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Andy Kohut goes deep on impact of the GOP’s ‘staunch conservatism’

REUTERS/Joshua Lott
Republicans’ image with the wider public is now dominated by the behavior and views of “a bloc of doctrinaire, across-the-board conservatives [that] has become a dominant force on the right.”

Writing for the Washington Post’s Outlook section, Andy Kohut of the Pew Research Center makes a case that you won’t find too shocking but to which he brings a depth and breadth based on years’ worth of polling data. Namely: The Republican Party has moved further from the center of national public opinion than any party has since the McGovern era when the Democrats were viewed by Middle America as the party of “acid, abortion and amnesty.”

The public now perceives the Republicans as “the more extreme party, the side unwilling to compromise or negotiate seriously to tackle the economic turmoil that challenges the nation,” Kohut says.

Kohut is no longer president of Pew and perhaps this piece suggests that he is planning to adopt a less neutral, scholarly, pollsterly tone. The headline on the piece reads “The numbers prove it: The GOP is estranged from America.”

“Estranged” is a strong word, but, as the headline suggests, every statement is rooted in polling data. Kohut writes:

“The Republican Party’s ratings now stand at a 20-year low, with just 33 percent of the public holding a favorable view of the party and 58 percent judging it unfavorably, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Although the Democrats are better regarded (47 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable), the GOP’s problems are its own, not a mirror image of renewed Democratic strength.”

Republicans’ image with the wider public is now dominated by the behavior and views of “a bloc of doctrinaire, across-the-board conservatives [that] has become a dominant force on the right.” The party’s base, which constitutes about 45 percent of all Republicans, holds “extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues: the size and role of government, foreign policy, social issues, and moral concerns,” writes Kohut. “They stand with the tea party on taxes and spending and with Christian conservatives on key social questions, such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.”

This group, whom Kohut dubs “staunch conservatives,” are “demographically and politically distinct from the national electorate. Ninety-two percent are white. They tend to be male, married, Protestant, well off and at least 50 years old.”

One of the unifying elements of staunch conservatism is the emotional intensity of their dislike for Pres. Obama, Kohut says. “For example, a fall 2011 national survey found 63 percent of conservative Republicans reporting that Obama made them angry, compared with 29 percent of the public overall.”

The Pew organization has been a leader in tracking the nexus that connects politics with the news media. Looking back at that data, Kohut concludes that the role of Fox News on the right is much more powerful than the role of liberal news sources on the left:

“The politicization of news consumption is certainly not new; it’s been apparent in more than 20 years of data collected by the Pew Research Center. What is new is a bloc of voters who rely more on conservative media than on the general news media to comprehend the world. Pew found that 54 percent of staunch conservatives report that they regularly watch Fox News, compared with 44 percent who read a newspaper and 30 percent who watch network news regularly. Newspapers and/or television networks top all other news sources for other blocs of voters, both on the right and on the left. Neither CNN, NPR or the New York Times has an audience close to that size among other voting blocs… Conservative Republicans make up as much as 50 percent of the audiences for Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’ Reilly. There is nothing like this on the left. MSNBC’s ‘Hardball’ and ‘The Rachel Maddow Show’ attract significantly fewer liberal Democrats.”

Kohut also concludes three curious somewhat contradictory things about the impact of staunch conservatism on the Republican Party for the foreseeable future. One: They will complicate the big plan of Republican leaders to soften negative images of the party. Two: The staunch conservatives sustain conservative Republicans ability to remain in many offices, especially in Congress, but  Three: “they also help keep the party out of the White House. Quite simply, the Republican Party has to appeal to a broader cross section of the electorate to succeed in presidential elections.”

Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 03/22/2013 - 04:42 pm.


    Until the Republicans can defeat themselves–namely the ultra conservative voting block within their ranks–they’re going to have a hard time being anything more than a fringe element in national politics. There are simply too few angry old white guys to sustain them.

    I suppose it’s possible they’ll advance and change their ways using the same method science does: one funeral at a time.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 03/23/2013 - 07:32 am.


      But as noted in the article, they still manage to succeed at a more local level, maintaining their ability to win seats in Congress. Which means they continue to have the ability to do a fair amount of damage.

      I can only hope they can’t do too much more damage before they finally fade away into history.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/22/2013 - 07:40 pm.

    If only angry old white guys

    can vote, then the GOP can still win elections.

  3. Submitted by Joe Musich on 03/22/2013 - 08:58 pm.

    Smaller numbers …

    dictate the policy for the rest of us ? Pretty sad.

  4. Submitted by Diane Nelson on 03/22/2013 - 10:47 pm.

    Speaking of angry white men

    What ever happened to Dennis Tester and Thomas? They disappeared from commentary here after the black man was reelected.

    • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 03/25/2013 - 11:12 pm.

      Thomas continues to snipe at MinnPost

      both on Twitter and on the right wing echo chamber overseen by Mitch Berg, his blog Shot in the Dark.

      But apparently Thomas has decided that casting conservative pearls before liberal swine is a losing proposition. And he has to keep it clean. Too much of a strain, apparently.

  5. Submitted by John Edwards on 03/23/2013 - 11:26 am.

    Move along, nothing new here

    Liberal Andy Kohut made precisely the same case that now makes Eric and his fellow left wingers at MinnPost so excited in an Aug. 19, 2007 Washington Post article entitled “Permanent Republican Majority? Think Again.” In other words: Republicans, adopt our liberal values or face extinction. While Obama won in 2008, conservatives and Republicans won massive victories in 2010, three years after Kohut had predicted their decline. A mere two years after that Republicans got wiped out. Political outcomes are determined more by events (9/11, the 2008 financial collapse, incumbency and candidates) than ideology. I am sure, however, that Kohut’s devout adherence to liberal solutions has no affect on the Pew Research Center’s polling.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/23/2013 - 05:02 pm.


      I thought the lesson of 2010 was that if one side doesn’t show up the other wins.

      Why one side chooses not to show up is another matter.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/24/2013 - 09:55 am.


        This assumes that not voting is a personal choice, not someone else’s choice.

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/24/2013 - 09:42 pm.

          Come On Now

          In 2010 Democratic leaning voters stayed away from the polls in droves. They did show up in 2006, 2008, and 2012.

          No one choose for them to not show up in 2010. For those otherwise regular Democratic voters who did not show up in 2010, it was their choice. The enthusiasm gap that year was a gulf.

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/25/2013 - 09:41 am.


            the average number of voting stations per voter in Red and Blue precincts, and the resulting relative waiting times, and you’ll see that Democrats have a permanent vote handicap (sometimes estimated at about 2%). This is one reason for the average lower turnout of registered Democratic voters compared to Republicans.
            Sometimes this handicap is overcome; sometimes it isn’t.

            • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/25/2013 - 01:16 pm.

              Apples to Apples

              The factors you mention, which are valid concerns, don’t explain the downturn in Democratic leaning voters in 2010. There was not a substantive increase in voter suppression after the 2008 election; an election that saw Democrats do very well. Those factors remained fairly constant from 2008 to 2010, and do explain the downturn in Democratic voters in 2010.

              • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 03/25/2013 - 04:36 pm.


                I don’t know what the stats were, but here’s what I’m wondering. Was it that there was a lower Democratic turnout in 2010? Or was it that there was a much larger Republican turnout in 2010?

                Because what I am remembering about that election was that it came on the heels of the Tea Party fueled anger over the passage of Obamacare (remember the “Summer of the Angry Town Halls”?) and that the Republican base was really fired up. And that translated into Republicans showing up to vote and the aftermath.

                So were Democratic turnout numbers actually that much lower? Or was it that Republican turnout numbers were that much higher?

              • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/25/2013 - 09:09 pm.

                Point taken

                The downturn was more likely the fact that it was an off year (presidentially speaking in both senses). Might be interesting to graph voter turnout for both parties as a function of GDP and employment level.

  6. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 03/23/2013 - 05:07 pm.

    Many leaders lead to chaos

    The dysfunctional stance the Republicans are approaching everything with is proof positive they don’t know who the heck they are. Several years ago they couldn’t figure out who the tea party was. They now have their answer. The tea party has taken the Republicans right to their knees. Tim Pawlenty was asked who their leader is and he said, ‘We have many leaders”. He is right, and that leads to the chaos the party now enjoys. When the Republicans make a wrong statement and apologize to, who I suspect is the real leader of the dysfunctional Republicans, the likes of Limbaugh. One hundred pages of post election analysis comes to some of the right conclusions but they won’t get their without a strong rational leader. No such person is on the Republican horizon. The late note comics are thankful for the Republican Party. Look who they have to choose from; Bachman, McConnell, Cantor, Paul, Rubio, Ryan, Gohmert, Gingrich, Romney, Palin, Trump, etc. Pretty much a comedians field day. The Republican chaos will continue.

  7. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/25/2013 - 07:50 am.

    Maybe it’s the terminology

    My 2¢ is that much of the discussion is based on curious notions of what some of the common terminology means. It’s complicated by attempts, of which this will be yet another, to simplify the integration of personal and political views that probably cannot be integrated when all is said and done.

    Growing up, I admit that I learned — from parents, teachers, clergy and other adults — that modesty and circumspection were qualities to be fostered and encouraged.

    I also learned that to be “conservative” had more to do with the pace of change than with the change itself. Change was viewed, like death and taxes, as inevitable by the adults I knew, and to be “conservative” was to be in favor of gradual and measured change, with due consideration for its effects. To slow the pace of change, if you will.

    To be “liberal” had less to do with policy positions, or even personal beliefs about specific issues, than it did with that pace of change. “Liberals” were more inclined to welcome change, whether in the society as a whole, or in regard to specific issues. They tended, or so I was taught, to be less afraid of things that were “different” or “strange,” and more inclined to view change in the society in a positive light, sometimes without thinking through the consequences, intended or not, of a particular change. “Liberals” were not especially upset by rapid change, or at least adapted to it quickly.

    To be “reactionary” meant that someone went beyond a desire to slow down the pace of change, and was generally opposed to change in almost any form. In many instances, a “reactionary” favored a return to attitudes and beliefs characteristic of the past, and that “return to yesterday” or “yesteryear” mind set could apply to change in just about any area of the society, whether political, economic or social.

    Growing up, I tended to associate — correctly, I think — the Democratic Party with “Liberalism,” as I’ve defined it here. I tended to associate the Republican Party with “Conservatism,” also as I’ve defined it here. Those who qualified as “Reactionaries” when I was a kid in the 1950s were extreme groups like the John Birch Society.

    It appears, to me at least, that those childhood definitions need to be altered, or that the parts of the political spectrum to which they applied have shifted over the course of the post-World War II period, and especially in the past couple of decades.

    Until I was well beyond the age of 40, I never thought of myself as particularly “liberal,” and family members tended to characterize, sometimes negatively, my political views as “moderate.” I still think of my political views as only modestly liberal, but the ground has shifted underneath me (and everyone else). It wasn’t until 10 or 15 years ago that I encountered other people who referred to me, or my political views, as “liberal.” I should add that it’s also true that not until the past 10 or 15 years have I heard or seen “liberal” and “conservative” used pejoritavely.

    The phrase I’ve often used in MinnPost comments has been “…people who call themselves ‘conservative’…,” and I’ve used that construction because it appears to me that the Republican Party, and many individuals who are members in spirit if not in terms of paying dues, have ceased to be people who fit my earlier definition of the term. What Andy Kohut labels as “staunch conservatism” I would label as “reaction,” and the GOP has become a party of reactionaries, driven, in policy terms at least, by a smaller group of zealots who are themselves reactionary. Some of the reaction is media-driven, some of it is the usual self-serving instinct of the well-to-do, and some of it strikes me as a sincere desire to return to the world of Andy Griffith and Mayberry. Unfortunately, that world was fictional to begin with, and failed attempts to return to it merely disappoint and anger further those people who are not just disappointed by modern society, but are frightened by it.

  8. Submitted by Tim Walker on 03/25/2013 - 01:56 pm.

    Amen, Ray.


  9. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 03/25/2013 - 08:24 pm.

    Good comments Ray

    I never thought of the labels in the terms you introduced, but I have to say you are spot on. Another thought is that in the past Liberals and Conservatives disagreed how to get their community to a new place, but once there they still embraced their community. Now it seems the extremes have nothing but disdain for the community they live in. Pride has been replaced with disdain, to the detriment of the community as a whole.

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