Poll: GOP voters want their party to take a tougher stand on spending, immigration

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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More GOP-leaning voters want the party to become more conservative than want it to become more progressive, according to a new survey by the Pew Center for the People & the Press.

On spending, 46 percent say the party is “not conservative enough,” while only 10 percent believe the party is “too conservative.”

On immigration, which is President Barack Obama’s top congressional priority for 2013, 36 percent of respondents say they want a more conservative position, while only 17 percent say the current policies are “too conservative.”

Even among the subset of GOP-leaning respondents labelled by Pew as “moderates,” a plurality declared the party was “not conservative enough” on immigration, by 28 percent to 25 percent.

These ideological numbers are a problem for the GOP’s leaders in the House, who have repeatedly suggested they want to push through a rewrite of the nation’s immigration law that would invite many more millions of unskilled and skilled immigrants to compete against many employed and underemployed Americans for jobs that pay less money each year. The GOP leaders’ support for the rewrite could split the party and cause another critical turnout drop in 2014, say critics.

However, the poll also showed more even-handed splits on marriage and abortion.

A slight plurality of the respondents wanted a leftward shift on marriage rules, by 31 percent to 27 percent, to allow same-sex couples to get marriage licenses.

On abortion, 26 percent of respondents say the party isn’t conservative enough, while 25 percent believe it is too conservative, according to the mid-June poll of 1,480 adults.

Overall, “by 54 percent to 40 percent, Republican and Republican-leaning voters want the party’s leaders to move further to the right,” concluded the Pew poll.

However, Pew’s press release failed to detail the respondents’ opinion on one of the major splits emerging in the party — whether party leaders should try to win more election-day votes by offering economic policies favored by lower-income white and Hispanic Americans, or else use an immigration amnesty to seek support from millions of low-skilled Latinos, most of whom strongly favor big-government policies offered by Democrats.

This widening split, dubbed elite vs. populist or the establishment vs. country split, doesn’t match the much-hyped Tea Party vs. non-Tea Party split, or the cliched “conservative vs. moderate” splits in the party. Crudely speaking, the divide pits reformers such as Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions against established party leaders, such as political strategist Karl Rove.

Like many other pollsters, Pew also veiled respondents’ real attitudes by using skewed or vague terminology. For example, it labelled immigration as a social issue rather than an economic issue, and it also asked if the GOP should move in a “conservative direction” or a “moderate direction.” The terms are outdated because many conservatives cite polls that show their preferred policies command majority support.

The pollsters also didn’t say if respondents thought government was taking on too many roles, or whether government should aid traditional moral standards, or whether it should promote integration of various ethnic and cultural groups into a common culture.

The poll also was weakened by a standard problem that is expensive for pollsters to fix — how to compare voters’ knowledge to their attitudes.

Voters’ knowledge of issue matters, because additional knowledge can reshape their attitudes prior to future decisions, such as primary elections.

For example, even though only 17 percent of respondents said the party’s immigration position is “too conservative,” 65 percent of respondents say they have a favorable view of Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan.

But Ryan is now trying to persuade other GOP legislators to back a massive rewrite of immigration policy that would invite in many new workers amid high-unemployment, despite polls showing widespread public and GOP opposition.

On July 26, for example, Ryan suggested to a home-district meeting with members of a far-left group that is seeking more immigration that he was trying to reverse Majority Leader John Boehner’s promise to keep any draft immigration bill from a House floor vote until a majority of GOP members support the change.

“It is not, ‘they don’t come to the floor unless we have a majority of the majority,’ because we don’t know if we have a majority until we vote on it,” said Ryan, who has a long record supporting large-scale immigration.

“When people really look at the details and they focus on what’s right, I believe what I’ve just laid out is something that a consensus of Republicans and Democrats can agree to,” he told the crowd, which included many members of the radical left-wing group, Voces de la Frontera.

Similarly, the poll showed 50 percent support for Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who helped Democrats win passage of a majority immigration rewrite that would double immigration to 46 million people by 2033, and allow millions of guest-workers to compete for blue-collar and professional-class jobs.

That outreach to the left is especially unwelcome among the GOP’s base that votes in primary elections.

For example, the poll showed that 41 percent of Tea Party members say the party’s policy is now “not conservative enough,” even through prominent GOP members — such as Boehner, Rubio and Ryan — have tried to declare support for tough positions on secondary issues, such as border-security spending.

“About four-in-ten (42 precent) Republicans who always vote in primaries say there has been too much compromise with Democrats in Congress… [while] less frequent voters are more likely to say that Republican leaders in Congress have not compromised enough with Democrats,” said the Pew statement. .

Pew showed that Ryan had a 15 percent unfavorable rating, while Rubio had a 20 percent unfavorable rating.

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