully on board with the idea of civil unions. This idea is now past the point where it's not even considered controversial by anyone who's not pretty far right of center.

The Republicans have been losing ground on gay rights issues for the past 20 years, and will probably lose the issue entirely in the next 20. But, as usual, the village idiots will continue to pound on it with jackhammers until the day they finally wake up, forget the whole fight, and realize they were actually for it all along (and blame any remaining lack of progress on us).

Should sex education be taught in the public schools?

Yes 42
No 51
Not Sure 7

That 42 percent "Yes" vote looks pretty high -- until you realize that, according to the last good poll on this (which was conducted by Pew and NPR in 2004) only seven percent of Americans think sex education doesn't belong in the schools. Just 15 percent think abstinence-only education is a good idea; and only 19 percent think sex ed programs should be silent on the issue of homosexuality.

On the other hand, 55 percent of us think kids should be taught how to use condoms; and a sensible 77 percent believe that having this information will make it more likely that kids will practice safe sex.

Yet about half of all Republicans apparently cling stubbornly to the belief that if you don't talk to adolescents about sex, it'll never occur to them to have it on their own -- an idiot delusion that ends too often the day little Tiffany comes home pregnant.

Should public school students be taught that the book of Genesis in the Bible explains how God created the world?

Yes 77
No 15
Not Sure 8

I wish the news here was better. This may be the only issue where the Republicans in Kos' survey may actually have their fingers on the American pulse. (I apologize in advance for any sleep lost by this revelation.) The last time Gallup visited this issue was in 2008. Here's how they summarize their long experience with this question:

Between 43% and 47% of Americans have agreed during this 26-year time period with the creationist view that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so. Between 35% and 40% have agreed with the alternative explanation that humans evolved, but with God guiding the process, while 9% to 14% have chosen a pure secularist evolution perspective that humans evolved with no guidance by God.

It's obvious that America is at risk of turning into one big village of idiots on this issue. GOP candidates who don't toe this line are going to get ripped by their base; and fighting for the reality-based position won't win them many fans among mainstream voters, either. And that, in turn, means that this issue won't be going away any time soon.

Should contraceptive use be outlawed?

Yes 34
No 48
Not Sure 18

On this issue, it's best to watch what people do, not what they say. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 98 percent of sexually active women between the ages of 15 and 44 have used a contraceptive method. Among the 42 million fertile, sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant, 89% are currently practicing contraception. It's reasonable to assume that the overwhelming majority of these are doing this with the knowledge and support of their male partners.

Contraception has been thoroughly embraced by four generations of American couples. But a third of Republicans want to roll the whole country back a full century to the days before Margaret Sanger; and another 18 percent have acknowleged that thinking this no-brainer all the way through is simply above their pay grade.

Do you consider abortion to be murder?

Yes 76
No 8
Not Sure 16

According to the indispensable Nate Silver, who's compared the numbers from a lot of abortion polls over the years, "the remarkable thing about abortion is precisely how steady public opinion has been on it for many, many years." The country has always been fairly evenly split on this issue, which is why it's still not resolved.

Based on these numbers, abortion will continue to be a galvanizing issue for the GOP's base for years to come. Silver also notes that the rising Millennial generation is somewhat less pro-choice than the Boomers and Xers; but not as anti-choice as the Silent generation (now ages 64-early 80s) that they are replacing in the voting population. Therefore, abortion rights are another issue where the conservatives' hard line will continue to diverge widely from the far more nuanced thinking of the American mainstream.

Do you believe that the only way for an individual to go to heaven is through Jesus Christ, or can one make it to heaven through another faith?

Christ 67
Other 15
Not Sure 18

These stats show that a belief in the One True Right and Only Way -- which only they have the inside line on -- is probably a defining trait among Republicans. They also support the progressive perception that GOP politics is driven by religious belief to a constitutionally dangerous degree.

Fortunately, mainstream America is far more tolerant. A 2008 Pew study found that 70% of Americans think that many religions, not just their own, can lead to eternal life. That's very good news for a democracy founded on the principle of e pluribus unum -- and bad news for a party that's relied far too long on stirring up religious antagonism for political gain.

* * *

Taken as a whole, the Kos data shows a Republican party that's falling farther and farther out of touch with the American mainstream. More interestingly: it also suggests a party that's falling into a concentration-of-craziness pattern that doesn't happen in healthy political movements, but is very typical of authoritarian groups in the middle-to-last stages of decline.

In this pattern, the radicals take control of a previously healthy and well-balanced group, and start taking hard positions that alienate the group's more moderate members. Often, these moderates are driven out because they're too reality-based and lack sufficient revolutionary zeal. (Republicans-in-name-only -- "RINOs'' -- have been hunted to extinction in the GOP; but it's important to note that these kinds of intramural purity crusades are ubiquitous in all kinds of radical groups going sour, both on the left and right.)

Losing their moderates also means that the group loses the ballast that keeps them from leaning too far to the crazy edge; and the moorings that kept them tethered to some level of objective reality. Without that ballast and mooring, the group is free to drift in a more radical direction. And because they're now smaller, they also tend to feel more persecuted and embattled by the larger culture -- which leads to more paranoia-driven purity crusades within the group, which alienates the next slice of semi-sane people into leaving, which in turn distills the levels of paranoia and radicalism further yet.

This vicious cycle typically repeats until there's nothing left but a few True Believers ranting on a street corner somewhere (if you're lucky) or resorting to domestic terrorism to regain their lost renown and take out their revenge on the culture (if you're not). The fact that the GOP has been reduced to 20 percent of the voting pool -- and that that 20 percent holds views that are so deeply at odds with the mainstream of America -- suggests that the Republicans are in the grip of a cycle that portends serious problems with the party's continued viability.

Comparing these two sets of numbers also calls into question the conventional (though not-well-documented) wisdom that though the GOP's own numbers are small, they still command strong allegiance among the 38% of Americans who consider themselves independents. On issues like Sarah Palin, don't-ask-don't-tell, sex education in schools, contraception, and religious tolerance, the overwhelming mainstream support for the progressive position shows that on many important issues, these independents are keeping a big philosophical distance from the ever-more-conservative GOP.

As we've argued here for several years: America is, at heart, still a progressive country in most of the ways that matter. The Kos poll shows us, once again, just how far from that mainstream the conservatives have drifted. At this point, it should be clear to everybody that doing things their way would amount to nothing more than rearranging American life to suit the whims of our handful of remaining village idiots -- at a very high cost to the rest of us.

Sara Robinson is a Fellow at the Campaign for America's Future, and a consulting partner with the Cognitive Policy Works in Seattle. One of the few trained social futurists in North America, she has blogged on authoritarian and extremist movements at Orcinus since 2006, and is a founding member of Group News Blog.

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