Where "Obama Republicans" Split With Party
Last November, Republicans made impressive gains in the House, winning their largest majority since the 1920s. The GOP wave added 43 freshmen, more than 40 percent of whom are “Obama Republicans” – Republicans from districts that Mitt Romney either won by less than five points or lost to President Obama.
How do these freshmen “Obama Republicans” differ from the rest of the GOP?
The Brookings Institution recently released data that helps answer this question. The researchers at Brookings scoured nearly every 2014 congressional candidate’s press releases, websites and endorsements to create a dataset describing their positions on a variety of issues. By using this data instead of voting records or third party sites, Brookings measured how these candidates advertise themselves to their constituents.
Brookings Senior Fellow Elaine Kamarck already used this data to analyze how Obama Republicans – both freshmen and non-freshmen – differ from the rest of their party on gun control, climate change, immigration and same-sex marriage. We took a somewhat different approach. We looked at how freshmen Obama Republicans differed from other GOP freshmen on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and taxes, along with the issues Kamarck examined. This approach not only drives home the divide between the Obama Republicans and the rest of the party, but also shows how the freshmen Republicans differ from the more senior members of their caucus.
Specifically, Obama Republicans and the rest of the party are deeply divided in their approach to hot-button social issues, but they are united on taxes and Obamacare. More complex generational patterns emerge on immigration and climate change.
Division on Social Issues
Freshmen Obama Republicans were noticeably silent on social and culture war issues. Specifically, they avoided mentioning gun control, abortion and same-sex marriage.
The same divide appeared when we compared all Obama Republicans to the rest of the caucus. Most Obama Republicans did not volunteer any position on abortion or gun control, but over two-thirds of Republicans from safer GOP districts clearly opposed gun control legislation and signaled – through their explicit positions and endorsements from “Right to Life” groups – that they were pro-life.
The gap was less pronounced on same sex marriage. The majority of Republican House members did not list a position on that issue, but Obama Republicans – freshman or otherwise – were less likely to trumpet support for traditional marriage than the rest of the party.
Kamarck rightly notes that the Obama Republicans may hold conservative positions on these social issues – but choosing not to focus on these issues might be a savvy strategy for a Republican in a swing or Democratic district.
Unity on Taxes and the Affordable Care Act
While social issues divided Obama Republicans from non-Obama Republicans, opposition to higher taxes and the Affordable Care Act united them.
The vast majority of House Republicans –Obama Republican or otherwise – advocated for repealing and/or fully replacing Obamacare. The vast majority of Republicans also opposed raising taxes and/or favored cutting taxes without adding qualifiers such as “for the middle class.”
Climate Change and Immigration
On climate change there are two divisions – one between Obama Republicans and other Republicans (see Kamarck for details) and a generational divide.
Freshmen Republicans, regardless of how their district leans, often did not stake out a well-defined position on climate change. Non-freshmen Republicans were more likely than freshmen to oppose EPA overreach or doubt the existence of manmade climate change.
Kamarck also notes that Obama Republicans are less likely to have volunteered a position on immigration than Republicans from safer districts. Oddly enough, this pattern is not nearly as pronounced among freshmen.
Freshmen Obama Republicans oppose amnesty or advocate solely for increased border security (that is, without simultaneously pushing for for comprehensive immigration reform) at a slightly higher rate than freshmen from more conservative districts. Additionally, on the whole, freshmen Republicans and non-freshmen Republicans seem to hold pretty similar opinions on immigration.