Just about anyone interested in American politics will find Charlie Cook's most recent 'Off to the Races' column at the National Journal of considerable interest. Cook works his wizardry, tapping the latest pollls, in a succinct, but convincing "it's all about independents" argument. First the numbers:
President Obama's job approval rating among Democrats in last month's Pew polling was 88 percent, with just 27 percent of Republicans approving. The 61-point gap exceeds that of Presidents George W. Bush (51 points in March 2001), Bill Clinton (45 points in April 1993), George H.W. Bush (38 points in May 1989), Ronald Reagan (46 points in March 1981), Jimmy Carter (25 points in March 1977) and Richard Nixon (29 points in March 1969).* Partisanship is alive and well, even in the era of Obama.
An obvious way of measuring partisanship is in terms of the enormous gap between how die-hard Democrats and Republicans assess political leaders. In the case of President Obama, the difference was night and day in the March Pew poll. (He received a 57 percent approval rating among independents.) Obama got similar numbers in Gallup polling last week, with a 90 percent approval rating among Democrats, 27 percent among Republicans and 60 percent among independents, with a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points.
On how the data plays out in congress:
...On one side, there are Democrats sticking with Obama at a very high rate, and on the other side, Republicans are staying with their leadership at a similarly high rate. Don't lay all of this on Republicans; both sides are holding firm.
On the GOP side, many of the moderate and swing-district members who would be likely to stray from the party lost re-election in either 2006 or 2008. The remaining Republicans, who fundamentally disagree with much of what Obama and the Democrats are trying to do, are overwhelmingly from safe and very conservative districts.
Then there is the question of those Republicans who have fairly senior committee positions, and whether too much fraternization with the enemy could cost them their ranking slot. Given the magnitude of GOP losses in the last two elections, the remaining GOP members have little tolerance for cavorting with the opposition.
On Obama's strategy going forward:
When it comes to Obama, however, it's imperative that he keep his approval rating up among independents. With 36 percent of all adults last year identifying themselves as Democrats, he can have the enthusiastic support of every Democrat in the country and still have an approval rating that would be just a bit better than impeachment level. To keep his approval rating in the high 50s and low 60s, a level that maximizes his clout on Capitol Hill and helps him hold the political high ground, Obama needs strong support among independents as well.
For more insight into the growing clout of Independents and their impact on Democratic legislative strategy, Cook's entire column merits a read.