The Republican conservative base — defined as Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who say they are both socially and economically conservative — is the smallest it’s been since 2005, according to new Gallup polling data released Wednesday.
Forty-two percent of Republicans now describe themselves in these terms, a 9-point drop from one year ago and a 15-point drop from 2012. The percentage of Republicans who describe themselves as socially and economically moderate or liberal has jumped 5 points in the last two years, reaching 24 percent.
The remaining Republicans have a mix of conservative and moderate or liberal viewpoints. Twenty percent describe themselves as socially moderate or liberal and economically conservative. This group has remained relatively unchanged in the last six years, Gallup says. The fourth category, those that describe themselves as socially conservative but economically moderate or liberal, represents the smallest portion, making up just 10 percent of the party.
According to Gallup, these findings “show not only that Americans as a whole have become less likely to identify as social or economic conservatives, but also that Republicans’ views are changing along the same lines.”
“This change in recent years has been significant. The percentage of Republicans identifying as conservative on both dimensions has dropped 15 percentage points since 2012, largely offset by an increase in the percentage who identify as moderate or liberal on both dimensions,” Gallup says.
These numbers reflect a broader trend, Gallup says, citing recent polling that shows a record number of Americans now describe themselves as socially liberal. And it’s not just overall attitudes that have changed — Americans are shifting left on a number of specific social issues, as well. Same-sex marriage has reached a record level of support, as has marijuana legalization. Americans are also becoming increasingly less religious, according to a Pew Research study released in May.
“These longer-term trends may be attributable to changing attitudes among Americans of all ages, but they also may be a result of population changes, with younger, more liberal Americans entering adulthood while older, more conservative adults pass on,” Gallup notes.
Either way, these trends pose a unique challenge to 2016 GOP candidates, as they now face a conservative base that is less than 50 percent of the party.