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Obama's pollster: Republicans have a tolerance problem

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In addition, Benenson frames Republican attacks on contraception and Planned Parenthood as intolerance toward women.

A piecemeal approach to fixing the party’s demographic challenges won’t work, he suggests.

"If they think they can solve all 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,” the pollster says.

For most of the campaign, Obama led Romney by 10 percentage points on the question of whether his views and policies were in line with mainstream Americans. Only in the period immediately after the first Obama-Romney debate did the Republican nominee come close to even on that question.

The Republicans have embarked on a period of soul-searching, including a party-led task force that is reviewing the results of the 2012 election and brainstorming a path forward on how to widen the party’s appeal. And there’s no time to lose. Public acceptance of gay marriage, for example, is growing rapidly, as older Americans who are most resistant to the idea die off and younger people, who are broadly accepting, reach voting age.

Look at voters under age 40, says Benenson. “How do you redefine yourself now with what is almost half the electorate? They’re hearing a very strident, intolerant point of view on specific issues.... I mean, they have become a party of orthodoxy.”

He also points out that Romney won the white evangelical vote by the same margin as President George W. Bush in 2004 – 57 percentage points. But he lost the remaining three-quarters of the electorate by 23 points, 60 percent to 37 percent. Mr. Bush lost those voters by 13 points.

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