Doug Brady, one of my fellow contributors at C4P, put up an interesting post a few days ago analyzing recent polls showing support for Sarah Palin dropping among self-identified Republicans. Sparked by the fact that these polls show Mike Huckabee as a frontrunner when nobody takes him seriously as such, Doug has come up with an explanation that makes a lot of sense.
We keep hearing that conservatives are leaving the Republican Party in droves and that the primary reason for this is that the establishment GOP is becoming more and more Democrat-light. Rasmussen’s poll, which indicates that 73% of Republicans believe the DC elite in the party has lost touch with the base, is strong evidence of this. We also see this in Governor Palin’s endorsement of Doug Hoffman in NY-23. Even stronger evidence is the fact that even though 40% call themselves conservative, only half, or 20%, call themselves Republicans.
If I received a call from a pollster today, Scott Rasmussen for example, and he asked me to identify my party, I would not identify myself as a Republican. From the above polling data, about half of conservatives would do the same as me. This is important. I don’t know Rasmussen’s precise methodology but I suspect, when he polls for Republican primaries, he excludes Democrats and Independents, using self-identified Republicans for his sample. I further suspect that most of those conservatives who no longer call themselves Republicans (like me) are also those most likely to support Governor Palin. Further, these disaffected conservatives are least likely to support a fiscal liberal like Mike Huckabee or a plastic establishment Republican like Mitt Romney.
In short, the sample may be predisposed to exclude a greater percentage of conservatives who are disgusted with the Republican Party and thus don’t self-identify as Republicans. This would result in an under sampling of those most likely to support Governor Palin and conversely, an over sampling of those most likely to support someone else. This would explain why Huckabee over performs in these polls. Those Republicans who still identify themselves as such are far more likely to be moderate establishment types and, therefore, more likely to eschew a grass roots movement conservative like Governor Palin in favor of a “conventional” choice like Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney. If my logic is accurate, this is bad news for Mitt Romney. These are the very Republicans he should be dominating, and yet he isn’t.
For my own part, I wouldn’t identify myself to a pollster as a Republican either, though that’s as much for theological reasons as anything. That doesn’t translate to primaries, though, since I identify myself by party there in order to be able to vote in the desired primary; as such, I don’t believe Doug’s application of his logic to presidential primaries actually holds. For the rest, though, I think he has a very good chance of being right—indeed, I’m quite sure he is to at least some degree. To my way of thinking, the question is less “Is this skewing Gov. Palin’s poll numbers?” than “Does this foreshadow the demise of the Republican Party?” Could the GOP end like the Whigs? Absent a successful reconquest by Gov. Palin and the rest of the Republican wing of the Republican Party—yes, and for much the same reason: a failure of principle.