Tough times for GOP

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

In one year, Amer­i­cans will elect the 44th pres­i­dent of the United States. On Thurs­day, Jan. 3, 2008, Iowa vot­ers will at­tend cau­cuses across the state, be­gin­ning the process of choos­ing the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates of both par­ties.

A year from now, Amer­i­cans will vote for pres­i­dent and for 34 sen­a­tors (there are 22 Repub­li­can-held seats and 12 Demo­cratic­oc­cu­pied seats) and all 435 seats in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. In the Se­nate to­day, Democrats, in­clud­ing two in­de­pen­dents who cau­cus with the party, hold a nar­row 51-49 ma­jor­ity. In the House, Democrats cur­rently en­joy a 232-200 ma­jor­ity, with three va­can­cies. What does the po­lit­i­cal land­scape look like a year be­fore th­ese crit­i­cal elec­tions? To an­swer that ques­tion, the Pew Re­search Cen­ter for the Peo­ple & the Press com­mis­sioned a tele­phone sur­vey of more than 2,000 adults be­tween Oct. 17 and Oct. 23. Pew re­cently is­sued a 62-page re­port ti­tled, A Year Ahead, Repub­li­cans Face Tough Po­lit­i­cal Ter­rain. Here are the high­lights of the Pew re­port:

• Pres­i­dent Bush’s dis­ap­proval rat­ing, 63 per­cent, was the high­est it has ever been dur­ing his pres­i­dency. It was 15 points higher than his dis­ap­proval rat­ing of 48 per­cent two weeks be­fore he was re-elected in 2004. By a mar­gin of 33 points (63-30), Amer­i­cans dis­ap­prove of the way Mr. Bush is han­dling his job. That is the largest such mar­gin recorded dur­ing his time in of­fice.

• By an even big­ger mar­gin (66-28), Amer­i­cans say they are “dis­sat­is­fied with the way things are go­ing in the coun­try to­day.” Never be­fore dur­ing Mr. Bush’s pres­i­dency have as many peo­ple been dis­sat­is­fied. More­over, the per­cent­age who say they are sat­is­fied (28 per­cent) has never been lower since Mr. Bush en­tered of­fice. This level of dis­sat­is­fac­tion is rather re­mark­able, given an un­em­ploy­ment rate of 4.7 per­cent, a 12-month in­fla­tion rate of 2.8 per­cent and an av­er­age an­nual eco­nomic growth rate of nearly 3 per­cent over the past five years.

• The Repub­li­can Party seems to be bear­ing the brunt of the per­va­sive dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try and huge dis­ap­proval of the pres­i­dent’s job per­for­mance. Democrats held a 29-point ad­van­tage over Repub­li­cans (54-25) as the party that “is con­cerned about peo­ple like me,” the Pew sur­vey re­vealed. That ad­van­tage rep­re­sented a Demo­cratic gain of nine points com­pared to their July 2004 lead (5030). In terms of which party “can bring needed change,” the Demo­cratic ad­van­tage dou­bled from 11 points to 22 points be­tween July 2004 (46-35) and Oc­to­ber 2007 (48-26). Re­gard­ing which party “can bet­ter man­age the gov­ern­ment,” the Demo­cratic ad­van­tage quadru­pled from 3 points (40-37) in July 2004 to 12 points last month (44-32).

The Demo­cratic ad­van­tage as the “more hon­est and eth­i­cal” party nearly quin­tu­pled from 3 points in July 2004 (37-34) to 14 points in Oc­to­ber 2007 (40-26). Per­haps Repub­li­cans can take so­lace from the fact that, de­spite their rel­a­tively in­fe­rior stand­ing in July 2004, four months later in Novem­ber they none­the­less re­tained the pres­i­dency, in­creased their ef­fec­tive Se­nate ma­jor­ity from 51-49 to 55-45 and raised their ma­jor­ity in the House from 229-205 to 232-202. On the other hand, in what may be an omi­nous har­bin­ger for next year, by a 41-32 ma­jor­ity last month, Amer­i­cans said the Demo­cratic Party “se­lects bet­ter can­di­dates”; in July 2004, the Repub­li­can Party held a 4-point ad­van­tage (40-36) in this cat­e­gory.

• The Pew sur­vey also re­vealed that Repub­li­cans were quite crit­i­cal of their party’s per­for­mance, a de­vel­op­ment that re­flected a com­plete re­ver­sal from the con­tent­ment in GOP cir­cles be­fore the 2004 elec­tions. Specif­i­cally, only 36 per­cent of Repub­li­cans or Repub­li­can-lean­ing in­de­pen­dents rated the party’s per­for­mance as “ex­cel­lent” or “good” in “stand­ing up for tra­di­tional [Repub­li­can] is­sues.” Sixty-two per­cent rated the per­for­mance as “only fair” or “poor.” By con­trast, in July 2004, 61 per­cent of Repub­li­cans and Repub­li­can­lean­ing in­de­pen­dents rated the GOP’s per­for­mance as ex­cel­lent/good, while only 37 per­cent con­sid­ered it only-fair/poor. Quite un­happy are white evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tants, who com­prised nearly a quar­ter of the 2004 elec­torate and gave 78 per­cent and 74 per­cent of their votes that year to Pres­i­dent Bush and House Repub­li­can can­di­dates, re­spec­tively. Whereas 66 per­cent of white evan­gel­i­cals in 2004 rated the party’s per­for­mance on tra­di­tional is­sues as ex­cel­lent/good, only 42 per­cent be­lieved that to be the case last month.

• Is­sues of great­est con­cern to vot­ers to­day tend to be those is­sues (the econ­omy, health care, Iraq and ed­u­ca­tion) on which Democrats en­joy siz­able ad­van­tages. More­over, vot­ers, es­pe­cially Repub­li­cans and in­de­pen­dents, give less im­por­tance to­day to so­cial is­sues (e.g., abor­tion and ho­mo­sex­ual “mar­riage”) than they did three years ago. Com­pared to 52 per­cent of Repub­li­cans and 44 per­cent of in­de­pen­dents who con­sid­ered abor­tion to be “very im­por­tant” in Oc­to­ber 2004, to­day only 42 per­cent of Repub­li­cans and 33 per­cent of in­de­pen­dents do so. Repub­li­cans and in­de­pen­dents who con­sid­ered ho­mo­sex­ual “mar­riage” to be very im­por­tant in 2004 de­clined by 12 per­cent­age points, fall­ing from 39 per­cent and 27 per­cent among Repub­li­cans and from 29 per­cent to 17 per­cent among in­de­pen­dents.

• De­spite the ev­i­dent im­prove­ment in Iraq dur­ing the surge, which be­gan in Fe­bru­ary, Amer­i­cans in Oc­to­ber de­clared by their widest mar­gin ever (54-39) that “us­ing mil­i­tary force in Iraq” was “the wrong de­ci­sion.” Repub­li­cans even seem to be los­ing on their sig­na­ture is­sue of low taxes. Only 24 per­cent of Amer­i­cans want all of Mr. Bush’s tax cuts to be made per­ma­nent. By con­trast, 30 per­cent say all the tax cuts should be re­pealed; and an­other 31 per­cent say that tax cuts for the wealthy should be re­pealed, while the oth­ers should stay in place.

• With trends like th­ese, it should be no sur­prise that Repub­li­cans are be­ing clob­bered in the party-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cat­e­gory. Last month, ac­cord­ing to the Pew sur­vey, 37 per­cent of Amer­i­can adults iden­ti­fied them­selves as Democrats, and 25 per­cent said they were Repub­li­cans. In­de­pen­dents com­prised 33 per­cent. The 12-point Demo­cratic ad­van­tage (37-25) recorded in Oc­to­ber rep­re­sented the largest ad­van­tage in 20 years. When “lean­ers” are added to the party to­tals, the Demo­cratic ad­van­tage last month in­creased to 54-36. For the first 10 months of 2007, the Demo­cratic party-ID ad­van­tage has av­er­aged 8 points (33-25); with “lean­ers,” the Demo­cratic ad­van­tage through­out 2007 has av­er­aged 14 points (50-36), which is “the largest in nearly 20 years of sur­veys” by Pew. As re­cently as 2002, “the bal­ance of par­ti­san­ship was even, with 43 per­cent iden­ti­fy­ing with or lean­ing to­ward each po­lit­i­cal party.” In 1995, the year af­ter Repub­li­cans cap­tured con­trol of both cham­bers of Congress and the year dur­ing which the Repub­li­can-con­trolled House me­thod­i­cally ap­proved nearly ev­ery plank of the “Con­tract With Amer­ica,” the GOP ac­tu­ally en­joyed a 3-point ad­van­tage (46-43, in­clud­ing “lean­ers”) in party-ID.

• As if the Repub­li­can prob­lems were not bad enough, they could soon be­come much worse. The Pew sur­vey re­ports that “a solid ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­can white evan­gel­i­cals (55 per­cent) say they would at least con­sider vot­ing for a con­ser­va­tive third-party can­di­date if the gen­eral elec­tion is be­tween [Rudy] Gi­u­liani and [Hil­lary] Clin­ton. Over­all, 44 per­cent of Repub­li­cans and Repub­li­can-lean­ing vot­ers say they would con­sider back­ing a third-party can­di­date who holds more con­ser­va­tive po­si­tions than Mr. Gi­u­liani on so­cial is­sues like abor­tion and gay mar­riage.”

One year be­fore a very cru­cial, crit­i­cal, piv­otal elec­tion, the Grand Old Party isn’t feel­ing so grand.

Mean­while, ac­cord­ing to the Pew sur­vey and a re­cent ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post poll, Hil­lary Clin­ton con­tin­ues to hold a sub­stan­tial na­tional lead over her chief Demo­cratic ri­vals (Barack Obama and John Ed­wards). Mean­while, Rudy Gi­u­liani has main­tained his lead in the con­test for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion over his chief ri­vals (John McCain, Fred Thompson, Mitt Rom­ney and Mike Huck­abee). Com­pli­cat­ing th­ese na­tional trends are two salient facts: First, the Demo­cratic race in the cru­cial, mo­men­tum-build­ing state of Iowa, which holds the first pres­i­den­tial con­test Jan. 3, is much closer than the na­tional race; and, sec­ond, in the Repub­li­can con­test, Mr. Rom­ney, who trails badly in na­tional polls, has built leads in both Iowa and New Hamp­shire, which will be hold­ing the na­tion’s first pri­mary.

In the Demo­cratic race, here are the im­por­tant points:

• The Pew poll re­veals that Mrs. Clin­ton leads Messrs. Obama and Ed­wards 45-2412, re­spec­tively. The ABC/Post poll showed a big­ger Clin­ton lead, 49-26-12. The ABC/Post poll, how­ever, did re­flect a di­min­ish­ing Clin­ton lead from her 53-20-13 ad­van­tage in late Septem­ber.

• When Pew com­bined the polling re­sults from both its Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber sur­veys, it found that Mrs. Clin­ton en­joyed a 24point lead (48-24-12) among Democrats and only a 10-point lead (36-26-14) among Demo­cratic “lean­ers.” Mov­ing across the Demo­cratic/Demo­cratic-lean­ing ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum, Mrs. Clin­ton saw her lead in­crease from 13 points among self-iden­ti­fied lib­er­als (41-28-11) to 17 points among moder­ates (42-25-15) to 31 points among con­ser­va­tives (51-20-11). In Pew’s March-April sur­veys, Mr. Obama had been even with Mrs. Clin­ton among lib­er­als (35-35-18) and down by only 9 points among moder­ates (37-28-21). While she en­joyed a 20-point lead among white Democrats/Demo­cratic “lean­ers” (42-22-16) in the Septem­ber-Oc­to­ber Pew polls, Mrs. Clin­ton also held a 12point lead among blacks (49-37-4). In de­mo­graphic cat­e­gories un­re­lated to ge­og­ra­phy, Mrs. Clin­ton com­manded her big­gest lead among those with a high school ed­u­ca­tion or less (51-19-12) and her small­est lead among those who had grad­u­ated from col­lege (3631-15). While women aged 50 and above fa­vor her 46-22-11, men 50 and older pre­fer her by an even-big­ger mar­gin, 44-17-17.

• Among Democrats and Demo­cratic “lean­ers,” Mrs. Clin­ton was viewed as the Demo­cratic can­di­date who: was the “strong­est leader” (59-24-12); had the “best chance” of win­ning in Novem­ber (62-15-14); “best re­flects the core val­ues of the Demo­cratic Party” (44-25-21); “is best able to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion in Iraq” (50-23-16) and “in Iran” (52-22-14).

In the Repub­li­can race, here are the im­por­tant points:

• The Pew poll re­veals that, among Repub­li­cans and Repub­li­can “lean­ers,” Mr. Gi­u­liani (31 per­cent) leads Mr. McCain (18 per­cent), Mr. Thompson (17 per­cent), Mr. Rom­ney (9 per­cent) and Mr. Huck­abee (8 per­cent). Re­spec­tively, Mr. Gi­u­liani leads among con­ser­va­tives (27-16-18-11-11), moder­ates/lib­er­als (36-19-16-8-3), white evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tants (23-19-21-10-11) and among those who be­lieve abor­tion should be il­le­gal in all or most cases (24-17-17-10-12). Mr. Gi­u­liani also en­joys at least a 10-point lead among males, fe­males, those aged 1849 and those aged 50 and older.

• The ABC/Post na­tional poll shows Mr. Gi­u­liani (33 per­cent) lead­ing Mr. McCain (19 per­cent, up from 12 per­cent in late Septem­ber), Mr. Thompson (16 per­cent), Mr. Rom­ney (11 per­cent) and Mr. Huck­abee (9 per­cent). Com­pared to Democrats (30 per­cent of whom are “very sat­is­fied” and 51 per­cent are “some­what sat­is­fied” with their party’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates), only 16 per­cent of Repub­li­cans are “very sat­is­fied” and 54 per­cent are “some­what sat­is­fied” with Repub­li­can can­di­dates. Among all re­spon­dents, the ABC/Post poll found th­ese fa­vor­able/un­fa­vor­able rat­ings for Repub­li­cans: Mr. McCain (43/42, down from 52/35 in Fe­bru­ary; Mr. Gi­u­liani (50/40, down from 64-28 in Fe­bru­ary); Mr. Rom­ney (28/41).

• Mr. Gi­u­liani’s 14-point lead in the latest ABC/Post poll re­flects sig­nif­i­cant shrink­age from the 21-point ad­van­tage he en­joyed in July, when he (37 per­cent) led Mr. McCain (16 per­cent), Mr. Thompson (15 per­cent), Mr. Rom­ney (8 per­cent) and Mr. Huck­abee (2 per­cent).

His­tory has fre­quently shown that a can­di­date lag­ging badly in na­tional polls can cat­a­pult his can­di­dacy into up­per-tier con­sid­er­a­tion (as Mr. McCain did in 2000 fol­low­ing his sur­pris­ing 49-30 vic­tory in New Hamp­shire) or even into front-run­ner sta­tus (as John Kerry did in 2004 with his up­set vic­tory in Iowa). Thus, no re­view of the 2008 con­tests would be com­plete with­out con­sid­er­ing Iowa and New Hamp­shire. In Iowa, ac­cord­ing to RealClearPol­i­tics’ com­pi­la­tion of six re­cent polls, Mr. Rom­ney (28 per­cent) leads Mr. Huck­abee (14.5 per­cent), Mr. Gi­u­liani (13.7 per­cent), Mr. Thompson (13.2 per­cent) and Mr. McCain (8 per­cent). In New Hamp­shire, ac­cord­ing to RealClearPol­i­tics, Mr. Rom­ney (29 per­cent) leads Mr. Gi­u­liani (21 per­cent), Mr. McCain (16.4 per­cent), Mr. Huck­abee (7.8 per­cent) and Mr. Thompson (6.8 per­cent).

In Iowa, Mrs. Clin­ton (30.2 per­cent) en­joys only a 7-point lead over Mr. Obama (23 per­cent), with Mr. Ed­wards tal­ly­ing 20 per­cent.

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