The recent Magid survey on the preferred size and scope of the nation's government deserves more discussion and analysis, because sometimes you can't define a political party's belief, or even American desires, in a simple question-and-answer format.
As we approach Election Day, Americans are deciding which candidate they feel will lead this country out of the recession, at the same time they are judging each candidate's past. While many skeptics complain that President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Romney are the same ilk and it's difficult to tell them apart, there is a stark contrast--which is what the Magid survey touched upon.
In a nutshell, Republicans believe in limited government and more control at the state level, which should mean lower taxes and more private entrepreneurship. Democrats believe that government is part of the solution to economic recovery, and everyone--especially the rich--must pay their fair share for the greater good.
The Right wants you to believe that big government means more taxes and less innovation--punishing the successful--while Democrats want you to believe that the GOP is the party of rich, white men where the rich get richer and the poor suffer. And, unfortunately, the Magid survey only contributed to this partisan narrative, which is part of a messaging war the Democrats have been winning for years.
According to the Magid survey, a clear majority of Americans favor "a government that actively tries to solve the problems facing society and the economy," while only 31 percent prefer "a government that stays out of society and the economy to the greatest extent possible." This extreme language is what has been defining Republicans for decades, not only contributing to the polarization of our country but also misleading Americans.
There is absolutely a percentage of Americans who believe that government should be the solution to our country's woes, and we should all be taxed a little bit more for the greater good. On the other hand, the hyper-contrasting language in the survey does not summarize what Republicans believe, although that was its intent.
The fact is, Republicans believe there is a role for government in America. We even heard Romney say in the first debate that there should be some regulation and oversight. I'd even argue that Republicans believe government should play an active role in solving some of society's problems. Where we lose the message war is right at this point. Your average undecided voter would be surprised to hear that Republicans believe in defining who the truly neediest are, i.e. below the poverty line, and establishing support for them--ideally temporarily--to allow them to get through a hardship and to pick themselves back up. Contrary to what Democrats say, and what this survey leads us to believe, the compassionate conservative believes in helping those who truly need help.
Some more extreme language from the Magid survey revolves around foreign policy, a topic we will hear about in the final presidential debate. According to the survey, a majority of Democratic identifiers favor an approach focused on alliance building, while most Republican identifiers prefer a foreign policy centered on U.S. military strength. Again, it's this purposeful contrasting messaging that has painted Republicans as a "bomb first, ask questions later" party. And while there were neocons who roamed the halls of the White House during the Bush administration and are still very powerful inside the Beltway, the fact is that unilateral force is not a policy; it's a last-resort option.
Contrarily, Republicans--rightfully so--will not be bullied by their enemies or their allies' enemies and believe in a much more balanced approach of building alliances while having a strong military presence, a stance I believe most Americans are comfortable with. Meanwhile, Obama's desire to be liked by the world over the past three years has resulted in chaos in the Middle East, and while some may not want to hear this, other countries have always respected a U.S. president who was willing to act militarily if provoked.
Finally, the Magid survey said that close to half of the electorate believes that "the best policy is to ensure that all Americans have at least a basic standard of living and level of income, even if that increases government spending," while about one-third say that "the best policy is to let each person get along economically on his or her own, even if that means some people have a lot more than others." While this is more extreme contrasting language that has kept the drumbeat of the Democratic narrative against Republicans going for decades, it's an issue Romney has failed to convince voters on.
Republicans do not believe in increasing government spending, although hypocritically, we did under the Bush administration. And Republicans do believe in a trickle-down economy where we place less of a tax burden on companies"“the rich--in a free-market economy, which will lead to job growth. On the other hand, Democrats believe in taxing--although some would say punishing--the rich and companies more to provide services for the less fortunate. Fortunately, the language from the Magid survey does not accurately describe what Republicans truly believe.
While the Magid survey wants you to believe that the rich get richer and the poor are out of luck, the fact is that Republicans believe in something of a compromise of the language. Republicans, as stated above, believe that support should be provided--to an extent--to the truly neediest, and that the best way to increase revenue to make that support available is through companies growing, hiring, and paying more taxes. Unfortunately, the biggest flaw in this theory over the past couple years is that while companies have been given the resources--i.e., taxpayer money--to grow their companies, CEOs have sat on the money while getting richer. The result has been stagnant GDP and minimal job growth.
When studies like this come out, it reminds me that Republicans are losing this message battle, which will have decadelong consequences in terms of persuading the next generation of voters. Democrats have successfully labeled the political parties as rich, white people versus everyone else, and that class-warfare propaganda--for now--has prevented important voting blocs for Republicans from crossing the aisle.
Trey Ditto is CEO of Ditto Public Affairs, handling communications for financial, technology, and public-policy clients. He began his career writing for the Associated Press in Dallas. He then became deputy communications director for the Republican Party of Texas, where he helped elect Rick Perry to his first full term as governor. Mr. Ditto was a communications director in 2004 for a Republican congressman and became a spokesman at the U.S. Education Department in 2006. He now lives in New York.