January 13, 2016 | By Karl Friedhoff

Eight Things to Know before the Next Republican Debate

Republican presidential candidates pose before the start of the debate on December 15, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Another Republican debate is upon us on January 14, and the intensity of the campaign trail is picking up. While there has been a lot of discussion about the internal challenges facing the Republican Party, there has been little work to outline the demographics and attitudes of Republican Party supporters heading into the presidential election. To help shed light on this, we use the data from the 2015 Chicago Council Survey to outline a general portrait of party supporters, as well their views on a couple of big issues on the campaign/election agenda.

Demographics

  1. Those who identify as Republican make up 30 percent of the sample in the 2015 Chicago Council Survey data. Looking back at data provided by Gallup going back to 2004, this share has not undergone drastic change, although it is somewhat down from highs of 38 percent Gallup recorded in late 2004. Numbers provided by Pew are in the same ballpark. (The Council demographic data is unweighted, but overall data is weighted to the general population based on the American Community Survey.)
     
  2. Race: Republicans are racially homogenous. This is certainly not a new finding, but the lack of diversity remains noteworthy. In the 2015 Chicago Council survey, fully 88 percent report being white, 2 percent as black, and 5 percent as Hispanic. This homogeneity is an ongoing concern for the Republican Party, as this New York Times piece notes. In contrast, Democrats are a much more diverse party. In the 2015 data, self-identifying Democrats were 63 percent white, 16 percent black, and 13 percent Hispanic.
     
  3. Religion: The Republican Party is also highly homogenous in terms of religious beliefs. While 88 percent report being Christian, with the next largest portion reporting no religion (8%). This is far below the national average of 23 percent that report no religion in a 2014 Pew study. Again, there are clear differences with self-identified Democrats. Among Democrats, 63 percent report their religion as Christian and 24 percent report no religion. No other religious group makes up more than 4 percent of either group.
     
  4. Ideology: Republicans are also highly aligned in terms of describing their ideology, perhaps not a surprise from a group that is highly homogenous. While 73 percent state they are conservative, and 23 percent moderate, just 5 percent identify as liberal. Among Democrats, there is a much larger spread, with 48 percent identifying as liberal, 39 percent as moderate, and 13 percent as conservative.
     

On the Issues

  1. Immigration: as this Chicago Council opinion brief points out, Republicans are the most likely of other partisan groups to think controlling and reducing illegal immigration is a very important goal for the United States. They are also the most likely to cite large immigrant inflows to be a critical threat to the United States.
     
  2. Islamic Fundamentalism: Two-thirds of Republicans cite Islamic fundamentalism as a critical threat to the United States. A minority (48%) of Democrats say the same. See more on US public attitudes toward the Middle East here.
     
  3. Climate Change: Republicans (12%) are by far the least likely to cite climate change as a serious and pressing problem. In fact, climate change shows the widest differences between Democrats and Republicans of all foreign policy issues presented in the 2015 Chicago Council Survey, followed by immigration.
     
  4. North Korea: While Republicans generally favor a more muscular approach to foreign policy, when it comes to how to best deal with North Korea, they look much like the rest of the American public. Roughly three-quarters of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents prefer diplomatic efforts to achieve a suspension of the North’s nuclear program. Eight in ten of each group also oppose accepting that North Korea will produce more weapons.

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

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