Obama pollster: GOP has 'tolerance problem'

President Obama's top pollster said the Republican Party has a 'tolerance problem' and predicted it will continue to struggle at the ballot box if its members don't have a major tonal change.

"If Republicans approach this as if they have a Latino problem, I think that they are missing a larger dynamic that's in place right now. I believe that the Republican Party has a tolerance problem," Obama pollster Joel Benenson said at event hosted by the center-left group Third Way Wednesday morning. "When you define people who look differently than you as illegal aliens and use that term over and over again and talk about self-deporting them, that's a tolerance issue."

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Benenson said other examples of the GOP's "tolerance problem" included their calling those who believe in global warming "job killers," and its stances on gay marriage, Planned Parenthood and contraception. He said voters who don't agree with the GOP were hearing a "very strident, intolerant point of view on specific issues" and called them a "party of orthodoxy."

"They should rethink how their positions with these groups are implicitly defining them," he said. "If they think they can solve their problems by picking off any one of those groups and saying 'we'll fix our problem here or there,' this goes to whether you have core beliefs that are in line and in touch with the vast majority of Americans."

Benenson pointed to Obama's consistent lead in public polls on the question of which candidate was more in touch with voters' concerns. He also noted that while Mitt Romney did as well as former President George W. Bush with white evangelical voters, he lost the rest of the vote by 23 points. Bush, by contrast, lost the rest of the vote by 13 points. 

The GOP is going through a period of public soul-searching on how to reach out to fast-growing demographic groups like Hispanics. The Republican National Committee is preparing to launch a "Growth and Opportunity Project" to work on the issue. 

Benenson said the Obama campaign's polls had called the election in the swing states within one-tenth of a point. Republicans have admitted their turnout models failed to anticipate the correct election results.

One looming issue for Democrats: The coalition that propelled Obama to victory in both of his elections — the youth vote — tends to turn out in far smaller numbers in midterm elections.

Benenson said Democrats were "very cognizant about keeping our coalition engaged from day one here going forward," and that they'd learned their lesson in 2010.

"I think tactically we certainly learned in 2010 probably too late in the game for us politically how much effort it was going to take to keep some of our voters coming back out in a midterm election," he said, quipping that he found in focus groups with younger voters that some thought midterms were "exams they've got to take."

"We have some work to do to stay and keep them engaged which we're already doing," he said.

"We have to make elections and the choices the country faces big issues," he continued. "We have to raise those stakes for our voters, for our people, and make sure that we keep them engaged so that we don't just get them to turn out a little more in midterms but so we actually get progress on issues."