Pollsters: Momentum on their side, GOP still struggles to communicate

Being the party out of power in Washington has no shortage of negatives and pollsters from each party agreed Tuesday that the Republicans' main drawback is that they lack a singular spokesperson for their ideas.

Republican Ed Goeas and Democrat Celinda Lake broke down the latest George Washington University Battleground poll, which revealed that while Republicans were competitive with Democrats on many issues, that when it came to explaining their intentions, Republicans are failing.

"One of the things I always criticize Republicans for is that we often talk about solutions without talking about our intentions. And that allows the Democrats to talk about our intentions and demonize our intentions," Goeas told reporters Tuesday at a briefing hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Goeas cited the minimum wage debate as the most recent example of the Republican communication conundrum. "I think you'd find Republicans very supportive of minimum wage but not at a federal level. It is hard to conceive of why Oklahoma would make the same minimum wage as Los Angeles or New York City," he said.

Regarding income inequality, an issue that Democrats have featured during this year's midterm election campaigns, Goeas said it's one that Republicans can also speak to but have yet to effectively communicate.

"One of the Governors that is my favorite out there is Mary Fallin, " Goeas said of the current governor of Oklahoma. "She has been making the case on income inequality that put the focus on bringing better paying jobs and in the process she has not only raised dramatically the per capita income but she is 44 percent ahead of the national average, just in the last three years." There are differences on economic policy, Goeas concluded -- ones that "Republicans are really ready to talk about" but are hindered by their struggle to hone a message.

"What's interesting to me is fifteen years ago, you would have been having the reverse critique of the Democrats. Ten, 15, 20 years ago, we were the ones who headed straight for our solutions and never said what our values were," Democratic pollster Lake said at the briefing, "Value style is much more powerful than the policy side."

Lake's point was reinforced by the poll's findings, which surveyed 1,000 registered likely voters. Voters had more confidence in the Republican Party than the Democratic Party to deal with issues of the economy, the federal budget and spending, taxes, and foreign policy. However, in issues pertaining to middle-class values, voters had more confidence in Democrats than Republicans. Fifty-four percent of voters said that they had more confidence in the Democratic Party to stand up for the middle class, compared to 36 percent of voters who had confidence in Republicans. Fifty-two percent supported the Democratic Party to represent the values of the middle class and only 39 percent of voters believed that Republicans would represent middle-class values.

Ronald Reagan was a model that Lake and Goeas named who excelled in explaining his party's values before talking solutions. Reagan, and everyone in his administration, talked about not only what they were going to do but why they were going to do it, Goeas explained.

"Republicans went through a period of time that they thought they had so educated them on that, that they started talking in shorthand on these issues. Complicated by the fact that the media was moving more in the direction of talking in shorthand. And so all of a sudden, we're talking in shorthand and we stop talking values. Democrats start talking about values, and I think we have suffered because of that."

A floundering communications strategy is a flaw that Republicans may be able to overcome this election cycle though, as the poll indicates several alarming voter trends that may be fatal for Democrats, specifically Democratic voter enthusiasm - or lack of it.

Lake dwelled on Democrats' turnout disadvantage, pointing specifically to Republican David Jolly's win over Democrat Alex Sink in Florida's special House election earlier this month. In the poll, Republicans have a 7-point advantage in voter intensity over Democratic voters with 64 percent of Republicans saying they're extremely likely to vote in November's midterms, compared to 57 percent of Democrats. A new CBS News poll out Tuesday echoed those figures: Seventy percent of Republican voters are already enthusiastic about voting in November (including 27 percent who are very enthusiastic), compared to 58 percent of Democrats. While such data isn't predictive, if this disparity lingers into November, it would have a decisive impact.

  • Jacqueline Alemany

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