Poll: GOP Can Broaden Appeal by Sticking to Fiscal Conservatism

Democrats are seen as too spendy, but GOP should compromise more, poll says.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, accompanied by the House GOP leadership, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, accompanied by the House GOP leadership, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012.

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Republicans are panned across the board for being inflexible, but a new poll shows the path to dominance lies with sticking to their fiscally conservative principles.

More than 1 in 5 Americans says the GOP is too unwilling to compromise when asked what their top criticism of the party is – including 26 percent of Republicans, 22 percent of Democrats and 17 percent of independents, according to the most recent Gallup survey.

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But Americans also offer praise for the Republicans' thrifty attitude.

"The most common Republican attributes Americans cite for why they like the Republican Party are its 'better fiscal management' or budget cuts and, broadly, its conservative views," wrote Lydia Saad, a Gallup poll analyst, in a memo accompanying the results. Saad said this feeling is shared by independents and Democrats who cite it as the GOP's top quality, though by smaller percentages than Republicans.

"This may indicate that a key to Republicans' regaining favor with Americans is not necessarily to change their positions, but to be perceived as less dogmatic about them and willing to compromise to pass legislation," Saad said.

But the party faithful, active in primaries and selecting standard-bearing candidates, press for politicians willing to stick to their guns, leading to unpopularity across the board when those candidates reach office.

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Though many Republicans – and other voters – cite dogmatic inflexibility as the GOP's greatest flaw, 14 percent of Republicans say their party gives in too easily, which highlights the party's struggle to broaden appeal.

The survey reinforces the assessment that David Axelrod, who was President Barack Obama's top political campaign adviser, offered on NBC's "Meet the Press": that Republicans needed to decide whether they wanted to remain a regionally dominant party or build themselves into a national party by broadening their appeal.

The Republican Party is also looking inward, having just shared an internal assessment of the 2012 election and addressing shortcomings.

The top criticism for the Democratic Party, shared by 23 percent of Republicans, 11 percent of independents and 10 percent Democrats, is that it spends too much. But Democrats didn't have much in the way of other criticisms, buoyed by Obama's successful re-election, which "largely ratified" the party brand, Saad said.

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"That [satisfaction] seems to be reflected in the high proportion of Democrats, 51 percent, who say there isn't anything they dislike about their party or who offer no opinion," she said. "This contrasts with 33 percent of Republicans who can't think of anything to criticize in their own party."

Voters of all stripes said the Democratic Party's top attribute was caring about the middle class.

"However, this is matched by the percentage saying it spends too much money, a top negative mention among all party groups," Saad said.

The poll was part of Gallup's daily tracking on March 20 and 21 and surveyed 1,020 adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

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