Realignment Watch: Pew Reports On GOP Collapse--Dems Have Yet To Capitalize
The Pew report released ten days ago represents possibly the strongest indication yet of a major ongoing partisan realignment, along the lines of what was last seen in 1930/1932--or at least half of one, as people are leaving the Republican Party in droves--almost one in five since 2004--while more independents are leaning Democratic. So many other things have been happening, however, that it doesn't seem as if this report has gotten nearly the attention that it deserves. If nearly one in five people had left the Democratic Party since 2004, the coverage would have been so intense, it would have driven Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears into obscurity, but with the GOP undergoing collapse, not so much. Still, why are WE paying so little attention? And, more importantly, what can we do to take maximum advantage of this turn of events?
The balance of party identification in the American electorate now favors the Democratic Party by a decidedly larger margin than in either of the two previous presidential election cycles.
In 5,566 interviews with registered voters conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press during the first two months of 2008, 36% identify themselves as Democrats, and just 27% as Republicans.
In particular, good as the news may be for Democrats, it's main importance may be in calling attention to a potential for even further, and much more substantial gains--if Democrats will recognize the opportunity, and move to sieze it. One indication of that is the growth of independents, rather than Democrats, but with a widening margin of Democratic-leaning independents. The challenge is to move substantial numbers of independents into the Democratic Party, while continuing to drive down the number of Republicans. And the way to accomplish both these goals is for Democrats to go on the offensive, and aggressively take charge of the political narrative in America.
The share of voters who call themselves Republicans has declined by six points since 2004, and represents, on an annualized basis, the lowest percentage of self-identified Republican voters in 16 years of polling by the Center.
The Democratic Party has also built a substantial edge among independent voters. Of the 37% who claim no party identification, 15% lean Democratic, 10% lean Republican, and 12% have no leaning either way.
Despite these trends, the proportion of voters who identify with the Democratic Party outright has not increased in recent years. Currently, 36% say they think of themselves as a Democrat, virtually unchanged from 2004 (35%) and 2000 (35%). Instead, as the proportion of self-identified Republicans has decreased, the percentage of independents has grown substantially, from 32% in 2004 to 37% today.
This means that nearly one in five people (18%) who considered themselves a Republican in 2004--pre-Camp Casey, pre-Katrina, pre-Social Security privatization defeat, pre-Terri Schiavo, pre-NSA Scandal, pre-USA Scandal, pre-Foley/Vitters/Craig, pre-"Macaca"--no longer does so. Nearly one in five.
Democrats have improved their relative positions in all categories of states--Red, Blue and Swing, but the most dramatic development has been the openinig of a widening partisan gap in swing states, where narrow margins of 3% in 2004 have expanded dramatically to 11%.
The partisan gap in blue states has widened as well, and now stands at 18%, however, these states were already Democratic at the national level. But this should help with continuing to squeeze out Republican Congressional seats.
Finally, in red states, the narrow 3-point advantage Republicans enjoyed in 2004 has vanished to nothing.
Swing states are the most important nationally, and this is where Democratic grains are especially concentrated--the best news of this report.
Among four large swing states, three now have 10-point Democratic advantages or better--12 in Ohio and Michigan, and 10 in Pennsylvania. Only Florida remains closem wtih a 3-point margin.
In contast, among Red states, most are still quite close. North Carolina is the outlier among large Red states, with Democrats now holding a 13-point edge.
Blue strongholds remain well out of reach for Republicans, with margins of 10 points or better.
Non-Hispanic Whites are now evenly split, narrowing dramatically from a 9-point GOP advantage in 2004. Black Republicans are still more common on TV than elsewhere.
The GOP losses among non-Hispanic Whites can be seen in all three types of states--Red, Blue and Swing.
All the above has several consequences that stand out:
(1) GOP loses are so severe that most, if not virtually all polling firms are probably inadvertantly inflating GOP numbers in their samples, thereby adding several points to McCain's totals across the board, with the most significant gains in Swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. With party ID as volatile as this, virtually all polls throughout this election cycle may be vulnerable to unknown uncertainties, unless pollsters seriously address this potential source of bias.
(2) The widespread disenchantment with the GOP has not yet translated into substantial Democratic gains, but it has created an opening for Democrats to reach tens of millions of Americans who are newly more open to their message--as well as, of course, tens of millions of new, young voters. This is already evident in the increased the number of Democratic-leaning independents.
But Democrats need to become pro-active in shaping the nature of the dominant political narratives in order to take maximum advantage. Setting the terms of debate--which the GOP has been all-too-successful at over the past several decades--is the most fundamental of strategic political goals.
We saw a striking example of this in Barack Obama's speech on race, which did not go as far as I would have wanted, but clearly challenged the GOP's standard narrative, and did it so successfully that even many conservative praised it. We can do much more of this, particularly given the wide array of problems that the GOP has given us, based on their misguided views.
(3) This means added opportunities for progressives who are not shy about bucking the Versailles, GOP-lite conventional wisdom. You don't pick up people fleeing the GOP in droves by sounding just like them. This should be a no-brainer. It's one thing to recognize their enduring concerns that made them Republicans once. It's quite another to sound like a weaker version of the party they just left in disgust.
For example, projecting strength is still very important for many of them. But we can project strength by standing tall for the Constitution, we don't have to cave on NSA wireataps in the name of the very same misguided sense of "strength" that they have just walked away from.
(4) As more and more people have left the GOP, this leaves the various different factions more sharply in tension with one another, which opens the way for even more potential factional disagreements that can continue large-scale losses. I will be posting an a diary later today that highlights hints of this in wingnut reactions to Condi Rice's appreciative comments about Obama's speech on race. This is yet another modality by which gaining control of the narrative, and setting the terms of debate confers major strategic advantages on a party.
I am sure there are more consequences that commentators here can identify. Have at it, dudes and dudettes.