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Poll: No clear GOP leader, Republicans say

A large majority of Republicans say the party needs to change if it hopes to succeed in the future, and that those changes must stretch beyond messaging and include the party's positions on issues, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center.

The problem for Republicans as they manage their evolution in the wake of two consecutive presidential losses: They can't seem to agree on who's leading them out of the wilderness and back to the promised land.

More than half of Republican voters nationwide say the GOP has no leader, or they don't know who that leader is, according to Pew. The most commonly named figure - House Speaker John Boehner - was only identified by 10 percent of respondents as the current leader of the GOP. Five percent selected Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, three percent named Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and another three percent selected the GOP's 2012 vice presidential nominee, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.

Nineteen percent selected someone else, 22 percent said nobody currently leads the GOP, and 34 percent said they don't know who the current Republican torch-bearer is.

While the lack of an ordained figurehead is common in the party that doesn't hold the White House, the results point to a potentially troublesome deficit of recognized national Republican leaders as the party and its most prominent names continue their campaign to put the GOP back on top.


Among the figures considered potential future leaders of the Republican Party, Ryan stands out as the most broadly appealing among party faithful - 65 percent of Republicans said they have a favorable opinion of the former vice presidential candidate. Paul, who has recently been taken to task by some elements of the GOP for his libertarian approach to national defense, enjoys broad popularity as well - 55 percent of respondents view him favorably, while only 19 percent have an unfavorable opinion. Rubio, who has earned Republican plaudits and criticism alike for his role in shepherding immigration reform through the Senate, enjoys a favorable rating of 50 percent and an unfavorability rating of 20 percent. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas freshman, is not as well known as the others, but what voters do know, they like: 33 percent view him favorably, while only 13 percent view him unfavorably.

Outspoken Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., is the second most well known Republican in the survey after Ryan, but he is significantly more divisive: 47 percent of Republicans have a favorable opinion of him, but 30 percent have an unfavorable opinion.

Regardless of whom Republican voters eventually coronate as a future leader, the party has its work cut out for it, according to Pew. Sixty-seven percent of GOP voters say Republicans need to address major issues in the party, while only 30 percent say they just need to make minor adjustments. Fifty-nine percent say the party needs to reconsider its positions on some issues, and only 36 percent believe the party just needs to do a better job selling its current policy positions.

Despite broad agreement on the need for change, Republicans demonstrate little unity about what that change should bring. Fifty-four percent of Republican voters would like the GOP to move in a more conservative direction, while 40 percent say the party should become more moderate. Thirty-five percent say Republicans in Congress have compromised too much with Democrats, while 27 percent say they haven't compromised enough. Thirty-two percent say the GOP's approach has struck the right balance.

Among Republicans who counseled the party to adjust its platform, 19 percent say the party needs to reconsider its policies on immigration and border security. Eighteen percent call for a rethinking of the party's position on abortion, and 11 percent say the party should adjust its platform on gay marriage and homosexuality.

Almost all of the results demonstrate a sizable divide between tea party-aligned Republicans and those who do not affiliate with the tea party. For example, on the question of compromise, 53 percent of tea party Republicans believe GOP leaders have gone too far in accommodating Democrats, while only 22 percent of non-tea party Republicans agreed.

The tea party itself, however, has seen better days in the eyes of Republican voters: Only 42 percent said they agreed with the tea party's platform, down from a high of 54 percent in 2010. Fifty-six percent of Republicans said they disagreed with the tea party or had no opinion one way or another.

The Pew poll surveyed 1,480 adults (497 of whom were Republican or Republican-leaning registered voters) between July 17 and 21. The figures based on responses from all Republican and Republican-leaning voters carry a margin of error of plus or minus 5.1 percent.

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