This NPR poll (via Krieger) has an interesting feature that measures agreement with a series of statements with and without partisan labels. On the whole, the overall difference in support or opposition for a given position between the “partisan” and “non-partisan” respondents is not that great (the GOP’s position loses approximately 60-40 regardless of labeling), but there was one figure that caught my attention in the breakdown of the Iraq responses. When told that it was the Republican position, Republican respondents were significantly more likely to support that position than otherwise. Agreement was 69-28 in the “partisan” group and 55-38 in the “non-partisan,” so when not conditioned to respond tribally according to party loyalty Republicans were much less likely to support the party’s standard Iraq position. Put simply: when voters are considering the policy substance offered by the competing parties, the Republican position scarcely wins a majority of its own partisans and loses badly with everyone else. It will hardly be news to anyone that supporting the war in Iraq is a losing issue for the GOP, but past polling has given the misleading impression that the party is overwhelmingly supportive in such a way that makes Republican dissent difficult. Perhaps these results point towards a more evenly-divided GOP that would tolerate more open opposition to the war.
Partisanship was a bigger factor in Republican responses. Democrats were only slightly more likely to choose their party’s position when given a “partisan cue”–agreement was 80% in the “partisan” and 76% in the “non-partisan” group. Independents were slightly less likely to agree with the Democratic position when it was associated with the Democrats by name (53% in “partisan” vs. 57% in “non-partisan”), but this is obviously not as dramatic as the difference in the Republican responses. There does seem to be some small resistance to the Democratic position on Iraq simply because of that party’s “brand” image among independents, and this resistance naturally grows much stronger among Republicans. It is actually Republicans who make up this 14-point difference who bother me the most, since it seems that these are the people who don’t really believe what the party leadership is offering but go along out of herd instinct. It is not entirely surprising that party loyalty (or antipathy) would shape how people respond to these questions, but the gap between Republicans who agreed with the substance of the position and those who seem to have felt compelled to agree with the party line is quite remarkable.
More striking, and also of interest to readers of TAC, is the difference among Republican respondents to positions on trade. When told that it was the Republican “free trade” position, Republicans agreed with it 63-33. Without partisan cues, Republicans agreed with a less “free trade”-oriented Democratic statement that included a call to renegotiate NAFTA 54-43. That’s a forty-one point swing that apparently hinges entirely on partisanship. All that cognitive dissonance has to give these people a headache. Interestingly, Democrats feel more obliged to agree with their party’s line on trade in an almost mirror image of the differences in Republican responses on Iraq: 69% of Democrats in the “partisan” group agreed with their party’s line, while just 53% agreed in the “non-partisan.” Independents are significantly more likely to agree with the Democratic position when the Democratic label isn’t attached to it: 61% agreement in “non-partisan” and 52% in the “partisan” group. The Republicans have a policy problem. It’s the Democrats who seem to have a brand or image problem.
P.S. There’s no comfort for the GOP in these results when it comes to tax policy, either. Without partisan cues, Republicans agree with the Democratic line 52-38, which is a 53-point shift from the “partisan” group where Republicans agreed with their party’s view 66-27.