Conservatives remain skeptical about Mitt Romney, but he is still the only candidate who even has a chance of winning the general election. The key is that Romney is the only candidate who can potentially appeal to moderates. A new study released by Third Way shows how critical moderates will be in 2012:
In most contested elections, each party wins the vast majority of their ideological bases. President Obama, for example, won 89% of self-identified liberals in 2008; Senator McCain won 78% of conservatives. 20 Even in theRepublican wave election of 2010, congressional Democrats won 90% of liberals. But winning these ideological extremes is never enough. Because of the sheer number of moderates in our country, building a coalition that includes a broadswath of moderate voters has been an essential task for both Republicans and Democrats in every recent national election.
According to their memos, 13 out of the last 14 American elections have been decided by moderates, a group that averages 47% of the electorate over the last 30 years. Liberals average 19% of Americans and conservatives average 34%.
However the 2010 Tea Party wave was the exception to the rule: during that election conservatives outnumbered moderates for the first time: 42% to 38%. However 2012 trends portend that conservative scream quieting down again for two reasons.
1. With most polls showing congressional approval ratings lower for Republicans than for Democrats, there is reason to believe that the current approach of congressional Republicans is doing few favors for the Party’s electoral prospects. They have few major policy victories to point to.
2. Now compare that also with the low turnout in Republican primaries this year. With significant drop-offs in voter turnout in almost every state, there’s little evidence the Tea Party phenomenon is effectively re-energizing conservatives for 2012.
Even if there is no conservative enthusiasm, the underlying numbers still make Romney the best possible nominee. Because Democrats have a statistically smaller base, they need moderates more desperately than Republicans. If conservatives show up to the polls at the same rate as they did for McCain, Romney only needs modest gains among moderates to win the election:
"Liberals represent only about one-fifth of the electorate. Even a 5% decline in moderate support can have huge consequences."