In July of this year, a research group, The Frontier Lab, released a revealing study called “Switching Behavior: Modeling Disaffiliation by Republicans from the Label ‘Republican.’” Breitbart.com reports on the results of the study:
The Frontier Lab study includes both conservative and moderate Republicans, and identified four key events that prompted individuals to “disaffiliate” from the party. One was the rejection of the “lesser of two evils” argument–the argument that voters had to support a bad Republican because the Democratic candidate would invariably be worse. Both conservatives and moderates are tired of the “two evils” argument. . . .
A second reason is closely related. Parting conservatives have expressed “loss of hope” in the party, but not just a general loss of hope—loss of hope specifically that by enduring the lesser of two evils tactic over time, the classic promise of that argument would materialize. That is, over time, and after many abuses, these people have lost hope that the party would change or effect change as promised. As director Anne Sorock puts it in the study, these people “often experienced an emotional exhaustion wherein they no longer felt hope that the party would deliver.”
This is akin to Steve Deace’s title in regard to the Christian Right: We Won’t Get Fooled Again. Sorock’s study has concluded virtually the same sentiment: conservatives are tired of being let down again and again with the same argument while the promise based on that argument never comes to pass, and not even the promised increments of gradual change materialize as promised. Principled conservatism simply never appears, and even for the most trusting of conservatives, hope eventually fades. As Sorock told Breitbart, “The lack of perceived leadership by principle was strongly connected to this loss of hope.”
Now we should note that The Frontier Lab is, from all I can tell, about as traditionally conservative as anything. One of its four Directors is Jack Fowler, publisher of National Review. The research director for this particular study is Anne Sorock, who has been featured on National Review and The Heritage Foundation. Neither she nor her employer could, therefore, be accused of being a radical or having any radical agenda.
The study results parallel this general approach. The defectors do not appear only among Republican fringes:
The brand isn’t just losing short-term or shallow adherents; of the 77.78 percent no longer affiliating as Republicans, 67.44 percent had “always been a Republican.” That means the brand is losing lifelong adherents.
The study goes on to provide other reasons for disaffection. The conclusion summarizes the scenario:
The resulting patterns, consolidated into four core insights, reveal that disaffiliation from the Republican label is not only, or even primarily, a matter of philosophical differences. Rather, the perception of former Republican adherents that their party has personally attacked them, continued to present choices as a “lesser of two evils,” select candidates and principles unpalatable to voters to the point where they retain “no hope,” and failed to provide the sense of community that other outlets like talk radio and the Tea Party provide, reveal that ideology takes a back burner to what is essentially a hollow brand for those disaffiliating.
Brietbart concludes on the more important note: “The good news for Republicans, Sorock says, is that disaffiliation can be reversed if Republicans strive to create a sense of community around shared principles and abandon the ‘two evils’ argument–without attacking weak candidates.”
Now, we can have a principled debate over the actual “lesser of two evils” argument itself, but that’s much to the side here. What this data shows is that Republicans are sick of having that argument crammed down their throats without the tactic ever delivering. You can argue the validity of that tactic all day, but you can’t deny that it’s at the heart of the demise of the Republican Party—and this data show that not much else is.
What this indicates is that we need to have a genuine, honest, and broadly public debate over the tactic itself, especially in regard to its repeated failure to deliver, and the repeated demand by some for the use of it despite. We have to deal with this, or continue to fail.