Are the Democrats in Trouble … With Democrats?

Posted March 15, 2005 at 4:02pm

In a March 2 memo about a new poll by Democracy Corps, Democratic analysts Stan Greenberg and James Carville asked why the GOP had not “crashed and burned” given the public’s deep doubts about Social Security. [IMGCAP(1)]

Their answer: voter feelings that the Democrats “appear to lack direction, conviction, values, advocacy or a larger public purpose.” Their poll showed esteem for the Republicans to be higher than that for the Democrats.

Other polls report similar findings.

In a mid-February Marist poll, 38 percent said the Democratic Party was headed in the right direction, while 52 percent said the wrong direction. Respondents were more positive about the GOP: 46 percent said the right direction, 48 percent the wrong direction.

The partisan responses should be particularly troubling for Democrats. Among Republicans, 87 percent said their party was headed in the right direction. Only 59 percent of Democrats felt their party was.

Japanese Comeback. Once-maligned Japan now ranks third in Gallup’s latest assessment of how Americans view nations of the world.

In the early February poll, 81 percent had a very or mostly favorable opinion of Japan. Only Great Britain (91 percent favorable) and Canada (86 percent favorable) ranked higher. Japan’s favorable rating is the highest it has been since 1979, the year Ezra Vogel’s book “Japan As #1” appeared, and it represents a dramatic improvement from the early 1990s.

What accounts for the rise in Japan’s fortunes? Is it sympathy for Japan’s economic woes, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s friendship and support for the Iraq mission and war on terror, or the absence of trade frictions? The poll can’t tell us, but my own guess is that the absence of “Japan As #1” stories and the concern they engendered provide at least a partial explanation. The new poll was taken before Japan and the United States announced common strategic goals in mid-February.

In the meantime, recent Japanese opinion about the United States is more variegated. In a late 2004 Yomiuri Shimbun/Gallup poll, only 30 percent of Japanese respondents said they liked President Bush; 61 percent did not.

At the same time, a solid 64 percent thought U.S.-Japanese security agreements contributed to the security of the region. Twelve percent wanted the U.S. military presence in Japan eliminated and 42 percent reduced. Another 38 percent preferred maintaining it as is, and 2 percent said it should be increased. Such views have not changed much in the past five years.

Eyeing China Warily. As for American views of another Asian power, China, current polls reveal continued nervousness on the U.S. side.

Polls taken in 2000 showed that Americans are more likely to agree with George W. Bush’s description of China as a strategic competitor than with Al Gore’s characterization of China as a strategic partner.

In the Gallup/Yomiuri poll, 41 percent of Americans said they trusted China very much or some. Fifty-seven percent trusted China not very much or not at all. Among Japanese respondents, 71 percent did not trust China.

In Gallup’s February poll, 47 percent had a favorable opinion of China, while 47 percent had an unfavorable one.

North Korea. China’s mixed favorability ratings at least outshine those of North Korea. In the Gallup poll, 80 percent have an unfavorable opinion of the Communist dictatorship. Somehow, despite its famines and nuclear brinksmanship, 13 percent have a favorable opinion of the country.

Only 28 percent in a late February CBS News/New York Times poll said they had heard a lot about North Korea’s announcement that it has been developing nuclear weapons; another 47 percent said they had heard some. Still, 81 percent in another question said they believed North Korea had developed the weapons. Thirty-two percent described the threat as very serious and 38 percent somewhat serious.

In Japan, 72 percent agreed that North Korea was a threat to East Asia’s peace and stability, compared to 81 percent who said so in the United States, according to Gallup/Yomiuri.

United Nations. With the United Nations facing unprecedented criticism for the Iraqi Oil for Food scandal and impotence in the face of tragedies like those in the Darfur region of Sudan, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Americans have a more skeptical view of the body than in the past.

In a Feb. 7-10 Gallup poll, 36 percent felt the United Nations was doing a good job in trying to solve the problems it has to face, but 61 percent said it was doing a poor job.

Be that as it may, Americans don’t want to withdraw. In a question that has been asked more than 15 times since 1951, no more than 17 percent have ever said that the United States should give up its membership. In Gallup’s latest poll, 13 percent gave that response, compared to 85 percent who said we should stay in. However, 64 percent said the United Nations plays a necessary role in the world today, down from 85 percent in 1997.

A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll from early March found that 32 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion and 46 percent an unfavorable opinion of the U.N. Gallup’s numbers were 43 percent favorable and 48 percent unfavorable.

Karlyn Bowman is a resident fellow specializing in public opinion and polls at the American Enterprise Institute.