In a Gallup poll released Wednesday, approval of the Republican Party fell to 37 percent, down from 43 percent in November. That decline, combined with a slight uptick in the Democrats’ favorability, gives Joe Biden’s party its first double-digit advantage in voter approval since the government shutdown of 2013.
Polling has become an increasingly unreliable gauge of the electorate’s mood in recent years, as ordinary Americans have become more and more averse to answering calls from unknown numbers (likely due to a rise in automated scam calls and decline in social trust). But recent changes in party registration lend credence to Gallup’s findings.
According to an analysis from the New York Times, 140,000 Republican voters across the 25 states that make such records available changed their partisan affiliations in January, with movement away from the GOP accelerating in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 riot. In Arizona, 233 Republican voters switched their registrations during the first five days of last month; in the week following the Capitol Hill insurrection, that number swelled to 3,317. Another purple Sun Belt state, North Carolina, saw 3,007 Republicans change their registrations in the first week after the riot, and 2,850 more do so in the week after that.
Of course, 140,000 party switchers, in an electorate of over 155 million, is a negligible development in and of itself, especially considering that 79,000 voters exited the Democratic Party over the same period. But the exodus from the GOP is nevertheless larger than parties typically suffer in the wake of a presidential defeat. And Gallup’s findings suggest that the wave of formal defections from the party may signify a broader informal movement away from the GOP: The Republicans’ declining approval was concentrated entirely among its own voters, as just 78 percent of self-identified GOP voters voiced approval for the party, down from 90 percent in November.
If the Republican Party is unpopular, its fiscal policies are even more so. A CBS News survey released Wednesday found that 79 percent of voters consider Joe Biden’s COVID relief package either “about right” in scale, or not large enough — while just 20 percent endorse the congressional GOP’s view that the bill is “too much.” Among independent voters, 44 percent say the bill isn’t large enough, 34 percent say it is about right, and just 22 percent say it is too large.
It’s possible that the GOP’s opposition to Biden’s largely popular relief priorities is alienating voters as much as the party’s softness on insurrectionary violence is. As the Times reports:
Among those who recently left the party are Juan Nunez, 56, an Army veteran in Mechanicsburg, Pa. He said he had long felt that the difference between the United States and many other countries was that campaign-season fighting ended on Election Day, when all sides would peacefully accept the result. The Jan. 6 riot changed that, he said.
… Mr. Nunez … said his disgust with the Capitol riot was compounded when Republicans in Congress continued to push back on sending stimulus checks and staunchly opposed raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
All this said, it’s important to keep the GOP’s current woes in perspective. Despite losing the popular vote by nearly 4.5 percent in November, Republicans still gained seats in the House, retained 50 votes in the Senate, and flipped some state legislatures. Unless Democrats overcome the midterm turnout decline that has bedeviled the president’s party in virtually every off-year election for decades, redistricting alone may prove sufficient to give Republicans control of the House. And if normal midterm dynamics apply in 2022, the GOP will have an excellent shot of regaining the Senate majority. Finally, if the Electoral College’s 2020 bias holds, the Republican nominee in 2024 will be favored to win the presidency if he or she loses the popular vote by “only” 3.5 percent.
Given the party’s extraordinary structural advantages, the GOP doesn’t need to become more popular to regain power. And anyhow, the party’s current polling woes aren’t significantly worse than they were at this point in 2009. Twelve years ago, a Republican president had just left office with a 22 percent approval rating, and Gallup had voter approval of the GOP at 36 percent. Less than two years later, Republicans won a landslide victory in the 2010 midterm. The last time Democrats boasted a double-digit advantage in approval over Republicans, meanwhile, was October 2013; 13 months later, Republicans recaptured the Senate.
It’s entirely possible that this time will be different: If Biden presides over a post-pandemic boom, while Trumpists keep pulling their party toward the conspiracist fringe, perhaps the GOP’s unpopularity will grow vast enough to overwhelm the systematic overrepresentation of its core constituencies at every level of government. But Democrats would be foolish to bank on that. Rather, they must pass reforms that increase the political influence of America’s anti-conservative majority while the party of insurrection is still down.