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October 31, 2003

How Clark Could Win the Nomination

Adam Nagourney had an article in The New York Times yesterday, headlined “In the Candidacies of Clark and Dean, Democrats Confront the Issue of Electability”. Just so. DR has argued for awhile that Clark seems to be the Democrats’ most electable candidate, while a Dean candidacy wouldn’t give the Democrats their best shot.

The latest Quinnipiac University poll is consistent with this judgment (though, of course, by no means “proves” it). In head-to-head matchups with Bush, Clark loses by the least (4 points), loses by the least among independent voters, shows the most strength among men and, intriguingly, does best of all the candidates among Democratic partisans—that is, he reduces Democratic defections the most.

But can he get the nomination? That’s the big question. The conventional wisdom seems to be that, even if he gets his campaign into high gear—and admittedly it does not seem to be there yet—he started too late. Dean is in the driver’s seat because of momentum (his throngs of fervent activists, his big lead in New Hampshire, his strong support in Iowa and other states) and money and there’s little Clark can do about that. He’s not even going to compete in Iowa and, in New Hampshire, he’ll be lucky to finish third. And even if he does, Dean will use his momentum and money to compete aggressively in every state, which Clark will not be able to do, and accumulate delegates until Clark (and the rest) have to pack it in.

That’s a very real possibility. But not a certainty. Here’s how Clark can still get the nomination, if he runs a good, tough campaign.

First, the role of momentum. It’s overrated, as the academic studies of William Mayer clearly indicate. In almost all the contested nomination fights, momentum can and does shift from candidate to candidate, but ultimately tells you little about who secures the nomination. That means the argument that, say, Dean will come out of New Hampshire with the “Big Mo” and plow everybody else under should be discounted. Conversely, if Clark comes out of New Hampshire lacking the Big Mo, it is not cause to write off his campaign.

Second, the role of money. In Mayer’s studies, candidate fundraising is actually not a significant predictor of who ultimately gets the nomination. Now, there are various reasons why his model probably understates the independent effect of money on nomination outcomes, but it should give those pause who assume that, because Dean is setting the pace on fundraising, he’s practically a lock for the nomination. Conversely, of course, if Clark is trailing in the money chase, that is no reason, by itself, to conclude his campaign is doomed.

So what does matter? Being the frontrunner—that is, ahead in the much-maligned national polls of candidate preference. In 7 of the last 10 contested nomination races, the nominee was leading in the polls for at least a year before the Iowa caucuses.

Of course, in most of these cases, the frontrunner, defined in this way, was polling in the 40’s and far ahead of the other candidates. That’s not the situation this campaign season, where even the leading candidate has had a hard time breaking 20. And the lead has changed hands, starting with Lieberman, moving to Clark, then moving toward a rough tie between Clark and Dean.

This creates a potential opening for Clark, which DR will explore tomorrow in the thrilling finale to “How Clark Could Get the Nomination”.

October 30, 2003

Latest Evidence on Bush Vulnerability

Two new national polls provide an abundance of evidence that Mr. Will-Automatically-Be-Reelected-Because-of-9/11 just might not be. To begin with, both show Bush’s approval ratings falling–again. The Quinnipiac University poll has him down to 51 percent, from 53 percent in mid-September. And the Gallup poll has him at 53 percent, down from the 55-56 percent ratings in early to mid October (these were the ratings that were responsible for all the talk about the “Bush bounce”–see DR’s October 15 demolition job on that particular meme).

The Q poll also shows Bush leading specific Democratic candidates by margins of only 4-6 points; in mid-September, Bush was leading by margins of 11-15 points.

On the economy, the Q poll has Bush’s job rating at a predictably dismal level: 39 percent approval, with 55 percent disapproval. And at this point, the public is convinced, by 18 points (54 percent to 36 percent) that a new Democratic administration would do a better job on the economy than the current Bush administration.

Furthermore, Bush’s job ratings on foreign policy and handling the situation with Iraq aren’t really all that much better than his rating on the economy: 44 percent approval/48 percent disapproval on foreign policy and 45 percent approval/50 percent disapproval on Iraq. And on handling the situation with Israel and the Palestinians he gets just 37 percent approval and 43 percent disapproval.

Of course, his rating on the war against terror is higher, as we’ve seen in other polls, but the Q-poll does a very interesting thing here, asking separately about the struggle against terrorism abroad and at home. Intriguingly, Bush’s rating on handling the war on terrorism overseas is pretty unimpressive–only 51 percent. But his rating on handling “policies to prevent and minimize terrorism at home” is much better: 63 percent. This suggests that Bush’s credibility as a terrorism-fighter is mostly being sustained by the feeling that he’s doing a good job on the home front–even while the Iraq mess and Middle East problems are diminishing Americans’ sense that he’s doing a good job combating terror abroad. It further suggests that if Democrats can knock down the first part–convince Americans he’s doing a lousy job protecting the homeland as well–Bush will be, as his father might put it, in deep doo-doo.

Bush’s sinking fortunes in the international area are underscored by findings from the Gallup poll. Remarkably, when asked the very simple question: “Do you favor or oppose the war with Iraq”, 43 percent of the public is now are willing to say they oppose the war. That’s up from just 26 percent who were willing to take that stand (with 71 percent supporting the war) in late April after the US took Baghdad. And 50 percent now say they disapprove of the way the US has handled the Iraq situation since the major fighting ended, up from 18 percent in late April.

And check out this out: more people say the Iraq war has had a negative effect on life in the US (33 percent) than say it’s had a positive effect (32 percent). Similarly, more people say the Iraq war has had a negative effect on them personally (25 percent) than say it has had a positive effect (20 percent).And a majority now say they want to withdraw either some (39 percent) or all (18 percent) US troops from the country.

But here’s the grimmest news for the Bushies: People are now split down the middle about whether the war in Iraq has made the US safer (45 percent) or less safe (43 percent) from terrorism. In late April, they thought they were safer, by a 58 percent to 33 percent margin. And the effect of the war, the public now says, has been to make them less confident (40 percent) in Bush’s ability to handle the country’s other big problems, rather than more confident (27 percent).

And foreign policy was supposed to Bush’s strong suit! The best-laid plans of mice, men and Karl Rove.....

October 28, 2003

You and Me and Bill Gates Makes Three

Three of what? Why the “investor class” of course! This is the absurd concept, promulgated by Republican operatives and ideologues, that because you and me and zillions of other Americans have at least some money in the stock market, even if only indirectly in retirement plans, we’re all in the same class with Bill Gates and other people with the big bucks. And because of that we–our class!–want to cut regulation, taxes and social spending so that the health of America’s companies can be safeguarded and our stock portfolios can keep going up. Furthermore, since the investor class is growing–more and more people have at least some investments in stocks–the future of the GOP is bright, since Republicans are the party that supports such policies.

Put this way, it almost sounds too silly to be taken seriously–the quasi-Marxist (capitalists of the world, unite!) pipe dream of Republicans frustrated by the many ways demographic change is hurting the GOP. But, somewhat amazingly to DR, people do take it seriously. So, The Washington Post is to be commended for trying to take a closer look at the theory with some data in their Monday story, “Parties Put Stock in Investor Class”.

Too bad they couldn’t have done a better job. Let’s start with the issue of investor class growth. It is indeed true that the investor class, defined as anyone who holds any stock in any way, is increasing, as they say in the article. According to the Post’s data, 58 percent of adult Americans now hold some stock either directly or indirectly, up from 44 percent in 1997 and 32 percent in 1987. The Post’s current level might be a bit high, but their trend is consistent with other data on stock-holding among Americans.

The Post also points out that only 37 percent of stock-holding Americans hold individual stocks directly–again consistent with other available data. But the Post fails to point out what other data show clearly: the growth of stock-holding among Americans is mostly driven by increased indirect stock-holding–basically mutual funds held in retirement vehicles like 401(k)s and IRAs. For example, Survey of Consumer Finances data show overall stock-holding among American households increasing from 32 percent to 48 percent between 1989 and 1998. But in that period, direct stock-holding went up just 6 points, from 13 percent to 19 percent, while indirect stock-holding increased 18 points, from 25 percent to 43 percent.

That’s a particular problem in the context of the article because, as the article stresses, there is no convincing evidence that indirect stock-holding has any effect on one’s political views. In other words, by far the most popular form of stock ownership and the one that has mostly driven the rise in stock-holding among Americans currently has little political importance.

The Post article does say that direct investment in individual stocks, controlling for income level, is associated with pro-Republican views. This is interesting, but the article fails to explore this finding at all. To begin with, it doesn’t even tell the reader how many Americans (21 percent, which can be easily computed from the data in the article) actually have these direct investments.

Then, there is no indication this relationship was very carefully explored for robustness (certainly no regression analyses were reported). Under and over $50,000 in household income, in fact, appears to be as much as they did to compare direct stock-holders at the same income level. That raises the possibility that the direct stock-holders were concentrated in the higher income brackets of these very large divisions, thereby accounting for some of the observed pro-Republican effect. Also, it’s possible that what we are seeing here is a wealth effect–those who buy individual stocks at a given income level tend to be richer than others at that income level and some of their extra money is invested in individual stocks. But even if they didn’t invest in individual stocks, they’d still be wealthier, on average, and would therefore tend to be more politically conservative. Or it’s possible that those who invest in individual stocks are those who are attracted to the world of business and want to spend their time following business news and TV. So it could be their pro-Republican orientation that drives their investment in stocks, not the other way around.

It’s not clear which, if any, of these alternative interpretations is true. But it is clear that, between the finding of no effect for the fast-growing bulk of the investor class–those with only indirect investments–and the questionable nature of the finding on the slow-growing minority of the investor class–the individual stock-holders--the theory of the investor class as a huge demographic boon for the GOP seems, shall we say, underwhelming.

So underwhelming that let’s try a different way of looking at small investors–and, make no mistake, most investors do not have large holdings. Indeed, one-quarter of stock-holding households hold stock worth less than $5,000 and that the typical stock-owing household in the middle of the income distribution (between the 40th and 60th income percentile) owns only about $15,000 in stock

Let’s substitute for this ridiculous idea that all investors, no matter how rich or poor, are somehow part of the same class, the idea that there is a large group of middle income voters–call them the “401(k) class”--who own moderate amounts of stock, typically in mutual funds in retirement accounts, and are dependent on these accounts to fund their retirement. This is a large group also (perhaps 30 percent of households, though data limitations preclude an exact estimate), but permits us to cut out the poor, who tend to have very small holdings (remember, one quarter of stock-holding families have holdings under $5,000), the genuinely affluent, who tend to have fairly large and diverse stock holdings, as well as the flat-out rich, whose status in life is very far indeed from those in our 401(k) class.

This slimmed-down concept, besides having a more sensible size, has a singular virtue. It eliminates the conceit that someone holding $300 million in stock in 61 companies (as Treasury Secretary John Snow did before he was confirmed) and some FedEx worker holding $30,000 in stock funds in her 401(k) are somehow members of the same “class”. Instead, it allows us to focus on a group that might actually have some coherence of economic interests and for whom stock investments are means to very specific ends, like a secure retirement.

Analysis of other data indicates that the 401(k) class is much like the rest of the middle class--concerned about the schools, the health system and other problems and perfectly willing to support substantial government action if they are convinced it is necessary to solve these problems. And this willingness should logically extend to the very area--retirement funding--that is primarily responsible for the rise of the 401(k) class. A 401(k), after all, is a creation of public policy. The 401(k) class, not to mention the rest of the middle class (and the poor), would very much like ways to save more, and more efficiently and securely. As noted, the typical member of the 401(k) class has modest holdings and could use a much solider financial base for retirement.

Indeed, given the recent sordid history of Enron, the schemes of many other large corporations to underfund their pensions, and the failure of accountants to protect shareholders, the theory of the investor class can almost be inverted. As small investors become more politically conscious of their interests, it becomes clear that they depend on competent government regulation and oversight so that their pension savings are not fleeced, as well as social insurance to protect them from the vagaries of the marketplace in which they invest. Looked at in this way, the 401(k) class could form the new constituency for the mixed economy.

One thing government can do is mandate a universal pension system that would provide every worker with a fully portable retirement account. Under such a system, a version of which has been introduced by presidential contender and former House minority leader, Dick Gephardt, workers could direct cash from any IRA or 401(k) accounts into a comprehensive, fully portable retirement account. In addition, every American child would receive $500 to open an account.

Former White House economic adviser Gene Sperling has advocated a plan to fund these universal accounts further by providing up to $1,000 a year in matching contributions for savings deducted from paychecks–a one-to-one match for middle-income workers and a two-to-one match for lower-income workers. The funding for these matches could be generated simply by increasing the threshhold for the estate tax (to $5 million), rather than eliminating it entirely and in perpetuity as the Republicans wish to do.

These reforms build an investor class, but in a fashion with profoundly different implication for politics, ideology, and policy. Instead of promoting stock-ownership in a way that reinforces an individualist approach to government, as Social Security privatization would do, these reforms give the government a key role in guaranteeing that the promise of stock ownership is democratically extended to all and actually fulfils its purpose of providing economic security.

John Snow and the other very wealthy rich people lumped in the imaginary investor class might not be too excited about these proposals. But you can bet the 401(k) class, as well as lots of other moderate-to-low income voters, would be. Democratic presidential contenders, please note.

October 27, 2003

Send Lawyers, Gun Safety and Money

An article in The Washington Post today points out that the leading Democratic Presidential candidates are shying away from tough gun control, preferring instead to talk of enforcing existing laws or even leaving gun control laws to the states. None are calling for the licensing of new handgun owners, as Al Gore did in 2000..

The reason is obvious. The gun control issue is credited with driving white working class voters away from the Democratic party in key states in 2000 and Democrats want to avoid a repeat in 2004.

Of course, the role gun control, per se, played in Democratic losses in 2000 can easily be exaggerated; for example, Gore lost West Virginia in 2000 at least as much because of issues around the coal industry and environmental regulation as because of guns. Still and all, it’s hard to argue the gun issue wasn’t a contributing factor in alienating many gun-owning, working class voters from the Democrats.

So here’s the latest idea: gun safety. Instead of framing the issue as gun control, which implicitly sets up a confrontation with gun rights, many are now arguing that a better frame is “gun safety”–the idea that with gun rights come gun responsibilities to ensure their safe use and keep them out of the hands of criminals and children.

Sounds good to DR. But would the gun safety approach work? Some empirical backing for the approach is provided by a recent Penn Schoen and Berland poll on the gun issue. The poll suggests that Democrats who use a gun safety approach can advocate moderate gun regulation and be much better received than they would be if they were viewed as a typical gun control Democrat.

One need not endorse all the many findings of the poll, which, like most PSB polls, has an air of runaway advocacy a good deal of the time, to believe this general finding is credible. Democrats need all the help they can get among white working class voters in swing states and gun safety could make a solid contribution toward making Democrats more marketable to these voters.

October 25, 2003

Et Tu, Newsweek?

Here’s the latest national poll of adults suggesting that the “Bush bounce” was–how can this be put most delicately?–a wee bit over overblown. According to this just-released Newsweek poll, conducted October 23-24, Bush’s approval rating is now 51 percent–exactly what it was in their last poll on October 9-10.

The Newsweek poll does find a small increase in Bush’s job approval rating on Iraq–up 4 points to 48 percent–no doubt reflecting the administration’s “good news” offensive on Iraq. But that’s still 26 points down from what it was when troops entered Baghdad in mid-April.

Moreover, 58 percent now think too much money is being spent on the Iraq operation and 56 percent think troops should be reduced and some should come home, up 7 points since the end of September. The former figure points to a significant political liability: 48 percent now say the amount of money being spent to rebuild postwar Iraq would make them less likely to vote for him in ‘04, compared to 28 percent who say it would make them more likely.

The poll also shows the economy continuing to top the list of issues voters say will be very important to their vote in the next election. Voters’ views on the economy, of course, continue to be extraordinarily negative. And, critically, they are unconvinced progress is being made.

DR flagged the Pew Center result yesterday that showed less than one-fifth of the public believes Bush’s economic policies are making the economy better. And check out these figures from Gallup asking respondents to compare three years ago–the beginning of Bush’s administration–to today. Gallup also provides January, 1992 poll readings on the same questions for comparison purposes.

Are you better off than you were three years ago?: 50 percent say yes, 42 percent say no. In January, 1992, 50 percent said yes and 38 percent say no.

Is it easier to buy things than it was three years ago?: 41 percent say yes, 46 percent say no. In January, 1992, 36 percent said yes, 51 percent said no.

Finally, is there more unemployment than there was three years ago?: 77 percent say yes, 16 percent say no. In January, 1992, 84 percent said yes and 11 percent said no.

For the Bushies, that’s gotta be too close for comfort. And to make things even more anxiety-provoking, today 27 percent say the US is as respected in the world as three years ago, while 68 percent say we are not. But In January, 1992, things were markedly better: 40 percent said we were as respected as three years previously, compared to 50 percent who said we weren’t.

Well, as they say, history never repeats itself....except when it does.

October 24, 2003

Has Clark Found His Voice–Both Literally and Figuratively?

Ryan Lizza has an interesting article in the latest New Republic suggesting Clark may finally have found his campaign voice–coincident with recovering his physical voice after a bout of laryngitis. By this, Lizza does not mean that Clark has come forth with any startling policy initiatives–he hasn’t–but rather that he is finding a way of framing his political approach that builds effectively on his personal history.

Clark is talking a lot about his military career and how he got drawn into it as a way to help his country during the Cold War. He talks about the considerable work he put into rebuilding and modernizing the military after the Vietnam War debacle. And he talks about his desire to serve his country in a new era when we are both threatened by terror and in danger of damaging our institutions and government. He contrasts his New American Patriotism to the Bush administration’s reckless conduct both internationally and domestically.

That’s a pretty good frame for talking up a Democratic agenda. And he adds to this a strong emphasis on pragmatism--governing based on facts and what works, rather than ideology and pre-formed conclusions. As he puts it: “I don’t oppose the president’s policies because they are Republican policies. I oppose them because they don’t work.”

He also uses the military and his experience in it to advance the themes of equal opportunity and meritocratic advancement. And he is striving to strike a note of optimism about the future of country and the great things it can achieve, both here and abroad, if it gets back on track.

This is an attractive package and, in DR’s view, could make Clark a very effective general election candidate. Policy proposals and critiques of the Bush administration aren’t enough; voters want a sense of your values and your vision for the country and Clark may be on his way to supplying that.

Coming soon in DR: How Clark Could Win the Nomination

Once Again on the Bush Bounce

Three more national polls of adults have been released and once again we cannot verify the Bush bounce. The Pew Research Center poll, covering October 15-19, has Bush’s approval rating at 50 percent, down 5 points from their September 17-22 poll. The American Research Group has his approval rating at 47 percent in an October 18-21 poll, no change from their September poll. On the other hand, CBS News has his rating at 54 percent in a October 20-21 poll, up 3 points from their September 28-October 1 poll.

Note however that the Pew Research poll, conducted by the very reputable Princeton Survey Research Associates, has twice the sample size (1,515 to 751) of the CBS News poll. Note also the very interesting finding in the Pew survey that about three-quarters of adults think Bush’s economic policies are either making the US economy worse (43 percent) or not having not much effect (31 percent). Just 18 percent say they are making the economy better.

October 21, 2003

Death Knell for the Bush "Bounce"

Last week, DR commented skeptically on reports that Bush’s popularity was enjoying a bounce or rally. Those reports didn’t seem justified when one looked across the range of data available at the time–not just the one poll (Gallup) that did show Bush’s approval rating going up.

This week, additional data have come in that suggest the Bush bounce may have been no more than a blip in Gallup’s data. Zogby released a poll on October 20 that had Bush’s job performance rating at 49 percent positive/51 percent negative, down from 50 percent positive/49 percent negative on September 22-24.

The Winston Group, a Republican polling firm, released a poll for the Senate GOP conference, also on October 20, that had Bush’s job approval rating at 50 percent, down from 51 percent in their previous survey.

Even the Republican polls aren’t cooperating. R.I.P., Bush bounce.

October 20, 2003

Bush and Senior Voters

A story in yesterday’s New York Times discussed the fall in Bush’s approval ratings among seniors. The most recent CBS News/New York Times poll has Bush’s approval rating at just 41 percent among those 65 and older, a fall of 22 points since May.

That’s very bad news for President Bush. Seniors were his worst age group in 2000 (he lost them 50 percent to 47 percent) and if he does much more poorly among them in 2004 that could doom his re-election chances.

Of course, Bush’s strategists hope that passage of a prescription drug benefit for Medicare will stop the bleeding among senior voters. But will it? In a just-released Washington Post poll, his approval rating on prescription drugs for seniors is an abysmal 35 percent. And the last time the prescription drugs bill was discussed intensively, in the last half of June, his overall approval rating among seniors dropped 12 points.

As savvy nonpartisan analyst Charlie Cook has pointed out, “If the prescription drug benefit is a factor in next year's election, it will be as an albatross around the necks of Republicans and the Bush administration." He argues that what seniors want is a drug benefit like a Fortune 500 company might provide--modest premium, minimal co-pay, no gaps and unlimited coverage--and they want it provided through Medicare. What they're likely going to get doesn't look anything like that and when they figure this out--and Cook thinks they will--it will be the Republicans who'll pay the price.

DR agrees. Democrats should be able to do very well with senior voters in 2004 and, if they do, Bush will have to make up that deficit among other age groups, which could be very tough. Especially if Democrats push the other health care issue: the cost, availability and coverage of health insurance. In the Post poll, Bush’s approval rating on this issue is just 31 percent with 60 percent disapproval.

Looks like Rove and Co. have some work to do.

October 19, 2003

How Militant Are Democratic Primary Voters?

There’s a fear that the Democratic primary electorate is so far to the left of the typical voter that the Democratic nominee, in responding to the primary electorate, will move too far left to be electable. That’s certainly a possibility but a new poll from Greeberg Quinlan Rosner (GQR) of likely voters in the New Hampshire and South Carolina Democratic primaries, as well as likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa, makes clear that the left militance of the Democratic primary electorate can easily be overstated.

Take the issue of Iraq. Sure, it’s true that 68 percent, 59 percent and 74 percent, respectively, of these Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina voters say it’s very or somewhat important for the Democratic nominee to have opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning. But when asked whether they would prefer “a Democratic nominee who opposed the Iraq war from the beginning” or “a Democratic nominee who supported military action against Saddam Hussein but was critical of Bush for failing to win international support for the war”, the figures are 37 percent for the first choice and 59 percent for the second choice in Iowa; 35 percent/58 percent in New Hampshire and 41 percent/50 percent in South Carolina. In other words, in each one of these states more likely Democratic primary voters want a candidate with a nuanced opposition to Bush’s Iraq policy than want one who adamantly opposed to the war all along.

That indicates that Clark’s inconsistency on the war (suggesting that there might have been some legitimate reasons to have voted for the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force) is not as much of a liability with Democratic primary voters as generally assumed. Still less should Dean’s intransigent opposition to the war be assumed to be an unalloyed boon with these same voters.

Or take the issue of tax cuts. Gephardt and Dean have both staked out positions calling for the repeal of all the Bush tax cuts. Presumably most Democratic primary voters agree that these tax cuts were basically a bad idea. But that doesn’t mean that they necessarily agree that Gephardt and Dean have the best approach to the tax cut issue. Indeed, when these Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina voters are asked whether “we should repeal the entire Bush tax cut” (the Dean/Gephardt position) or “we should repeal the Bush tax cut for the richest one percent and keep the middle class tax cuts” (roughly speaking, the Clark/Kerry/Lieberman/Edwards position), they split down the middle, with slightly more for the second choice in Iowa and New Hampshire and slightly more for the first choice in South Carolina.

That suggests a targeted, rather than total, repeal of the Bush tax cuts has a good chance of finding favor with Democratic primary voters. And that’s a good thing. It is very difficult to construct a plausible political or polling-based argument that repealing the middle class tax cuts would play well in the general election. That’s the point made by Paul Krugman in his October 17 column, “The Sweet Spot”. Krugman, of course, sees the Bush tax cuts and associated fiscal policy as entirely reprehensible if not criminal in nature (he quotes economist George Akerlof to the effect that Bush administration budget policies are “a form of looting”). Still, Krugman rightly points out that:

[T]hose who want to restore fiscal sanity probably need to frame their proposals in a way that neutralizes some of the administration’s demagoguery. In particular, they probably shouldn’t propose a roll-back of all of the Bush tax cuts....By leaving the child tax credits and the cutout [that reduces the tax rate on some income to 10 percent from 15 percent] in place while proposing to repeal the rest, contenders will recapture most of the revenue lost because of the tax cuts, while making the job of the administration propagandists that much harder.

DR completely agrees with this assessment. And–surprise, surprise–it now appears that quite a few Democratic primary voters do as well.

October 16, 2003

Is Clark Electable?

Sure he is. DR’s still not sure he can get nominated (Dean’s clearly in the driver’s seat there), but evidence continues to mount that Clark could definitely beat Bush and is probably the Democrats’ best bet to do so.

Start with male voters. A little-noticed feature of Bush’s recent drop in approval ratings, reported by William Schneider in the October 4 National Journal, was the extent to which the drop was driven by a sharp decline in approval among men–17 points from August through late September, virtually erasing the gender gap in presidential approval. Now, it’s unlikely that the Democrats can translate all that male Bush disapproval into votes–a gender gap of some size is likely to remain–but a candidate who can consolidate a good chunk of these male voters will considerably boost his chances in the general election.

That candidate would appear to be Wesley Clark. We’ve already seen that Clark does very well among Democratic registered voters who are men. But he also does well among male registered voters in general. In a just-released Quinnipiac University poll of Pennsylvania voters, Clark is the only candidate who holds Bush under 50 percent (48 percent Bush to 43 percent Clark) in a prospective 2004 matchup. He does this by getting as much support as Dean among women (44 percent), but also receiving 42 percent support from men, in contrast to Dean’s 37 percent. As a result Dean runs much less well than Clark, losing to Bush 51 percent to 41 percent.

Or take independent voters. For a Democrat to win in 2004, he must run strongly among these voters. In a just-released Field Poll of California registered voters, Clark is the only candidate to beat Bush in a head-to-head matchup, 45 percent to 43 percent. He does this by doing about as well as the other candidates among Democrats, but also carrying independents by 18 points, 51 percent to 33 percent. In contrast, Dean carries independents by just 3 points and as a result loses to Bush, 46 percent to 42 percent. The other Democratic candidates do somewhat better, carrying independents by from 4 to 8 points, but also lose to Bush in their head-to-head matchups.

Too bad there’s that pesky nomination business.....

October 15, 2003

The So-Called Bush Bounce

Is Bush bouncing back? You’d think so, from coverage in the media, including today’s story in The Washington Post, “President Rallying Support in Polls”. But there are several problems with this story line.

First, Is it really a “bounce” or “rally”? That terminology implies his poll ratings are going up, but the evidence on this is mixed. Only the Gallup poll has an actual increase in Bush’s job approval rating, from 50 percent on 9/19-21 to 55 percent on 10/6-8 and 56 percent on 10/10-12.

Other polls tell a different story. The Newsweek poll has Bush’s approval rating declining from 52 percent on 9/25-26 to 51 percent on 10/9-10. Note that the latter Newsweek poll was taken exactly in between Gallup’s two polls that had Bush at 55 and 56 percent approval. The Ipsos/Cook Political Report poll also has Bush’s approval rating declining from 55 percent on 9/16-18 to 51 percent on 10/7-9. And, again, the dates of the later Ipsos poll are close to those of the two later Gallup polls, especially the first one.

And here’s the kicker. The Washington Post’s own poll (remember the headline about Bush “rallying support”?) has Bush’s approval rating declining from 58 percent on 9/10-13 to 54 percent on 9/30 to 53 percent on 10/10-13. And, once more, the dates of the later Post poll are close to the dates (actually a little later) than the dates of the Gallup polls.

So what’s going on? The Post’s own data show a slowdown in Bush’s rate of decline, which you could stretch into a temporary stabilization of Bush’s approval rating, if you chose to treat the 54 percent and 53 percent readings as about the same. But “rally” or “bounce”? That’s really pushing it.

And speaking of “pushing it”, DR has his suspicions that what’s really going on is the Bushies got a few good readings from the Gallup folks and went into spin overdrive pushing their story that the president has bounced back. Check out the quotes and cites in the Post story about Bush’s “rally”: (1) unnamed Bush aides; (2) Bush himself; (3) Ken Mehlman, Bush-Cheney campaign manager; (4) Rep. Deborah Price, chairman of the House Republican Conference; (5) Matthew Dowd, the RNC pollster; and (6) Nicolle Devenish, the Bush-Cheney campaign’s communications director. Only at the end of the article do we finally get a critical quote from a Democrat, Edward Markey of Massachusetts.

Chalk one up for the Bush propaganda machine--especially since they managed to make headway with the “Bush bounce” storyline when most other data from these polls, including the Gallup polls, suggest intensifying political problems for the GOP. Consider these data from Gallup.

While Gallup measured Bush’s approval rating as going up, they also measured Bush’s approval ratings on the economy (42 percent approval/55 percent disapproval), on foreign affairs (49 percent approval/49 percent disapproval) and on the situation with Iraq (47 percent approval/50 percent disapproval) as the worst of his presidency. His favorability rating, while higher at 60 percent, is also the lowest of his presidency.

The Gallup data also show just 22 percent rating the economy as good or excellent, one of the worst rating of his presidency, and only 42 percent saying the situation in Iraq is going well, the lowest level of the year. Finally, sentiment has become more negative about whether Congress should authorize the additional $87 billion for Iraq and the war on terror, moving from 51 percent against/46 percent for to 57 percent against/41 percent for.

In the Newsweek poll, Bush’s approval ratings on foreign policy are 45 percent, on Iraq, 44 percent, on taxes, 43 percent, on the environment, 43 percent, on the economy, 38 percent and on health care, 34 percent. And on whether Bush should be re-elected or not, 44 percent say they would vote to re-elect him, but 50 percent would not–worse than where Bush was two weeks ago before the beginning of this so-called bounce.

The Newsweek poll also finds that, at this point, more Americans (37 percent) think the US action against Iraq will increase the risk that large numbers of Americans will be killed or injured in future terror attacks, than believe (25 percent) that risk will decrease (30 percent say the Iraq action will make no difference). Moreover, by 49 percent to 39 percent, the public now thinks the administration misinterpreted or misanalyzed intelligence reports about Iraq’s WMDs and, for the first time, as many Americans now believe the administration purposely misled the public about Iraq’s WMDs to build support for war as believe they did not.

The Post poll finds Bush doing worse than a month ago in terms of support for his re-election. More (47 percent) say they would vote for the Democratic nominee than say they would vote for Bush (46 percent). The number who say the war in Iraq was worth fighting also fell 7 points to 54 percent in the same time period and the number who say the number of military casualties in Iraq is unacceptable rose 4 points to 59 percent, the highest level since the war began.

So....if this is what it looks like when Bush is “bouncing back”, it could be pretty grim for the GOP when he starts sinking again.

October 13, 2003

It's the Education, Stupid

DR says: Thank you, Washington Post, for putting above the fold what DR has been saying for a long time: Bush and the Republicans are acutely vulnerable on the education issue and it’s likely to be a liability for them in 2004.

A brief recap. Democrats have historically dominated the education issue but Bush narrowed the gap during the 2000 campaign with his compassionate conservative rhetoric and his promise to improve education by raising standards. With the bipartisan passage of the No Child Left Behind education reform act on January 8, 2002, the gap was essentially erased.

But ever since then the gap has re-opened in the Democrats’ favor. Republican pollster David Winston pegs the Democrats’ current advantage at 14 points, consistent with the findings of recent public polls.

The reason for this is simple. The stringent standards of the No Child Left Behind Act were not–and still haven’t been–matched by a commitment of resources to help lagging schools meet those standards. Consequently, while massive numbers of schools–half or more in some states–are now in danger of being characterized as “failing” and suffering penalties as a result, there is no money available from the federal level to help them. Nor, given most states’ fiscal situations, is it really feasible for states to provide substantial new assistance to help these schools meet standards. And the latest round of Bush tax cuts has just made this situation worse, since many states peg their tax rates to the federal rates and therefore will be bringing in even less revenue than before. Finally, under the provisions of the new law, standards are supposed to become more stringent with every year, which will almost certainly increase the number of schools subject to sanction.

It is this dreadful situation that has led to public disenchantment with the GOP’s educational approach. High standards + no money = big problem. The Democrats have a golden opportunity to highlight this contradiction, making the point over and over again that the GOP has imposed this mandate on the states, but chose to fund tax cuts for the rich instead of the schools that are supposed to leave no child behind. And the Republicans dare to criticize the Democrats for promoting “unfunded mandates”!

As the article points out, the high standards vs. no money problem is particularly acute in some key swing states like West Virginia. Thus, not only is the education issue of great importance to various swing voter groups (for example, married women), but it also has the potential to directly boost Democratic electoral vote totals in 2004.

If all this is true, why have Democratic presidential candidates been so reticent about this issue? Maybe they’re afraid to seem opposed to standards. Maybe they think the economy and health care are so important, they don’t need to bother with education.

Who knows? All DR knows is they’re wrong not to pounce on this issue and push it as hard as they can–not only the shortcomings and contradictions of the No Child Left Behind Act, but also the profound unresponsiveness of the GOP to the clear need to modernize our educational system. Why are schools still on the agricultural calendar, with school buildings mostly closed outside of the short school day, when working parents and the challenges of the information economy obviously demand so much more? Why isn’t preschool universally available to all families? Why does the salary structure for teachers still reflect the days when educated women couldn’t do much else other than be teachers, when we literally needs millions of high quality, high skill people to enter the teaching profession? The Republicans have no good answers to these questions; Democrats should.

October 12, 2003

The Demographics of Clarkism

In the latest Gallup poll, Wesley Clark once again is the top choice of Democratic registered voters around the nation. Clark garners 22 percent support, compared to Dean at 15 percent, Kerry and Lieberman at 12 percent and Gephardt at 10 percent.

These results are similar to an earlier Gallup poll of September 19-21, so Gallup was able to combine the data from the two polls and run demographic analyses of the different candidates’ bases of support. These analyses are quite revealing, especially when comparing Clark and Dean.

While Clark receives more support than Dean among both men and women, his margin over Dean among women is just 3 points (16 percent to 13 percent), but an impressive 12 points among men (29 percent to 17 percent). He also beats Dean in every region of the country, but especially in the south (25 percent to 8 percent). Also intriguing is how well he does among low income voters (less than $20,000), clobbering Dean by 26 percent to 5 percent. In fact, Clark bests Dean in every income group up to $75,000. Above $75,000, Dean edges Clark, 26 percent to 25 percent.

In terms of ideology, Dean beats Clark among liberals, 24 percent to 18 percent, but Clark wins moderates by 24 percent to 11 percent and conservatives by 23 percent to 7 percent. The general picture, then, is that Clark does especially well, relative to Dean, among the very groups where Democrats have been having the most problems. That suggests to DR that the emerging Clark candidacy deserves very serious consideration indeed.

And there are other reasons, too, of course. Like Clark’s ability to raise a large amount of money in a short time period. Or his increasing success in connecting with voters on the retail level. Or that he may be able to generate considerable support from blacks, the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituency. Or, counter-intuitively, the very thing that has led to so much criticism of Clark from his Democratic rivals: he’s not a “regular” Democrat. He says he voted for Nixon and Reagan. He only recently registered as a Democrat. He’s said nice things about Republicans in the past.

The fact of the matter is that in today’s anti-establishment, pro-outsider mood–witness the destruction of Gray Davis and election of Arnold Schwarzenegger–these are probably all good things to have on a Democratic candidate’s resume. Swing voters who are dissatisfied with Bush and therefore inclined to look closely at the Democratic candidate will not be put off by Clark’s partisan heterodoxy; on the contrary, it will make it easier for them to see the Democratic candidate as an agent of change, not of the Democratic party’s establishment (as, say, Gephardt or Kerry) or of the liberal faction of the party (Dean).

And that, DR submits, could be just the thing to beat Bush, if–and it’s a big if–Clark can get the nomination. That subject will be addressed in future posts.

October 9, 2003

California Screamin'

Schwarzenegger may be governor, but California remains California and incumbents are in trouble. That’s the message DR takes away from Tuesday’s election results.

It’s hard to read this election as anything other than a manifestation of anti-incumbent feeling. The California electorate detested Gray Davis and were thoroughly dissatisfied at the situation the state was in. So they voted for the recall. They didn’t see Bustamante as representing a change from Davis’ administration and business as usual. So they took a chance on Schwarzenegger and voted for him.

Does this mean that Republicans are suddenly competitive in California in ‘04? Hardly. Indeed, you could argue that the only shot they had in California in ‘04 was if Davis had remained in office and they could have gotten voters to vote Republican in protest against the state’s incumbent. But now he’s gone and California voters will be free to focus their dissatisfaction on the nation’s incumbent–George W. Bush.

And how do they feel about Bush? They are not happy campers. In a recent Field poll, Bush received a 46 percent job approval rating from California’s voters, including a 42 percent rating among nonpartisan/independent voters and a 19 percent (!) rating among Democratic voters. Since Republican hopes in California in ‘04 must rest on cutting into the Democratic partisan vote and doing well among independents, as both the recall and Schwarzenegger did, this does not bode well for GOP chances.

Or consider the economy, by all accounts a central cause of California voters’ desire to toss out Gray Davis. California voters currently give Bush a dreadful 39 percent approval rating on the economy–and that includes pathetic ratings of just 26 percent among independents and 16 percent among Democrats!

These are the voters who can supposedly be induced to vote for Bush in ‘04? Pardon DR for being just a wee bit skeptical. Especially since his other job ratings (except on reducing the terrorist threat) are equally bad. These include 46 percent on foreign affairs, 44 percent on taxes, 40 percent on the situation in Iraq, 39 percent on the environment, 36 percent on health care, 34 percent on energy policy, 34 percent on reducing unemployment, 33 percent on the federal budget deficit, 29 percent on his treatment of matters relating to California and 28 percent on Medicare.

But what if this election demobilized the Democratic base and mobilized many new Republican voters? Assuming this pattern carries over to 2004, a big assumption, wouldn’t that help Republicans in ‘04? DR is not persuaded this turnout-centered interpretation of Tuesday’s results is correct.

First of all, there were few new voters. Only 3 or 4 percent of Tuesday’s voters were first-time voters, depending on which exit poll (Edison Media Research or Los Angeles Times) you look at.

Second, exit polls do not give clear indications of Democratic demobilization. It is true that the Edison Media Research (EMR) exit poll has Democrats at just 39 percent of voters, compared to Republicans at 38 percent, in a state where Democrats have a 44 percent to 35 percent advantage. But the Los Angeles Times (LAT) exit poll has different figures–46 percent Democratic and 39 percent Republican–which are not far off the overall registration figures. The LAT poll also has figures available from 2002 (46 percent Democratic/40 percent Republican) and 1998 (48 percent Democratic/39 percent Republican), the last two off-year elections, and they do not indicate much change in Democratic or Republican turnout.

Thus, the voters who turned out don’t seem to have changed much, but they certainly were in a mood to “throw the bums out”. And in 2004 the bum in question is likely to be President Bush.

October 7, 2003

Bush and Independent Voters

Bush’s tumble in the polls has been widely-observed and documented. But one thing that has not received as much attention as it should is how very poorly Bush is doing with independent voters. And without fairly strong support from independent voters, he is unlikely to prevail in November, 2004.

Consider these data from the latest CBS/New York Times poll. This poll has Bush’s approval rating at just 51 percent (pretty much identical with his rating in August, 2001, just before the September 11 terrorist attacks) But among independents, it’s considerably worse: 43 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval. Same story on handling foreign affairs (44 percent approval overall, but 38 percent approval/48 percent disapproval among independents) and on handling the Iraq situation (47 percent approval overall, but 40 percent approval/52 percent disapproval among independents). And on handling the economy, where Bush generally does the worst, his overall rating is an anemic 37 percent, but among independents, it’s a staggeringly bad 28 percent approval with 63 percent disapproval.

There are a number of other examples: today just 41 percent of the public thinks Bush has the same priorities as they do, which is pretty bad as is. But among independents, the figures are notably lop-sided: a mere 30 percent think he shares their priorities, 65 percent think he does not. Similarly, an unimpressive 40 percent overall have confidence in Bush’s ability to make the right decisions about the economy, but among independents, only a truly dismal 31 percent have such confidence, with 65 percent professing lack of confidence. Finally, 41 percent overall still believe the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American life and other costs, but among independents, this falls to 33 percent who believe the result was worth the costs, with 60 percent believing the contrary.

These are remarkable figures. Which leads DR to ask: given the political importance generally attached to independent voters, why isn’t Bush’s strikingly bad image among them a bigger story?