NATIONAL -- At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) straw poll, Kentucky's Rand Paul emerged on top, followed closely by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush rounding out the top five. The conference discussions centered around a range of issues affecting the government, including immigration and funding the Department of Homeland Security.
A new poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center illustrated the importance of this most recent straw poll since Republicans run ahead of Democrats on who can better handle the major issues of the day.
While the survey results offer a great deal of insight into which party partisan voters see as more open and tolerant and who should take the lead, the most interesting results emerged from those who do not identify with either major party -- independents -- who are the key group that will be up for grabs in the 2016 elections.
First, 54 percent of independents responded that they believe the Republican Party is too extreme compared to only 38 percent who said the same thing about the Democratic Party. A majority of independents (58%) also believe the Democratic Party is the political group that is more open and tolerant; only 33 percent believe that about the Republican Party.
According to Pew, independents believe that Democrats are more concerned about the middle class (56% for Democrats as opposed to 40% for Republicans). However, unaffiliated respondents were more likely to agree with the statement that Republicans have stronger principles than Democrats.
Independents tend to favor Republicans in their leadership potential; 52 percent of respondents said the GOP is better equipped to handle the country's foreign affairs, while only 28 percent said the same thing about Democrats. Similar numbers characterize independents' belief in the GOP's ability to handle the nation's taxes.
One of the more striking statistics though stems from independents' view on both parties. Although Democrats tend to rank higher, independents give the Democratic leadership a 31 percent approval rating. The Republican leadership did not fare any better though, with a 21 percent approval rating. The numbers tick slightly higher among respondents within those parties, illustrating a larger discontent for both parties at the moment.
However, the poll failed to ask respondents to weigh in on a desire to elect candidates outside the major parties, instead choosing to focus exclusively on the two major parties. With discontent so high among the major parties, perhaps candidates without a "D" or "R" next to their name might have the opportunity to appeal to registered members of both parties, as well as independent and third-party voters.