For the past several weeks, I have been knocking on the doors of registered Republicans as a volunteer, helping a candidate collect signatures to make it onto the primary ballot for Congress. Throughout this time I have knocked on hundreds of doors, and have spoken with hundreds of registered Republicans.
I like to think of this experience as a relatively random sampling of those who are registered in my party, and I think that what I have learned may be valuable to those who represent us (or those who are seeking to represent us), who otherwise may only be speaking with the more politically-entrenched portion of the electorate.
I have been canvassing in Utah’s 4th Congressional District, all within my neighborhood of Salt Lake County, and the seat is currently held by Democrat Ben McAdams. As I knock on doors, I validate that who I am speaking with is indeed a registered Republican (as they are the only ones who can sign a petition for a Republican to get onto the ballot), and I have found that it is always helpful to let people know that Ben McAdams currently occupies that seat. Those two data points provoke two distinct reactions in the conversation.
I would estimate that for roughly half of the doors I knock on and share that I’m helping a Republican candidate who’s running against Ben McAdams, that’s all they need to hear and they are eager to sign my petition. These are Republicans who know they do not like McAdams and are willing to support any Republican running against him. These people often comment that they want to get Romney out as well, I’m sure the timing-overlap of signature gathering and impeachment proceedings has influenced this correlation. Many of these voters simply want to see a Republican back in the seat, but others are frustrated with McAdams, some are even quite angry.
What stands in stark contrast to this group of voters, is the way that the roughly other-half of voters react to being asked to confirm that they are indeed a registered Republican. These voters often grimace or reluctantly say ‘yes’, and some have even unaffiliated altogether. These are voters who make it clear to me that they are hanging onto the party by a thread, and that reason is because of the impact that the current President has had upon the party. These are voters who do not see themselves in what the party has become, and these voters are not so much angry as they are sad and disheartened.
Also interesting about these Republicans is that they seem to feel or believe that they are alone in their feelings. They are not seeing or hearing Republicans in the public square giving voice or credence to their troubles with the party. Some of them tell me they were happy with Sen. Romney’s impeachment vote but do so in a hushed tone, as if there is a fear that others will hear and rebuke them. Somehow the party is pushing voices like these into silence. The most public and vocal members of their party make it clear to these voters that they do not fit in.
As someone who receives emails, calls, and mailers from just about every politician in Utah, I don’t think that our elected representatives realize just how large that second group of Republican voters is- and just how fragile such a large portion of their party is. The voters who feel this way are people whose homes are full of warmth and light, often mothers and fathers of young children, or grandparents who can’t believe what is happening around them. These are not the kinds of people that we want to be losing from the public square and from our voting block.
As our elected leaders serve in Washington and within the state, I hope that these insights can help them to become more attuned to who they are truly representing. These are Republicans who believe in conservative principles, but who feel like they can’t be part of a political machine that operates in a way that violates their consciences, or part of a party full of leaders who silently accept the way the machine now runs. For these many Republican voters, ignoring the bad and celebrating the good isn’t enough. If we truly want conservative principles to have a fighting chance in public policy, the party needs to change the way we fight and what we have come to accept or in another four years there won’t be a party left to represent.