Although they are staunchly conservative on issues involving government regulation and abortion, they are less conservative than convention delegates were four years ago on matters like immigration and the government's role in promoting traditional values.
And while Republican delegates have always tended to be more conservative than their party's rank and file on the issue of government promoting traditional values, this year the relationship is reversed.
There is much optimism on the convention floor. Most delegates expect Bush to carry their state in November, and nearly all are supporting him enthusiastically.
THE IDEOLOGY OF THE DELEGATES
This year's Republican delegates are significantly less conservative and less connected to conservative religious groups than Republican delegates in other years. They are closer to being the kinder, gentler type of Republican that former President George Bush might have been thinking of in his 1988 acceptance speech. The comparison with 1996 is especially striking.
REGULATION OF BUSINESS
When it comes to issues of government regulation of business, however, these delegates are as conservative as ever. 88% say that the government is doing too many things better left to business and individuals. 61% think that free trade must be allowed, even if domestic industries are hurt by foreign competition. 56% oppose programs that make special efforts to help minorities get ahead.
However, delegate support for free trade is not without some limitations, as delegates are divided about bringing China into the international trading community. 46% of delegates think China should be given the same international trade privileges as other friendly nations, but 41% think it should not.
There may be a softening of views concerning environmental regulations, lthough the delegates are still more pro-business than most of their party's voters.
Four years ago, 61% of GOP delegates said the government should do less when it came to regulating the environmental and safety practices of business. That has dropped to 41% now. And only 32% of delegates are willing to protect the environment at the risk of losing jobs in their community. But just 16% of Republican voters want the government to do less to regulate business practices, while 57% would protect the environment, even at the cost of local jobs.
|Government doing too much|
|Government should do more|
|Free trade must be allowed|
|Trade restrictions necessary|
|Oppose affirmative action programs|
|Favor affirmative action programs|
Concern about government regulations for many delegates extends to restrictions on handguns. 64% of delegates have a favorable view of the National Rifle Association, and 17% are members of that organization. The delegates are divided on one gun regulation measure that is popular with most voters in both parties. Just 48% of delegates favor putting child safety locks on handguns sold in the U.S., while 41% oppose this.
Nationally, 84% of all voters and 76% of Republican voters support this.
THE BUDGET AND TAXES
Using the budget surplus to cut taxes is favored by 31% of delegates. 21% would like to see the surplus used to pay down the national debt, and 10% want it used to preserve Social Security and Medicare. 34% would like to see it applied to a combination of these goals. Among voters, the order of priorities is reversed: nearly half the Republican voters want the surplus applied to preserve Social Security and Medicare, paying the debt comes second, and a tax cut is the third priority.
But majorities of delegates and voters believe that the government may not have to choose. 89% of delegates and 67% of Republican voters agree that it is possible both to have a tax cut and to preserve Social Security.
On abortion, delegates and Republican voters are generally in agreement that at least some restrictions are desirable. The most commonly held view among delegates is that abortion should be permitted only in the case of rape or incest: 40% feel this way. 23% think abortion should be permitted only to save the woman's life. 14% believe abortion should be permitted, but subject to greater restriction than it is now, and 10% believe in complete access to abortion. 3% volunteered that abortion should not be allowed at all.
Attitudes toward abortion among delegates have not changed much since 1996, despite the less-conservative nature of the delegates this year and the decreased presence of the religious right.
But when it comes to developing a stance on abortion for the party platform, attitudes among delegates are somewhat more lenient than they have been in the past, and views are clearly divided as to whether the platform should oppose abortion or simply take no position. 43% of delegates think the platform should take no stand on abortion, and 42% believe the platform should oppose keeping abortion legal. Only one in twenty delegates think the platform should support abortion. Strikingly, 71% belive that party should officially acknowledge that there is a diversity of views on abortion among Republicans.
These views represent a change since 1996, perhaps as a result of the protracted struggles over abortion at past conventions. In 1996, delegates felt the platform should oppose abortion: 49% thought it should oppose abortion, while 40% felt the platform should take no stand on abortion.
Despite the statement in the party platform that promotes the appointment of judges who respect the sanctity of human life, these delegates do not expect the issue of abortion to dominate Bush's Supreme Court appointments, if he were to become president. 22% think that, as president, Bush would appoint justices to the Supreme Court only if they share his position on abortion, while 58% think potential justices positions on abortion will not matter to Bush.
OTHER SOCIAL ISSUES
Like Bush, these delegates are clear advocates of the death penalty. 60% think this should be the penalty for murder, while 14% advocate life imprisonment instead. 23% think it depends on the circumstances.
These views are firmly held. 83% said that recent reports about the number of people who are wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death have had no impact on their views. Delegate support for capital punishment is similar to the support found among the party's rank and file -- 55% of Republican voters support the death penalty for murder. Compared to the delegates of 1996, this year's delegates are more skeptical of leniency -- four years ago a greater percentage favored life imprisonment.
On a number of issues, Republican delegates follow their presumptive nominee. George W. Bush supports allowing the children of illegal immigrants to attend public schools, which might explain the change from four years ago in the delegates position (58% now support this). Bush favors school vouchers, and so do 71% of the delegates. 89% favor allowing individuals to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes, and 76% say the size of Bush's tax cut proposal would be good for the economy.
Traditionally, Republican delegates are more conservative than the party's rank and file. That is generally true this year. Not only are delegates more likely than all registered Republicans to oppose requiring child safety locks on handguns, but they also are more likely to oppose government subsidies for prescription drugs, and to oppose special programs to help minorities get ahead. They also give a higher priority to tax cutting as opposed to Social Security and Medicare funding as a use for the budget surplus. And they are twice as likely as voters to support free trade.
But there is an intriguing exception. Voters and delegates part company on the question of the appropriate role of government in reflecting moral values. On this issue, more Republican voters than delegates would like to see a greater government role.
WHO ARE THE DELEGATES?
This years Republican delegates are mostly men, as was true in 1996. 65% of the delegates are men, and 35% are women. In 1992, women comprised a greater share of the delegates than they did in 1996 or do this year.
This group of delegates is notably less white and less conservative than delegates to the 1996 convention. Notably, the percentage of delegates who are Hispanic has risen this year. 85% of the delegates this year are white, 6% are Hispanic, 4% are black and 2% are Asian. In 1996, 91% of the delegates were white, 3% were Hispanic, 3% were black, and 1% were Asian. The increase in the percentage of Hispanic delegates undoubtedly reflects the importance of these voters in this election, as well as the party's desire to reach out to them.
The median age of the delegates is 53, which is not much different from 1996, when the median age was 52. Only 3% are under age 30. But it should be noted that over the past 30 years delegates to the Republican convention have been increasingly older -- in 1976, the median age was 48.
The delegates this year admit to being more affluent than they have been in past years. In 1996, 33% had annual incomes of $100,000 or more. This year, 41% told us that is their annual income. Nearly one quarter of the delegates this year have a net worth of $1 million or more, and another 21% have a net worth of $500,000 to $1 million. In 1996, 18% had a net worth of $1 million or more and an additional 18% were worth $500,000 to $1 million. Many delegates in both years, however, were unwilling to report their incomes (17% this year, 12% in 1996) or their net worth (21% both this year and in 1996).
As in the past, this years delegates are also very highly educated. 77% of delegates are at least college graduates, and 46% have attended graduate school. In 1996, 73% had at least a college degree.
DELEGATES AS STRATEGISTS
The Republican delegates are extremely hopeful about the campaign and their candidate. Most delegates expect Bush to carry their state in the fall election, and 92% say they personally are supporting him enthusiastically.
They catalog Bush's main strengths as his character and background. 23% cite his character and integrity and 18% cite his experience in Texas as Bush's main strength. Other qualities mentioned by significant numbers of delegates are his leadership, his ability to unite diverse interests and his charisma.
One advantage Bush has is that delegates view him as ideologically similar to themselves -- and that's as true for delegates who call themselves moderates as it is for delegates who describe themselves as conservatives (almost no Republican delegates call themselves liberal). 63% of self-described moderates say Bush is a moderate, 75% of self-described conservatives describe Bush as a conservative.
That doesn't mean that Bush is free of flaws -- among those most oftn named are his inexperience in foreign policy (perhaps a major reason for the choice of Dick Cheney for the vice presidential slot), and overall inexperience. About 14% of delegates are concerned about Bush's demeanor and the risks of his mis-speaking or making verbal mistakes in the campaign.
Former President George Bush represents both a strength and a weakness to small numbers of delegates. 3% of delegates say Bush's father is his main strength; 5% volunteer that the father is the son's biggest weakness. But most delegates seem content with how the former president is relating to the campaign -- 86% say his current level of involvement is about right.
One in four delegates expect education to be the main issue in the fall campaign in their state -- 13% name taxes, while 11% cite the economy. Fewer name some of the other issues that usually top voters concerns, such as Social Security and health care.
These delegates were chosen by a selection process that many have criticized. But as one might expect, most delegates are content with the process. Seven in ten say the nominating process generally produces the best candidates. Republican voters aren't so sure about that.
Republican delegates also generally support the way campaigns are currently funded. Just 17% of delegates would completely rebuild the campaign financing system (42% of Republican voters would like to do that). Two-thirds of delegates support the use of soft money in campaigns, while 60% of Republican voters would ban it. Republican delegates would go even farther, allowing unlimited contributions from individuals. Seven in ten Republican voters favor limiting individual contributions.