Over at his site the New Majority, David Frum points to a fascinating new survey (pdf) of Pennsylvania voters who have recently switched their party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. It’s not an insignificant number of people: The Democrats’ advantage in voter registration in the state leapt from 550,000 in May 2006 to 1.2 million by November 2008. Why did these 650,000 ex-Republicans become Democrats?
Demographically, these Pennsylvanians look very much like the voters the New Majority is worried the GOP is repelling. Almost half (49 percent) have at least an undergraduate degree and more have graduate or professional degrees (24 percent) than just high school diplomas (21 percent). Less than 1 percent of the Republican defectors are high school dropouts. These allegiance-switching voters also skew toward the financially comfortable: 37 percent report incomes above $80,000 a year and the largest single group earns more than $100,000 a year (25 percent).
Yet their main reasons for leaving the Republican Party don’t entirely comport with the reasons the New Majoritarians tend to give for the GOP’s decline. President Bush himself drove many of them from the party of Lincoln and Reagan (68 percent). The Iraq war was cited as a major factor by 54 percent. That’s followed by the GOP’s positions on foreign policy more generally (49 percent), environmental issues (45 percent), and taxes and spending (44 percent).
Even though 67 percent of these voters self-identified as pro-choice, only 38 percent of them agreed that the Democratic Party’s positions on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage were closer to theirs than the GOP’s. Only 34 percent agreed that the religious right’s influence led them to leave the party. Those aren’t insignificant percentages of people turned off by social conservatism, of course, but it is less than the number of people who said they were more Democratic in their views on taxes and spending (46 percent). Majorities did agree that the Republican Party was too extreme in its positions (53 percent) and that George W. Bush’s presidency sent them heading for the exits (52 percent).
Now, I’m not sure that self-described moderates (37 percent) and liberals (27 percent) who disagree with the Republican platform almost across the board represent the most auspicious set of recruits for a new Republican majority. But it’s not clear that every “extremist” who turned people away from the GOP was a social conservative or that socially liberal hawks for the flat tax are necessarily the best people to win them back.