Explaining Trump: GOP Civil War & its Opportunities

When you see the results of this survey, you will believe that either Donald Trump has an amazing antenna for the mood of the party or a great pollster. And you will also believe this explosive civil war inside the GOP can move significant numbers of voters out of the Republican camp – and this poll starts to show how.

Executive Summary

As the Republican Party grapples with a fateful decision about its nominee for president, this new Democracy Corps survey of Republican voters shows they are headed towards a train-wreck that will change our politics. That may seem like hyperbole, but this one of kind survey is an eye opening glimpse into what is really happening inside one of our major national parties. The animated animus for Democratic governance and fear of the country’s growing immigrant and racial diversity truly unify the Republican Party and have allowed Donald Trump to surge ahead of the field. But there are deep fissures inside the base as well and the GOP is poised to crack wide open.

Moderates form 31 percent of the Republican Party base, and they are solidly pro-choice on abortion and hostile to pro-life groups. About one in five are poised to defect from the party. The party is divided down the middle on gay marriage, climate change, and the N.R.A.[1]

With the GOP’s battles alienating large swaths of the country and an internal civil war in full swing, this campaign is full of opportunity for progressives.  

This likely voter survey of 800 Republican base voters was conducted online using a voter file sample. The results were weighted to match Democracy Corps’ national likely voter data set for self-identifying Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who will vote in the Republican primaries or caucuses. That includes questions such as religion, church attendance, ideology, strength of party identification, Tea Party support, education and age. Our assertions that Moderates are 31 percent of the Republican base and that the party is split down the middle between a Tea Party-Evangelical bloc and a Moderate-Observant Catholic bloc are based on our last three national surveys of likely voters. In short, you can trust that this is real.[2]

This survey of Republicans looks eerily like Trump’s inside intelligence on Republican thinking, though at the same time, it shows how Democrats can take advantage of this moment.

The strongest attacks that we tested centered on his character and leadership qualities: that he is an ego-maniac at the expense of the country, that he is disrespectful towards women, and that he cannot be trusted to keep the country safe and handle our nuclear weapons.

The strongest Democratic messages that shift Tea Party, Observant Catholic, and Moderate voters away from the Republican nominee are ones focused on investment and modernizing America; on reforming corporate governance so growth works for middle class, not just the CEOs; and on getting beyond social issues to address America’s problems.


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this release included a finding that a majority of Republicans did not believe the reported fact that “net migration from Mexico has been zero or less since 2005, the number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants in the U.S. has declined to 1.3 million since 2007.”  It is not the case that unauthorized Mexican immigration to the U.S. has declined to 1.3 million since 2007, and we intended to ask whether they believed it was true that the number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants to the U.S. declined by 1.3 million since 2007. Accordingly, we have removed the flawed finding from this survey and apologize for any inconvenience.

[1]Moderates (31 percent) consist of:  (a) liberals/moderates  who are neither observant Catholics, nor Tea Party supporters, nor very favorable towards the Tea Party, (b) conservatives who are neither Evangelical Republicans nor Observant Catholics and do not attend religious services more than once a week who are neither Tea Party supporters nor strongly favorable towards the Tea Party. Evangelicals (30 percent) consist of Evangelical Christians who are not Moderates (see above). Tea Party (17 percent)  consist of strong Tea  Party supporters or those very favorable towards the Tea Party who are: (a) not Moderates or Evangelicals (see above); (b) liberals/moderates who are not Evangelicals and are very favorable towards the Tea Party or somewhat strong Tea Party supporters. Observant Catholics (14 percent) consist of Observant Catholics or Catholics who attend services more than once and week who are not Moderate, Evangelical, or Tea Party (see above). Establishment (8 percent) consists of those who are not Moderate, Evangelical, Tea Party, or Observant Catholic (see above).

[2] This national web-survey of 800 likely Republican voters was conducted by Democracy Corps & Greenberg Quinlan Rosner on February 11- 16, 2016 using a voter file sample. Likely voters were determined based on whether they voted in 2012 or registered since and stated intention of voting in 2016. Data is among those who identify as Republicans or independents who lean Republican and vote in Republican primaries or caucuses. Margin of error for the full sample is +/-3.47 percentage points at 95% confidence. The 5 categories of Republicans are mutually exclusive categories determined by respondents’ responses on ideology, religion, frequency of service attendance, strength of Tea Party support and favorability towards the Tea Party. To ensure that the web-survey accurately reflects the national Republican Party, the typologies were weighted to the average for each type from Democracy Corps’ last three national surveys.

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