The FINANCIAL — Americans’ opinions of the two major political parties are now similar after the Democratic Party’s ratings slipped to 40% — from 45% last November — while the Republican Party’s image is essentially unchanged at 39%.
The latest update on the party’s images is based on a May 3-7 Gallup poll, which asked Americans whether they have a favorable or an unfavorable opinion of each party.
Throughout last year’s contentious presidential election campaign, U.S. adults rated neither party highly. In fact, more rated each party unfavorably than favorably. But Democrats maintained a slight edge in favorable ratings, including 45% to 40% in Gallup’s prior measurement, conducted last November after Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, according to Gallup.
So far, Trump’s unpopularity as president has done little to erode Americans’ views of the GOP, perhaps because they were already quite negative. However, Americans are now less positive toward the Democratic Party than they were last fall.
The decline in Democratic Party favorability is mostly a result of lower ratings from self-identified Democrats. In November, 83% of Democrats had a positive opinion of the Democratic Party; now, 77% do. Independents are also slightly less positive toward the Democratic Party, while Republicans’ negative views of the opposing party are steady.
Currently, 79% of Republicans have a favorable opinion of their preferred party. Thirty-three percent of independents and 9% of Democrats rate the Republican Party favorably.
Americans Usually Rate Democratic Party Better Than Republican Party
Gallup has asked Americans to evaluate the political parties using the favorable/unfavorable format since 1992. Over time, Democratic Party and Republican Party favorability have averaged 50% and 44%, respectively, indicating that both parties’ current ratings are below their historical norms.
The historical statistics also make clear that Democrats’ ratings usually exceed Republicans’ ratings — by six percentage points, on average.
The Democrats’ image was significantly more favorable than Republicans’ in 1998 and 1999 when the GOP led impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton, in 2006 through 2009 near the end of the George W. Bush administration and beginning of the Barack Obama administration, and from late 2012 after Obama’s re-election through early 2014.
Republicans have yet to enjoy a sustained period of time in which their favorable ratings significantly exceed those for the Democratic Party. There were a few brief eras when Republican and Democratic Party ratings were similar, including:
2002 and 2003, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks led to a rally in support of elected leaders, including then-President George W. Bush
late 2004 and early 2005, during and shortly after Bush’s successful re-election campaign
2010 and 2011 after the GOP won control of the U.S. House of Representatives amid frustration with Obama and the Affordable Care Act
The Democratic Party’s typical favorability advantage to a large degree reflects its usual lead in party identification among U.S. adults.
Americans are quite negative toward both of the major political parties at this time. Trump’s unpopularity and the GOP’s challenges in governing a divided nation have done little to weaken the party’s poor image further. But those same factors have also done little to cast the opposing party, the Democrats, in a more favorable light.
If anything, the Democratic Party’s positioning appears weakened, largely because its own supporters now hold a less positive view of the party. That could indicate Democrats are frustrated with the party’s minority status in Washington. Not since 2003 through 2006 have Democrats failed to control the presidency, House of Representatives or Senate. Prior to that, Democrats had control of either Congress or the presidency for more than 50 years.
Next year Democrats will have a chance to change their minority party status in the federal midterm elections. Midterm elections are often a referendum on the president, so Democrats’ prospects for a strong showing are enhanced by Trump’s low approval ratings. However, if Democrats cannot improve their party’s image between now and November 2018, it may hinder their ability to regain some measure of power in Washington.
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