Monday, August 3, 2009

The Gallup map: Does it mean the Democrats are still golden?

Click on image to enlarge

Gallup is out with a state-by state-analysis of its polling data on party self-identification from the first half of this year. The map above shows that 29 states plus the District of Columbia are either solidly Democratic or lean Democratic, while only four are solidly Republican with another one leaning. The rest are closely divided.

Gallup's data came from asking adults (not just voters) which party they preferred. Those initially calling themselves independents were then asked to which party they lean, and the proclaimed partisans plus the leaners were added together to put each state in the blue, red or grey categories. The data is based on interviews conducted throughout the six-month period and was weighted to reflect the actual demographics of each state. The details are here.

The map and the data are being interpreted by some on the Internet as proof positive of a sustained leftward lurch of American politics since last fall, an answer to those who are trying to put the brakes on the expansive agenda of the White House and the Democratic Congressional leadership, and a bad sign for the GOP. Surely, there has been a sweeping realignment and Democrats need not worry about the 2010 mid-term elections, right?

Not right. These results — from surveys conducted from January through June — unsurprisingly reflect the state of play in the nation’s politics that produced Obama’s election and big gains for the Dems in Congress. During most of the first half of the year, after all, most people, even McCain voters, were in a mood to give the Dems a shot at governing. Obama was getting 65-70% approvals in most of those months. He was - and is — personally popular. If the map did not look like this, Democrats facing reelection in 2010 would have to be frantically worried. And it's a well-known phenomenon in polling that people climb on board a winning bandwagon.

In any case, the signs of an opening for a GOP comeback began to be evident only recently in Obama’s sagging approval ratings, which started in June and accelerated in July, alongside a steady loss the the Dem’s previously big edge in the “generic” Congressional polls and growing dissatisfaction with Obama’s stewardship of the economy and several of his “signature” programs, conspicuously health care. To be sure, it remains to be seen whether voters will still be dissatisfied come the second half of 2010, but there is every reason for GOPers to feel a lot more positive than they did just a few months ago.

I thought in November -- and I continue to think -- that it was a big mistake or Obama and the Democratic leaders, along with so many journalists, pundits and other folks to buy into the illusion that the 2008 election heralded some sweeping or historic political realignment, a shift to the left, or the beginning of an era of guaranteed Democratic dominance. You'd think that such notions wouldn't have survived if only because the much-vaunted GOP dominance of just a few short years ago evaporated quickly in the face of public distress about the prolonged Iraq war and then anger over the sudden financial mess and the recession.

It should be a cliche but apparently it needs to be repeated again and again that Obama and the Democrats won by capturing the center -- the independents, moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats who are always open to shifting their support. In the fall of 2008, these voters decided to "fire" the Republicans. Obama and company should keep front of mind that if they fail to govern from the center, the electorate may well be in a firing mood again.

It’s also worth remembering that the map is not at all relevant to most of the House races that are likely to be heavily contested in 2010 (really, does anyone think Republicans have no chance in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, etc. because they are colored blue on this map?) and even some Senate races may be influenced more by issues that transcend party or ideology (e.g., see Dodd v. Simmons or whatever happens to the Obama-Burris seat in Illinois).

What are your thoughts? Post a comment.


  1. Your assumptions are wrong. Obama had the clearest mandate for change in my adult memory. The fact that Obama and the Democrats have been so tepid and weak in the face of that mandate is the reason they will have lost their advantage.

    Why is Obama's cabinet filled with Bush appointees? Why are we still in Afghanistan? Why isn't Gitmo closed? Why aren't we seeing special investigations of Bush crimes? Why is marijuana legalization off the table? Why is Geitner running Treasury? Why are we baling out bankers?

    If anything is going to destroy the Democrat's advantages it is this complicity in the crimes of the former Republican administration.

  2. If the above commenter had his/her way with the Democratic party, the next map would be colored red everywhere outside NYC, the Bay area and college towns.