- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009

The schism between Republicans and conservatives has grownpronounced. The party is losing members while ideology is retaining consistently loyal followers, according to new research released Thursday.

The percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Republicans dropped from 30 percent in 2004 to 23 percent this year - while the percent identifying themselves as “conservative” remained virtually unchanged, said a new study from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

“The recent losses suffered by the Republican Party do not appear to be the result of a fundamental ideological break from the past,” the analysis said.

“In more than 7,000 interviews conducted in the first four months of 2009, 37 percent of Americans describe themselves as politically conservative - roughly double the number who say they are liberal (19 percent). This ratio has remained largely stable over the past nine years, even while the balance of party affiliation has changed substantially.”

The Republican party is losing its conservatives: 52 percent of self-described conservatives identified with the Republican party in 2005. Four years later, the number stands at 41 percent.

The Republicans could be paying the price for an eroding image, some say.

“Republicans, consciously or unconsciously, managed to destroy their own brand in the last eight years. Opinion and exits polls have consistently revealed that voters were not turned off by conservative beliefs and issues. They just didn’t like Republican performance in office,” said David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union.

“Many voters still want limited government, lower taxes and the like. They just don’t care for those Republicans. This isn’t going to make those in office very happy, but here’s the message to them. Don’t change what you believe in. Change how you act,” Mr. Keene said.

While Mr. Obama is pursuing fundamentally different economic, domestic and foreign policies, the wide-ranging Pew survey said “there is no commensurate sea-change in public values,” with “little evidence of a ‘populist backlash’ against big business or the efficacy of the free market.”

The survey found that favorability numbers have plummeted for the Republican party, falling from 67 percent in 1994 among the overall public to 40 percent in 2009. The trend is true among Republicans themselves - falling from 94 percent to 79 percent in the same time period.

Democrats are enjoying increased popularity. Their favorability numbers have risen from 50 percent in 1994 to 59 percent this year. Still, the percentage of liberal Democrats is lower than the percentage of conservative Republicans.

“The share of Democrats who describe themselves as politically liberal had increased gradually from 28 percent in 2000 to a high of 34 percent in the 2008 election year. But the party has become no more liberal since - 32 percent of Democrats think of themselves as liberal so far in 2009,” the survey said.

The research was based on telephone interviews conducted March 31-April 6 and April 14-21, with a margin of error of two percentage points.

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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