Calling all centrist, internationalist Republicans

If you don’t believe that President George W. Bush has done serious damage to the Republican party or that the United States is about to undergo a paramount political shift, take a look at the latest version of the Pew Research Center’s annual survey on U.S. political trends and values, released yesterday. Just 41 percent ...

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603069_070323_pew_05.gif

If you don't believe that President George W. Bush has done serious damage to the Republican party or that the United States is about to undergo a paramount political shift, take a look at the latest version of the Pew Research Center's annual survey on U.S. political trends and values, released yesterday.

Just 41 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the GOP, down from 56 percent in January 2001. Among independent voters, just 40 percent view the Republican party as favorable, a figure that stood at 55 percent in 2001. In the last five years, Democrats have acquired a sizable advantage in party identification, especially when you count the "leaners" (top chart at left). The percentage of people identifying themselves as Republican has fallen to just 25 percent in 2007 (bottom chart at left). As recently as 2005, nearly one in three Americans viewed themselves as Republicans. Among independent voters, the percentage who say they lean Democratic has risen five percentage points in the last five years.

If you don’t believe that President George W. Bush has done serious damage to the Republican party or that the United States is about to undergo a paramount political shift, take a look at the latest version of the Pew Research Center’s annual survey on U.S. political trends and values, released yesterday.



Just 41 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the GOP, down from 56 percent in January 2001. Among independent voters, just 40 percent view the Republican party as favorable, a figure that stood at 55 percent in 2001. In the last five years, Democrats have acquired a sizable advantage in party identification, especially when you count the “leaners” (top chart at left). The percentage of people identifying themselves as Republican has fallen to just 25 percent in 2007 (bottom chart at left). As recently as 2005, nearly one in three Americans viewed themselves as Republicans. Among independent voters, the percentage who say they lean Democratic has risen five percentage points in the last five years.

Looking at the survey results, I’m struck by how closely Americans’ attitudes today mirror their beliefs in 1992, the year Bill Clinton was elected to the White House. The similarity cuts across a number of metrics—not only political party identification, but attitudes toward government responsibility, military strength, international engagement, and immigration.  

What does this mean? I don’t want to make any sweeping judgments. The 2008 election is a long way off and any number of events could dramatically impact its outcome. But the survey does suggest two things.

First, the election is probably the Democrats’ to lose. Anti-government sentiment is running at the highest level in a decade. And while Republicans are more religiously conservative than at any time in the last 20 years, the liberalizing trend in moral values in the nation as a whole is impressive. Some 76 percent of Americans may say they have “old fashioned” values about family and marriage. But that is down from 85 percent a decade ago. When Pew first conducted its survey in 1987, nearly half of Americans gave “conservative” answers to a broad selection of questions about their social and moral values. This year, just 30 percent did so. This is to say nothing of issues. Consider the environment, where 83 percent of Americans say they want stricter laws and regulations.

The survey also suggests, however, that a centrist, internationalist Republican could fare well in 2008 (if he or she made it past the GOP primaries). While the number of Americans identifying with the Republican party has fallen in recent years, the number of Americans identifying with the Democratic party has remained flat over the last three years, when you exclude the leaners. That’s shocking. Just think about the dramatic downward spiral in Iraq within that time period—the public;s declining faith in GOP competence parallels its steady disillusionment with the war, yet the Democratic party hasn’t translated wayward independents into registered Democrats. What’s more, traditional Republican positions such as a belief in small government still hold great appeal. Nearly six in 10 Americans (including 50 percent of independents) believe government regulation does more harm than good, up four points since 2003. But talk within the party of the need for another “Reagan Republican” on foreign policy appears ill-founded. In 2002, 62 percent of Americans agreed with a strategy of peace through military strength. Today just 49 percent agree with that approach. Fifty-seven percent of Americans, on the other hand, have a favorable opinion of the United Nations—underscoring Martin Wolf’s argument that the U.N. was a major beneficiary of the Iraq war.

Fasten your seat belts, 2008 is going to be interesting.

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