POLITICS

Joel Benenson, Obama Pollster: Republicans Have A 'Tolerance Problem'

Dec 12, 2012 | Updated Dec 12, 2012

President Barack Obama's top campaign pollster said Wednesday that Republicans have a "tolerance problem" that could continue to cost them especially among younger voters.

"[Republicans] are going through an identity crisis and they've earned it," pollster Joel Benenson told reporters at an event hosted by the moderate think tank Third Way.

His basic message -- that Republicans need to widen their tent -- echoes what some on the right have argued since November. But Benenson lambasted GOP calls for specific outreach to voter blocs like Latinos, saying the party should instead revise its stances on touchstone social issues including immigration, the environment and gay marriage.

"If they think they can solve their problems by picking off any one of those groups and saying, 'Oh, we'll fix our problem here or there,' this goes to whether you have core beliefs that are in line and in touch with the vast majority of Americans," Benenson said, noting national exit polls that showed voters were 10 points more likely to say that President Obama was in touch with people like them.

"If Republicans approach this as if they have a Latino problem, I think they're missing the larger dynamic that's in place right now," he said. "I believe that the Republican Party has a tolerance problem. I think when you define people who look differently than you as illegal aliens, and use that term over and over again and talk about self-deporting them, when you ... call people who believe in global warming job-killers, you have a tolerance problem."

Benenson said that problem was especially manifest in attracting voters under 40, who "are simply coming to the political discussion with a very different set of political values," one more in line with the current Democratic platform.

But keeping younger voters through off-year elections could be a challenge for Democrats. "Tactically, we certainly learned in 2010, probably too late in the game for us politically, how much effort it was going to take to keep some of our voters coming back out in a midterm election," he acknowledged, saying the party hoped to ramp up turnout in 2014. "They're not political animals yet. Politics is not in their bloodstream the way it is for some older voters."

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