Our recent work for Democracy Corps‘ Republican Party Project has provided a deep and serious look inside the GOP. For all that holds the party together — disgust with President Obama and big government, rejection of taxes and regulations, etc. — we find serious fractures within the Republican Party. While individual representatives in very red districts will be able to hold on to their seats, the Republican Party must eventually reconcile its now deeply divided base.
Evangelical Republicans — a third of the GOP base — are consumed by social issues such as gay marriage, homosexuality, and abortion. They view their insular communities as being under serious threat from outside forces that bring “culture rot” into their homes, schools, and towns. As a result, social issues are at the center of their politics. Non-Evangelical, Tea Party Republicans — a quarter of the GOP base — are not interested in the social issues that drive Evangelicals, and they worry that social issues serve only to fracture the party. The alliance between the two groups is tenuous and uneasy. Moderate Republicans — a quarter of GOP partisans — are very conscious that they are a minority within the party. They have become increasingly uncomfortable with positions held by the conservative majority of Evangelicals and Tea Party Republicans. Their distance begins with social issues, like gay marriage and homosexuality, but it is also evident in their positions on immigration and climate change.
As our focus groups reveal, Evangelicals see “culture rot” as the biggest threat to the country—and acceptance of homosexuals is central to their critique of the U.S. today. It feels invasive and inescapable — on TV and in schools:
Like it’s a normal way of life. There’s a minority of people out there are homosexual, but by watching TV, you’d think everybody’s that way. And that’s the way they portray it. (Evangelical man, Roanoke)
Somebody’s got to say “the gay agenda.” That gets thrown around, a lot—that there’s this vast conspiracy of gays that are trying to push this. (Evangelical man, Roanoke)
My daughter’s only one, and I already am making plans for her not to go to school and have that [homosexuals] in her life, because it’s not – Not only that it’s not just something that I agree with, but it’s not something that should have to be forced down her throat. (Evangelical woman, Colorado Springs)
It’s hard when the school is directly opposing what you’re trying to teach your kids. (Evangelical man, Roanoke)
But in stark contrast, Tea Party Republicans are more apt to say, “Who cares?” about gay marriage.
Who cares? (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)
I don’t want the government telling me who I’m sleeping with or whatever in my bedroom, so I just don’t think it’s the government’s business. (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)
I think it’s not important. I mean either way we have so many bigger issues to worry about. (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)
I don’t think the government as any say in it…I personally don’t agree with gay marriage, but I don’t think the government should say who can get married and who can’t. It’s not their business. (Tea Party man, Raleigh)
And they worry that social issues distract the Republican Party—or worse, divide it.
The government, the media, the news media, you know. Of course – it’s gay rights, it’s abortion… What we need to be focused on is the financial situation. All the rest of it, I think they’re throwing stuff out, they’re feeding it to the media. (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)
The government is feeding stuff to the media to get us talking and arguing about gay rights, about abortions and stuff. (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)
I think the Republicans have lost so many people to the Democratic Party because of social issues, because of pro-life and more open ideas where if we could eliminate that from the conversation I think we’d have an entirely different electorate. (Tea Party woman, Roanoke)
And moderates, in stark contrast to both, call the Tea Party “wacky.”
A little wacky. (Moderate woman, Raleigh)
Extreme. (Moderate woman, Raleigh)
It’s kind of, the Tea Party is being just as closed minded as the other group. (Moderate woman, Raleigh)
Idiots. (Moderate man, Colorado)
Just something doesn’t smell right. (Moderate man, Colorado)
And they believe the GOP needs to be more forward-looking. They are very conscious that this is not a party of the future.
I can’t sell my kids on this party. I agree with…some of their positions. But the stupid things… for instance, the rape crap they were saying… I can’t sell them on my party. These kids are smart, they know these stupid politicians are saying crap. And these guys are representing us and they show their ignorance often. And just shut their mouth and do – again, get out of our bedrooms, get out of our lives and do what they’re supposed to do. (Moderate man, Colorado Springs)
I think of a white 54-year-old man in a business suit. And my mom. (Moderate woman, Raleigh)
I just tend to be a little bit more moderate on social issues. However I’m a pretty staunch fiscal conservative so it’s kind of like at least among my peers there’s a change in kind of the conservative group. But it doesn’t necessarily seem like the Republican Party is changing with it. (Moderate woman, Raleigh)
How long can the GOP hold on to this uneasy coalition? Right now, the conservative majority of Evangelicals and Tea Party Republicans make up a majority in states and districts the GOP now controls. In Republican-controlled states, 22 percent are non-Evangelical Tea Party and 33 percent are Evangelical Republicans. In Republican-held districts, 30 percent are Evangelical Republicans, and 23 percent are non-Evangelical Tea Party. Moderate Republicans (many of whom are increasingly tempted to split their votes) are not required to hold these Republican-held jurisdictions. However, in the most vulnerable Republican battleground districts, we find that these fractures do matter.
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