Tough times for GOP
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.