This morning I posted a piece entitled Be of Good Cheer! – in which I drew attention to the latest Gallup poll as it pertains to the favorability ratings of our two main political parties, noting that it suggests that Barack Obama has done more harm to the Democratic brand in the last four years than George W. Bush did to the Republican brand during his eight years in office, and drawing attention to the fact that for the first time in the twenty years in which Gallup has been doing this sort of polling the Republicans are doing better than the Democrats. That fact is not only a portent of what is to come on the first Tuesday of November. It is an indicator of the direction in which the electorate is drifting, and I believe that it suggests something about intensity. Our side is fired up; their side is demoralized. As in 2010, turnout on their side will be depressed. Frankly, if I were a partisan Democrat, I would vote for Mitt Romney – if only to save my party from another four years of Barack Obama!
This afternoon I came across the results of another poll that is no less revealing. Entitled A Closer Look at the Parties in 2012, it was released a week ago by the Pew Foundation. Bill Galston, who was Domestic Policy Adviser to Bill Clinton, discusses it at some length on The New Republic site in a post entitled New Evidence That 2008 Was a Major Aberration for Democrats – in which he notes that Pew’s findings dovetail well with those of Gallup:
In 2008, Democrats plus Independents who lean Democratic constituted fully 51 percent of registered voters, versus only 39 percent for Republicans plus Independents who lean their way. But now, the 12-point Democratic edge of four years ago has shrunk to only 5 points, 48 to 43, statistically indistinguishable from the split in 2004. Among whites, the Republican edge has expanded from 2 points to 12; among white men, from 11 points to 22. While Democrats have lost ground in every age cohort, they still maintain an edge of 19 points among Millennials, down from 32 points in 2008.
Drilling down more deeply, Pew finds finer-grained trends. Republicans have made only modest gains among college-educated men, and none at all among college-educated women. But among men with less than a BA, Republicans have turned a 6-point deficit into a 3-point edge; among less educated women, the Democratic advantage has been pared from 20 points to 8. Relative to 2008, Republicans have made no gains among registered voters with household incomes of $75,000 or more, but they are doing much better among those making less than that. And all of these changes are more pronounced among white voters.
These demographic trends map onto geographical shifts. Republicans have gained no ground in urban areas, but they’re doing much better in the suburbs and in rural communities than they did four years ago. They have made larger gains in the South, Midwest, and West than in the Northeast, which remains a Democratic Party bastion.
The breakdown by religion tells an intriguing story. It’s no surprise that Republicans are doing even better among white evangelicals than they were four years ago. But they have turned an even split among white mainline Protestants into a 12-point advantage, and they have transformed an 8-point deficit among white Catholics into a 9-point edge. (This last statistic may help explain why the Romney-Ryan ticket is doing better than expected in the upper Midwest.)
You should read the whole thing. Bill thinks that the election will be divisive and close. If you stick to what the polls clearly indicate and ignore what they suggest about the drift of things, you will regard this as a pretty good guess. But I would in this case, as in the case of the Gallup poll, argue that what stands out is the drift of things since 2008. Turnout is the key, and the half-hearted are apt to stay home. Died-in-the-wool Democrats and left-leaning Independents may not be able to bring themselves to vote for a Republican. But when they realize that their guy is a real disaster they can stay home – and mark my words. This year, as in 2010, they will do so.