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35 Blue States? 5 Red States? Gallup Data Offers Fear-Fueled Glimpse, Not Fixed Truth

In a press release that has already caused significant hubbub, the Gallup organization has released polling data from 2008 in which Americans are asked to identify themselves as Democratic, leaning Democratic, leaning Republican or Republican. Gallup finds that majority of its respondents identify as Democratic or as leaning Democratic. Furthermore, they use their data to categorize the national “political landscape” across the 50 states in this way:

Gallup Poll Data Aggregation of Party Leaning during the year 2008

A great hue and cry has propogated across the web and down American newspaper columns, with Democratic-leaning pundits cackling with mirth over their win, win, win. Republican-leaning pundits, on the other hand, can be seen waving their arms, gnashing their teeth, and rolling their eyes in despair, proclaiming the urgent need for Grand Old Party leaders to do something big, big, big to change course.

Caffeinated Politics:

…a new Gallup analysis of the 350,000 interviews it conducted in 2008 finds the Democratic Party leading in every state in the nation except in Alabama, Kansas, Nebraska, Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah.

Daniel Finkelstein:

It’s the map GOP nightmares are made of. According to a new Gallup poll, there are just 5 red states left in the USA. Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska and Alaska are the only ones that identified as Republican. They appear to be drowning in a sea of the 35 who came in as plurality Democrat….

Mark Nickolas:

The portion of the United States that considers itself Republican is shrinking faster than an Arctic glacier…. So much for the absurdly desperate GOP talking point of late that America remains a center-right country. Ha.

538 considers the downside of paradise:

One consequence of the Democratic coalition being larger, particularly as it tends to include a miscellany of groups that don’t always see eye-to-eye with one another (African-Americans, Hispanics, coastal liberals, union workers, young voters, etc.), is that it is more difficult to harness the entirety of that coalition in national elections.

Well, put the cheese in the fridge and call me stingy socks, because I’m just not ready to shove this down my gaping maw. Don’t get me wrong: I understand that this is actual data we’re talking about offered by the Gallup organization. But just because this data is expressed confidently and in numerical form doesn’t mean that we should be confident those numbers mean what all these wailing or cackling observers think they mean. Consider what the data measures. They don’t measure actions. They don’t measures people’s reports of actions. They don’t even measure people’s reported inclinations toward action. These data report people’s expressions of inclinations toward feeling a certain way. Inclinations and feelings are not actions set in stone. What does the complete negation in four short years of Karl Rove’s prediction of a generation of Republican rule tell us? It tells me that feelings can be as fickle as a flight of flamingos.

Americans love winners, especially when they’re scared. That’s why Americans cooed embarrassingly about Donald Rumsfeld’s sex appeal and George W. Bush’s manliness in a flight suit at a time when they were terrified of being attacked by terrorists. That’s why Americans are ascribing godlike qualities to Barack Obama now. But sooner or later the shine of this desperately fearful exaggeration wears off. Nobody wants to sleep with Rumsfeld now, and the name Bush is synonymous in the American mind with “miserable failure.” Monsieur le Grande Hope has been able to sway people to his cause with lofty speechmaking but is only beginning to have to follow through with action. As Barack Obama moves into actual policymaking in the year 2009 and beyond, expect Democratic Party sentiment to drift back down to the level sustained by the sort of mere mortals who actually lead the party and the country.

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