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November 30, 2003

The Iraq Situation and the 2004 Vote

The latest NPR poll, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner/Public Opinion Strategies, has a few interesting findings that deserve to be highlighted. First, the generic presidential ballot–Bush vs. our trusty unnamed Democrat–has changed dramatically since their poll in late May. At that point, Bush was leading by 15 points (50 percent to 35 percent); now he’s leading by just 3 points (44 percent to 41 percent).

That’s consistent with trend on most other public polls. But what’ s interesting here is that they broke down the late May and current poll samples by those in states Bush won by 5 percent or more, those in swing states and those in states Gore won by 5 percent and more. This exercise shows that all of the move toward the Democrats over this period has been in swing states (from +19 for Bush to dead-even) and in Gore states (from dead-even to +13 for the Democrats). The Bush states haven’t budged (+22 for Bush in May, +23 for Bush today).

One reason for the pro-Democratic shift over this time period is the rise in salience of the situation in Iraq. Just in the last couple of months, the number citing the situation in Iraq as one of the two top issues that will influence their presidential vote in ‘04 has doubled (from 14 percent to 28 percent). And those citing Iraq favor the Democrats in the generic presidential ballot by 29 points.

Those citing a number of other areas also favor the Democrats: education (by 25 points); affordable health care (by 21 points); the federal deficit (by 20 points); Social Security/Medicare (by 14 points); and the economy and jobs (by 12 points).

But it seems clear that the higher the voter salience of the Iraq situation, the better the Democrats are likely to do in November, 2004. Not exactly what Rove and co. had in mind (see DR’s post on “Plan A Falls Apart” for more discussion).

November 29, 2003

Fun With (Medicare) Math!

DR has commented a couple of times lately (here and here) on the difficulties the GOP is going to have selling their dreadful Medicare prescription drugs bill to voters in general and seniors in particular. The Washington Post has a good article today, “Seniors Skeptical of Medicare Bill”, based on talking to seniors in Florida, that suggests the polls DR has been citing accurately reflect seniors’ suspicion of the GOP’s bill.

Seniors quoted in the story express strong disappointment no effort has been made to control drug prices, that the bill will make it harder, not easier, to obtain cheap drugs from Canada and that the AARP didn’t work for a better deal for its constituents. The article also points out the seniors are “experts on pills” and are hyper-aware of how much their drug costs are.

It follows that they will be hyper-aware of how much they will and will not be helped by the new bill. That’s why the concept that the GOP will be generally helped just because a bill with some sort of benefit for seniors–no matter how lousy!-- has been passed is so ridiculous. Seniors are going to be calculating how much–“to the penny”, as one senior put it in this article–their out-of-pocket drug costs are going to be under this new bill and they’re not going to be pleased. And they are going to know there’s nothing stopping drug prices from continuing to escalate rapidly and, therefore, their out-of-pocket costs as well.

Let’s do the math that seniors are already doing all over America. A good way to start is with another excellent Washington Post article that came out the day after the bill passed. The article “Drug Benefit’s Impact Detailed: Many Will Face Big Out-of-Pocket Costs”, does an exemplary job of clearly outlining the structure of the drug benefit.

Here’s the basic idea: the benefit covers 75 percent of drug costs up to $2,250 in spending, then provides no coverage until $3,600 in out-of-pocket cost is reached, then covers 95 percent of drug costs after that.

This sounds, if not great, quite a bit better than it actually is. Here’s why. Before you get a penny of actual coverage, you have to absorb $670 in costs ($250 deductible and a $420 annual premium); then to get coverage up to that $2,250 figure, you have to lay out an additional $500 co-pay (25 percent of the $2,000 left after the deductible). So, at that point, the beneficiary has laid out $1,170 for $2,250 in coverage–a savings of less than half (48 percent).

At this point, the no coverage “doughnut hole” kicks in. But that’s not so bad, since coverage picks up again at $3,600 in costs, so the hole is “only” $1,350, right? Wrong! It only picks up again at $3,600 in out-of-pocket costs, not drug costs, which is quite a bit farther down the pike. Especially since out-of-pocket costs are defined to include only the deductible ($250) and the co-pay ($500), not the annual premium costs ($420). Thus, since the beneficiary, by this definition, has had only $750 in out-of-pockets costs on the first $2,250, he or she has to pay $2,850 more ($3,600-$750) to reach the point where additional coverage kicks in. That means from $2,250 in drug costs to $5,100 ($2,250 + $2,850) in drug costs the beneficiary gets no coverage whatsoever. At that point, the beneficiary will have paid $4,020 ($1,170 + $2,850) on $5,100 in drug costs, a savings of just 21 percent. (For a graphical representation of this sad story, see Angry Bear’s excellent post on this issue.)

But perhaps the typical senior–who doesn’t spend quite as much--will get a better deal and feel better about the benefit? This seems doubtful. The average drug spending by Medicare beneficiaries is projected to be about $3,250 in 2006, when the benefit takes effect. Under the bill just passed, a beneficiary will wind up having to pay 70 percent of this typical drug bill.

That doesn’t sound to DR like the drug benefit seniors had in mind. The GOP apparently doesn’t understand that what made Social Security and Medicare so wildly popular with voters is that they were very good benefits and dramatically improved the lives of those affected. The drug benefit just passed doesn’t remotely meet this standard and Republicans will find, to their sorrow, that failing to meet that standard will make a huge political difference.

November 26, 2003

Fun With (Electoral) Math!

DR commented awhile ago on the merits of a nonsouthern strategy in 2004. A key point was that, while such a strategy should not be dogmatically pursued, it makes general sense as a way for Democrats to approach the electoral map in 2004.

But why take DR’s word for it? Now you too can see the virtues of a nonsouthern strategy by making your very own run at an electoral targeting strategy.

It’s simple. Take a list of the states with their EVs. Now assign the states you think are appropriate to “safe Bush” and “safe Dem” categories. The ones left over are the ones you think are in play.

Break down the states in play by region and decide where Democrats should concentrate their efforts to have the best chance of getting to 270 and beyond. And there you have it: your strategy and very likely a variant on a nonsouthern strategy.

People might reasonably say, “but, DR, making up categories and lists like that is a big hassle; who wants to do that?” No problem! The good folks at John Edwards’ presidential campaign provide an interactive electoral map that makes your calculations easy and allows you to map out your strategy state-by-state. Or, if you prefer a list format, Dave Leip’s wonderful election atlas provides a page where you can allocate states to Republicans, Democrats and toss-up and calculate and re-calculate electoral vote totals as you do so.

Need data to help you think through which states go where? You can find past presidential election results down to the county level at Leip’s election atlas. And you can find much useful current data on potential swing states at DavidNYC’s swing state project blog.

OK, that should keep people busy until we reconvene after Thanksgiving. See you then.

November 25, 2003

The Good News Is the Medicare Bill Passed, The Bad News Is the Medicare Bill Passed

For the GOP, that is. The general assumption is that passage of the bill will significantly help the Republicans by delivering a new benefit to seniors, burnishing Bush’s compassionate conservative credentials and taking a key Democratic issue off the table.

And that would be true if another, better Medicare bill had passed. It is not true of the actual bill that passed.

Take the views of seniors, surely where the payoff for the GOP should be most obvious, if there is a payoff. According to a poll last week by Peter Hart Research for the AFL-CIO, almost two-thirds of voters 55 and older thought Congress and the White House should work for a better Medicare prescription drug plan than the one on offer. Just 19 percent wanted Congress to pass the bill under consideration.

The same poll found that 65 percent of these voters viewed the drug plan unfavorably and the same number viewed the subsidies for private HMOs unfavorably. Also, 64 percent opposed the bill’s provisions to ban importation of drugs from Canada and an overwhelming 78 percent said the bill doesn’t do enough to protect retirees now covered by employer-provided prescription drug plans.

Oh, but that’s just an AFL-CIO poll, right? What can you expect from them? Perhaps it wasn’t a good (fair and balanced?) poll, etc.

That complaint would have more credence if we didn’t have even more recent results from the University of Pennsylvania National Annenberg Election Survey. This survey found that, based on a carefully neutral description of the bill (see link), the public as a whole opposed the bill 42 percent to 40 percent, registered voters opposed it 44 percent to 39 percent, those over 50 opposed the bill 49 percent to 36 percent and those over 65 opposed it 49 percent to 33 percent. And, interestingly, those holding a favorable opinion of AARP, which of course endorsed the bill, opposed its passage 45 percent to 38 percent.

So, it’s not a particularly popular bill, especially with those it’s intended to directly benefit. And the Democrats are going to relentlessly dwell on the shortcomings of the bill, from failure to control drug costs to moving away from a choice-of-doctor-based Medicare system to the skimpiness of the benefit and its impact on those who already have good drug coverage. By these data, seniors are already inclined to believe much of what Democrats are going to be saying.

That likely spells trouble for the GOP. Just saying it’s better than nothing won’t help them much, in DR’s view. Nor will the fact that seniors won’t actually receive the benefit until 2006–and so, runs the argument, they won’t realize how bad it is until after 2004.

How dumb do they think seniors are? DR’s betting they’ll figure this one out pretty quick–and when they do, they’ll come to the obvious conclusion: if you want health care done right, hire a Democrat.

November 24, 2003

If the Economy’s Improving, It’s Still Not Helping Bush Much

Two just-released polls confirm that the recent good economic news hasn’t helped Bush’s standing with the public much. The latest Ipsos/Cook Political Report poll has the right direction/wrong track question at 38 percent right direction/56 percent wrong track, exactly where this measure was in the last half of September and early October.

Bush’s overall approval rating in the Ipsos poll is at 50 percent, the lowest rating they’ve recorded for him since 9/11. Even his approval rating on the economy has snapped back to net negative (46 percent approval/51 percent disapproval) after reaching the break-even point in early November. And, for the first time in this poll, the number who would “definitely vote to re-elect Bush as President” is identical with the number who would “definitely vote for someone else” (37 percent to 37 percent). (Another 25 percent say they would “consider voting for someone else”.)

The latest Time/CNN poll has a different re-elect question, but also has Bush at a post-9/11 low. In this poll 47 percent say they would be very likely or somewhat likely to vote for him for re-election, compared to 48 percent who say they would be very or somewhat unlikely to vote for him. Significantly, more people say they would be very unlikely to vote for him (38 percent) than say they would be very likely to support him (32 percent).

This poll also shows how the public’s personal bond with Bush is continuing to erode. Just 44 percent now say he is a leader they can trust (down from 56 percent in March), compared to 54 percent who say they have some doubts and reservations. Note that political independents have an even more jaundiced view: only 38 percent say they can trust him, while 61 percent have doubts.

In addition, by 48 percent to 39 percent, the public thinks Bush has been too partisan in office; by 53 percent to 43 percent, they think he has been too quick to interject his own moral and religious beliefs into politics; by 54 percent to 44 percent, they think he is out of touch with ordinary Americans; and by 58 percent to 37 percent, they think he has favored policies that benefit the rich at the expense of the middle class.

Hmmm. Sounds like the public’s starting to catch on.

November 23, 2003

If Democrats Don’t Watch Out, They Might Start Agreeing with Each Other

DR has been beating the drums for quite some time on the issue of Democratic unity. The concept is simple: especially after the party’s move to the center during the Clinton years, far more unites Democrats than divides them. And we must be as united as possible to have a good shot at beating Bush in 2004 and moving toward a Democratic majority over the course of the decade. So it’s time to stow most of the faction fights between DLC Democrats and liberal Democrats–they’re yesterday’s battles–and concentrate on the areas where Democrats agree and can move forward.

Easy to say. Harder to do. But DR has been encouraged by moves afoot in Washington to work out such areas of agreement between centrists and liberals. Here are some areas where people seem ready to agree. (DR’s spies tell him that, if these discussions go well, unity-oriented materials may start appearing in the pages of The American Prospect, so keep an eye out for such contributions).

Opportunity for all:

· A decent society is a compact for mutual advantage, not one where the rich and powerful use their power to skew results in their favor. We’re for everyone to get a fair shot at making it.

· We should expand the middle class, and give people tools to succeed.

· While we need to expand the rights of workers to engage in collective bargaining, we recognize that welfare of workers also depends on collective action by government, particularly in the areas of health care, worker rights, and retirement security.

· Its more than just about creating jobs, its about enabling all Americans to develop meaningful and rewarding careers.

Tax and Budget:

· We believe in progressive income taxes and oppose the Bush administration efforts to shift the burden of taxation to work and away from investors and owners of capital.

· We should simplify the tax code for the average American.

· We should provide middle class tax relief.

· We should reign in unproductive corporate subsidies.

· We should close corporate tax loopholes and increase enforcement against tax cheats.

Fostering Economic Growth and Opportunity in the 21st Century:

· Human capital, including the skills, inventiveness and entrepreneurial efforts skills of Americans is the key driver of economic growth. Republicans believe that financial capital and its owners are the drivers of economic growth.

· While the new economy is leading to progress it also causes disruption and it’s incumbent upon progressives to help those facing disruption.

· Life-long access to post-secondary education should be available to all Americans.

· If government is to be a force for economic and social progress we need to ensure that it works effectively.

Not too shabby. Here’s hoping this noble work moves forward and contributes to fostering that spirt of unity we Democrats so desperately need.

Not Your Father’s New Democrats

A lot of liberals are still quite suspicious of New Democrats, of course, and see the DLC’s attacks earlier in the year on Dean and the dread forces of Mondale-McGovernism as indicating at New Democrats are incapable of adapting to new realities. But not all New Democrats think alike on Dean and the evolution of the Democratic party.

Exhibit A: Simon Rosenberg’s New Democrat Network. As Ryan Lizza recently pointed out in The New Republic in his excellent article on current divisions in the Democratic party:

No organization has been more hostile to Dean than the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). In May, Al From and Bruce Reed, the chairman and the president of the DLC--the group that served as a policy springboard for Clinton's rise--wrote their now-infamous manifesto warning that nominating Dean, whom they view as hopelessly left-wing, would bring certain defeat for Democrats in 2004. But, for months, another prominent New Democrat has been making a different case. Simon Rosenberg, who cut his teeth on Clinton's 1992 campaign and now heads the New Democrat Network (NDN), sees Dean as the most innovative and potentially transformative Democrat since Clinton himself. Like Stern, Rosenberg is a bit of a rebel within his own movement. He once worked for From, but his organization is now challenging the DLC and is becoming an increasingly influential player in Democratic politics. Unlike the more top-down DLC, NDN is building a grassroots network of donors and has become a key player in the new world of 527s. "NDN has not endorsed Dean or embraced him, but we have given our opinion that this is a serious campaign that is going to change the party," says Rosenberg.

So, you see, not all New Democrats are alike.

Not That Your Father’s New Democrats Are So Bad

And by no means, in DR’s view, should folks give up on the DLC itself. The latest Al From-Bruce Reed memo in the new issue of the DLC’s Blueprint magazine is actually quite temperate, mostly avoids gratuitous factionalizing and has some pretty good strategic advice in it. In fact, the whole issue of the magazine, headlined “The Collapse of Bushism” is chock-full of good stuff that Democrats of all persuasions should find useful. More evidence, in DR’s view, for the feasibility of Democratic unity.

Let’s try to make it happen.

November 21, 2003

Moderates Not Moderate on Bush

DR has commented a number of times recently on how disaffected independent voters seem to be with Bush and his policies. The breakouts provided by The Los Angeles Times from their most recent poll provide a window on another electoral group that’s disaffected—really disaffected—with Bush and his policies. This one’s a moose of a group, moderate voters, who constituted 50 percent of the voters in the 2000 election.

Start with the classic right direction/wrong track question: the public thinks, by 50 percent to 40 percent, that we’re on the wrong track. Pretty negative in and of itself, but moderates think we’re on the wrong track by double the margin: 55 percent to 36 percent.

Move on to the question of whether Bush “understands the problems of people like you”. The public thinks he doesn’t by 51 percent to 42 percent—bad enough, but moderates are a stinging 58 percent to 34 percent against Bush on the question. Ouch.

Then check out these data on Iraq. The public disapproves of Bush’s handling on Iraq by 51 percent to 45 percent, while moderates disapprove by 56 percent to 38 percent, three times the margin. The public--just barely--says “the situation in Iraq was worth going to war about” by 48 percent to 43 percent (by comparison, 77 percent in April said they supported the decision to go to war). Moderates however are just the reverse, saying Iraq wasn’t worth going to war over by 50 percent to 45 percent.

And how about these figures: by 59 percent to 31 percent the public now says the outcome of the Iraq war has not been worth the cost in US military lives. And moderates agree with this sentiment by an amazing 73 percent to 17 percent, a 56 point margin. Similarly, by 57 percent to 35 percent the public believes the outcome of the Iraq war hasn’t been worth the financial costs to the US; moderates agree by a 69 percent to 25 percent margin.

Turning to the economy where the US is allegedly turning the corner, these data show that Bush has a long way to go before his performance is going to win the endorsement of moderate voters. By 20 points (56 percent to 36 percent), these voters still disapprove of his handling of the economy. By 19 points, (59 percent to 40 percent), they still think the economy is doing badly.

And when it comes to whether they voters think the country or they themselves are better off than when Bush came into office, these voters are really negative. By a stunning 64 percent to 10 percent, they say the country is financially worse off, not better off, than when Bush took office. And by 32 percent to 12 percent, they say they themselves are financially worse off, not better off, than they were three years ago (the rest say their situation hasn’t changed much).

But perhaps they’re grateful to Bush because his policies have made a bad situation better than it otherwise would have been? Moderates overwhelmingly reject this particularly ludicrous GOP talking point: 78 percent say that Bush’s economic policies have either made the country’s economy weaker (48 percent) or had no effect (30 percent). Just 13 percent believe his policies have actually made the economy stronger.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that moderate voters appear quite willing to toss Bush out of office in 2004. When registered voters were asked whether Bush deserves to be re-elected or not, a narrow plurality—46 percent to 42 percent—said he did not. But moderate voters were quite a bit more definite: by a whopping 25 point margin—55 percent to 30 percent—they don’t think Bush deserves to be re-elected.

Results were similar when voters were asked specifically whether they would vote for Bush in 2004 or the Democrat running against him. Registered voters favored the Democrat by modest 4 point margin, but moderates favored the Democrat by a healthy 17 points.

Let’s put these results in context. In 2000, Gore carried moderate voters by 8 points and just barely won the popular vote. This means that, if the Democrats carry moderate voters by a wider margin in 2004, as they are now with ease, then they are quite likely to also win the popular vote by a solid margin. And that is likely to translate into a margin in the electoral college that even the Supreme Court can’t undo.

So DR says: watch those moderates. They’re potentially Bush’s bane and the Democrats’ salvation. And that’s more than moderately encouraging news.

November 20, 2003

Will the Gay Marriage Issue Sink the Democrats?

With the favorable decision of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts on same-sex marriages, there was much wringing of hands among Democrats that the gay marriage issue could help sink the Democrats in 2004. The Republicans will use the issue, fueled by reaction to the court decision, to drive cultural conservatives to their side and take swing states away from the Democrats.

Only one slight problem. One very logical reaction to this state court decision (if you feel strongly that gay marriage is an abomination and the courts can’t be trusted) is to take it out of the hands of the courts and go for a constitutional amendment. That means the numerous conservative activists who were already calling for a “Federal Marriage Amendment” (FMA) are going to be screaming louder in the wake of this decision.

And what’s the support level for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage? A minuscule 10 percent, according to a just-released Pew Research Center Study. That makes stated support for gay marriage–32 percent, in the same poll–look robust. So if the GOP starts pumping up the issue, they’re going to energize a part of their base that holds a profoundly unpopular position–a position that will alienate many of the moderate suburban voters they need to carry swing states.

And Bush already has a problem with his image on these kind of issues. According to a recent Gallup poll, half the country thinks he wants to ban abortion completely–also a profoundly unpopular position. And what’s he going to do about Dick Cheney, who has an openly lesbian daughter and who is on record as supporting states’ rights to set policy in this area? Or about the fact that political independents, whose votes he desperately needs, tend to be pretty liberal on gay issues (they favor allowing civil unions by 52 percent to 41 percent) and will likely see unleashing the furies on the gay marriage issue as a move toward intolerance?

DR could go on. But he won’t. Instead, check out the excellent article by Matthew Yglesias on The American Prospect website which has much additional useful analysis along these lines. The Democrats will have many challenges to deal with in 2004. The Massachusetts Court decision is not likely to be one of them.

Tomorrow: Moderates Not Moderate on Bush

November 18, 2003

Public Souring on Bush

The latest Gallup poll documents the increasingly sour mood of the public about President Bush and, critically, many of his personal characteristics.

Start with his overall approval rating: down to 50 percent with 47 percent disapproval–tied with a mid-September poll for the worst of his presidency. Then consider items like whether Bush “is in touch with the problems ordinary Americans face in their daily lives”. Only 42 percent say this applies to Bush; 57 percent say it does not.

Or how about whether Bush “generally agrees with you on issues you care about”–right now, just 48 percent say this characteristic applies to Bush, down from 64 percent the last time Gallup asked this, in May of 2002. And the same number, 48 percent, say Bush “can get the economy moving”, with 50 percent saying he cannot.

Well, does Bush share their values? An underwhelming 53 percent believe he does, down from 66 percent at the time of last November’s election. And does Bush “care about the needs of people like you”? Uh-uh, says the public, by 50 percent to 49 percent. That’s a 16 point swing from the end of June, when the public believed, by 57 percent to 42 percent, that he did care about the needs of people like them.

How about whether he “is a person you admire”? Right now, it’s a 50 percent to 49 percent split in favor of “admire”–but that’s down from a 54 percent to 45 percent split in June of this year and a 64 percent to 33 percent split in May of last year. And here’s the kicker: the number who believe he is “honest and trustworthy” is down 14 points–from 73 percent to 59 percent–just since early April. If that number keeps heading downward, that’s particularly bad news for Bush, who has relied heavily on a bond of personal trust with the public to buoy his presidency.

Even Bush’s traditionally strong suit of being a “strong and decisive leader” has been taking a big hit. In early April, 80 percent said that characteristic applied to Bush; now that’s down to 66 percent, a 14 point drop.

Of course, people still seem to like the guy at some level: 68 percent say they approve of Bush “as a person”, a number appears to have changed little during the course of the Bush presidency. At the margin that perception might help Bush a bit in ‘04. But if this is what the Republican spin-meisters are reduced to using as an indicator of Bush’s popular support, Democrats shouldn’t be intimidated. Far from it.

Now all we need is the right candidate to beat Mr. Nice-Guy-But-Not-Much-Else-Going-For-Him. Back to that issue soon.

November 17, 2003

A Non-Southern Strategy?

Political scientist Thomas Schaller article in Sunday’s Washington Post makes the case that “The Democrats Need a Non-Southern Strategy”. Schaller’s basic case takes off from the fact that the Democrats almost won the presidency in 2000 without carrying a single southern state. Building on this, he argues that their best bet for winning the presidency in 2004 and beyond is to abandon the south to the GOP and concentrate Democratic resources on holding the blue states (those Gore won in 2000) and picking up states in the southwest (Arizona, Nevada, Colorado) and lower midwest (Ohio, Missouri).

DR believes Schaller is broadly right about the need for a non-southern strategy. But he is wrong in three very important ways about how to formulate such a strategy.

(1) It is wrong to cede all of the south’s electoral votes to the GOP. A non-southern strategy should be a guide to where Democrats should concentrate resources, not a dogma. To assume, as Schaller does, that the Democrats cannot even win Florida, since Jeb Bush did so well in 2002, is to let your theory overrule reality. And the reality is that Florida has been trending Democratic in presidential politics since 1988, as demographic and economic change move south Florida’s fast-growing hi-tech and tourist areas into the Democratic column. The president’s brother won an easy re-election victory in 2002 not because these changes suddenly reversed themselves, but because it was a great year to be related to a wartime president, because McBride ran a terrible campaign (including failing to choose a lieutenant governor running mate from south Florida) and because in a state election Jeb Bush didn’t have to defend unpopular GOP national positions, like Social Security and Medicare privatization.

Depending on the candidate and the situation, there may be a few other states, like Louisiana and Arkansas, within reach for the Democrats. But even if Democratic victory does not seem probable in these other states, it doesn’t follow that Democrats should give up completely on these other states. Which brings up the second point.

(2) It is wrong to abandon the south completely, so that the GOP is free to concentrate all of its resources elsewhere. If the Democrats elect not to compete in the south so that Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana–not to mention Virginia and North Carolina–are effortless victories for the GOP, the Bush team will have maximum freedom to shift resources to battleground states in the southwest and midwest and help stop the very pickups Schaller thinks the Democrats need to make. Talk about unintended consequences.

(3) It is wrong to write off southern voters as culturally alien and treat them as unreachable. This is wrong because many southern voters are, in fact, reachable by Democrats and becoming more so over time. This is especially true in the emerging “ideopolis” areas of the south–Florida’s hi-tech and tourist areas, North Carolina’s research triangle, the Northern Virginia suburbs of DC, etc.–and Democrats need to cultivate these voters, not abandon them. Otherwise, Democrats will throw away the longer term opportunities created by demographic and economic change in the south.

It is also wrong because a party that views southern voters as culturally alien and does not compete for them will be poorly positioned to compete for culturally similar voters in non-southern states like Missouri, Ohio and West Virginia. And that, again, might spike the Democrats’ chances for making the very gains a non-southern strategy is supposed to produce.

The non-southern strategy: a good idea, but the devil’s in the details on this one.

November 15, 2003

Plan A Falls Apart

For a long time, Bush’s poor job approval ratings on domestic issues were more than counter-balanced by his strong approval ratings on international issues. But that formula for political success is falling apart.

First, it was his poll ratings on handling foreign policy that headed south. Then his ratings on handling the situation in Iraq started tanking. And now the last bastion: his ratings on dealing with the war on terrorism. For the first time, a major public poll (NBC News/Wall Street Journal) has Bush’s approval rating on the war against terror below 60 percent–in this case, an underwhelming 56 percent, not far off his overall rating of 51 percent in the poll. Guess folks are losing the thread connecting the increasingly deadly and expensive Iraq occupation with the war against the folks who crashed planes into the twin towers and the Pentagon.

The same poll has his approval rating on foreign policy at just 48 percent. And the new CBS News poll makes it a matched set with a 48 percent approval rating on handling the situation in Iraq. Lo how the might have fallen. With these kind of approval ratings, a Democratic candidate in 2004 would be foolish not to engage Bush in a sharp debate about Americas’ role in the world and safeguarding our national security.

And a look at detailed recent poll results on Iraq shows just how much raw material there is for such a debate. Start with whether the war with Iraq has been worth the costs. CBS News asked this two ways. One-half their sample was asked simply whether “the result of the war with Iraq” was worth loss of American life and other costs. Just 40 percent said the war was worth these costs, compared to 51 percent who said it was not.

The other half of their sample was asked specifically whether “removing Saddam Hussein from power” was worth these costs. This elicits a more positive response, as one would expect, but hardly impressive: 50 percent say removing Hussein was worth costs, while 43 percent say it wasn’t. And, interestingly, the NBC News poll has a very similar question asking whether removing Hussein from power was worth the casualties suffered, but also specifically mentions “the financial cost of the war” (emphasis added). The response here is substantially more negative, with more people (46 percent) saying removing Hussein wasn’t worth the cost, than say it was (45 percent).

Sounds like Democrats don’t want to be shy mentioning how much this occupation is costing the American taxpayer.

The NBC News poll also finds that 60 percent believe the Bush administration underestimated the strength of the Iraqi armed opposition (up from 44 percent in July) and that 56 percent believe we will not find WMD in Iraq (up from 32 percent in May). As for whether we’re safer, 79 percent believe the Iraq war has either not changed or increased the threat of terrorism.

Turning to the question of whether the public feels that the administration, including Bush himself, has been straight with them about Iraq, it is impressive how negative the public is becoming. In the CBS poll, 55 percent say the Bush administration was either hiding important elements of what they knew about WMD in Iraq (40 percent) or mostly lying about what it knew (15 percent). And when the public was asked the same question about Bush himself, the results were almost identical: 53 percent say Bush was either hiding important elements of what he knew about WMD in Iraq (37 percent) or mostly lying about what he knew (16 percent)

Restoring honor and dignity to the White House, eh?

To make matters worse for Bush, these views are even more common among political independents: 60 percent say he was either hiding important elements of what he know or was lying. That’s pretty close to the 71 percent who hold these views among Democrats. And –continuing a pattern we have seen much of lately–both are far away from the mere 19 percent who hold these views among Republican partisans.

A just-released Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) poll allows for further exploration of the public’s current doubts and misgivings about the war in Iraq. For example, according to the PIPA poll, strong majorities now believe the Bush administration should have taken more time before the war to find out whether Iraq had WMD (61 percent to 36 percent) and should have taken more time to try to build international support for going to war (59 percent to 38 percent).

As for the Bush administration’s justifications for going to war when they did, the public overwhelmingly believes (87 percent) that the administration portrayed Iraq as an imminent threat to the US. But, by 58 percent to 40 percent, the public believes that the US did not have strong evidence the US was in imminent danger of being attacked by Iraqi WMD and, by 54 percent to 42 percent, the public believes the US was not, in fact, in danger of attack from Iraqi WMD. No wonder that 63 percent say that Bush, even if he had been told by US intelligence that there was no reliable evidence that Iraq was building WMD or that Iraq was providing support to Al-Quaeda, would have gone to war with Iraq anyway.

And no wonder that only a minority of Americans (42 percent) now see Bush as being “honest and frank”, while the majority (56 percent) profess to sometimes having doubts about what he says. These doubts about his veracity and about the rationale, timing and, of course, results of the war with Iraq have led to what few would have predicted when the US tanks were rolling into Baghdad in early: Bush’s identification with the Iraq war is now a net negative for his re-election prospects. While in September, an earlier PIPA poll showed more voters saying the way Bush has dealt with the Iraq situation would increase their likelihood of voting for him (35 percent to 30 percent who said it would decrease their likelihood), this poll shows the reverse: 42 percent say his handling of Iraq decreases the chance they will vote for him, compared to 35 percent who say it will increase that chance.

No doubt reflecting Bush’s emerging political liabilities on Iraq, the three polls discussed here have Bush with anemic overall approval ratings and doing poorly in a matchup with a generic Democrat. The PIPA poll has him losing handily in a generic matchup, 50 percent to 43 percent (the poll does not include an approval rating). The CBS News poll has him losing 43 percent to 41 percent, when the same poll had him winning by 46 percent to 34 percent just a month ago. The CBS News poll also has his approval rating at just 50 percent, down 4 points since late October and the lowest level measured by CBS since August, 2001, prior to 9-11. Even in the NBC news poll, which has Bush doing slightly better on these indicators, he only leads a generic matchup by 3 points (43 percent to 40 percent) and registers a weak 51 percent on his overall approval rating.

No wonder the Bush team was so happy to see that one quarter of good economic growth. Their plan A (invade Iraq in 2003; coast to victory on national security issue in 2004) is now completely out the window. Wise Democrats won’t let the voters forget just how deceitful and costly that plan A has been; even wiser Democrats will have clear ways of explaining to voters how we can get out of the mess that plan A has created. By the evidence of these polls, voters are ready to listen.

November 14, 2003

Prescription Drugs Bill = Political Gold for GOP?

A highly-flawed bill that would provide a limited prescription drug benefit to seniors at the same time as it changes Medicare in some highly undesirable ways seems likely to pass Congress fairly soon. The changes in Medicare are lucidly dissected by Paul Krugman today in The New York Times. The many problems with the bill as a whole are analyzed in detail by Jeanne Lambrew of the Center for American Progress.

If the bill does pass, it will likely be with the assistance of a number of moderate Democrats who have concluded that a bad bill is better than no bill at all. To a large extent, they are motivated by the perception that any bill that passes will be popular and they need to seek political cover, lest they be accused of failing to support an important new benefit.

But is this perception correct? Polling data from the last five months or so suggests it might not be.

November, 2003

As DR recently discussed, November Pew Research Center data show clearly that the political views of Democrats and independents are converging on one another and pulling away from the Republicans. That is, it’s not just that Democrats and Republicans are becoming polarized against one another–the conventional wisdom–but that Democrats and independents (two-thirds of the electorate) are becoming polarized against Republicans.

The Pew study shows Democrats and independents converging in their declining support for an assertive national security policy, in their increasingly negative views of their personal financial situation, in their growing worries that a prescription drug benefit for Medicare won’t go far enough and in their increasingly skeptical attitude toward business. In each case, Democrats and independents now hold views much closer to one another than to Republicans, who are off on their own trajectory.

October, 2003

A story in the October 19 New York Times discussed the fall in Bush’s approval ratings among seniors. October CBS News/New York Times poll had 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 an October Washington Post poll, his approval rating on prescription drugs for seniors was 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.

That judgement seems sound. 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 same October Post poll, Bush’s approval rating on this issue was just 31 percent with 60 percent disapproval.

July, 2003

The GOP’s political plan on Medicare prescription drugs is clear enough. Give seniors a prescription drug benefit and they’ll move toward the Republicans as the party that can get things done for seniors.

But what if they don’t like it? Then you get blame instead of credit and the whole political scheme just might fall apart. Two July Gallup reports suggest this a real possibility.

According to the report on attitudes toward Medicare reform, seniors opposed, by 69 percent to 24 percent, an effort to shift most Medicare recipients into managed care plans. And, by 63 percent to 20 percent, seniors believed the new Medicare bills being considered by Congress will not do enough to help pay the cost of prescription drugs. It seems unlikely that more widespread understanding of the actual provisions in a final bill will modify that negative judgement—indeed, based on what’s likely to be in that bill, that negative judgement could well be accentuated.

That could set up a perverse situation in which the more attention seniors pay to the prescription drugs bill, the worse it will be for Bush and the Republicans (not exactly what Rove and Co. had in mind). Maybe that has already happened. According to the Gallup report on Bush’s job approval, his rating dropped twelve points among seniors in the last half of June, precisely the period when coverage of the Medicare prescription drug bills was most intense.

November 12, 2003

The Secret of Dean’s Success (and Its Potential Limits)

The plot thickens. Dean continues to raise money hand over fist and develop long lists of supporters he can count on not only to vote for him, but organize others to do the same. And today he should get the formal endorsement of the largest and second-largest unions in the country, SEIU and AFSCME, who, of course, are huge players in Democratic primary/caucus politics all over the country.

The Confederate flag flap seemed to function merely as a speed bump. He’s leading in most national polls, way ahead in New Hampshire, second in Iowa and performing strongly in state polls all over the country.

Geez. How’d this happen? DR strongly recommends Noam Scheiber’s new article in The New Republic, “Joe Trippi Reinvents Campaigning”. It is probably the best account so far on how Dean’s campaign machine got built–and how it works as well as it does. Scheiber’s essential point–and it’s a good one–is that Joe Trippi figured out a clever way to use a technological tool (the internet) to radically decrease the “cost per body” for a candidate seeking the nomination. That is, in the past, candidates have had to knock on doors, make phone calls or send mail (and do it over and over again) to round up the reliable supporters they need to win caucuses and primaries. And all of that costs money--frequently over a long period of time.

With Trippi’s methods, it is possible to generate supporters at quite a low cost–indeed, to come out ahead of the game, because one of the ways you organize these supporters is by getting them to contribute money. And it can all be done fairly quickly, given the nature of the internet as a communications medium.

So it’s not just that Dean has a good message that strongly appeals to many in the Democratic party, as well as some new to politics in general. It’s that he is working with a model of campaigning that’s basically better and more efficient than his competitors.

But that’s to get the nomination, of course. As Scheiber points out, the model is not obviously transferable to a general election where, instead of getting a million or two hardcore supporters in your corner, you need 50 million plus people to vote for you. And the crucial part of that electoral coalition you need to forge are independent voters who lean moderate, not liberal, like Dean’s supporters.

And make no mistake: it’s all about the independents. As DR discussed recently, independent voters are converging with Democrats in their political views and priorities for the country. That’s a great opportunity. And a recent Newsweek poll showed Republicans’ and Democrats’ support and opposition to Bush’s re-election cancelling each other out, but independents opposing Bush’s re-election by 53 percent to 40 percent.

Replicate that pattern in 2004 and the Democrats will win the election. But to do that, the Democratic candidate will have to make millions of independents who don’t like Bush’s policies feel it’s safe to vote for the Democrat.

Can Dean do this? Maybe. But that’s what Joe Trippi should be staying up nights thinking about, because his new model of nomination campaigning is not (yet) a new model of general election campaigning.

DR wishes him luck figuring this out. Or, alternatively, DR hopes Wes Clark gets a good campaign manager.

November 10, 2003

Youth: Still Progressive after All These Years?

DR has commented previously on the view that youth are becoming conservative. DR, countering this view, has pointed out the following: (1) the political views of youth (defined here as ages 18-29) on various policy issues–not just social, but also many economic ones–are actually relatively liberal; (2) youth have voted more pro-Democratic than the population as a whole for the last six elections, including the election of 2002; and (3) youth in the post-2002 period appear to be less supportive of Bush and his re-election than the population as a whole (some supporting data may be found here).

Recently released Gallup data are consistent with point (1) about youth’s relatively liberal political views, but raise questions with point (3) about youth’s relative disaffection with Bush. However, recent Pew Research Center data contradict the Gallup data on youth’s views toward Bush and, consistent with earlier data, suggest that youth are, indeed, less supportive of Bush’s re-election than the population as a whole.

Start with youth’s political views. The self-described ideological views of youth in the Gallup data are more liberal on both social and ideological issues. On social issues, youth are more liberal than their elders by 4 points (7 points less conservative) and on economic issues are 12 points more liberal than their elders (13 points less conservative).

Despite these views–according to the Gallup data–youth are 9 points more likely than their elders to approve of Bush’s job performance and registered young voters give Bush a wider lead against a generic Democratic candidate (10 points) than their elders do (4 points).

Somewhat puzzling, if true, especially in light of earlier age breaks DR has seen on this question, which have generally shown youth exceptionally likely not to support Bush. Further questions on the Gallup results here are raised by poll results reported in the Pew study cited above. According to the study, Pew polls in September and October of this year–very close in time to the Gallup poll under discussion–found youth supporting an unnamed Democrat by 20 points, while their elders supported Bush by 4 points.

Youth: still progressive after all these years? Maybe so.

November 9, 2003

Democrats + Independents Vs. Republicans = Trouble for Bush

DR urges everyone to check out the just-released Pew Research Center study on “The 2004 Political Landscape”. While the data have to be reviewed carefully–as DR shows below–the message that shines through should be profoundly disturbing to the Bush re-election team and the GOP in general.

This is because their data show clearly that the political views of Democrats and independents are converging on one another and pulling away from the Republicans. In other words, it’s not just that Democrats and Republicans are becoming polarized against one another–the conventional wisdom–but that Democrats and independents (two-thirds of the electorate) are becoming polarized against Republicans. For Republicans who are inclined to see anomalous recall elections and victories in Mississippi as harbingers of realignment, this news couldn’t be more discouraging. And, for donkeys everywhere, it’s very good news indeed.

The Pew study shows Democrats and independents converging in their declining support for an assertive national security policy, in their increasingly negative views of their personal financial situation, in their growing worries that a prescription drug benefit for Medicare won’t go far enough and in their increasingly skeptical attitude toward business. In each case, Democrats and independents now hold views much closer to one another than to Republicans, who are off on their own trajectory.

Of course, translating this similarity in views into Democratic voting by independents remains a challenge, but one where Democrats start with the advantage of a compatibility of views. In contrast, the Republicans have managed to isolate themselves.

Another finding of the study, which could be viewed as counterbalancing the previous finding, is that the GOP has made significant gains in party ID since 9-11, both nationally and in many states, and that now the parties are at rough parity when measured in this way (the Republicans trail the Democrats by only one point). DR is skeptical, however, that all, or even most, of these apparent gains are real.

The reason is that Pew’s figures are based on pooling data over fairly lengthy period to look at, say, “the post 9-11 period”. That’s not a problem if the attitudes in question are stable over the period and it makes theoretical sense that they would be. It is a problem if they’re not and it doesn’t.

That’s what could be happening here. DR has, in fact, noticed larger leads for the Democrats on party ID in recent public polls. A close look at the disaggregated Pew trend data confirms this. Three of the last four Pew polls, including the last two in September and October, give the Democrats a 4 point lead in party ID. That’s very close to the average Democratic lead of 5 points in Pew data covering the entire 1997-2000 time period. Moreover, when you factor in independents who say they lean toward one party or another, the Democratic lead widens to 7 points, because more independents now say they lead toward the Democrats than say they lean toward the Republicans.

If “macropartisanship”–as political scientists call the distribution of party ID among the general public–is returning to what is was before 9-11, that should come as no great surprise. First, other data from Gallup and CBS News showed a pro-Republican surge in party ID after 9-11 that ended much earlier, in fall of 2002. Second, there is a well-known relationship between presidential approval and level of partisan identification with the president’s party–that is, the higher the president’s approval rating, the more people tend to say they identify with that president’s party. Therefore, since Bush enjoyed a huge surge in his approval rating after 9-11 that lasted for an unusually long time, we would expect to see an increase in Republican party ID over that period of high approval ratings–as we did. We would also expect to see that increase melt away over time as Bush’s political advantage from 9-11 decreases and his approval rating falls to undistinguished levels–as we are today.

So: we certainly remain a closely-divided country, as the Pew study argues. But we are also a country where the political views of Democrats and independents are converging and where Democrats retain a small, but significant, advantage in party ID. And that’s good news for Democrats.

November 5, 2003

Well, Maybe That Iraq Thing Didn’t Work Out, But the Tax Cuts Did

In light of the dreadful news out of Iraq and the recent third quarter GDP report that showed 7.2 percent annualized growth for that quarter, the Bush administration’s political strategy is clearly shifting away from touting its foreign adventures to dwelling on the alleged successes of its economic policy.

What’s next--Karl Rove hanging an “It’s the economy, stupid” sign in the Bush campaign war room? Could be, but maybe Karl better hold off on that sign for awhile. There are a lot of very good reasons to be skeptical that this recent growth spurt will provide the Republicans with their magical re-election elixir.

Start with the fact that growth per se is overrated as a predictor of election outcomes. See DR’s September 27 post for some analysis along these lines. Or consider the fate of George H.W. Bush, who was supposed to get re-elected because of a growth spurt near election time. Or ponder the last time we had a quarter with growth this high: the fourth quarter of 1999, when the economy grew at an annualized rate of 7.1 percent. That didn’t seem to help Al Gore that much.

Move on to the possibility that 7.2 may not be 7.2. That’s because the 7.2 percent growth rate is a preliminary estimate that’s highly likely to be revised downward when the final estimate is released on November 25. A lower estimate is likely because the preliminary estimate is primarily based on data from July and August, when big bumps in disposable income and consumer spending took place. But income and spending declined sharply in September, reflecting the end of the one-time tax rebates sent out over the summer. Once these data are incorporated into the GDP growth estimate, that estimate is likely to fall, perhaps to around 6 percent or so.

That’s still good growth, but the logic of this likely downward revision also suggests that the fourth quarter will not be nearly as good as the third, since there’s no tax rebates around, or anything similar, to kick up consumer spending. In fact, Gallup just released an analysis titled “Why Aren’t Consumers More Optimistic?”, based on late October data, indicating that consumers are not optimistic about the economy, even after a period when consumer spending and economic growth surged ahead. That’s consistent with the idea that an infusion of quick cash helped jack up consumer spending without changing the situation most consumers face “on the ground” in their daily economic life.

Which leads to the 800 pound gorilla in the room: the lack of jobs and continued high unemployment. As many observers have noted, the surge in economic growth was not accompanied by a growth in jobs. But without serious job growth of about 200,000 a month, consumer spending is likely to subside and growth with it. And it would take an increase of about 300,000 jobs a month over the course of a year just to bring down the unemployment rate by one point.

So high unemployment is likely to be with us for awhile—unemployment that, as Louis Uchitelle pointed out recently in The New York Times, is being experienced by many Americans as not just temporary job loss, but permanently lower living standards when they are re-employed at a substantially lower wage. That dynamic of non-temporary job loss and re-employment at a different job appears to be unusually characteristic of the current downturn and recovery: according to a recent paper by economists Erica Groshen and Simon Potter, the mix of cyclical (temporary) and structural (permanent) job loss has gone from about 50-50 in the 1970’s and 1980’s to just 21 percent temporary and 79 percent permanent today.

That’s the kind of thing that makes your typical voter kind of surly. Especially the voters living in the nine states won by the victor in the last three presidential elections, where jobs have disappeared more quickly and incomes and housing prices have grown more slowly. These states—Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia—include several that are central to Democrats’ plans to take back the White House.

Nope, better not hang up that sign yet, Karl. Or maybe it should be: “It’s the jobs, stupid”.

November 3, 2003

Public to Bush: You're Out of Touch!

The new Washington Post poll has another boatload of bad news for the Bushies. A matchup of Bush with a generic Democrat gives him only a one point lead (48 percent to 47 percent). And in head-to-head matchups with specific Democrats, his lead has shrunk substantially since mid-September, particularly over John Kerry, where his lead has gone from 15 to just 6 points.

On the approval ratings front, his overall approval rating has gone slightly up, rather than slightly down, as in the recent Gallup and Quinnipiac University polls. However, consistent with other public polls, his approval rating on Iraq has slipped to net negative (47 percent approval/51 percent disapproval) from net positive in mid-September.

But from the standpoint of the Bush administration, the most disturbing approval findings may be these. His approval rating on taxes has slipped to a net rating of -12 points (41 percent approval/53 percent disapproval) from a 48 percent/48 percent split in mid-September. When you’ve got a net negative rating on your signature domestic issue, that’s very bad news indeed.

And when you look at two other key domestic areas, both of which seem likely to figure in the 2004 campaign, his ratings are beyond the merely bad: 32 percent approval/61 percent disapproval on the federal budget deficit and 28 percent approval/63 percent disapproval on the cost, availability and coverage of health insurance.

Turning to the war, the news here, as in other recent polls, is not good–in fact, terrible–for the Bush administration. At this point, 62 percent say the number of US military casualties in Iraq is unacceptable. That’s up from 28 percent on April 9. And the number opposing the additional $87 billion for Iraq is up to 64 percent, with only 34 percent in favor.

On the economy, the findings are equally daunting for the Rove team. For example, when asked whether most Americans are better off financially than they were in 2001 when Bush became president, just 9 percent (!) say Americans are better off, compared to 49 percent who say they are not as well off and 41 percent who say they are about the same. The comparable figures for Poppa Bush in October of 1991: 7 percent better off, 48 percent not as well off, 41 percent the same. Eerily similar, no?

And when asked how they themselves are doing financially during the Bush presidency, 22 percent say they are better off, 27 percent say not as well off and 50 percent say about the same. Again the analogous figures for Bush pere are almost identical: 20 percent better off, 27 percent not as well off and 53 percent the same.

Finally, DR’s favorite finding from the entire poll: Only 40 percent now say that Bush “understands the problems of people like you”, compared to 58 percent who think he does not. Sounds like folks think he’s out of touch. Say, didn’t they think that about some other president not so long ago?

November 1, 2003

How Clark Could Win the Nomination (continued)

Yesterday, DR argued that the lack of true frontrunner in this race provides Clark with a potential opening for a successful campaign. As long as this situation continues, the contest will remain fluid (despite Dean’s money, etc.) and there’s room for Clark to press his case, widen his base among Democrats and eventually develop a serious lead in the polls–in other words, for him to become the frontrunner.

But it won’t be easy; he’ll need a focused and innovative campaign strategy to pull it off. Here’s DR’s 5 point plan for such a strategy.

1. Work the Electability Angle. The one thing that all Democrats agree on today, and agree on passionately, is the need to beat Bush. Clark is a substantially stronger candidate to do so and he shouldn’t be shy about saying so. Dean is vulnerable on national security in a way Clark simply isn’t. And–less talked about, but potentially just as serious–Dean is vulnerable on taxes. His position that all of the Bush’s tax cuts should be repealed, including the middle class tax cuts, is potential target practice for the GOP in the general election, as every recent poll confirms. Clark, judging from his position on Bush’s tax cuts so far, will not have that liability.

Of course, it’s not just about saying you’re more electable; it should flow from your positions. For example, Clark is intrinsically more credible than Dean on national security and Iraq, but he still needs a compelling plan in this area and catchy way of conveying it (“I will to go to Iraq”?). The more Democratic primary voters believe he has such a plan, the more his superior electability to Dean will be underscored.

2. Break Through in the South. Clark will need some quick victories after New Hampshire to get his campaign rolling. His best shots will be in southern states like South Carolina, where the most recent poll shows him leading the pack, and, generally, in states where highly-educated, socially liberal activists are likely to have less weight. This is how Clinton broke through in 1992, after his early defeats by Tsongas.

3. Go for the Noncollege Crowd. And, speaking of education, Clark should try to keep Dean in the “Starbucks ghetto” of college-educated voters Ron Brownstein wrote about the other day. Dean’s demonstrated weakness among noncollege voters can become Clark’s strength. These voters will be attracted to the general for patriotic/national security reasons and probably for cultural reasons as well, since Dean, fairly or unfairly, tends to be viewed as very socially liberal. And he shouldn’t forget the populist card; as Harold Meyerson has pointed out, that was a key to Clinton’s success among these voters in 1992.

4. Go for independents and Republicans. Naturally, most voters in Democratic primaries are Democrats, but surprising numbers of independents and even Republicans vote in these primaries as well due to open primaries and loose primary voting procedures. According to a recent paper by William Mayer, the proportion of Democratic primary voters who are independents or Republicans has varied between one-fifth and one-third since 1976 (1996 excluded since there were no competitive primaries). It seems fair to say that these voters are a great target for Clark and the more of them that vote, the better off he’ll be.

5. Work the Arithmetic. The fact of the matter is that winning a primary by 1 percent has little mathematical advantage to a candidate–all delegates awarded through primaries and caucuses are awarded on a proportional basis (i.e., 20 percent of the vote gets you 20 percent of delegates). So, at least technically, Dean could win every primary and, depending on who stays in the race and how well they do, he could go into the convention with far below 50 percent of the delegates.

And just to make things more interesting, Dean would actually need 61 percent of the delegates awarded by primaries and caucuses to be assured of nomination. This is because there are 796 superdelegates who technically can vote for anyone they want to–including Wes Clark of course.

So Clark should work this complicated system by competing with Dean (and others) for delegates throughout the primary process and working the superdelegates for as many votes as he can, starting now. Then, even if Clark doesn’t pull away from Dean during the primaries, provided Dean is kept below 2,160 delegates from the primaries, Clark still has a shot through a brokered convention.

Will DR’s 5 point plan assure Clark of the nomination? Hardly. But at this point, he needs an approach that will maximize his chances and that’s what this plan tries to do.