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Poll finds adults identifying as Republicans increase, while Democrats dwindle; gap closes to only 2.9%

December 3, 2009 |  2:08 am

On Nov. 4, 2008, Americans by a lopsided margin turned over complete control of the federal government to the Democratic Party -- the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House, where a new president promised to change the partisan tone of the nation's capital.

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Now, 13 months later, after a turbulent year of rancorous politics, rising war casualties in Afghanistan and unemployment now above 10%, 5% fewer Americans are calling themselves Democrats.

Hardly an enthusiastic endorsement of the record so far of the incumbent president, whose approval rating has also dropped below 50% for the first time. Approval of President Obama's war handling has fallen the most, plummeting from 63% last spring to 45% this fall.

A new poll by Rasmussen Reports finds that despite -- or perhaps because of -- legislative progress on Obama's 2009 keynote issue of healthcare reform, among other issues, the number of adult Americans calling themselves Democrats fell by almost 2 whole points just in the month of November.

A year after hope, change and jubilation filled the party ranks, only 36% of Americans consider themselves Democrats, according to the poll.

That's the lowest percentage in 48 months.

The percentage calling themselves Republican is lower -- 33.1%. However, unlike the Democrats, that number is increasing, up from 31.9% the previous month.

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Those adults saying they're not affiliated with any party is up a half-point to 30.8%.

Other than as possible indicators of approaching trends, the percentages are not concrete, of course, until they're applied in an actual election.

Although George W. Bush's Republican Party gained congressional seats in 2002, historically, the party in control of the White House loses members in its first midterm elections. Only Bush and Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 defied that trend in modern history.

That midterm judgment for Obama comes next Nov. 2, when the normal pattern would suggest GOP gains in Congress and perhaps statehouses, as the party did in off-year gubernatorial elections last month in New Jersey and Virginia.

All the factors are in place for the out-party to make gains among unhappy -- and often unemployed -- voters. But the one indicator that has caused analysts to hedge their current bets about maintaining that pattern in 2010 has been the low number of Americans calling themselves Republicans after the later Bush years, when the party abandoned its conservative fiscal roots.

However, after an active legislative autumn with Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid prominent in the media, along with immense spending and deficit numbers, November's poll shows the GOP percentage increasing, even with the party still leaderless nationally.

As a result, the current gap in party identifiers is only 2.9%, the smallest since December 2007.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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