In the aftermath of the government shutdown created by the intransigence of the House, the Republican Party's polling has been unquestionably abysmal. A majority of the country believes it's a bad thing they control the House of Representatives; three-quarters of the country believes that Republican members of Congress don't deserve reelection; and by a nearly four-to-one margin, Americans think that Republicans in Congress care more about their own ideological pursuits than about the country as a whole.
Achieving this sort of polling numbers doesn't happen by accident. Rather, it takes hard work and fervent dedication to a cause to achieve that level of indignity. And when there is a group of elected officials who have worked so hard to achieve massive unpopularity, it raises questions about the electorate who supported their campaigns. Fortunately, many of these questions have now been answered, as you will see below the fold.
Earlier this week, ABC News published a poll regarding basic views about gender, race and religion. When broken down by partisanship, the results are shocking. Some of the topline numbers are worth quoting in full:
• Among all adults, 53 percent think women have fewer opportunities than men in the workplace. But that ranges from 68 percent of Democrats to 38 percent of Republicans, a difference of 30 percentage points. Comparing the most unlike groups, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, it’s 76 vs. 35 percent.These numbers are frightening. What is at issue here are not simply differences in attitudes and behaviors; rather, one ideological group has a grip on reality, and the other seems completely divorced from it. For example, statistics about the ratio of women to men in senior private sector leadership are shocking: Women comprise less than 20 percent of boardmembers of Fortune 500 companies, yet fewer than four in ten Republicans believe that women have fewer opportunities. As of 2010, nonwhites comprised around 15 percent of boardmembers of Fortune 500 companies, and yet only 25 percent of Republicans feel that nonwhites have fewer opportunities in society.
• Forty-one percent overall think nonwhites have fewer opportunities than whites in society. Fifty-six percent of Democrats say so, as do 62 percent of liberal Democrats (more than the number of nonwhites themselves who say so, 51 percent). Among Republicans that dives to 25 percent.
• Forty-three percent of Americans say it would be a good thing if more women were elected to Congress – but the range here is from six in 10 Democrats and liberals alike to just 26 percent of conservatives and 23 percent of Republicans. Instead two-thirds or more in these latter two groups say it makes no difference to them.
• Just 23 percent overall say it would be a good thing if more nonwhites were elected to Congress; 73 percent instead say it makes no difference to them. Seeing this as a good thing peaks at 50 percent among liberal Democrats (far more, in this case, than the number of nonwhites themselves who say so, 29 percent). Among conservative Republicans, it’s 5 percent.
The utter failure on the part of the conservative electorate to understand the uphill battles that women and ethnic minorities face in society leads to the polarized view of their representation in elective office shown in the survey, where only 23 percent of Republicans think more women in office would be a good thing, and only 5 percent of conservative Republicans think more nonwhites in office would be a good thing. But failing to understand the basic parameters of discrimination and not seeking to rectify it is one thing. Even more shocking, whites and conservatives feel that "people like them" are actually underrepresented in Congress! From the same survey:
Another result speaks to alienation more generally: Just 31 percent of Americans overall say “people like you” are well represented in Congress. It peaks among nonwhites and Democrats, but even then just at 47 and 43 percent, respectively – falling to 24 percent of whites and 27 percent of conservatives.This is a shocking statistic. Even though 82 percent of the House of Representatives is white, and even though Republicans have a solid majority, nonwhites were twice as likely to say that people like them were well represented as were white people, and Democrats were far more likely to say they were well represented than were conservatives. It's not that Republicans and conservatives simply don't recognize the lack of representation faced by others; they feel they are the victims. They feel they aren't being given a fair shake.
If there was ever a question whether this current crop of Republican politicians would change their stripes in response to their abysmal polling, or figure out some way of trying to appeal to women and minority voters, the answer is clearly no: The conservative base that elects them lives in an alternate universe where they are the oppressed and underrepresented in society. When the base of one political party seems to be inhabiting a world totally uninfluenced by truth, there can be little hope of negotiation or compromise.