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The Quest for a GOP Majority

12:01 PM, Jul 1, 2014 • By FRED BAUER
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On President Obama and Obamacare, Hard-Pressed Skeptics are, well, skeptical. Fifty-three disapprove of Obamacare, and only 44 percent approve of the job the president is doing.

This would seem a group ripe for Republican picking. And yet the GOP has a favorability rating of only 32 percent among Hard-Pressed Skeptics (the Democratic Party has a 46 percent favorability rating). Skeptics went overwhelmingly for President Obama in 2012, and they currently lean 51-37 for Democrats in 2014. The Democratic advantage has been cut substantially, but more headway could be made (especially in a presidential election year).

Some of the Republican struggle with this group can be traced to the fact that Skeptics do not only have doubts about President Obama: they also doubt the GOP's concern for their economic situation. Just 26 percent of Skeptics think that Republicans care about the middle class; only Solid Liberals are even more likely to believe that Republicans are indifferent to the economic middle. Moreover, despite their doubts about government, Hard-Pressed Skeptics support policies that they think will help the poor and struggling. Sixty-six percent want increased government action to help the needy—even if that action leads to more debt. Seventy-one percent think that government benefits do not go far enough. So there seems some tension there between the desires of Skeptics, who are open to more government spending, and both types of Conservatives and Young Outsiders, who are more resistant to increased spending.

Republicans also have potential for making inroads among the Faith and Family Left, especially on social issues. This group is strongly anti-abortion, and 64 percent think that society is improved by individuals prioritizing marriage and children. The Faith and Family Left places a heavy emphasis on religion as grounding morality. Though it is more supportive of government programs than many Hard-Pressed Skeptics (supporting Obamacare, for instance), the Faith and Family Left looks like it could be open to a pro-growth message. This is an optimistic group, which believes that the U.S. can solve its problems and hopes for better days in the future. The diminished expectations of the so-called "new normal" might not be enough for them. With 65 percent of the Faith and Family Left opposing candidates who support tax increases, this type has about the Outsiders' resistance to tax hikes.

Republicans can gain support from some of key components of the Democratic coalition. While Hard-Pressed Skeptics seem as though they could be most open to Republicans, the Faith and Family Left is out of step with leftist ideology on some key issues. And even some in the Next Generation Left, who are skeptical about government intervention in the marketplace, could be won over by a market-oriented, pluralist conservatism.

Expanding the Republican coalition (in part by targeting these groups) need not entail a selling out of conservative principles. Instead, this expansion involves applying these principles in new—and sometimes quite old—ways in order to explain to the American public how conservative ideas can improve the lives of Americans. This explanation might include an economic component, but it would not just focus on dollars and cents; it would make a moral case for defending freedom and celebrate the broader cultural riches that be enjoyed in a free society. Moral purposiveness is one of the key building blocks for any enduring political coalition, and an attention to the ethical stakes of politics could be especially helpful in winning over members of the Faith and Family Left.

A key part of this enterprise of political persuasion involves taking account of contemporary facts and grounding these facts in a deeper discourse of principles. President Obama's administration has offered a narrative of social and economic uplift through the ministrations of a centralized and technocratic bureaucracy. That was the vision of the (failed) stimulus. That is the vision of Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and much else of the president's policies (including energy, infrastructure, and education). In order to counter this narrative and appeal to Hard-Pressed Skeptics and other uneasy members of the Democratic coalition, Republicans might argue not that a vision of social and economic improvement is flawed but that the current policies of bureaucratic progressivism fail to achieve or even actively undermine that vision.

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