|To begin with, here again is the full chart of demographic subgroups, with their losses in percent of the total electorate, and as a percentage of the demographic within the GOP as of 2001:
And here's a condensed version highlighting four categories showing distinctly larger losses outside of the GOP base:
From the above evidence, I believe it's clear that the GOP is growing more homogeneous, more extreme, and hence less reachable.
The GOP has been in quite a quandry about how to deal with Obama's bipartisan outreach, which has helped contribute to the Democratic base's embrace of the narrative of Obama's political brilliance. But skeptics--including most of the folks who write here at Open Left--are asking the same question they've been asking all along: what does it translate into in terms of policy? Being popular and winning elections sure beats being unpopular and losing elections. No question about it. But being popular and winning elections cannot be enough in themselves, as the GOP victories in 2002 & 2004 most recently remind us. They have to translate into successful policy--which, for reality-based types means not just successful in the focus groups, but successful in the real world as well. Obama continues to push policy compromises which significantly weaken the chances of them working successfully, in the increasingly vain hope of picking up some voluntary GOP support. But the poll results highlighted above clearly tells this this is a policy without a sound political foundation. Whatever it may be, it is not political pragmatism. Nothing could be less pragmatic than continuing to give the gift of political relevance to this increasingly out-of-touch political remnant.
Legitimate and Illegitimate Questions/Counter-Arguments
All the above is based on data from a single source--Gallup's partisan ID data. While this provides for consistency of the question over time, it does raise the question of whether it tracks with other data sources. This sort of question arose in another closely-related context this week--Pew's figures on partisan ID, showing independents on the rise--which Chris showed was contradicted by the aggregate data from multiple pollsters in his diary, "Independents Declining Since Mid-April".
Speaking of Pew, on the surface, Pew's findings seem contradictory to Gallup's, but if one looks more carefully, this is not actually the case. While the recent data trends (last few weeks) are certainly out of whack with other pollsters, over the time-frame Gallup was comparing--2001 vs. 2009 the picture of the GOP's ideological make-up is generally similar from the two different sources (see Pew chart below). Pew actually starts in 2000, and shows GOP conservatives declining from 46% of all conservatives to 41%--a decline of 11%, compared to a 24% deline among moderates--from 21% to 16%--and a whopping 40% decline among liberals, from 10% to 6%. The numbers here are different, but the overall shift is the same: conservatives dropped the least, followed by moderates and then liberals, in just that order.
Pew also shows the same rapid rise in Democratic dominance with leaners included over the same time period (bottom chart):
A third data source for looking at the ideological makeup of the parties is the General Social Survey, conducted since 1974. To present this data in manageable form, I've condensed it into half-decade aggregates, then broken out individual bi-annual polls for 2000-2008 on the bottom. Due to the subsample size, noise is a consideration for individual polls, which is another reason to aggregate polls by half-decade. There's only one half-decade since 1974-75 when the percentage of conservative republicans did not increase--as persistent a trend as one could hope to see. The percentage of Republican moderates has also declined every half-decade since 1985-89, and the number of Republican liberals has declined every decade since 1990-1994. With the smaller sample sized for individual polls, the same pattern does not appear poll-to-poll from 2000 to 2008, but when averaged together it is maintained. There can be no doubt, the GOP is becoming increasingly dominated by its conservative base.
Confining ourselves to the South, we see that concentration is even more extreme--in the last two elections, conservative Republicans now outnumber liberal Republicans 10-1 in the region, now accounting for more than 1 in 5 Southerners, and heading toward 1 in 4.
In contrast, outside the South, the percentage of conservative Republicans is almost 4 1/2 points lower, and roughly comparable to the number of liberal Democrats.
This set of charts clearly shows both the growing dominance of conservative Republicans, and the dominance of Southern conservative Republicans on top of that--trends that have only grown more extreme in 2000s, as liberal and moderate Republicans have continued their declines from already low levels.
In contrast to the valid questions just addressed, the usually sober and reliable robertdfeinman raised a passel of objections that widely missed the mark:
I don't believe it
I think this is yet another example of a poorly designed poll. What it really is measuring is people's dissatisfaction with current economic conditions, but since that wasn't the question asked, the people used a proxy (GOP affiliation) as a way to express their discontent.
More meaningful would be to ask questions about fundamental beliefs that have been strongly correlated with political affiliation in the past. I claim people don't really change their fundamental views much; the changes in aggregate social norms are the result of the old ideas dying off.
Those who get worked up about abortion or immigration or high taxes will always harbor those resentments, but if there is no candidate making an issue of them they will chose some other marker to make a decision. It is true that the GOP is at a loss right now for attractive hot button topics to attract voters and this may affect their electoral prospects, but that's not a proof that attitudes have changed.
The GOP didn't lose by that much, it is mostly the result of our winner takes all election laws which magnifies small differences in voting. Furthermore the Dems have moved so far to the right that many in the GOP aren't afraid of them anymore.
We have exactly two "liberal" members of congress: Sanders and Barney Frank, and Frank has been yielding to the banking sector of late, leaving one, totally ineffective, senator.
While I share Robert's frustration at how timid the Democrats have become, this is neither so recent, nor so extreme as he makes out, and, more importantly, the relationship to the argument being presented is obscure at best. The argument that the GOP didn't lose by much has been refuted by Chris in at least a couple of posts, and others have written about it as well. The Dem victories in 2006 and 2008, while not as great as might be wished for in terms of potential were nontheless more convincing than anything the GOP managed during it's supposed period of "dominance". And the claim that questions about party ID are "poorly designed" and just a proxy for "people's dissatisfaction with current economic conditions" is presented entirely without evidence. There's certainly no doubt that GOP mismanagement of the economy has hurt them badly, just as it did after the 1929 crash. Why that should be regarded as misleading is a bit beyond me.
In short, the information presented in the Gallup analysis of party ID 2001-2009 seems fundamentally sound, and the objections raised do not discredit that. Robert certainly has a point when he says:
More meaningful would be to ask questions about fundamental beliefs that have been strongly correlated with political affiliation in the past.
But such shifts in values and beliefs were already noted during the campaign last year, and phenomena such as the ongoing shift on gay marriage suggest that this process of shifting beliefs in a more progressive direction is only continuing.
There is much more data that could be cited in an argument that Obama's strategy flies in the face of political realities--and I intend to present more such data as time goes on. But the data from this one report from Gallup does not support his fantasy of reaching out to ever-vanishing "reasonable" Republicans in any way. He is simply mouthing a favorite Versailles narrative, which, like most Versailles narratives, has nothing at all to do with reality.