We’ve heard it before — Republicans have an image problem. There aren’t many who deny this, after a brutal election last year, and continued messaging problems this year. But with the fight over the FY 2014 budget still far from over and an important mid-term election next year, Republicans clearly have their work cut out for them.
And the problem Republicans have isn’t because of their ideas on fiscal matters. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Early last week, The Hill released a poll showing that voters actually responded well to the Republican budget message…as long as they didn’t know that it came from Republicans:
Respondents in The Hill Poll were asked to choose which of two approaches they would prefer on the budget, but the question’s phrasing included no cues as to which party advocated for which option.
Presented in that way, 55 percent of likely voters opted for a plan that would slash $5 trillion in government spending, provide for no additional tax revenue and balance the budget within 10 years — in essence, the path recommended by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) last week.
Only 28 percent of voters preferred this option, which reflects the proposal put forth by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) last week.
An even stronger majority of respondents, 65 percent, said U.S. budget deficits should be reduced mostly by cutting spending rather than by raising taxes. Just 24 percent said the budget should be balanced mostly by increasing revenue.
Democrats could even get a majority for their ideas, as only 44% believed that the deficit should be reduced by tax hikes. However, 40% of Democrats agreed with the Republican position on deficit reduction. But when a party label was placed with the different plans, the numbers changed significantly, which highlights the GOP’s struggles. No one party runs away with on the deficit, but Democrats do manage a plurality:
[A]s soon as respondents heard the words “Republican” and “Democrat,” the picture changed drastically. A plurality of voters, 35 percent, said they trust the Democrats more on budgetary issues, while 30 percent said they trust the Republicans more. A full 34 percent said they trust neither party.
These findings buttress the impression that the Republican label itself incites mistrust among many voters.
There are a few different reasons why voters are still down on Republicans. It starts with a lingering animosity to George W. Bush. You saw that in the run up to the election as Bush was taking more of the blame for the economy than President Barack Obama, even after four years had passed. That leds me to my next point, which is that voters generally like President Obama. And also, there is a view that Republicans are out of touch on hot-button social issues.
There needs to be less from the Old Guard GOP and more from the new faces — people like Rand Paul, Justin Amash, and Marco Rubio. These guys are the future of the party and have done a great job at presenting a message that appeals to independents. They also realize that they have to do more to reach voters who don’t typically vote Republican.
It’s not the policies or the message, by any stretch of the imagination. Repairing the GOP’s image is going to take time. It may not even be accomplished by 2014. But with the country’s fiscal situation becoming increasingly precarious, Republicans have to get their act together, sooner rather than later.