The hard right may be softening, and that could have implications for Republicans’ presidential campaigns.
Gallup reported Wednesday that the percentage of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who say they’re social and economic conservatives is down to 42 percent, the lowest level since 2005. Twenty-four percent said they were moderate or liberal on social and economic issues, while 20 percent called themselves conservative on economic issues but moderate or liberal on others.
“This change in recent years has been significant,” says a Gallup analysis of the findings. “The percentage of Republicans identifying as conservative on both dimensions has dropped 15 percentage points since 2012, largely offset by an increase in the percentage who identify as moderate or liberal on both dimensions.”
The change, measured in a May 6 to 10 survey, could matter as Republicans vie for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination.
“Republican candidates are dealing with a party base that is today significantly more ideologically differentiated than it has been over the past decade,” Gallup says.
“A GOP candidate positioning himself or herself as conservative on both social and economic issues theoretically will appeal to less than half of the broad base of rank-and-file party members. This opens the way for GOP candidates who may want to position themselves as more moderate on some issues, given that more than half of the party identifiers are moderate or liberal on social or economic dimensions.”
There is some precedent for the current status of Republicans. The proportion of social and economic conservatives was at least as low from 2001 through 2005, when George W. Bush was president..
Gallup offered one qualifier to its latest findings: Not all Republicans are active in early primaries and caucuses.
“Ideology on both social and economic issues is strongly related to age, and primary voters tend to skew older than the overall party membership,” the pollster said. “This could benefit a more conservative candidate in the primary process, but that advantage could dissipate in the general election.”