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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.


I see 1968 - the economy was not so bad that year - it was the Vietnam war that ran LBJ out of office. I see defeated presidents...

It was also a year of re-alignment. I think re-alignment is taking place right now under the surface, particularly in Bush's alienation of the Military. Also, and maybe more significantly, the free trade vs. jobs issue is starting to cut to the quick in the heartland. After 50 years, it is no longer unthinkable to be against free trade. Gephardt has been way out in front on this since the 80's.

Karl Rove may find that the old Republican magic formula - democrats as big spenders who are soft on defense - may no longer work with a Reaganized republican electorate who DON'T WANT TO SPEND THEIR TAX MONEY IN IRAQ! So, Ruy, your new majority may not come from changing demographics so much as a corner turned in history where the Corporatism of the Reagan Republican party may be starting to work against them.

If you wait long enough, all your old clothes will become fashionable again. Maybe the Old Democratic party of social welfare and worker's rights is looking better and better to the Reagan Democrats, the Heartland, and even the South.

Lawrence, I, too remember 1968 very well as being another watershed period such as the one we're now experiencing. One similiarity that you failed to point out was the economy. LBJ's big mistake was to try to have an innovative social program, the war on poverty, at the same time we were involved in a costly war, remember his "guns and butter" theme, meaning that we could implement both agendas without any extra sacrifice to the taxpayers. He effectively ruined the economy for the next twenty years. It's kind of eerie that GWB is following the same pattern only he is wrecking things with unwarranted tax cuts plus the war. History has a way of repeating itself with annoying reularity.

Given the sharp and ongoing shift to the right in the Republican Party post-'94, it's no surprise that self-identified moderates have felt abandoned by the Republicans and that the Democrats have filled the vacuum. What would make this even more impressive if more and more Americans start self-identifying as moderates rather than as conservatives.

Hmmm, so what you seem to be saying is that the centrist voters want a candidate who opposed the Iraq war and who will take Bush to task for his failures. Someone like, oh, I don't know, Howard Dean, perhaps?

Did I hear somebody say "realignment?"

I've felt like the voice in the wilderness on realignment for the last few years. We are, in fact, due for realignment next year if historical trends continue:

1788 - Washington
1824 - Jackson wins popular vote, JQ Adams elected by HoR
1860 - Lincoln (rise of liberal Republicans)
1896 - McKinley (rise of pro-business Republicans)
1932 - FDR
1968 - Nixon
2004 - ?

Every 36 years, like clockwork.

It's no accident that the only Republican president of the FDR realignment was a military hero who was courted by the Democrats, and it's no accident that the only Democratic presidents of the Nixon/Reagan realignment were centrist-to-conservative Southerners.

This year reminds me a great deal of 1967 in reverse. Check the pundits of that era and you'll see no shortage of articles about how the Republicans were becoming increasingly irrelevant; how they were on the verge of becoming a permanent minority party; how they were completely out of touch with the average voter. They didn't see that the FDR coalition was by then fractured by racial politics.

Ruy and John Judis did a phenomenal job of describing the ongoing tectonic shift in American politics in The Emerging Democratic Majority, so I don't need to repeat or embellish it here. But I think they were right, and I think the time has come when the pendulum starts swinging the other direction.


That was exactly what I was thinking! There is a very interesting book by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., called "the Cycles of American History", where such 'numerology' is applied, but at 12 (?20?) year cycles. The 36 year cycles seem to align better. I would add that 1788 marked the adaption of the current federal constitution, and that 1896 was the year that the Populists merged with the Democrats, creating the Progressive/Dixiecrat alliance that lasted until...let's see... 1968!

Does Las Vegas make book on presidential elections? What do their numbers say?

First of all, I'd like to suggest that 1948 was a major realignment election. It was the very heavy Black vote in northern industrial states that had polled for Dewey, that changed the outcome. At the time the pollsters did not really know how to poll and weight the Black Industrial vote that had massively grown during WWII -- but in the end a huge turn-out in big cities gave Truman his margin.

After 48 Democratic calculations always had to include this vote block in an otherwise close election, but as a critical margin of victory it also worked against the Coalition with the Solid (anti-black) South, thus eventually providing the opening for the Republican Southern Strategy. 52 and 56 were not close elections, and thus the black vote did not have a marginal effect -- but it is very much a factor in Kennedy's victory in 1960.

Realignment to me is a change sufficiently large so as to dramatically move states from one column to another and remain the pattern for several elections. What I don't see now is evidence of that deep seeded change. I see trends -- but I don't really see change that moves blocks of voters in critical states from one colunm to another. "Military voters" or "Reagan Democrats" are not really such blocks. (Most Democrats who left the Democrats in 1980 and supported Reagan were older Democrats -- and most of them are now gone -- 24 years later.)


You're right about Reagan Democrats. Forget them.

Instead, think "Dean Perotistas." (Or somesuch. I'm not here to pitch Dean or anyone else, I'm just using his name as an example.)

The shift of the Republican Party away from its old guard eastern base of fiscally conservative / socially moderate voters, and to its new southern base of fiscally loose / socially reactionary voters has left behind a huge bloc of potential converts for the Democrats to win over. These are the voters who believe in fiscal responsibility, don't mind paying taxes if doing so gets the budget balanced, and who on social issues are generally pretty libertarian.

These are basically the voters who voted for Reagan but abandoned GHWB for Perot in 1992, and whose vote was probably split down the middle in 2000 due to GWB's "compassionate conservative" message (since utterly abandoned). Without starting a lengthy debate of Howard Dean's merits and liabilities, his resume on the fiscal management of Vermont is exactly the sort of thing that will lure those voters over. If he wins the nomination, expect him to hit Bush and the GOP Congress hard on fiscal irresponsibility. It's a golden issue for us.

Anyway, I think that's the big bloc you're looking for. They haven't crossed over yet, partially because the Dems' answer to the GOP has been more Southerners, partially because Perot was available in 1992 and 1996, and mostly because in 2000 the Republicans hadn't yet demonstrated how irresponsible they would be with the public treasury. They have now, and there will be no Perot in 2004. This is the rupture in the Republican coalition that will change everything for the next generation.

Oh, Sara, I would disagree about 1948 being a realigning election of any kind. I attribute the inaccuracies of the polls that year more to the relative infancy of the science of polling more than to any shift of voters, especially since it marked the fifth consecutive Democratic victory.

That doesn't mean that there weren't important shifts occurring "beneath the radar" as you describe, but those shifts happen pretty constantly anyway, much as you suggest about current trends in your last paragraph.

Gee, Ruy--looks like moderates might flock to a candidate that expresses their anger at the Bush giveaway to special interests but offers a positive vision of fiscal responsibility, social liberalism and reasonable programs to invest in America, and not too kindly to a more-of-the-same-but-less Dem who voted for the war and thinks anger in politics is unseemly. Time to drop your opposition to Dean, I'd say.