President Bush, Congress and the Republican Party have at least one thing in common -- Americans' dissatisfaction with them. While Bush and lawmakers have been receiving low approval ratings for quite some time, new data suggests that the GOP is now facing a post-election slump. With John McCain losing, a slew of incumbent Republicans ousted from their congressional seats and the Democrats gaining a flurry of open seats, it's not surprising the Republicans are facing a gut check about where their party is headed.
Just over one-third of respondents in a Gallup poll conducted just over a week after the election said they have a favorable view of the Republican Party -- a significant drop from the 40 percent recorded in mid-October. More than 60 percent of respondents rated the party unfavorably, the GOP's worst mark since the poll first started measuring favorability in 1992. Even among Republican respondents, only 78 percent view their own party favorably.
The outlook is much brighter on the other side of the political spectrum. A majority of respondents in the Gallup survey -- 55 percent -- view Democrats favorably, a figure that has stayed largely the same throughout the year.
A report card-style survey [PDF] conducted by the Pew Research Center just after the election paints a similarly dismal picture for the GOP. Fewer than 30 percent of respondents gave the Republican Party an A or a B -- the lowest figure the survey has recorded in a decade. Another third gave them a D or an F. To add insult to injury, more Republicans gave the Democratic Party an A or B (50 percent) than their own party (44 percent).
The Democrats fared well across the board. A whopping 7 in 10 Pew respondents awarded the party an A or B. Independent respondents -- a voting bloc that played a pivotal role in the election -- gave drastically higher marks to the Democratic Party than to Republicans. While a scant 22 percent of independents gave an A or B to the GOP, 68 percent did so for the Democrats.
The GOP's gloomy poll numbers did not appear overnight, though. Trend numbers from the Gallup survey show Americans' perceptions trending downward since late 2005, when both parties enjoyed similar ratings just under the 50 percent mark. The Democrats soon surpassed the halfway point and stayed above it, but Republicans saw their ratings tumble to the 30-40 percent range in 2006 and 2007, coinciding with deteriorating conditions in Iraq, the souring economy and continuing disapproval of Bush. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, is now at a record high, far surpassing all other party grades since Pew began the survey in 1988.
Still, the Gallup trend data suggests that perhaps this post-election slump isn't unique to the GOP. In 2004, the Democratic Party's favorability ratings fell from almost 60 percent at the beginning of the year to 46 percent at the end, after Bush's re-election. The party gained momentum, however, as Bush's second term wore on.
Salvaging The GOP Brand
Both the Gallup and Pew polls show that, in the aftermath of the election and looking ahead to a Democratic-led government, a majority of Republicans want the party to bear right. Six in 10 Republican respondents to both surveys said they want the party to move in a more conservative direction, despite indications that they also want both parties to work together to minimize partisan squabbling.
After suffering through a loss with McCain at the top of the ticket, perhaps Republicans are looking to revert back to a more conservative agenda. McCain, who heralded himself as a "maverick" willing to cross party lines, is considered one of the GOP's more moderate lawmakers, but only 35 percent of Republicans in the Pew survey said they think the party should move in a more "moderate direction."