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New poll shows conservatives are more liberal than ever

A large nationwide poll of Republican voters shows that an increasing number consider themselves conservative, that about half favor universal healthcare and allowing gays in the military, and that the vast majority say spreading democracy shouldn’t be the United States’ top foreign policy goal.

The poll, conducted by GOP consultant Tony Fabrizio 10 years after he conducted a similar study, also casts doubts on the conventional wisdom about moral-issues voters, thought to be the key constituency for President Bush in 2004. It showed that the group hasn’t grown significantly in recent years and is surprisingly willing to vote for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani despite his differences with it on social and moral issues.

The survey of 2,000 self-described Republican voters, titled “The Elephant Looks in the Mirror 10 Years Later,” showed that 71 percent consider themselves conservative, a 16 percent increase over 1997.

Fifty-one percent of the GOPers said universal healthcare coverage should be a right of every American, and 49 percent favored allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Those two issues continue to divide the party, though, with more than 40 percent opposed to both.

Nearly four in five Republicans said that U.S. foreign policy should be based on protecting economic and national security interests, versus 16 percent who preferred basing it on spreading democracy.

Fabrizio described it as a test of support for the “Bush Doctrine.”

“We’re not about spreading democracy around the world; we’re about doing what’s best for us,” Fabrizio said. “Even the [pro-Iraq war] ‘Bush hawks’ don’t buy it.”

“Bush hawks” was one of seven groups into which the survey categorized voters. The others were “moralists,” “government-knows-best Republicans,” “Dennis Miller Republicans,” “fortress America Republicans,” “heartland Republicans” and “free marketeers.”

The “moralist” section of the party has grown only slightly since 1997, to just less than a quarter of Republicans. At the same time, economics-focused “free-marketeer” and “heartland-Republican” voters decreased drastically, from about half to less than 20 percent, while two new foreign policy-focused groups — “Bush hawks” and “fortress America Republicans” — took in most of their ex-members.

The poll provided several insights into Giuliani’s prospects and showed him leading the GOP field in all seven groups into which it broke the party.

Given the choice between leadership and issues, 41 percent of respondents said leadership matter most, while 53 percent said issues are more important. Fabrizio made the case that Giuliani is more focused than others on the leadership segment of the party and that the figures bode well for him.

Even among “moralists,” 33 percent said they were likely to vote for someone with whom they disagreed on abortion but agreed on other issues.

Overall, 60 percent of Republicans said they would be likely to vote for a candidate who fits that description.

The poll was conducted in late May and early June. Since then, former Sen. Fred Thompson’s imminent entry into the GOP field has reduced Giuliani’s lead in polls.

Sen. John McCain, a key supporter of Bush’s Iraq policy and the troop increase there, actually performed worse among the pro-Iraq “Bush hawks” than he did among Republicans in general. He took 15 percent from “Bush hawks” versus 17 percent overall. McCain has been falling in the polls in general.

The “moralist” category was the most undecided group in the presidential contest, perhaps reflective of discontent with the front-runners’ records. Nearly one in five didn’t yet have a presidential preference.

The survey found that one in three has not always been a Republican, while one in four used to be a Democrat.

Three in four maintain that going to war in Iraq was the right decision.

The party has also gotten much older, with 41 percent of Republicans now 55 or older, compared to 28 percent in 1997.

The poll was conducted between May 28 and June 3 by Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates, with half of the surveys conducted online and half over the phone to control for age and other variables.