Progressives the Death of the Democrats? Americans Say Otherwise

Rasmussen has a fascinating poll out regarding party self-identification among American adults, which is very telling.

In recent weeks, I've gotten reports from the states that Democratic registration is on the rise in most places, while Republican registration is not far outperforming the Democrats anywhere. Not until, today, however, has there been a national picture of this trend. While it is important to note that this a poll of all American adults, and not likely voters, the trend among likely voters almost always matches that of the general public, though maybe not as severely.

Reading into the findings, here are a couple of conclusions:

1) Howard Dean's stewardship of the party, and his 50 state strategy is paying dividends - Looking at party ID numbers since the beginning of 2006, when Dean's infrastructure changes had a chance to take hold, the rise among self-identified Democrats is dramatic. In January '06, 36.1% said they were Democrats, while 34.5% said they were Republicans - a 1.6% difference. By July, that gap had exploded. In Rasmussen's latest finding, 36.8% identify as Democrats, while 32.8% ID as Republicans - a 3.9% advantage for Democrats. That's a 2.3% widening of the gap in less than one year.

Compare that to the stewardship of Terry McAulliffe in 2004 when Democrats lost ground to the tune of 0.6% from the beginning of the year to the end, and 2005, when Democrats widened the gap by just 0.8% as Dean was changing things up. It's clear the new party infrastructure is having an effect. The party is expanding its reach-out efforts, and it's paying dividends.

2) The netroots are having success at driving the dialogue - Besides Dean making sure that the Democratic party was alive in every town and city, the netroots and bloggers have really established themselves, since they were newcomers on the scene in the 2004 elections. At that time, they were more of a novelty, and news stories were about their effect on fundraising and organizing - not on what they were actually saying.

Now, you're as likely to see Markos or Stoller quoted or on a TV segment as you are any consultant. If they're not directly quoted, they've helped shape the news because they have become so influential that most of the mainstream media monitors what they are saying. Often, the netroots reaction is taken as much into account as official Democratic reaction. The way netroots writers and activists have framed the debate is much stronger than past framing done by the inside-DC consultants. The result has been that people have a clearer sense of where the "other side" stands than they did in 2004.

Again, in 2004 when netroots were seen as an ATM machine, vs. now, when they are seen as drivers of the debate in many respects, the numbers have really turned to the Democrats advantage.

3) The rise of progressive candidates has had appeal - Tons of insiders worried what would happen when the party voters turned to guys like Jon Tester and Ned Lamont, and allowed them to become stories in and of themselves. The Republicans have been pretty blatant in their talking points - trying to marginalize Democrats by making guys like this the "face" of the Democratic party. It has backfired.

As voters showed when they elected George W. Bush twice, policy stances not withstanding, they'll take someone who speaks clearly and forcefully over one who seems poll-driven and cautious. Since Lamont really started to become news this summer, through July, Democrats have gained 0.4% in party self-ID among Americans. So Lamont has done anything but "destroy" the Democratic party, as some would have you believe. If anything, his refusal to buckle or waver on Iraq has earned voter respect nationwide, and reflected well on the party.

Of course, the one final piece is fairly obvious - people aren't happy with the performance of the administration or Congress. That is a major factor, but to say it is the only factor is really quite ignorant of the entirety of the political landscape. People weren't happy with either the President or Congress in 2004, but Democrats lost appeal over the year, and the GOP retained the White House and Capitol Hill. Something else is at work here, and it is becoming clearer and clearer that the shift in power in the Democratic party has paid off beautifully for them.

The numbers, as they say, don't lie.