Party Image Matters at the Ballot Box

Predictions of the Grand Old Party’s demise are exaggerated, the numbers show a party clawing its way out of the grave. Look at the simple chart below. It’s an amalgamation of two sets of numbers, all taken from a huge data of information taken from NBC News-Wall Street Journal surveys. It explains a lot.

The first thing we learn is that when the Republican party’s image has a favorable advantage over the Democratic Party (positive numbers, on the right side) like in ‘94 and ‘02, the GOP won seats in the House (54 and 7 respectively). At the same time, when the GOP’s image is net-negative compared to the Democrats, the GOP lost seats (on the left) like ‘96, ‘98, ‘00, ‘06 and ‘08 when we lost 2, 5, 2, 30 and 24 seats respectively.

The greater the GOP advantage (like ‘94) the greater the number of seats won. On the flip-side the greater the deficit (like ‘06 and ‘08) the greater the number of seats lost. Simple, and it works every time.

The first obvious conclusion is things have things have gone very badly for the GOP the last two cycles. Republicans went into ‘06 with a 17 point deficit and lost 30 seats in the House; in ‘08 the GOP had a larger 20 point deficit and lost an additional 24 seats.

So where are we now? The 46 point deficit that plagued the Republican Party just after election day has shrunk to -26 points in five months. Pessimists would read that the GOP is almost back to the point where it lost a combined 54 seats in the House between ‘06 and ‘08.

The rehabilitation of the GOP will take time, but the fact is the GOP is improving at a rate of four points a month.

While the data also shows that the pace slows once a party gains the voters they should have in the first place, in six-to-ten months the GOP could be at parity with the Democrats given the current clip. The GOP will need to do better than parity to make significant gains though: as the chart shows, the GOP needs a double-digit lead by October of ‘10 to make double-digit gains.

As a sidebar, the winning party’s advantage coasts upward AFTER election day as the public reaches a consensus that rationalizes its action at the ballot box. After the Republican Party’s sweeping wins in ‘94, its advantage over the Democrats more than doubled from +12 to +28 after election day. On the other hand, after ‘06’s losses, its deficit jumped from -17 points measured in October to -30 points in December. ‘08 was worse: the ‘20 point deficit the GOP carried into election day collapsed to -46 points after election day.

Either America doesn’t like losers after they lose or we all want to be on the winning team. Either way, the result is the same and reflected in the comparison.

The image of the Republican Party is not the only thing that’s on the mend – we’ve seen similar closing in the generic congressional ballot in recent months – now tied to -5{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} for Republicans.


Public Opinion Strategies