Mar 30 2006
Editor & Publisher thinks they have detected a possible ‘historic’ shift in who considers themselves Democrat and Republican. Here is the headline:
Gallup: In Shift, More Americans Now Call Themselves Democrats
Here is the data:
Republicans had gained the upper hand in recent years, but 33% of Americans, in the latest Gallup poll, now call themselves Democrats, with those favoring the GOP one point behind [32%].
Obviously journalists are math challenged, they demonstrate that fact daily. But what this is inexusable. What they do not understand is what the ‘margin of error’ means in a poll, which puts these numbers (32% and 33%) in a statistical tie. Even Gallup won’t exaggerate their poll this badly:
Americans are about as likely to identify as Republicans as they are Democrats according to a review of recent Gallup polls.
The headline seems to be coming from reading the tea leafs of the ‘leanings’ of independents – a completely subjective, non scientific and useless exercise:
Independents now make up 34% of the population. When asked if they lean in a certain direction, their answers pushed the Democrat numbers to 49% with Republicans at 42%. One year ago, the parties were dead even at 46% each.
Again, with a 3% margin of error (the best you will ever see) this is nearly a statistical tie, and basically statistically the same as the 46% numbers from the previous samples. But the leanings are not scientific because Gallup decides what issue makes one a democrat leaner based on (most likely outdated) stereotypes of the two parties.
The Gallup numbers are consistent with the large PEW study done back in 2004, where the post 9-11 numbers where 31% democrat and 30% republican. Same one point, statistically insignificant lead. What Pew points out is how this is a ‘historical’ low for the Democrats if one looks back over 50 years, with this level of support being on par with their reversals in the 1994 elections.
The Democratic lead in party identification was modest through the 1940s but grew dramatically in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Democratic advantage narrowed in the mid-1960s, but remained substantial.
In the late 1970s, fallout from the Watergate scandal again boosted the Democrats while depressing Republican support.
In 1977, more than half of the public (51%) identified themselves as Democrats, compared with barely one-in-five who called themselves Republicans (21%).
The advantage was short-lived, however, as discontent with the economy coupled with internal divisions among Democrats increased the popularity of the Republican party in the electorate. With Ronald Reagan in office, the parties drew nearly even by the end of the 1980s.
The Democrats held a small edge with the public in the early 1990s, but public unhappiness with Bill Clinton and a successful campaign by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich helped boost the Republicans ahead of the Democrats for a short time in 1995.
Check out the accompanying chart to see the ebb and flow over the last 20 years. What all this shows is recently there has been some disappointment with Republicans, as reality has hammered expectations. But it also shows Democrats have been using a scorched earth policy, dragging themselves down with the Republicans.
If the Gallup survey is on par with the 2004 numbers which covered the pinnacle of Republican support post 9-11, then Editor & Publisher is just kidding themselves. The truly sad aspect of all this is they did it in public, under the guise of ‘news’.
What is news is the parties are now on par with us independents, and therefore they should realize they cannot drift too far away from the middle if they want to hold onto governing majorities.
Update:Â It is always good to be in good company, and I am in the best of company on this – check out what Ed Morrissey has to say on this subject.