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Political Murder-Suicide?

In the ongoing debate over what's likely to happen in the 2010 elections, a point that I've tried to make repeatedly is that the Republican Party is exceptionally weak, and thus not in a great position to harvest discontent with Congress, the Obama administration, or the condition of the economy.  A lot of conservatives seem to think the relative unpopularity of the GOP is a temporary "hangover" from the Bush years that will gradually dissipate.

But if you look at the public opinion data on party favorability (which can all be found together at, what's striking is that the GOP's bad reputation isn't getting any better. Pew, which offers respondents a range of options that appears to boost favorability, had the GOP's total favorables at 40% in August, 40% in April, 40% in January, 39% in May of 2008, and 41% on the eve of the 2006 midterm elections. That's as flat a line as you will ever see. GOP total unfavorables for that stretch of time oscillated slightly from the high forties to the low fifties; they were at 50% in August. Meanwhile, Fox has Republican favorability actually declining, from a ratio of 45/49 just before the 2008 elections, to 41/50 in April, to 36/53 in July. The same pattern is found by CBS/New York Times, where Republicans had a favorable/unfavorable ratio of 37/54 in October of 2008, then 31/58 in April of this year, and 28/58 in June.

I won't go through all the polls in terms of Democrats, but unsurprisingly, they show the Democratic Party losing favorability in recent months, but maintaning significantly more popularity than Republicans. Pew, for example, had the Democratic Party's total favorables at 49% (versus 41% unfavorable) in August, down from 62% (versus 32% unfavorable) at the beginning of the year.

So you make the case that the recent abrasive behavior of the Republican Party may have helped damage Democrats, but isn't helping Republicans much, either. Since Republicans have a much tougher climb to make to reach anything like majority status, they are in danger of committing a political murder-suicide.

The current popularity of the GOP, moreover, is low by historical standards, particularly for a party with visions of a big landslide electoral victory just ahead. Both Ezra Klein and Brendan Nyhan have taken a look this week at the favorability ratings of the two parties in 1994, and there's absolutely no comparison to today's low ratings for the GOP. As Nyhan summed up the evidence:

Republicans are currently viewed more negatively than any minority party in the previous four midterms in terms of both net favorables and the difference in net favorables between parties.

It's possible, and perhaps even probable, that the GOP strategy for 2010 is to create a political environment so toxic and voter-alienating that Republicans can win a very low turnout election by whipping their base into a genuine frenzy. That's obviously not a very good scenario for the country, and it remains to be seen if it's even good for the GOP.

This item is cross-posted from The Democratic Strategist, where Ed Kilgore is Managing Editor.