Colorado has seen a drastic political shift in the last two years, moving from a field of elected officials dominated by Republicans to a slate that is now made up largely of Democrats. Colorado is often mentioned as an example of the so-called “New West,” where Democrats have figured out a way to beat Republicans in races large and small.
But a new poll released yesterday by the Pew Research Center suggests that the change isn’t isolated to a particular region – it’s a nationwide shift. As The Los Angeles Times reports:
Public allegiance to the Republican Party has plunged during George W. Bush’s presidency, as attitudes have edged away from some of the conservative values that fueled GOP political victories, a major survey has found.
The survey, by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, found a “dramatic shift” in political party identification since 2002, when Republicans and Democrats were at rough parity. Now, 50% of those surveyed identified with or leaned toward Democrats, whereas 35% aligned with Republicans.
What’s more, the survey found, public attitudes are drifting toward Democrats’ values: Support for government aid to the disadvantaged has grown since the mid-1990s, skepticism about the use of military force has increased and support for traditional family values has decreased. The findings suggest that the challenges for the GOP reach beyond the unpopularity of the war in Iraq and Bush.
“Iraq has played a large part; the pushback on the Republican Party has to do with Bush, but there are other things going on here that Republicans will have to contend with,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Center. “There is a difference in the landscape.”
A key question is whether the trends signal a broad and lasting change in the balance of power between the national parties or a mood swing that will pass or moderate. It remains to be seen whether Democrats can capitalize on Republican weaknesses and achieve durable political dominance.
“This is the beginning of a Democratic opportunity,” said Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “The question is whether we blow it or not.”
Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, said he believed the Pew poll exaggerated his party’s problems and that the situation would improve as attention shifted to choosing the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee. At that point, “we will have a far more level playing field than we have today,” Ayres said.
But other Republicans fear the poll signals a clear end to an era of GOP successes that began with President Reagan’s election in 1980, saw the party take control of Capitol Hill in 1994 and helped elect Bush twice.
“There are cycles in history where one party or one movement ascends for a while and then it sows the seeds of its own self-destruction,” said Bruce Bartlett, a conservative analyst and author of the 2006 book “Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.”
Bartlett added, “It’s clear we have come to an end of a Republican conservative era.”
I think that it’s a little inaccurate to say that we have come to an end of a Republican conservative era, because “conservative” is too broad a term here. It is the “traditional” conservative – the smaller government, reduced spending conservative – that is dead. The anti-homosexual, pro-life social conservative is alive and well…which is why the Republican Party is not.
Certainly the Republican Party under President Bush is not a fiscally conservative group; we’re paying for a war by borrowing money. President Bush pushes tax cuts while the deficit – a surplus when Bill Clinton left office – balloons to historic proportions. The idea of “smaller government” is a joke; there are more government programs and government employees now than ever before. There’s nothing conservative at all about the way the current administration governs the country.
Yet at the same time, the social conservative era continues. Presidential candidates like Mitt Romney and John McCain are falling over themselves trying to proclaim their anti-gay rights and anti-abortion stances.
The conservative era is not over for Republicans – it just shifted it’s focus. But with it ended the era of political dominance for the Grand Old Party.