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Democratic Party Maintains Solid Image Advantage Over GOP

Democratic Party Maintains Solid Image Advantage Over GOP

Public Prefers Democratic Party to Republican for handling terrorism, military security


PRINCETON, NJ -- Public attitudes toward the two major political parties have not changed much in recent months. That's good news for the Democratic Party, which moved into a superior image position when compared to the Republican Party more than a year ago. Americans not only continue to view the Democratic Party more favorably than the Republican Party in general terms, but they also choose the Democratic party as the preferred party for maintaining the nation's economic prosperity. And, in a departure from recent history, Americans see the Democrats as the political party better able to protect the country from terrorism.

According to Gallup's annual Governance survey, conducted Sept. 14-16, 2007, the Democratic Party enjoys a 15-point lead over the Republicans in overall favorability, 53% vs. 38%. 

These ratings are nearly identical to those obtained during July 2007.

Gallup's frequent measurement of party favorability in recent years shows that favorable views of the two major parties were fairly balanced between January 2003 and February 2005. In this period, positive ratings of both parties typically ranged between 47% and 55%, with a high rating of 56% for the Republicans in 2003 (shortly after the start of the Iraq War) and a high rating of 59% for the Democrats in January 2004 (immediately following the New Hampshire Democratic primary).

However, starting in the second half of 2005, the public's positive image of the Republican Party began to show signs of decline. Since April 2006, the Democrats have maintained a consistently strong advantage in favorability, averaging about 14 points. 

The recent gain in the Democratic Party's image advantage is due primarily to a sharp decline in Americans' favorable perceptions of the Republican Party more than an improvement in the public's perception of the Democrats.

This is particularly evident when looking at annual averages of the favorable ratings for each party. Between 2002 and today, the percentage of Americans with a favorable view of the Republican Party fell from 54.7% to 38.7% -- a 16-percentage point decline. (This was after a sharp rise in Republican Party ratings between 2001 and 2002 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.) Over the same period, the Democrats' average favorable rating barely changed, falling by 1 percentage point (from 54.0% to 53.0%). 

Party of Prosperity

For more than a half century Gallup has asked Americans whether the Republican Party or Democratic Party would do the better job keeping the country prosperous. Since 2001 the Democrat Party has either tied or led the Republicans on this measure. However, that lead expanded significantly between September 2005 and September 2006, from 5 points to 17 points, and is currently 20 points. Fifty-four percent of Americans now say the Democrats would do the better job, compared with only 34% choosing the Republicans. 

Party of National Security

Through this period of decline in the Republicans' overall favorability, one enduring strength for the GOP has been the perception that it is the better party for handling international terrorism and national defense. One year after the 9/11 attacks, the Republicans had a 19-point lead over the Democrats in this area. That lead gradually sank to a statistically non-significant 2-point lead in 2006.

This year, for the first time since Gallup started asking this question in 2002, more Americans say the Democratic Party will do a better job than the Republican Party of protecting the country from security threats, 47% vs. 42%. These results mirror those Gallup obtained last October when it found a 46%-41% advantage for "the Democrats in Congress" over "the Republicans in Congress" when Americans were asked which representatives do the better job handling terrorism. Thus, Democrats likely gained the upper hand on the terrorism issue last fall just before the elections, and have been able to maintain that slim advantage since then.  

Tethered to the Party Leader

The recent declines in public preferences for the Republican Party on the economy and terrorism run parallel to the decline of the Republican Party's overall favorability.  

In turn, public perceptions of the Republican Party appear to be strongly linked to the popularity of the most visible face of the Republican Party for Americans, President George W. Bush. In fact, for most of the past several years, the Republican Party's favorable ratings and Bush's job approval rating have been nearly identical.  

That strong link has not always been the case. In the period from 9/11 until the end of 2003, Americans rated President Bush much more positively than the Republican Party more generally, even though both received an image boost post-9/11.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 14-16, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error 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.

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