Hill Research on the Republican Brand in Texas

Via Forrest Wilder at the Texas Observer, this rather eye-popping summary of the much-awaited survey:

The full ressnapshot-2008-12-04-16-02-09.jpgults of a much-discussed survey by the Republican firm Hill Research showing the weakening GOP brand in Texas have been released. The details are stunning. Take for example this slide:

Got that? In a head-to-head matchup today between a generic Democratic candidate for governor and a generic Republican, the Democrat starts out with a 13 percent advantage. In a state rep race, the Democratic advantage is 14 percent.

What is it about the Texas GOP that voters don’t like?

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Voters think the Republicans are arrogant, racist, corrupt and angry. While they think Democrats are smart, innovative, reformers, fair, thoughtful and – perhaps most important – the party of the future. As Hill Research notes, “Long-term, this is simply untenable.”

What’s going on out there to produce such profound distaste with the Texas GOP? After all, this is the party that currently controls all statewide elective offices and both chambers of the Texas Legislature.

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Even Texas voters are sick of Bush. That much is evident. But Republicans in time can overcome the Bush problem. More worrisome for the GOP in this state is that half of the voters surveyed cited a lack of appeal to young people and Hispanics, the most important demographic groups of the future.

Based on their survey results, Hill slices the voting population into five distinct segments: Enduring Republicans (21%), Emerging Republicans (10%), Critical Middle (25%), Emerging Democrats (17%), and Enduring Democrats (27%). It is the Critical Middle – those “not in either camp solidly – that Republicans must win to hold onto power. This group is heavily male, under age 50, self-described moderate and/or independent, focused on fiscal rather than social issues.
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Hill warns in no uncertain terms that for GOP campaigns to succeed they must wrap up 80 percent of the Critical Middle. “This isn’t ‘optional’ – anything less means Republicans lose.” The Texas Republican Party, controlled in large part by religious conservatives, is going to have to make some serious changes to accommodate these folks. This group could not give a hoot about immigration (only 15% said it was the most important issue vs. 38% of the Enduring GOP). The Critical Middle also doesn’t care much for “traditional values” (8% said it was the most important vs. 16% of the Enduring GOP and 19% of the Emerging GOP). What they do rate as important are cutting property taxes (17% said it was the most important vs. 15% of the Enduring GOP), child healthcare (19% vs. 2%), and investing in education (20% vs. 9%).

Because this survey is meant as a wake-up call to complacent GOPers, Hill has some recommendations for strategists and politicians on how to reach that Critical Middle.

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The danger, of course, in appealing to the Critical Middle is pissing off the Loony Right, err… Enduring GOP. But, Hill emphasizes, not acknowledging and adapting to political realities will result in a Colorado-style meltdown for the party.

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The Hill survey shows that Democrats have a golden opportunity to make major gains in Texas. But Texas Democrats – as was said of Yasser Arafat – have been known to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

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