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Party Identification Shifts Toward Democrats

by Ruy Teixeira

I’ve expressed a lot of skepticism in the past that short-run swings–sometimes quite large-- in party identification (ID) between polls are necessarily indicators of change in underlying public sentiment. As I, Alan Abramowitz and others have argued, there are good reasons to suspect sampling bias in some of these swings and a good case to be made for “dynamic party ID weighting” to smooth out these swings and give a more reasonable sense of underlying political change (see this article by Abramowitz for a clear statement of our position).

But changes in party ID measured by survey data aggregated over fairly lengthy time periods are a different matter. Here one can be fairly certain that the measured changes in party ID reflect meaningful changes in underlying political attitudes. In this spirt, one can peruse with interest a recent Gallup report on party ID shifts in 2005. The news bodes well for Democrats in 2006 and poorly for the incumbent GOP. Here are the basic findings:

1. In the Gallup data, the Democrats had a 4.5 point lead in party ID (including leaners) in 2005. That’s up from a 2.7 point lead in 2004 and .1 and .4 point deficits, respectively, in 2003 and 2002. So the trend lines pretty clear.

2. The report also breaks down the data by state, showing that the Democrats now lead in party ID in 29 states. That’s up from 22 states in 2004 and just 17 and 16, respectively, in 2003 and 2002.

3. The state also indicate that the Democrats now have a party ID lead in virtually every state that is generally put in the contested column in American politics: Oregon (15); New Hampshire (14); West Virginia (13); Nevada (12); Michigan (12); Maine (12); Washington (12); Arkansas (11); Minnesota (11); Missouri (8); New Mexico (8); Ohio (7); Iowa (6); Louisiana (6); Wisconsin (4); Pennsylvania (4); Colorado (3); and Florida (1).

As further food for thought, here are the same states, with Bush’s current approval rating in those states, as measured by the latest SurveyUSA polls: Oregon (38); New Hampshire (44); West Virginia (46); Nevada (39); Michigan (37); Maine (37); Washington (35); Arkansas (38); Minnesota (39); Missouri (41); New Mexico (42); Ohio (38); Iowa (43); Louisiana (48); Wisconsin (44); Pennsylvania (39); Colorado (43); and Florida (42). Hmmm.....