A Ginned-Up GOP!

We all know in a presidential election year there is a surge in the number of people following political news and the intensity with which they’re paying attention to it. This is usually followed by a precipitous drop in the year that follows as the big decision has been made and Americans can continue going about their business as usual.

In this respect, the 2008 election was no different, nor is this year following it. Gallup national survey tracking shows that 43% of Americans say they “very closely” followed news about national politics last year, up from 30% in 2007. Not surprisingly, this 2008 rating is the highest Gallup has ever recorded since tracking on this measure began in 2001.

As Gallup no doubt predicted, their latest survey* shows that number has dropped back down to 36%. However, this is the same percentage who reported following national political news “very closely” in the last presidential election (36% in 2004), and it is the highest “off-year” rating ever measured. What’s going on?

Well, there are the usual demographic differences one might expect – men, older adults, and those with higher income and education levels are paying more attention to national political news than women, younger adults, and those who have lower income and education levels. And, over time, Americans of all political stripes have reported following political news more closely.

However, what’s driving this year’s unusually high number is the surge in Republican interest. In 2005, the last year following a presidential election, Republicans, Independents, and Democrats all reported roughly the same level of interest in the news. But this year, four-in-ten Republicans say they are following national political news “very closely” – up 15 points from 2005, and fully 11 points higher than their Democratic counterparts today.

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Independents are also responsible for part of this higher number, and you know from my posting last week they are starting to turn on the president because of too much government intervention and spending. The combination of this Republican intensity and Independents beginning to desert President Obama is starting to translate to the ballot measure for 2010.

In our latest NBC/WSJ poll** the gap on the generic Congressional ballot is as close as we have measured since 2004 – just three points separate voters on a preference for Republican (40%) or Democratic (43%) control of Congress, with Independents preferring Republican control for the first time this year. This unrest among the electorate is not lost on those who would seek political office. Every day we’re seeing more and more Republican candidates around the country deciding to throw their hat in the ring, signaling there will be some interesting and exciting races next year.

Republicans don’t have the wind at their back as the Democrats did last election cycle…yet. But if the Obama Administration continues with its big government, big spending agenda they could well be paying the price next November when Republicans and Independents show up to register their dissatisfaction.

*National survey of 1,026 adults, conducted August 31 – September2, 2009.
**National survey of 1,005 adults conducted September 17-20, 2009. Congressional ballot results among registered voters only.
(Public Opinion Strategies partners with Peter D. Hart Research Associates to conduct the NBC/WSJ polls. Neither Peter D. Hart Research Associates nor NBC/WSJ are responsible for these conclusions.)