An authoritative study shows that the Republicans have recovered from their 2006-08 swoon and have now moved even with the Democrats again. That doesn't mean they have moved ahead. Party identification seems weaker than ever, in fact. And for the next election this truism is truer than ever: The outcome will be decided by independents.
Republican gains have been most pronounced among ordinary working people with modest incomes. They're also doing much better among the "Millennials"--voters thirty and younger. The race divide is, if anything, more pronounced, with Republicans having a double-digit lead among white voters, but haven't come back much with the Hispanics.
As far as I can tell, the study shows that we're nowhere near any kind of REALIGNMENT.
Democrats thought their sweeping victory in 2008 was a Progressive realignment led by the President. But their advantage turned out to be much more temporary and much less policy-based than they hoped.
Republicans thought their sweeping victory in 2010 was a Tea Party or at least constitutionalist, smaller-government realignment. But most of the country hasn't bought into this policy-based enthusiasm either. The spirit of the Tea Party remains impressive and unprecedented in ways the mainstream media won't acknowledge, but it's reached, probably, the limits of its influence.
The growing number of Independents, it appears, is skeptical of both the Progressive view that Big Government can cure what ails us and the Tea Party view that Big Government is unconstitutional.
I'm going beyond what the study actually says by adding that people are skeptical of the claim that higher taxes on the rich can make our entitlement programs more solvent or our society more fair. But they're equally not on board with significant cuts to those entitlements. They haven't been convinced either that they're necessary or that either party would be better in prudently making them.
So in the conflict surrounding raising the debt ceiling, neither side can claim a popular mandate.