WASHINGTON (CNN) - The nation was evenly divided during the bitterly fought 2000 campaign, but the election night map was not: Viewers saw a sea of red flooding most of the country, with blue states ringing the coasts.
Two cycles later, an analysis of a year’s worth of polling data released Wednesday suggests a far different electoral landscape, and a shift more dramatic than even the Democrats’ solid 2008 showing might suggest: an ocean of blue surrounding a shrinking red island in the center of the nation.
A string of recent polls have found the GOP’s party ID results have fallen to historic lows, and Republicans facing double-digit deficits on generic congressional ballots.
Gallup interviewed 350,000 Americans over the course of its 2008 daily tracking polls, including more than a thousand adults in every state except a few with relatively low populations: Wyoming, North Dakota and the District of Columbia.
Those interviews were conducted with state residents, not registered voters exclusively. Also included were adults who “leaned” Democratic or Republican, but were not members of either party, and might not be solid supporters.
The results, compiled into an analysis released in part this week, paint a bleak portrait for the GOP: In 35 states, a plurality of adults identified themselves as Democrats, or Democratic-leaning last year. In 10 more states, neither party had a statistically significant edge.
What’s left? Just five states - representing 20 electoral votes – had GOP pluralities in the 2008 cycle, as measured in the year-long surveys: Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Sarah Palin’s home state of Alaska were solidly Republican. And Nebraska, which gave one of its electoral votes to the Democratic presidential ticket, was Republican-leaning.
Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia gave Democrats a party ID advantage of 10 points or more last year. That list includes the entire Northeast region, every Great Lakes state but one, and a handful of Southern states like North Carolina and Kentucky. Another half dozen states gave Democrats 5 to 9 point advantages.
The “most balanced” states in Gallup’s analysis – those that gave neither political party an advantage of more than a point or two, or were evenly split between the two – are areas that haven’t been competitive for Democrats on the national level in at least a generation, including South Dakota, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Carolina, Alabama, and Kansas. Also on that list: Arizona and Texas, home states of the GOP’s last two presidential candidates.
Republicans do have reason for hope. The map remains fluid. It’s unclear how many of those Democratic leaners will stick with the party, making the transition into solid supporters. And the fact that the polls included unregistered adults makes them an unreliable indicator of potential Election Day results.
But the potential remains for Democrats to magnify and institutionalize much of these gains with the next election cycle. The stakes are higher next year than in a typical off-year campaign: the state legislatures elected in 2010 will begin the process of translating fresh Census results into new congressional districts. The party that has the edge coming out of the next cycle will have the chance to solidify that advantage for the next decade.