Is Obama Polarizing? Or Is It That The GOP Is Shrinking?

April 6, 2009 2:24 pm

Much has been made of the new Pew Poll that seems to find President Obama as polarizing figure, with a 61-point differential between the 88% approval among Democrats and the 27% approval from Republicans.

Pew associate director Michael Dimock told Greg Sargent that the amazing part here is the 88% approval among Democrats, which would seem to guarantee a differential high enough to be termed “polarizing.”

But here’s another theory I have, that I called Dimock up to ask about: That Republican approval of Obama is so low because the number of Republicans is so low — only 24% self-identification in this survey, in fact, compared to 33% in 2004. Here’s how it would work: If the number of Republicans has shrunk, then the people who peeled away would have been the more moderate GOP respondents, the type of people willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt in the form of an approval answer.“That is reasonable, I think,” Dimock told me. “There is no doubt that there have been fewer Americans describing themselves as Republicans, and the ones that are no longer describing themselves that way, compared to say four or five years ago, are the more moderate or middle-of-the-road ideologically, segment of the party. So those who still use the term Republican when we ask them are potentially more conservative and rock-ribbed Republicans than might have been three years ago.”

Still, Dimock said, we are left with the question of why the larger number of Democrats, making up 34% of the sample, approve of Obama so highly — if anything, this sort of calculation makes that an even harder question. “With the Democratic Party including an expanded base,” said Dimock, “approval is still strong.”

But there’s my theory, anyway: Obama’s incredibly low approval among Republicans is just as much caused by the Republican Party’s own reduction down to a more conservative base, as it is about Obama’s policies. But man, the Dem respondents really do like their new president.

(Nate Silver has roughly the same idea, too. Check out his take on it here.)

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