This has been a good week for Republicans in the polls

Ryan Streeter Executive Director, Center for Politics and Governance, UT Austin
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It’s been a good week for Republicans in the polls, despite being a rocky week in the debt ceiling talks. Old people, young people, moderate people — the GOP is gaining in multiple categories. While all eyes are on the GOP as it tries to wrangle votes on the Boehner plan, it’s worth looking at the trends that are working in the party’s favor.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal yesterday, Karlyn Bowman and Andrew Rugg of the American Enterprise Institute describe how “flower power” might be coming to the GOP’s aid. That is, boomers — the notoriously liberal children of the 60s — are growing more conservative and Republican. They’re not in the GOP’s pocket yet, but they’re definitely trending that way.

  • In 1971 as baby boomers were coming online as adults, 51% said they were Democrats compared to the 29% who claimed to be Republicans. Now, 48% are Republicans and 45% Democrats.
  • Ideologically, during the same time span, self-identified liberals dropped from 30% to 12% of this group, while conservatives rose from 21% to 46%. That’s quite a divide compared to a generation ago.
  • Compared to 18-to-24-year-olds, of whom 49% voted in 2008, 72% of people aged 55-64 voted. Clearly, a Republicanization of this age group would matter a lot next year.

This doesn’t mean the youth vote doesn’t matter. It does. Millennials are now America’s largest generation, depending on how you do the math.

And that’s where Michael Barone’s latest column comes in.

While acknowledging that the GOP still has a long way to go among Hispanics (and we all know how far apart African-Americans and the GOP are), Barone writes:

The Democratic edge in party identification among white Millennials dropped from seven points in 2008 to three points in 2009 to a one-point Republican edge in 2010 and an eleven-point Republican lead in 2011.

The change these younger folks thought they were seeking in 2008 has, as Barone points out, been “anything but hopeful.”

And that’s not all. What about independents? Well, Obama’s got plenty to worry about there, too.

Writing in The Weekly Standard a few days ago, Jay Cost tracks the numbers.

  • After beginning north of 60% among independents on Inauguration Day, Obama fell below 50% in the summer of 2009 and has “struggled to stay above 45%” since the winter of 2010.
  • No president in the past 40 years has been re-elected with less than 48% of the independent vote.

Assuming various scenarios about how Democratic the electorate will be in 2012, Cost calculates “under anything less than a very Democratic electorate, Obama’s support among independents has been too soft to secure reelection for nearly two years.” And the electorate is not showing signs of being very Democratic next year.

It gets better. Michael Barone has been on a roll this week calculating the relationship between presidential elections and votes for the preceding off-year House elections. Since 1996, there has been less than a 1% difference for Democrats.

This portends trouble for Obama since the popular vote for the House in 2010 was 52 to 45 percent Republican. Translate those numbers into electoral votes and you have something like a 331 to 207 Republican victory.

And then yesterday’s Pew poll showed that Obama’s 11-point advantage over Republican opponents in May has evaporated. Today, 41% prefer Obama and 40% prefer a Republican — a statistical tie. Even more worrying for Obama, and consistent with Cost’s findings cited earlier, independent support for Obama has dropped from 40% to 31% since May, and risen for a Republican opponent from 34% to 39%.

All of this means:

  • That Republicans need to navigate this debt ceiling debate in a way that doesn’t pull voters away from them.
  • And that they need to nominate a candidate who can capitalize on all of these trends: appeal to the base, appeal to young Americans, appeal to independents, and keep the trend of older Americans voting GOP. This may very well be Rick Perry if Paul Ryan doesn’t get into the race. Despite Romney’s lead, he has some shortcomings in this regard, and none of the others seem to check the boxes at this point. But it’s still too early to tell.

Republicans still struggle with Hispanics as a whole, and of course they’ve done virtually nothing to make inroads into the African-American community. But in almost every other category worth following they are gaining steam — which will make 2012 a great year, not only for political junkies but hopefully for the nation as a whole.

(This article originally appeared at Conservative Home.)

Ryan Streeter is the editor of ConservativeHome.com. He served as a special assistant to George W. Bush for domestic policy and is affiliated with multiple think tanks.