As Specter Leaves the GOP, New Surveys Show Republicans in Disarray


In announcing his intention to leave the Republican Party, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter said, “Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right…. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.” Two new surveys from Democracy Corps and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner show that this sentiment is shared by a sizeable majority of voters as well.

Democrats continue to maintain a sizeable advantage on partisan identification (currently 8 points), and the proportion of voters that considers themselves to be “strong Republicans” is at just 18 percent, close to an all-time low in our polling. Meanwhile, the Republican brand remains deeply unpopular, with the party sporting a net favorability rating of -15 points (31 percent favorable, 46 percent unfavorable). By comparisons, the Democratic Party enjoys a relatively strong +10 rating (46 percent favorable, 36 percent unfavorable). And in a test of 2010 congressional vote (using the incumbents’ names), Democrats currently hold a 10-point advantage, a slight increase from their 2008 margin.

The Republican leadership’s persistent yet directionless opposition to President Obama over his first 100 days in office has not helped matters. When asked which of seven actions (including working to keep taxes low, proving checks and balances and offering an alternative budget with less spending and a lower deficit) by the Republicans during Obama’s first 100 days were the most encouraging, a full 26 percent of voters replied “none of the above.” Meanwhile, voters cited the party’s obstruction of Obama and its lack of leadership and direction as the most worrisome aspects of today’s GOP.

All of this has left the Republican Party in a deep hole, especially when compared to President Obama. Indeed, even in the 40-most vulnerable Democratic congressional seats, a more conservative battleground than the country as a whole, President Obama is trusted to a better job than the Republicans on every issue tested, most by dominant margins. This includes a 16-point advantage on the economy, a 24-point advantage on health care and a 27-point advantage on energy policy, along with a two-to-one lead on being willing to cross the aisle and work with both parties.

As Stanley Greenberg, co-founder of Democracy Corps, note, “Senator Specter’s decision to switch parties is merely a symptom of what ails the Republican Party. By retreating to a hardcore base and reflexively opposing President Obama’s agenda, the Republicans are at risk of becoming a regional, and marginalized, party.” James Carville, Greenberg’s partner in co-founding Democracy Corps, adds, “Senator Specter’s defection offers the specter of thousands more who find no home with the southern, talk-show base of the Republican Party.”

This analysis is based on a national survey of 1,000 2008 voters (842 reached via landline, 158 reached via cell), conducted April 22 through 26, and a survey of 1,000 likely voters in the 40 most vulnerable Democratic-held congressional districts, conducted April 16-21. Further results from the national survey will be released later this week.

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