Even among Republicans, just 16 percent say their party is fine and doesn't need to change. The survey also shows the party is viewed as too protective of the wealthy and that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has a slight edge among high-profile Republicans who may lead the party.
The party is reassessing its positions and tactics after losing the presidential race, failing to make gains in the Senate and seeing their House majority shrink after the 2012 elections. The Republican National Committee this week created a study group to examine how it can improve the party's performance ahead of the 2014 congressional elections and 2016 race for the White House.
"They need to take some time and listen to middle-class America," said poll participant Lisa Lee, 43, an office manager from New Milford, Pa. "At one time, I would have said that I was proud to be a Republican. I'm not so much anymore."
She isn't alone. Republicans are assessing themselves less favorably than before the election. In this poll, 81 percent of them view their own party favorably, down from 89 percent in a Bloomberg poll in September.
Lee said she wants to see a "major overhaul" of the party, although she isn't optimistic change can come in two or four years and reverse current electoral trends.
Exit polls of voters in the Nov. 6 election showed President Barack Obama dominated Republican challenger Mitt Romney among single women, Hispanics, blacks and younger voters as the president carried eight of nine states both camps viewed as the most competitive. Republicans have also acknowledged Obama's campaign utilized superior technological tools for online fundraising and voter turnout.
"For the Republican Party to broaden its base, they will need to change either what they value, or how they talk about what they value," said J. Ann Selzer, president of Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co., which conducted the Dec. 7-10 poll. "What they are doing now is not winning."
Among all Americans, 57 percent say the Republican Party needs a major overhaul, while 30 percent say modest modifications are needed and eight percent say no changes are necessary. The survey of 1,000 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points on the full sample.
Independents, a critical voting bloc in presidential elections, also see a need for significant renovation of the Republican Party, with six in 10 taking that view. Among Republicans, a third say the party needs major change and nearly half say modest changes are needed.
Six in 10 Americans say Republicans have placed too much emphasis on protecting the wealthy from tax rate increases at the expense of pursuing the interests of those of more modest means, the poll shows. More than half of independents — 58 percent — hold that view.
Obama stoked that perception during his campaign this year against Romney. He continues to use the line of attack against congressional Republicans as he negotiates an agreement to avoid automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect in January, the so-called fiscal cliff.
Poll participant Roy Vap, 61, a Republican corn and soybean farmer from Red Cloud, Neb., said he's become disillusioned with his party in part because of the fiscal debate.
"They are on the wrong path," he said of Republicans. "The stonewalling on the budget is silly. There has to be some give and take."
Vap said his party doesn't seem to do as good a job communicating with voters compared with Democrats.
"It just appears the Republicans are out of touch," he said. "Somehow voters have come away with the idea that the Republicans are the party of the rich. Maybe it is repacking the message or moderating their message a bit."
More than three-quarters of Americas say outside groups, such as those that spent more than $600 million to try to influence this year's election, should be required to disclose their donors and that Congress should change the law.
One area of concern for Republicans has been primary contests that result in candidates with more extreme views than the general public because the nomination process is dominated by the most zealous partisans.
The poll found that Republicans as a whole are more flexible than the party activist base on some issues, such as taxes and global warming. Shifts in standard party dogma are riskier on social issues, including abortion rights and gay marriage.
Among Republicans and independents, 40 percent said a candidate who supports gay marriage would be a deal-killer for them, while 38 percent said it wouldn't be a real problem in their selection process. Among Republicans alone, less than a majority — 43 percent — say such a position would be a deal- killer.
"I could care less who marries who," said poll participant Janelle Ulibarri, 40, a stay-at-home mother who considers herself a Republican and lives in Sheridan, Wyo. "I'm more interested in finances."
Ulibarri said she has a relative who is gay and that she thinks he should "be able to have a long-term committed relationship if he wants to."
A candidate who supports abortion rights would be written off by 38 percent of Republicans and independents, while 33 percent say it wouldn't be a real problem. Among Republicans, 40 percent say supporting abortion rights would be a deal-killer, while 21 percent say they would have to consider the position more closely and 36 percent say it wouldn't be a problem.
A third of Republicans and independents say a candidate who supports raising taxes on the wealthy wouldn't be a real problem for them, compared with a quarter who say it would be a deal- killer. The numbers are similar for candidates who see global warming as a threat requiring government action, with 38 percent of Republicans and independents saying that view wouldn't be a problem for them and a quarter saying it would be a deal-killer.
"There is permission here to widen the Republican stance on a number of issues," said Selzer.
On supporting a path to legal status for illegal immigrants — a critical issue for many in the nation's rapidly growing Hispanic population — the poll's findings are more mixed. A third of Republicans and independents say such a view would be a deal-killer for them, while a quarter say it wouldn't be a real problem. More than a third — 36 percent — say such a stance would be something they would have to further consider.
Republicans lack a leader who is viewed as the obvious choice to help the party win more races, including the presidency, the poll shows.
Among a half dozen names tested, including Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, none scored high marks among all Americans as an excellent choice to lead the party to a better future.
Christie received the largest percentage when excellent and good ratings are combined, with 40 percent of Americans giving him that rating. Among Republicans, his numbers are even better, with 51 percent rating him as good or excellent in that role.
In October 2011, Christie spurned requests from Republicans and business leaders to compete for the presidential nomination. After campaigning for Romney this year, he's said he is open to a potential 2016 White House bid.
Christie is followed by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Romney's vice presidential running mate. A third of Americans rate him as excellent or good as a person to help the Republican Party win more races. Next is Rubio, who is rated as excellent or good by 31 percent. He's followed by Romney at 30 percent, former Florida governor Jeb Bush at 27 percent and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal at 24 percent.
Romney is rated poorly by 41 percent of Americans as someone who could help the party, the highest among those tested.
The Democratic Party is viewed more favorably right now than the Republican Party, the poll shows.
Fifty percent view the Democratic Party favorably, compared to 38 percent for the Republican Party. That is the highest favorability rating in the poll for Democrats since June and the lowest for Republicans since September 2011.
House Speaker John Boehner, a central figure in the fiscal cliff debate, is viewed favorably by 34 percent of Americans and unfavorably by 37 percent.
Poll respondent Christina Thurlow, 49, a real estate agent who lives in Spring, Texas, blames recent losses on both the party and Romney. "They couldn't come up with a good enough candidate to win," she said.
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