Opinion | This Poll Shows Just How Much Trouble Democrats Are In

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By Christopher Caldwell

Mr. Caldwell is a contributing Opinion writer and the author of “The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties.”

According to the Gallup organization, 47 percent of Americans now identify with the Republican Party and 42 percent with the Democrats. That sounds ho-hum: one party doing a tad better than the other. But the Gallup numbers may portend a political earthquake.

Republicans seldom lead on measures of party identification, even when they are doing spectacularly well in other respects. Since Gallup began tallying party identification in 1991, Democrats have averaged a four-point lead. Republicans did lead in the first year the poll was taken — the year of the first Iraq war. But since then, even when Republicans rack up midterm wins at the voting booth — the year after 9/11, for instance, or in the aftermath of the unpopular Obamacare bill eight years later — they tend to run roughly even with or behind Democrats.

Between 2016 and 2020 the Democratic advantage swelled to between five and six points. When Joe Biden took over from Donald Trump a year ago, Democrats held a 49-to-40 advantage. From nine points up to five points down in less than a year — it is one of the most drastic reversals of party fortune that Gallup has ever recorded.

The data analysis site FiveThirtyEight shows a parallel collapse in Mr. Biden’s own popularity. He entered office with higher approval (55 percent) than Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush did, but has since tumbled to 42 percent, lower than any president at this stage in his tenure except his immediate predecessor, according to data that go back to World War II.

How did Democrats get into so much trouble so quick? Inherited trends, including Covid-19, deficits and geostrategic overreach, are partly to blame. So is poor policymaking on issues like the economic stimulus. But the heart of the problem lies elsewhere. Democrats are telling a story about America — about the depth and pervasiveness of racism, and about the existential dangers of Mr. Trump — that a great many Americans, even a great many would-be Democrats, do not buy.

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