The results of a recent Gallup survey showing Nebraska shifting from “lean Republican” to “competitive” have generated some discussion, particularly centered around the surprising percentages of Nebraskan who claim to favor Democrats and those who favor Republicans.
Here’s a comparison between the poll results, 2008 voter registration numbers and 2008 presidential election results:
Gallup survey results:
Respondents favoring Democrats: 43%
Respondents favoring Republicans: 42%
Neither / other: 15%
2008 Voter Registration:
Democrats: 34% (393,468)
Republicans: 49% (558,308)
Independents: 17% (195,459)
2008 Presidential Election Results:
Barack Obama: 42% (333,319)
John McCain: 57% (452,979)
Naturally, as outlined in Don Walton’s Journal Star story, different sides are going to have different reactions to these results, but all of the response I’ve seen seems to focus on the surge in Democrats’ numbers — whether they’re a sign of a shift in Nebraskans’ attitudes or an already-outdated relic of post-election enthusiasm. For example, there’s this recent post at Lincolnite.com, in which Mr. Wilson said
The data come from the first six months of 2009. The first few months of that period were marked by heavy Obamaphilia; skepticism and cynicism are now setting in. I suspect data from the second half of 2009 won’t be quite as favorable.
In the discussion about the accuracy of the apparent nine percent gain for Democrats, no one seems to be mentioning that there is a near inverse seven percent drop for Republicans. I can see Obama enthusiasm pulling self-identifiers from the Independent / Other category to Democrats, which it may be doing, but notice that the Independent / Other breakdown between registration and self-identification is fairly steady (17% to 15%). The obvious assumption would be that seven percent of Republicans shifted to that “other” 15%, choosing to not identify themselves with their party, and I don’t think Obama enthusiasm can tell that whole story.
But let’s say Mr. Wilson (who echoes the thoughts of Republican Chairman Mark Fahleson) is correct, and the shift is temporary Obama enthusiasm. If that assessment is accurate, it would demonstrate a relationship between Obama approval and party identification that hasn’t existed nationally.
Here is Pollster.com’s chart of Obama’s favorability rating. The peak was at the very beginning of January, with roughly 80% positive and 15% negative, and it pretty clearly drops to about 60% / 35% by the end of June.
But here is Pollster.com’s chart of national party identification. Nationwide, there is no clear relationship between Obama approval and disapproval and self-identification as a Democrat or Republican. Relative to the Obama approval, the party identification between Democrat and Republican is virtually flat.
Given there is no national trend, my knee-jerk theory is that we’re seeing two different stories with the dominant one having local origins. The Obama enthusiasm likely accounts for some Democratic boost, but there is also apparent dissatisfaction with Nebraska’s Republicans, seen in the shift away from the Republican Party. Other than Adrian Smith’s first contest, Lee Terry is the only Republican in the state who seems to attract any kind of serious competition. My suspicion is that we’re seeing the results of a long period of one-party rule. As the Journal Star editorial board said yesterday, quoting a previous staff ed from 2006,
“The Republicans are bound to get lazy, complacent and difficult for taxpayers to deal with unless they have some opposition,” we argued. “If they haven’t already.
“That’s what happens in a one-party system.”