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September 27, 2003

The State of Bush in the States

Bush has been tanking in the national polls lately, as DR has been delighted to document. But, as the 2000 election so vividly illustrated, it’s not enough to beat Bush nationally in the popular vote; you need to beat him state by state and gain a majority of the electoral votes to defeat him.

That’s why it’s so significant that Bush’s poll numbers have recently been tanking in one important state after another.

AZ: 34 percent say they would vote to re-elect Bush; 44 percent say they would vote for somebody else

CA: Bush overall job rating at 46 percent, on Iraq at 40 percent and below 40 on the economy, environment, health care, reducing unemployment and the budget deficit.

CO: 42 percent would vote to re-elect Bush; 35 percent to replace him

IO: 41 percent say they would vote to re-elect Bush; 41 percent say they would vote for the Democrat

MI: 44 percent say they would vote to re-elect Bush; 49 percent say they would vote for somone else

NM: 40 percent say they would vote to re-elect Bush; 43 percent would vote for another candidate

The Democrats look to be in good shape to hold their blue states from 2000 and, critically, pickup some of the red states where underlying trends are making Democrats competitive. And, if that happens, it’s bye-bye, W.

Will a Recovering Economy Save Bush?

But what if the economy picks up and, say, we have pretty good economic growth by the middle of next year? Don’t the election forecasting models say that if GDP growth or, even better, growth in per capita disposable income is strong, then Bush more or less has a lock on the election?

Just like Al Gore did in 2000, I guess, a very recent election that most of the economy-driven election forecasting models missed egregiously. And let’s not forget 1992, when such models also performed poorly, because, by the middle of 1992 the economy was, according to most indicators, picking up a good deal of steam. So George H.W. Bush should have won. But he didn’t.

There’s a lesson here. Sure the economy in 1992 was picking up and, perhaps reasonably, the forecasting models assumed this would be a big deal to voters–but, both then and now, these are simple models based on a very small number of elections that simply can’t capture unusual, but critical, aspects of an upcoming election. (DR strongly recommends Jay Greene’s critique of election forecasting models that was published back in 1993 in The American Prospect). In the 1992 case, the unusual aspect was the persistence of relatively high unemployment, even as growth picked up. That made voters cranky who were expecting better and they took it out on the incumbent.

What’s happening today? Well, growth may be picking up and it could be pretty good by the middle of next year. Like 1992. But most projections expect unemployment to remain high through next year, even with the growth pickup. Like 1992. And right now 48 percent of voters in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll say that unemployment is the most important economic issue facing the country–far outdistancing any other particular economic issue. That’s also just like 1992, when 46 percent of Americans said unemployment was the most important economic issue.

So, throw those forecasting models in the circular file. And. with any luck, we’ll have an election result just like 1992, too.

September 25, 2003

Getcher Fresh Exit Polls Right Here!

Well, not exactly fresh, but the VNS consortium has now released a public use file of the national (though not state) data from the 2002 election. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here and DR’s crack research team will release results from these data as their analysis of the public use file proceeds.

Of course, we’ll do this analysis carefully and make sure we get it right. Others may perhaps be less careful. An early example of this is a column by pollster David Winston in Roll Call that claimed, among other things, that the VNS data show that it is a myth that "Republicans can’t attract minority voters in significant numbers".

Well, not really. In fact, the VNS 2002 data are completely consistent with that so-called myth. Republicans are still having huge difficulties attracting minority voters and the 2002 election was not an exception. Where the GOP did do exceptionally well was among white voters, where they received 60 percent of the white vote. That’s up from 57 percent in 1998, the last off-year election and the best point of comparison, and also from 2000, where they received 56 percent of the white vote.

Winton claims, however, that the GOP had a breakthrough year among Hispanics. He cites as evidence a drop in Hispanic support for Congressional Democrats and rise in support for Republicans between 2000 and 2002. While Winston’s data for ‘02 are wrong and exaggerate this change, it is true that the Hispanic two party House vote was 65 percent Democratic/35 percent Republican in ‘00 and did fall modestly to 62 percent/38 percent in ‘02. However, Hispanic support for House Democrats traditionally falls at least several points from a Presidential to an off-year election, so this says little about a real trend toward the Republicans. The more pertinent comparison is to 1998, the last off-year election, where Hispanics supported Democrats by 63 percent to 37 percent. So, basically, we have a shift in off-year Democratic support from 63/37 to 62/38. If that’s a trend, DR will eat his calculator.

Well, what about the Senate races? These were the most significant races of ‘02 and perhaps a pro-GOP surge can be detected here. Nope, the Senate two party vote among Hispanics was 67 percent Democratic/33 percent Republican. Governors, then? Not here, either–Democratic support among Hispanics was a healthy 65 percent to 35 percent.

What about other minorities? Not much luck here either for the GOP. In fact, blacks and asians both appear to have increased their support for the Democrats. The two party black vote for the House went from 89 percent Democrat/11 percent Republican in both 1998 and 2000 to a 91 percent/9 percent split in 2002. And Asians increased their support dramatically for House Democrats going from 56 percent Democratic/44 percent Republican in 1998 to 60 percent/40 percent in 2000 to 66 percent/34 percent in 2002!

Much more "progress" like this among minority voters and the GOP–aka "the white people’s party"–will have a very limited future indeed.

September 24, 2003

News Flash! First Major Public Poll Has Bush Under 50!

The just-released NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has Bush's approval rating at just 49 percent, with 45 percent disapproval.  This is the first major public poll to break the 50 percent barrier.

The poll also shows that more people now believe the policies of the Bush administration (25 percent) are resonsible for the recession and economic downturn we are experiencing than believe the effects of 9/11 and the war on terrorism (22 percent) are responsible.  That's a huge turnaround from October of 2002 when 34 percent blamed 9/11 for economic problems and only 12 percent blamed Bush administration policies.

More on this very interesting poll tomorrow.

September 23, 2003

Bush's Approval Rating Does the Limbo! (How Low Can It Go?)

The honor of the second sub-50 Bush approval rating goes to the just-released American Research Group (ARG) poll which has our steadily-less-beloved president at just 47 percent approval with 48 percent disapproval–in other words, a net negative job rating. Just a month ago, ARG had Bush’s approval rating at a net +15 (54 percent approval/39 percent disapproval).

Breathing right down ARG’s neck is the latest Gallup poll, which has Bush’s approval rating at 50 percent approval/47 percent disapproval. That’s even lower than the approval rating Gallup measured for Bush right before 9/11, when Bush was at 52 percent approval but only 39 percent disapproval–8 points less than Bush’s current disapproval rating. In other words, Bush has now not only lost every point in approval rating he gained post-9/11, he is actually in substantially worse shape, because so many more people disapprove of the job he is doing.

Could it get worse? Let’s hope so. Here’s one indication that it might. Gallup has been asking a question for awhile about whether "the situation in Iraq was worth going to war about or not". In contrast to other questions about this issue which have asked respondents to weigh the costs of the war against its results, and have tended to elicit split or negative judgements for several months, this question has yielded quite positive judgements until very recently. Just last month, in fact, 63 percent of the public said the Iraq situation was worth going to war about, with just 35 percent saying it wasn’t; now the public is about evenly split, with 50 percent saying the Iraq situation was worth going to war, and 48 percent saying it wasn’t. Moreover, the numbers of men and women who think Iraq was worth going to war are now about the same, erasing the gender gap in war support that had helped shore up Bush’s position up to and through the invasion of Iraq.

But the public still has a personal bond with Bush, right, as a result of his leadership after 9/11? Not so much anymore. Gallup asked whether Bush "has the personality and leadership qualities a president should have?". Right now, 59 percent still agree with this statement, but that’s down from 64 percent in late June and about the same as his rating on this question just prior to 9/11. And 51 percent today say they disagree with Bush on the issues that matter most to them, compared to 42 percent who said they disagreed with Bush on these issues prior to 9/11.

Once again, weaker than before 9/11.

That helps explain why Bush is starting to run so poorly against individual Democrats in prospective 2004 matchups. Until recently, he won most of these matchups pretty easily. No more. In fact, Wesley Clark, who just entered the presidential race, now actually beats Bush by 3 points in such a matchup (49 percent to 46 percent among registered voters) and Kerry beats him by a point (48 percent to 47 percent). Other Democrats also do well, just barely losing to Bush–Lieberman by a point, Gephardt by 2 and Dean by 3.

With these kind of numbers, even the most adamant members of the punditocracy have got to start admitting this is one vulnerable president. But tell ‘em you saw it here first.

September 22, 2003

Clark's Bad Day....and Clark's Good Poll

Well, General Clark’s campaign got off to, how shall we say this, a less than completely optimal start last week, what with the tepid announcement speech and then the embarrassing free association session with top national political reporters. At least he didn’t say, "it all depends on what the meaning of ‘never’ is". For a good and rather amusing run-down of Clark’s bad day, see Joan Walsh’s article in Salon.com.

But, what the heck, he’s just getting started and apparently Democrats around the nation were not unduly disturbed by his early stumbles. In the Newsweek poll that was released this weekend, he leads the other declared Democratic candidates, albeit modestly, among registered Democrats and Democratic leaners, with 14 percent support, to 12 percent for Lieberman and Dean, 10 percent for Kerry and 8 percent for Gephardt.

Moreover, he does quite well against Bush in a direct matchup, only losing by 4 points, 47 percent to 43 percent (typically, specific Democrats do less well against Bush than an unnamed or generic Democrat, where we have seen a number of very close results lately). Significantly, Clark beats Bush in the south (47 percent to 45 percent), among young voters (48 percent to 44 percent) and among independents (44 percent to 42 percent). He also runs only a 4 point gender gap in support (45 percent among women and 41 support among men), another heartening sign for Democrats worried about their candidate’s ability to be competitive outside the Democratic base.

Kerry also fares well in a matchup with Bush, losing by just 48 percent to 43 percent, but Dean does not, running a 14 point deficit (52 percent to 38 percent) against the incumbent. This result, combined with Clark’s relatively good showing against Bush, both generally and among voter groups Democrats have been trouble with, can only reinforce doubts about Dean’s electoral viability and promote interest in a strong alternative.

Can There Be Too Many Bad Bush Numbers?

DR doesn’t think so either. So feast your peepers on these, fresh from the same Newsweek poll cited above.

First, Bush’s overall approval rating is down to 51 percent, heading for the sub-50 territory first reached by the Winston Group poll reported last week. And we have a bit of a milestone in terms of his re-elect number in this poll. For the first time, we have 50 percent saying they would not like to see Bush re-elected to another term as president (44 percent say they would).

Then, consider his approval ratings in other areas. He gets a dreadful 38 percent approval on the economy, with 57 percent disapproval. Incredibly, his rating on taxes is not all that much better, with 42 percent approval and 50 percent disapproval. Imagine that, on taxes!

His rating on health care is also abysmal, with 37 percent approval and 51 percent disapproval. And his ratings on education and the environment, two domestic issues where his ratings have been at least mediocre are heading into in the danger zone. His education rating is 46 percent approval with 43 percent disapproval, for only a +3 margin, down from +14 in late July. And his environmental rating now has higher disapproval (44 percent) than approval (43 percent). Yet in late July, approval of his job on the environment was still running 9 points ahead of disapproval.

And then there’s foreign policy. Consistent with recent polls, his rating in this area in general is now just 48 percent and his rating on Iraq in particular is now net negative with 46 percent approval and 47 percent disapproval.

Not that Bush still doesn’t have areas of strength, of course. His rating on "policies to prevent and minimize terrorism at home" is still a robust 66 percent and hasn’t fallen much since late July. Considering how little the Bush administration has actually done on the homeland security front, a rating this high is pretty amazing–and indicates an area where Democrats need to get to work and develop a critique that bites out of the abundant raw material.

September 19, 2003

Remember How Foreign Policy Was Supposed To Be Bush’s Strong Suit?

And how only the economy could really drag him down? Well, the economy’s still dragging him down (his approval rating on the economy is a dismal 41 percent with 52 percent disapproval), but now his ratings on foreign policy and Iraq are getting almost as bad.

In the latest CBS News poll, just 47 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy, while 44 percent disapprove (independent voters, a proxy for the coveted swing voters Bush needs to get re-elected, give him an even worse rating: 39 percent approval to 47 disapproval). And, for the first time, his approval rating on the situation in Iraq is more negative than positive, 47 percent disapproval to 46 percent approval (independents are more negative, giving him 50 percent disapproval to 38 percent approval).

Maybe that invasion, which always had huge substantive problems, was also a dumb idea politically.

Other findings underscore the precariousness of the Bush administration’s current position. By almost 3:1 (64 percent to 22 percent), the public doesn’t believe the administration has yet developed a clear plan for rebuilding Iraq. That’s a big shift since late April when the public was split down the middle on this question.

The public has also now shifted to the view that the result of the war with Iraq was not worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq (47 percent to 43 percent). And, again, among independents, the judgement is even more negative: 50 percent feel that the result of the war wasn’t worth the cost, compared to 41 percent who think it was.

As for Bush’s $87 billion request for additional funds to rebuild Iraq, the public is overwhelmingly opposed to spending this money (66 percent to 26 percent). They tend to believe that spending this money will mean cuts in spending on programs such as education and health care (48 percent), rather than affordable without such cuts (37 percent). And, of three options presented to the public to pay for the rebuilding of Iraq, eliminating the recent tax cuts is the only one that seems remotely salable politically (53 percent disapproval). The other two options, increasing the deficit and cutting spending on domestic programs receive stratospheric disapproval ratings of 72 percent and 82 percent, respectively.

Your move, George.

Can John Kerry Turn It Around?

The answer provided by David Kusnet, in his excellent article of the same name in Salon.com, is an unequivocal "maybe". Kusnet rehearses the ups and downs of the Kerry campaign and is very good on the shifting constellation of forces within his campaign. Kusnet plausibly argues that Kerry may have misunderstood, from the beginning, the anger against Bush brewing among rank-and-file Democrats. He less plausibly argues that Kerry is now getting past that misunderstanding and may finally be coming up with a compelling message after many months of drifting (it appears to have something to do with shared sacrifice, though DR can’t say he completely understands what this new message is supposed to be).

At any rate, the article convinced DR he should keep an open mind about Kerry in the months ahead. On the other hand, he still won’t be surprised to see him go down in flames fairly early.

September 17, 2003

Oh That Wes Clark Is So Dreamy!

Especially if your dream is beating George W. Bush in November, 2004. Too bad he didn’t give a better announcement speech, but presumably this is something he can work on.

As Clark starts his campaign, here are some things to watch out for. Report back to DR when you have the answers to all questions.

  • money: how much and how fast?

  • campaign staff: which ones and how good?

  • the press: will he be comfortable with them or have an adversary relationship?

  • domestic policy positions: can he develop credible ones fast?

  • bigfoot Democrats: how many and how important?

  • blacks: is Charlie Rangel really with him and who else?

  • unions: will McEntee back him and are there any others?

  • Dean supporters: will nervous Dean supporters head for Clark as the electable alternative?

  • Kerry supporters: will unenthusiastic Kerry supporters (are there any other kind?) desert his sinking ship for Clark?

  • undecideds: can Clark convince them he’s the guy to beat Bush?

Useful reading on the Clark question: David Greenberg’s piece in Slate on "how generals get elected president". Greenberg’s bottom line: "[Clark] has mastered the two historical requirements: He doesn’t act as if he needs the job, and he doesn’t act as if he wants war."

The South? Who Needs ‘Em!

That’s kind of the flavor of John Harwood’s piece in the Wall Street Journal, where he argues "Democrats’ Woes in Dixie Hurt Case for Edwards, Clark". Actually, Harwood has it wrong about the effect on the case for Clark, which mostly hinges on his ability to attract swing voters outside the south, rather than his ability to carry Arkansas or similar southern states.

But he is right about the electoral math. With the exception of Florida, Democrats need a northern, not a southern, strategy that will build on the 260 electoral votes they have captured in three successive presidential elections and extend their majority to lower midwestern, southwestern and other contested states outside the south. Of course, it’s good to be competitive in some southern states to tie up Republican resources and pick up the odd victory, but the Democrats don’t need those states. Their needs lie elsewhere and Harwood is correct to highlight this.

The Mystery of John Edwards

Ah, he started out with such promise. But it’s hard to miss the odor of lightly browned toast coming from his campaign these days. Garance Franke-Ruta and Jason Zengerle do a nice job dissecting this mysterious transformation in their online New Republic debate. Alexander Bolton contributes an article to Salon.com on "Sunset for the Golden Boy" addressing some of the same themes and William Saletan of Slate glumly admits Edwards doesn’t seem to have much of a chance but "[the Democrats] should at least run on his message". Saletan makes a convincing case that some of Edwards’ themes would indeed serve a Democrat well in a general election contest against Bush.

But that Democrat ain’t gonna be Edwards. He should have stayed in the Senate. Darn it.

And Those Bad Bush Poll Numbers Just Keep on Coming!

The latest bad polling news for the Bushies is contained in a just-released Democracy Corps poll (be sure to check out the very nice slide presentation). Perhaps the most interesting findings are comparisons between public opinion before and after Bush’s recent Iraq speech requesting $87 billion more for the occupation and between public opinion today and before 9/11.

Start with the pre-speech/post-speech comparison. DR has pointed out previously that this speech seemed to go over like a lead balloon. Here’s more confirmation. Before the speech, 50 percent thought Bush was honest with Americans about the dangers and threats Iraq posed before the war; after the speech the same 50 percent thought so. Much worse, before the speech, by 50 percent to 44 percent, the public said they could trust what Bush is saying about WMDs in Iraq; after the speech that flipped to 53 percent saying they couldn’t trust what he said and 43 percent who said they could. In addition, before the speech, people already thought, by a margin of 4 points, that Bush didn’t have a plan to win the peace and bring the troops home; after the speech that margin widened to 12 points. Finally, on the key question of whether the war in Iraq was worth the cost of US lives and dollars, before the speech a narrow majority of the public (51 percent to 42 percent) said the war was worth these costs; after the speech that narrow majority turned into a even narrower plurality (just 49 percent to 45 percent).

It’s been remarked that Bush’s poll ratings in most respects seem to be returning to about what they were prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That’s true and in some cases they’re actually worse. The public is now 10 points less likely to think Bush is honest and trustworthy; 7 points less likely to think he is moderate, not extreme, 6 points less likely to think he is for working and middle class families and 5 points less likely to think he "cares about people like you". In addition, the public is 12 points more likely to think he has a go-it-alone policy that hurts our relations with our allies.

Similarly, when comparing the ratings on which parties are trusted to do a better job on the issues, Democrats now have the same leads or better that they had prior to 9/11 and Republicans are not doing much better today than they did then. Democrats are favored by 35 points on the environment today (33 points before 9/11), by 26 points on Medicare (26 points previously), by 24 points on health care (21 previously), by 20 points on retirement and social security (16 previously), by 20 points on prescription drugs (22 previously), by 20 points on the federal budget and deficits (just 3 previously), by 12 points on the economy (3 previously) and by 11 points on education (7 previously). For the Republicans, they are favored by 6 points today on taxes (but were favored by 12 points before 9/11) and by 22 points on keeping America strong (but they were running a 16 point lead even before 9/11).

The conclusion is inescapable. Much of the Bush’s political capital from 9/11 has been dissipated. More than anyone would have thought a year ago, the 2004 election seems likely to be fought on the actual merits and demerits of the entire Bush presidency, not just the two months after 9/11. And, in DR’s opinion, that’s pretty bad–extremely bad–news for Bush.

September 16, 2003

Take Two Clark Bars and Call Me in the Morning?

David Brooks reported today in his New York Times column that Howard Dean was the consensus choice among Republican consultants as the guy they’d most like to see run against Bush in the ‘04 election. Their reasoning: Dean can get the Democratic base, but not the swing voters he’ll need.

Michael Wolff of New York Magazine takes this familiar analysis one step further and provides a structural basis for Dean’s problem that goes beyond his positions and profile. Wolff argues that Dean’s mastery of internet fundraising has a close parallel to McGovern’s mastery of direct mail fundraising in his 1972 campaign for the Democratic nomination. McGovern had, and Dean has, a first mover advantage in applying an available technology to targeted political fundraising; McGovern had, and Dean is having, great success generating money from the targeted efforts, which produces momentum which leads to more money, and so on. Wolff’s worry: like McGovern, this has little to do with reaching swing voters and everything to do with pumping up a targeted portion of the Democratic base and, like McGovern, this will make it difficult to win a general election.

Brooks’ case is oversimplified and Wolff’s case is overstated. But both have enough truth to them to worry DR quite a bit—and certainly to keep him from drinking that big glass of Dean Kool-Aid people keep putting in front of him.

If only there were a candidate who was anti-war, but still credible as commander-in-chief; willing to go after Bush, but less likely to alienate swing voters; able to generate enthusiasm, but not dependent on a limited demographic slice of the Democratic party like....well, like Wesley Clark.

Who now, it appears, is going to run. For a little inside baseball on how Clark’s campaign might shape up, see this post by the Daily Kos. For some intelligent commentary on why Clark might be able to develop momentum, see this post by Josh Marshall. For some of the many reasons why a Clark candidacy might fizzle out pretty fast, see this debate between Frank Foer and Noam Scheiber of The New Republic and some of DR’s own commentary.

Among the many interesting things to watch here will be Clark’s ability to peel off Dean supporters who have harbored doubts about their man’s ability to beat Bush, as well as collect Kerry supporters who had thought him the most electable candidate because of his military background, but now find him–literally–outranked. The latter seems particularly plausible, since the Kerry campaign appears lost and without energy at this point

Stay tuned and don’t drink any Kool-Aid for awhile, OK?

September 16, 2003

posted 10:40 pm

September 15, 2003

Bush’s First Sub-50 Approval Rating!

And it’s even in a Republican poll!! (DR doesn’t count the recent Zogby sub-50 reading, because they ask the approval question differently.) In the just-released Winston Group/New Models poll for the House GOP conference, W’s approval rating clocks in at 49 percent, with 46 percent disapproval. How sweet it is.

The poll also gives the Democrats a 5 point lead (45 percent to 40 percent) in a generic Congressional ballot question. If Karl Rove wasn’t nervous before, he might be starting to break a sweat.

More on That Post Poll

Yesterday, DR reviewed the latest Washington Post/ABC poll, which had a lot of very interesting findings in it. Jusiper also has some useful comments on the poll, highlighting Bush’s anomalously high approval ratings on education (56 percent) and the environment (51 percent). Jusiper is right to flag these ratings (though they don’t exactly mean that the public "favors" Bush on these issues), because they suggest missed Democratic opportunities. These are issues where the public tends to favor Democrats over Republicans by wide margins and where the Bush administration has performed miserably. So, how come his ratings in these areas aren’t in the tank along with his economy, health care and budget ratings?

Basically because the public doesn’t yet associate the administration’s failures in these areas with Bush personally. That’s work that needs to be done. By rights, Bush should be carrying net negative ratings in both these areas and with a bit of effort DR thinks we can get him there. Leave no Bush rating behind!

So Does the Public Really Think Saddam Was Behind 9/11?

Depends on how you ask the question. As reported in a recent Washington Post story, when asked whether it was likely Saddam "was personally involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks", 69 percent said it was very or somewhat likely.

But that figure’s pretty soft. A much better question fielded by the Program on International Policy Attitudes asked for the "best description of the relationship between the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein and the terrorist group al-Qaeda". Here are the responses: 7 percent said there was no connection at all; 31 percent said a few al-Quada individuals visited Iraq or had contact with Iraqi officials; 35 percent said Iraq gave substantial support to al-Qaeda but was not involved in the 9/11 attacks; and just 21 percent endorsed the idea that Iraq was directly involved in carrying out the 9/11 attacks.

In other words, only about a fifth of Americans really seem to believe that Saddam was involved in 9/11. That level of belief is bad enough, Lord knows, since there’s zero evidence that he was, despite the pronouncements of the apparently completely mad Dick Cheney. But it’s better than 7 in 10.

September 14, 2003

Public Just Says No to Iraq Authorization

On Friday, DR covered the latest Gallup poll, which says, among other things, that the public opposes Congressional authorization of the $87 billion requested for Iraq by President Bush. Today comes confirmation of this opposition. The new Washington Post/ABC poll has the public opposing Bush’s request by a lopsided 61 percent to 38 percent ( a larger majority than the Gallup poll, possibly because the Post question mentions the previous $79 billion allocated for Iraq and its reconstruction). It’s now clear that Bush’s speech calling for the new authorization was, shall we say, a "miserable failure". Indeed, in another slap in the face to Bush’s approach, the public favors eliminating Bush’s recent tax cuts (41 percent) over cutting spending (28 percent) or increasing the deficit (19 percent), to pay for the authorization if it is passed.

Also consistent with the Gallup poll, Bush’s approval rating on the situation in Iraq is now just 52 percent, down an amazing 23 points since the end of April. (Oddly, his overall approval rating in this poll, unlike the Gallup poll, is still doing its Wile E. Coyote running-on-air act and remains roughly unchanged in the last month.) And on a wide range of domestic issues, his ratings are truly abysmal. They include: the economy at 42 percent approval/56 percent disapproval; creating jobs at 39 percent/55 percent disapproval; the federal budget at 38 approval/57 percent disapproval; prescription drugs for seniors at 35 percent disapproval/54 percent disapproval; and the cost, availability and coverage of health insurance at 32 percent approval/61 percent disapproval. Those are some pretty bad ratings and especially significant because they include three of four issues the public deems most important to their vote in the coming year: the economy; creating jobs; and the federal budget. (The other issue in the top four is education, where Bush has a better, but hardly stellar, rating of 56 percent.)

Other notably bad domestic ratings include Social Security at 43 percent approval/46 percent disapproval and taxes at 48 percent approval/48 percent disapproval. The latter figure is worth emphasizing since it is the first time disapproval has been as high as approval on Bush’s signature domestic issue.

In the like father, like son department, the public now strongly believes, by 52 percent to 9 percent, that most Americans today are worse off, rather than better off, compared to when Bush took office. The analagous figures for Bush I, from October of 1991, were 48 percent to 7 percent.

Finally, for the first time since 9/11 more people think Bush doesn’t understand "the problems of people like you" than think he does (51 percent to 48 percent). And in a nice bit of symmetry, 62 percent now believe large business corporations have too much influence on the Bush administration and 62 percent believe "people like you" have too little.

Uh-oh for the Bushies. Sounds like the public’s catching on to them.

September 12, 2003

Bush’s Approval Rating Goes Galluping Away

DR has highlighted for a while Bush’s declining approval ratings over the course of the summer in most public polls. Gallup, however, has been somewhat of an exception. Here are the Gallup approval ratings from June 10 to August 26: 62, 63, 61, 62, 59, 58, 60, 59. Not much movement and DR doesn’t pretend to understand why this was so.

But that just changed. Bush’s approval rating in the Gallup poll released yesterday has plunged to 52 percent. Perhaps it’s like the coyote in the roadrunner cartoons who suddenly realizes he’s running on air and starts falling.

And this poll is just chock-a-block with other bad news for the Bushies. Bush’s approval rating on the economy is 45 percent with 53 percent disapproval. His approval rating on foreign affairs is now just 52 percent approval/45 percent disapproval for a +7 net rating. That’s down from a +13 rating in late August. And his rating on the Iraq situation is now 51 percent approval/47 percent disapproval for a +4 rating, down from +16 over the same period.

Reflecting this unease with developments in Iraq, just 40 percent say the Bush administration has a clear plan for handling the Iraq situation, compared to 59 percent who do not. That’s a -19 point margin against the Bush administration having a clear plan, almost double the -10 margin on the same question in late August. And a direct question on whether Congress should or should not authorize an additional $87 billion in government spending for Iraq and the war on terrorism actually yields a modest majority (51 percent to 46 percent) against such an authorization.

And it’s getting to be a very grumpy public out there. Only 40 percent say they’re satisfied with the way things are going in the country today and 58 percent say they’re dissatisfied. That’s a net response of -18 points, up from -6 points on the same question in early August.

Given all this, it’s no wonder Bush is now performing so poorly in trial heats for ‘04 against a generic Democrat. This poll has him at 46 percent against 43 percent for an unnamed Democrat. That’s a slim 3 point margin for Bush, down from a 12 point edge just two weeks ago.

No doubt about it. The 2004 election should be real horse race. Stay tuned.

September 10, 2003

The War on Terror, Two Years After

It’s two years since terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and killed thousands of Americans. It’s an appropriate time to assess how Americans view the war or terror that has unfolded since then. Do they feel safer? Do they approve of how the Bush administration has prosecuted the war on terror? To the extent they don’t, what do they think should be done differently?

An extensive poll just released by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) provides some purchase on these questions.

First, do Americans feel safer than they did two years ago, in the wake of the terrorist attacks? Not really. Only 24 percent feel safer, compared to 28 percent who feel less safe and 48 percent who believe there hasn’t been much change. And when the question is framed simply in terms of whether Bush administration efforts to reduce terrorist attacks have made them feel safer, the response is still not very positive: 46 percent say those efforts have made them feel safer, while 53 percent say either that the efforts haven’t made much difference (45 percent) or actually feel the efforts have made them feel less safe (8 percent).

The public also feels that the US military presence in the Middle East is not making them safer. By 2:1 (64 percent to 32 percent), they believe that presence is increasing, not decreasing, the likelihood of attacks.

The poll also finds the public endorsing the idea that the Bush administration has been too assertive and uncooperative in its approach to the war on terror. Indeed, by 81 percent to 16 percent, the public says the more important lesson of September 11 is that "the US needs to work more closely with other countries to fight terrorism" rather than "the US needs to act on its own more to fight terrorism". That’s up from a 61 percent to 34 percent split in the middle of 2002.

In addition, about four times as many Americans (54 percent) think the Bush administration has been too assertive in its relations with other countries than think it has been too cooperative (14 percent). And by almost 40 points (66 percent to 27 percent), the public believes the Bush administration should adopt a more cooperative attitude in its relations with other countries. Finally, when asked to evaluate the proper course for Bush administration efforts in the future, compared to what it has done in the past, the public endorses diplomatic/economic methods over military methods by 58 percent to 35 percent.

The PIPA poll also gave respondents a wide range of different approaches to the problem of terrorism and asked them to rate the approaches. The three approaches that were the most explicitly multilateral were among the ones that scored highest: setting up an international system to cut off funding to terrorists (79 percent in favor); setting up a UN database of terrorists to which all countries would contribute (76 percent); and working through the UN to strengthen international laws against terrorism and making sure UN members cooperate to enforce them (73 percent). Other highly rated choices were reducing US dependence on oil and putting pressure on the Saudi government to shut down terrorist groups (both 75 percent). In contrast, purely military approaches like overthrowing the government of Iran (30 percent) or Syria (21 percent) fared poorly.

It’s amazing how different the public perspective on pursuing the war on terror is from the Bush administration approach. It’s up to the Democrats, in a sense, to give public opinion its voice on these issues. We can be very sure the Republicans won’t.

September 11, 2003
posted 11:06 pm

When Even Republicans and Republican Polls Say Bush Is in Trouble, He’s Definitely in Trouble

Dana Milbank has an interesting article in The Washington Post today about Bush supporters in Florida who are starting to worry that the Iraq situation is eroding his political standing. When this fairly obvious fact is starting to penetrate the thick skulls of the folks who’ve drunk the GOP Kool-Aid, you know the issue is starting to bite.

Even Republican polls are catching the drift of things. A Winston Group/New Models poll for the Senate Republican conference has Bush’s approval rating down to 51 percent and Democrats ahead in a generic Senate ballot question by 6 points (46 percent to 40 percent). The same poll had Democrats behind Republicans by 3 points on May 15, before things really went south in Iraq.

Republicans are also starting to realize that even (especially?) a Dean candidacy won’t solve their problems. USA Today reported Tuesday on how Republican officials and Bush political advisors now admit they underestimated Howard Dean and consider him a potentially formidable political adversary. Apparently, Dean’s continued ability to mobilize political support and, especially, raise money is making Republicans think he wouldn’t be such an easy mark after all.

And Speaking of Howard Dean

Jusiper’s excellent four part series on "How Dean Can Win" the general election is now complete. The series is organized around replying to a July 22 DR post on problems with Dean’s electability and secondarily to a piece by Jonathan Chait in The New Republic that argues Dean would be a disaster for the Democrats.

DR wishes to commend Jusiper for the civilized tone in which they conducted their critique. DR doesn’t agree with all–or even most–of it, but he was mightily pleased to see political differences among Democrats, especially on the hot-button Dean issue, handled in this fashion.

So what’s wrong with what they said? On the social liberalism problem, they basically argue that, sure, Dean would have some problems here, but so would any Democrat (e.g., Kerry). They may be right about this, but DR still worries that the combination of Dean’s socially liberal/Vermonter profile with his strong antiwar stance is going to be difficult for a lot of swing voters to handle. Maybe one they could handle, but the two together is a level of liberalism that could drive a lot of voters away.

On the too antiwar, too soon problem, Jusiper accepts that Dean will not necessarily benefit from being consistent on the issue, since the public doesn’t vote on that basis. Therefore, even if opinion continues to turn against the war, Dean may still have a serious problem with his national security credentials. Jusiper acknowledges this, but believes Dean can finesse the issue by, for example, appearing with a bunch of generals who support his position. Could be, but there is considerable room for doubt here.

On the new voters are no substitute for swing voters problem, Jusiper accepts the argument completely, but argues Dean’s support is rapidly expanding from its initial hardcore and will continue to do so in the general election campaign toward just the kind of centrists and political independents you need to win the general. Maybe. Dean’s straight talk approach and nontraditional (for Democrats) views on some issues will clearly help, but the idea this will suffice to capture general election swing voters is more an assertion than a claim one can have much confidence in.

Of course, DR can’t prove the contrary either (we are all woefully short on real data at this point–though note that Kerry, not Dean, was the only declared Democratic candidate to beat Bush among independents in the most recent CNN/Time poll). So, let the debate continue and may we all adopt the civilized tone of the Jusiper discussion as it does.

September 10, 2003
posted 10:28 pm

September 9, 2003

A Faction Fight by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet

Mark Penn, the DLC’s and Joe Lieberman’s pollster, had an op-ed in The Washington Post on Sunday with the headline "Progressive Centrism". Alert DR readers will recall that this is the phrase used in The Emerging Democratic Majority to refer to the unifying philosophy of the new Democratic coalition, of which the New Democrats are only one part.

So, is Mark Penn signing up? Unfortunately, when one reads past the headline (very possibly an editor’s idea, rather than Penn’s) it’s the same old same old. Clintonism as interpreted by Al From good. Joe Lieberman good. Gephardt and Kerry bad. Dean very bad. Only New Democrat philosophy can save party from meltdown worse than Mondale-McGovernism.

Are these things generated by computer or what? DR can only shake his muzzle sadly and hope the From-Lieberman-Penn wing of the party eventually gets tired of its relentless factional activity. But he’s not holding his breath.

Ronald Brownstein Lets W Have It

DR readers should point their browsers toward Ron Brownstein’s latest Los Angeles Times column and enjoy. While the intro of the piece is about W crying "Uncle" in Iraq (or should we say "Jacques and Gerhard"), the bulk of it is a devastating recounting how Bush has blown the budget sky-high, leaving no money for an array of highly necessary investments that Bush himself has said we need to make. From improving the military to beefing up homeland security to providing prescription drugs to helping the uninsured to spending on schools, there’s just no money there to do it. (Unless, of course, you jack up the deficit even more. But the deficit is already projected to hit $480 billion next year without any new spending.)

And all this for what? To provide "middle class tax relief". Two big problems: (1) the Bush tax cuts overwhelmingly benefitted the rich, not the middle class; and (2) the need for new middle class tax relief was far from clear. According to a just-released CBO study cited by Brownstein, middle income families were already paying one-third less in taxes in the year 2000 (before the Bush tax cuts) than they were in 1979.

Brownstein recommends that Bush acknowledge that his tax cut agenda–as he just did with his Iraq policy–has serious problems and is in need of a course correction. That would be nice. But DR is definitely not holding his breath on this one.

Clark Round-Up

The last installment of the rousing Frank Foer-Noam Scheiber debate on Clark is here. Salon.com featured Eric Boehlert with a good general survey on Clark’s (maybe) candidacy and Garance Franke-Ruta with a very useful discussion of Clark’s "web warriors", who are a varied and disputatious lot. Could these web warriors really jump-start a Clark candidacy, as some argue. DR has his doubts.

September 8, 2003

You Know Bush Is in Trouble, When Even He Admits It

Last night, Bush basically admitted things were going poorly in Iraq, that the US needed lots of help from other countries and that the Iraq occupation was going to cost a lot more money than he had previously said. That’s highly significant politically because, as Dan Balz put it in a good Washington Post analysis of Bush’s speech:

[Bush] is on the defensive over Iraq now, just as he is on the defensive at home over the sluggish economy, which continues to shed jobs despite the latest infusion of tax cuts. The irony is that, if there was anything White House officials and Republican leaders assumed, it was that Bush's strength as a wartime leader would be a major political asset in his reelection campaign, offsetting persistent public concerns about his handling of the economy.

That may well continue to be the case, but only if the progress the president and other U.S. officials have promised in Iraq and the Middle East becomes a reality before too much longer. Whether Americans are ready for the kind of expansive commitment that the president described last night is an open question.

Just so, just so.

Here’s some evidence about just how open this question is. In a just-released ABC News poll, Bush’s approval rating on Iraq has sunk to 49 percent (with 47 percent disapproval), down 7 points since August 24. By almost 20 points (57 percent to 38 percent), the public now believes the number of casualties in Iraq is unacceptable, given the goals versus the costs of the war. And by 48 to 40 percent, the public now says the long term risk of terrorism to the US will increase as a result of the Iraq war. That’s a stark contrast to mid-April, when people believed by 2:1 that the war would decrease the long term risk of terrorism.

And here’s some evidence from the new CNN/Time poll about just how much political trouble W is in. In this poll, more independents–a rough proxy for swing voters--now disapprove of Bush’s job performance (49 percent) than approve (45 percent). By 48 percent to 42 percent, independents also believe Bush has done more to divide than unite the country. By 55 percent to 39 percent, these same voters do not believe the phrase "compassionate conservative" describes Bush. And twice as many independents say they definitely plan to vote against Bush (44 percent) than say they definitely plan to vote for him (22 percent). Wow.

Guess it’ll take more than earnestly looking into the cameras and invoking 9/11 to get out of this one.

September 7, 2003

Vote to Re-Elect Bush? Well.....No Thanks

Voters are less and less interested in re-electing President Bush. Check out these recent figures. The Zogby poll has just 40 percent saying he deserves re-election and 52 percent saying it’s time for someone new--a 12 point deficit for Bush, 9 points worse than he fared in mid-August. In the Ipsos/Cook Political Report poll, only 38 percent are willing to say they would definitely vote to re-elect Bush, while 36 percent would definitely vote for someone else and 24 percent would consider someone else. And, in the latest CNN/Time poll, a shockingly low 29 percent say they would definitely vote for Bush in ‘04, compared to 41 percent who say they would definitely vote against him (25 percent might vote for or against).

Why are voters losing enthusiasm for the President who, not so long ago, seemed politically invincible? It’s pretty simple. They think the economy is doing badly, the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and the country overall is in going in the wrong direction. Given this, American voters’ pragmatism (go with what works; reject what doesn’t) is now leading them away from Bush and making them less willing to cut him slack, simply because he performed well right after September 11.

Take the direction of the country. The latest Democracy Corps poll has only 36 percent of likely voters saying the country is going in the right direction, while 54 percent say it is off on the wrong track (59 percent of independents). That 18 point gap between right direction and wrong track is triple the gap observed by the Democracy Corps in late July.

Take the economy. It should come as no surprise people are dissatisfied, given the most recent Labor Department jobs report that showed the economy shedding 93,000 jobs in August, 437,000 short of the administration’s own projections for the month. The economy has lost 2.7 million jobs since Bush took office, 600,000 since the beginning of the year and 225,000 since the Bush’s latest tax cut package was passed in late May. (The basic facts are in the invaluable Job Watch feature from the Economic Policy Institute, which DR highly recommends.)

No wonder that 55 percent now say they want to go in a different direction on the economy, compared to 39 percent who want to continue in Bush’s direction. And no wonder that voters now favor the Democrats over the Republicans on the economy by a healthy 15 points.

Take the situation in Iraq and national security. While Bush still retains a significant advantage on general national security concerns, even that advantage is eroding rapidly. For example, the Republicans famously had a 40 point advantage over the Democrats in November, 2002 on the issue of keeping America strong. That’s largely why they did so well in the ‘02 election. But now that advantage has more than cut in half, down to 16 points. Intriguingly, this is exactly the same Republican advantage registered by a Democracy Corps poll right before 9/11.

And when it comes to foreign policy, the Democrats have not only made gains, they are approaching parity. The Republican advantage over the Democrats on foreign policy is now only 6 points and it is dead even between continuing in Bush’s direction on foreign policy or going in a significantly different direction. It is also about even between continuing in Bush’s direction on foreign policy or going in a different direction on respect for the US in the world and close to even (4 point Bush advantage) on relations with countries around the world. And on the specific issue of Iraq, where Bush’s policies once commanded such high support, there is now a large group of Americans (41 percent) who would prefer to go in a different direction, rather than stay the course with Bush.

Of course, the Democrats still have much work to do in the national security area to make their critique stick (for example, by 30 points, voters say they want to continue in Bush’s direction on fully funding homeland security, despite the well-documented fact that this area has been dramatically underfunded by the administration). In this regard, the Democracy Corps memo, "Passing the National Security Threshhold", has much useful advice for Democrats. But DR has said for a long time that if the Democrats could cut the GOP’s advantage on national security in half and open up a substantial lead on the economy, they had an excellent chance of knocking off Bush in ‘04. Well, we’re there.

September 4, 2003

The Clark Debate Continues

Noam Scheiber of The New Republic has an interesting post today in his ongoing debate with Frank Foer over the viability of a Wesley Clark candidacy. He argues that Clark cannot get the nomination because: (a) unlike Dean, he needs the party establishment to fall into line behind his candidacy, but they’re unlikely to do so because of all their other commitments to candidates still in the race; and (b) unlike Dean, he has no strategy designed to generate liberal support which is so central to the Democratic party nominating process. So he can’t replace Dean as the liberal candidate, but he’s poorly positioned to be the anti-Dean

And maybe that’s not so bad, says Scheiber, since who knows how good a campaigner he’d be anyway. More important, it’s Dean, not Clark (or any of the other candidates), who seems to have a handle on the real challenge of the Democratic primary process: generating liberal enthusiasm and support in the primaries to get the nomination, but doing it in such a way (through tone, rhetoric, etc.) that it’s possible to tack toward moderate positions later to win the general. (Note to Dean campaign: this appears to be some sort of Dean endorsement, though perhaps not exactly the kind you were looking for).

For more on Clark, see the excellent profile of him by Josh Green in the latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Better than anything else DR has read, it gives one a sense of how Clark might come off in a campaign–both good and bad.

The Dean Debate Continues and Continues

DR recommends the unfolding four part (!) series on Jusiper, defending Dean’s electability against people like....well, like DR. Its exciting conclusion is due Friday, but, for now, you can read part 3 here and then navigate back to parts 2 and 1. Good stuff. DR will have a comment or two once the series is complete.

Listen Up Democrats: Time to Think Big!

Matthew Miller, one of DR’s favorite commentators, has a new book, The 2 Percent Solution: Fixing America in Ways Liberals and Conservatives Can Love, just reviewed in The Washington Post, and an op-ed in today’s New York Times on the general themes of his book. This quote from the op-ed gives you a flavor of what he’s getting at:

"What happened to the Democratic Party's willingness to take on the problems facing ordinary people? Since 1994, when the Clinton health care plan imploded in a fiasco that cost the party control of Congress, Democrats have been too scared to think big again. Republicans, emboldened by this timidity, have reacted by pushing harder on their traditional priorities of cutting taxes and regulations. As a result, a commitment to two longstanding American ideals —— equal opportunity and a minimally decent life for citizens of a wealthy nation —— has been lost."

Tell it like it is, brother Miller. Matt also has a nice website you might want to visit that includes an archive of his excellent columns.

September 3, 2003

Can Wesley Clark Win the Democratic Nomination? Should He?

Yesterday, DR alluded to the idea that Wesley Clark could be an attractive candidate, able to match Dean in terms of antiwar credentials, but not tied down to some of Dean’s less palatable stances, like repealing all of the Bush tax cuts.  And, in addition, of course, pretty difficult to criticize as soft on national security.  But really, how feasible is it for Clark to get the nomination at this late date? And, if he did, would this necessarily be a good thing?

The Daily Kos, who believes Clark would be a great general election candidate, just thinks he’s waited too long and probably can’t get the nomination. He mentions three factors–money, organization and drive–which all tell against Clark. The drive factor ("fire in the belly") is hard to assess, but the lack of money and organization will obviously present huge obstacles to him.

Amy Sullivan of The Washington Monthly  believes Clark can overcome these obstacles by using the internet and his existing network of supporters to jump-start his campaign and get a quick cash infusion, after which one good thing will lead to another. Maybe. Frank Foer of The New Republicin an interesting debate with Noam Scheiber over Clark’s (possible) candidacy, puts his faith in Clark’s presumed ability to rally the Democratic establishment, including a critical mass of fundraisers, consultants and politicians, to his side as the candidate who can beat Bush and avoid a McGovernesque Dean defeat for the Democrats.

Well, maybe again. As Scheiber points out in the above debate, a great deal of Democratic money and energy is tied up in Democratic candidates that are not likely to drop out anytime soon, no matter how strong Dean appears at the moment. Scheiber also dwells on the uncomfortable facts that Clark has no political experience of the conventional sort and we really have no idea what kind of policies he actually stands for and how he'd actually fare on the campaign trail. Sure he’s got a great resume and he’s come up with some nice phrases to summarize his general stance on some issues ("I have got 20-some-odd guns in the house. I like to hunt. I have grown up with guns all my life, but people who like assault weapons, they should join the United States Army–we have them.")

But to translate that into The Man Who Will Save the Democratic Party strikes DR (at least at this point) as the wishful thinking of Democrats who are panicked by the possibility Dean will get the nomination, have no faith in any of the other candidates and who want to believe.

posted 9:27 pm

Core Voters Vs. Swing Voters

There was a rather unenlightening article by Adam Nagourney in the Sunday New York Times, which appeared to be arguing that, in today’s political landscape, core voters are the important voters and swing voters are fading as a political force. Could be. But there was nothing in the article that would logically lead one to conclude that was the case. Sure, the electorate’s polarized and sure, the parties will be trying to mobilize their core supporters–but that doesn’t mean swing voters are somehow unimportant. Indeed, if the parties manage to achieve about equal levels of mobilization through their efforts, which could easily happen, then swing voters could be more important than ever, since the mobilization efforts will roughly cancel each other out.

DR could go on, but he won’t. Instead, he’ll let the DLC do the heavy lifting. Check out their broadside against Nagourney’s article here. DR doesn’t agree with everything in the DLC piece, but their central point is incontrovertible: you’ve got to go after both core voters and swing voters to succeed and concentrating on just one is a recipe for disaster.

September 2, 2003

Will Bush Definitely Be Re-elected?

If you asked the average pundit, they’d probably say yes. But the average voter sees it differently. According to  just-released CBS News data, only 38 percent now say Bush will definitely be re-elected, compared to 50 percent who say a Democrat can win. Intriguingly, this is a quite a bit worse than Bush’s father was faring in late 1991, when 47 percent thought he’d definitely be re-elected, compared to 42 percent who thought a Democrat could win.

But which Democrat is it going to be? Here’s some interesting data from Gallup that was just released: among Democrats and Democrat leaners, 52 percent say the Democratic nominee should be someone who opposed the decision to go to war but 62 percent say the nominee should want to repeal only the Bush tax cuts for the rich, not those for the middle class. The first item sounds like Dean, but the second one doesn’t.

Could this cause trouble for Dean? Possibly, especially if there was another candidate people took seriously who was also against the war, but didn’t want to repeal the middle class Bush tax cuts. Like....well, like Wesley Clark.