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Democrats + Independents Vs. Republicans = Trouble for Bush

DR urges everyone to check out the just-released Pew Research Center study on “The 2004 Political Landscape”. While the data have to be reviewed carefully–as DR shows below–the message that shines through should be profoundly disturbing to the Bush re-election team and the GOP in general.

This is because their data show clearly that the political views of Democrats and independents are converging on one another and pulling away from the Republicans. In other words, it’s not just that Democrats and Republicans are becoming polarized against one another–the conventional wisdom–but that Democrats and independents (two-thirds of the electorate) are becoming polarized against Republicans. For Republicans who are inclined to see anomalous recall elections and victories in Mississippi as harbingers of realignment, this news couldn’t be more discouraging. And, for donkeys everywhere, it’s very good news indeed.

The Pew study shows Democrats and independents converging in their declining support for an assertive national security policy, in their increasingly negative views of their personal financial situation, in their growing worries that a prescription drug benefit for Medicare won’t go far enough and in their increasingly skeptical attitude toward business. In each case, Democrats and independents now hold views much closer to one another than to Republicans, who are off on their own trajectory.

Of course, translating this similarity in views into Democratic voting by independents remains a challenge, but one where Democrats start with the advantage of a compatibility of views. In contrast, the Republicans have managed to isolate themselves.

Another finding of the study, which could be viewed as counterbalancing the previous finding, is that the GOP has made significant gains in party ID since 9-11, both nationally and in many states, and that now the parties are at rough parity when measured in this way (the Republicans trail the Democrats by only one point). DR is skeptical, however, that all, or even most, of these apparent gains are real.

The reason is that Pew’s figures are based on pooling data over fairly lengthy period to look at, say, “the post 9-11 period”. That’s not a problem if the attitudes in question are stable over the period and it makes theoretical sense that they would be. It is a problem if they’re not and it doesn’t.

That’s what could be happening here. DR has, in fact, noticed larger leads for the Democrats on party ID in recent public polls. A close look at the disaggregated Pew trend data confirms this. Three of the last four Pew polls, including the last two in September and October, give the Democrats a 4 point lead in party ID. That’s very close to the average Democratic lead of 5 points in Pew data covering the entire 1997-2000 time period. Moreover, when you factor in independents who say they lean toward one party or another, the Democratic lead widens to 7 points, because more independents now say they lead toward the Democrats than say they lean toward the Republicans.

If “macropartisanship”–as political scientists call the distribution of party ID among the general public–is returning to what is was before 9-11, that should come as no great surprise. First, other data from Gallup and CBS News showed a pro-Republican surge in party ID after 9-11 that ended much earlier, in fall of 2002. Second, there is a well-known relationship between presidential approval and level of partisan identification with the president’s party–that is, the higher the president’s approval rating, the more people tend to say they identify with that president’s party. Therefore, since Bush enjoyed a huge surge in his approval rating after 9-11 that lasted for an unusually long time, we would expect to see an increase in Republican party ID over that period of high approval ratings–as we did. We would also expect to see that increase melt away over time as Bush’s political advantage from 9-11 decreases and his approval rating falls to undistinguished levels–as we are today.

So: we certainly remain a closely-divided country, as the Pew study argues. But we are also a country where the political views of Democrats and independents are converging and where Democrats retain a small, but significant, advantage in party ID. And that’s good news for Democrats.

Comments

That's phenomenal. Now, can we find a presidential candidate and some senate candidates who can take advantage of it? Also, Bush is going to unveil a ton of phony-baloney "changes" to his agenda to make it seem as though he's humbly adjusting to the wishes of the American public without really doing so. For example, watch for a head fake in Iraq. He'll start drawing down some troops--let's say 10K-15K a few months before the election with every intent to halt the draw down immediately following. Is this realignment "real" enough yet to withstand such shenanigans? I know the public will catch on eventually, but, unfortunately, I think they've still got it in them to take one more sucker punch from W. If so, heaven help the GOP candidate in '08.

Good news, but even so, a great deal depends on the media coverage GW gets in the lead up to the election. In the last six months press coverage has been a lot less respectful than it was after 9/11. This has tarnished his image somewhat and this tends to lead to ever increasing cheekiness from the press. He tends to look defensive and peevish when they aren't respectful, so I hope the cycle rolls on!

Ruy,

You seem to be making a bit too much of the "Generic" factor and ignoring this paragraph:

While Bush runs even against an unnamed Democrat, he still runs well ahead of all his Democratic rivals, even those such as Rep. Dick Gephardt, Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sen. John Kerry, who have relatively broad name recognition. Bush’s two predecessors in the Oval Office both were in statistical dead-heats against an unnamed challenger at about this point in their campaigns, although they were to experience different fates on Election Day one year later (Bush Sr. trailed by 41%-44% in 1992, Clinton was tied with an unnamed Republican 35%-35% in 1996).

Independents may well be aligned to our party's issue stances, but the dropoff seems to occur whenever Generic takes a name and starts talking. I've commented on this by way of an argument that Zell Miller has made:
http://www.gregsopinion.com/archives/004135.php#004135

Those issues that you choose to talk about say as much or more than what you say about the issue itself.

So while the opportunity is certainly there, it isn't any more an opportunity than George McGovern had in 1972, Hubert Humphrey had in 1968 or even that Jimmy Carter had in 1980. Yet all three went on to lose.

Taking advantage of that opportunity rests on the nominee's ability to bring factions of the party together, and that's been a shortcoming for many, with the notable exception of Bill Clinton.

Still, rather than showing an emerging Democratic majority, the Pew poll shows anything but ... and that seems to be glossed over.

I've seen a lot of Libertarians start to edge away from Bush due to the PATRIOT Act, etc... many of them are probably figuring "well, I disagree with Dean on free trade, but Bush isn't exactly Mr. Free Trade either, and John Ashcroft is scary."

Maureen, you are exactly right! To many of us of a libertarian persuasion, we have seen statist conservatives take over the leadership of the GOP.

Free trade is free trade, whether or not it is good for big business. Think drug importation from Canada. You mean that the fat cat CEOs of the pharmacutical companies can't go to Canada to lobby against the price controls there? Their profits come before the free movement of goods between two free and democratic nations? Where is free trade there?

The religious right and their doctrine of divine right of rulers are what make some in power today even more frightening to us. They reject the classical liberal notions that are behind our constitution, and really are at heart the evangelical version of 19th century clerical conservatives.

Many of us had become Republicans before because the GOP was, as the Party of Lincoln, the individualist party, and for us Italian-American men, we did not like the statist Irish Catholic bishops, who tried to ram down our throat that their politics were God's politics. That seems to have changed now, with Bush bringing into the party all the people that caused us not to like the Dems in the past.

With all these so-called cultural issues, the new righteous pseudo-Republican leadership is on the statist side, and these are the very issues they are trying to make the election to be decided on. If the Sandy Rioses and Gary Bauers are going to control the GOP agenda, John Kerry will get quite a number of us, and Bush will lose most of us.

At heart, we reject the notion of man being so corrupt that the arm of the state is required to protect him from himself, nor do we accept any form of divine right of kings. The Ashcrofts of the world accept them. This difference cannot be papered over.

Bush does not seem to mind the loss of us, which guarantees he will lose us.