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December 23, 2003

In the Ownership Society, We’re All Equal (But Some Are More Equal Than Others)

There’s something positively Orwellian about this concept, which Bush is slated to talk about in his State of the Union address (for advance propaganda, see David Brooks’ Saturday New York Times column). The idea seems to be that America is inexorably becoming an “ownership society”: if you own something, it doesn’t matter how little you own or how inadequate that may be for your needs. You are (lucky you!) a full and equal part of the ownership society.

Of course, some are a bit more equal than others in this glorious new society. Take retirement savings, really the focus of Bush’s proposals to shepherd this new ownership society along. At this point, huge numbers of Americans–75 million workers and their spouses–have no employer-provided retirement accounts whatsoever and hence no easy way to hold stocks and join the ownership society. And the ones who do aren’t necessarily flush: the average stock holdings of a middle income household are only $15,000–even among those approaching retirement age, the average amount in retirement accounts is only about double that figure.

So lots of people don’t have employer-provided retirement accounts (including 86 percent of part-time workers and 83 percent of those who work for small firms). And those who do typically don’t save enough. In fact, an amazing 94 percent of those who have a 401(k) plan don’t contribute the maximum to that plan.

What’s the solution? Give everyone access to a 401(k) plan and make it easier to save? Nah. That’s what silly Democrats would say! Since some are more equal than others, the sensible thing is to create a new category of tax-favored accounts with higher contribution limits ($7,500), so that the affluent, who already max out their retirement contributions in 401(k)s, can save more without being taxed. Not only that, they get a bigger break for doing so, because their marginal tax rate is higher. Perfect!

That’s, in essence, what the administration’s plan for new Lifetime Savings Accounts/Retirement Savings Accounts (LSAs/RSAs) will accomplish. Sure, anyone can take advantage of these vehicles, but it stands to reason that the people most likely to do so are those with extra money they want to hide from Uncle Sam, not those (94 percent) who aren’t even contributing the maximum to their employer-provided plans. Nor is it likely that those who currently lack such a plan are going to come out of the woodwork to contribute to LSAs/RSAs. Indeed, even with currently existing tax-favored vehicles like IRAs, 96 percent of those eligible still don’t contribute the maximum.

What possible excuse can there be for this kind of public policy? The only kind they can offer is pure ideology: since everyone will be an owner (or at least have the opportunity to own–practically the same thing!), it doesn’t matter a whit whether some have much and others have too little to get by. They are all participating–or could participate–in the noble act of ownership and so their material situation is not that important; it’s the idea of ownership that’s important, not the actual number of dollars you own.

Wow. You think DR’s kidding. Nope. That’s what these folks really believe. DR had the rare privilege of attending and speaking at a recent Capitol Hill forum on “The Investor Class” sponsored by the New American Foundation. DR and Gene Sperling tried to keep ‘em honest, pointing out the facts mentioned above and many others, but it didn’t make much of an impression on Grover Norquist and his buddies. It just didn’t seem to matter much to them whether folks had enough for retirement. Provided some of their money was in stocks and they were therefore part of the “investor class” and (of course) the “ownership society”, they were on the road to freedom! Hallelujah and all that.

Moreover, these folks believe that, as more people enter this investor class, they are likely to become Republicans and therefore this trend leads inexorably toward GOP domination. DR’s a wee bit skeptical of this analysis, but he’s a charitable fellow, so he’ll go their bid to increase the investor class one better. Instead of these clunky LSAs/RSAs, which won’t produce real gains in stock ownership, since the folks most likely to use them already have stock, let’s make everyone an investor.

The way to do this is to adopt Sperling’s suggestion to set up a universal pension system that would provide every worker with a fully portable retirement account. Under such a system, all the various IRA and related accounts would be rolled into one tax-favored account and workers could direct cash from any and all their 401(k) accounts into this universal account, which would remain with them as they moved from job to job. These accounts would be further supported 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.

According to the Norquists of the world, Democrats would be signing their death warrant by backing such a system, since practically everyone would wind owning some stocks (and more would wind up owning significant amounts). So why aren’t Norquist and the rest of the GOP rushing to embrace this proposal instead of these inefficient LSAs/RSAs which would only marginally increase the investor class, the foundation stone of their ownership society? Guess it’s more important to make sure some are still more equal than others in their ownership society.

Sounds like an opening for Democrats to DR. Our ownership society vs. theirs. DR suspects that the public, given a choice, will go for ours every time. Let’s make sure they get that choice (are you listening, Democratic presidential candidates?)

December 21, 2003

Public Still Worried Even with Saddam in the Slammer

With the capture of Saddam has the public become more positive about the war in Iraq? Undoubtedly, though if the situation in Iraq remains messy and attacks on US troops continue, that increase in positive views will dissipate fairly rapidly, just as with Bush’s post-capture gains in job approval and other indicators (see DR’s December 19 post).

But it’s striking how much the public remains concerned about the Iraq situation, even with Saddam cooling his heels in US captivity. This is especially true of indicators that relate the results of the Iraq war to its costs. (Questions that ask generally about whether we “should have taken military action” or whether using military force was “the right decision” or whether Iraq was “worth going to war” elicit strong positive reactions and are likely to continue to do so, since they leave out the real world costs and benefits of these actions.)

For example, in the latest CBS News poll, a plurality still says “the result of the war with Iraq” was not worth “the loss of American life and other costs” (49 percent to 44 percent). That’s down from the 54 percent to 39 percent judgement on this question right before Saddam’s capture, but still negative.

A question on whether these costs were worth removing Saddam from power elicits a more positive reaction, since mentioning removing Saddam from power focuses respondents’ attention on the most positive aspect of the Iraq war’s results. But even here, 37 percent still say, right after Saddam was captured, that this gain wasn’t worth the costs.

The CBS News poll also reports that, by 53 percent to 34 percent, the public still doesn’t think the Bush administration has developed a clear plan for rebuilding Iraq after the war. In addition, 61 percent say that the Bush administration was either hiding elements (45 percent) or mostly lying (16 percent) about what they knew about Iraq’s WMD. And, it’s fascinating to note that 52 percent still think either that the Iraq threat could have been contained (37 percent) or that it wasn’t a threat at all (15 percent), compared to 44 percent who believe Iraq’s threat merited immediate military action.

The CBS News poll also finds that only 24 percent believe the capture of Saddam will reduce attacks on US troops, compared to 52 percent who believe they will stay the same and 19 percent who believe they will increase. Similarly, just 19 percent believe the threat of terrorism against the US will decrease as a result of Saddam’s capture, compared to 60 percent who believe the threat will remain the same and 18 percent who believe it will increase.

These data suggest the administration isn’t out of the woods yet in terms of public perception about the Iraq situation. In fact, given the level of public concern still out there, unless the situation in Iraq does clear up dramatically, the administration seems likely to wind up right back in those woods fairly soon.

December 19, 2003

Putting the Bush Bump in Perspective

(Sigh) How quickly they forget. You’d think the press could at least remember–oh, say back to last April–when they assess the meaning and probable durability of Bush’s latest bump in the poll ratings. They seem to have difficulty with that, since they’re falling all over themselves talking about how much this political boost will help Bush get re-elected. But, as DR said on Monday, “it seems unlikely that the bump he gets will be particularly large or particularly long-lived....The three big problems with Iraq have been–and will continue to be–casualties, financial costs and WMD (the abundance of the first two and the lack of the third).....Therefore, unless Saddam’s capture really does break the back of the Iraqi resistance....his capture, by itself, is unlikely to produce....a significant boost in Bush’s chances for re-election, eleven long months from now.”

DR can keep calm and say stuff like that because he does remember all the way back to April (and even earlier!) and, hence, is a heck of a lot harder to spook than your average member of the press corps. In fact, let’s all put today’s polls in perspective by taking a stroll down memory lane, with the aid of just-released CBS News/New York Times poll data. These data include a poll taken right before and a poll take right after Saddam’s capture, so we get a good picture of the current bump, plus trend data on some key indicators that go back to the previous bump, in March-April of this year.

Start with Bush’s approval rating. The CBS News poll has his rating rising from 52 percent right before, to 58 percent right after, Saddam’s capture. So: a 6 point bump, a little more than the 4 points in the first post-capture poll released (ABC News), but still modest as approval spikes go. (Note that other recently-released polls–NBC News, Gallup, Pew Research Center–are all in the 6-7 point range, so this appears to be the best estimate of the bump’s magnitude). That’s less than half the size of the approval spike in April from the Iraq invasion and victorious entry into Baghdad. That spike was half gone in a few weeks and completely dissipated (and then some) by July.

This poll also shows Bush getting about the same size approval bump on his handling of foreign policy; in March-April (combining this poll and the NBC News poll), he appears to have gotten a bump more than twice as large, most of which was gone by July.

Bush gets his biggest bump, not surprisingly, on indicators directly related to Iraq. According to the CBS News poll, Bush’s approval rating on Iraq has spiked 14 points to 59 percent. But his rating on Iraq spiked exactly twice as much (28 points) during the Iraq invasion and takeover of Baghdad; three-quarters of this gain was gone by early July.

It’s also true that politically important poll indicators have improved which are only tangentially related, or not at all, to the Iraq situation. That’s supposed to show just how much Bush’s position has been strengthened. For example, the CBS News poll has the classic right direction/wrong track question (on where the country is going) flipping from net negative (higher wrong track than right direction) before the capture to net positive (higher right direction than wrong track) afterwards. But the exact same thing happened in March-April of this year, except that the change was twice as big. And this measure was back in net negative territory by July.

Similarly, the poll has Bush’s approval rating on the economy flipping from net negative to net positive after the capture. But, again, the same thing happened last March, only with twice as a big shift. And here Bush was back in net negative territory by late April.

Clearly, a public that was thrilled by the capture of Baghdad could not maintain its enthusiasm for the Iraq adventure and for the president who sent the soldiers there, in the face of a grueling, violent occupation. We should not expect the pattern produced by the capture of Saddam to be any different. Bush’s improved ratings are likely to disappear rapidly, just as they did before (perhaps faster since the gains are smaller), unless there is a fairly dramatic turnaround in the situation on the ground in Iraq.

December 17, 2003

Newer Democrats

Michael Tomasky has an important article, “Is It Time to Believe”, in the new American Prospect that DR recommends to everyone. Tomasky’s basic point is that Howard Dean, regardless of what one thinks about him as a general election candidate, is helping reinvent the Democratic party and that the party was in desperate need of reinvention.

According to Tomaksy, Clinton helped transform the Democratic party’s ideology in the 1990's so that it was more acceptable to swing voters and, hence, more electorally successful. However, despite the important changes of the Clinton era, the party’s basic structure and how it related to, and mobilized, its partisans remained the same: distant and uninspiring. Dean is using new technologies and a new style to mobilize (and create) partisans who see the party as a cause to which they are willing to donate time, money and real energy. In other words, the party is becoming a movement people care about, rather than merely a fundraising apparatus that collects money from elites and runs candidates in election.

Tomasky argues that this is a highly desirable–indeed, essential–development that insiders who doubt (and perhaps doubt fairly) whether Dean is the most electable Democratic candidate need to come to terms with. DR agrees. Between the Dean campaign and the rise of the 527s, the Democratic party is in the process of rejuvenating itself and that’s a very good thing. In fact, they can’t win in any consistent way without it.

That’s why at least some of the debate around Dean misses the point. That’s especially true of attempts to fit his campaign into the (now traditional) ideological debate between liberals and New Democrats, populists and centrists. The changes Dean is bringing to the party are not primarily ideological, but rather operational and structural, and therefore can’t be judged by the standards of that debate.

Time to realize the real debate about winning has moved beyond that. “Newer Democrats”, if DR may coin a phrase, are concerned with how to continue this rejuvenation process and build on it to create a winning party.

Now the last part of this–winning–is something Newer Democrats, especially Dean’s many enthusiastic supporters, need to take a bit more seriously (assertions that he’ll get lots of new voters don’t qualify as serious electoral thinking). How will Dean, if he is the candidate, reach swing voters? What exactly are the states, as Nick Confessore asked the other day, that Dean will carry that Gore did not? Put more bluntly, as Harold Meyerson did the other day: How’s he going to win Ohio?

DR doesn’t know the answers to these questions, but he does know that all we Newer Democrats better start thinking about them. Be a pity to have a nice shiny new party, only to have to suffer through 4 more years of you-know-who.

December 15, 2003

How Big a Bump Will Bush Get from Saddam’s Capture?

It seems likely we’ll see some kind of bump up in Bush’s approval ratings and related indicators with the capture of Saddam Hussein. But it seems unlikely that the bump he gets will be particularly large or particularly long-lived. As for the idea that Saddam’s capture somehow eliminates the President’s Iraq problem and makes him a lock for re-election....puh-leeze, you’ve got be kidding me.

The three big problems with Iraq have been–and will continue to be–casualties, financial costs and WMD (the abundance of the first two and the lack of the third). It is these problems that have undercut public support for the Iraq war and occupation, not the failure to capture Saddam. Nor has the failure to capture Saddam been central to the arguments of Democrats and others who have criticized the war and how it has been conducted. Therefore–unless Saddam’s capture really does break the back of the Iraqi resistance, which seems quite unlikely–his capture, by itself, is unlikely to produce either a large short-term bump for Bush or a significant boost in Bush’s chances for re-election, eleven long months from now.

Polls taken right after Saddam’s capture support this viewpoint. The ABC News/Washington Post poll shows a modest bump in Bush’s approval rating from 53 percent percent a week ago to 57 percent today. Note that the latter figure is exactly where Bush’s rating in this poll was in mid-November which, in turn, was 20 points lower than it was in early April.

Approval of Bush’s handling of Iraq gets a larger bump, from 48 percent in mid-November up to 58 percent today. But that’s still 17 points below where this measure was at the end of April. Moreover, Saddam’s capture seems to have had little effect on the public’s perception of whether the Iraq war was worth fighting, considering its costs and benefits. In mid-November, 52 percent thought the war worth fighting and 44 percent did not; after Saddam’s capture, 53 percent now think war worth fighting and 42 percent do not. Finally, 90 percent think big challenges lie ahead in Iraq versus only 9 percent who feel the big challenges are over.

The Gallup poll finds a similarly minor change (up 3 points) in the number who believe “the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over”. On the critical issue of casualties, 67 percent believe Saddam’s capture will either result in only a minor drop in US combat deaths (41 percent) or have no effect on combat deaths (26 percent). And–speaking directly to one of the issues raised above–a very modest 3 percent say they were not planning to vote to re-elect Bush prior to Hussein’s capture but now feel that it’s more likely that they will do so. That’s in comparison to the 45 percent who were planning to vote for Bush prior to the capture and the 43 percent who were planning to vote against Bush and say the capture hasn’t changed their minds.

Bush, no doubt, is hoping for a much larger bump from Saddam’s capture, since all the other things that were supposed to have that effect recently haven’t: economic good news; the passage of the Medicare bill; and the Thanksgiving Day surprise visit to the troops in Iraq. The latest Newsweek poll, taken right before Saddam’s capture, gives Bush a 51 percent approval rating, down a point since their last poll in the first week of November (more evidence that the early December Gallup bounce is suspect–see DR’s December 11 post). And his re-elect number–those who say they would like to see Bush re-elected to another term–remains low at 45 percent, with 50 percent saying they would prefer not to see him re-elected.

And Bush continues to get a number of net negative approval ratings in important areas: 45 percent approval/46 percent disapproval on the economy; 45 percent approval/50 percent disapproval on Iraq, 31 percent approval/55 percent disapproval on the federal budget deficit and–significantly, in light of the recent passage of the Medicare bill–35 percent approval/52 percent disapproval on health care, essentially unchanged from early November.

Most intriguingly, on a number of current Bush administration policies, voters who say they are less likely to vote for Bush because of these policies outnumber those who say they are more likely. This includes the Bush administration’s Iraq policy and decision to go to war (40 percent less likely/39 more likely); the way Bush and his administration have handled the situation in Iraq (44 percent less likely/34 percent more likely); the amount of money the US is spending to rebuild Iraq (54 percent less likely/18 percent more likely); the current state of the economy and job situation (37 percent less likely/30 percent more likely) and the recently passed and signed Medicare bill (36 percent less likely/27 percent more likely).

In DR’s view, it’s going to take more than the capture of Saddam Hussein to turn around these sentiments.

December 14, 2003

Can Clark Stop Dean?

He’s certainly got a shot at it–arguably the best shot of any of the other Democratic candidates. That’s the view of The Daily Kos, Josh Marshall and a number of others. DR tends to agree.

Clark’s basic strategy also seems fairly consistent with a number of points DR made awhile ago in a post on “How Clark Can Win the Nomination”. He’s stressing electability, he’s planning to break through in the south, he’s going after the noncollege crowd and after moderates and independents. Specific scenarios for Clark’s success vary, but generally include him coming in second or third in New Hampshire (with Dean hopefully not taking Iowa), taking several states on February 2nd (South Carolina, Arizona, maybe one or two others) and then, with Dean’s aura of invincibility shattered, gaining momentum, consolidating the anti-Dean vote and finally winning the resulting two-person race.

What DR finds missing here is any sense that Clark actually has to run on anything more than his biography and his electability. Even on foreign policy/Iraq, his real product differentiation with Dean is his biography: Dean’s not credible on this stuff, I am because I’m General Clark and I won the war in Kosovo, etc. And on domestic issues, the kindest thing you can say is that he has a copycat program designed to pass Democratic muster. It’s not terrible; it’s just not particularly good. Nor has Clark taken a specific domestic issue (or two) and tried to make it a signature issue; something emblematic of his distinctive approach to solving America’s problems. DR has recommended education (for more discussion, see this excellent post in Mark Schmitt’s Decembrist), but the most important thing is that he have an issue he can make his own and talk passionately about–rather than saying: “me, too”.

Even on taxes, where he has an important difference from Dean (wanting to repeal just the tax cuts for the rich, rather than all the tax cuts, including those for the middle class), Clark has not made much of an effort to capitalize on this difference. Again, it’s vote for me because I’m Wes Clark, rather than vote for me because I’ve got the best ideas and the best approach.

DR doesn’t think this is going to work. Voters want more than just an electable biography, so to speak. They want a sense of where you’re going to take the country which, in turn, has to be crystallized in a few issues that show you’re really different from, and really better than, the other guy. Once you’ve convinced them of that, a perception of electability can be a great aid in generating political momentum.

But it’s not a substitute for what you stand for. First things first.

December 11, 2003

And Gallup Polls, They Just Keep Bouncin’, They Just Keep Bouncin’, Along

In mid-October, DR reported on a Gallup poll bounce in Bush’s approval rating from 50 percent to 55 percent. Comparison with other contemporary polls failed to confirm the Gallup approval bounce, suggesting that the Gallup result should be treated with skepticism.

Well, here it is early December and the gang from Gallup is back with another bounce in Bush’s approval rating from (what else?) 50 percent to 55 percent (measured from 11/14-16 to 12/5-7). Once again, your faithful servant, DR, has checked the other recent national polls for findings consistent with Gallup’s bounce. And, once again, there doesn’t seem to be any.

First, ABC/Washington Post, whose survey dates match up almost exactly with Gallup, has Bush’s approval rating dropping from 57 percent to 53 percent. Then, the Zogby poll has Bush’s job rating remaining essentially unchanged (48 percent to 49 percent) over the period from early November to 12/4-6. And Fox News has Bush’s approval rating holding steady at 52 percent between mid-November and 12/3-4. Finally, the Quinnipiac University poll has Bush’s approval rating at just 51 percent, measured 12/4-8, no change from its last poll at the end of October.

Not much bounce in those numbers. One interesting sidebar on the current Gallup rating, though: Bush’s approval rating among seniors is now 10 points below his rating among the public as a whole. Bush’s approval rating, according to the report linked to above, has generally run 5 or 6 points behind among seniors since his term began, so, with the Medicare bill passage, he actually now appears to be doing worse among this age group. Not exactly what they had in mind, DR suspects.

December 10, 2003

Seniors to Medicare Bill: Drop Dead!

As the details of the new Medicare prescription drugs bill continue coming out, the bill just looks worse and worse. A good article by Robert Pear in the December 7 New York Times points out that seniors will not be able to buy “Medigap”-type insurance policies to cover the huge holes in the prescription drug benefit, as they can with regular Medicare benefits. In addition, there will be a “formulary” or list of drugs that the Medicare benefit will cover. Drugs not on the list will receive no coverage and money spent on them will not count toward the drug benefit’s limit on out-of-pocket costs. (For more analysis of what’s wrong, see Jonathan Cohn’s New Republic analysis and this recent post by DR.)

No wonder that the ink’s barely dry on the bill and seniors are already tepid to hostile about the bill. According to The Washington Post, strong pluralities of both seniors (47 percent to 26 percent) and those 55-64 (46 percent to 32 percent) disapprove of the Medicare changes voted by Congress. The article quotes leading nonpartisan pollster Andrew Kohut as saying: “This is a surprisingly tepid reaction to this big legislation.”

Indeed. More evidence of seniors’ dismay comes from a just-released Gallup poll. Seniors just barely say (46 percent to 39 percent) that they favor the new prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients. Amazing, for a group that’s just received a new benefit.

And, by 44 percent to 38 percent, they say they oppose the changes made in Medicare coverage. Moreover, 85 percent say they are very (56 percent) or somewhat (29 percent) concerned that the Medicare changes won’t go far enough in helping seniors pay for their prescriptions; 78 percent say they are very (58 percent) or somewhat (20 percent) concerned that these changes “benefit prescription drug companies too much”; and 73 percent say they are very (48 percent) or somewhat (25 percent) concerned that the changes will force some Medicare recipients into HMOs.

Finally, by a lop-sided 59 percent to 28 percent margin, seniors think the new Medicare plan will do more to benefit prescription drug companies than Medicare recipients.

Wow. Usually bills like this get a nice honeymoon period where people give the new legislation the benefit of the doubt. Not this one. Maybe that’s why the Bush administration is now talking about going to the moon. What they’re doing on earth doesn’t seem to be going over too well.

December 9, 2003

Can Dean Move to the Center?

Gore’s endorsement of Dean clearly adds to Dean’s already considerable momentum toward the nomination. At the same time, as Josh Marshall points out, it probably will accelerate the emergence of the anti-Dean candidate, whoever that may be. Trouble is, of course, that being the anti-Dean, with this announcement and Dean’s latest poll results, seems increasingly likely to mean a ticket to a glorious second place finish in the race.

But that means it’s more vital than ever to think through the question of whether and how Dean will be able to move to the center in the general election. And make no mistake about it: he will need to do so. In the Gallup poll linked to above, Dean does way better among liberal Democrats than any of the other candidates, receiving 40 percent of their support, compared to just 11 percent for Clark and 9 percent for Gephardt.

But when you look at moderate and conservative Democrats, it’s a different story. Dean receives only 17 percent of moderates’ support, running slightly behind Clark at 19 percent. And with conservatives, he does rather poorly, receiving 11 percent of their support, running behind Gephardt (25 percent), Clark (17 percent) and Lieberman (13 percent).

It’s a fair assumption that the pattern we find here among Democrats will replicate itself in the general election: liberals will take to Dean easily, while moderates and conservatives will take much more convincing to throw their support to the man from Vermont.

Findings from a recently-released Pew Research Center poll of likely Democratic primary/caucus participants underscore this problem. Just 5 percent of these Democratic voters choose Dean as a Democratic candidate who would do a “particularly good job” protecting the nation from terrorism (and respondents could select more than one candidate if they wished). Now, if Democrats have a hard time associating this issue with Dean, it’s a reasonable assumption general election voters will have an equally or more difficult time.

The Pew poll also finds that just 36 percent of these likely Democratic primary voters favor repealing all of the Bush tax cuts, as Dean does. This is actually less than the number (42 percent) who would prefer to repeal the tax cuts for the wealthy, while keeping the rest of the cuts in place. And this is among Democrats. It’s a very fair assumption that Dean’s position will be an even harder sell among the general election electorate–particularly the moderates and conservatives mentioned above.

So: time to move to the center. Here’s a two point plan that could help him get there.

1. A “Sister Souljah” moment on the loony anti-war left. Dean, as Robert Kagan and others have pointed out is no George McGovern on foreign policy and fighting terror. Time to let the voters know that. There is certainly no dearth of nutty groups or far-out intellectuals who could be usefully denounced as failing to understand the need for America to fight terror with every means at its disposal. Iraq may have been an ill-conceived use of American power, but that does not mean the exertion of American power is always a bad idea. And so on.

2. Preserve the middle class tax cuts. As Paul Krugman and others have pointed out, eliminating all the Bush tax cuts is not economically necessary. And the polling data couldn’t be clearer about what a bad idea it is politically. Time to tell the American people the really serious problem with the Bush tax cuts is the huge tax breaks going to the folks who don’t need it. We’ll take those back, then move toward real tax reform that shifts the tax burden away from work and closes tax loopholes for the wealthy. And so on.

Together, these two moves would do much to reassure non-liberal voters who are uncomfortable with George Bush that it’s safe to vote Democratic. And that, in DR’s view, will be the key to the election.

December 7, 2003

So, Do You Feel Safer Yet?

If you don’t, you’re not alone. According to a just-released Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) poll, 70 percent disagree that “the threat of terrorism has been significantly reduced by the war”. This is up from just 43 percent who held this view in April. In addition, 56 percent disagree that “the war will result in greater peace and stability in the Middle East”, up from 32 percent in April.

And here’s another critical finding: the public overwhelmingly believes capturing Osama Bin Laden and breaking up al-Qaeda (75 percent) should be the central front in the war on terrorism, not capturing Saddam and establishing democracy in Iraq (21 percent). No wonder the public is becoming so worried about the costs and aims of our continuing occupation of Iraq: we’re not even aiming at the right target.

A couple of other interesting findings: the poll has Bush losing to an unnamed Democratic nominee for President, 48 percent to 42 percent. And the Democrats have a 6 point lead in party ID, pretty much their average lead for a number of years before September 11, 2001. This supports DR’s view that reported findings of parity in party ID between Democrats and Republicans were driven by post-September 11 surges in Bush’s popularity and do not accurately reflect the current situation.

December 6, 2003

Once Again on the Youth Question

Yesterday, DR argued that youth are leaning Democratic and therefore, the more young voters who show up at the polls in 2004, the better. Here’s more confirmation from a just-released Ipsos/Associated Press poll. In this poll, Bush’s overall approval rating, as well as his approval ratings on the economy and on foreign policy, are all 7-10 points lower among young (18-29 years old) voters than among voters as a whole. And, among young voters, just 28 percent say they would definitely vote to re-elect Bush, while 48 percent say they would definitely vote for somebody else. That compares to a 41 percent/36 percent split among all voters.

December 5, 2003

Will the Young Save Us?

Maybe so. Check out this interesting article by Brian Faler in the December 4 Washington Post, on plans by a well-funded consortium of public interest organizations to mobilize young voters in six states in 2004: Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Wisconsin.

Why should this matter? Because these are all swing states and because, contrary to GOP hype and clueless analysts, young voters have been leaning Democratic for quite a while. In fact, they’ve been more Democratic than voters as a whole in every election since 1992. The latest evidence for this comes from 2002 where, according to the finally-released VNS exit poll data, they supported Democrats by 51 percent to 49 percent, while the country as a whole supported Republicans 53 percent to 47 percent. Most polls taken since then confirm that youth are significantly less supportive of Bush and his re-election than the overall population.

So DR wishes the New Voters Project the very best of luck. And he urges them to pull out all the stops in Nevada and Colorado.

December 3, 2003

Bush and the Political Center

Who’s in the center of American politics? One way of capturing this group is to ask the question: “If the election were held today, would you definitely vote to re-elect Bush as president, would you consider voting for someone else, or would you definitely vote for someone else?”. Those who would definitely vote to re-elect Bush are the hard pro-Bush camp; those who would definitely vote against Bush are the hard anti-Bush camp; and those who would consider voting for someone else are the political center.

The Ipsos/Cook Political Report survey asks this question and here are the results of their polling in November: 38 percent would vote to re-elect Bush; 36 percent would vote against him; and 24 percent would consider voting for someone else. (All results here taken from Charlie Cook’s December 2 National Journal web column, which you can receive by email for free if you subscribe here.)

Here’s where it gets interesting. Our political center group–the 24 percent who would consider voting for someone else–is younger (44 percent under the age of 40) and tends to be pro-Democratic. About half (48 percent) are Democrats or lean Democratic, compared to only 34 percent who are Republican or lean Republican (19 percent are “pure” independents who do not lean either way).

That means if the election comes down to this particular version of the political center, the Democrats will have a built-in advantage over Bush. More evidence that Bush’s assiduous courting of his conservative base comes at a price.

December 2, 2003

Thinking Clearly About Population Shifts and Electoral Change

That’s something we should all aspire to, but you won’t be helped by Katherine Seelye’s front-page artice in The New York Times today, “Shifts in States May Give Bush Electoral Edge”. Here’s the basic idea of the article: because of population growth patterns that favor “red states”, those states will have seven more electoral votes in 2004 than in 2000, and “blue states” will have seven less.

True enough, as far as it goes–but we’ve know this to be true for a couple of years, ever since the initial results of the 2000 Census were released. So what’s the excuse for putting this very old news on the front page of the Times? Perhaps because Seelye presents this shift as unambiguously beneficial to the GOP, thereby making--or trying to make--old news into big news.

But the shift in electoral vote totals by state is only one part of the story, as accurately pointed out today in The New Republic’s blog, &c. That’s because the very same factors that may be making a red state grow relatively fast (and gain electoral votes) may also be factors that are making it more accessible to Democrats over time. In other words, a GOP state may be gaining electoral votes even as its probability of going Republican is declining. That means that you can’t assume that, simply because a red state is gaining electoral votes, the overall political effects of population change are unambiguously good for Republicans.

Take Arizona, which gains two electoral votes in 2004. The Democrats in Arizona have done particularly well in the growing Tucson metro area and have been benefitting from the rising Hispanic population, which went from 19 to 25 percent of the state in the 1990s. In addition, the Democrats have been bolstered by a continuing pro-Democratic trend in Maricopa county, the largest county in Arizona and the county with the largest growth in the nation. In 1988, Bush senior carried Maricopa by a 65 to 34 percent margin; in ‘00, his son’s margin was down to just 53-43, a swing of 21 points toward the Democrats.

These trends continued in the 2002 gubernatorial election with Democrat Janet Napolitano carrying Pima county, around Tuscon, by 14 points and only losing Maricopa narrowly to Republican Matt Salmon by 2 points.

So, Arizona gets two more electoral votes in ‘04, even as it is becoming more accessible to the Democrats with every passing year. How does this net out politically for the upcoming election and thereafter? That’s the interesting question for Arizona and most other states Seelye mentions in her article. Maybe she’s saving that analysis for her next article on this topic. But somehow DR doubts it.

December 1, 2003

Has Clark Got His Mojo Working?

That’s probably going a bit far, but his campaign does seem to be performing solidly of late. For assessments of his progress, see two good reports from the blogosphere in The Left Coaster and in Mark Schmitt’s Decembrist.

For a more jaundiced view, see Matt Tabibi’s demolition job in The Nation. It’s fair to say Tabibi was somewhat hostile to Clark–he appeared to think it was entirely reasonable to pretend to be a volunteer for the Clark campaign and then tell Clark campaign workers that he was a porn film director “just to see how they would react”. Journalism at its best!

While DR thinks progress is being made and finds it significant that recent national polls show Clark holding up quite well (placing second or tied for first in the last five major polls), he still thinks Clark needs another card besides national security and electability to play. DR’s recommendation: education.

No other candidate owns this issue and indeed the race has been notable for how little a role education has played in it. In terms of domestic issues–besides the economy in general--only health care has received a lot of attention. A bold idea or two on education could go a long way toward giving the Clark candidacy a clear and compelling profile in the domestic arena. How about making a college education of some kind universally available to young people? And there are many others in an area dramatically underserved by the Democratic candidates (see DR’s post, “It’s the Education, Stupid” for more discussion).