How's America Leaning?
The consensus reaction to last night's State of the Union address was that it was a pretty partisan speech where the president relentlessly plugged the GOP position on practically everything, from Iraq to health savings accounts to making the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent, and not-so-subtly taunted the Democrats for their opposition to these positions.
Is such a partisan approach really wise? Perhaps it would be if the country was already leaning Republican and voters in the center simply needed to be reminded to find their inner Republican. But that does not appear to be the case.
In fact, there is an abundance of recent data that suggests the opposite: the country is leaning Democratic and voters in the center are in serious danger of finding their inner Democrat if the Republicans don't watch out.
For example, a November Pew Research Center report showed that the domestic and foreign policy views of Democrats and independents are converging on one another and pulling away from the Republicans. That is, 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. And it's not just issues: a January Pew Research Center report also shows that the basic ideological views of independents are now much closer to Democrats than Republicans.
These leanings of independents even extend to the bedrock political indicator of partisanship: which party does an individual identify with or lean towards? According to the most recent CBS News/New York Times poll, the Democrats now have a four point lead on party ID (32 percent to 28 percent), even before independents are asked which party they lean towards (this confirms DR's contention that the long-standing Democratic lead on party ID is coming back now that Bush's big popularity spikes (post-9/11, the Iraq invasion) have faded and that reports of parity in party ID between Democrats and Republican are fundamentally mistaken--but that's another tirade).
But here's the really interesting part, for our purposes. If you ask independents which party they lean toward, 21 points out of the 33 percentage points that say they are independent are willing to select a party. Out of this group of independents ("independent leaners"), about three-quarters (15 points) go to the Democrats and only about one-quarter (6 points) goes to the Republicans. That means that, once these leaners are factored in, the Democrats have a very healthy 13 point lead in party ID over the Republicans (47 percent to 34 percent).
These data suggest that Bush's apparent delight in being President of All the Republicans may not wind up playing very well. More on this tomorrow.