Further evidence that the Democrats are looking at an electoral disaster of epic proportions is given by a Gallup poll on party ID released this week. The polls show Democrats at 46% and the Republicans at 45% in party ID.
The advantage in public support the Democratic Party built up during the latter part of the Bush administration and the early part of the Obama administration has all but disappeared. During the first quarter of 2010, 46% of Americans identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, while 45% identified as or leaned Republican.
The latest results, based on aggregated data from Gallup polls conducted from January to March of this year, show the closest party division since the first quarter of 2005, when the parties were tied at 46%. Democrats enjoyed double-digit advantages in party support in 11 of 12 quarters from the second quarter of 2006 to the first quarter of 2009.
By the end of last year, the Democratic advantage had shrunk to five points (47% to 42%), and it narrowed further in the most recent quarter.
The six-point rise in Republican support since the first quarter of 2009 is due entirely to a growing proportion of independents who lean to the Republican Party, rather than an increase in the percentage of Americans who identify as Republicans outright. (Gallup measures party identification by first asking Americans whether they identify as Republicans, Democrats, or independents. Those who are independent or express no party preference are then asked whether they lean more toward the Democratic or the Republican Party.)
In fact, the 28% of Americans who initially identify as Republicans today is identical to the figure Gallup measured in early 2009, when the Democrats still had a double-digit advantage in support. Since then, there has been a three-point reduction in the proportion of Democratic identifiers, and a three-point decline in the percentage of Democratic-leaning independents.
This poll is very bad news for the Democrats for several reasons. First, Republicans win whenever they are even within shouting distance with the Democrats on party ID, due to a higher percentage of Republicans showing up at the polls and because in the South you have a fair number of voters who call themselves Democrats who haven’t voted for a Democrat above the local level in decades. Second, the poll shows the Republican strength among independents this year, something the GOP must keep in mind if, as I expect, they retake Congress. They will be prevailing with the help of a lot of voters who are not members of the Republican party and will be expecting the Republicans to perform. Third, the poll shows some attrition among the core voters who self identify as Democrats. That is unusual for the Democrats who have tended to have a loyal hard core that are Democrats through thick and thin. Fourth, the truly ominous aspect of this poll for Democrats is that it was conducted among adults, and not restricted to registered voters or to likely voters. Republicans traditionally do better on polls limited to registered voters and their best on polls among likely voters. This poll is a best case analysis for the Democrats on party ID and that I am sure will register as very bad news among Democrat strategists looking ahead to November.