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The House GOP’s Extremism Is Alienating Independent Voters, New Survey Finds

They may be losing ground with independents, but House Republicans are rewarded with coveted slots on Fox News.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy speaks at a bill signing ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Building on March 10, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

The Republican House majority’s focus on hot-button issues that percolate in right-wing media and investigating the Biden administration is frustrating voters outside the MAGA base. Yet Democrats are not polling much better, reflecting the public’s longstanding frustration with a gridlocked Congress.

As the House approaches 100 days under Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy, 59 percent of voters say they disapprove of the GOP majority’s job performance while 35 percent approve, according to a new survey of 1,000 registered voters by Navigator Research, a polling firm backed by liberal groups. Support for the House GOP is sequestered among Republicans, who are much more likely than independents to say the majority is focused on issues they prioritize.

Majorities of all voters and significant numbers of Democrats and independents disapprove of the House GOP’s handling of the issues that respondents ranked as top priorities, including climate change, health care and gun violence. Many voters no longer identify as Democrat or Republican, with 49 percent telling Gallup last month that they consider themselves independent.

Anxiety over abortion rights is haunting the GOP as red state lawmakers and right-wing judges crack down on access to reproductive health care, with 63 percent of respondents reporting that they worry House Republicans will pass a nationwide abortion ban. The Navigator survey may lean left, but other pollsters put support for abortion access in all or most cases above 60 percent.

“This assessment suggests that the first 100 days for the Republican Congress is not going well,” Navigator Research analyst Bryan Bennett told reporters on Thursday.

Emboldened by the drama in January, when the GOP’s right flank held McCarthy’s speakership ambitions hostage over the course of marathon sessions and multiple votes in order to extract political concessions, Republicans have passed anti-abortion measures and legislation that would roll back climate protections and fast-track fossil fuel infrastructure expansion. The first bill passed by the House GOP this year would repeal federal funding earmarked for cracking down on loopholes enjoyed by the wealthiest taxpayers.

Separate polling from last month shows the nation remains evenly split over whether Democrats or Republicans should be in control of Congress, with the GOP holding slight leads over Democrats on a generic ballot. However, public approval of Congress has been in the gutter for a decade, and Gallup polling recorded a dismal 20 percent approval rating in late March.

Progressives are still betting that extremism in the House GOP will be a major liability for Republicans in upcoming elections, even if partisan legislation passed by the slim majority has no chance of making it past the Senate or the White House. Watchdog groups are publicizing unpopular legislation and the rise of extremists within the party’s internal power structure, such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

“This is the most extreme House of Representatives in a generation,” said Zac Petkanas, president of the House Accountability War Room, a liberal group working with Navigator Research.

For example, many independent voters are concerned that Republicans are focused on the wrong priorities when it comes to schools and education, with 66 percent saying there are “somewhat” or “very concerned” that Republicans are “obsessed with banning books” they disagree with rather than making sure classrooms are safe from gun violence, according to the Navigator survey.

House Republicans may be losing ground with independents, but hearings featuring the right-wing media figures opining about the MAGA world’s pet issues earned individual lawmakers coveted interview slots on Fox News.

House Republicans recently passed legislation that would require public schools to provide parents with a list of materials in the school library, a common component of state-level efforts to ban books on Black history, LGBTQ people and other topics. With Republicans exploiting backlash toward public schools over pandemic restrictions and movements for racial justice and queer rights, conservative groups pushed for more censorship in school and public libraries in 2021 than any other point in the past 20 years.

Inflation continues to rank as the top issue concerning voters, and 52 percent say they disapprove of the House GOP performance on the issue while 37 percent approve, even after Republicans spent months blaming rising prices on President Joe Biden and Democrats. While 53 percent of respondents identified “oversight of the Biden administration” as the main focus of Republicans in Congress, only 15 percent identified such oversight as one of their top four priorities.

Among independent voters, who now make up nearly half of the electorate, 70 percent are “very” or “somewhat” concerned about Republicans ending guaranteed Social Security and Medicare benefits for seniors. This could reflect attack lines deployed by Biden and Democrats as Republicans attempt to force through painful spending cuts by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, which is the amount of money the government is allowed to borrow to pay its bills.

House Republicans may be losing ground with independents, but hearings featuring the right-wing media figures opining about the MAGA world’s pet issues — including alleged censorship on Twitter and Hunter Biden’s infamous laptop — earned individual lawmakers coveted interview slots on Fox News.

House Republicans made a combined 62 weekday appearances on Fox News since McCarthy was voted speaker, according to the House Accountability War Room. GOP Reps. Byron Donalds and Matt Gaetz, both of Florida, top the list with 21 and 12 appearances, respectively. McCarthy comes in third with nine appearances on Fox News, which is facing a crisis of credibility for airing baseless conspiracy theories about voting machines and former President Trump’s loss to Biden in the 2022 election.

Republicans are also threatening to tank the economy by failing to raise the debt ceiling, a tactic MAGA politicians are using to attract media attention and ram through unpopular cuts to federal agencies and the social safety net. Despite dire warnings from economists and Democrats that even the threat of defaulting on the government’s debt could trigger market chaos, McCarthy and moderate Republicans have said they are not confident the GOP caucus will agree to raise the debt ceiling in time to avoid economic calamity.

“The American public is not reacting to these things in particularly high regard,” Bennett said.

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