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October 1, 2009
More indies leaning GOP - party gap closing
Gallup has an interesting new survey out that shows pretty much what some other polls are saying; Obama is losing independents and the Democrats are bleeding supporters:
Though Democrats maintain an edge in party support over Republicans, Americans' tendency to identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party is lessening, coming down from the heights it reached near the end of the Bush administration. The changes in party support have been mainly among those who do not have a firm party commitment -- those who initially identify as independents but express a leaning toward either of the major parties.
In fact, Gallup has found that independents are more likely to oppose than support healthcare reform, and to express concerns about increased government spending and the expansion of government power. Thus, the drop in Democratic support is partly a response to concerns about the policies Obama and the Democratic Congress are pursuing.
Whatever the causes, it is important to note that even as Republicans are closing the gap in party support, the percentage of Americans with a firm commitment to the Republican Party -- those who identify themselves as Republicans -- is not increasing.
That drop in party affiliation is especially interesting:
Since Barack Obama took office as president in January, the Democratic advantage in leaned party identification has shrunk each quarter, from 13 points in the first quarter (52% to 39%) to 9 points in the second quarter (49% to 40%) and 6 points in the most recent quarter (48% to 42%).
As the accompanying table indicates, the Democratic-Republican gap is narrowing because more independents now say they lean to the Republican Party -- there has been no apparent increase in the percentage of Americans who identify as Republicans on the initial party-preference question. Likewise, the percentage of Americans identifying as Democrats has been fairly stable, but fewer independents now say they lean Democratic. Thus, the shifts in party support have come mainly among those with weak party attachments.
Interesting news but not all good for Republicans. It may well be barely good enough that the GOP is seen as an alternative to Democrats even though they don't present a positive agenda for the election. But given the fact that there have been no real gains in party support for Republicans, the GOP has yet to "close the sale" with the voter and set itself up for the kind of spectacular gains they could realize in 2010 if they could come up with a coherent, exciting agenda.
But we're still far enough away from the election that such an agenda could be developed. If that happens, I would expect historic gains at the polls for Republicans.