An interesting poll came out this week and the result probably made Michael Steele and his Republican National Committee cohorts inside the Beltway lose some sleep.
With a question patterned after the generic Congressional ballots Rasmussen surveys from time to time, it was found that 36% of voters would vote for a Democrat and 18% of voters would support a Republican. But 23% would go with a third option, an option that Rasmussen pollsters characterized as imagining the TEA Party coalition as its own political party.
The surprise was apparent because in recent months the GOP had pulled ahead of Democrats in two-way generic Congressional polling just as President Obama has also seen his support tumbling. It looked like the path was clear for a GOP resurgence in 2010.
But this schism in the GOP manifested itself in the NY-23 Congressional race, where GOP selection Dede Scozzafava and Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman split 51.3% of the vote, allowing Democrat Bill Owens a win by plurality.
On a more national scale, history suggests that America splits on the right side of the political spectrum more often than on the left, although recent elections have seen a third-party nominee upset the apple cart once on both sides. By running as part of a significant third party, Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000 changed the course of those elections and helped place the eventual winner in office.
While some in the GOP have reached out to the once disaffected and now motivated electorate comprising much of the TEA Party movement, those voters recall the GOP was in control of Washington from 2000 to 2006 and made a lot of questionable moves such as creating a new prescription drug entitlement in Medicare Part D, placing the federal government in further control of local school districts with the No Child Left Behind legislation, and backing down on Social Security reform. All the while federal spending increased, leaving tax cuts and national security after the terrorist attacks on 9-11 the only satisfactory item on the checklist of most fiscal and social conservatives.
With the Rasmussen polling result in hand, those among the TEA Partiers who believe a third party is the way to go gained some fresh ammunition – or so they thought. But even the Rasmussen pollsters warned that an actual third party on the ballot would stand little chance of achieving the results suggested by the poll.
Instead, the better approach may be one that some TEA Party organizers and participants detest, and that’s becoming involved in the existing two-party political apparatus.
It’s apparent to some in the Republican Party grassroots that more attention should be paid to the activists demanding a return to Reagan-era conservatism. Witness the resolution to be debated at the upcoming RNC Winter Meeting which demands candidates who expect help from the national party to be supportive of at least eight points of a ten-point platform which stresses both fiscal and social conservative values along with a strong national defense.
But it’s up to GOP candidates to attract the 23 percent who would otherwise prefer a third-party alternative. With the TEA Party votes and campaign support, the GOP stands a chance of taking back Congress. Without that vote, they are doomed.
Many orators throughout our history have noted that, “united we stand, divided we fall.” Adding the TEA Party coalition to the Republican column can mean victory, but the Republicans need to give these voters a reason to come out and support them.
Michael Swartz is a Liberty Features Syndicate writer.
In my continuing series of op-eds I pen for LFS, this one cleared on December 11.