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Thursday, October 31, 2013

New poll disastrous for GOP ideology, not-so-bad for GOP pols (except Corbett)

Posted By on Thu, Oct 31, 2013 at 9:29 AM

Here's the great conundrum of our day: With every passing month, Americans seem to express greater and greater hostility to the Republicans' political ideology. And yet Republicans keep getting elected to positions of influence. The explanation du jour is gerrymandering -- the use of electoral maps to ensure that Republicans get represented all out of proportion to their actual support. But maybe the problem is not in our maps, but in ourselves.

Take the latest Franklin and Marshall College poll, which surveyed 628 Pennsylvania registered voters between Oct. 22 and Oct. 27. Those polled sided with Democrats on the major topics of the day:

  • 50 percent of voters say that Barack Obama's healthcare reforms should not be repealed; 40 percent say they should. That's a 10-point margin opposed to the very position over which the GOP shut down the federal government.
  • 64 percent of those polled say they favor expanding access to Medicaid to more low-income adults. A more punitive plan by Gov. Tom Corbett -- which includes making such access contingent upon a work-requirement -- was only slightly more popular (72 percent approved), probably because that kind of requirement sounds good.
  • 62 percent of those polled said they either "strongly" or "somewhat" favor "creating more laws that regulate gun ownership." That's an 11-point increase from the previous poll, though really this number has been hovering around the 55-60 percent for more than a decade.

And yet unless you're Tom Corbett -- whose abysmal numbers are now so well established that I'm not even going to dwell on them much -- it's hard to see how Republicans suffer from being on the wrong side of all these issues.

This poll was conducted a week after the government shutdown drama, during which time the federal government flirted with a debt default. But while Pennsylvania Tea Party Senator Pat Toomey was one of the hardest of hard-liners pushing for default, it's hard to see how he'll suffer much over the long term. Compared to a poll in August, the percentage of voters who have strongly or somewhat favorable opinions of his performance is essentially unchanged at 27 percent. He did have a 6-point spike in those with "strongly unfavorable" opinions; 16 percent of voters offered that assessment. (There was a similar spike in Toomey's negatives when voters were asked about his job performance.) But that equals his rating in October 2010 -- the month before he won his election. And if history is any guide, the anger will ease: Prior to the shutdown, his unfavorability ratings were on par with Democrat Bob Casey's. (Casey's own approval ratings, incidentally, are unchanged.)

So basically, while Toomey may have voted to put the United States on a track for a profoundly damaging political and economic crisis, it's not clear he's done any harm to himself at all.

As for Corbett ... I'm guessing most of the coverage the poll gets will focus on the dim picture for him -- expect some Halloween-themed headlines about "scary" numbers. Those of us on Twitter can also expect about 3,218 gloating tweets from Democrats today. But really, there's not much new here. Most people think Corbett is doing a crappy job, apparently: Two-thirds of Pennsylvanians think someone else should have a shot at the job. But that's the same ratio as in August. And it's pretty clear that a lot of the disenchanted are Republicans -- 44 percent of Republican voters think Corbett should step aside and let another Republican have the party's nomination. It's an open question as to what those GOP voters would do in November if Corbett is on the ballot: stay home? Rally to the party's banner, however reluctantly? In any case, Franklin and Marshall didn't poll the popularity of any of Corbett's likely Democratic challengers.

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