Conventional wisdom tends to cast the 6-point advantage the Republicans had in last year's total popular vote for the U.S. House as the truest measure of the relative strength of the two major parties. A good case can be made, however, that the GOP's two-seat edge in the Senate, two-seat edge in governorships, and 0.4 percent advantage in state legislative seats are truer gauges of how closely divided the nation really is: The GOP holds only the slightest lead.

The Gallup Organization noted last week, "A person's party identification is generally the most powerful predictor of his or her political behavior." With that in mind, Gallup last week released a study that looked at the 44,889 interviews it conducted in nationwide surveys in 2002. It found that 33 percent of people identified themselves as Republicans, 32 percent as Democrats, and 34 percent as independents. Even when independents were "pushed"--asked which party they tend to lean toward-and their responses were added to the totals above, the two parties were only a hair's breadth apart: 45.1 percent of all the people interviewed

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