A new study by the Frontier Lab, a conservative market research group, found that Republican voters who leave the party do so because they are are tired of being told to vote Republican as the “lesser of two evils.” The study, “Switching Behavior: Modeling disaffiliation from the Republican brand,” is published on the group’s website and applies scientific methods of qualitative research to the GOP’s most urgent problem.
Unlike the official Republican National Committee (RNC) “autopsy,” which was prepared by consultants and political figures using familiar campaign-season methods such as focus groups and polls, the Frontier Lab study applied a specific methodology from market research, Behavioral Event Modeling (BEM), to understand the specific decisions of a sample of 97 Republicans who had chosen to leave the party in recent years.
Anne Sorock, author of the Frontier Lab study, writes that the RNC autopsy failed to provide “meaningful insights about how the Republican Party’s adherents are interacting with the brand as it stands.” In an interview with Breitbart News, she expanded on her criticism of the RNC’s self-examination, saying that the RNC’s decision to use political consultants was “a perfect example of everything they are doing wrong.”
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, Sorock said.
A second event was a loss of hope in the Republican Party–a sentiment connected to the feeling that the party could no longer deliver on its promises because leaders had abandoned their principles. “The lack of perceived leadership by principle was strongly connected to this loss of hope,” Sorock writes, noting that the GOP could reverse that perception through better communication and through actions more consistent with principles.
A third reason that Republicans had decided to detach themselves from the party label was “affiliation with a new community”–primarily the Tea Party, Sorock says, which offers the kind of “camaraderie” that the GOP itself no longer provides its members. Talk radio was another form of community, albeit one facilitated through electronic and social media, that provided what the Republican Party itself failed to offer.
Finally, a fourth reason Republicans identified for leaving was “perceived betrayal by the GOP establishment.” Specifically, Sorock notes, respondents said that when party leaders attacked a candidate they supported, they experienced the attack as a personal slight and felt disconnected from the GOP itself as a result. Sorock told Breitbart News that Republicans “across the ideological spectrum” described similar experiences.
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. The ongoing “disaffiliation from the Republican label is not only, or even primarily, a matter of philosophical differences,” she writes. Better leadership, not new policies, may hold the key.