Reliability needed for GOP image

Many Republicans vehemently champion accountability when it comes to measuring the performance of our governments at the national, state and local levels, but seem less enthusiastic about keeping score when it comes to our party’s own standing in the polls. That should change. Republicans need to choose some metrics that have relevance to our future electoral success and then follow the ups and downs of these measures. We need our own Nate Silver, Politico or aggregator to gather and crunch the appropriate numbers so that we know every single month where we stand.

Frankly, I know some Republicans who cannot bear to look at GOP favorability ratings in the low-to-mid 30s. So they just look away and hope against hope that the numbers will improve, or they speculate that the numbers don’t really mean anything. Well, I can agree that they might not mean as much as some Democrats might hope for, but the numbers mean something. Sure, “special” Republicans with unique personal and political qualities can win in spite of our party’s languishing ratings, but there are situations where party image matters.

Sometimes it matters a lot. Take open seat races where neither candidate has developed much of an image or resume to court casual voters. In that situation, party identification and image can make all the difference. Are our newer and lesser-known Republicans going to be burdened by a sorry party image that skews almost two to one in the negative or unfavorable direction? It can happen.

Moving ahead without good data on our party’s image is like dieting but never getting weighed to see whether you are succeeding or not. I can tell people all day that I am eating sensibly, reducing calorie intake and even exercising more, but unless I am on the scales, I never really know whether I am making progress. Simply reassuring yourself that you look and feel better, intuiting that your clothes fit better and thereby insinuating that you weigh less can totally deceive you. Anyone dieting who isn’t on the scales every day is just engaging in self-deception. And any political party that thinks it is getting its candidates better positioned for the next rounds of elections but isn’t looking at polling data to validate that assertion, is no different than the fat man or woman who’s shopping for a teensy-weensy swimsuit for a trip to the beach, fantasizing that the pounds will come off somehow or some way and the suit will magically fit. Isn’t going to happen. Not a chance.

A longtime rotund Florida politician asked me of polling data, “How’s this going to help the fat boy get reelected?” It was a startlingly good question and relevant to the current situation. How does knowing that roughly 60 percent of American voters hold an unfavorable impression of our party affect our candidates? It’s not a good thing. But it would be a good thing for us to collectively stare at these numbers each month and ponder the monthly changes in aggregate favorable-unfavorable image ratios, just like we follow the horse-race polls in September or October of an election year. If we can get clear in our heads that a lot of people don’t intuitively like Republicans, then we’ll be in a better place to begin exploring why and what we might do about it. And by doing it now, we could create some urgency to try and fix some problems before it’s too late.

Our party’s image doesn’t simply affect November election results. It’s doubtless having some impact on donors and potential candidates, too. Many donors find it embarrassing to contribute to unpopular causes or organizations. Some candidates are reluctant to run under a party label that drags down their chances. These are realities that must be addressed.

Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.