A few days ago I questioned whether the conventional wisdom that opposition to the Vietnam War destroyed Democratic credibility on national security is true. A reader helpfully sent in this graph from The Truman Project, which sets forth running averages on poll results from 1967 to the present. If this snapshot is to be believed, then 1967 seems to be something of a watershed: party divergence did begin at that time.
But these results are interesting because they could just as easily demonstrate the opposite conclusion of the conventional wisdom. Although the antiwar movement was in place in 1967, it was still on the fringe. But perhaps the Democrats began to be distrusted precisely because they had gotten us embroiled in Vietnam. Vietnam was, in Bob Dole’s infamous phrase, a “Democrat war.” Nixon ran as the peace candidate in 1968, while Humphrey was supporting Johnson’s policies.
There are other issues:
1) The Truman Project’s polling data starts in 1967; without anything previous to it, it’s hard to assess.
2) We don’t have any internals from these polls: who was moving when, in response to which events?
3) From 1967-1972, it isn’t really a partisan index: it’s a question about different candidates’ ability to handle Vietnam. Given the sharp differences between Humphrey, Muskie and McGovern on the Democratic side, you can imagine how this could distort findings. (This isn’t a criticism of the Truman Project: they are trying to make a general policy about the current partisan difference, not its origins).
So this data is suggestive, but susceptible to widely different interpretations. Is there anything else? In the words of the Dear Leader: bring it on.