For Democrats, opportunity and risk

New analysis from Democracy Corps says that the Republican revolution is on the ropes -- but that the Democrats can't capitalize unless they position themselves as the party of change.

Published July 7, 2005 12:10PM (EDT)

There's good news and bad news for Democrats in the latest poll and analysis from James Carville and Stanley Greenberg at Democracy Corps.

We begin with the good news:

The Republican revolution has "lost its hold on the American people," Carville and Greenberg say. "All the moorings have been loosened: Iraq, Bush's front line in the war on terrorism, is deeply unpopular (56 percent not worth it); Bush's economy, led by tax cuts, is seen to leave most Americans stuck with limited opportunities (58 percent); his supporters' partisanship and religious zealotry, most think, have gone miles too far; and his efforts to 'reform' the New Deal welfare state, Social Security privatization, are supported by only a third of the country.

"As a result, this is a country almost settled on the need for change. Over three surveys in three months, Democracy Corps national surveys show 55 percent wanting to go in a different direction than President Bush, with only 41 percent wanting to continue with his course  10 points below his vote of eight months ago. Other key indicators for the Bush presidency continue to worsen. By a 20-point margin  a near-record for Bush  voters think the country is seriously off on the wrong track (56 to 36 percent). And for the first time in Bushs second term, disapproval of his performance exceeds approval. That has allowed Democrats to move into a consistent five-point lead in a hypothetical congressional contest, again, confirmed in the last three surveys."

It's all good, right? Not quite. Despite the Republicans' troubles, Greenberg and Carville say that Democrats risk making "only modest gains" in 2006. "The Democrats gains in the congressional battle have come more from Republican slippage than Democratic gains and, alarmingly, the presidents deep troubles have produced no rise in positive sentiment about the Democrats. Their thermometer ratings are significantly below 2004, with equal numbers offering warm and cool response to the party. The positive ratings (38 percent) are five points below that for the Republicans."

That's the Democracy Corps diagnosis. What's the cure? Greenberg and Carville say that Democrats must move "decisively to a new stage of engagement." That means positioning themselves not just as the party of opposition but as the party of change as well. "The Democrats can define the Republicans in this election and do moderately well," Greenberg and Carville write, "but they will not gain a decisive advantage unless their battles leave the Democrats defined as a party ready to clean house, empower the middle class over the big corporate interests in Washington, make the economy work for everyone, not just the privileged, and bring wholly new priorities that secure retirement and reverse the health care mess. Absent that, the Republicans may win back some of their defectors as they center the election on the defense of America and defense of the family, as they did in 2002 and 2004. This survey shows that that those cynical tactics can still be effective, but not when Democrats give people a real choice."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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