Today saw the release of the Washington Post‘s January poll of registered voters on a singularly interesting question: “Which political party, the (Democrats) or the (Republicans), do you trust to do a better job handling the economy?”

The results are a bright spot of hope for Republicans after what was an otherwise frustrating 2013, though mostly in exceedingly unexpected ways. In fact, the results of the poll so thoroughly contradict inside-the-Beltway assumptions about the GOP’s base that they should prompt a debate not merely about the party’s resurgence, but a very vigorous one over what form that insurgence will take.

The poll’s top-line results alone would be encouraging for Republicans, as 44 percent of all respondents preferred the GOP to the Democrats as stewards of the economy, compared with 37 percent for the Democrats. Yet if you drill down into the data, some surprising asymmetries emerge.

Conventional wisdom holds that the GOP does best with elderly, white, affluent and religious voters. In short, in the tea party base they have courted since 2010. By contrast, conventional wisdom also holds the party is weakest with younger voters and racial minorities, especially the better educated.

The Washington Post poll complicates these assumptions, at bare minimum.

Take the assumption about age. Of those surveyed, voters aged 65 and older preferred GOP handling of the economy by nine percentage points, whereas those between the ages of 40 and 60 preferred it by only three. Yet when you look at the 18 –to-39-year-old demographic, you find a massive 12 point advantage for Republicans, who are preferred 48 percent to 36 percent. This is, in fact, the closest the GOP gets to outright majority support among the various age brackets.

But that’s not all. The assumption that the GOP does better with less-educated members of society also crashes headlong into a wall of contrary data. True, the GOP is preferred by six percentage points among those with a high school education or less. But among college graduates, that balloons to 13 points.  Contrary to the view that college renders its attendees liberal, the groups most likely to believe Republicans are superior handlers of the economy are either college graduates or people who have attended some college.

Finally, the story of a massive GOP gender gap is complicated by this data, as women prefer Republicans by four percentage points over Democrats.

That’s not to say the GOP is out of the woods. A persistent mistrust is still very much recorded among racial minorities, who prefer Democrats over Republicans by a daunting 18 points, giving Dems a narrow outright majority of 50 percent. What’s more, among those with “no religion,” Democrats receive a nine point edge over Republicans. Future demographic trends suggest that these two groups are likely to grow, given the increasingly diverse and secular composition of the millennial generation.

And the GOP does enjoy its widest margins among the tried-and-true base of white evangelical Protestants, people making more than $100,000 a year and self-described conservatives. This is not in and of itself a problem, but it should not be read by party leaders as an excuse to double down on those messages that appeal solely to these groups. What’s more, while trust over the economy clearly is a positive sign for the GOP, not every voter counts pocketbook issues as the deciding ones.

Still, the fact that the GOP is drawing proportionally more support from the college educated and the young than it is from the elderly and the non-college educated is a sign of a vibrant new base that the GOP could court with policy dexterity and recalibrated messaging.

Ironically, it is also a sign that, whatever else he might have done wrong, Mitt Romney’s vision of the GOP as an educated, comfortably middle-class, suburban party, remains its most plausible way forward toward a new base. Whether a more competent set of candidates than Romney can turn this one poll into a decisive status quo remains to be seen.

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