A recent study by a conservative market research group called the Frontier Lab explains that Republicans have been leaving the party in droves because they are tired of being told to vote “for the lesser of two evils.” As someone who tries to be civically engaged, I have heard this argument described more often than I care to think about. Our last two Presidential candidates have epitomized this very theme – both McCain and Romney were unpopular in general with Republicans, but somehow were able to secure the Presidential nomination. How?
The study found that the “lesser of two evils” argument was the first of four basic events that conspired together to cause both conservative and moderate Republicans to leave the Party.
The second reason was a “loss of hope in the GOP”, fed largely by a view that the GOP had become too similar to its opponents. Consider the two Party’s stance on foreign policy over the last decade or so. There are more similarities than differences, even if the two sides continue to argue over semantics. Or how about on the NSA scandal? Politicians from both parties have rushed in to defend the NSA. Voters who have lost hope in the Party also tend to feel that their candidates have “let them down” – usually happens when politicians are seen as compromising Party principles.
Affiliation with a new community was the third important event that precipitated a person’s exodus from the Party. Recently, this has been driven by the growth and popularity of the Tea Party movement. At this point, the person has feelings of disconnection from the Party and finds that sense of belonging with an outside group.
The last event is an “incident of perceived betrayal by the GOP”. This sees the voter turning against what they call the “establishment” of the Party. Voters here tend to support strong non-establishment candidates. At this point, the person becomes strongly connected to certain non-establishment candidates, and when the GOP makes light of those candidates, the voter feels personally attacked or betrayed.
The study in and of itself could lead many within the GOP to being very worried about what the future holds, because the basic descriptions of these events is becoming emblematic of more and more Republicans.
However, there is good news within the study as well. The folks at Frontier Lab believe that it might not be very difficult to correct these negative associations and bring some of the disaffected voters back into the fold. All of the ways to fix the problem relate back to the core issues; begin articulating principle based decision making plans, lose the Buckley rule – which says nominate the conservative with the best chance to win– lose the establishment and get back to leading on principle, highlight principled conservatives working within the GOP, and build community.
So, there are answers to fixing the problems of the GOP ‘exodus”, but the real question is will the establishment go along with the fix? The Frontier Study shows where we have gone astray, and is a road map for future success. I’m just not sure the GOP leadership is willing to do what it takes to really solve the problems.
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