In light of the new Gallup Poll showing Republican favorability at a historic low point, it seems like a good idea to update a post I did on favorability just before the 2012 election. At that point I concluded that the Democrats held a clear advantage going into the election, although the public was not wild about either party. I revisit this issue here, almost one year after the original post
The figure posted below summarizes the "favorability" of both parties, using results from publicly available polls that asked respondents to rate their feelings toward the parties as either favorable or unfavorable. There are several notable patterns here. First, throughout this time period (February 2012 to October 2013), Democrats have held a distinct favorability advantage: the mean net rating for the Republican Party is -16.4, while the mean net rating for the Democrats is 1.2. In fact, there is not a single poll in this series of 44 polls in which the Republican party registered a net positive rating, and not a single case in which the net Republican rating was higher than the net Democrat rating.
Even worse for the Republicans is that their favorability rating continues to degrade. Their average net rating was -13 prior to the 2012 election and has averaged -22 since then. Meanwhile, the net rating for Democrats has shifted from and average of +.6 prior to the election to an average of +2.3 since the election. Theses swings in party fortunes are summarized below, where I plot the overall Democratic advantage in favorability.
Here we see that the somewhat pronounced negative turn for Republican party favorability following the election, coupled with the corresponding smaller positive turn for the Democrats, has led to an impressive shift in the Democratic in advantage in favorability.
Of course, this is not say that people are in love with the Democratic Party. At best, these data say that people are, on balance, fairly evenly split in their view of the Democrats, with some polls reflecting a negative view of them and others reflecting a more positive view. In political terms, though, these data show that the Democrats fare very well, at least in comparison to the only other game in town, the Republican Party.
What do these data say about the impact of the government shutdown? Unfortunately, polls that include party favorability questions are too few-and-far-between to be able to pin much on specific events, and the figures presented here include only one poll taken since the shutdown began, the aforementioned Gallup Poll. In all likelihood, that poll does reflect the impact the shutdown, but it is only a single observation and it doesn't really have much effect on the overall trend in the data.
Instead, I think it is best to focus on the the general pattern in the data, and I think the trend since the 2012 presidential election probably says a lot about the way politics have been conducted and the way people evaluate the parties in light of that conduct. It could well be that the Republican congressional strategy in the last year will pay off in other ways, but it is pretty clear that it isn't buying them any favor among the general public.