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June 30, 2003

Jews and the Democratic Party: Still Together After All These Years

Part of Karl Rove’s master plan is peeling off parts of key Democratic-leaning constituencies and melding them with the GOP’s base among conservative whites. It is remarkable, however, how little progress has actually been made, especially in relation to Republican claims about such progress.

This week comes further evidence that Republicans have not succeeded in making much of a dent in a small, but significant, part of the Democratic coalition: Jewish voters. According to data released by Ipsos Public Affairs/Cook Political Report, in the first quarter of 2003, Jews gave Bush an overall approval rating of 39 percent, an economic job approval rating of 26 percent, and a domestic issues approval rating of 24 percent.

Wow. They clearly haven’t drunk the Rove Kool-Aid yet. Guess that’s why Bush’s hard re-elect (definitely vote to re-elect) among these voters was just 22 percent, less than half of the number (45 percent) who said they would definitely vote for someone else. And why they give Democrats a staggering 72 percent to 24 percent lead on the generic Congressional ballot question and declare their partisanship as Democratic by more than 3:1 (67 percent to 22 percent).

The Democrats have a lot of things to worry about. But declining support among Jewish voters doesn’t appear to be one of them.

June 29, 2003

Medicare Prescription Drugs: Did the Democrats Blow It Again?

There's certainly a reasonable argument to be made that they did.  Here is one of the Democrats' signature issues being taken off the table, with the assistance of the Democrats themselves, including most famously, the Senate's liberal lion, Ted Kennedy (and Kennedy, of course, played a similar in the passage of the No Child Left Behind education reform package in early 2002).  Assuming the House- and Senate-passed bills are reconciled, which seems likely, and the President signs the resulting bill, which seems very likely, Bush and the GOP will trumpet the legislation as a great accomplishment for their team and proof that Bush is indeed a compassionate conservative.  And that will make Bush's re-election campaign in 2004 much easier by shoring up his image at its weakest point.  

Many observers--for example, Matthew Miller--believe the Democrats should have been made of sterner stuff and blocked what are terrible bills anyway to prevent the GOP from reaping these political dividends.  Even nonpartisan political analyst Charlie Cook remarked: "By going along with a compromise that many Democrats are convinced is too limited, too complex, and too likely to spark a senior furor later on, the Democratic Party may well be making yet another miscalculation."

That could very well be so.  Certainly, the CW seems to be coalescing around that view, as can be seen in the headlines of the main analysis stories last weekend in The Washington Post ("GOP May Get a Boost with Seniors") and The New York Times ("GOP Steals Thunder").  The issue, though, is how the bill will play once the 2004 campaign heats up and Democrats have a chance to point out its many shortcomings, including the bizarre "doughnut hole" in coverage where (to take the House version) no benefits whatsoever are paid on drug expenditures from $2,000 to $4,900.  That means that, for example, a retiree with $5,000 in drug expenses would wind up paying about 80 percent of costs herself, under this version of the bill.

Note also that the benefit does not actually become available until 2006.

This should give the Democrats plenty of time and raw material to make their case.  Why does the bill have such huge gaps in coverage?  Because they didn't have the money to provide the full benefit.  Why didn't they have the money?  Because they spent umpty-gazillion dollars on tax cuts before they ever got around to considering a drug benefit.

Nothing complicated about that argument.  Even the average Democrat should be able to make it.   A recent poll of 55 and over voters by Peter Hart Research on Medicare and prescription drugs shows they'll probably have a receptive audience.  Many of the provisions likely to be in final prescription drugs bill are already viewed unfavorably by large majorities of these voters, including, of course, the doughnut hole in coverage, which is viewed unfavorably by 72 percent.  It is possible the Democrats will find themselves in better shape not having to advocate for their Plan A versus the Republican Plan B on prescription drugs, as they have in past elections, which has proved to be a murky and surprisingly unproductive debate for them.  Now they can just concentrate on crisp, clear criticisms of Plan B, which makes a nice fat target.  And maybe talk about some other issues for a change.

DR is ready to take opening bids on an education plan.

June 27, 2003

Are We Off On the Wrong Track?

Apparently more and more Americans think so, according to a just-released Democracy Corps poll.  In a mid-May poll by the same group, 51 percent said the country was going in the right direction, compared to 41 percent who said was off on the wrong track (a 10 point right direction advantage).  But now, the public is about evenly split, with 46 percent saying right direction and 45 percent saying wrong track (a mere 1 point right direction advantage).  If wrong track responses continue to rise, that's a serious danger sign for the incumbent administration.

The poll also asked respondents whether the country should continue going in the direction Bush is headed in various areas or go in a significantly different direction.  By 17 points, the public wants a new direction on health care and on the Federal budget/deficits, by 11 points, they want a new direction on the economy, by 9 points, they want a new direction on retirement/Social Security and on the environment, by 6 points they want a new direction on energy policy and by 5 points they want a new direction on prescription drugs for seniors.

In a problem sign for Democrats, however, the public actually wants to continue in Bush's direction on support for education, albeit by a modest margin (3 points).  This is an area the public rates second in importance after the economy and jobs and where Democrats are generally viewed as the party better able to handle the issue.  So the Democrats' failure to sell the public on the need for a new direction in support for public education looms large.  This is an issue they will need to open up a lead on if they hope to do well in 2004.

Areas of Bush strength include, of course, the war on terrorism (by 37 points), foreign policy (by 14 points) and respect for the US in the world (by 10 points).  Interestingly, he does not do well in two traditional areas of Republican strength: taxes (the public is split evenly on staying with Bush or going in a new direction) and the moral climate in the country (Bush only gets a 1 point advantage).

The poll also finds signs that the situation in Iraq is getting a "wrong track" feel for more and more of the public.  For example, in mid-May, 61 percent said the war in Iraq was worth the cost in US lives and dollars, compared to just 33 percent who thought the war wasn't worth the cost--a 28 point margin.  In this new poll, that margin has been cut in half, with 41 percent now saying the was wasn't worth the cost (including a 9 point increase, to 32 percent, in those who strongly believe the war wasn't worth the cost), compared to 55 percent who say the war was worth the cost.

Moreover, the poll finds a plurality of the public (by 49 percent to 46 percent) saying they cannot trust what the government is saying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Bush fares better on the same question, with the public saying by 56 percent to 40 percent that they can trust what he says about Iraq's WMDs, but it's clear which way the wind is blowing on this one.  As distrust in the government increases on this issue, distrust of Bush will likely move in the same direction (and there's already 40 percent who don't trust him).  For a President who relies so much on his bond with the American people, that could be a problem.  A big problem.

June 26, 2003

How to Fight Bush's Tax Cuts

One of the most important questions for Democrats as we move into the 2004 campaign season is how to fight Bush's tax cuts.  Bush has already revealed his strategy, as detailed in a Monday article by Mike Allen in The Washington Post.  They will use carefully-doctored statistics to argue that repealing the tax cuts will mean significant tax hikes for the typical middle class family.  All the better if they can get the press to confront Democrats with these carefully-chosen "facts", as Tim Russert obligingly did to Howard Dean on Sunday's Meet the Press, but we can be sure these same factoids will show up in campaign commercials, debates, etc.

How can the Democrats effectively counter this strategy?  One way is to expose these facts as careful cooking of the data to defend the indefensible. Another way is to decry the tax cuts in general as massively unfair.  Even if--to use the example brought up by Russert from data supplied to him by the Treasury Department--a typical married couple with two kids and a $40,000 income gets a $1,933 savings from the 2001 and 2003 bills, the top 1 percent of taxpayers save an average of $56,000 and receive 37 percent of total tax cut savings.  

All true.  But probably not so effective, as Michael Tomasky points out in a good post on The American Prospect website.  People want the money they can get, modest as it may be, and just pointing out the wealthy get more may not be enough to turn them against Bush tax cuts, even if you allow the non-wealthy to keep the bulk of their tax savings (though that's a start).   Instead, Tomasky argues, Democrats should make the case that the tax cuts have effects that are directly counter to the typical voter's self-interest, since the Feds have no money to help states shore up budget shortfalls.  That results in cutting services and raising taxes in the states and localities where voters actually live.

That's a promising approach.  Polling evidence has consistently shown that voters only really oppose tax cuts in the context of taking away something else that they want.  Fairness is a concern, but it will never be enough to carry a Democratic politics on this issue.

Probably the Democratic Presidential candidate who done the best job articulating this perspective on taxes is John Edwards.  You can read his recent speech at Georgetown University here and an analysis of that speech by Willliam Saletan of Slate here.  Other Democrats hopefully are paying close attention.

June 25, 2003

Two or Three Things I Know About Iraq

One is that the WMDs still haven't been found. Two is that the Bush administration misrepresented and just plain lied about the evidence concerning Iraq's WMDs and the threat they posed. And three--the factor that could finally make the first two bite politically--is that soldiers are dying in Iraq every day and that doesn't seem likely to stop anytime soon.

On point two, see Josh Marshall's excellent column in The Hill and long post on his website about increasingly obvious administration fibs, like not knowing the alleged Niger uranium purchases by Iraq were bogus. It's just getting harder and harder for the administration to maintain that they had no knowledge of the problems with the "evidence" they were using and that, therefore, they could not possibly have been lying.

On point three, today brought news on the deaths of six British soldiers in a southern Iraqi town, to add to the steady stream of other deaths from various attacks. The danger sign here for the administration is the rise in the number of Americans who feel the level of military casualties in Iraq is unacceptable, as revealed in a just-released Washington Post poll. Right after the statue of Saddam came down in Baghdad, just 28 percent said the level of casualities was unacceptable, while 66 percent said it was acceptable. Now, it's getting close to even: 44 percent say the level of casualties is unacceptable and 51 percent say it is acceptable.

We're not far away from the point where "unacceptable" will outnumber "acceptable" It will be interesting to see what happens then. And whether the public is still not bother about the missing WMDs and the administration's deceptions about them.

June 24, 2003

This Is the Democrats' Brain on Drugs

We're getting closer and closer to passage of a bill providing a prescription drug benefit for Medicare. If it does pass and is signed by Bush, which seems likely, who stands to benefit politically? Will it open the door to privatization of Medicare (still Bush's stated goal), while providing him with that compassionate conservative cover he so desperately wants going into next year's election? Or, by providing a large new entitlement, does it play into the Democrats' strength, who will then seek to expand and shore up the benefit, while criticizing Republicans mercilessly for standing in the way and having a secret agenda of privatization?

At this point, no consensus has emerged. Indeed, Democrats are all over the map on this one, as E.J. Dionne discusses in his most recent column. And The New York Times today covers conservative opposition within Congress to the bill, showing that Republicans are not completely united either.

DR suspects Bob Kuttner may have it right in his most recent column where he dismisses the doomsday scenarios of some liberals about the bill and its politics. He argues that, short of a truly horrendous bill, the issue will be "pay dirt" for Democrats in the future, because they can "expose its limitations, vote for it and pledge to improve it". And the Democrats, of course, can still run against Medicare privatization, which continues to be vigorously opposed by the public, as shown by a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll on Medicare reform and prescription drugs.

And there may be another, hidden benefit. The passage of the bill makes it much less likely that Democrats will make prescription drugs central to the 2004 campaign, in the way they have in the last several elections. That's a good thing, since it will force them to think creatively about other issues like the economy and education, instead of taking refuge in the matra: "prescription drugs for seniors". And they're going to need all the creative thinking they can get, if they hope to beat the Republicans in 2004 and beyond.

June 22, 2003

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men....

A front-page article in The Washington Post by Dan Balz details the ideas the GOP has for turning 2004 into a realigning election for their side. Perhaps "details" is too strong a term for mostly the article alludes vaguely to the Republicans' plans for picking off from Democratic-leaning constituencies--Latinos, "security moms", white unionists, etc.--while keeping their base mobilized. The devil's in the details on this one and the article doesn't do a lot of heavy lifting in explaining with any precision how exactly this is going to be done. In fact, there are good reasons for thinking a lot of the GOP's plans --like, for example, their plans to reach Latinos (see the last several posts of Donkey Rising) or security moms--may encounter quite a bit of difficulty.

Less controversial is the GOP's apparent intent of "maximizing the advantages of the war on terrorism". That's been quite successful and they certainly have been willing to stop at nothing to press that advantage. But is it starting to unravel? Another front-page article in The Washington Post reveals that the President's claim of definite Iraq-Al Qaeda links in October was contradicted by important intelligence reports available at the time. And another article reports that Hans Blix, the former chief UN weapons inspector is now inclined to believe that that Iraq may have had little more than "debris" from their old secret weapons programs at the time the US invaded.

Will the accumulation of doubt combine with domestic discontent to finally drag down Bush's personal popularity--the other seemingly solid part of the GOP strategy described by Balz? (Ralph Reed is quoted in the article as saying the parties are basically at parity, but the Republicans have George W. Bush.) Maybe it already is. According to a just released poll from Ipsos-Reid, more Americans think the country is on the wrong track, rather than going in the right direction, for the first time since before the Iraq war. And Bush's job approval rating has slipped below 60 percent, again for the first time since before the Iraq war. Moreover, Bush's hard re-elect number (those who would definitely vote for him) is down to just 40 percent, with 32 percent saying they would definitely vote for someone else (26 percent say they would consider voting for someone else). Finally, the poll gives the Democrats a 7 point advantage in the generic Congressional ballot. We'll have to wait and see if these trends are confirmed by other polls, but it suggests that rather than forging realignment in the next election, the GOP may be doing well simply to squeak out a win.

June 20, 2003

More on Hispanics

In yesterday's post, DR discussed the latest news from the Census Bureau about rapid Hispanic population growth and reviewed some of the public opinion and voting data that suggest this growth is a considerable boon for the Democrats.

Today, DR focuses on a very recent poll of Hispanics (by Bendixen and Associates for the New Democrat Network) that supports this case. According to this late May/early June poll, a generic Democratic nominee now runs 14 points ahead of Bush among Hispanics nationwide (48 percent to 34 percent). Considering that a generic Democratic nominee is currently running an average of 10 points behind among all voters that's pretty darn good. In fact, it relicates the gap between Hispanic and overall voter Democratic support that we saw in the 2000 election. So much for Bush's "magic" with Hispanic voters.

The top three issues among Hispanics are education (31 percent), jobs and the economy (29 percent) and health care (10 percent). Democrats, please note the very high priority accorded to education, an issue that most of the party's candidates seem determined to ignore. DR continues not to understand this.

Moreover, Hispanics' stance on the education issue seems tailor-made for Democrats. The poll asked Hispanics which kind of candidate they preferred--one who say we need to spend more money on public education to build new schools, modernize old schools, reduce class sizes and pay higher salaries or one who says we do not need to spend more money of public education and feels it is more important to focus on teacher accountability, enforce student discipline, emphasize school performance and improve students test scores. By an overwhelming 62 percent to 34 percent margin, Hispanic voters selected the first, education spending-oriented candidate.

The poll also finds that Hispanics believe, by 50 points, that Bush has not kept his promise to make Latin America one of his foreign policy priorities. Hispanics also believe, by 27 points, that it is the GOP, not the Democrats, who have been the party that has blocked many Latinos from being appointed to government positions. So much for the Estrada nomination as a GOP wedge issue with Hispanics.

More on the WMDs

Yesterday, DR gave a strenuous endorsement to John Judis' and Spencer Ackerman's mind-blowing expose of administration duplicity on the WMDs. If you haven't read it yet, go and do so right now.

And, while you're at it, here are some other recommendations. Jake Tapper in has a nice run-down of how the administration's rhetoric on Iraq evolved from halfway reasonable to cloud-cuckoo land over the year prior to the Iraq invasion. Also in, Michelle Goldberg has a useful discussion of the "why don't Americans seem to care about the missing WMDs?" issue, with citations to some of the key public opinion data. And Robert Dreyfuss, in the latest issue of The Nation, has an expose of yet another intelligence blunder: the failure to prepare an intelligence evaluation of what a post-Saddam Iraq might actually look like (as opposed to what Rumsfeld et. al. wanted it to look like). As the current chaotic situation continues, and US casualties mount, this particular failure could have serious political consequences for the Bushies.

The day also brings polling news that suggest the unsettled Iraq situation and missing WMDs are starting to take the shine off of Bush's glossy approval ratings on foreign policy issues. According to the Gallup poll, his approval rating is down 7 points on the Middle East Situation, down 10 points on foreign affairs and down 13 points on the situation with Iraq.

In further signs of deterioration in the administration's position, a Fox News poll finds an 11 point decline in those believing going to war with Iraq has been worth it. And the same poll finds the public split between those who believe either Bush or the intelligence agencies or both exaggerated the dangers of Iraq's WMDs and those who believe there were not such exaggerations.

June 19, 2003

WMDs? We Don' Need No Stinkin' WMDs!

That seems to be the attitude of the Bush administration and its acolytes these days, as they scramble to escape the inconvenient facts that we can't find any and that they cooked the data to justify the invastion in the first place. As reported yesterday in The New York Times, Republicans are avoiding the whole issue of the WMDs ("what, you thought we were serious about that WMD stuff!") and shifting justification for the invasion almost entirely to Saddam Was a Murderous Thug and The Iraqi People Are Free. As Republican spin-meister Frank Luntz put it: "We may have gone to war because of weapons of mass destruction, but we have made our conclusions based on the reaction of the Iraqi people...Do we feel good about ourselves? Absolutely."

Speak for yourself, buddy. And you better hope you're right that Americans not only don't care about the missing WMDs, but don't mind being lied to either, because the case for conscious deception about Iraq's WMDs grows stronger with every passing day. In fact, John Judis' and Spencer Ackerman's lengthy and copiously-documented article in The New Republic today really blows the lid off of the purposive manipulations of intelligence, and outright lies, that were used to sell the Iraqi war to the American people.

DR doesn't see how any reasonably fair-minded individual could read this article and deny that the Bushies wanted to go to war and basically lied their little rear ends off to get us to do so. There was no Iraq-Al Qaeda connection. There was no Iraqi nuclear weapons program worthy of the name. There was no imminent threat that justified immediate military action.

It's here in all its appalling glory. The phony Niger uranium purchases. The bogus centrifuge tubes story. The trumped-up Iraq-Al Qaeda connections. The administration's shameless use of these fanciful stories to manipulate public opinion. And, above all, the spiked and re-spiked intelligence that would have exposed all this nonsense.

Howard Dean asked: "What did they know and when did they know it". The answers are clear: "A lot" and "Quite a while ago". Uncomfortably, it also appears to be the case that Dean's question applies to Democratic Presidential candidates like Gephardt, Edwards, Lieberman and Kerry who are now acting like they're shocked--shocked!--that there could have been anything wrong with the administration's pre-war use of intelligence data. Almost all the analysis and information Judis and Ackerman look at in the article was publicly available before the war--especially to members of Congress--and could have been easily digested by those who cared to look at it. The answer, of course, is that they didn't care to look at it, or looked at it and ignored it, because it was politically inconvenient (they thought) to raise questions about the administrations' rush to war.

Well, besides Dean, at least Bob Graham's out there hacking away. As for the rest, well, you can read the sad story in Ryan Lizza's New Republic story. The most shocking of the bunch is Gephardt, who is so close to Bush on this issue that Ari Fleischer has been quoting him in press briefings. Says Dick: "There is long, consistent, clear evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and I'm still convinced that we're going to find them." Thanks, Dick. It's nice to see you're showing the same stellar leadership abilities on this issue that you used so effectively in leading the Democrats to their great victories in the 2002 campaign.

There are signs that Kerry may be ready to strike a more confrontational stance on this stance than the Gep, Edwards and Lieberman. He sorta, kinda, accused the adminstration of "lying" on an Iraq-related issue, suggesting he may be ready to jump in on the missing WMDs. Stay tuned.

Hispanic Population Continues to Grow and So Do Democratic Chances

The Washington Post and other papers today carried a story, based on a Census Bureau report, revealing that Hispanics are now America's largest minority group and have accounted for half of the nation's population growth between 2000 and 2002. The fact that the Hispanic population is growing like topsy is basically good news for Democrats, due to Hispanics' well-know proclivity for voting Democratic due to a combination of economic and anti-discrimination motivations.

Nor has that changed in recent years, contrary to Republican claims and some press reports. Here are some data from the most recent large-scale, nonpartisan poll of Hispanic attitudes, conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

According to the survey, registered Latino voters are 49 percent Democratic, just 20 percent Republican and 19 percent independent. And if independents who "lean" to one party or another are classified with that party, the figures become 56 percent Democratic, 25 percent Republican and 7 percent independent. Thus, either way, the Democrats have a huge lead on party identification (and the only subgroup of Hispanics where that is not true are Cuban-Americans, who are declining as a proportion of the Hispanic population). Moreover, according to these data, Hispanics are less likely, not more likely, to be independents than either whites or blacks.

And who do they think has more concern for Latinos in the US? Among the 55 percent of Latinos who see a difference between the parties on this, there is a more than 4:1 (45 to 10 percent) break in favor of the Democrats as the more concerned party.

The specific issue of the economy also evokes strong pro-Democratic sentiment. By 2:1 (53 to 27 percent), they favor the Democrats as the party better able to deal with the issue.

What about the idea that Hispanics are conservative on social issues, which some argue makes them politically and potentially available to the Republicans. According to the survey data, Latinos are, in fact, more conservative than whites on social issues like divorce, homosexuality, abortion and extra-marital sex. But, they’re also not much more socially conservative than blacks (in fact, less so on some issues). So are blacks also up for grabs politically because they hold some socially conservative views? No, they’re not and the same argument should be viewed with suspicion when applied to Hispanics.

The argument becomes especially implausible in light of additional data from the survey which show Latino voters only half as likely as white voters to mention moral values and abortion as voting issues. Indeed, by a wide margin, Latinos’ top three voting issues are education, the economy and Social Security, three issues that have little to do with social conservatism. Moreover, Latinos, in contrast to both whites and blacks, declare themselves willing to pay higher taxes to support a larger government that provides more services (55 percent), rather than a pay lower taxes for a smaller government with fewer services (38 percent). So, Latinos not only lean strongly Democratic, they say they’re even willing to pay for the services they expect Democrats in government to provide!

Given all this, perhaps it should come as no suprise that Hispanics stuck with the Democrats in the 2002 election, despite considerable hype from the Republicans about how they're making great headway with Hispanics.

For example, in California, the one state where we do have exit poll data from 2002, Democrat Gray Davis beat Republican Bill Simon in the gubernatorial race by 65 to 24 percent. That 24 percent vote for the Republican was essentially identical with the vote received by Republican Dan Lundgren in the 1998 California gubernatorial contest, according to exit polls for that year. In terms of the national vote for Congress, a Greenberg-Quinlan-Rosner (GQR) post-election poll indicated that Hispanics supported the Democrats this year by 62 to 38 percent. These figures are also nearly identical with 1998 exit poll figures, which showed 63 to 37 percent Democratic support for Congress among Hispanics in that year.

Political scientist James Gimpel confirms that Hispanic voting patterns didn’t shift in the 2002 election. He finds that Hispanics in ten states polled by Fox News (Texas, Florida, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Missouri, and South Dakota) supported Democrats over Republicans for the Senate by more than two-to-one (67 percent to 33 percent). Democrats did less well in governors’ elections in these ten states, where Hispanics supported them by 54 percent to 46 percent, but that result probably had a great deal to do with the inclusion of Florida and the noncompetitive Colorado election in the sample. Gimpel concludes that there is little evidence that Latinos, in general, are moving away from the Democratic party, despite all the talk about Hispanics as swing voters. Indeed, Gimpel argues that Republicans' best bet is to hope that Hispanics stay home and don't show up election day. With these latest Census data, that seems to be more true than ever.

June 18, 2003

Now, Exactly How Did You Say You Were Going to Fix the Economy?

In The Washington Post this morning, Dan Balz looked at the Democratic Presidential candidates' "missed target": the economy. Balz says that the candidates "have failed to make the economy a consistent and coherent focus of their messages" and that their critiques of Bush on the economy have "added up to little because no one has a full-blown economic program. Even Dick "Big Ideas" Gephardt doesn't really have an economic program--just the dubious claim that the stimulative effects of his near-universal health care program constitute a blueprint for economic revival.

This seems kind of strange since polls regularly show that Americans are very negative about the economy and rate it as the number one problem the country faces today. Not only that but Bush's approval rating on the economy--in contrast to his overall approval rating--is quite abysmal, with disapproval generally higher than disapproval. So what is the Democrats' response to this apparent demand for economic change: let them eat health care!

Wierd. And voters don't seem to be too enthusiastic about this approach either. In a recent NPR poll, voters who said that the economy and jobs was their most important issue actually favored Bush over a generic Democrat by one point! Looks like the Democrats have some work to do. A reasonable guess might be that unless the Democratic presidential candidate--whoever he might be--can win among economy and jobs voters by at least 10 points (and preferably quite a bit more), he's toast.

June 17, 2003

Can Youth Move Democratic?

Andrew O'Hehir has a long interview in with Danny Goldberg, author of the new book, Dispatches from the Culture Wars: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit. This really should be required reading for all Democrats. Goldberg doesn't pretend to have the answer to how exactly the Democrats can capture the youth vote, but he says a lot of things that ring true about young voters' lack of enthusiasm for the Democratic party, especially the lack of a clear vision and ideology that such voters might find compelling.

He asks with good reason why it is that the Republicans frequently seem more idealistic than the Democrats. Youth, he argues, needs inspiration and something to believe in, and most Democrats just aren't providing it. No wonder Howard Dean is making such an impact; he seems to stand out from this crowd.

Interestingly, though, recent polling data, from both the 2002 election and since then, seem to indicate that youth (18-29 year olds) are starting to favor the Democrats. Perhaps they see the Republicans as just having gone too far in their militaristic fervor, anti-environmental zeal and drive to de-fund the government. Whatever the reason, Democrats should heed Goldberg's advice and seek to build on these tendencies to awaken a full-fledged pro-Democratic idealism among young voters.

June 16, 2003

Are Seniors Moving Republican?

The New York Times seems to be making rather a speciality out of hyping thinly-researched political trends in its pages. The latest example was in last Sunday’s "Week in Review" section, where Sheryl Gay Stolberg enlightened us on how Baby Boomers were moving seniors toward the Republican party.

Oh, really? And what is the evidence for this trend? Well, the Boomers are getting older and lately there have been some elections where seniors have voted Republican. But, of course, there have always been some elections where seniors have voted Republican; they are not immune to overall political trends and tend to swing in the direction the country is moving. For example, seniors voted heavily for Reagan in 1980 and 1984–even more so than the country as a whole.

Oh, but seniors’ (60 and over) vote for the Republicans for President went up from 44 percent in 1996 to 47 percent in 2000, Stolberg avers. But the Republican share of the Presidential vote among all voters went up 7 points, so such a change is hardly impressive. Moreover, the Democrats carried seniors by an identical margin (4 points) in both elections. Some trend.

Well, what about the fact that seniors voted Republican for the House in three successive elections (1994, 1996, 1998)? But, as Stolberg herself notes, in the most recent election for which we have data (2000), seniors swung back toward the Democrats, favoring them by 4 points, while the country was about evenly split!

This "trend" is looking shakier and shakier. Then, add in the fact that the youngest seniors–those 60-64 and therefore closest in age to the Boomers–were actually the most pro-Democratic group of seniors in that election and one is forced to conclude that there just isn’t a lot of there there (to paraphrase Gertrude Stein).

June 13, 2003

Vive le Difference!

Remember how the gender gap was supposed to be going away because women were attracted to the GOP on national security issues ("security moms" and that sort of thing)? Well, it's back (if indeed it ever went away).

In the latest Zogby poll, Bush's typically weak re-elect number is 44 percent to 37 percent for an unnamed Democratic opponent. But break it down by gender and you get 49 percent to 33 percent for men and 40 percent to 40 percent for women. Wow. And this is 17 months before the election. By the time the election actually gets here, women should, as usual, be strongly pro-Democratic.

June 12, 2003

So, Was That Iraq Thing Really Worth It?

A recently-released NPR poll has a fascinating result that was not widely reported. Likely voters were asked whether: 1) the Iraq war was a success and was worth the cost in lives and dollars; 2) the Iraq war was a success but was not worth the cost; or 3) the Iraq war was not a success. The replies were split down the middle between boosters and doubters of the Iraq war. Forty-eight percent said the Iraq war was a succcess and worth the cost, while 48 percent said either that the war was a success, but not worth the cost (33 percent) or the war was not a success (15 percent).

This is more proof, if proof were needed, that Democrats should not be holding back in their criticisms of the Bush administration's lies and deceptions on the WMDs. People are already wondering whether the Iraq war was worth its considerable costs (costs which continue to mount, of course). The Democrats' job should be to add fuel to that fire. Don't make Bob Graham, God bless him, do all the work. Every Democrat should be out there hacking away (and Lord knows there's enough material to hack with; see John Prados' excellent recent run-down on TomPaine).

But just raising doubts about Bush's approach isn't enough, of course. As Michael Tomasky astutely points out in The American Prospect online, Democrats need to provide a solid alternative to that approach. Many Americans are indeed wondering whether the Iraq war was worth the cost, but they're also wondering what would be worth the cost. How can we round up the bad guys and make American safer? DR suggests we all put on our thinking caps about that one.

June 10, 2003

The political mysteries of the WMDs

The fundamental mystery of the WMDs deepens. By any reasonable standard, nothing has so far been found. Moreover, it now seems almost certain that nothing will ever be found indicating a developing nuclear capability for Iraq–the subject of the administration’s most vivid scare stories. It’s just too hard to hide a nuclear program so thoroughly that it would’ve avoided detection thus far.

Which brings us to one of the political mysteries of the WMDs. Will this failure to find WMDs, especially the scariest ones, wind up turning a substantial segment of the public against the Bush administration?

The conventional wisdom is that, no, it won’t, because most people say the war was justified even if WMDs aren’t ever found. But that assumes that the only reason the public might turn on the administration is if they believe the war wasn’t justified.

DR doesn’t buy this. It’s quite possible that people will continue to believe the war was justified--basically because Saddam was a bad guy and it was good to get rid of him, especially given our history with him–but start to doubt what they were told about it and worry that they were, in effect, lied to. If that happens, the image of Bush as a strong leader who can be trusted will erode and the GOP’s fortunes with it.

But who's going to tell the public they were being lied to? That's the other political mystery of the WMDs. Paul Krugman is obviously willing to do so, as in today's excellent New York Times column. But what about the people who really need to do it--Democratic politicians, particularly Democratic presidential candidates? Howard Dean has been willing to make some noise. And, definitely Bob Graham. But so far most of the major candidates, particularly the (arguably) top two--Kerry and Gephardt--have been pretty quiet, saying some variation on it's too early to say we won't find them and avoiding the issue of lying and deliberate deception. Gephardt went so far as to point out that President Bill Clinton and others in his administration had said during the 1990s that Hussein had weapons of mass, therefore, how wrong could the Bush administration be?

Thanks, Dick. It appears the political calculus here is driven by risk avoidance--they don't want to be sandbagged if WMDs are actually found--combined by a feeling they need to continue to justify their votes for the war. Wrong on both counts. At this point, the administration can never find the WMDs in the quantity and deadliness (especially nuclear) they said they would. So they won't be sandbagged. And, they miss the point of going after the administration for lying to the public--it's not about justification for the war, it's about trust. Break that down and DR guarantees they won't have to worry about their votes on the war. But hold back and they lose a chance to wound Bush. They also reinforce their image of cravenness, which annoys the Democratic base, and not being willing to speak their mind, which annoys everyone else. Losses all around, gentlemen.

June 6, 2003

For God's Sake, Will You Kids Quit Fighting?

Reading the paper Thursday morning, DR was struck by a couple of articles. In the Washington Post, there was an article about the "Take Back America" conference that highlighted Wes Boyd and (see yesterday's post) and characterized the rest of the conference as a call to liberals to loudly assert their values against those in the party (read the DLC) who would sell them out.

That is probably the way the conference comes across--a few neat ideas and whole lot of internecine Democratic warfare. That's a shame.

The other article was in the the New York Times and covered the emergence of a new think tank led by John Podesta and dedicated to battling Bush and the conservatives. Podesta characterizes the new organization as specifically not being involved in internecine Democratic squabbles and focused instead on combatting the Republican agenda.

I don't know about you, but DR knows which article he found more encouraging.

DR did return to the "Take Back America" conference today and--alas--cannot report that it got all that better. As DR and an old progressive friend discussed at one point, if you wanted to know how the Dems can take Arizona in '04--or other similarly practical questions--this was not the place. Less rallies and more concrete strategy was the verdict of many in the halls.

DR did see candidate John Kerry speak....and he was fine. That was the problem. There was nothing wrong with what he said....but nothing particularly right either. Kerry just hasn't found a way to deliver his message in a distinctive way. It's all too carefully parsed.

Then again, DR isn't crazy about the rest of the field either. Kerry could potentially break away from the rest of the pack if he'd put his chips on something distinctive to sell besides his resume and military experience. For now, though, he seems to be languishing. See the rundown in the Daily Kos for a pretty good sense of how he's faring.

June 4, 2003

A Day in Liberal-Land

DR spent the day at the Campaign for America's Future "Take Back America" conference. It was both heartening and disheartening. Heartening, because there was excellent attendance and a high level of energy; disheartening because there was a dearth of new ideas and serious engagement with the strategic difficulties currently faced by Democrats and all progressives. If all that was necessary was to insist loudly on the viability of progressive ideas, we would be in pretty good shape. Unfortunately, the Bushies are a much tougher opponent and it will take a great deal more than pumping up the troops to beat them.

Wes Boyd of MovingOn was a breath of fresh air, since their internet-based organizing strategy is something new that has been genuinely effective. It's not the answer by itself but it's the kind of thinking and aggressive experimentation the progressive side of the spectrum needs more of. But most of the speeches were pretty much the same old same old, denouncing the usual bad guys and praising the usual good guys and causes. That's fine, but I'm looking for more. DR wants to know how to win.

Well, perhaps that's what we'll learn on the second day of the conference....and we'll also have the Presidential candidates' speeches. DR will be back with a report tomorrow.

Introducing Donkey Rising

Welcome to Donkey Rising, a political blog devoted to advancing the cause of the emerging Democratic majority. That doesn't mean a lot of rah-rah cheerleading. On the contrary, DR will strive to be fact-based, continuously reporting on public opinion, voting and demographic trends and trying to make sense of them. And DR will be hard-hitting in its criticism of those--even within our own ranks--who aren't really helping the cause or are just generally clueless.

DR, of course, will monitor political events and dissect the commentary about them, in time-honored blog fashion. But we'll also try to do a bit more, by putting these events, and the commentary on them, in a longer-term context. We'll always be coming back to fundamental strategic questions about how to overcome current obstacles and build the new Democratic majority.

Take, for example, the evolving debate among Democratic Presidential candidates about the best way to address the health care issue. Gephardt has an ambitious plan to move toward universal health care. But is it the right plan? Are any of the other candidates' plans any better? Is health care even the right issue for candidates to be focusing on? DR is amazed, for example, that none of the major candidates seem to have much to say about education, where the Republicans have now disgraced themselves by presiding over federal and state budget cutbacks. Indeed, education is an area where the terrain has shifted dramatically in the Democrats' favor.

After all, when Bush came into office, Democrats had no advantage at all on the education issue, a situation that continued through the passage of the No Child Left Behind act in early 2002. But ever since then, the public has been moving the Democrats' way. They want education well-funded and improved in this country and, increasingly, they don't trust the Republicans to do it. Beyond mandating tough standards, the GOP just doesn't seem to have much of a program for the public schools. How are schools to meet these mandated tough standards, especially schools with disadvantaged students? And how are schools going to provide smaller class size and better teachers? Maintain and modernize school buildings? Provide pre-school and after-school? The Bushies just don't seem to care, as they merrily cut taxes, slash education funding and watch states' budgets--primarily responsible for public school support--crash and burn. The contours of this situation are fairly clear to the public, which is why they're moving toward the Democrats on the issue.

But are the Democrats moving toward them? That's less clear. So far, the focus seems to be on health care--a hugely complicated, hugely expensive issue, that sucks up political oxygen, not to mention budgetary room, and makes it hard for Presidential candidates to advocate investment in anything else without seeming completely profligate. Yet, in open-ended poll questions asking people what their most important issues are, education typically out-polls health care. DR says that's a result worth pondering, as Democrats look toward '04 and the issues with which they want to be identified.