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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.


Apparently this year primary voters and caucus goers are not "firm" as they have been in earlier presidential candidate selections. This probably accounts for the reasonably large uncommitted group in many polls, and an even larger group that have several candidates in mind.

I am expecting one or several of the candidates to address the tax issue in a more nuanced way, making the case that the problems at the state level which impict education and police and security matters have to be factored into a national strategy on tax policy. I am still attracted to an old book by Alice Rivlin put into play in the early 90's, that recommended disentangleing the functions of state and Federal responsibility -- and properly allowcating the tax base necessary to finance these functions. Her book probably needs updating, but she had a very appealing approach.

Unfortunately, I think the democratic party nomination process is influenced the most by the most militant members of the democratic party. Those voters are mostly in the Dean camp but only partly because of his stance on the issues. The real reason they are enthused by him is his red meat anti-bush message and his message of empowerment to the most left leaning members of the party.

I think Dean will win the nomination. He is not my favorite but I think he has it in the bag. The real trip though is to see if he can modulate his message during the race against Bush without those same militant voters feeling betrayed. I haven't seen any evidence that he can do this so far, but I think he has time to work on it. He will have to be very artful doing this. He has already given the opposition plenty of ammo with some of his statements.

One thing I have notices about Dean supporters is they often say that Bush is going to be in so much trouble that ANYONE could beat him. I hope they are right. If they aren't then I see real problems in the south and midwest.

So maybe Clark can win in New Hampshire.

This is a misleading poll.

The implication is that Dean would fall under statement #1 (opposed the war from the beginning), and his opponents under the second (supported the war, but wanted more international support.) But this is a simplification of Dean's pre-war stance. Dean opposed the war, in part, *because* Bush failed to win international support. In fact, by the time the war started, it was clear that such international support would not be forthcoming. Furthermore, Dean did not simply "oppose" the war without offering other solutions. In fact, he called for further inspections -exactly what our international allies were also calling for.

So Dean's position really falls somewhere between these two statements. Ditto, I think, for Democratic voters. In my view more respondants chose the second statement because it has more clauses. To illustrate this point, consider the following statements:

1) I hate all vegetables.

2) I love all vegetables, as long as they are tasty and well prepared.

Most people's opinion would fall somewhere between these two statements, but if asked, most would chose #2 over #1, simply because #2 seems a more "balanced" response. In fact, in most cases, people will chose statement two if the two statements are phrased thusly...

1) I oppose "X."

2) I support "X," but only under certain conditions.

Insert a couple issues for "X" and you'll see what I mean. Bottom line, this poll is slanted and should not be taken seriously as a representation of what "voters" want in a nominee.

Believe it, if you don't rouse the Democrats into militancy, you aren't going to win this election.

The Dean supporters are partially right, I think. But there is a way to lose this election: toad tight up to the corporate interests that are funding the Republicans.

You just keep the Bush tax "breaks" that really only help the relatively rich 1% in this country. Do that and watch how quickly the Democrats lose. Why?

Because EVERYONE in the 90% IS WATCHING.

And when it comes down to a republican lite and a Republican, the Republican wins every time.

Don't give America sophistry. We Democrats don't wear it well. Be honest. There's a LOT for American voters to be militant about, and people, if you don't USE IT you'll LOSE IT!