Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On the precipice of becoming irrelevant

Senator Arlen Specter has seen the handwriting on the wall. His decision to switch from the Republican Party to the Democrats is probably partly due to his personal interest in holding his seat in the wake of an ultra-conservative primary challenge. Still, his decision to switch parties handed President Obama an unexpected boost on the eve of his 100-day anniversary by giving Democrats the potential of soon having that coveted 60th Senate seat – a filibuster proof margin. But most of all, it signaled further Republican decline in the Northeast. This sends a clear warning that the GOP's complete opposition to Obama’s policies is causing long-term damage to their party and playing right into Democratic hands.

GOP prospects of limiting Obama's congressional control in 2010 grow dimmer by the day. Some initial polling already shows they may have trouble putting a dent in the solid Democratic working margin In the Senate, early analysis shows that the most endangered Senate seats next year are held mostly by Republicans. Not only are they not likely to regain a majority in 2010, recent studies of the changing American electorate underscore that Republicans face a long-term challenge because of Obama's support in the country's two fastest growing voter groups, Hispanics and the Millennial generation.

According to Meghan McCain, John McCain’s daughter, Republicans did not just lose young people during the recent election – they potentially lost them for a lifetime. The election of Obama in 2008 had the makings of a sea change, much like 1980 was for Republicans. Voters ages 18 to 30 shifted to the Democrats in massive numbers. An indication that there was something deeper going on than just Obama’s personal appeal, House Democrats won by 29 points, just five points less than Obama himself. Moreover, young voters registered overwhelmingly with the Democratic Party, and, as has been often pointed out, once voters choose a party, they stick with it more often than not.

The Democracy Corps polling group recently surveyed this group of voters to see how they were feeling today about the two parties and the competing arguments being made by Obama and Republicans:

First, the Democracy Corps survey found that young voters' support for Obama has improved markedly since the election – he is viewed favorably by a margin of 65-21, as compared with 58-31 in October. Even more impressive, his job approval ratings stand at 74-17 among these voters, at least 10 points ahead of most general surveys. Perhaps most importantly, unlike surveys of older voters, there is no drop-off between Obama's personal support and that for his policies. Young voters favor the stimulus package by a proportion of 68-20, with the same 68 percent saying they are confident it will improve their own economic situations.

Second, Democrats are building on their partisan edge among young voters. Young voters give Democrats a 32-point advantage on the economy (up eight points from 2007) and a 45-point advantage on "paying attention to issues that affect young people" (up six points from 2007). In fact, only 14% said they favor Republicans.

What is most heartening, by large numbers, the survey finds that young voters are paying close attention to what is happening in Washington, which is not surprising, given that the recession is taking a heavier toll on them than on the population as a whole. And unlike Obama, who is proposing solutions to the specific problems they are facing, they do not hear any concrete ideas from Republicans that are relevant to them. Republicans are playing the same recording they have for decades – more tax cuts for the wealthy and cut Medicaid (for the poor) and Medicare (for the aging). They seem unaware the young voters are worried about having money to attend college and, afterwards, finding good-paying jobs.

In a survey commissioned by the Peterson Foundation in February, 60% of voters 18 to 34 said that the growing budget deficit and national debt is a very big threat to our country and out future. These young voters are worried about the price they may ultimately pay for today's deficit spending, but according to the “Obama Generation” survey, they place a much higher priority on taking bold action now to jump-start the economy and invest in long-term growth.

The report on the Millennial Generation, often called the "Obama Generation," should at least cause the Republicans to rethink their negative strategy, if not absolutely scare them into dumping Jindal and Palin and finding someone on the same intellectual plane as Obama. Republicans are not only losing more ground on the issue of the day – they are, in the words of John McCain's own daughter, Meghan, "on the precipice of becoming irrelevant…."