Sunday, October 18, 2009

Those Carville/Greenberg focus groups 1

Lots of people have been discussing the Democracy Corps (Carville/Greenberg) focus groups that show the extent to which the Republican base is...well, there's no other way to say it: they're just cut off from reality.
They believe Obama is ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt the United States and dramatically expand government control to an extent nothing short of socialism. They overwhelmingly view a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of this country’s founding principles and are committed to seeing the president fail.
Conor Friedersdorf, who has his own data -- a fascinating survey of GOP leaders around the country -- says that the Carville/Greenberg conclusions ring true to him, and argues:
Talk radio and FOX News are so tremendously influential among the most dedicated movement conservatives that it is creating an alternate reality of ill-conceived paranoia — those who regard this stuff as hilarious, amoral entertainment underestimate the harm it causes.
So: does it cause a lot of harm? Two points:

1. It does seem to hold a lot of danger for the Republican party. We're talking about a lot of Republicans -- C/G estimate 20% of the population, so if that's correct it's going to be over 50% of many GOP primary electorates -- who hold beliefs that are simply cut off from reality. In contested primaries (whether for president or lower office) , a candidate who can draw their votes will win. And such a candidate might have a great deal of difficulty winning general elections in all but the most lopsidedly Republican districts. In fact, one of the biggest questions, in my opinion, about the 2010 cycle is whether we're going to see a lot of the good recruits that the GOP has put together wind up burning out in primaries, with Charlie Crist as the most obvious test case. OTOH, it's certainly possible that mainstream Republican candidates will learn to dog whistle to that crowd (Fairness Doctrine!) successfully enough to win their primary election votes without saying things that will alarm swing voters.

2. I don't think, however, that this is a grave danger to the republic. It is possible that some nut-job out there will be pushed over the edge by all this to do something violent that he or she wouldn't have done otherwise. (Yes, this is depressing, although as always I'll remind everyone that two different people tried to shoot bland Jerry Ford, and that terrorists shot up Congress in the seemingly dull mid-1950s...and I also suspect, alas, that threats to this particular president would be high even if he was polling in the 80s and all Republicans were of the Carville/Greenberg "nice independent" variety). But the conservative base isn't putting on sheets and burning crosses, and it isn't lynching anyone, and America survived those episodes of extreme violence. Tea parties, silly as they are, and paranoid as their rhetoric may be, look to the peaceful and symbolic Boston Tea Party and not to any paramilitary group as their model.

So: great danger for Republicans, but not for the republic. More on this topic soon.

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