Wednesday, February 03, 2010

What Republicans believe right now (Research 2000 poll)

It is always dangerous to take the results of public opinion polls too readily at face value. Nevertheless, they're sometimes startling enough to be worth pondering. Consider, for example, the results of a recent survey of self-identified registered Republicans conducted by the Research 2000 polling firm (commissioned by DailyKos).

(According to Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, whose expertise in matters of political polling is universally recognized across the political spectrum, Research 2000 is a reputable top-tier polling operation with "an above-average track record." Some of Nate Silver's commentary on this particular survey is here.)

The lapsed Republican Bruce Bartlett, an economist who served in the Reagan and Bush I administrations and is still an on-line columnist for Forbes magazine, posted some of the results from this poll under the heading Why I Am Not A Republican.

Not Sure
Should Barack Obama be impeached?
Do you believe Barack Obama was born in the United States?
Do you think Barack Obama is a socialist?
Do you believe Barack Obama wants the terrorists to win?
Do you believe ACORN stole the 2008 election?
Do you believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be president than Barack Obama?
Do you believe Barack Obama is a racist who hates white people?
Do you believe your state should secede from the United States?
Should openly gay men and women be allowed to teach in public schools?
Should contraceptive use be outlawed?
Do you believe the birth control pill is abortion?

Bartlett observes:
I can only conclude from this new poll of 2003 self-identified Republicans nationwide that between 20% and 50% of the party is either insane or mind-numbingly stupid.
The "mind-numblingly stupid" part of this judgment is more than plausible. And many of these responses clearly reflect delusional beliefs. But that's less a matter of individual psychopathology than of ideological delirium. What is hard to deny is the extent to which significant aspects of our public discourse have become not just overheated but a bit deranged.

It's worth adding a few caveats (which should include an acknowledgment that polls during the Bush II years evoked pretty loony responses from significant proportions of Democrats, among others, too). The proportion of registered voters who are officially registered as Republican has shrunk to a hard core of around a quarter of the total, so registered Republicans (who are willing to admit to a pollster that they are registered Republicans) don't include all of those who reliably vote Republican or strongly lean Republican. That factor might or might not have increased the overall tendency toward extremism in these poll results.

Nevertheless, other evidence would suggest that these results probably do convey important elements in the world-view of the so-called Republican "base". And it's also true that some of the most delusional and pernicious beliefs presented here have been encouraged, or even endorsed, by Republican elected officials.

Yours for political sanity,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. One striking statistic from this survey is that an overwhelmingly majority of the respondents, 73%, would prohibit "openly gay men and women" from teaching in public schools. That kind of homophobic bigotry would once have been in the mainstream of majority opinion, but no longer. All the available evidence suggests that nowadays, whatever Americans may believe for or against same-sex marriage, strong majorities agree that overt discrimination against gay people in areas like public employment (and even military service) is unfair and unacceptable. Actually, as Andrew Sullivan points out, as far back as 1978 a measure to ban gay people from teaching in public schools, Proposition 6 in California, was publicly opposed by none other than Ronald Reagan. And it seems pretty clear that, historically, the long-term tide of public opinion has been running strongly against the kind of crude homophobia captured by this poll.

As for the finding that 44% of the respondents in this sample either want to outlaw contraception (that's contraception, not abortion) or are "not sure" about it ... well, that really does make it look as though we've entered some kind of time-warp. I confess that I was genuinely surprised by those figures. I myself don't know a single Republican who believes anything of the sort--but, then again, that probably testifies to the limited range of my social circles.