A new Gallup poll has some gloomy news about the Republican brand: 61% of those surveyed have an unfavorable view of the party, with only 34% favorable. And quite a few Republicans, not to mention independents and Democrats, have a low opinion of the GOP. To be exact, only 78% of Republicans viewed their own party favorably, while 91% of Democrats felt that way. And this is not all about George W. Bush. GOP ratings have generally followed his downward, but as recently as early September -- around the time of the Republican convention -- the party's favorable rating was as high as 47%, exactly equal to unfavorables and just a bit below the 51% favorable rating for Democrats. The ups and downs of the campaign clearly added a lot of volatility to views of both parties. In the GOP's case, the ratings rose when John McCain looked like a tactical wizard -- when he picked Sarah Palin and she wowed the convention, and before the campaign took a header with Palin's first TV interviews and McCain's failed mission to Washington to solve the financial crisis.
But that's all history now. For those looking forward, the interesting data in this survey come from responses to the question of whether the party is conservative enough. Most Republicans -- 59% -- said it should be more conservative, while only 12% said it should move toward the left aqnd 28% thought it should stay about the same. That's good news not just for conservatives but for the idea of a two-party system, because it says most Republicans want their party to be a real alternative to the Democrats, not just a watered-down imitation of them. This means good riddance to Bush's "compassionate conservatism," with its implied message that conservatives as morally deficient without a dose of welfare liberalism. It also means that rank-and-file Republicans would rather see their party act as the principled opposition in Washington and let the Democrats get the credit or blame for acts of Congress.
But what about the independents, whose votes are needed for any party, conservative or liberal, to gain a majority. They're split on the question of where the GOP should go: 35% say it should turn right, and 35% say it should steer left. Faced with a toss-up vote like that, the Republicans have no reason to resist the will of the party faithful. While the poll isn't exactly a green light to go right, it's no worse than yellow.
But what does it mean to be "more conservative"? That's a big question, on which I'll comment before too long. I'd like to read your thoughts on it in the meantime.
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