My favorite national political Web site, politicalwire.com, has a story today about a recent study (release date: May 21) of Americans’ political attitudes by the Pew Research Center. Independents are now the largest group of voters (36%). Democrats are right behind at 35%. Republicans trail at 23%. This is the key language in the report: The proportion of independents now equals its highest level in 70 years. Owing to defections from the Republican Party, independents are more conservative on several key issues than in the past. While they like and approve of Barack Obama, as a group independents are more skittish than they were two years ago about expanding the social safety net and are reluctant backers of greater government involvement in the private sector. Yet at the same time, they continue to more closely parallel the views of Democrats rather than Republicans on the most divisive core beliefs on social values, religion and national security. This is good news and bad news for the Democrats. The good news is that the Republican party continues to hemorrhage voters. The bad news is that these newly minted independents are conservative. I recall a panel discussion last December, moderated by Evan Smith, that featured presentations by Republican pollster Mike Baselice and the UT Poll’s James Henson, in which Henson pointed out that the independents were (and I’m paraphrasing from memory) really disgruntled Republicans. He thought that many of them were likely to continue voting Republican, even though they no longer identified with the party. Baselice has similar numbers about Republican defections. The point is, the trend away from the Republicans means nothing unless the Democrats can win over these voters. Texas is not immune from these national trends, but the weakness of the Democratic party, which barely exists as an organization and is divided up among fiefdoms (Lone Star Project, trial lawyers, legislative caucuses, rivalry between blacks and Hispanics) makes it impossible for the party to challenge Republicans in statewide races. It is an amateur operation that lacks the will or the ability to do what the Republican party did in the eighties, which was assemble high-level political talent (Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Bryan Eppstein) committed to organizing and taking over the state. To link to the Pew study — great stuff for junkies — click here.
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