For GOP, Bush is the biggest problem

Tue, 06/05/2007 - 4:17pm
By: The Citizen


“Looking ahead to 2008, Republicans have a very large problem — his name is George W. Bush.” That’s the half-kidding assessment of independent pollster Andy Kohut, director of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

It’s true that President Bush is quite unpopular and that GOP prospects have declined sharply during his second White House term. But as Kohut quickly notes, a near sea-change in voters’ attitudes reflected in both “less social conservatism” and “more support for the social safety net” indicate serious movement away from the political environment that led to the Republican surge in the mid-1990s.

Consider these major changes in voters’ values toward the safety net as found in Pew Center surveys: When asked in 1994 — the year the GOP won majority control of the Congress — if “government should help the needy even if it means more debt,” just 41 percent of voters answered “yes.” But by 2007, the positive response to helping the needy had won majority support — some 54 percent.

There was a similar jump — from 57 percent support in 1994 to 69 percent backing in 2007 — for the proposition that “government should care for those who can’t care for themselves.”

What must be of more urgent long-term concern for Republican Party strategists is the dramatic, long-term growth in tolerance — most especially among young voters — toward homosexuality, in particular, and social issues in general.

When asked in 1987 if “school boards ought to have the right to fire teachers who are known homosexuals,” some 51 percent agreed that authorities ought to be able to banish a teacher simply because he or she was gay. But this year, support for that kind of power for school boards had plummeted to just 28 percent.

Should women “return to their traditional roles in society”? Twenty years ago, 29 percent of all voters said they “completely disagree” with that statement. Now, a 51 percent majority — including 64 percent of white Catholics and 63 percent of voters under the age of 30, but just 41 percent of Republicans — “completely disagree” with returning women to their aprons, girdles and secondary status.

Americans, we should be happy to acknowledge, are profoundly more accepting of interracial romance than they were less than a generation ago. Asked by Pew in 1987 for their reaction to the statement, “I think it’s all rights for blacks and whites to date each other,” a 48 percent minority of voters agreed. By 2007, a landslide of 83 percent gave their OK to interracial dating.

In both 2004 and 2006, voters under the age of 30 voted strongly Democratic. The rule of thumb around political circles holds that when any group votes for the same party in three consecutive elections, it can be counted as enlisted in that party’s coalition barring some traumatic, intervening event. If younger voters continue to vote Democratic in 2008, then the future electorate could resemble what Pew Research Director Michael Dimmock calls “the pig in the python phenomenon,” with this huge Democratic bulge passing through for the next 40 years.

In Andy Kohut’s judgment, the political landscape heading into 2008 is as bleak as any since the Democrats limped into 1952 facing nonpartisan war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower. Then, Harry Truman — who was an even less popular president than George Bush is today — was waging an unpopular, apparently unwinnable war in Korea. Voters were just as dissatisfied with the status quo and, like now, showing their strong desire for change.

There must be some good news for Republicans in all these depressing developments. Kohut lists two: “A Democratic presidential nominee is always capable of raising questions about his — or her — own competence,” and in their accomplished field of 2008 candidates, “Democrats don’t have an Ike.” As of today, that’s it for good Republican news.


login to post comments