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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Two Party System, Four Party Reality

I've never been a big fan of mix-and-match polling. When you take results from one poll and compare them to the results of another, you really can't expect the comparison to work out perfectly. Each polling organization has different criteria for respondents and may or may not probe them -- i.e., ask them "which way they lean" or for "their best guess" when they get a "don't know," for example -- and this can throw the results one way or another. And each pollster has different ways of whittling down their respondents so that the group represents America as a whole. Who's a Republican, who's a Democrat, who's white, who's black, who's what gender, etc. are all demographic questions -- usually published toward the end of the data -- that show those polled reflect the larger populace.

That caveat aside, until someone lets me write a national poll (or until I win the lottery and can afford to do it myself), mixing and matching polling data is going to be about the best I can do. Yesterday, Gallup polling showed that, after flatlining for more than a year, Republicans bumped up on a generic congressional ballot to beat Democrats by 4 points:

Poll graphic
Click for larger image

If you look at that graphic, you see Democrats on a slow, steady slide, with Republicans barely moving at all. Republicans aren't looking better to people, Democrats are looking worse. "As was the case in last Tuesday's gubernatorial elections, independents are helping the Republicans' cause," Gallup reports. "In the latest poll, independent registered voters favor the Republican candidate by 52% to 30%. Both parties maintain similar loyalty from their bases, with 91% of Democratic registered voters preferring the Democratic candidate and 93% of Republican voters preferring the Republican."

Now comes the mixing and matching, courtesy of a Pew poll:

[V]oters who plan to support Republicans next year are more enthusiastic than those who plan to vote for a Democrat. Fully 58% of those who plan to vote for a Republican next year say they are very enthusiastic about voting, compared with 42% of those who plan to vote for a Democrat.

"The big enthusiasm gap, you’d think, lends weight to the argument that Dems need to pass a health care bill without delay," writes Greg Sargent. "After all, it seems pretty clear that passing a good health care bill would do a lot more to boost the Dem base’s enthusiasm than showcasing Michele Bachmann’s latest antics could ever accomplish."

Bingo. The Democrats' big problem right now is that they can't get their act together. Republicans are sitting on the sidelines, talking trash about Democrats, while Democrats battle Democrats on the field. Politically, the efforts of Blue Dog Democrats to drag healthcare reform to the right are suicidal -- because, if anyone's going to pay an electoral price here, it's going to be Democrats in swing districts. Their timidity is destroying them.

But the Pew poll isn't entirely bleak for dems. According to the poll, 52% want to see their representative reelected, while 34% want most incumbents reelected. In other words, it's all someone else's fault. Like term limits, everyone seems to think this is a good idea -- until it comes to their people, then it's a different story. It's the rest of Congress that sucks. Still, Pew notes that these percentages are "the most negative in two decades" for the month. So there's that.

If you want some real good news, you can look to the Republican Party itself. No longer the lockstep, hivemind, zombie clan, Republican voters have begun to develop opinions all on their lonesome. Unfortunately, they aren't very experienced at this opinion-making stuff and it shows; Obama is a Communist Hitler, healthcare reform constitutes some sort of human rights abuse, and a lot of Republicans really suck. There's where all your GOP enthusiasm is coming from: scattershot crazies at Tea Parties.

Already, the teabaggers are taking their election year advantage and throwing it in the toilet. Unwilling to learn the lessons from NY-23 (or taking a different lesson from it), they're moving on in their big RINO hunt to find "Republicans In Name Only" in other races.

USA Today:

Some South Carolina Republicans are not happy with their own Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Last night the Charleston County Republican Party’s Executive Committee voted to formally censure Graham for supporting a climate change bill, bailing out banks, and granting amnesty for illegal aliens.

"Charleston County Republican voters have grown increasingly frustrated with Senator Graham and his voting record, which are frankly out of step with the beliefs of Republican voters,” said Charleston County Republican Party Chairwoman Lin Bennett. “This vote should not surprise any of us. What this shows us is that Charleston County Republicans are demanding better from Senator Graham."

Graham has been working with Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., on bipartisan legislation that would require companies to cut pollution or buy credits from companies that decrease carbon emissions -- which contributes to global warming.

Graham may or may not be "out of step" with Republican voters, but the Republican opinion on climate and environment is out of step with everyone else. Perhaps now would be a good time to point out that 77% believe in global warming and want carbon emissions cut. According to Paul Bedard at US News, the mood among strategists is "Shift the debate to creating alternative clean energy sources. And stop trying to foil President Obama simply for the sake of handing him a defeat." And here's the Republican base -- who the GOP has to rely on -- demanding that elected GOPers do the exact opposite.

If the Democratic Party is actually two parties right now (and it is), then so is the Republican Party -- for the first time in a very long time. Do they go where the enthusiasm is and turn off the Independents or do they go to the Independents and turn off the base? An advantage in a generic congressional ballot is largely theoretical. Once things become more concrete and people take stands, rather than remain purely conceptual, we'll see how things work out.

If Lindsey Graham, one of the most consistently conservative members of the Senate, is too liberal for the teabaggers, who are they going to be excited about in 2010? Likewise, who are all these Independents going to go to if the Republican slate is mostly Glenn Beck types? Something's got to give and -- one way or another -- some of that enthusiasm is going to evaporate. And, in districts where the teabaggers manage to put up a rightwing nutjob, Democratic enthusiasm will rise.

Still, Democrats need to get their own act together. If we can't get healthcare reform passed, Democrats will begin this thing by standing in a hole. And, when all those Blue Dogs lose their seats, they won't have anyone to blame but themselves.


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