Monday, May 18, 2009

Partisan Identification and Prospects for the Democratic Majority

The buzz is building already over Gallup's new report documenting the steady but substantial shift in partisan identification away from the Republican Party. As noted at the introduction:

The decline in Republican Party affiliation among Americans in recent years is well documented, but a Gallup analysis now shows that this movement away from the GOP has occurred among nearly every major demographic subgroup.
Folks are jumping for joy across the Democratic Party's secular collectivist base. Newshoggers captures the glee with its post, "Continuing Republican Death Watch." Faux conservatives are even dancing atop the bier.

Some of
Gallup's graphs are indeed dramatic. But none of this is really new. The scale of the GOP defeat was evident on election night, and party ID had been trending Democratic since the 2004 presidential election. Not only that, Republican support is now concentrated in the party's traditional base of religious voters, social conservatives, and elderly voters. As Gallup notes, the hemmorhaging has stopped, since the GOP "does not appear to have lost any more support since Obama took office." A recent Pew survey found similiar results: "... the GOP has lost roughly a quarter of its base over the past five years. But these Republican losses have not translated into substantial Democratic gains."

The Republican Party, basically, has been reduced to its historic core. As
Chris Cillizza argues: "Toss-up demographic groups eight years ago have moved en masse in Democrats' favor, leaving the GOP with only its base still on its side."

And Franky, this could be the best thing to happen to the party since Barry Goldwater in 1964 (folklore has it the Lyndon Johnson's landslide marked the high-point of Democratic power, and the the party held the White House just twice more in the 40 years before the election of Barack Obama in 2008).

And note something else: Political scientist Gary Jacobson has published a major analysis of the 2008 election. His research indicates that the Democrats have a tenuous hold on power. See, "
The 2008 Presidential and Congressional Elections: Anti-Bush Referendum and Prospects for the Democratic Majority."

In
Jacobson's analysis we see "Bush fatigue" as the primary causal factor in the recent Democratic gains in party ID:

The 2008 election extended the national trend that had given control of Congress to the Democrats in the 2006 midterm two years earlier. The election was again essentially a referendum on the George W. Bush administration, but this time the referendum also encompassed a presidential election.
Jacobson then shows in detail the partisan and demographic bases for the election of Democratic candidate Barack Obama. That the GOP found itself so competitive was surprising:

Against the backdrop of Bushʼs unpopularity, the overwhelming public dissatisfaction with the economy and the direction of the country, and the Republican Partyʼs tattered image, the mystery is not Barack Obamaʼs victory but John McCainʼs ability to remain competitive.
But Jacobson's concluding section holds the silver lining for the GOP. He looks at the congressional election results and suggests that Republican Party ideological cohesion has forced moderation on the Democratic congressional caucus. The analysis suggests that Democrats have won essentially all the districts trending GOP in recent years. It's worth quoting at length:

The durability of the Democratsʼ gains in mass partisanship remains in question, and the answer will go far in determining whether Democrats can hold on to their congressional majorities in 2010. Going into the 2008 House elections, Democrats already held almost all of the districts whose underlying partisanship was clearly Democratic. Just as in 2006, their pickups in 2008 were concentrated in districts that had in the past leaned Republican ....

Democrats added 16 seats in the balanced districts in 2006 and 2008, with their share of these districts rising from 44 percent in 2004 to 76 percent in 2008. But even if Democrats had won all of the Democratic-leaning districts and all of the balanced districts, they would still have fallen short of a majority. They needed to win Republican-leaning districts as well, because Republicans hold a significant structural advantage in the competition for House seats: regular Republican voters are distributed more efficiently (from the Partyʼs perspective) across states and districts than are Democratic voters ... Of the net additional Democratic House seats, 34 came from districts where Bush won more than 53 percent of the 2004 vote, and these districts now comprise a quarter of their total holdings. This circumstance will have the effect of moderating the Democratic caucus, because Democrats representing such districts are, of political necessity, considerably more moderate than other Democrats.47 Similarly, more than half of the Democratic senators who replaced Republicans in 2006 and 2008 are from states in the South or the Mountain West, and they, too, will have to compile moderate records or risk defeat. These circumstances make a sharp lurch to the left unlikely in the 111th Congress. If Obamaʼs inclination is to govern from near left of center, he will have allies, and if his liberal supporters object, he can point to the real constraints imposed by the configuration of the Democratic House and Senate coalitions.

The same electoral processes that moderate the Democratic caucus in the House make the Republican caucus more conservative. The last two elections have been hard on (relatively) moderate Republicans because they typically represent the kind of district a moderate Democrat can win, at least under favorable circumstances. And of course, circumstances were very favorable to Democrats in the two most recent elections. Even 11-term Connecticut representative Christopher Shays, with the most moderate voting record of any Republican in the House, could not survive the Democratic tide in 2008 ....

Because the election moved both congressional parties to the right, the influx of moderate Democrats does not necessarily portend a reduction in party polarization. Democrats representing Republican-leaning districts may have to compile moderate records to win reelection, but few Republicans, at least in the House, are under any pressure to do the same; their unanimous opposition to Obamaʼs economic stimulus package is thus not surprising. Moderation, although essential, may not be enough to maintain the large Democratic majorities in future elections. Democrats have had the wind at their backs in two successive elections, but now that their Party bears full responsibility for the governmentʼs performance under the most difficult circumstances faced by any incoming president and Congress since the 1930s, they cannot expect political conditions to favor them a third time running; the contrary is much more likely. Their fates will depend heavily on whether the economy improves sufficiently and on the publicʼs broader evaluation of Obamaʼs job performance, for 2010 will offer voters a fresh opportunity to engage in a referendum on an administration. Democratic prospects will also depend on the durability of the Partyʼs recent gains in mass partisanship; their best hope in this regard is that the youngest cohort of voters, who responded to the Bush era by moving in droves to the Democratsʼ ranks, will continue to bear the imprint of that political initiation.
The bottom line is this: As the party in power, the Democrats have quite likely reached the peak of their congressional majority. The winnowing of GOP moderates is having the counterintuitive effect of shifting the entire Congress more firmly to the ideological right.

Most importantly, the Obama administration will now bear the burden of governing responsibility in upcoming elections. While the GOP has little chance of regaining the majority in either chamber of Congress for the next couple of cycles, partisan trends favoring the Democrats have pretty much topped out. If leftists are ecstatic today at the GOP's decline - as measured by Gallup's findings above - the danger for them is that the victory tide might now begin rolling back out to sea.

All of this is especially important for conservatives to keep in mind, considering all the attention
the Meghan McCain Republicans have been getting. As you will remember, the "Republicans did not lose the 2008 election because they were out of step ideologically with average Americans."

The Democrats are the nation's current majority party. But it's their winning coalition to lose.

See also Robert Stacy McCain, "
RINO-ism and the Demographics of Defeat."

8 comments:

Righty64 said...

I think this is an excellent post. However, my quibble is that the Republicans have no chance to retake congress for multiple election cycles. Tomorrow, you and I get to make history here in California by stopping the tax and robbery scheme of Gov. Benedict Arnold and company. It will be a crushing defeat against big government. It has to start somewhere. As the Obama administration and its allies continue down the path of even larger government, look for people to forget one George W. Bush. It only took two years for Americans to forget about the old man, George H. W. Bush. After all, we are not even six months into the Obama administration. There is a lot of anger out there. And the beginning of harvesting that anger into action begins tomorrow and right here in California.

Donald Douglas said...

I'm all for it Mark. I'm just realistic. I'm not sure the GOP can regain the requisite numbers of seats in the House and Senate, and congressional analysts have suggested Republicans are unlikely to make gains. But I'll take a look at some of that research as well.

Thanks.

Kenneth G. Davenport said...

Donald --

Nice post -- Gary Jacobson brings back fond memories for me as he taught the first poli sci class I took as a Freshman at UCSD. I ended up a teaching assistant of his as a grad student. He's a good guy and very rigorous.

Anyhow, I agree it will be a number of cycles before some balance returns; America will get tired of Obama-nation eventually and we will regain some momentum. This is not a center-left nation, as much as the MoveOn.org crowd would like to believe it is.

Dennis said...

An interesting thought is that "You cannot spend a lot of time standing by a mud puddle without getting mud on you. Some can be washed off, but some will eventually stick if you stand there long enough."
You cannot spend a lot of time with the Kennedy s or being married to one who is close to them without "mud" eventually sticking.
Add that to the "mud puddle" that is the democrat party and it would take a very strong person intellectually to withstand the onslaught of that mud.
Once you have made that deal with them then you are forever tainted and deserve what comes. Or as Rose Kennedy once said after wanting to display her compassion to the little people and they began to trash the place, "Get those @@#$%^ off my property." (SIC)
Time to remove the ability of those in California's power structure to trash the place.

shoprat said...

A lot of it depends on what happens between now and 2010/12 in the economic and international scene. If things go badly, as the almost definitely will, people will forget about Bush and redirect their anger to Obama. Short memories are a politicians best friend and worst enemy.

MAS1916 said...

Sure... the Democrats are riding high now, just as they were in 1977. When it came time to govern the country, the disaster that liberal leadership created ushered in the Reagan Revolution.

Obama is Jimmy Carter on steroids. His overspending will create remarkably aggressive inflation in 2010 - when the Stimulus spending kicks in. Unless Obama pulls the Stimulus off the table, He will drive the economy back into recession and this time - can't blame George W. Bush.

Conservatives have a great deal to be optimistic about. They could well be riding the wave in 2010. for a more complete list of reasons the GOP should take heart, you can hit:
http://firstconservative.com/blog/top-ten/political-humor-conservative-resurgence

cracker said...

The new admin is both intelligent AND shrewd

there is alot of room in the voting public to pin any upcoming disasters on the previous admin.

If it took 2 years to forget the "old man" then it will take at least 4 years to forget Bush Cheney.

That is an entire presidential cycle, (with a guarantee of 4 more!) and one hell of an opportunity to cement new law and policy.....

meanwhile its Bristol vs. Meghan in a Juno Jello fight on Sat. night. (with Steele as the ref that keeps getting knocked outta the ring...thats funny))

Whatever happens in Ca. the problem for the rest of the US is ...."Its California!!" and Cali is to the US what Amsterdam is to Europe....its a weird and dangerous place with a bunch of gun totin pot smokin gangsta hippy movie stars....

So, first, the entire economy in Ca. must fold....(I mean apocalypse)....then be rebuilt to an acceptable model...over the next decade? with plenty of shuffling of feet and gnashing of teeth in the process.

A model for a new America in the collapse of California?.....

Nahh....American Tax dollars will bail your ass's out too. Obama is the hero once again and blah blah blah

Or am I totally off base here?

Dave said...

I am still holding out a faint hope for the mid-terms next year, but there is the increasingly nagging feeling in me that feels that this nation crossed its Rubicon last November.

Believe me when I tell you, you have no idea how wrong I hope I am.

-Dave