Mind the Gap

More evidence that there’s a wide gulf between swing voters and the GOP.

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I've written before about a problem the Republicans have which President Obama seems determined to exploit in his second term: areas where a chasm has grown between the main stream of the electorate and the base of the GOP. This has created a potential win-win dynamic for the president: As he works that issues gap, he either ends up with wins or campaign issues. Stan Greenberg, James Carville, and Erica Siefert have a new strategy memo out today with 10 key takeaways on what swing voters want, the broad take-away being that they remain focused on jobs (more so than on the deficit, and are, more or less, aligned with Obama's approach on the issue). One point in particular struck me as illustrating the GOP's policy dilemma.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

They focus-grouped Obama's State of the Union address from last month, with the participants dial-testing the speech as it went along. One of their key conclusions was that Republicans "are on a different path from all others on economic and budget choices":

The president's call to raise taxes on the wealthiest instead of making reckless cuts to education received strongly positive responses from all groups except the Republicans in our audience. On these measures, all of the dials rose while the Republican line dropped. … The point is not that Republicans were less receptive to the president's speech than those who voted for him. We expected that. The striking observation is that these Republicans were unquestionably moving in the opposite direction as everyone else in the room. There is a difference between the points at which the Republican lines moved in unison with, just several octaves below, Democrats and Independents, and the points at which all lines moved up while Republican lines dropped.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

This apparently expressed itself on issues like consumer protection, putting the government to work on "behalf of the many," raising taxes on the wealthiest, Obamacare slowing the growth of medical costs, raising the minimum wage, and—one of my favorite lines from the speech—"deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan."

It seems unlikely Obama will get much through the House this year and next, but to the extent he does I suspect a good chunk of it will owe to his using this policy gap to neutralize the Republicans. You could see that dynamic three times already this year—the tax portion of the "fiscal cliff," the Sandy Hook relief bill, and the Violence Against Women Act. In all three cases a majority of House Republicans voted against the bills but let them come to the floor (and thus let them pass) anyway.