by Donald Douglas | October 1, 2009 10:21 pm
Are Republicans at a low ebb or making a comeback?
The question is prompted by the new release from the Gallup organization, which showed that the gap in party identification is now the smallest it has been since 2005. Democrats are still in the lead, but not by the double-digit margins they often enjoyed the past two years.
The report was the second in a month from Gallup to suggest that, eight months into the Obama administration, Democrats are losing favor with at least a portion of the electorate. Republicans are cheering the findings as a sign of a potentially important change in the political landscape. Democratic strategists offer cautionary notes about what is actually happening.
Bunch of caveats here, blah, blah … then:
In the first three months of this year, Gallup found that 17 percent of all adults were independents who leaned toward the Democrats, and 11 percent independents who leaned toward the Republicans. Since then, however, Democrats have lost ground with indpendents and Republicans have gained ground. Gallup’s third quarter data showed that 15 percent of adults were Republican-leaning independents, and 13 percent Democratic-leaning independents.
Jennifer Agiesta, The Post’s polling analyst, did some calculations to look at how these “non-partisans” have leaned over the past few years in Post-ABC News polls. The results show a reduction in the Democrats’ advantage of previous years. From 2005 through 2007, these non-partisans said they leaned toward the Democrats by margins of 13, 16 and 12 percentage points. In 2008, that fell to 8 points and so far this year, the gap has been 6 points.
Democratic Mark Mellman said the narrowing gap is not unexpected, given some decline in Obama’s popularity and the state of the economy. “One would expect the Democratic advantage to be down from its recent highs,” he said in a message. But he noted that a six-point advantage is still healthy.
Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said that, in the past few years, public antipathy toward Bush drove some self-identified Republicans to start calling themselves independents and Democratic-leaning independents to call themselves Democrats — in other words a general shift to the left in people’s perceptions of their party identification.
“In response to Obama’s overreaching and overspending, what we’re seeing is a slight reversal of that previous trend — [independents] are turning against Obama and the partisan margin between [Republicans and Democrats] is narrowing,” he said.
Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg called the evidence of movement mixed but said she believed that, with the shift of some independents into the Democratic camp, the remaining independents may be more Republican in their attitudes.
“Independents, by definition, tend to be more socially liberal than Republicans and less populist than Democrats, so I would expect them to express more skepticism about the role of government and issues of government spending when it comes to health care reform,” she said.
That’s actually a bit of over-analysis. Frankly, self-identified independents have been going up all year. The glow is off the hope-and-change bandwagon. The tea partiers have had a dramatic effect, and Democratic Party hubris and thuggery have been pulling down the left’s numbers like anchors overboard. And as the public increasingly clues-in to the Democrats’ culture of corruption at the highest levels of government, the GOP’s fortunes will continue to improve regardless of partisan identifications.
Folks want effective government. The economy is not improving, and new reports indicate that the left’s economic stimulus was basically a big-government scam (see Robert Barro and Charles Redlick, “Stimulus Spending Doesn’t Work” … via Memeorandum). And now that President Obama has prioritized Olympic lobbying over pressing U.S. domestic and foreign problems, new survey data find a plurality of Americans calling his Copenhagen trip a “bad idea.” Don Surber sums up the overarching trend: “Change. Hope. 2012.”
Brendan Nyhan is trying (hopelessly) to argue otherwise, and he notes that “the Republicans are currently viewed more negatively than any minority party in the previous four midterms in terms of both net favorables and the difference in net favorables between parties.” According to Nyhan, it remains to be seen if these hypothesized negatives will “translate into fewer GOP House seats at the polls …” Of course, the “generic ballot” measures mean that many questions remain “to be addressed.”
All this political science is killing me!
Thankfully, Charlie Cook’s got the remedy, “A Fleeting GOP Boost In 2010?: Republicans May Do Very Well in the Midterms Without Solving Their Demographic Challenges“:
From all indications, the face of the electorate will look very different in 2010 from the way it did in 2008. That prospect presents an immediate danger for Democrats. But it also represents a more subtle, long-term threat for Republicans.
Small shifts in who votes can have big consequences on Election Day. And Democrats face the disquieting likelihood that the groups that most favor President Obama (particularly young people and minorities) will decline as a share of the vote next year while the voters who are most disaffected from him (white seniors) will increase their share.
The GOP’s longer-term threat Cook addresses is the demography-is-destiny model of generational realignment to the Democrats. The obvious response is to remind folks that we haven’t had a true partisan realignment since the 1930s. If the Dems were going to have one, it would have been in 2008. And how’s that turning out now? The GOP’s going to get back to basics. New candidates will emerge as the next generation of leadership for the party. The conservative/libertarian grassroots that’s been mobilized this year will coalesce into a center-right majority as the prospects of electoral power come into focus. The long-term partisan challenge will be for the Democrats: How will the contemporary left develop a new governing philosophy on the shoals of the eviscerated hope-and-changism of the disastrous Barack Obama interregnum?
Cross-posted from American Power.
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