Intellectual Capital.Com on AOL World ViewBusiness & TechnologyIC PoliticsFeatures A Perplexing Loss of GOP Confidence by Everett Carll Ladd Thursday, March 18, 1999 Comments: 68posts What the GOP Needs for Christmas: A Big Stick : Claude Marx urges the GOP to forget Ronald Reagan and remember Teddy Roosevelt. Jeb Bush: Republicrat in Training?: A new type of GOP is being created in Florida. Tim Nickens considers. Republicans and the Minority Vote: Everett Ladd sees reason to hope for two-party competitiveness among blacks and Hispanics.

Search The next national election is likely to get special attention. Each of the biennial votes matters, of course, and more so when there is a presidential race. But even greater weight is likely to be given to the outcome of Election 2000; it will be seen as determining who will lead America into the next century, even the next millennium. Political pundits think the Democrats now hold the advantage. Even Republican leaders are jittery about keeping their House majority and wooing voters who may have deserted them. This is curious because many factors point to Republican strength. The GOP should not be complacent as it looks ahead to Election 2000, but unease is not in order, either. A good Republican showing The Republicans' funk began with their 1998 electoral disappointment. They retained their House majority but lost five seats (net) and retained a 10-seat Senate margin. But the fact that the House voting in particular disappointed Republicans indicates how much the party's position has been strengthened. Last year was the GOP's second-best showing of the past half-century (Chart 1) and the first time since 1928 that it won a House majority three times running. The Republicans' 1998 Showing Second Best of the Last Half-Century: Popular Vote for US House of Representatives Year Rep. Dem. Year Rep. Dem. 1948 45.5% 51.9% 1974 40.6% 57.6% 1950 49.0 49.0 1976 44.9 53.7 1952 49.4 49.7 1978 44.9 53.7 1954 47.0 52.5 1980 47.9 50.4 1956 48.7 51.1 1982 43.1 55.3 1958 43.4 56.2 1984 46.8 52.3 1960 44.8 54.7 1986 44.5 54.6 1962 47.2 52.5 1988 45.5 53.4 1964 42.3 57.2 1990 44.9 52.9 1966 48.3 50.9 1992 45.5 50.9 1968 48.2 50.0 1994 52.4 45.5 1970 45.1 53.4 1996 48.9 48.6 1972 46.4 51.7 1998 49.1 47.8 Source:1994-1998: Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, November election issue; 1970-1992: Statistical Abstract of the United States;1932-1968: Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970. The Republicans' plurality of 1.3% trailed only their 1994 margin of 5.9%. By way of comparison, Democrats bested Republican candidates by a collective 5.5% in 1984 -- when it was "morning in America" for the party -- and utterly trounced the GOP in 1974 (by 17% of the popular vote) and 1964 (15%). In terms of party identification, Republicans have held steady the past 10 to 15 years. They are near parity with Democrats but trailing by 5% to 6%, with roughly a third of the public calling themselves independents. The GOP's relative standing in party identification is down a bit only in comparison to late 1994 and early 1995, an unusually good span for the party (Chart 2). Chart 2 Republicans' Standing in Party Identification (Gallup Polls)Close to Their Post-Reagan Average, Though Somewhat Weaker Than inLate '94 and Early '95 Question: In politics, as of today, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent? 1998-1999 1994-1995 DateRep.Dem.Ind.DateRep.Dem.Ind.March 6-9, 199831%36%29%March 4-17, 1994 25%37%37%April 1, 1998283531April 8-21, 1994274131May 8-10, 1998293435 May 10-June 8, 1994323133June 5-7, 1998293236June 3-6, 1994303432July 7-8, 1998303432July 1-3, 1994293434Aug. 10-12, 1998293431Aug. 8-9, 1994 293433Sept. 11-12, 1998293632Sept. 6-7, 1994323234Oct. 6-7, 1998253438 Oct. 7-9, 1994293337Nov. 2, 1998283628Nov. 2-6, 1994313432Dec. 4-6, 1998 293434Dec. 2-5, 1994333232Jan. 6, 1999283436Jan. 16-18, 1995303235Feb. 19-21, 1999273337Feb. 3-5, 1995312937March 4, 1999303729March 17-19, 1995312837Source: Surveys by the Gallup Organization. Virtually every time since May 1950 that Gallup has asked Americans which party they favored in an upcoming congressional vote, polls have shown Republicans to be weaker than they actually were come November. In the last Gallup congressional trial heat in 1992, for example, the Republicans trailing by 11%; they lost the popular vote by just 5%. Democrats now have an early edge in House election polling -- but their "advantage" by this measure is actually slight and resembles that of early 1994 (Chart 3). Chart 3 Republicans Look In Much the Same Position in Early 1999 as in Early 1994: Congressional Vote Intent1994OrganizationRep.Dem.1999Organization Rep.Dem.Early Jan. Gallup 37%40%Late Jan. American Viewpoint36%43%Mid Jan. Gallup 3542Late Jan. Washington Post3949Late Feb. Gallup 3949Early Feb. US News & World Report3844Late March Gallup 4150Mid Feb.Washington Post4148Note: Question wording varies slightly, but all of the polls cited above ask respondents which parties' candidate they would vote for in their congressional district if the election were being held today. So why are Republicans worried? One word: impeachment. Though the current administration has been mired in scandal and President Clinton has joined Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon as one of just three presidents to face impeachment, he supposedly has emerged largely unscathed. Many commentators and Republicans themselves instead think the GOP is the biggest post-impeachment loser. Pollster John Zogby, for instance, argues that the party's handling of the issue makes it "a big-time loser for Republicans." In a February Zogby poll, 54% of respondents said "Republicans have become a party that does not respect privacy and spends too much time moralizing and investigating political opponents." Just 41% agreed that "Democrats have become a party that defends sex outside of marriage, perjury and obstruction of justice." The forgotten message of the polls It is not easy to measure the Clinton scandals' impact, of course, but surely Zogby's approach does not work. The two statements he presented simply are not opposite. With the Senate trial then underway, a poll suggesting that Republicans spend too much time investigating political opponents seems mild and measured compared with the implication that Democrats instead may approve of extramarital sex and perjury. The widespread view that Clinton is popular and the public does not care about private presidential conduct is simply wrong. Six decades of polling on the "job approval" question demonstrates that much of that "approval" may have nothing to do with the president himself but with other circumstances -- whether people are happy with the economy, for example. And in Clinton's case, there are literally scores of other questions where the public's response utterly rejects the conclusion that he is popular. In a well-designed Feb. 7-8 survey for U.S. News & World Report, respondents ranked the last nine presidents in terms of morality. Only 1% each said Dwight D. Eisenhower and Jimmy Carter set the lowest moral standard. Two percent each gave that designation to Lyndon B. Johnson and George Bush, and 4% to Ronald Reagan. Eleven percent said Kennedy and 14% Nixon. Clinton, meanwhile, scored a clear majority: 56% of respondents said he, more than any other president in the post-World War II era, set the lowest moral standard. In a Feb. 7 CBS News poll, just 13% said Clinton was innocent of the charges in the articles of impeachment. Twenty-nine percent said he was guilty and should be removed from office; 55% declared him guilty but did not want him removed. Over the last year, polls have consistently shown about 70% of the public believing Clinton should either resign (earlier on), be impeached and removed from office, or strongly censured -- hardly the response to a "popular" president. In general, the extent of the public's concern about the president's conduct has been badly understated by the failure of most polls to ask a proper array of questions, and by the way the press and much of the chattering classes generally have interpreted poll findings. Not the time to trade places If the public really does not care about Clinton's behavior and he remains popular, why is his heir apparent, Vice President Al Gore, doing poorly in trial heats for Election 2000? If there truly is a strong backlash against Republicans for harassing the president, it is remarkable that his vice president, who has stood with him steadfastly and uncritically, is reaping no reward (Chart 4). Every public poll in the last four months finds Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) leading the vice president, often by margins in the 10% to 20% range (Chart 4). Similarly, most trial heats findElizabeth Dole ahead of Gore. Clinton cannot run for president again, but a Zogby poll of mid-February sought nonetheless to measure his current electoral standing. Asked whether they would prefer Clinton and Gore or Bush and Dole, 52% opted for the Republican tandem, with just 41% for the Democrats. Taken together, then, survey data refute the view of ascendant Democrats. As for the Clinton scandals, we cannot know their legacy. But the incumbent Democratic president has paid a tremendous price in public esteem, and despite the economy's strength, his vice president lags in trial heats taken during the House impeachment proceedings and the Senate trial. In the crassest political terms, no Republican should wish to trade his party's standing for that of the Democrats as the 20th century approaches its close. Everett Carll Ladd is a professor of political science and president of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut. The views expressed here are his own and not the center's. He is also a contributing editor of IntellectualCapital.com. Related Links Two sites dubbed 2000GOP.com and Republicans.org track the efforts of Republicans to regain the White House in the year 2000. Check the Yahoo! "full coverage" page dedicated to the 2000 presidential election for the latest developments reported in an array of publications. Yahoo! also provides detailed coverage of what it has called the "Republican Shakeup". A good site for snippets and links on announced and potential presidential candidates: Presidency 2000. 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