As a rule, Americans tend to stick with their own parties, but what that means has started to shift. Historically, Republicans back their own party in greater numbers than Democrats, as well. A 10-point difference exists between Republicans (92%) choosing their party and Democrats choosing theirs (82%), which has remained consistent in 13 of the 15 years Gallup has asked the question.
According to a Gallup poll, Americans favor the Republican Party over the Democratic Party in two important areas: fiscal and military stability. Those attitudes demonstrate some historical consistency, but other attitudes have shifted dramatically. What that means for our country’s two-party system might surprise you.
Which party keeps us safest?
When asked to choose which can better protect the U.S. from international terrorism and military threats, Americans chose the GOP over the Democratic Party by a wide margin of 51% to 38%. In 2007, overarching unhappiness with the war in Iraq and the Bush presidency affected those numbers. The Democrats pulled ahead with five percentage points at that time. Shortly after the 2012 Democratic National Convention, the two parties tied.
While the Republicans’ score dipped by a few points last year, it recovered for this cycle. What Trump’s foreign policy will do to that score remains to be seen. His continued antagonism of North Korea and refusal to play by traditional rules may hurt his party’s score.
Next: Which party keeps us most in the black?
Which party keeps us financially stable?
Gallup has been asking which party keeps the country most prosperous since the Truman administration, and Democrats outpaced Republicans from the 1950s until 1981. Since then, the parties traded off. The Republicans kept their advantage throughout Ronald Reagan’s and George H.W. Bush’s presidencies. The Democrats pulled ahead during most of Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s terms. Ever since Barack Obama’s second year in office, the Republican Party edged slightly ahead every year, except 2012.
Electing a famous businessman, even one with Trump’s record, shows how seriously Americans take fiscal responsibility. Even his record of blunders couldn’t hurt the GOP’s historically high rating. Today, Americans favor the GOP when asked which party can better keep the nation prosperous, 46% to 42%.
Next: Who do we trust on the environment?
This party has some truly scary environment plans
Overall, the Democrats enjoy a more positive overall image, especially when it comes to the environment. Research from a June Gallup poll showed the Democratic Party with a double-digit advantage as the party better able to handle the environment.
More than six in 10 Americans say Democrats would do a better job of handling the environment, compared with 29% who favor the Republicans on this issue. According to grist.org, the GOP had bad news for the natural world in its 2016 platform. Sections called “A New Era in Energy” and “Environmental Progress” had some telling news.
The GOP wants to cancel the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to reduce air pollution from coal. That platform called it part of “the President’s war on coal. The Democratic Party does not understand that coal is an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource,” said the plan. “Those who mine it and their families should be protected from the Democratic Party’s radical anti-coal agenda.”
The GOP also wants to de-regulate fracking, opposes a carbon tax, and supported the Keystone XL Pipeline and others like it. While it wants to level serious handicaps on the EPA’s ability to regulate environmental hazards, it also wants to abolish the EPA altogether.
No wonder the GOP rates low on environmental protections.
Next: Who better handles discrimination against minorities?
This party treats minorities better than the other
While 59% of Americans say Democrats better handle discrimination against minority groups, 30% say Republicans would. Pre-Trump, Republicans created a special committee to try to attract more minorities, The Huffington Post reported. With Trump in the White House, those efforts haven’t gone so well.
“I think it will catch up to them and be disastrous,” said political consultant Stuart Stevens, of Republicans’ continuing to support Donald Trump. “I don’t think the 2016 election repealed demographics. … It’s like someone who goes to a party and has a few too many drinks and makes it home all right and decides that alcohol makes you drive better. I’m not sure that’s the right conclusion.”
“He’s branding the party as so toxic to so many people,” said Ruy Teixeira, a demographer at the liberal Center for American Progress. “The Democrats are in a better position in terms of how the country is changing than the Republicans are.”
Trump’s strategies with regard to DACA, protests in Charlottesville, and his “make America great again” slogans all play directly to racist belief systems. When he talks about “American culture,” his base hears “white culture,” and that hurts the party.
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” Trump wrote on Twitter about memorials to Confederate leaders. “They’re trying to take away our culture. They’re trying to take away our history.”
Next: The next area where Democrats win surprises no one.
Americans really care about affordable health care. Guess which party doesn’t …
According to Gallup, Democrats hold the advantage on handling health care policy and education, each by a 19-point margin. A total of 55% prefer Democrats’ policy on health care, compared to 36% for the GOP.
In addition, the cost of health care tops the list of what Americans consider the most important financial problem. The 17% who call health care their family’s most pressing financial problem is up seven percentage points since 2013. That’s only two points shy of the all-time high of 19% recorded in 2007.
The GOP party’s most recent attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has drawn wide criticism. Last year, The Atlantic wrote, “The Republican health care plan has been derided as a tax cut plan masquerading as a health plan. The rest of the plan is a mess, it is argued, because Republicans’ highest priority is to lighten the ACA’s tax load on upper-income earners.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan said that “skyrocketing premiums, soaring deductibles, and dwindling choices are not what the people were promised seven years ago.” White House press spokesman Sean Spicer concurred. “I’ve mentioned this before: Having a card and having coverage that, when you walk into a doctor’s office, has a deductible of $15,000, $20,000 a year isn’t coverage,” he said. “Our healthcare plan will lower premiums & deductibles—and be great healthcare!” tweeted Trump in March. So far, none of that has happened.
Next: What does all of this mean for our two-party system?
Our country’s loyalties remain divided — really divided
Trump’s 84% approval rate among Republicans indicates he mostly holds the support of his base, at least partially based on his emphasis on national security and economic issues. However, his 6% approval rating among Democrats and bottoming-out approval rating among Americans in general, portends disaster. Hillary Clinton’s loss — and the fact that Trump holds office now — shows that both parties have work to do.
According to a TIME Magazine cover story, the Democratic party’s ability to win back the White House looks bleak, even with some areas of high approval. The Democrats currently sit in their deepest congressional rut since the class of 1946 was elected, and hold the fewest governors’ mansions – 15 – since 1922, TIME reported. Of the 98 partisan legislatures in the U.S., Republicans control 67. During Barack Obama’s presidency, Democrats lost 970 seats in state legislatures. The median age of their congressional leadership is 67, and many of the obvious early presidential front-runners will be in their 70s by the 2020 election.
“There is no confusion about what we Democrats are against. The only disagreement,” says strategist Neil Sroka, “is what we’re for.”
Next: How do we fix this problem?
The Democratic Party needs a facelift
“The resistance can only be part of it,” said Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan says. “We have to be on the offense too.” The eight-term politician from Ohio said the party faces a “fight” on what to back, politically. That party remains split on issues including free trade, health care, foreign affairs, and Wall Street. Officials also disagree over the political wisdom of doing deals with Trump.
Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have both drawn protests for working with Trump, even as they try to make compromises to get popular bills passed. The rise of the populist faction backing Bernie Sanders shows conservative Democrats may need to back down.
“Running on progressive values,” strategist Adam Green told a candidates’ training session in Washington this summer, “is how Democrats will win.”
Next: What this means for the next election cycle
A party divided cannot stand
While Trump’s base remains consistent, Democrats split deeply, both Gallup and TIME agree. A survey in July of young voters likely to participate in primaries offered telling statistics. A total of 43% of 18-to-29-year-olds said they were more liberal than the party, while 20% described the party as “conservative.”
Schumer said the party lost the White House in 2016 because it had a “namby-pamby” message on the economy. Since Americans trust Republicans more on economic issues, Schumer worked with members from both chambers on an aggressive, worker-focused message. “A Better Deal,” calls for a national $15-per-hour minimum wage and cheaper medication, college, and child care. “The focus starts on economic issues,” Schumer said. “That’s where the American people are hurting.”
“Our members didn’t know better, unfortunately, and they did vote for him,” said Tony DiTommaso Jr., secretary-treasurer of Western Reserve Building Trades. The coordinating body for 7,500 unionized workers in northeastern Ohio has seen many of its workers laid off in recent decades. “They wanted a change. They didn’t care what it was.”
“We cannot be a party that is hostile to business. We need those businesspeople to hire our people, who just want a shot,” Tim Ryan said. “[Democrats] can be business-friendly and still be progressive.”
Both Republican and GOP voters stand divided on a host of issues, and politicians from the White House right on down should stand up and pay attention. It may take changing the party line to become more progressive, or listening to voters on environmental and health care issues. Regardless, polls like these show how much American politics has changed over the years, and how much has remained the same.
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