Polls find Republican voters discontented on the eve of the next debate

On the eve of the third Republican debate, the latest New York Times/CBS survey reveals an anxious country and a discontented Republican Party.

At the beginning of 2015, 54 percent of Americans rated the condition of the economy as very or fairly good. Today, only 38 percent do so. And hope for the future has turned down as well. Last January, 42 percent of the people thought the economy was getting better, while only 17 percent thought it was getting worse. Today, only 24 percent believe that the economy is improving, versus 29 percent who see it declining. Not surprisingly, only 26 percent of voters think the country is on the right track, down 12 percentage points since the beginning of the year.

The mood among Republicans is even gloomier. A scant 11% of registered Republicans—think the United States is on the right track. Only 11% of Republican voters, whose party holds the majority in both the House and Senate, approve of the way Congress is handling its job. In fact, only 29% of Republicans approve of the way Republicans in Congress are doing their job. No wonder 52 percent of them are dissatisfied with Washington, and 37 percent are downright angry.

When asked whether the U.S. political system is working the way it should, only 22 percent of Republicans said yes. 74 percent said that it was not working “because of all the fighting and gridlock.”

The question is what to do about this dysfunction. As recently as 2013, 68 percent of Republicans thought that Republicans in Congress should compromise some of their positions in order to get things done. Today, only 56 percent feel that way, and the share that wants Republican elected officials to stick to their positions has risen to four in ten.

The NYT/CBS survey asked Republicans whether they would be willing to support a candidate for the Republication whose views were less conservative than their own—if they thought that candidate had a good chance to win the presidency if nominated. 74 percent said they would, but it is not clear that they mean it. 48 percent of Republicans said they would never vote for someone who does not share their views on immigration. Fully 58 percent would not support someone with whom they disagreed on guns laws. Even on the federal budget—an area where compromise might seem more feasible—45 percent said they would not support a candidate with a stance different from theirs. In short, Republicans are willing to support a less conservative candidate—provided that candidate does not harbor any less conservative views.

It is hard to overstate the intensity of today’s Republicans’ anti-Washington sentiment. 45 percent view it as very likely” that stricter gun laws will pave the way for federal seizure of guns from Americans who legally own them. 49 percent of Republicans regard the federal government as a threat to their life and liberty; 52 percent are concerned about government interference with freedom of religion; 65 percent are convinced that the government is violating their constitutional rights.

As the Republican presidential nominating contest was gearing up in 2011, 51 percent of Republican primary voters thought that their party was united. Today, at a comparable point in the electoral cycle, only 22 percent think so. It is hard to disagree with them. For example, 42 percent of Republicans believe that illegal immigrants should be allowed to remain in the United States and eventually apply for citizenship, while 38 percent believe that they should be required to leave the country. Reuniting a party divided between angry populists and an establishment in disarray will be the greatest challenge facing the eventual nominee.