Democratic Party Image Takes a Post-Election Hit

by Lydia Saad

Most Democrats want party to strike "moderate" rather than "liberal" tone

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- As Democratic congressional members assemble today to choose their party's leaders for the U.S. House and Senate, a Gallup Poll highlights the challenge those leaders face in restoring public support for the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party's image is far from terrible, but, after an election in which the Republicans captured full control of Congress, the Democrats' standing with the public falls short of the Republicans' in many areas.

According to Gallup's first post-election poll, conducted Nov. 8-10, less than half of Americans view Democrats favorably or believe that the Democratic leaders in the U.S. House and Senate would move the country in the right direction. More Americans are now dissatisfied with the Democrats' political ideology than agree with it, and less than one-third say the party has a clear plan for solving the country's problems. On the important issue of terrorism, a majority of Americans believe the Democrats are not tough enough.

It is said that everybody loves a winner, and, indeed, in contrast with the Democrats, the triumphant Republican Party appears to be in an enviable position with the public at this point. A solid majority of Americans express confidence in President Bush and the Republicans to lead the country in the right direction. A majority of Americans say they have a positive impression of the Republican Party and agree with its general political ideology. More Americans than not believe the Republicans have a clear plan for solving the country's problems. And a solid majority believes the Republicans are sufficiently tough in dealing with the threat of terrorism.

Still, it is quite possible that some of the current contrast between the Republicans and Democrats could be short- lived if public opinion follows the pattern observed after 1994. Immediately after the 1994 midterm elections (in which the Republicans took control of the U.S. House for the first time in decades), Gallup recorded a sharp increase in the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Republicans, and found large numbers expressing support for Republican leadership and ideology. By November of the following year, the Republican advantage in these areas had fallen considerably.

It is not clear whether the current situation reflects Election Day attitudes or is the result of post-election images of a Democratic Party largely demoralized and in disarray. What is clear is that more Americans currently identify themselves as Republicans than did so immediately before the election (49% compared with 44%). The proportion of Democratic identifiers has fallen to 40% from 47% just prior to the election.

Overall Image

  • The Republican Party's image, based on the percentage of Americans who give it a "favorable" rating, remains at the same positive level as seen in late October (54% favorable today), but the Democrats' image has fallen 10 points, from 58% favorable in late October to 48% favorable today.
Favorable Rating Pre/Post Election
  • Unlike at some points historically, the public is more likely to describe the ideology of the Republican Party today as "about right" than to describe the Democratic Party this way. The percentage of Americans calling the GOP "too conservative" is currently 34%, lower than the 39% who consider the Democratic Party "too liberal."
Perception of Political Views of Major Parties
Nov 8-10, 2002

In contrast to today, for most of the period since 1992 that Gallup has asked this question, the public has seen the Democratic Party as more mainstream in its views than the Republican Party. One exception to this was observed after the 1994 election when the percentage of Americans describing the political views of the Republicans as "about right" surged, while the Democrats were widely tagged as "too liberal." But within a year after the 1994 election, the more typical pattern of views was restored.

Leadership Ratings

  • Republicans now have a slight edge on a question that asks whether the country would be better off with a Republican- or Democrat-controlled Congress. In late October, the two parties were more closely matched on this question. However it is worth noting that nearly as many people say it does not matter which party is in charge, as pick one of the two major parties (47% vs. 50%).
Congress Better Off With Which Party in Charge?
  • Also, President Bush and the Republican leaders in Congress are more widely perceived than the Democratic leaders as having polices that the public believes "would move the country in the right direction." The Republicans currently beat the Democrats by 10 points on this measure, 57% to 47%. Of course, the reference to Bush in this question could account for the Republicans' advantage, but that link between Bush and the Republican Congress is the reality Democrats face.
Direction Policies Would Take U.S.
Nov 8-10, 2002
  • The Republicans have a solid advantage today in the public's perception that they are prepared to lead. Half of Americans believe the Republican Party has a clear plan to solve the country's problems, compared with only 30% who say this of the Democrats.
Has Clear Plan for Solving U.S. Problems
Nov 8-10, 2002
  • On the specific issue of terrorism, arguably the decisive issue working in Republican candidates' favor on Election Day, the Republican Party's perceived leadership is particularly strong. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) believe the GOP is tough enough on the issue of terrorism. Only 34% believe the Democrats are tough enough.
Policies Regarding Threat of Terrorism
Nov 8-10, 2002

Rank-and-File Democrats

Given this difficult landscape, what strategy would rank-and-file Democrats like to see their party follow in the next few years? That's a key question for the new Democratic leadership in the House and Senate.

Despite some post-election criticism of outgoing House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt for not drawing clear enough distinctions between the Democrats and President Bush, only 37% of Democrats nationwide say the party should become more confrontational with Bush. Most Democrats think the party should either maintain its current stance (38% hold this specific view), or support Bush even more than it has (22%).

Assuming that continuing with their current strategy is a losing strategy, the choice for the Democratic caucus comes down to moving to the left (with Minority Leader candidate Nancy Pelosi of California staking out this position) versus moving to the right (a strategy promoted by "moderate" Democratic underdogs Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio). Given this choice, a clear majority of Democrats indicate their party should move to the right. Fifty-four percent say the Democratic leaders in Congress should promote policies that are more moderate; only 39% say they should be more liberal.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,014 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 8-10, 2002. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Next, please tell me whether you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of each of the following parties. How about -- [ITEMS ROTATED]?

A. The Republican Party

 

Favorable

Unfavorable

Never heard of

No opinion

%

%

%

%

(NA) 2002 Nov 8-10

54

38

*

8

(NA) 2002 Oct 21-22

53

35

*

12

(NA) 2002 Sep 5-8

54

40

0

6

(NA) 2002 Jul 26-28

55

36

*

9

(NA) 2002 Jan 11-14

61

30

*

9

(NA) 2001 Sep 7-10

47

48

*

5

(NA) 2000 Nov 13-15

49

43

*

8

(NA) 2000 Aug 4-5

54

37

1

8

(NA) 2000 Jul 25-26

49

39

*

12

(NA) 2000 Jan 7-10

53

41

*

6

(NA) 1999 Nov 18-21

50

44

*

6

(NA) 1999 Apr 30-May 2

47

44

*

9

(NA) 1999 Feb 19-21

45

46

0

9

(NA) 1999 Feb 12-13

40

54

1

5

(NA) 1999 Feb 4-8

45

47

*

8

(NA) 1999 Jan 8-10

40

52

*

8

(NA) 1998 Dec 19-20

31

57

*

12

(NA) 1998 Dec 15-16

43

47

2

8

(NA) 1997 Oct 27-29

50

42

*

8

(RV) 1996 Aug 30-Sep 1

50

45

*

5

(RV) 1996 Aug 16-18

55

41

1

2

(RV) 1996 Aug 5-7

51

44

*

5

(NA) 1996 Apr 9-10

52

41

*

7

(NA) 1995 Apr 17-19

52

42

*

6

(RV) 1992 Jul 6-8

53

39

*

8



B. The Democratic Party

 

Favorable

Unfavorable

Never heard of

No opinion

%

%

%

%

(NA) 2002 Nov 8-10

48

42

0

10

(NA) 2002 Oct 21-22

58

30

*

12

(NA) 2002 Sep 5-8

56

38

0

6

(NA) 2002 Jul 26-28

55

34

*

11

(NA) 2002 Jan 11-14

55

33

*

12

(NA) 2001 Sep 7-10

56

38

*

6

(NA) 2000 Nov 13-15

53

38

1

8

(NA) 2000 Aug 4-5

53

38

1

8

(NA) 2000 Jul 25-26

56

35

*

9

(NA) 2000 Jan 7-10

61

33

*

6

(NA) 1999 Nov 18-21

51

41

*

8

(NA) 1999 Apr 30-May 2

53

37

1

9

(NA) 1999 Feb 19-21

55

37

0

8

(NA) 1999 Feb 12-13

56

38

*

6

(NA) 1999 Feb 4-8

57

37

*

6

(NA) 1999 Jan 8-10

57

35

*

8

(NA) 1998 Dec 19-20

57

30

*

13

(NA) 1998 Dec 15-16

58

32

2

8

(NA) 1997 Oct 27-29

54

39

*

7

(RV) 1996 Aug 30-Sep 1

60

36

*

4

(RV) 1996 Aug 16-18

55

41

1

3

(RV) 1996 Aug 5-7

57

38

1

4

(NA) 1996 Apr 9-10

55

38

0

7

(NA) 1995 Apr 17-19

51

43

*

6

(RV) 1992 Jul 6-8

54

38

*

8



Do you think the policies being proposed by -- [ROTATED: President Bush and the Republican leaders in the U.S. House and Senate/the Democratic leaders in the U.S. House and Senate] -- would move the country in the right direction or in the wrong direction?

A. President Bush and the Republican leaders in the U.S. House and Senate

 

Right direction

Wrong direction

No opinion

%

%

%

National Adults

(NA) 2002 Nov 8-10

57

31

12

(NA) 2001 Aug 24-26 ^

49

38

13

(NA) 1999 Oct 8-10 ^

54

35

11

(NA) 1998 Nov 13-15 ^

43

40

17

(NA) 1998 Oct 23-25 ^

47

33

20

(NA) 1998 Jul 7-8 ^

43

28

29

(NA) 1997 Dec 18-21 ^

44

36

20

(NA) 1997 Apr 18-20 ^

46

39

15

(NA) 1996 Apr 9-10 ^

45

41

14

(NA) 1995 Dec 15-18 ^

44

44

12

(NA) 1995 Nov 6-8 ^

44

41

15

(NA) 1995 Sep 22-24 ^

41

44

15

(NA) 1995 Mar 27-29 ^

53

37

10

(NA) 1995 Feb 24-26 ^

52

33

15

(NA) 1994 Nov 28-29 ^

55

27

18

^

1994-2001 WORDING: Do you think the policies being proposed by the Republican leaders in the U.S. House and Senate would move the country in the right direction or in the wrong direction?

1994-1999: Asked as a stand-alone question.



B. The Democratic leaders in the U.S. House and Senate

 

Right direction

Wrong direction

No opinion

%

%

%

National Adults

(NA) 2002 Nov 8-10

47

36

17

(NA) 2001 Aug 24-26

51

36

13



Do you think the country would be better off if the Republicans controlled Congress, if the Democrats controlled Congress, or would the country be the same regardless of which party controlled Congress?

 


Republicans


Democrats

Same
regardless

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

National Adults

(NA) 2002 Nov 8-10

28

22

47

3

(NA) 2002 Oct 31-Nov 3

25

27

42

6

(NA) 1998 Oct 23-25

24

22

48

6

Registered Voters

(RV) 2002 Nov 8-10

30

23

44

3

(RV) 2002 Oct 31-Nov 3

27

28

40

5

(RV) 1998 Oct 23-25

25

23

47

5



In general, do you think the political views of [ROTATED: the Republican Party/the Democratic Party]are too conservative, too liberal, or about right?

A. The Republican Party

 

Too conservative

Too
liberal

About
right

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

(NA) 2002 Nov 8-10

34

10

51

5

(NA) 1999 Feb 12-13

39

12

45

4

(NA) 1998 Nov 13-15

39

15

41

5

(NA) 1996 Oct 26-29

41

13

41

5

(NA) 1995 Nov 6-8

38

18

37

7

(NA) 1995 Mar

32

14

48

6

(NA) 1994 Nov 28-29

31

11

54

4

(NA) 1994 Nov 2-6

34

13

44

9

(NA) 1994 Oct 22-25

35

15

44

6

(NA) 1992 Aug 19-20

39

12

38

11



B. The Democratic Party

 

Too conservative

Too
liberal

About
right

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

(NA) 2002 Nov 8-10

11

39

45

5

(NA) 1999 Feb 12-13

6

36

55

3

(NA) 1998 Nov 13-15

9

37

50

4

(NA) 1996 Oct 26-29

7

40

49

4

(NA) 1995 Nov 6-8

12

38

43

7

(NA) 1994 Nov 28-29

13

50

32

5

(NA) 1994 Nov 2-6

10

42

40

8

(NA) 1994 Oct 22-25

10

45

40

5

(NA) 1992 Aug 19-20

8

37

46

9



Do you think the [ROTATED: the Republican Party/the Democratic Party] does -- or does not -- have a clear plan for solving the country's problems?

BASED ON --495-- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

A. The Republican Party

 

Yes, does

No, does not

No opinion

(NA) 2002 Nov 8-10

50%

42

8



B. The Democratic Party

 

Yes, does

No, has not

No opinion

(NA) 2002 Nov 8-10

30%

60

10



Do you, yourself, have a clear idea what -- [ROTATED: the Republican Party/the Democratic Party] -- stands for, or not?

BASED ON --519-- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B

A. The Republican Party

 

Yes, have clear idea

No, do not

No opinion

(NA) 2002 Nov 8-10

69%

30

1



B. The Democratic Party

 

Yes, have clear idea

No, do not

No opinion

(NA) 2002 Nov 8-10

65%

34

1



When it comes to dealing with the threat of terrorism, do you think that the Republicans are tough enough -- or not tough enough?

BASED ON --495-- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

 

Tough
enough

Not tough

enough

Too tough (vol.)

No
opinion

(NA) 2002 Nov 8-10

64%

27

3

6



When it comes to dealing with the threat of terrorism, do you think that the Democrats are tough enough -- or not tough enough?

BASED ON --519-- NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B

 

Tough
enough

Not tough

enough

Too tough (vol.)

No
opinion

(NA) 2002 Nov 8-10

34%

57

1

8



Do you think the Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate should -- [ROTATED: support George W. Bush more than they have in the past two years, support Bush about as much as they have, or oppose George W. Bush more than they have in the past two years]?

BASED ON --416-- DEMOCRATS OR DEMOCRATIC LEANERS

 

Support
more

Support
as much

Oppose
more

No
opinion

2002 Nov 8-10

22%

38

37

3



In the next session of Congress, do you think the Democratic leaders in Congress should promote policies that are -- [ROTATED: more moderate, (or) more liberal]?

BASED ON --416-- DEMOCRATS OR DEMOCRATIC LEANERS

 

More moderate

More liberal

No opinion

2002 Nov 8-10

54%

39

7



Next, I'm going to read a list of people who may be running in the Democratic primary for president in the next election. After I read all the names, please tell me which of those candidates you would be most likely to support for the Democratic nomination for President in the year 2004. [ROTATED:Former Vice president, Al Gore, Massachusetts Senator, John Kerry, Connecticut Senator, Joe Lieberman, North Carolina Senator, John Edwards, Missouri Congressman, Dick Gephardt, Senate Democratic Leader, Tom Daschle, Vermont Governor, Howard Dean]

 

BASED ON --416-- DEMOCRATS OR DEMOCRATIC LEANERS

 

2002 Nov 8-10

National Adults

Registered Voters

%

%

Al Gore

38

36

Joe Lieberman

13

12

Tom Daschle

12

12

John Kerry

12

12

Dick Gephardt

8

9

John Edwards

3

4

Howard Dean

3

4

Other

1

1

No One

3

3

No Opinion

7

7



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