Democracy Corps: Republican Base Voters Living In Another World

October 16, 2009 8:02 a.m.

A new focus-group of Republican base voters by the Democracy Corps (D), the consulting and polling outfit headed up by James Carville and Stan Greenberg, presents a picture of the GOP base as being motivated by a fundamentally different worldview than folks in the middle or on the Dem side — and they see the country as being under a dire threat.

“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,” the analysis said.” While these voters are disdainful of a Republican Party they view to have failed in its mission, they overwhelmingly view a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of this country’s founding principles and are committed to seeing the president fail.”

The analysis argues that Obama’s unpopularity among conservative Republicans is both quantitatively and qualitatively different from liberal Democratic ire against George W. Bush — that the GOP is more heavily conservative than the Democrats are heavily liberal, and that the hatred of Obama is more intense than Dem hatred of Bush was. All of this adds up to a powerful set of emotions that the Republican Party as a whole cannot ignore.One thing that the firm makes clear, though, is that this is not about racism, but about ideology: “Instead of focusing on these intense ideological divisions, the press and elites continue to look for a racial element that drives these voters’ beliefs – but they need to get over it. Conducted on the heels of Joe Wilson’s incendiary comments at the president’s joint session address, we gave these groups of older, white Republican base voters in Georgia full opportunity to bring race into their discussion – but it did not ever become a central element, and indeed, was almost beside the point.”

The voters in these focus groups saw Obama as being deliberately out to destroy the American economy in order to undermine personal freedoms, and that the speed of his agenda was a part of this strategy:

“I think that he is deliberately misleading people… if he is not deliberately trying to do harm to the country, which is my view, he doesn’t understand anything about how the economy works.”

“There’s a school of thought that if you overload the system with programs and bailouts and all that, that it will create an opportunity, some people believe it started in the 60’s with welfare and Medicare and Medicaid; if you load the system down enough till it totally collapses it, I mean, I know it sounds kind of like a conspiracy theory, but it opens the door for this whole new way of governing. I’m not saying he’s a sleeper or anything like that, but it is something to think about… I think your statement’s correct. I think it’s intentional.”

I’m sure there are a lot of well-intended people in Washington, but I don’t really believe that they care about our health. I think that this is a control issue… It is absolutely.

By contrast, Democracy Corps also interviewed a separate group of somewhat conservative-leaning swing voters, and these attitudes were not to be found: “One of the most telling differences between the partisan Republican groups and the independent groups was the language they used. Conservative Republicans fully embrace the ‘socialism’ attacks on Obama and believe it is the best, most accurate framework for describing him and his agenda. Independents largely dismiss these attacks as the kind of overblown partisan rhetoric that obscures the facts and only serves to cheapen the political discourse.”

Conservatives see themselves as an oppressed minority, holding on to knowledge that isn’t represented in the wider media and culture: “Conservative Republicans passionately believe that they represent a group of people who have been targeted by a popular culture and set of liberal elites – embodied in the liberal mainstream media – that mock their values and are actively working to advance the downfall of the things that matter most to them in their lives – their faith, their families, their country, and their freedom.”

So who are the protectors of this knowledge, the sources of information they trust. Obviously, Rush Limbaugh is widely admired — but at the same time, he’s seen as being overly abrasive at times.

The real unblemished champion, the one they most identify with on a personal level, is Glenn Beck: “Two aspects of the discussion on Beck among conservative Republicans were particularly noteworthy. One was a common fear among the women for his personal safety, a belief that his willingness to stand up to powerful liberal interests was putting his life, as well as the lives of those working with him, in danger. Of course, his willingness to face this danger head on only adds to his legend.”

And the base sees themselves as an emerging, growing movement — manifested in the Tea Parties — that will restore the country to its proper roots, but that is dismissed by the media:

“The tea party things, their point of view is, you are all crazy. You know, you are all nut-jobs out there holding these tea parties, but at least they were showing that something was going on where other people just totally ignored, I mean we are ignored… I didn’t attend a tea party but we, the people, were non-existent according to some of the news stations.”

(Additional reporting by Zachary Roth)

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