There's so much polling being done these days that The Fix could parse a different survey every day. On Tuesday alone four major news partnerships released surveys -- Washington Post/ABC News, CBS/New York Times, USA Today/Gallup and CNN/Opinion Research.
Anyone remotely following the 2006 campaign can guess what the surveys said: Republicans down, Democrats up.
President Bush's job-approval rating ranged from a low of 34 percent in the CBS/Times poll to a high of 39 percent in the Post/ABC and CNN/Opinion Research surveys. The generic ballot test wasn't much better for Republicans. The Post/ABC poll had Democrats with a 13 percent edge over Republicans on the generic question; it was a 14-point Democratic margin in the Times/CBS survey, a 21-point edge in the CNN/Opinion Research poll and a whopping 23-point lead in the USA Today/Gallup poll.
As The Fix has said many times, this is the worst national environment for either party since the 1994 landslide election that gave Republicans control of the House for the first time in four decades. The similarity in political atmospherics does not ensure a similar wave for Democrats on Nov. 7, but it does show that the playing field is tilted heavily in their favor.
In The Voters' Own Words
Beyond Bush's job approval number or the dismal ratings for Congress, what caught our eye when deciding what to write about this week was a series of questions asked in a Gallup poll conducted at the end of last month that sought to test the voters' impressions of the two political parties.
Voters were asked to name what they liked and disliked about the Democratic and Republican parties. The pollsters didn't prompt respondents with sample statements; rather, they were allowed to simply say whatever came into their mind. This sort of free-association provides unique insight into how the parties are viewed by everyday Americans and how voters go about making their decisions on Election Day.
Let's look at voter impressions of the Democratic Party first. One-quarter of the sample said they liked the party's economic message: "supports the middle class/working class/average American" (10 percent), "supports the people" (8 percent) or "supports the poor/homeless" (5 percent). Four percent of those tested said they liked that the Democrat party was liberal; the same number cited Democrats' "views on social issues" as what they liked about the party.
Other positive traits worth mentioning include: "the platform" (3 percent), "like the politicians in the party" (3 percent) and "diverse/inclusive party" (3 percent).
What don't voters like about Democrats? Finishing first -- not surprisingly -- with eight percent was that the party is "too liberal/left-wing." One in five voters said what they disliked about Democrats was rooted in some variation of the idea that the party has no real principles: 6 percent of voters said the party had "no clear idea/solutions/wishy washy" or that they "don't take stands for their beliefs/don't oppose Bush", 5 percent said they are "not organized as a party/lack of focus."
Asked what they like most about the GOP, the leading response -- with nine percent -- was that it was conservative. The second most mentioned trait was "views on defense/war on terrorism/homeland security/military" with six percent. Four percent each cited the party's platform more generally and "their morals/family values."
What do voters not like about Republicans? Leading the list is the perception that they are the "party of the rich/not for the middle [or] lower class" (9 percent) followed by voters who said they "don't like/respect Congress/corrupt/poor ethics/dishonest" (7 percent). Six percent said the fact Republicans "support big business" or are "extreme right wing/conservatives" is what turns them off.
In many ways these results are not terribly surprising. For years, Democratic politicians have worked to paint themselves as the defenders of the average American while casting Republicans as the party of big business and the affluent. Republicans, on the other hand, have spent several decades waging a rhetorical war on Democrats by turning "liberal" into a dirty word. In the 2004 presidential election, exit polling showed that just 21 percent of the electorate defined itself as liberal -- a total dwarfed by self-identified moderates (45 percent) and conservatives (34 percent).
What does this mean for the two parties heading into the 2006 and 2008 elections? First, Democrats must find a way to change the prevailing idea that their party is devoid of any foundational beliefs. To win the White House in 2008 it will not be enough for Democrats to be simply be against Republican principles.
Meanwhile, Republicans need to convince the electorate that they are not controlled by big business at the expense of the middle class voter and that they stand as strongly against corruption in their ranks as Democrats.
Quite obviously, whichever side is better able to lessen their perceived weaknesses while highlighting their image strengths will likely wind up in the White House come January 2009.
It's amusing, really. The perceived socioeconomic disconnect between the Republicans and regular Joe voter never seems to play out at the polls. Moreover, it's laughable that Democrats are painted as liberal. In the great scheme of things, they (Democrats) are closer to the ideological center than Republicans are.
I recommend the reader to go to Political Compass to measure your ideological sensibilities.
EDIT: By the way, this is where I stand.