by Todd Beeton, Sun Mar 23, 2008 at 11:36:27 AM EDT
This morning on This Week With George Stephanopoulos, Sen. Chuck Hagel rolled out the tired third way argument that voters are dis-illusioned with both parties in equal amounts. He stopped short of calling for the formation of a third party, nor did he announce he would be taking his own advice and leave the Republican Party, but he certainly advanced the typical view of post-partisan types that the two parties are viewed as equally to blame for the failures of government in recent years.
HAGEL: When a party or a leader or a philosophy about government becomes irrelevant in the eyes of the voter in that they're not fixing the problems.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's what's happened to the Republican Party?
HAGEL: I think both parties, not just the Republican Party. When you look at registered Independents today, it is not the majority of registered voters but the plurality. There are now more registered independents today in America than Democrats or Republicans. Look at the polls on congress. Our congressional approval rating poll numbers are lower than the president's. They're at historic lows. The question last week, for example, in Gallup, right way/wrong way, is America going in the right direction or wrong direction? 81% according to Gallup last week said Americans believe America's going in the wrong direction.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's been a time when the Republican Party has had the White House for 7 years.
HAGEL: So the Republican Party has to take some very significant responsibility, sure, I'm not trying to skate around that, but the point is bigger than just the Republican Party.
No doubt the figure Hagel is citing here is from the recently released Pew poll that shows Republicans with 27% party ID, Democrats with 36% and "Independents" with 37% but Hagel leaves out a few pretty important factors here.
First, from Pew's analysis:
The balance of party identification in the American electorate now favors the Democratic Party by a decidedly larger margin than in either of the two previous presidential election cycles. [...]
The share of voters who call themselves Republicans has declined by six points since 2004, and represents, on an annualized basis, the lowest percentage of self-identified Republican voters in 16 years of polling by the Center.
Second, Hagel ignores the advantage Democrats have among those unaffiliated voters.
The Democratic Party has also built a substantial edge among independent voters. Of the 37% who claim no party identification, 15% lean Democratic, 10% lean Republican, and 12% have no leaning either way.
Not to mention the trend during the 2001-2007 period of essentially single party rule during which unaffiliated voters went from 31% (in third place in party ID) to 37% (in first place.) Since 2007, that trend has leveled out while Democratic party ID has ticked up 1 point and Republican partisan ID has ticked down 1. Part of the reason this is happening of course, is that Democrats have taken control of congress. Another, perhaps more significant factor, again, one that Hagel ignores, is the excitement being generated by the Democratic nomination contest. We've seen it in state after state and it is evident in Pennsylvania as we speak:
Pennsylvania residents are registering in anticipated record numbers in advance of Monday's deadline to vote in the April 22 primary.
Democratic enrollment is up by more than 110,000 since last year's election, an increase of roughly 3 percent, state election officials said. It is likely to surpass the record of 4 million by Monday. Republicans lost about 14,000 voters in the same period.
More than 58,000 registered voters have changed their affiliation to Democratic, with about 10,000 changing to Republican. Voters must be registered in a party to vote in the state's primary.
Do guys like Hagel, McCain, Lieberman and the Broders and Brookses of the world really believe what they're selling? Certainly the increased partisan identification among unaffiliated voters provides a convenient metric by which to claim dis-illusionment with the 2-party system but to ignore the utter rejection of one party over the other and to ignore the rising tide of the Democratic brand as the excitement of our candidates sweeps the nation, is to stick their heads in the sand. As with most things, the voters are out ahead of the conventional Washington wisdom; one wonders when the rest of them will catch up.