With Mitt Romney rebounding in the polls after his performance in the first presidential debate, there’s clearly a sense of optimism in the Republican camp.
But a recent study by the Pew Forum suggests how much hard work Romney still has to do.
The Forum’s “Trends in American Values” series has been polling Americans on a range of questions since 1987. The 2012 report has some mixed news for Republicans.
First, the good news. 36% of Americans describe themselves as politically conservative, a lot more than the 21% who call themselves liberals. These results haven’t shifted much since the last survey.
But this conservative majority does not translate into party affiliation.
Essentially, the Republican Party has gotten smaller over the past decades. 32% of those polled identify themselves as Democrats; only 24% claimed to be Republicans. In 1990, the gap was narrower – 33% versus 29%.
So, assuming that both sides are energising the base as well as each other, this means that Republicans need to grab more of the biggest group, the independents (38% of those polled).
Many of these seem at least open to some Republican positions. On healthcare, for instance, the majority of independents (61%) are concerned about the government getting too involved.
But on topics such as government regulation of business or attitudes to Wall Street, independents are closer to the Democrats. 57% of independents agree with the statement that Wall Street makes an important contribution to the economy, only marginally higher than the Democrat figure (53%). The Republican figure is 69%.
Over the last decade in particular, the Republican Party has become smaller and more conservative. In large part, this is due to Tea Partiers bumping out more moderate voices. Getting them back on polling day is one of Romney’s interesting challenges.