Some Early Thoughts on the New Gallup Congressional Generic Numbers

The Beltway is already abuzz this am with a new Gallup poll showing a huge swing towards the Democrats in the Congressional Generic Ballot test, from 47-46 to 49-43.  While we don't know if this is a significant shift yet - time and other polls will tell us more in the weeks to come - we do know that such an outcome is perfectly plausible as the Democrats retain a huge Party ID advantage this year, ranging from 7-12 points depending on the poll. 

NDN has been arguing all year that despite a drop in Democrat favorability, the structural changes which took place in the electorate in 2006 and 2008 have not abated.  Democrats won those two elections with historically large majorities, winning each election by 53-46.  Given that the last time the national Democratic Party had won a Presidential election by more than 50.1 percent was 1964, these back to back majorities signaled an end of what we have called "the era of conservative ascendency" and signaled that a new post-conservative age had begun, that a "new politics" had been born. What happened in 2006 and 2008 was a structural shift in the American electorate, making it much more Democratic than it had been since at least the 1960s, and making the political environment different than any strategist, consultant, reporter or pundit had seen in 45 years, and certainly different than virtually any of these professionals had experienced in their adult lifetime. 

In late June, I wrote the following in a post called Fighting Conventional Wisdom on Deficits, The Economy and the Strength of the GOP,

Democrats Still Hold a Substantial Lead in Party ID - In each poll, the Democratic Party held a 9 point Party ID advantage over the GOP (45/36 in NBC/Wall Street Journal, 43/34 in Public Policy).  9 points is of course a bigger spread than the  actual vote in each of the last two elections, which broke 53% to 46% for the Democrats.  In 1994, by comparison, the GOP had a party ID advantage over the Democrats. 

What is remarkable about these findings is that the structural shift away from the GOP and towards the Democrats is not showing signs of abating.  Looking at the Congressional Generic Ballot (even these days, with Ds and Rs being in the mid 40s) and Obama/Dem approval (mid to high 40s) there is evidence the Democrats have lost some ground since 2008.  But there simply is no evidence in either of these polls that the GOP has gained at all, and remains in the same mid 40 percent range - or less - the party achieved in each of its last two losing election performances (Real Clear Politics average of the Generic Congressional Ballot now has the Democrats up a bit, 43/42.6 - if you take out the always GOP biased Rasmussen it is closer to 2 points now).

In fact, a reasonable interpretation of these polls is that the GOP is stuck at a ceiling of 45/46/47, the Dems have dropped to similar terrain, but with Party ID being so strong for the Dems, there is more of a clear path now for the Dems to regain their lost ground than for the GOP to grow beyond their current position. With the GOP now stuck in the mid 40s, a lot of what happens in 2010 will depend on what happens with that 5-8 percent the Democrats have lost - will they come home? Not turn out? Go to the GOP?

It is fair to say from these polls that neither party should be happy with their position 4 1/2 months from the 2010 midterms.  The Democrats have lost too much of its recent historic vote, and the GOP has not shown any capacity to take advantage of the Democratic weakness.

What may be happening now is that the Democrats may be in the process of reclaiming their lost vote, something that we have argued is more likely than an unreformed and reactionary GOP taking advantage of the recent Democratic slippage. It is too soon to know if this happening, but certainly if it is there is a data driven explanation for why this shift could be taking place.

We are not suprised that even experienced pundits are having a hard time making sense of the current electorate.  It is unlike any electorate that the political class has seen.  It is demographically very different from any electorate in American history, and has been, and remains, the most pro-Democratic electorate we've seen in at least 45 years.  For the current pundit class this is unfamiliar terrain, and applying old models to a new electorate simply will not work.

For more on this see Mike Hais's recent excellent Data Matters column, Democrats, Not Independents or Republicans, Will Decide Who Wins in 2010 and Beyond.