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Thursday, February 08, 2007

New Harris Poll: Democrats' Ranks Are Growing

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- For the second straight year, the number of Americans who consider themselves Republicans has eroded. A new Harris Poll for 2006 shows the Democrats have grown their lead in party affiliation, and more people considered themselves aligned with the political party than at any point since 1998.

White House political operative Karl Rove in 2004 and 2005 was on the stump pushing his idea that the GOP could create a political realignment that would put it in power for years, maybe a generation. But this data seems to say that Rove is a pipe-dreamer who never was the architect of realignment. In fact, the shift is going the other way.

Still, the Dems shouldn't start popping corks, or at least the party's liberal wing. Liberalism remains the L-word in American politics. The nation's two biggest blocs of political ideology are conservative and moderate and the percentage of conservatives increased last year. The polls did not seem to measure what proportion of the population would be "progressive," a label that is heard with increasing frequency after being revived during this decade. Progressives were big in the early 20th Century, but the label fell out of use.

"While Democrats have increased their lead over
Republicans, conservatives continue to outnumber liberals by a wide margin (37% to 19%), a slight increase from a 34 to 20 percent margin in 2005. Moderates have dropped and now are even with conservatives at 37 percent. This is a change from 2005, when they outnumbered conservatives by a modest 42 to 37 percent margin,"
Harris reported.

Looking back through the Harris data, conservatism peaked in 1995, when 40 percent of Americans aligned themselves with the philosophy. The polling company said the trend over the past 37 years has shown that Democrats once had a huge majority in party affliation that melted away. But they seem to have reversed their decline.

"The Democratic lead over Republicans has fallen from 21 percentage points in the 1970s, to 11 points in the 1980s and seven points in the 1990s. The lead has averaged six percentage points in the 2000s." Clearly, the 9% spread this year is a good sign for the party. But the polling also shows the center -- the moderates -- has shrunk. And just 24% of Americans consider themselves political independents, a huge shift from the 1970s, when nearly half the nation would not claim allegiance to either major party.

The entire poll is HERE. Harris did the poll by telephone between February and November 2006, and said it reached a nationwide cross section of 10,032 voting age adults. The company has been conducting the poll since 1968, but says data for six years are missing -- 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1993 and 1994.

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