It is always dangerous to generalize about ideological trends among the American electorate, since it will always lean right on certain issues (like defense, terrorism and taxes) and hew to the left on others (like healthcare, education, poverty and the environment). But the data are becoming overwhelming that the nation is moving left and is likely to stay that way through at least the 2006 election — and, if President Bush doesn’t adjust, for a lot longer.
The evidence is clear: The generic party ballot for Congress, for example, has now swollen to a 13-point Democratic edge while Bush’s job approval hangs in the 40s and his advisers are relieved that it is no longer a lot lower.
Why the leftward move?
A big part of the reason is the success the Bush administration has had in solving and hence diminishing the importance of the Republican agenda. Taxes have been cut, we have not had a terror attack since Sept. 11 and trial lawyers are on the defensive. The issues that remain — energy, environment, healthcare and Social Security — usually are Democratic and liberal.
The drip-drip-drip of Iraqi casualties isn’t helping Bush any, and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has done more to hurt the GOP than any Democrat has, but the fundamental reason for the liberal drift is the salience of issues normally identified with the left. To reverse the situation, therefore, Bush has three options:
(A) Fight the Democrats on issues that are already in play but have a Republican skew.
(B) Raise new issues that have a built-in skew right and a Republican orientation.
(C) Recast Republican positions on Democratic issues that are already in play to make them work for the GOP.
The Democrats are helping Bush mightily by their vitriolic response to reports of National Security Agency wiretapping and their opposition to the Patriot Act renewal. Since we have not had a terror attack in four and a half years, the homeland-security issue, the mother of all Republican issues, would seem likely to fade into the background. But by beating Bush over the head for his efforts to keep America safe, the liberals are helping Bush, raising the salience of one of his core issues. In his State of the Union speech, Bush should spend considerable time taking them to task on these grounds, since it will help him enormously.
Two new solid Republican issues are begging for attention from the White House: immigration and drugs.