Saturday, April 14, 2007

Republicans headed for electoral catastrophe?

Whenever one mentions public opinion polls, one should start by emphasizing that their results are usually open to multiple interpretations and, even when they look unambiguous, they should still be taken with a grain of salt. Having said that, I must confess that I find two recent reports from the well-regarded political pollster Scott Rasmussen extremely intriguing.

=> One of these reports (dated April 13, 2007) is titled "Democrats Lead by 10 [Percentage Points] in Congressional Ballot Poll". It begins::
Forty-five percent (45%) of American voters say they would currently vote for the Democrat in their district while 35% would pull the voting lever for a Republican. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found 6% favoring a third-party option while 15% are not sure.

Democrats lead by five percentage points among men, by fourteen points among women.
Of course, overall national figures won't map directly onto specific House districts or Senate races. And these potential voters still have a year and a half to change their minds. Still, the fact that the Democrats are leading among men as well as women suggests a fairly pervasive disenchantment with Republicans right now.

The next sentence is the most striking:
Nancy Pelosi’s party holds a staggering 30-percentage point lead among voters under 30.
Unfortunately, younger voters are generally less likely to vote than older ones. But if the next generation of voters continues to feel this way, and if they actually manage to get to the polls in any significant numbers, then the Republicans can expect minority status for the foreseeable future.

=> Such a trend is also suggested by the next sentence.
Separate surveys have shown that a declining number of Americans now identify themselves as Republicans.
That link takes us to a previous report (dated April 3, 2007) with more bad news for the Republicans:
During the month of March, 37.2% of American adults considered themselves to be Democrats while just 31.5% considered themselves Republicans. Those numbers are little changed from last month, but confirm a significant movement away from identification the Republican Party. March was the sixth consecutive month (and seventh month out of eight) that the Democrats have enjoyed a net advantage of at least five points (see history). Prior to this recent stretch, the Democrats had never enjoyed a five-point advantage in the data released by Rasmussen Reports (a period of 31-months).
On the other hand, it's worth adding that so far these results mean bad news for the Republicans more than good news for the Democrats.
Another significant note is that 31.3% of Americans now refuse to identify with either major party. That’s a seven percentage point increase since Election 2004 and the highest total of unaffiliateds ever measured. Most of the growth in unaffiliateds has come from the GOP. The number of Democrats in the adult population has remained more stable over the past 3 years.

Still, just 20% of voters give Congress good or excellent marks. That’s a big improvement from 11% when the GOP was last in charge, but hardly a ringing endorsement of the current crop of legislators in the nation’s capitol.
It seems safe to conclude that many voters are pretty disillusioned with both parties, but more disgusted with the Republicans. Hard to blame them. This is good news for the Democrats--if they don't blow it.

The larger problem, though, is that our whole political system is in pretty unhealthy shape, and to make matters worse, since 2000 an enormous amount of additional damage has accumulated that will have to be repaired. If there is a Republican crash, which would certainly be well deserved, will that open up possibilities for real improvement? Let's hope so.

--Jeff Weintraub