Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Republican Brand Growing Weak In Texas

The Republican Party heads into the New Year with its brand tattered by the election after decisive losses in the 2008 presidential and congressional races. Such a defeat inevitably leads to introspection in party circles about its message going forward.

Actually, the Republican Party's brand image was in decline well before the 2008 election cycle. In December 2005, the Republicans and the Democrats were rated about equally nationally, with just under half of Americans viewing each party favorably. Shortly thereafter, the Republicans' favorable rating fell to 36%, and has since remained in that territory. The Democrats' favorable rating gradually improved during 2006, and has not fallen below 51% since the spring of that year.

The full results of a much-anticipated Republican Party of Texas introspection survey by the Houston-based Republican firm Hill Research were officially released on Monday. This survey of Texas voters yields much the same message as other surveys conducted around the U.S. during November 2008.

According to a November 2008 Gallup poll the Republican Party's image has gone from bad to worse over the past month, as only 34% of Americans say they have a favorable view of the party, down from 40% in mid-October. The 61% unfavorable view of the GOP is the highest unfavorable reading Gallup has recorded for that party since the measure was established in 1992.

The only thing surprising about a 61% unfavorable view of the GOP is, perhaps, that the unfavorable number is not higher considering 87% of Americans are dissatisfied with the direction the Republican philosophy of governance has take the county according to the Gallup's weekly survey question, "In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time?"

Survey Date Satisfied Dissatisfied Unsure
11/13-16/08 11 87 2
11/7-9/08 13 84 3
10/31-11/2/08 13 85 2

Texans are not as dissatisfied with GOP as Americans in general, but they are also unhappy - as Hill Research's statewide poll of 636 active Texas voters voters shows:
Texas voters increasingly unhappy with GOP - The Dallas Morning News
Poll's shocking SOS for Texas GOP - The Dallas Morning News

The survey, conducted by David Hill, raises questions about whether the Republican Party might be in trouble after a decade of political dominance in Texas.

"The poll results challenge the conventional wisdom that Texas is a solidly red state," said Mr. Hill. "This shows that the Republican Party's image, even among Anglos and conservatives and self-professed Republicans, is often not what we would like it to be."

Texas voters don't think the GOP is delivering government that is low-cost, in-touch or devoted to the common good, the poll shows.

Mr. Hill said he found that perceptions of Republicans as arrogant, corrupt, angry and unwelcoming jeopardize the party's dominance. The GOP currently holds every statewide office and controls the Legislature.

Half the voters polled believe the state is on the wrong track; only 37 percent believe Texas is headed in the right direction.
Only 32% of those surveyed Mr. Hill believe that Republican candidates "deserves" to be elected to office. While 45% say they approve of the way Republicans run government in Texas only 15% say they strongly approve. This compares to 35% who say they strongly disapprove of Republican performance and another 15% who somewhat disapprove for a total disapproval rating of 50%.

In Gallup's November poll more than half of Americans, 55%, currently hold a favorable view of the Democratic Party and only 39% an unfavorable view, highly typical of views toward the Democrats through all of 2008. In Mr. Hill's survey 54% of Texans say give Democrats a chance, a number that seems to match up with Gallup's reading that 55% of Americans currently hold a favorable view of the Democratic Party.

In a head-to-head match up today between a generic Democratic candidate for governor and a generic Republican, the Democrat starts out with a 13 percent advantage. In a state representative race, the Democratic advantage is 14 percent.


The next slide from the survey data details what voters don’t like, generically, about Republicans. Voters think the Republicans are arrogant, racist, corrupt and angry. While they think Democrats are smart, innovative, reformers, fair, thoughtful and, perhaps most importantly, the party of the future. As Hill Research notes, long-term, this is simply an untenable position for a political party that hopes to maintain its dominate position.


Neither party can win majority power in State or Federal elections without attracting substantial support from political independents. Hill Research slices the voting population into five distinct segments that includes the independent "Critical Middle" block of voters. It is the Critical Middle - those “not in either camp solidly - that Republicans must hold to win elections in Texas. This group is heavily male, under age 50, self-described moderate and/or independent and focused on fiscal rather than social "morality" issues.


Hill warns in no uncertain terms that for GOP campaigns to succeed they must wrap up 80 percent of the Critical Middle. “This isn’t ‘optional’ - anything less means Republicans lose.”

The Texas Republican Party, controlled in large part by religious conservatives, is going to have to make some serious changes to accommodate the Critical Middle voters. This group is not much swayed by the GOP's mainstay “traditional morality values” augments. At the state level, few voters care much about abortion, school prayer and other staunch social conservatism hot-button issues. What they do rate as important are cutting property taxes, child health care, job security, the economy and paying for their children's education.

The Democratic Party is enjoying an extended stretch of popularity with Americans that started in 2006, and is likely to continue as long as its new party leader, President-elect Barack Obama, continues to inspire high confidence ratings -- and eventually job approval ratings -- from the American people.

Since the Democratic Party is already closely identified as supporting health care, job security and education issues, a popular President Obama could help convince the Critical Middle to vote for Democratic candidates in 2010 and 2012.

The initial impulse of rank and file Republicans is to tack to the right -- returning to core "conservative" principles, as many Republican thought leaders are currently advocating. Given only about a third of independents want the party to be more conservative, it is unclear how much that approach might help to expand the Republican base.

Since most rank-and-file (largely religious conservatives) Republicans (59%) want to see the party move in a more conservative direction the party will likely field 2010 candidates that tend to be more rather than less conservative. The Hill Research Survey report concludes with some recommendations that indicates that isn't the way to attract "Critical Middle" voters.



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