Policy Review, December 2008
After the 2004 presidential election, Republicans appeared to be in good shape. They had won the presidency, had a 30-seat margin in the House of Representatives and 55< style="font-weight: bold; color: rgb(153, 51, 0);">What caused the Democratic shift?
What caused these voters to switch their party identification between 2004 and 2008? The increase in Democratic support was not limited to independents, who typically exhibit more volatility in their partisan loyalties than voters in each party’s base. These are, for the most part, voters who supported George Bush’s reelection in 2004 and voted for Republican congressional candidates, but who have subsequently become more Democratic (or, perhaps more accurately, less Republican). One can think of any number of reasons for them to have moved in this direction, but most explanations fall into two broad categories: dissatisfaction with the performance of the Bush administration or estrangement from the Republican Party on ideological grounds. An obvious answer would appear to be President Bush’s unpopularity.
Presidents and their parties are usually blamed for bad economic news (and sometimes credited for positive news) that occurs on their watch. The second Bush administration has had a large share of bad economic news with little positive to report. Rapid increases in oil prices and the most severe financial crisis since the onset of the Great Depression alone would be enough to make a president and his party unpopular. In fact, much of the decline in Republican support is associated with negative assessments of President Bush. Table 2 shows the percentage of Republicans who shifted toward the Democrats between 2004 and 2008 among different groups of voters. For instance, 63.0 percent of persons who were strong Republicans in 2004 and strongly disapproved of President Bush’s job performance became more Democratic. There are, of course, not many Republicans (much less strong Republicans) who came to hold such a negative assessment of Bush, but those who did are now much weaker Republicans than they were previously.
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