After a lost election and weeks of futile budget wrangling, the
public image of the Republican Party nationally has sunk to what pollsters are
calling unprecedented lows.
Some Republicans are even worried about their party's long-term viability.
But Florida Republicans are not overcome with gloom, according to interviews with elected officials, party officials and political strategists.
Several said the party's image woes, while significant, are a cyclical low caused by circumstances that will pass, and won't severely affect Republican candidates at the ballot box.
"Polls are a snapshot in time, and change depending on who the respective standard-bearers are of each party," said Justin Sayfie, a long-time GOP fundraiser and political insider.
"Neither party can claim dominance of the American electorate, especially in Florida," he said, citing GOP control of the state Legislature, governor's office, Cabinet and congressional delegation. "Polls are polls, and nothing more."
Some of those polls, however, have shown scary numbers for the GOP -- disapproval ratings approaching 2 to 1.
In a Pew Research Center poll, 33 percent expressed a favorable opinion of the party and 58 percent negative; the Democratic Party got roughly even ratings, 47 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable.
In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Republicans got 26 percent positive ratings to 49 percent negative and 24 percent neutral; Democrats got 44 percent positive, 38 percent negative and 17 percent neutral.
A bipartisan Purple Strategies Poll in 12 swing states found 28 percent favorable and 56 percent unfavorable opinions of the GOP, while Democrats got 42 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable.
The polls suggest some Republicans have lost satisfaction with their own party. Only 65 percent of Republicans rated their party favorably in the Purple Poll, while 87 percent of Democrats rated their party favorably.
"We've never seen anything like this" in polls going back to 1992, said Pew researcher Michael Dimock.
He said both parties are getting lower ratings than usual, but Republicans "have been in this deeply negative territory for more than two years -- that's pretty new."
Dimock said the negatives "are linked to the impression that they are a party of extremists, unwilling to compromise," and to issues on which the public generally sides with Democrats -- gay rights, abortion, immigration, Social Security and Medicare.
It's worse, he said, because the GOP currently lacks a well-known leader to deliver its message, "a problem the party that's not in the presidency always faces."
Dimock said there's a bright spot: The public is more attuned to the GOP on national debt and fiscal policy, which may dominate the national debate for the next few months.
"The more they can keep the debate on those issues, the better off they'll be," he said.
Retired University of South Florida political scientist Darryl Paulson, a Republican, believes the party's problems may be overstated by the polls, but still worries that its very future could be in question, in part because it faces a demographic time bomb.
By 2020, he said, estimates are that Florida will be 40 percent nonwhite,
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