With less than 100 days to go until the November 2010 elections, the Democratic Party is suffering from an image problem. Rather than be seen as “the party of the people,” several recent surveys indicate that the liberal label has once again been hung around its neck like an albatross.
According to the highly respected Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, its most recent national survey of nearly 2,000 U.S. adults (with a subset of nearly 1,500 registered voters) found that more voters viewed the Democrats as “very liberal” than viewed the Republican Party as “very conservative.”
For the Democrats this represents a messaging problem of significant proportion. Based on statements coming from congressional leaders as well as the White House, their fall campaign strategy is rapidly boiling down to the tired old saw of complaining that the opposition party is too extreme in its views to be allowed back into power.
It’s a message that will likely fall on deaf ears--or at least on ears waiting to hear of effective strategies to create jobs and to kick start the U.S. economy, which has still not recovered from the recession that started under George W. Bush and exploded under Barack Obama.
The GOP still has to seal the deal, but Obama is clearly in trouble. Having campaigned for president in 2008 as a post-partisan moderate who could and would bring both parties together to confront the problems facing the nation, he has ruled as something approaching an autocrat. Therefore it should come as little surprise the voters hungry for solutions appear ready to turn on him and his party.
It is axiomatic that liberals can only win national elections by promising to govern as moderates. Once in office, if they revert to type as Jimmy Carter did, they lose. It is only by moderating their liberalism–as Bill Clinton did after 1994 by signing welfare reform and through the strategy known as “triangulation”–that they can keep their hold on the presidency.
The trend away from liberalism is also reflected in the congressional generic ballot test, which has typically shown the GOP leading the Democrats for most for most of the year.
The latest survey, a Rasmussen Reports likely voter survey released Monday, shows the Republicans leading the Democrats by 10 points.
Other recent polls, including Quinnipiac, CNN/Opinion Research and Fox News also have the GOP ahead–in contrast to the latest Gallup survey that had the Democrats up by four–but not by as much as Rasmussen.
The Pew survey also supports the hotly contested assertion that America remains a center-right country and that Obama’s election did not make the beginning of a political realignment to the left.
Pew found that 40 percent of voters “assessing their own political views” described themselves as conservative and that 36 percent felt their views were moderate–making the potential center-right coalition a whopping 76 percent of the electorate against just 22 percent who described themselves as liberal.
“As a result,” Pew says, “the average rating for the Democratic Party’s ideology among all voters is somewhat farther to the left than the Republican Party’s is to the right. The Republican Party’s rating also is closer to voters’ average ratings of their own ideology, which is slightly to the right of center.”
It is true, as I have written before, that polls are snapshots in time, useful for identifying trends but not necessarily predictive of outcomes. The GOP has the wind at its back going into the next election. The voters are receptive to the idea of a GOP-controlled Congress but the party must still come up with an agenda that voters find attractive. Failing that, they remain vulnerable to the Democrats’ attempts to define them as being out of touch with what America needs, despite what the polling data currently indicates.