September 18, 2008

McCain Gains On Issues, But Stalls As Candidate Of Change

Section 5: Rating The Parties

Republican Party Favorability Surges

The overall image of the Republican Party has improved substantially over the past few months. Half of all registered voters say they have a favorable view of the Republican Party, up from 40% in May. Unfavorable ratings of the Republican Party are down from 55% in May to 46% in the current poll. This is the first time since July 2005 that more voters have rated the Republican Party favorably than unfavorably.

By comparison, ratings of the Democratic Party have remained relatively stable. A majority of voters (55%) offers a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party while 41% have an unfavorable view. In May, 57% had a favorable view and 39% an unfavorable opinion.

As a result, while the Democratic Party’s image remains more positive than that of the Republican Party, the gap in favorable ratings has shrunk to only 5 points from a 17-point gap in May.

The turnaround in ratings is particularly significant among independents, and the shift in independent views occurred over the course of the convention period. Independent voters now have equally favorable opinions of both parties (50% for the Republican Party, 49% for the Democratic Party). GOP favorability is up 12 points among independents from 38% in August. In contrast, ratings of the Democratic Party are down seven points among independents from 56%. The 18-point advantage in favorability that Democrats had among independents going into the conventions has now disappeared.

The GOP’s image has also improved within its own base. As recently as May, just 74% of Republicans offered a favorable assessment of their own party, far below the 88% of Democrats who thought highly of their party at the time. Today, nine-in-ten members of both parties look upon their own party favorably, a 16-point gain in GOP favorability among Republican voters.

Republicans Still Critical of Party’s Performance

While Republicans are giving their party favorable marks overall, there remains a good deal of dissatisfaction with the party’s performance on traditional Republican issues. When Republican and Republican-leaning voters are asked how well their party is doing “standing up for its traditional positions on such things as reducing the size of government, cutting taxes and promoting conservative social values,” only 34% say the party is doing an excellent or good job and 64% say the party is doing only fair or poor.

By comparison, when Democratic and Democratic-leaning independent voters are asked how well their party is doing “standing up for its traditional positions on things such as protecting the interests of minorities, helping the poor and needy, and representing working people,” half (50%) say their party is doing an excellent or good job and 47% say the party is doing only fair or poor.

Republican ratings on this measure have declined substantially since 2004 when 64% said the party was doing an excellent or good job standing up for traditional GOP positions on issues. Democratic ratings of their party’s performance are comparable to 2004, but the current figures represent a substantial improvement from low ratings in the wake of Bush’s reelection. As recently as 2006, just 32% of Democrats gave their party high marks for standing up for traditional Democratic positions. And these ratings have improved even over the past year, from 42% in October 2007 to 50% today.