GOP leads Dems in "generic" ballot poll

In mid-March, for the first time in five years, the GOP took a slim lead over the Democrats in Rasmussen's Generic Congressional Ballot poll. I did not write about it at the time, because it was just one week -- hardly a trend -- and could easily have been reversed. Indeed, it was, although just barely, with the Democrats holding a lead of 1% to 3% in each of the next three weekly polls. However, I believe enough of a trend has developed since then that it's worth mentioning. The April 12th and 19th polls had the two parties tied. Then the April 26th poll had the Republicans up by 3%, and the last poll, released yesterday, had the GOP up by 1%. In other words, after two weeks of rare ties, the GOP has put in just its 2nd and 3rd leads in the last five years. All is hardly sunshine for the Republican Party, to be sure. Rasmussen's poll of partisan trends continues to show declines in GOP membership, though those declines have slowed dramatically, with most of the defections becoming Independent voters rather than Democrats. Indeed, Rasmussen says that "both parties are now at the low end of their recent range and the number not affiliated with either party is at the highest level since July." And:
The Democrats now enjoy a 6.1 percentage point advantage over Republicans. During the first three months of 2009, the Democrats averaged a seven-point advantage. While the partisan identification numbers shift little from month-to-month, the numbers document just how dramatically the political environment has changed over the past four years. In January 2005, as President Bush was inaugurated for his second term in office, the Democrats enjoyed just a one-percentage-point advantage over the GOP.
This implies that while many voters aren't really on board with the GOP, they're now at least as uncomfortable with the path the Democrats are on. And, keeping with the theme of tying poll results together, that fits in with yet another Rasmussen poll which shows that "Sixty-nine percent (69%) [of Republicans surveyed] say congressional Republicans have lost touch with GOP voters throughout the nation." Remarkably, that is one percent higher than the result to the same question immediately after the election. In other words, gains for the GOP are not coming because the GOP is doing a better job of making voters believe they stand for a better way for the nation. To the extent that perception is occurring, it's because people are recognizing the Democratic agenda as dangerous. And while much of the press coverage of polls lately (particularly at the 100-day mark of the Obama administration) has focused on Obama's personal popularity, there is a message in the polls which show that Obama is more popular than his policies. It's early yet, and Obama's policies are still more popular than they should be (in part because people are seduced by the idea that "at least he's trying to do something.) But the trends are slowly, subtly turning against the Democrats, and Obama is not running in the next election. I do not write this to suggest great optimism for Republican electoral prospects in 2010, though I also don't discount the possibility of substantial GOP gains. The key is that it's a very rare situation when just being "not them" is enough to beat incumbents. It happened in 1980, to some degree in 2006, and to a great degree in 2008 because Jimmy Carter was so bad, and then because the Republican Congress and, to a lesser degree, George W. Bush, were so bad. It's not clear to me that the breadth and depth of the Democratic attack on our free-market economy, our health care system, our banking system, and our economic liberty overall will be sufficiently obvious to the electorate to make just being "not a Democrat" a particularly strong campaign tactic in 2010. I also don't think Obama's popularity will drop to anywhere near George W. Bush's no matter how bad a job he's doing, and for my money he's doing a far worse job in his early days than George W. Bush did. So, Republicans need to stand for something in order to win. Contrary to Arlen Specter's claims, the GOP has not "moved to far to the right", at least not lately. John McCain was an immigration "dove", he supports "cap and trade", and came late to the pro-tax-cut side of things. He was relatively liberal for the GOP...and he got demolished. The Republican Party has done poorly not because they've moved too far to the right but because they tried to be simply anti-abortion, anti-gay-marriage Democrats. And for people like me, who are much more libertarian than conservative, there's no worse sort of Republican. To a point, I agree with critics of the GOP's socially conservative positions. And that point begins where Republican candidates focus primarily on those things. While I'm not a social issues conservative, I don't object to someone who is as long as they're not bent on using the federal government to enforce those views. So I can support and have supported social issues conservatives whose primary focus was on other things, namely limited government and liberty. I have withheld support from true fiscal conservatives who told me that they would support amending the Constitution to ban abortion. I (like most people, probably) believe I represent a very large minority, probably an electorally decisive minority given the current make-up of the electorate. And so, getting back to the main point of this note, the combination of polls, particularly the GOP putting in back-to-back weeks of leads in the generic ballot, shows not so much that the Republicans are back on track but that the Democrats are giving them an opening, their first glimmer of election hope in several years. There may be a real opportunity for the GOP to grab, but it will only work out if the party shows not only hardcore Republicans but also fiscally conservative Independent voters that the party stands, first and foremost, for the principles of the Founders.
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