The latest USA Today/Gallup poll is supposed to signal bad news for Republicans. In one sense, that's true. Many of the answers do not contain much comfort for GOP boosters. But in the more important sense, it's a distraction.
The survey of just over 1,000 Americans at the end of last month found, unsurprisingly, that they do not have a positive image of Republicans. In a word association test, several poisonous words and phrases attached themselves to the GOP like leeches.
Take a gander: unfavorable (25 percent); no direction (6 percent); cater to the rich (6 percent); close-minded or closed to new ideas (3 percent); cater to big business (3 percent); and poor economic conditions (3 percent). There were also ambiguous associations: conservative (16 percent); George W. Bush (4 percent); and pro-military/pro-war (2 percent).
Only 7 percent of those polled first thought of "favorable," which shouldn't surprise anybody. There's been roughly a 10-point swing in voter identification between 2004 and today in the number of people who will call themselves Republicans. And of Republicans and Republican-leaning respondents, only 58 percent had anything approaching a positive view of the party.
That sounds awful. However, considering the unpopularity of the Iraq War and the economic calamity that began while a Republican president was still in office, the GOP has probably gotten off light.
But the big headlines generated by the survey were about the question of who people recognize as chief spokesman for the GOP. Only 1 percent picked embattled Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. That tied him for sixth place.
The top four picks were Rush Limbaugh (13 percent), former vice president and current point man in the terror debate Dick Cheney (10 percent); the Party's most recent presidential nominee, Senator John McCain (6 percent); and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (6 percent). Only 5 percent of Democrats and zero -- that's right, zero -- percent of Republicans (for an average of 3 percent) said that George W. Bush speaks for the GOP.
These results have been contrasted unfavorably with the results for the Democrats -- 58 percent recognized President Obama with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the runner up at 11 percent -- to paint a picture of a party that is listless and old. Susan Page wrote in USA Today that the "dominant faces of the Republican Party" happen to be "all men, all white, all conservative and all old enough to join AARP."
Democrats can gloat, but the results didn't tell us much that we didn't already know and may work to paper over important truths that they might want to to hear. People will use this USA Today/Gallup poll to suggest that Obama speaks for Democrats and more broadly for a large swath of Americans. On many issues, that isn't so.
Another recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that Americans were against closing down the detention center for the prisoners formerly known as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, and the Democrat-controlled Senate, by a vote of 90 to 6, said no.
Obama has run up record deficits and he wants to spend still more on a "down payment" for larger health care restructuring. However, Many Democrats in Congress are starting to balk at the health care reform proposals. And a recent poll by the conservative-leaning firm Rasmussen Reports found that nearly half of Americans want to stop spending the remainder of the stimulus funds, never mind new spending.
In fact, there is another way to read the USA Today/Gallup results that should give great discomfort to the Democrats. It is this: George W. Bush is gone forever from the public stage and Republicans are no longer the issue.
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