More than half a year after the former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's loss, Republicans remain in the midst of intra-party argument over whether, how much, and in what way the party needs to reshape itself for coming elections. Among the GOP rank-and-file, a new poll finds, there's broad agreement that the party needs a major overhaul in both rhetoric and platform -- but stark disagreement over what form those changes should take.
According to a poll released Wednesday by Pew Research, 67 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters agree that the party "needs to address major problems" before the next presidential election, and 59 percent say the GOP needs not only to make a stronger case for itself, but also to reconsider some of its positions.
But further questioning exposes deep rifts over which way those positions should shift. While 54 percent say GOP leadership should move in a more conservative direction, 40 percent say it should become more moderate. There's also little agreement on how many concessions the party should make: 35 percent say Republicans compromise too much with Democrats, 27 percent that they compromise too little, and 32 percent say the party compromises the right amount. (Democrats are equally split on how much their party should compromise, but largely favor a more moderate direction.)
Perception from outside the parties is significantly different. An earlier Pew poll found that 62 percent of all Americans said the GOP was out of touch, and 52 percent that the party was too extreme.
Among Republicans, the tea party movement plays a prominent role in the divide. The percentage of Republican voters who say they agree with the tea party movement has dropped more than 10 points since 2010, but its influence remains strongly felt. Although just 42 percent of Republican voters now say they agree with the tea party, 49 percent of those who say they always vote in party primaries are aligned with the movement.
Tea party Republicans, as a whole, are older, more educated, more affluent, and more likely to be male. They're also more conservative. Tea party voters agree with their party brethren that the party needs to make major changes, but they're far more likely to say that the GOP should mostly entrench on its current positions; 51 percent take that view, compared to 26 percent of non-tea party Republicans.
Republicans are equally divided on a number of individual issues. There's broad agreement that the party should move to the right on government spending, and that its position on gun policy is about right. But that consensus disappears on several major social issues. Fewer than half agree with the party's stances on gay marriage, immigration, abortion, and government spending, and voters are almost evenly split on which direction to move on social issues like gay marriage and abortion.
Wide majorities of tea party voters think the Republican Party is either about right or too liberal on the five social issues in the poll: gay marriage, immigration, abortion, government spending, and gun policy. Just 22 percent think the party should liberalize on gay marriage, and even fewer want to see a less conservative approach to any of the other issues.
Republican voters also feel the party lacks clear leadership. The most popular response to a question asking who leads the Republican party was "nobody" at 22 percent. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) was the most mentioned name at 10 percent.
"This is typical for parties out of power. In 2006, for instance, Democratic voters were unable to point to a single leader for their party," the report says.
Although they've yet to coalesce around a new standard-bearer, Republicans do have a number of well-known, and well-liked, political leaders. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has a 65 percent favorable rating among his party, followed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) at 55 percent and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at 50 percent.
The Pew Research poll surveyed 1,480 adults, including 497 Republican and Republican-leaning voters, by phone between July 17 and July 21.