Advantage, Democrats

Dec 18, 2008 6:59am

The Democratic Party has soared to its widest advantage over the Republicans in trust to handle the nation’s main problems in 26 years of ABC News/Washington Post polls, aided both by Barack Obama’s strong ratings and George W. Bush’s weak ones.

Fifty-six percent of Americans pick the Democrats to do a better job coping with the main challenges the nation faces over the next few years – the most in polls since 1982 – vs. 23 percent for the Republicans, their lowest on record by a substantial margin.

Preference for the GOP on this measure has dropped by 9 points just since last spring. Then the Democrats held a 21-point advantage, 53-32 percent (matching their best, in January 1993, just after Bill Clinton’s election). Now it’s grown to 33 points. And these compare to a scant 4-point average Democratic advantage in 88 ABC/Post polls to ask the question since September 1982. Check out the chart.

Partisan differences in these views underscore the Republican Party’s parlous state. While 95 percent of Democrats trust their party more to handle the nation’s main problems, only 67 percent of Republicans trust the GOP more, the fewest on record. Instead 21 percent of Republicans volunteer that they trust neither party or (for a few) both equally, or have no opinion; and 12 percent cross over to pick the Democratic Party.

     Trust more to handle main problems         Dem.     Rep.   Neither/both       Party    Party     no opin.All     56%       23        21Dems    95         2         4Inds    46        17        37Reps    12        67        21

Independents, meanwhile, break sharply in the Democrats’ favor: Forty-six percent of independents prefer the Democratic Party, while just 17 percent pick the GOP. (The rest don’t favor either party, which is what makes them independents.)

This rating is informed both by current events and longer-term trends. Most immediately, George W. Bush has just a 30 percent job approval rating, while 76 percent of Americans approve of the way Obama’s handling the presidential transition.

Moreover, Americans overwhelmingly pick the economy as the nation’s main problem – and just 24 percent approve of how Bush is handling it. Fifty-five percent, by contrast, say Obama’s off to a good start on the economy; an additional 27 percent are waiting for him actually to take office before passing judgment. Just 10 percent rate his approach as a bad one, compared with Bush’s 73 percent disapproval on the economy.

The longer-term dynamic has been a flight from Republican allegiance since 2004, in reaction to Bush and the unpopular war in Iraq. On average in 2003, after closing in for a generation, Republicans for the first time matched the Democrats in partisan allegiance. But amid growing disapproval of the war the Democrats regained the advantage a year later and have widened it since. On average in ABC/Post polls this year, 36 percent of Americans have identified themselves as Democrats, 26 percent as Republicans. It’s 37-24 percent in this poll.

That trend was reflected in the election turnout last month: Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 7 points, 39 percent to 32 percent, their largest advantage in any presidential election since 1980.

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