Scott Rasmussen
Mitt Romney's comments about 47 percent of Americans being dependent on government and locked in to vote for President Obama highlight a fundamental reality in American politics today: The gap between the American people and the political class is bigger than the gap between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C.

Romney's remarks are the GOP equivalent of Obama's notorious comments about small-town Pennsylvania voters bitterly clinging to their guns and religion.

Both Romney and Obama highlighted the condescending attitude that political elites hold of the people they want to rule over. A National Journal survey found that 59 percent of political insiders don't think voters know enough to have meaningful opinions on the important issues of the day. That's a handy rationalization for those who want to ignore the voters and impose their own agenda.

In the nation's capital, this gap creates bigger problems for Republicans than Democrats. Democratic voters tend to think that their representatives in Congress do a decent job representing them. That's because Democrats are a bit more comfortable with the idea of government playing a leading role in American society. However, 63 percent of Republican voters believe their representatives in Washington are out of touch with the party base.

Establishment Republicans in Washington broadly share the Democrats' view that the government should manage the economy. They may favor a somewhat more pro-business set of policies than their Democratic colleagues, but they still act as if government policy is the starting point for all economic activity.

Republican voters reject this view. They are more interested in promoting free market competition rather than handing out favors to big business. They detest corporate welfare and government bailouts, even though their party leaders support them.

The GOP base sees government as a burden that weighs the private sector down rather than a tool that can generate growth if used properly. Ninety-six percent of Republican voters believe that the best thing the government can do to help the economy is to cut spending and free up more money for the private sector.

The Republican base is looking for someone like a 21st century Ronald Reagan, who will display his faith in the American people. The Washington Republicans are more comfortable with politicians like George W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney. Though the establishment has dominated the party since Reagan left the White House, the 2012 election could well be the end of the line.

Scott Rasmussen

Scott Rasmussen is founder and president of Rasmussen Reports. He is a political analyst, author, speaker and, since 1994, an independent public opinion pollster.

Scott founded Rasmussen Reports, LLC in 2003 as a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion polling information. Rasmussen Reports provides in-depth data, news coverage and commentary on political, business, economic and lifestyle topics at RasmussenReports.com, America’s most visited public opinion polling site.