Political Animal


March 22, 2013 2:42 PM Trapped By the Base

By Ed Kilgore

On the outside chance that you don’t believe me or other scribblers who think the radicalization of the Republican Party is the single most important development affecting American politics and government, listen to public opinion research veteran Andy Kohut, who was president of the Gallup Organization from 1979-1989, before founding the Pew Research Center:

For decades, my colleagues and I have examined the competing forces and coalitions within the two parties. In our most recent national assessments, we found not only that the percentage of people self-identifying as Republicans had hit historic lows but that within that smaller base, the traditional divides between pro-business economic conservatives and social conservatives had narrowed. There was less diversity of values within the GOP than at any time in the past quarter-century.
The party’s base is increasingly dominated by a highly energized bloc of voters with extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues: the size and role of government, foreign policy, social issues, and moral concerns. 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.
These staunch conservatives, who emerged with great force in the Obama era, represent 45 percent of the Republican base. According to our 2011 survey, they 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.

Kohut goes on to identify Obama-hatred, fear of racial and demographic change, and the influence of conservative media as factors that have helped to solidify this hard-core “base” and separate it from the rest of the population.

All three of these factors will be with us through 2016, and two for the foreseeable future beyond that. As Kohut concludes:

I see little reason to believe that the staunch conservative bloc will wither away or splinter; it will remain a dominant force in the GOP and on the national stage. At the same time, however, I see no indication that its ideas about policy, governance and social issues will gain new adherents. They are far beyond the mainstream.
Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • boatboy_srq on March 22, 2013 3:06 PM:

    These staunch conservatives, who emerged with great force in the Obama era, represent 45 percent of the Republican base

    That wouldn't equate to 27% of the population, now, would it?

  • Josef K on March 22, 2013 3:09 PM:

    At the same time, however, I see no indication that its ideas about policy, governance and social issues will gain new adherents.

    A few hundred "Jesus Camps", bankrolled by modern Howard Huges (after he became a germophobe and recluse) and set up in the reddest red states, will probably solve that.

    For some reason the name "Jonestown" comes to mind, though I'm not sure why.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on March 22, 2013 3:13 PM:

    "They are far behind the mainstream."

    That's a more accurate description.

  • sgetti on March 22, 2013 3:47 PM:

    It's the Viagra Party! Pfizer should make their pills red, not blue to bolster sales.

  • Joe Friday on March 22, 2013 3:56 PM:

    "Trapped by the Base" indeed.

    These lame attempts by Rubio, Rand, Jebbie, and other Republicans to offer FAKE change are not about to work.

    * We LOVE Latinos ! They should embrace our conservative agenda. We can all agree to some immigration reform (just no path to citizenship).

    * We're not against gay people. We just want to change the tax code or just leave it up to the states (just no gay marriage).

    That won't cut it.

    You're either for a path to citizenship along with the vast majority of the country, or you're against a path to citizenship along with a distinct RightWing extremist minority.

    You're either for gay marriage along with the vast majority of the country, or you're against gay marriage along with a distinct RightWing extremist minority.

    More like trapped in the basement.

  • JonH on March 22, 2013 4:21 PM:

    Generally 50 years old or older. What happened about 50 years ago??? Hmmmm... 1963 - ish. (Goldwater, but they would have been mostly too young to notice.) Aha!! No wonder they're so keen to undo the Civil Rights Act.

    I think a lot of these people are nostalgic for George Wallace (before he renounced segregation). They are dying off, and there is no one to really replace him. David Duke? Ronald Reagan isn't idolized for his race-baiting. When this batch goes, there's no replacing them this side of Aryan Nations. The white christian nationalist patriarchy that defined the United States for a long time for a lot of people is fading away; there isn't an outspoken leader for 'the base' since Pat Buchanan spoke his mind, embarassed the Central Committee, and was shunned.

    For good people to triumph, we need only wait out a decade or so, making sure Obamacare either works or is replaced by an outright national health care utility. Then balancing the budget is a piece of cake, and it's Big Rock Candy Mountain as far as the eye can see.

  • Zorro on March 22, 2013 4:26 PM:

    Fortunately for the GOP base, they don't have to actually win elections to, well, "win" elections. Thanks to gerrymandering, voter caging, and changing how electoral votes are counted, it's all but certain that the GOP base will have control far exceeding its numbers for the foreseeable future.


  • arkie on March 22, 2013 4:33 PM:

    Here's an "analysis" of Kohut's article from an alternate universe:

    The problem is not, as Kohut suggests, that the Republican Party is too conservative, but that the establishment of the Republican Party has failed to reflect and lead that conservatism.


  • c u n d gulag on March 22, 2013 4:39 PM:

    They are a leaderless party of Zombies, who've eaten their own brains and hearts.

    But, then, who the feck would want to be the leader of zombies like that?
    If you cared enough to try to lead, they figure you might have a heart and a brain - and eat them.

    Being a "Moran," is a thankless task.
    Being the leader of "Moran's," is even more thankless one.

  • bluestatedon on March 22, 2013 5:04 PM:

    "The party’s base... stand(s) with the tea party on taxes and spending and with Christian conservatives..."

    Kohut tries to maintain the fiction that the GOP base is distinct from the teabagging Christianists. The fact is that teabagging Christianists ARE the GOP base today.

  • Rick B on March 23, 2013 8:14 AM:

    Kohut really put it all together, didn't he?

    JonH is right. The conservatives represent the white patriarchal dominant class from the past and they are dying off and not being replaced. It's my opinion that they realize that what power they had in the past as a class is slipping away irretrievably. That's the source of their extremism. It's fear of the inevitable.

    That would also explain the red/blue county distribution of the last two elections. The smaller rural counties and states are filled with people who simply have less access to the flow of information. Just try to get high speed internet outside the larger cities. Let's just say it is not a high volume market the free market wants to serve. Those economies also have a lot fewer modern high-information jobs for people to work in.

    Unfortunately the founding fathers gave us a Constitution that gives power-preference to those less-populated counties over the more-populated cities. That's why Republicans can still control the House of Representatives.

    The situation still looks a lot to me like we live in interesting times right now and they are going to remain "interesting" until a lot of those rabid conservatives die off. How long until enough die off so that they no longer represent a wealthy niche market that conservative media can cater to?

    Good article by Ed and informative comments. Thanks guys.

  • zandru on March 23, 2013 2:57 PM:

    Over the last week, the GOP Post-Mortem discussion has turned to outreach and communication efforts. Much was made of the Obama machine's use of social media, cell apps, GPS-based voter identification, etc, all in addition to its web presence and email. Republican consultants have whined that they just weren't up to speed in "Technology" yet..

    But, given that their base mostly doesn't even use computers, or understand "Technology", how is that even relevant? The RNC would better spend their time by going into old folks' homes, hospitals, and hospices in the months before the election, to order absentee ballots and then "help" fill them out.

    Much cheaper and with a higher effectiveness ratio.

  • Lee on April 15, 2013 10:37 PM:

    "The party's base... stand(s) with the tea party on taxes and spending and with Christian conservatives on ... questions such as abortion or same-sex marriage."

    Note that you can't have it both ways. Anything you try to do to control people's personal lives results in bigger, more obtrusive, and more expensive government, and cutting government and taxes means fewer resources for monitoring other people's bedrooms. This particular variety of doublethink is a large part of what's killing them, because everyone *else* can see the logical disconnect.