Poll trends, the Democrats dilemma and the GOP’s chance
Trying to analyze polling results is indeed a tricky business. To be worth anything a poll must be carefully crafted to remove obvious and hidden biases from questions. And, for the most part, a single poll really demonstrates only a “snap shot” of opinion for that moment.
Where polls have some value is in the trends they track. And, with the number of polls out there, similar findings from other polls lend credibility to the trend being tracked. History also make is clear whether or polling trends have any credibility. Poll watchers take all of that in when they consider a poll’s worth. A small number of polls have emerged as doing a good job of credibly tracking how various issues are trending. They’re certainly not fool-proof indicators, but taken with other polls one can begin to build an emerging picture.
Take this recent Gallup poll on party identification. Political junkies know that self-identification with a party indicates the strength of that party electorally. Self-identification ebbs and flows with the fortunes of the party and history proves that for us. In mid 2004, identification with a party was tied between Democrats and the GOP. But in 2006, for the mid-term elections, a 5 point gap opened favoring Democrats. And, Democrats benefited by picking up seats in Congress (and a majority in the House). In 2008, that gap had gone to double digits, and the Democrats swept the Republicans out of power.
Well, the double digit advantage for the Democrats has disappeared according to Gallup. Democrats hold a slight 1 point lead in those who identify with or lean toward one of the two parties.
Two points to be made – one, Democrats are hemorrhaging independents much more than the GOP is doing things right to bring these numbers together. There’s a lot of “buyer’s remorse” in the ranks of independents than any flocking to the Republicans because of what they stand for. As Gallup points out, only 28% of the country identifies themselves as “Republican”. That hasn’t changed a single percentage point since the beginning of 2009. What has shrunk is the number of self-identified Democrats. The percentage has dropped 3 points from 35% to 32%. So on party identification alone, Democrats still hold a 4 point lead on those who identify themselves as Republicans. What closes that gap to 1 point in favor of Democrats are the independents now leaning toward the GOP. From 13 point lead in 2008 to a 1 point lead in 2010 points to some pretty disillusioned indies.
Two – Republicans still have a lot of selling (and proving themselves) to do. What isn’t apparent with this trend is how solid the independent leaners are for the GOP. The fact that self-identified Republicans haven’t increased a single percentage point in over a year says a lot about how the voting public still perceives Republicans. The fact that a large number of independents have declared they “lean” toward Republicans now doesn’t really mean a hill of beans. Unfortunately in the system with which we’re stuck, you have to pick a side or stay home. I think the only reason that indies tend to lean more Republican than Democrat is they don’t like what they see going on with Democrats in power and figure they may have to hold their nose and vote GOP just to change the mix and stop, or at least slow down the runaway train of government.
Two other polls help firm up that conclusion – one in which the President’s approval rating keeps trending down (an indicator the public isn’t seeing its priorities acted upon) and the second which shows generic Congressional Republicans holding a 4 point lead over the generic Congressional Democrat, which history tells us spells trouble for Democrats.
Can all of this change? Sure – but it is unlikely. Why? Because Democrats are caught in a very difficult spot. All the political stars aligned for them last November except one – the economy. It went tango uniform. And, as it turns out, it didn’t just hit a bump in the road, it went over the proverbial cliff. They were able to get away with blaming the previous administration for a while, but that excuse has pretty much been used up. So here they sit, with the legislative and executive power they’ve sought for decades in order to pass an agenda they’ve wanted to pass for centuries, and the top priorities for the voters are the economy, jobs and the ballooning deficit. What’s an activist to do?
Well they’ve chosen – spending a year dithering, scheming and manipulating the process with health care reform while the economy tanked further, proposed trillion dollar budget deficits were forecast for years to come and unemployment briefly hit double digits. Now they’re trying to force a financial regulation regime through while arguing over introducing cap-and-trade or immigration as their next priorities in Congress.
It seems the Democrats have chosen – the window is closing on their agenda and, throwing the priorities of the voters under the bus, they’re going with the agenda.
It is that, I think, as much as anything, which has driven the independents to lean Republican. That sort of “party before people” attitude isn’t very popular nor is it usually rewarded. Right now the polls indicate that voters are ready to give the GOP another chance, but the support for doing so isn’t particularly solid nor will it grant them much slack should they too decide not address the public’s priorities.
There’s a lesson to be learned here -whether or not either party will heed it- and that is that those in Congress are there to do the people’s business, not their party’s business. Of course having said that, it is obvious that undoing what this bunch has done is no easy matter, and, in the end, may be less popular than the GOP thinks it might be right now. However, if Republicans run on a particular plan and that plan ends up being endorsed by voters putting them in power (House and Senate), if I were them I’d interpret that as the people’s priority and, as Larry the Cable Guy would say “get ‘er done” (sponsor and pass legislation and make the President veto it). Anything short of that will find the GOP back at a double digit disadvantage again when we hit the 2012.