Over at RealClearPolitics Sean Trende poses an interesting question—what if Republicans aren’t that out-of-step ideologically?
It’s almost taken as a given that the Republicans are out of step with public opinion on a wide range of issues. The party is certainly out of step with elite Washington opinion — both Republican and Democratic elites, for that matter — but it isn’t clear that this holds true nationally (at least in terms of perception). More importantly, it isn’t clear that the issues that inside-the-Beltway types and high-information pundits obsess about matter much to the American people.
To really get at public opinion as it relates to elections, it probably isn’t best to isolate a few issues. Rather, let’s look at some omnibus measurements of the parties. For this, I will borrow from two excellent articles from political scientist John Sides. As Sides notes, YouGov asked respondents throughout 2012 to rate themselves ideologically, and to rate the candidates ideologically as well.
He proceeds to present a considerable amount of evidence that Americans don’t see the views of Republicans as being as extreme and divergent from their own as they do those of Democrats.
I think there’s more than one way to interpret the data and I’m in no position to determine which of them is correct. It could, indeed, be that Republicans’ views are more consistent with those of most Americans’ than Democrats’ are. Or it could be that the Republicans have done a much better sales job than the Democrats to convince people that they’re not wild-eyed fanatics. Or that Democrats have done a poor job of convincing people either that the Republicans are wild-eyed fanatics or that they aren’t. Or, for some inexplicable reason, it could be the case that Democrats are trying to convince people that the Democrats’ views aren’t consistent with those of most Americans.
However heinous you think the Republicans are I think it’s a valuable exercise to imagine the opposite. It might be you who’s out-of-step.