« July 2003 | Main | September 2003 »

August 31, 2003

Labor Day Reading

As we head into Labor Day, it’s an appropriate to time to think a bit about the future of the American labor movement. DR strongly recommends Harold Meyerson’s article in the new American Prospect as an aid to such thinking. Meyerson’s article, "Organize or Die", is about the three union presidents–Andrew Stern of SEIU, John Wilhelm of HERE and Bruce Raynor of UNITE–who have formed an alliance to push the AFL-CIO and its member unions to put more effort and money into organizing. The title of the article crisply expresses the viewpoint of the three presidents: without success on the organizing front, the labor movement will die as an effective force in American society.

Probably true. And so far, John Sweeney’s regime, despite success in reviving labor’s political clout, has essentially made no progress on the organizing front. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data peg union density at an anemic 13.2 percent and headed, if anything, slightly downward. Given the centrality of the labor movement to a strong Democratic politics, that should be a matter of concern to every Democrat.

Can Stern, Wilhelm and Raynor do it? DR’s crystal ball’s a bit fogged up on this one, but he sure as hell hopes they can. And you should too.

What Do You Call a President That Independent Voters Are Losing Faith In?

Vulnerable, that’s what. Here’s some data from a CBS News poll released on August 29. Bush’s overall job approval is at 53 percent among independents, drops to 44 percent on foreign policy (with 43 percent disapproval) and then collapses to 32 percent on the economy (with a stunning 58 percent disapproval).

On the war with Iraq, just 43 percent of independents now say the result of the war was worth its costs, while 49 percent think the result wasn’t worth the costs. And only 42 percent believe the US is in control of events taking place in Iraq, compared to 50 percent who say we aren’t. Note that these data were collected before the car bombing in Najaf on Friday that killed 125 people, including the relatively moderate Shiite cleric, Mohammed Bakir Hakim.

Finally, a mere 17 percent of independents think the threat of terrorism against the US has been decreased as a result of the war with Iraq. That number is dwarfed by the 30 percent who believe the threat of terrorism has increased and the 51 percent who believe the threat has remained the same.

An independent voter who doesn’t feel safer, who doesn’t feel the war was worth the costs and who thinks the Iraq situation is spinning out of control is an independent voter that Bush is on the verge of losing. More proof, if proof were needed, that Democrats shouldn’t be hugging Bush on the national security issue, they should be going after him.

August 29, 2003

Dean Kicks It Up a Notch

Wow. Howard Dean will raise well over $10 million this quarter, far outdistancing all of his Democratic rivals. And the latest Zogby poll out of New Hampshire has him with an astounding 21 point lead (38 percent to 17 percent) over his closest rival, John Kerry. The previous Zogby poll in early June had Kerry with a 3 point lead, so that’s quite a shift.

Moreover, as Ryan Lizza of The New Republic reports, Dean has steamrollered over Kerry in virtually every demographic category–"upscale Democrats, blue-collar Democrats, independents of all persuasions, every age group and every area of the state", including New Hampshire’s Boston suburbs, where Dean is now trouncing Kerry by 40 percent to 21 percent.

That suggests that Dean is starting to build support outside of the internet-savvy professionals and college students who have helped generate a lot of the excitement around the Dean campaign. Another sign is that more women than men supported Dean in the Zogby poll (the reverse has been typical so far), indicating he is starting to plug into mainstream support from Democratic women.

How’s he having all this success? As &c. points out, by keeping his initial supporters mobilized and excited, even while he concentrates on broadening his appeal to different groups and to different areas of country (for example, he recently visited Washington state, Wisconsin and Virginia).

In short, he’s convincing more and more people that he’s not just a compelling candidate, but a viable one. And skeptics like Joan Walsh of Salon.com are increasingly willing to admit that that’s the case. Meanwhile, Dean isn’t resting but planning to run ads soon in 8 of the first 15 caucus and primary states–Iowa and New Hampshire, of course, but also Arizona, New Mexico, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Washington and Wisconsin.

The DLC Phones It In

Meanwhile, back at the DLC, Al From and Bruce Reed are, no doubt, preparing yet another one of their memos imploring Democrats to reject the dreaded Dean, turn away from Mondale-McGovernism and embrace the true New Democrat faith. To paraphrase Bob Dylan: "There’s something happening here and you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. From?"

In an interesting article in the latest American Prospect, Garance Franke-Ruta reports that the DLC’s general cluelessness this election season has not been lost among many longtime New Democrat supporters. Many are starting to feel that the DLC has lost its way and appears frighteningly unaware of the many ways in which today’s political challenges and today’s Democratic party differ from the challenges and party faced by the DLC in mid-1980's.

The article quotes Simon Rosenberg, whose New Democrat Network has traditionally been closely allied with the DLC, as follows: "Saying this is like ‘68, like ‘72–all of that is irrelevant. We are in a different era.....We’re in an unsettled time....What’s not going to happen is a restoration of the old order."

Another veteran DLC supporter says: "You can’t walk away from [Al From’s] accomplishments." But "at this point, he and the DLC are more trying to re-create the past in terms of battles and achievements rather than look at the landscape as it is now."


See, This Is All Part of Kerry’s Plan

So, let’s see, Dean’s got the money, the excitement, the momentum and the lead in the polls. Not to worry, says the Kerry camp, we’ve got Dean right where we want him. Now we can roll out our message-driven campaign and really smoke him.

Just one problem. What is their message? Besides, of course, that Kerry fought in Vietnam. That he’s more optimistic? That he’ll only repeal some, not all, of the Bush tax cuts? That he’ll spend a bit of money trying to help out financially-strapped states?

Somehow that just doesn’t sound like it’ll do the trick. Time for the Kerry campaign, DR says, to kick it up a notch. If they don’t, they could be eating Dean’s dust all the way to Boston.

August 27, 2003

Bush Woes Continue

Well, DR’s back from the beach–tan, rested and ready, as they say–and he’s pleased to note that public disenchantment with Bush is continuing and intensifying.  In CBS News polling data released August 13, Bush’s approval rating was 55 percent, down 5 points from their July poll, and Bush’s approval rating on the economy was a dreadful 36 percent with 52 percent disapproval. Moreover, the poll found 60 percent of Americans saying the economy was in bad condition, with just 38 percent saying it in good shape. That’s the worst reading on this indicator since September, 1993.

And how much progress has been made on the economy? Compared to two years ago, 55 percent (60 percent of independents) think the nation’s economy is in worse shape today and 66 percent think the job market has deteriorated in that time span. No wonder that 70 percent (74 percent of independents) believe Bush should be paying more attention to the economy.

Bad, bad, bad. But of course the economy is Bush’s worst area. What of Bush’s strong suit: national security and the supposedly popular war in Iraq? Well, that war may have been mighty popular when the troops were barreling into Baghdad and Saddam’s statue was coming down, but it ain’t so popular anymore.  According to the CBS News poll, the country is now about evenly split between those who think the results of the war were worth the costs and those who disagree. The public is also evenly split between those who think the US is in control of the Iraq situation and those who think we aren’t.

Not so good. And a Newsweek poll released last weekend has Bush’s approval rating on Iraq down to 54 percent, off 4 points since late July and down 11 points since the end of May. Only 18 percent are very confident the US will be able to establish a stable, democratic form of government in Iraq and just 16 percent think efforts to rebuild Iraq are going very well.

And wait, there’s more! Recent developments have raised doubts in a substantial segment of the public about whether going to war with Iraq was the right thing to do. These developments include the number of US military casualties since the end of major combat was declared, reports about the long-term cost of the occupation, and the fact that no banned chemical or biological weapons have yet been found. In each case, about half the public says the development has raised doubts about the rightness of the war. In another indicator of wavering commitment, a slight plurality (48 percent to 47 percent) in now willing to say they would support a withdrawal of US military personnel from Iraq in response to ongoing attacks on our forces.

Finally, we’re getting close to an even split about whether the Bush administration purposely misled the public to build support for the Iraq war (43 percent say they did; 51 percent say they didn’t). No wonder an August 22 Washington Post story was headlined "Security May Not Be Safe Issue for Bush in ‘04". It isn’t and he’s not. The Newsweek poll, in fact, finds more registered voters (49 percent) saying they would not like to see Bush re-elected than say they would like to see him get a second term (44 percent). That’s quite a turnaround from early May., when registered voters favored Bush’s re-election by 51 percent to 38 percent.

Now if the Democrats could just get their act together, we might really have a horse race here. Latest thoughts on that problem soon.

August 8, 2003

Bush's Approval Rating Hits the Low 50s

The latest Pew Research Center poll has Bush’s approval rating down to 53 percent, with 37 percent disapproval, the highest disapproval of his Presidency. Bush has now given back all of the approval spike and more he got from the Iraq war; indeed he’s down almost 20 points (about 5 points a month) since his high of 74 percent when the statue of Saddam came down in Baghdad. While he can’t keep on losing approval at this clip, he doesn’t have far to go before he starts dipping below 50 percent, an unambiguous danger sign for incumbents.

The poll also has about an even split between those who say they would like to see Bush re-elected (40 percent) and those who say they would prefer that the Democratic candidate win the election (39 percent). In addition, the Democrats have a 7 point lead on party ID, once independents who lean toward a party are factored in.

If more evidence of Bush vulnerability is needed, consider this: by 30 points, the public now says it is more important for Bush to focus on the economy (57 percent) than on the war on terrorism (27 percent). When the public is asking you to focus on your chief area of weakness, that’s not a good sign.

The Return of the (Shudder) Office Park Dads

"Office Park Dads" always seemed to be one of the sillier entries in the swing voter sweepstakes, so obviously manufactured to make a pollster’s (in this case, Mark Penn’s) political point, that one could reasonably hope it would just fade away once its initial purpose had been served. And it more or less has, but OPDs make a (hopefully brief) return appearance in an otherwise fairly interesting research report from the New Democrat Network and Penn.

DR’s advice: just ignore the OPD stuff, as well as most of the tedious "message-testing" findings, and check out the more straightforward parts of the report where, for example, they urge Democrats to "take the initiative on issues with unrealized potential" like protecting civil liberties and the environment; homeland security and closing corporate loopholes. Much of the demographic and targeting analysis is also useful.

At times, NDN seems on the verge of breaking out of its orthodox New Democrat straightjacket and this research report suggests continued cautious movement in this direction. DR welcomes this and hopes to see more of the same.

The Case for Dean

Two contributions to the Dean debate caught DR’s eye this week. Kos had a well-argued post on Monday on "the secret of Dean’s success" making the case that Dean is clearly the best candidate when you take a strictly pragmatic, who-can-best-beat-Bush viewpoint. Of course, Kos is a Dean partisan, but, intriguingly, we are now seeing some of the same arguments from influential national political reporters. John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal, wrote in his "Capital Journal" column that "In a Polarized U.S., Dean May Be Electable After All". Harwood’s main point is that Dean may have an electability problem against Bush, so do all the other major candidates (as Dean-supporting DR readers have reminded DR many times). They will all have vulnerabilities that Bush will attack mercilessly. But only Dean, Harwood argues, may be to fully mobilize the Democratic base and tap new sources of funding, which makes him the strongest Democratic candidate in the currently polarized political environment.

The Case for Edwards

Edwards never seems to go anywhere in the polls, but, darn it, that fella is coming up with some really good ideas. Check out Ryan Lizza’s recent piece in The New Republic for details on Edwards’ transformation into policy wonk. So he’s not just a pretty face with a folksy manner any more. And The New Republic’s blog, &c. had a good post arguing that Edwards has the best shot at appealing to both kinds of swing voters Democrats need: upper-income social moderates and culturally conservative blue collar voters. Could be, but unless he can get Democratic primary voters to notice him, he’s toast.

The Case for Gephardt

He’s good enough, he’s smart enough, and, doggone it, people like him!  Beyond that, why is it that DR can’t find a good "case for Gephardt" article to recommend these days? It seems like he’s the kind of candidate who could both bring the party together and appeal to some of the moderate swing voters Democrats need to reach, especially the culturally conservative blue collar voters. Could it be he’s too far out there–calling both for repealing all of Bush’s tax cuts (as Dean does) and for a hugely expensive expansion of health care coverage. Or that he’s too charisma-challenged and too much like a Washington hack? Or that his support for the war seemed not only too vigorous but also too politically motivated? Who knows? But there’s a case there to be made should anyone care to make it. And he is from Missouri.

The Case for Kerry

He’s potentially the best candidate. Note the word "potentially". Indeed, DR is constantly struck by how many people he runs into who grudgingly admit to supporting Kerry on the grounds he could make the best candidate. But, every last one of them doesn’t seem terribly enthusiastic about supporting him and wishes Kerry could generate some excitement about his campaign. Beyond his resume, no one seems sure what his campaign is really about. And that’s not good.

The Case for Lieberman

Read any Al From-Bruce Reed memo. Or go directly to Joe himself and read Lieberman’s speech to the National Press Club on "Fighting for the Future of the Democratic Party". As he’s kind enough to tell us, only he can save the Democratic party from itself unlike all those other bad Democrats. Well, maybe, but DR remains skeptical that mainlining Al From is truly the way to the hearts of Democratic primary voters, or, for that matter, general election voters.  Clinton was smart enough to know that the thoughts of Chairman Al have to be judiciously mixed with populist and other Democratic political approaches to be truly effective. Lieberman isn’t and it will kill his candidacy in the end. For more on Lieberman’s cluelessness, see these excellent posts by TAPPED.

The Case for Graham

He’s from Florida.

August 3, 2003

Who Are You Gonna Believe: Me or The Actual Poll Numbers?

That’s kind of the impression DR gets from reading today’s writeup in The New York Times of the latest CBS/New York Times poll, conducted in mid-to-late July. This is a pretty interesting poll, not least because they took a large Hispanic oversample that allowed them to compare Hispanics with the overall population and various subgroups.

What does the poll show? First, it shows the same decline in strength for Bush and the Republicans that other public polls have been showing lately. Bush’s overall approval rating is down to 54 percent, 13 points lower than the last time this poll was taken in mid-May. That’s a decline of about 5 points a month and gives back all of Bush’s approval gains from the Iraq war and then some.

His approval rating on foreign policy is down to 52 percent–essentially the same as before the Iraq war–and his approval rating on the economy is now only 40 percent, with 52 percent disapproval.

Democrats are now preferred over Republicans by 8 points on ensuring a strong economy (in May, the Republicans were preferred by a point), by 20 points on creating new jobs, by 13 points on education and by 3 points on "sharing your moral values" (!). And Bush’s re-elect number is an anemic 32 percent.

Second, it shows that, on each and every one of the indicators just cited, and a number of others besides, Hispanics are more, and frequently much more, anti-Republican and pro-Democratic than the overall population. And they are especially pro-Democratic when compared to whites.

But here’s the weird part: the headline for the front-page New York Times story is: "Hispanics Back Big Government and Bush, Too". Huh? Where the heck did that come from? If Hispanics’ views can be characterized as "backing Bush", he is in more trouble than DR had dared hope.

Check out these figures from the poll. Bush’s approval rating among Hispanics is 52 percent. That compares to 54 percent among the overall population and about 59-60 percent among non-Hispanic whites (DR’s estimate on whites; bizarrely, The Times supplies data for Hispanics, non-Hispanic blacks and all non-Hispanics, but not non-Hispanic whites, so data from this group must be inferred from the other data given). Moreover, Bush’s favorability rating among Hispanics is only 37 percent, compared to 46 percent for all adults and 52-53 percent among whites and just 21 percent of Hispanics are willing to say, at this point, that they would probably vote to re-elect Bush.

And what is the Democratic party’s favorability rating among Hispanics? A rather healthy 60 percent, with just 22 percent unfavorable; the Republican party gets an anemic 40 percent favorability rating, with 39 percent unfavorable. In addition, Hispanics’ partisanship is 2:1 Democratic and, by 49 percent to 21 percent, Hispanics think Democrats are more likely to care about the needs of Hispanics. Hispanics also favor Democrats by 30 points on creating new jobs, by 24 points on education, by 23 points on ensuring a strong economy and by 22 points on sharing their moral values.

Underscoring their proclivity for Democrats, Hispanics also say, by an incredible 75 percent to 16 percent margin–by almost 60 points!–that they would rather have a bigger government providing more services than a smaller government providing fewer services. The public as a whole favor smaller government by 48 percent to 40 percent.

Finally, Hispanics aren’t even that supportive of the war with Iraq, contrary to various anecdotal reports in the press. By 49 percent to 40 percent, Hispanics do not think removing Saddam from power was worth the loss of American life and other costs; that compares to 54 percent to 39 percent among the general public who do think that removing Saddam was worth the costs.

So how on earth can this profoundly pro-Democratic group of voters be described as "backing Bush"? Apparently, what The Times means is that Hispanics are fairly conservative on abortion and gay rights (though they believe Democrats are more likely to share their moral values), are supportive of vouchers (though not if it means less money for public schools) and are more interested in tax cuts than deficit reduction (though not more interested in tax cuts than, say, spending on public schools). But none of this is news; all are long-standing tendencies of Hispanic public opinion and should never be interpreted as meaning that Hispanics "back Bush", unless there’s actual evidence that they do so. And, in fact, all the other data from the poll suggests that they don’t.

Well, DR supposes that pro-Democratic, pro-big government Hispanics who show few signs of defecting to the Republicans wouldn’t have made such a good story. But it would have had the great virtue of being more accurate and more clearly reflecting The Times’ actual data.

August 1, 2003

They're Shocked (Shocked!) That the Press Would Cover What They Said

DR has heard from several of his DLC readers (and God bless them, each and every one) excoriating him for his July 29 post criticizing the DLC’s factional attacks on other Democrats at their National Conversation in Philadelphia. Doesn’t DR realize that the DLC is going after Bush in a big way? And why did DR quote Adam Nagourney’s New York Times article, which was so one-sided, etc., etc.?

Well, here’s the deal. DR would be more inclined to hang his muzzle in shame, if he didn’t believe the DLC leadership is very smart indeed, and well aware that their attacks would wind up on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers. They know how the press works and they know what’s likely to be picked up as a story. So, if they didn’t want the factional attacks to be picked up by the press, here’s what they would’ve had to do: not make ‘em. And, better yet, follow DR’s advice, and make a big deal out of calling for Democratic unity. Now, DR realizes this is a bit difficult for them; if you’ve been merrily factionalizing for 18 years and pretty much got on the political map that way, it’s hard to stop.

But now could be the time. The DLC has a lot of energy and good ideas and they’re right about political strategy way more often than most liberals are willing to admit. So nothing would make DR happier than to see them turn away from their standard fight-to-the-death stance over party ideology and devote their considerable talents to bringing all Democrats together to beat Bush and his gang of country-wreckers.

Dean: The Big Question

DR wants to urge readers once again to check out the Jonathan Cohn-Jonathan Chait debate on Dean's electability in The New Republic online. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll shake your head in frustration at how Cohn (or Chait) just doesn’t get it. But you will be challenged intellectually by the arguments that are made. And, really, it all comes down to this big question: can Dean move to the center far enough in the general election to get the swing voters he’ll need to beat Bush? Cohn and Chait generally agree that today’s Dean is not electable and that he’d have to reinvent himself in some important ways if he did, in fact, get the nomination. They rightfully disregard the silly notion that he can run just as he is now and enough nonvoters will come out of woodwork (‘cause they dig his straight talk and fiery manner) to make up big deficits among existing swing voters.

So that’s the question. Can Dean reinvent himself? (Extra credit if yes answer to previous question: what would be the most effective way for him to do so?) This exam is open book and feel free to talk to your neighbors.