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Republicans voters have displayed a zeal for their candidates that Democrats could only envy…Really?

- December 18, 2007

Adam Nagourney wrote in the NY Times:

HERE’S another way Republican voters tend to be different from Democratic voters: They like — no, love — their presidential candidates. Not always, of course. But from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush to Dwight Eisenhower, Republicans voters have displayed a zeal for their candidates that Democrats could only envy.

Is this true? Do Republican voters have a greater “zeal” for their presidential candidates than Democrats? Let’s try to figure this out using some data.

Let’s use presidential approval ratings. Let’s assume there’s a constant 40-20-40 split among Democratic, Independent and Republican voters across time (a strong assumption)**. If Republican voters have a greater zeal, then we should see the lowest approval for a Republican president higher than the lowest approval rating for a Democratic president. So what do we see from Eisenhower onward? The lowest approval for a Republican was Nixon at around 24% (Gallup 8/2-5/74) and the lowest for a Democrat was Clinton at around 36% (Yank/TIME/CNN 5/26-27/93). But Nixon had Watergate! Okay, so let’s see who had the second lowest approval rating. That would be…another Republican…George Bush (the junior) at around 26% (Newsweek 6/18-19/07). But what we really want is presidential approval broken down by partisanship. That will be coming soon…

On a side note, I always wonder where a journalist comes up with a statement like this? I guess I’ll just send him an email and ask.

** For a great discussion on partisanship in polling, see Franklin’s blog post.