Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Democratic Advantage in Partisan Identification

Trends in partisan idenfication are trending significantly toward the Democratic Party, although the picture's not so rosy when we move away from generic party preferences to specific would-be electoral matchups.

Here's more,
from Gallup:

Forty percent of Americans in the Feb. 11-14 Gallup Poll -- in response to the question, "In politics, as of today, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat, or an independent?" -- said they identified with the Democratic Party, while 26% identified with the Republican Party and 34% with neither (most of these considered themselves independents).

The 40% Democratic identification figure is unusually high. The last time 40% of Americans identified as Democrats was August 2000. Before that, there have been just a handful of Gallup Poll telephone surveys -- going back to 1985 -- in which 40% or more of Americans identified as Democrats. The highest Democratic identification in a Gallup telephone poll was 42% in July 1987.

The gap between Democratic and Republican identification -- now at 14 percentage points -- is also almost a record high. The gap was higher only in December 1998 -- immediately after President Bill Clinton had been impeached by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives -- when 41% of Americans identified as Democrats and only 20% as Republicans.

The highest level of identification with the Republican Party, 39%, has been reached at three points: in May 1991 (a few months after the first Persian Gulf War), December 2003 (in a poll in the field at the time of Saddam Hussein's capture), and September 2004 (after a successful Republican convention at which George W. Bush was nominated for a second term in office).

Last year, as often happens in a year in which there is no national election, Americans were increasingly likely to identify as independents. This year, as presidential election voting has begun in primaries and caucuses, the Democrats have been the beneficiary as Americans have become more likely to express identification with a party. As 2007 ended, an average of two Gallup Polls conducted in December showed 32.5% of Americans identifying as Democrats, 37.5% as independents, and 28.5% as Republicans. Now, the shift is evident. Identification with the Republican Party and with no party have slipped slightly, while identification with the Democratic Party has gained.
I think the sense of change, particulary captured with the Barack Obama campaign, is being reflected in the surge of left-wing identification.

But as I've noted repeatedly, in head-to-head matchups, the Democrats roughly tie John McCain in general election viability. Gallup concludes:

The data reviewed here underscore the strong position of the Democratic Party at this point in the election year. A near-record number of Americans indicate that they currently identify as Democrats; the image of Democratic Party is much more favorable than that of the Republican Party; and Americans say the Democratic Party is better positioned to bring about change and is more likely to be able to manage the government effectively.

These things can change, of course, between now and Election Day. In addition, recent polling has shown that John McCain, the likely Republican nominee, does relatively well when pitted against the two leading Democratic candidates, suggesting that the Republican Party's image troubles don't necessarily transfer directly to specific candidates.
And that's the key to understanding this data. Naturally, after nearly eight years of GOP governance, we're bound to see some Bush-fatigue, captured in slogans of hope and change among the Democratic candidates.

But as the data indicate, there's no slam dunk for the Democrats in the fall (see
here, here, and here). It's going to be a close-run, hard-fought, vigorously contested campaign.