By MARK PENN
October 18, 2010

Most things in politics are cyclical. The two parties trade power, popular support, and even politicians as regularly as the seasons.

One exception to this rule, however, is party reputation. For years, Republicans have been seen as the party of negativity—the party of innuendo and attack ads, the group with the hatchetmen on speed dial. That’s why it’s so surprising that, for the first time in recent memory, voters now perceive the Democrats as more negative than the GOP.

View the full results from Penn Schoen Berland’s poll, the fourth of six in Politico’s “Power and the People” poll series

According to the latest POLITICO poll, 34 percent of Americans think the Democrats have been the most negative party during this election cycle, vs. 23 percent who say Republicans and 15 percent who name the Tea Party. Though on the surface this looks like a pretty dubious distinction for Democratic leadership, in reality it is not such a bad thing. It says the Democratic Party has a lot of fight in it during this critical year, and is no longer willing to be taken down by tough Republican campaigns. After all, since Lee Atwater the GOP has been benefitting from campaigns that were devastatingly effective despite being highly unpopular. The Republicans were seen as the kings of negativity by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1.

What’s doubly interesting, however, is that the Democrats were also seen as the party of ideas: 31 percent of the public (and 46 percent of DC Elites) think they’ve offered better ideas for how to govern this year, whereas only 22 percent of Americans say the same about the Republicans, and the Tea Party slides in third with only 16 percent support. Somewhat paradoxically, the Democrats have managed to appear both more negative, and more idea-oriented, than their opponents at the same time.

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