Not trusting polls because of the ’04 exit polling debacle, I suspended belief when likely voter models in tracking polls showed a 39D/33R difference in party identification. Skeptics in diaries here and elsewhere pointed out that 2004, a year when Democrats were fired up, saw evenly split ID, 37D/37R.
But this time, the polls were dead on. The tracking polls showed a 7 point win, the difference in the popular vote was about that, and party identification differed by 7 percent.
The shift in ID equal to the margin of victory exposes the GOP collapse.
The CNN 2004 exit poll showed no advantage for either party in voter identification, but Tuesday’s 2008 exit poll showed the 7 point advantage, essentially the entire winning margin of voters who identify themselves as Democrats.
As Sidney Blumenthal writes in this column echoing his new book, The Strange Death of Republican America: Chronicles of a Collapsing Party,
Despite the daily tracking-polls and the back-and-forth of the candidates, the underlying story of the 2008 presidential campaign has until the very day of the election remained the Bush presidency and how it brought about the end of the long era of Republican political dominance that began in 1968 with the election of Richard Nixon. That story is the subject of my book, The Strange Death of Republican America: Chronicles of a Collapsing Party.
Bush has the lowest sustained popularity among modern presidents. The Republican Party has fallen farther behind the Democratic Party in party identification and favorable ratings than it has in decades. Democrats are poised to make dramatic gains in their numbers in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The previously little-known Senator Barack Obama could have vaulted to become the Democratic nominee only as a response to Bush. Senator John McCain’s emergence as the Republican nominee is also one of Bush’s consequences. Without the crackup of the conservative movement and the fragmentation of the Republican primary field, McCain would not have had his opening. His candidacy is as much a manifestation of the shattering of the Republican phalanx as Obama’s. Whatever the outcome of their contest, the party as it was is over. Today no one can even envision when the Republicans will control the presidency and both houses of the Congress as they did as recently as 2006.
Bush ruined the GOP brand, so laboriously constructed and maintained following Goldwater’s 1964 defeat. From WMDs to Katrina to the Coalition Provisional Authority to the failure to find bin Ladin to the mortgage crisis to the energy crisis to the Wall Street meltdown, America is through with its tolerance for conservative national government. Voters now want solutions from the government, and tune out the 40 year GOP mantra of taxes, big government and socialism. The debate audience tracking meter showed big trouble for the GOP when independent female voters reliably pegged the meter every time Obama offered (often Hillary’s) solutions.
Hispanics in particular were turned off by what they’ve seen, giving McCain only 31% in 2008 to Bush’s 44% in 2004.
The 7% difference in party ID turned out to be a structural element that made it nearly impossible for a Republican to win or a Democrat to lose.
The CNN exit poll shows that people made up their minds weeks ago and earlier polling shows that party ID has been stable. The 7% who were late-deciders split evenly. This election was decided well before the campaign, maybe before it even started. (Bradley effect: exactly zero)
Through this lens, the past year seems like a big waste of money. Certainly McCain being outspent by 8X did not produce proportionate results: the margin of victory was the same as the difference in party ID. Contrary to earlier promises, independents and Republicans did not cross over in unusual numbers.
We used to joke that the conditions in 2000 and 2004 were such that the GOP could win with a trained chimp.
Well, that trained chimp did things so poorly that this year, anything that resembled a donkey could win.
I wonder how much we would have over-performed above the gap in party ID if we’d had a different candidate?