Reagan popularity helps GOP gain on democrats
Washington — The Republican Party is on the march, closing in on the democrats. In the few months since the fall election the gap has apparently narrowed. This is compounded by a trend toward conservatism together with a willingness to try an alternative.
Only a few years ago, those Americans identifying themselves politically divided up as follows: 46 percent Democrats, 20 percent Republicans, and the remainder independents.
Now there are about 38 percent who call themselves Democrats, 26 Republicans, and the remainder independents.
Monitor conversations with a number of political leaders in recent weeks, both Democrats and Republicans, have evoked the bipartisan opinion that this gap continues to close.
The assessment comes down to this:
* President Reagan's continuing popularity tends to stimulate the advance of the GOP.There is evidence in all geographical sectors of a new kind of voter emerging --one who calls himself a "Reagan Republican."
In many instances, the "Reagan Republican" of today was a Democratic conservative of yesterday.
* Many of those who still identify themselves as Democrats voted for Mr. Reagan for President are becoming Republicans, at least in national elections.
Thus, the gap between Republicans and Democrats is actually considerably narrower than the 38-26 spread now being discerned by the pollsters.
* Many so-called "liberals" today are subscribing to a spending-cut philosophy --obviously their tacit admission that the trend toward conservativism and the Republican Party is moving forward and is something they politically cannot afford to buck.
* The Republican outlook for picking up high-level congressional offices next year is particularly good.
Robert Packwood of Oregon, chairman of the Senate GOP campaign committee, told reporters at breakfast April 21 that "in 1982, the Republicans will gain from 3 to 11 new senators" -- the lower number even if Reagan is not able to make headway with his economic program in Congress; the higher "if all goes right for us."
Key House Republicans see the chance of making substantial gains, too, perhaps enough to gain a majority.
How long will this GOP trend continue? The Democratic Party's buildup in this century began in the early 1930s with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Since then, and until fairly recently, the Republican Party has been pretty much on a gradual decline.
Now there appears to be a decided shift in the other direction -- on that some observers are saying may be as lasting as the Roosevelt-stimulated change in political taste and identification.
But other observers see the rapid rise in GOP fortunes as perhaps only temporary --particularly if the Reagan economics don't provide a cure.
The relatively prosperous Republican Party is seeking to build on its success by carrying on an intensive effort to win more public offices at all levels of government.
Toward this goal the GOP is carrying on the project, begun under former national party chairman William Brock, of persuading leading people in the black and Hispanic communities to become Republicans and run for office.