by Chris Bowers, Mon Apr 10, 2006 at 10:55:34 AM EDT
In their latest poll, ABC News has a handy chart on this subject. The change since the start of Bush's second term has been remarkable:
Strong Approval and Disaproval, By Party, Jan 2005
Approve Disapprove Gap
Dem 7% 68% -61
Ind 25% 31% -6
Rep 69% 4% +65
Strong Approval and Disaproval, By Party, April 2006
Approve Disapprove Gap Shift in Gap
Dem 2% 78% -76 -15
Ind 13% 51% -38 -32
Rep 50% 8% +42 -23
Fifteen months ago, Bush approval intensity among Independents was split nearly even between strong approval and strong disapproval. Since that time, it has shifted dramatically, and now Independents that strongly disapprove of Bush outnumber Independents that strongly approve of Bush four to one. 51% strong disapproval among Independents, and only 13% strong approval?!
Almost as striking as the numbers among Independents are the numbers among Republicans. At the start of Bush's second term, Republican strong approval of Bush exactly cancelled out strong Democratic disapproval of Bush. However, now strong Democratic disapproval of Bush is 28% higher than strong Republican approval of Bush. Along with the swing among Independents, this now means that 47% of the country strongly disapproves of Bush, and only 20% strongly approves.
Now, one could easily look at these numbers and conclude that the Republican base is far less fired up than the Democratic base. However, an important distinction needs to be made between the Democratic activist base and the Democratic voting base, as there also needs to be a distinction between the Republican activist base and the Republican voting base. Voting and activist bases are two different animals. A "voting base" refers to people who never split tickets and who vote in both midterm elections and primary elections. When it comes to voting bases, the Democratic base is clearly more fired up than the Republican base. However, the activist base refers to people who go a step further. The activist base refers to members of the voting base who also make campaign contributions, volunteer for GOTV, attend rallies and political meetings, and otherwise serve as an extension of a party's political and electoral apparatus. The activist base is smaller than the voting base, but it is extremely influential in helping to determine a party's chances in turning potential victories into real victories at the ballot box.
I think that one of the great successes of the progressive blogosphere has been to expand the size of the progressive activist base. Generally speaking, you have to at least be a member of the voting base in order to even bother to seek out a progressive political blog, and once people start reading blogs they have frequently been agitated into moving from the voting base to the activist base (unless they were already in the activist base to begin with). Now, nationwide telephone polls can do a good job of measuring the intensity level of voting bases, but it can't do a very good job of measuring intensity levels among activist bases. However, because we are talking about small nationwide populations numbering only a few million people, such polls cannot do a good job measuring the intensity level among activist bases. The sample sizes are just too small to poll accurately without making around 20,000 calls in a single survey. For now, on the progressive side, the best way of measuring the intensity level of the progressive activist base may be to read the progressive blogosphere.
It is entirely possible that the progressive activist base is more fired up for 2006 than the conservative activist base. However, there is no way of knowing this for certain. Only 20% of the country may strongly approve of Bush, but that 20% may include pretty much everyone who is a conservative activist. It is also entirely possible that every progressive activist strongly disapproves of Bush, but there is no guarantee that many of them will feel strongly enough about the Democratic Party in 2006 to not slip out of the activist base and back into the voting base. We don't really know what the intensity level is like among the activist bases, and even my reading of the blogosphere can easily lead to conflicting conclusions. Thus, we return to perhaps the most important, though unanswerable, question of 2006. I've written this before (here and here), and I will write it again. The issue is not whether or not Democrats have won Independents, but whether or not the Democratic political and electoral machine can turn what is clearly a potential Indycrat governing realignment into a real governing majority. Do we have that ability? I don't know. I would hope, however, considering everything that I listed in my previous post, that there are at least a few progressives wavering between the voting and activist bases who will stay firmly in the activist column knowing everything that is at stake in 2006.