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January 30, 2004

The Nonsouthern Strategy

Last night, in the South Carolina debate among Democratic presidential candidates, John Kerry disclaimed his previous statement that it was a "mistake" for Democrats to believe they had to break Bush's hold on the south to win the 2004 election. He declared: "I've always said I could compete in the south and we can win in the south".

John Edwards saw Kerry's statement and raised it. According to Edwards, it would be an "enormous mistake" for any Democrat to write off the south and its "enormous" cache of electoral votes. He added: "No Democrat has been elected president without carrying give southern states".

Man, that's putting the bar mighty high! Does anyone really believe the Democrats can win five southern states in 2004? If not, according to Edwards, they're toast.

DR begs to differ. While he is not of the dogmatic "forget the south" school, he does believe that a basically nonsouthern strategy is the right one for the Democrats this year, if it is pursued in a sensible way. He submits, for your consideration, an extended excerpt from his recent article on the subject in The American Prospect. If you find it of interest, a link for the full article is included at the end of the excerpt.

The Nonsouthern Strategy: Not Whether But How

And now, as candidates and journalists shake the New Hampshire snows off their boots and the primary process heads south, we can look forward to a spate of media stories raising the question of whether any Democratic presidential candidate can effectively compete in the 11 southern states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Pundits will revisit Howard Dean's maladroit remark about voters with "Confederate flag decals on their pickup trucks" and mull over last November's big GOP gubernatorial wins in the region.

There's one problem with the media's question, though: It is irrelevant. The Democratic nominee will run a strategy anchored in non-southern states. And he should, for one simple reason: It is the only way to win. The reality is that just as you will not see much of George W. Bush in Providence, R.I., a Democratic message and strategy that can successfully oust the president will be one most palatable to the party's base and to swing voters on the coasts, in the industrial Midwest and in border states, and throughout the burgeoning Southwest. The South will have little to do with it.

Here's why. Putting the Gore-Nader vote together as an indicator of underlying Democratic strength, and comparing it with the Bush-Buchanan vote, the eight closest states the Democrats won in 2000 and will have to defend in 2004 are Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin. Using the same comparison, here are the eight closest states the Democrats lost in 2000, some of which they will obviously have to win in 2004: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Tennessee. By these rankings, only two out of 16 states critical to Democratic chances are in the South. Compare that with six in the Midwest and four in the Southwest and you have a sense of the mathematical logic that is driving the Democrats to focus their 2004 presidential strategy outside the South.

That logic is reflected in the state targeting lists put out by Democratic voter-mobilization groups. For example, Steve Rosenthal's America Coming Together (ACT), which is shaping up to be the most important of these organizations, has a list of 17 targeted states, only two of which are in the South (including Florida, but with Arkansas substituted for Tennessee). The rest of ACT's list is the same as above, with the addition of Maine and the substitution of West Virginia for Colorado.

Let's face it: This ain't rocket science. The data are pretty clear on where the Democrats need to concentrate their resources, and, given that their resources are limited, they will seek to concentrate them in the most efficient manner. By and large, that's not in the South. End of story.

Or is it? Political stories are rarely so simple, and this one is no exception. There could, in fact, be negative consequences to the non-southern strategy that Democrats must avoid or mitigate if the strategy is to be politically effective in 2004 and beyond. First, by disregarding conservative southern voters, the Democrats might wind up with a message that's too far left. Second, by ignoring the South too completely, the Democrats might miss some significant political opportunities -- both short-term and long-term -- in that region. Third, by pulling the presidential campaign out of the South, down-ballot Democratic candidates in the region (especially for the Senate) could be easy pickings for the GOP. Confronting these problems head-on could make the difference between a successful strategy and one that does more to weaken than help the Democrats' chances.

One of the advantages of the non-southern strategy is that the Democratic presidential candidate won't have to try to appeal to a bloc of very conservative southern white voters who aren't likely to vote for him anyway. In Georgia, for example, more white voters say they're conservative than say they're moderate, and almost a third say they're members of the religious right. And, of course, white voters in Georgia are notoriously susceptible to racial politics around issues like the Confederate flag. A national Democratic candidate who tailors his message to these voters will likely succeed only in depressing base turnout, without any compensating electoral payoff.

The possible disadvantage is that the candidate, free from this constraint, will run too far to the left in order to please the liberal base of the Democratic Party. That would be unfortunate, as well as quite stupid. The whole point of this strategy should be to allow the Democrats to craft a clear message that both excites liberal base voters and holds appeal for moderate white swing voters, especially in the Midwest where the loss of manufacturing jobs and health-care access have hit particularly hard.

A quick look at Ohio -- perhaps the most coveted Democratic electoral target in the coming election -- illustrates this. Al Gore lost Ohio's 21 electoral votes by less than 4 points in 2000, and the combined Gore-Nader vote ran only 2 points behind the combined Bush-Buchanan vote. In that election, Gore got 41 percent of the white vote; 44 percent and he would have won the state.

The economic basis for such a modest increase should be there for Democrats in 2004. Heavily unionized Ohio (37 percent of voters are in union households, including 35 percent of white voters) has lost one-sixth of its manufacturing jobs since Bush took office, including a stunning 81,000 since November 2001, the official beginning of the current economic recovery. A strong critique of the Bush administration's economic record should fall on receptive ears. It's also worth noting that the Gore campaign basically abandoned Ohio in early October of 2000, shifting resources elsewhere; so, arguably, just having a candidate who competes in the state may get Democrats much of the additional support they need.

Finally, white voters in Ohio tend to be moderate rather than conservative. They are quite unlikely to consider themselves members of the religious right and are largely unaffected by issues like the Confederate flag. This will make it harder for Republicans to sway white voters away from their economic problems simply on cultural grounds, as the GOP can do so effectively in a southern state like Georgia.

But that doesn't mean that Democrats can relax and be as liberal as they want to be about social issues and cultural sensibilities. On the contrary, Ohio, according to a recent Pew Research Center report, is still one of the more traditional states in the country on social issues. And about half of white voters there own a gun and tend to be suspicious of Democrats' views on gun control.

This means that the non-southern strategy, if it is to succeed in a critical state like Ohio, still needs the kind of "values centrism" espoused by Bill Clinton. Yes, Democrats have to support bedrock principles like a woman's right to choose, but that support has to be framed in moral terms these voters can understand ("safe, legal and rare") and combined with moderate stances on issues like gun control (think "gun safety").

The non-southern strategy is not about running as if every state were California. It's more about running as if every state were Ohio -- true to the Democratic principles and priorities cherished by the base but attentive to the concerns of the moderate swing voters who can put you over the top.

January 29, 2004

Kerry and Getting Past the Threshhold

Yesterday, DR argued that John Kerry has emerged as the Democratic frontrunner and very plausible general election candidate because he has threshhold credibility with voters in three key areas: as commander-in-chief and defender of national security; as steward of the economy and custodian of the domestic agenda; and through his campaigning and ability to connect with voters.

But Kerry will need much more than threshhold credibility to beat George Bush. In this regard, Kerry's revival of warmed-over Gore-style populism is problematic. Kerry has been putting this populism front-and-center in his recent campaign speeches, including his victory speech Tuesday night in New Hampshire.

I have a message for the influence peddlers, for the polluters, the HMOs, the drug companies, big oil and all the special interests who now call the White House home: We're coming. You're going. And don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Now, there's a lot to be said for such a theme. As with Bill Clinton in 1992, it is probably an effective way to consolidate the support he needs to get the nomination. And it can and should be an important part of the case to be made against George Bush in the general election campaign. Polls consistently show that Bush and his administration are viewed as being on the side of the wealthy and big corporations, not the average American. It would be political malpractice on Kerry's part not to emphasize this.

But that emphasis shows more what you're against than where you want to take the country, especially with "the people vs. the powerful" rhetoric that he has been using. (Kerry would do well to borrow some of Edwards' more optimistic approach as well as Edwards' whole frame that Bush's tax and other policies are a radical shift toward rewarding wealth instead of work.) To succeed, Kerry needs to get beyond populist critique to a positive, compelling vision of where he want to take the country. Here are some ideas.

Start with the economy. Criticizing its shortcomings is fine and, even with the pickup in growth, there’s still likely to be plenty to find fault with in 2004. In all likelihood, the Bush administration will wind up presiding over a net loss of jobs–particularly manufacturing jobs--which is quite extraordinary by historical standards (not since the disastrous administration of Herbert Hoover, to be precise). But, compared with the situation in 1992, both the unemployment rate and the level of economic pessimism are likely to be lower than those which helped doom his father’s re-election chances.

Therefore, even more so than Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992, Kerry's campaign has to be about the future of the economy and the country in general–a future that Republican policies have seriously compromised. As pollster Stanley Greenberg argues in his new book, The Two Americas, the future that would resonate most with American voters is an opportunity society of the type envisioned by the Democrats of John F. Kennedy’s era. Such a society would give everyone access to the resources and education to get ahead and is radically counterposed to where Bush is taking the country.

Take the Bush tax cuts. The public has never been particularly enthusiastic about them, seeing them as only modestly helpful to the average person and the economy as a whole, if helpful at all. They are well aware most of the benefits flow to the well-off and outright rich. Evidence is strong that they would prefer seeing the money devoted to subsidizing the affluent used for public purposes in specific areas.

One area that immediately presents itself, especially given its clear connection to an opportunity society, is education. The Republicans’ program in this area is simple: high standards through the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, while presiding over a stagnant federal education budget and dramatic education cutbacks in fiscally-crunched states. That formula means states don’t have the money to help the many failing schools designated by NCLB, much less improve and modernize their school systems for the 21st century.

The public is well-aware of this problem. Provided Kerry maintains the NCLB's basic commitment to high standards and stringent accountability ("mend it, don't end it"), he will find a receptive audience for proposals to give schools the resources they need to both meet current shortfalls and modernize for the future. Modernization could include universal access to pre-school, keeping school buildings open all-day and year-round for educational enrichment and/or ensuring that every student can continue their education beyond high school. This, in turn, would mean substantial changes in the ways schools operate, recruit teachers and provide services. A modernization program on this scale will go far toward branding Kerry's campaign as a campaign for the future.

The same focus on the future should inform his programs in other areas. In health care, while he will have a fat target in the recently-passed Medicare prescription drugs bill, he should resist the temptation to focus on the notorious skimpiness of the drug benefit. The worst crime of the bill is it does nothing to rein in runaway drug costs (indeed, that’s the main reason the bill manages to spend a fair amount of money–$400 billion over ten years–yet achieve so little), whose escalating prices terrify the senior citizens who consume them. Similarly, the goal of extending coverage is a worthy one, but the typical voter already has health insurance and is most worried about the degrading quality and increasing costs (both premiums and out-of-pocket) of the policy they have. Modernizing the health care system in this country means, first and foremost, finding ways to bring and keep health care costs under control. That, in turn, would help lay the basis for a model of universal coverage that would be fiscally and politically sustainable, rather than simply adding another expensive entitlement to the current system.

Or take Social Security. The Republican plan to partially privatize the system by “carving out” a portion of the FICA tax to be put into individual investment accounts is a bad one and support for it is quite soft, once the inevitable reduction in guaranteed benefits is brought to voters’ attention. But a defense of the Social Security system, while reasonable in and of itself, does nothing to modernize a pension system that leaves some workers without retirement accounts at all and others with multiple and underfunded accounts.

The most straightforward way to do this is 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. As former Clinton economic advisor Gene Sperling advocates, these accounts could 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.

Another issue Kerry should focus on is the environment and the need to safeguard it for future generations. This is an issue with strong appeal to key Democratic-leaning groups like professionals and the young. But it’s also an issue that gets a lot of moderate suburban swing voters hot under the collar. Polling consistently shows that voters think Bush has been doing a terrible job on the environment, trust the Democrats on the issue by wide margins and vote heavily Democratic if it’s an important voting issue to them. The Gore campaign de-emphasized the issue in 2000, on the grounds that it wasn’t a salient issue to enough voters. Kerry shouldn’t make the same mistake. The more he talks about it, the more salient the issue will become; the more salient it becomes, the better off his campaign will be.

Across all these issues, Kerry should highlight how his program for America’s future connects to a vision of an opportunity society where every American is provided with the tools they need to succeed, from adequate education to a reasonable level of health security to an effective way to save for their retirement. Opportunity for all Americans, not just the few with the most money and connections to Washington, is a fundamental American value and that value should lie at the heart of Kerry's campaign.

DR can't promise this approach will beat George Bush. But it's got more potential to do so than "the people vs. the powerful". Or (shudder) "the real deal".

January 28, 2004

Kerry: The Threshhold Credibility Candidate!

DR would not anyone to think, based on yesterday's post, that he considers Kerry to be some paragon of electability: the Democrats' dream candidate. He's got a list of Senate votes and public statements as long as your arm (longer!) that the Republicans will use to typecast him as a stale, out-of-step Massachusetts liberal. And his campaigning style is, shall we say, not exactly electrifying.

But DR does believe he's an improvement over Howard Dean in the electability department. And, despite the problems mentioned above, he could also have an electability advantage over Edwards or Clark (though this is less clear).

To radically simplify, a presidential candidate needs to impress voters in three ways: as commander-in-chief and defender of national security; as steward of the economy and custodian of the domestic agenda; and through his campaigning and ability to connect with voters. In each of these areas, Kerry, in DR's view, achieves threshhold credibility--that is, he's good enough to make most voters give him a closer look without saying: "no way can I vote for that guy".

Instead voters (at least our typical primary voter) might say: Kerry as commander-in-chief? He seems plausible. Kerry on domestic issues? Well, pretty good, he seems to know what he's talking about. Kerry as campaiger? Not exciting, sure, but at least he's disciplined and doesn't say a lot of goofy stuff.

There you have it. Threshhold credibility! Contrast that with Dean, who seems implausible to many as commander-in-chief and, as a campaigner, has shown an inability to keep a lid on it when he really needs to. Or compare with Clark, who seems very plausible indeed as commander-in-chief, but seems painfully thin in the domestic area and has shown himself not-quite-ready-for-prime-time on the campaign trail. Or with Edwards, who is a great campaigner, with a pretty good to excellent domestic agenda, but who falls short in the commander-in-chief department.

Looked at this way, it seems logical that Kerry, with his threshhold credibility in all three areas, would be the guy Democratic primary voters would turn to as they move from protest to who-can-beat-Bush politics.

It seems possible--even likely--that Kerry will be able to parlay this threshhold credibility advantage into enough support to get the Democratic nomination. But will that be enough for him to win the general election? Almost certainly not. Credibility in these departments merely means voters will give him a close look. He'll still have to close the sale and there are reasons to worry that Kerry has not yet found the themes and signature programs that will enable him to do so. Certainly his revival of warmed-over Gore-style populism does not augur well. That populism, despite its many virtues, is unlikely to be adequate to the task of defeating George Bush in a post-9/11 environment. Much, much more will be needed.

But that's a subject for another post.

January 27, 2004

Another Victory for Electability

With 97 percent of the precincts reporting, Kerry is running far ahead of Dean (39 percent to 26 percent) and Clark and Edwards (about 12 percent each) are battling it out for third and fourth. This a great result for Kerry and a poor one for Dean, though DR is not yet persuaded that Kerry is the Annointed One, nor that Dean is irrevocably toast (though he's hurting pretty bad).

Based on the exit polls though, we can confirm the message of the Iowa caucus voting that Democratic voters are increasingly focused on electability and mainstream issues and decreasingly interested in "sending 'em a message" and protest politics around the Iraq war. Consider these data from the exit poll (note that numbers here may change slightly as the National Election Pool reweights its data to reflect the final vote tally).

About one third of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters said flat-out that electability ("can beat Bush") was more important to their vote than issues. Among those voters, Kerry walloped Dean 56 percent to 14 percent. Then, when you look at the specific issues that voters said were most important to their vote, Kerry was way ahead of Dean among the 60 percent of New Hampshire voters who selected the economy and jobs, health care or education, the top three issues in the nation, according to most national polls.

Among health care voters, Kerry led Dean 43 percent to 26 percent; among economy and jobs voters, Kerry led 48 percent to 18 percent and among education voters Kerry led 44 percent to 23 percent. In fact, the only issue voters among whom Dean led were Iraq voters, who favored Dean over Kerry by 37 percent to 33 percent.

Looking at top candidate qualities motivating voters, we find Kerry again doing hugely well among voters who selected "can beat Bush" (62 percent to 10 percent for Dean) or experience (58 percent to 9 percent) and beating Dean by about his margin of overall victory among those who selected "cares about people" or "positive message". Dean, on the other hand, only won among those who selected "stand up for beliefs" (47 percent to 21 percent for Kerry) or "shake things up" (46 percent to 13 percent). But those send-em-a-message and protest voters were only 36 percent of the primary voters, hence Dean's poor overall performance.

This skew in Dean's support is underscored by some of the other (very few) categories where he beat Kerry. He beat Kerry among those who described themselves as "very liberal" (15 percent of primary voters) by 41 percent to 30 percent. And he beat Kerry among those who want to repeal all the Bush tax cuts (32 percent of primary voters) by 37 percent to 34 percent.

The demographics of Dean's support were also not impressive. He lost every age category to Kerry except those 18-29 (where he led by just 34 percent to 33 percent). He lost every income category. He lost every education category, only coming close to Kerry among those with a postgraduate education. He lost among both union and nonunion households (so much for the SEIU/AFSCME endorsements). He lost veterans and non-veterans. He lost those who own a gun and those who don't. And he lost independents and got creamed among moderates.

More on these results tomorrow as well as an assessment of Kerry's chances, both for the nomination and as a general election candidate.

January 26, 2004

More on Bush's State of the Union Thud

Yesterday, DR highlighted some results from the new Newsweek poll that indicate Bush's State of the Union (SOTU) address failed to generate the traditional post-speech bounce in presidential support. Today more results of the poll have been released and further illustrate his lack of success in moving public opinion.

The poll asked voters to rate the importance of a series of issues to their 2004 White House vote. Here are the top six issues, with the percent saying "very important" in parentheses: economy and jobs (83 percent); health care (75 percent); education (74 percent); terrorism and homeland security (70 percent); the situation in Iraq (70 percent); and Social Security/Medicare (69 percent).

Then, they asked voters who selected a given issue as "very important" whether they thought a Democratic president would do a better job than Bush on that issue. Here are the same issues with the percentage point lead (or deficit) for a Democratic president among these voters: economy and jobs (+22); health care (+34); education (+22); terrorism and homeland security (-18); situation in Iraq (dead even); and Social Security/Medicare (+32).

Pretty interesting! Despite how much Bush dwelt on terrorism and Iraq in his SOTU address, his lead on the former, his area of greatest strength, is actually less than the Democratic leads on the four domestic issues. And he has no lead whatsoever on Iraq, the front line, according to him, of the war against terror.

It's also worth noting that a Democratic president leads Bush on every other issue tested in this poll: the environment (+46); the federal budget deficit (+40); US relations with major European allies (+20); appointing new Supreme Court and federal judges (+12); foreign policy (+10); and even taxes (+8).

Turning to various proposals and decisions Bush referred to in his speech, it is striking that none of them elicit an approval rating above the mid-50's, except for "giving government funding to churches and other religious groups that provide social services" (65 percent). And DR was fascinated to note that "a constitutional amendment, if necessary, to ban gay marriage in all states" got only a 46 percent approval rating, with equally high disapproval.

Finally, how about this one: "Do you think going to war with Iraq has made Americans safer from terrorism?". Yes: 44 percent. No: 53 percent. Since this is exactly the case Bush was trying to make in the SOTU, disagreement here is a particularly telling indicator that his speech should be considered "mission not accomplished".

January 25, 2004

Was That a Bounce or a Thud?

On Wednesday, DR commented on how partisan Bush's State of the Union (SOTU) address seemed and, for that reason, out of step with the political center of the country which harbors considerable skepticism about the president and his policies.

Results of the latest Newsweek poll, conducted two days after Bush's address, suggest this diagnosis was accurate. Instead of the bounce in approval ratings frequently enjoyed by presidents after they deliver the SOTU, Bush appears to have landed with a thud.

The Newsweek poll has his approval rating down to 50 percent, with 44 percent disapproval, the worst rating of his presidency in this poll. Moreover, just 44 percent say they want to see him re-elected, compared to 52 percent who say they don't, also the worst "re-elect" performance of his presidency. Finally, John Kerry actually beats Bush in a head-to-head matchup among registered voters, 49 percent to 46 percent, which has not happened before in Newsweek's poll. Other candidates don't fare quite so well, but are still close. Clark, for example, has only a 1 point deficit in a Bush-Clark matchup and John Edwards loses his matchup by only 3 points (note that Edwards hitherto has never been closer than 11 points when matched up against Bush).

Guess Bush would have been wiser to give a real State of the Union address, rather than the partisan jeremiad he chose to deliver. But it's too late now. On to November!

January 24, 2004

Bashing No Child Left Behind: It's Not Just for Democrats Anymore!

So who's describing the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act as an unfunded mandate that threatens to undermine efforts to improve students' performance? Sure, Howard Dean and the rest of the candidates for the Democratic nomination are....but so is Virginia's Republican-controlled House of Delegates, according to a front-page article in today's Washington Post.

Virginia's House voted 98-1 (!) in support of a resolution calling on Congress to exempt states like Virginia from NCLB's requirements. According to the resolution, NCLB "represents the most sweeping intrusions into state and local control of education in the history of the United States" and will cost "literally millions of dollars that Virginia doesn't have".

Guess those Virginia Republicans lost their copies of the RNC's education talking points. And so did Republican legislators from the great swing state of Ohio, who sponsored a state study, released this month, that found the federal government had significantly underfunded NCLB.

These reactions from legislators in the president's own party underscore something DR has been arguing for quite some time: Bush is acutely vulnerable on the education issue and it’s likely to be a liability for him in 2004, if Democrats play their cards right.

DR has suggested aggressively taking on the NCLB, but with a "mend it, don't end it" orientation. Peter Schrag concurs in the latest American Prospect:

If NCLB goes, those who'll be most hurt will, once again, be the children who can least afford it. But NCLB badly needs fixing to provide more flexibility in some areas and more rigorous enforcement in others, especially of the provisions mandating better-qualified teachers for poor children. It needs to provide more help and fewer penalties for low-performing schools. And it desperately needs to be better funded.

Exactly. And the data suggest the public would welcome such a sensible approach.

• Americans rank education on roughly the same level as health care and the economy/jobs as a budget priority; 63 percent want federal funding increased for public schools and 62 percent want the federal government to play a generally larger role in funding public schools (Greenberg Quinlan Rosner/Tarrance Group/National Education Association, January 4-7, 2004)

• Most Americans (52 percent) believe that the Bush administration has made not much progress (18 percent) or no progress at all (34 percent) in improving public schools; this is up from 47 percent at the beginning of last year (CBS News/New York Times poll, January 12-15, 2004)

• By 58 percentage points (77 percent to 19 percent), the public opposes using the results of tests to withhold federal funds from those schools where students perform poorly (CBS News/New York Times poll, January 12-15, 2004)

• Over four-fifths (81 percent) want schools to be given more time before penalties are assessed if funding promised by the NCLB has not been given to these schools (Greenberg Quinlan Rosner/Tarrance Group/National Education Association, January 4-7, 2004)

• By 60 percent to 38 percent, voters support increased funding, rather than cuts, for schools that are not able to meet federal testing standards (Greenberg Quinlan Rosner/Tarrance Group/National Education Association, January 4-7, 2004)

• The public overwhelmingly (84 percent to 14 percent) believes that the best way to judge a school’s performance is to see whether students show reasonable improvement from where they started, rather than whether they meet a fixed standard, as specified in the NCLB Act (Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll, May 28-June 18, 2003)

• By more than 2:1 (66 percent to 32 percent) the public does not think a single test, as in the NCLB Act, can provide a fair picture of whether or not a public school need improvement (Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll, May 28-June 18, 2003)

• The public also strongly believes (72 percent to 26 percent) that a single test cannot accurately judge a student’s proficiency in English and math (Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll, May 28-June 18, 2003)

• By a substantial 66 percent to 30 percent margin, the public believes that the current emphasis on standardized tests will lead teachers to “teach to the test”, rather than teaching their subjects (Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll, May 28-June 18, 2003)

• Americans strongly believe that teacher salaries are too low (59 percent) and that teachers should be paid higher salaries as an incentive to teach in schools that are identified to be in need of improvement (65 percent) (Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll, May 28-June 18, 2003)

Ball's in your court, Democrats.

January 23, 2004

Swing Voters Vs. New Voters

Is Dean's campaign dead? Maybe. Maybe not. DR doesn't pretend to know the answer to that question.

But DR feels a little surer about something that should be dead: the Dean campaign's theory that an influx of new voters can make up for deficits among the swing voters who typically show in national elections. Dean has said: "We can't beat George Bush with the same people who voted in 2000. The only way we can beat George Bush is by attracting people who have given up on politics." (See articles last week by John Harris in The Washington Post and by John Harwood in The Wall Street Journal for details on the Dean campaign's orientation toward new voters.)

Dean's campaign is obviously rethinking its approach to a lot of things. Time to rethink their approach to this one as well. Most obviously, an influx of new voters didn't help Dean much at all in the Iowa caucuses. In fact, those new voters surged in the direction of the caucus winners, Kerry and Edwards. Is there any reason to think this result will be different in the general election? Nope, that's what usually happens with new voters: they go for the winner and therefore amplify, not change, the result we would have seen without the new voters.

But Dean's campaign apparently believes they can make up, say, a 52 percent to 48 percent split against the Democrats among the previously-existing electorate (pegging it at 2000's 105 million voters) by attracting 8 million new voters into the process.

This is nuts. Even assuming they can increase turnout that much, they'd have to get a 3:1 split among these new voters (that is, win these 8 million new voters by 6 million to 2 million) to dig themselves out the hole they'd dug themselves among the rest of the electorate.

It ain't gonna work. Time to bury this particular idea and bury it deep.

January 22, 2004

Independents' Views: Read 'Em and Weep, Karl

Expanding on yesterday's post about how the political center of the country is leaning against Bush and toward the Democrats, here are some very interesting data from the latest CBS News/New York Times poll.

Among political independents, Bush's approval ratings are almost all net negative: overall (45 percent approval/50 percent disapproval); foreign policy (40 percent/50 percent); Iraq (44 percent/49 percent); and the economy (37 percent/58 percent).

Bush's favorability rating is also net negative among independents: 33 percent favorable/39 percent unfavorable. And by 9 points, (46 percent to 37 percent), independents say they will probably support the Democratic candidate rather than Bush in the November election. Note that Bush actually carried independents by 2 points in 2000, an election in which he lost the popular vote, so a deficit of this magnitude--of even half that size--would probably sink him in '04.

And check out these party favorability ratings among independents: net negative on the GOP (43 percent favorable/46 percent unfavorable) and strongly net positive on the Democrats (52 percent/36 percent).

More anti-Bush sentiment: by 14 points (56 percent to 42 percent), independents do not have confidence in Bush's ability to deal wisely with an international crisis; by 33 points (64 percent to 31 percent), independents lack confidence in Bush's ability to make the right decisions on the nation's economy; by 24 points (58 percent to 34 percent), they don't think Bush has the same priorities for the country as they do; and by 39 points (62 percent to 23 percent), they think Bush is more interested in protecting the interests of large corporations than the interests of ordinary Americans.

On the economic front, just 13 percent of independents think their family is better off financially now than they were when Bush took office; and the exact same low number of independents believe Bush administration policies have increased the number of jobs in the country.

In terms of the war, independents, by a wide 57 percent to 38 percent margin don't think the result of the war was worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq. And, by 55 percent to 40 percent, they think the Bush administration was too quick to involve the US in a war in Iraq.

But perhaps these voters will be impressed with the role of religion in Bush's life, despite their disagreements with his policies? Nope. By 53 percent to 43 percent, they say they don't even want to hear about the role of religion in candidates' lives during the presidential campaign.

In closing this post, let me offer three propositions:

1. Independents will decide the outcome of the 2004 election.

2. Independents, because they're leaning toward the Democrats in so many different ways, will give the Democratic candidate a long and respectful listen in this election.

3. Therefore, the best candidate for the Democrats in 2004 will be the one who can communicate most effectively with independents and turn their leanings into actual votes.

January 21, 2004

How's America Leaning?

The consensus reaction to last night's State of the Union address was that it was a pretty partisan speech where the president relentlessly plugged the GOP position on practically everything, from Iraq to health savings accounts to making the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent, and not-so-subtly taunted the Democrats for their opposition to these positions.

Is such a partisan approach really wise? Perhaps it would be if the country was already leaning Republican and voters in the center simply needed to be reminded to find their inner Republican. But that does not appear to be the case.

In fact, there is an abundance of recent data that suggests the opposite: the country is leaning Democratic and voters in the center are in serious danger of finding their inner Democrat if the Republicans don't watch out.

For example, a November Pew Research Center report showed that the domestic and foreign policy 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. And it's not just issues: a January Pew Research Center report also shows that the basic ideological views of independents are now much closer to Democrats than Republicans.

These leanings of independents even extend to the bedrock political indicator of partisanship: which party does an individual identify with or lean towards? According to the most recent CBS News/New York Times poll, the Democrats now have a four point lead on party ID (32 percent to 28 percent), even before independents are asked which party they lean towards (this confirms DR's contention that the long-standing Democratic lead on party ID is coming back now that Bush's big popularity spikes (post-9/11, the Iraq invasion) have faded and that reports of parity in party ID between Democrats and Republican are fundamentally mistaken--but that's another tirade).

But here's the really interesting part, for our purposes. If you ask independents which party they lean toward, 21 points out of the 33 percentage points that say they are independent are willing to select a party. Out of this group of independents ("independent leaners"), about three-quarters (15 points) go to the Democrats and only about one-quarter (6 points) goes to the Republicans. That means that, once these leaners are factored in, the Democrats have a very healthy 13 point lead in party ID over the Republicans (47 percent to 34 percent).

These data suggest that Bush's apparent delight in being President of All the Republicans may not wind up playing very well. More on this tomorrow.

January 20, 2004

A Victory for Electability?

DR's made no secret about his doubts concerning Dean's electability. Now it appears that a good chunk of the Democratic electorate may share some of those misgivings.

Indeed, there's a case to be made that the Iowa caucus results are a victory for electability as a criterion for selecting the Democratic nominee. It's not just that Dean got hammered; it's that Gephardt also got creamed.

Polls have persistently showed that repealing all of Bush's tax cuts, including those for the middle class, is an unpopular position, even among Democratic voters. Of course, this was Dean's position....but it was also Gephardt's position, in spades. He not only wanted to repeal all of Bush's tax cuts but he proposed to spend all the savings from repealing the cuts on a very, very expensive $2.3 trillion health plan. Target practice for Karl Rove, in DR's view.

Then there's the Iraq war. Sure Americans tend to be critical of the way the Iraq war has been motivated and conducted by the Bush administration and are very worried that the war's overall result might not be worth the casualties and money it is costing. But they also see the vanquishing of Saddam Hussein as a very good thing and support the way we used military force to do that. A muddled position kind of like.....well, like that of John Kerry and John Edwards, the winners of the Iowa caucuses.

The Iowa entrance poll results cast further light on the role of the war in caucus voting. Caucus voters overwhelmingly said (75 percent) said they disapproved of the war in Iraq. These voters unsurprisingly gave little support to the most pro-war viable candidate (Gephardt, 9 percent) but also gave only 24 percent of their support to Dean, the anti-war candidate. They gave most of their support to the "muddlers"--34 percent to Kerry and 24 percent to Edwards (probably understated, since Edwards fared better in the final causus results than he did in the entrance poll).

The poll also shows that the ability to "beat Bush" was a significant determinant of the caucus vote--26 percent selected this trait as the most important quality guiding their choice of candidate. These voters gave two-thirds of their support to Kerry (37 percent) or Edwards (30 percent).

In fairness to Dean, slightly more voters (29 percent) selected taking strong stands as the most important quality determining their vote and, of these voters, more voted for Dean (31 percent) than for Kerry (26 percent) or Edwards (23 percent).

But other bright spots for Dean were few and far between. Those who described themselves as very liberal were more favorable to Dean (32 percent) than any of the other candidates. So were those who selected the war in Iraq as their most important issue (14 percent of caucus-goers). Finally, those who chose their candidate more than a month before the caucus favored Dean over Kerry by a slim 32 percent to 28 percent margin.

That's it though. Not exactly a record that inspires confidence in Dean as a viable general election candidate. Or in his ability to garner the Democratic nomination, for that matter. We shall see what voters in New Hampshire and beyond have to say. But for the time being it looks like electability is here as a serious factor in selecting the Democratic nominee. Electability fever: catch it!

January 19, 2004

More On That Disappearing Bounce

A couple of days ago, DR flagged the fact that, according to the CBS News/New York Times poll, Bush's approval bounce from the capture of Saddam Hussein had completely disappeared. Yesterday, he complained bitterly about the New York Times graphic that showed Bush's approval rating going up at very time it appeared to be losing altitude rapidly .

Now the most recent Gallup poll has been released, which has Bush's approval rating down to 53 percent, a 6 point drop from their last poll and 2 points below where he was in this poll before Saddam was captured. With this confirmation of Bush's disappearing bounce, it's a good time to delve more deeply into the detailed CBS News/New York Times results and highlight the many ways his political vulnerabilities have re-emerged as this bounce has dissipated.

Start with the classic right direction/wrong track question. Right before Saddam's capture, the CBS News poll had this measure at 39 percent right direction/56 percent wrong track; right after the capture the measure suddenly moved to into positive territory, 49 percent right direction/43 percent wrong track. But now it's back in solidly negative territory, 42 percent right direction/53 percent wrong track (this includes an abysmal 37 percent right direction/58 percent wrong track rating among political independents).

Bush's favorability rating is now almost evenly split (41 percent favorable/38 percent unfavorable) for the first time in his presidency. His 38 percent unfavorable rating is his highest ever, as is his 45 percent disapproval rating on how he is handling his job as president.

Note also that the Democratic party now has a substantially higher favorability rating than the Repoublican party. The public's view of the Democratic party is 54 percent favorable/36 percent unfavorable, while the public's view of the Republicans is 48 percent favorable/43 percent unfavorable.

On the generic horse race question for 2004, 43 percent say they'd vote for Bush, while 45 percent say they'd support the Democratic candidate. That's down from a 9 point lead Bush had after Saddam was captured and, again, is several points weaker than he was peforming before the capture.

And here are a wide range of results that speak to Bush's continuing vulnerabilities. The public is split down the middle (49 percent/49 percent) about whether they confidence in Bush's ability to deal wisely with an international crisis. And by a substantial 57 percent to 39 percent, the public says they are uneasy, rather than confident, in Bush's ability to make the right decisions about the nation's economy. That is by far the worst rating of his presidency on this question.

Just 41 percent think Bush has the same priorities for the country for the country as they do, compared to 54 percent think this isn't true. This negative assessment is essentially unchanged since September of last year.

By about a 2:1 margin (58 percent to 30 percent), the public says Bush is more interested in protecting the interests of large corporations than those of ordinary Americans. CBS News has asked this question several times and this is the worst rating of his presidency, including the summer of '02 when the corporate scandals were dominating the news.

In addition, by huge margins, the public thinks Bush administration policies favor the rich (57 percent), rather than the middle class (11 percent), the poor (1 percent) or all groups the same (25 percent). And, by almost 3:1 (64 percent to 23 percent), the public thinks big business has too much influence, rather than the right amount of influence, on the Bush administration.

Americans overwhelmingly (78 percent) believe their family has not made financial progress during Bush's time in office--49 percent say they've stayed the same and 29 percent report they're worse off. Just 20 percent say they're better off. Americans are also very unlikely to believe Bush administration policies have had a positive effect on the number of jobs in the US; a mere 19 percent believe this to be the case. In contrast, 29 percent believe these policies have had no effect and an astonishing 45 percent believe Bush's have actually decreased the number of jobs.

Finally, assessments of the effects of Bush's tax cuts are not very positive and, in fact, haven't changed much since September of last year. At this point, only 27 percent believe the tax cuts have been good for the economy, while most (68 percent) believe either they haven't much difference (51 percent) or have been bad for the economy (17 percent). And how about this: more people believe Bush administration policies have made their taxes go up (32 percent) than believe these policies have made their taxes go down (19 percent)! The rest (44 percent) believe Bush administration policies have had no effect on their taxes.

All this indicates that the brief bounce in support Bush got from Saddam's capture did not have a lasting effect on the broad vein of skepticism that the public has about Bush, his policies and their effect on the country. That skepticism remains and is likely to dog him througout this critical election year.

January 18, 2004

Bush's Approval Ratings: Even When They're Going Down, They're Going Up

These are the kinds of things the lead DR to weep and wail and gnash his teeth. Here is the graphic accompanying a very short article, "All the Presidents' Numbers", by Andrew Kohut and Harry Campbell, on The New York Times' Sunday Op-Ed page. The theme of the article is that Bush is in good shape politically relative to many of his predecessors.

Ok, there's a case to be made here but they should have been very careful to make the data in the graphic correct, since that is what most people will look at and digest. DR practically fell off his chair when he looked at the far right hand side of the graphic and saw Bush's current approval rating pegged at 56 percent and rising.

Rising?!? Pretty much every public poll for the last month, including the Pew Research Center poll which Kohut runs and from which he got the 56 percent approval rating used in the graphic, shows Bush's approval rating falling steadily from the levels attained right after Saddam's capture.

It's bad enough that the press overplays it whenever Bush gets a bounce. But couldn't they please just report the facts--instead of asserting the exact opposite--when the data unequivocally show his approval ratings are falling? It doesn't seem like too much to ask.

January 17, 2004

The Saddam Capture Bounce: It's...It's Gone!

That must be the astonished reaction over at Bush-Cheney re-elect headquarters, as they scan the results of the latest CBS News/New York Times poll.

DR predicted that bounce would disappear pretty quickly, but this is faster than even he anticipated. Check out these approval figures.

Bush's overall approval rating in this poll is down to 50 percent which is lower than he was before Saddam's capture (52 percent)--in fact, matching the lowest figure recorded for Bush during his presidency.

His approval rating on the economy, which went up from a net -7 (44 percent approval/51 percent disapproval) to a net +6 (49 percent approval/43 percent disapproval) practically overnight with Saddam's capture has now returned to exactly where it was before: 44/51. His approval rating on Iraq, which skied from 45 percent to 59 percent with Saddam's capture has now dropped back to 48 percent. Similarly, his approval rating on foreign policy, which had bounced from 45 percent to 52 percent, is now back down to 47 percent.

More on this and other new polls tomorrow.

Note: DR is happy to report that the technical problem mentioned in the previous post has been fixed. Feel free to click away on anything that interests you on the right-hand nav bar.

Temporary Technical Problem

The ole Donk is sad to report a bit of a technical problem with the site. While the DR blog is fully functioning, most features on the right-hand navigation bar, like Public Opinion Watch, Join the Dialogue, all the stuff under The Strategy Center and so on just take you right back to the home page. This is not to annoy you!

EDM's crack technical team is working on this problem even as I write, so rest assured, we'll have it fixed very soon. Thanks for your patience....and, in the meantime, continue to enjoy DR over this very interesting political weekend.

January 16, 2004

The Emerging Democratic Majority in Paperback!

DR is sitting here with a spanking new copy of the EDM paperback and it looks great. Plus it's got a new afterword on the 2002 election that, in all due modesty, is pretty darn good. So if you haven't bought the hardback yet (heck--even if you have!), trot right over to Amazon and plunk down your $10.40 (amazingly cheap!) for a copy of the paperback today. (Note that Amazon lists the book as "not yet released", but DR's sources assure him that the book will be available very soon.)

To entice you still further, here's the beginning of the afterword:

Afterword: “The Enemy is Coming”
John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira

If the November 2002 elections had been held on September 10, 2001, the Democrats would have made impressive gains, increasing their one-seat edge in the Senate and probably winning back the House of Representatives. At the time, George W. Bush was seen as a weak and ineffective leader, who was most comfortable reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to schoolchildren. His approval rating was at 51 percent, dangerously low for a president in his first nine months. In addition, the Clinton boom had given way to a pronounced economic slowdown. Combine these factors with popular support for Democratic positions on social security, health care costs, the environment, and the economy, and you had a recipe for a Republican disaster. But nothing of the kind occurred. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Bush and the Republicans boosted their popularity and actually gained seats in both houses, narrowly winning back the Senate.

The GOP successes in November 2002 gave rise to new theories about a long-term Republican realignment. In the conservative Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes described an emerging 9/11 majority. “We are no longer an equally divided, 50-50 nation,” Barnes wrote. “America is now at least 51-49 Republican and right of center, more likely 52-48, maybe even 53-47. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, created a new political era, and the midterm election on November 5 confirmed it.” Barnes was certainly right about the Republican tilt of the election, but not about the “new political era.” The November 2002 elections represented the temporary revival of the older conservative realignment of the 1980s. September 11 brought to the forefront national security issues on which Republicans have enjoyed an advantage since the election of 1980; and Bush’s sure-handed performance in the months that followed ensured that this advantage would accrue to him and the Republicans in November 2002. But this advantage will persist only as long as Americans feel under attack and also feel that the Republicans are best able to protect them from attack. The 2002 election did not begin a new era, but unexpectedly prolonged an older one.

Pretty interesting, huh? So order a copy today.

Let's Calm Down About Those Iowa Polls, OK?

DR, like everyone else, has been following the latest polls out of Iowa with great interest. One can reasonably infer from these polls that the race is tightening, as, for example, the Zogby tracking poll indicates.

But, beyond this, the results of these polls should be treated with extreme caution.

The reason for this is simple: Any poll is only as good as its sample. In this case, the sample Zogby wants to draw, in an ideal world, is a sample of those Iowans who subsequently do show up at the Monday caucuses. Of course, they can't do this, so they proxy those voters by drawing a sample of "likely caucus-goers" using various screening questions to do so.

How good is this sample likely to be? As a general rule of thumb, the lower the expected turnout (and in Iowa it will be perhaps one-sixth of registered Democrats and 4-5 percent of the adult population) and the more complex the voting process (like, say, the Iowa caucuses), the less reliable a sample of this kind is likely to be. You just don't know you're getting the "right" voters, since the voters you're screening in may or may not be the ones who show up on caucus night.

In the end, the voters most likely to show up may be the ones who are organized into going by those with the best ground organizations (generally acknowledged to be Dean and Gephardt). That distinction won't (and can't) show up in the kind of polls being conducted by Zogby and others.

These problems are accentuated if turnout of caucus voters is unusually high on Monday, as some believe it might. This means the samples drawn by pollsters, which are based on historical turnout patterns, will reflect even more poorly the pool of actual voters who show up at the caucuses.

So, enjoy all the Iowa polling. But keep a big cellarful of salt handy to sprinkle over the results.

January 15, 2004

Karl Rove's Nightmare?

Readers may have thought DR was getting soft on Dean, what with his recent post on "Dean: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". Certainly, his old buddy, the Deanophobe thought so.

Maybe it's time to revisit Wes Clark, "Karl Rove's Nightmare", as Richard Cohen puts it in an interesting column today in The Washington Post. The latest ARG tracking poll has Clark only 5 points behind Dean in New Hampshire.

If Clark comes in second or even beats Dean in NH then he's probably really got a shot and the two person race many have predicted may emerge. We'll see. In the meantime, consider this quote from Clark that's in the Cohen column: "I don't think it's patriotic to dress up in a flight suit and prance around". Clark can say something like this with conviction and authority. Dean can't. And in what is likely to be a very tough election for the Democrats, they're going to need all the conviction and authority they can get in this area.

Call it the "flight deck test", a close cousin to the "Ohio test" (which candidate can carry Ohio?) Which candidate can most effectively hold Bush up to ridicule for his disgraceful flight deck "mission accomplished" episode? Let's face it: that man's name is not Howard Dean.

January 14, 2004

The State of Public Opinion

President Bush is preparing in his State of the Union address to tout his accomplishments in a number of areas, as well as offer some new initiatives. He will, of course, put the best possible spin on these accomplishments and insist that Americans are happy with those accomplishments and want to continue moving in the direction he has taken the country.

But there’s another side to the public opinion story here. In reality, Bush faces a public skeptical in important ways of what he has done and where he proposes to go. Here’s an issue-by-issue guide to this skepticism in key areas likely to be addressed by the president (polling data cited are the most recent available for a particular question).

Iraq

• Twice as many Americans (31 percent to 15 percent) believe the capture of Saddam will increase the threat of terrorism against the US than believe it will decrease that threat (CBS News/New York Times poll, December 21-22, 2003)

• More Americans (25 percent to 20 percent) believe the capture of Saddam will increase attacks on US troops in Iraq than believe the capture will decrease these attacks (CBS News/New York Times poll, December 21-22, 2003)

• Most Americans (53 percent to 43 percent) say we are not safer and more secure now that Saddam has been captured (Newsweek poll, January 8-9, 2004)

• More Americans (47 percent to 42 percent) believe the result of the war with Iraq was not worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq than believe it was (CBS News/New York Times poll, December 21-22, 2003)

• Americans overwhelmingly (70 percent) disagree with the statement that “the threat of terrorism has been significantly reduced by the [Iraq] war.” (Program on International Policy Attitudes poll, November 21-30, 2003)

• By a wide margin (61 percent to 24 percent), Americans say that U.S. priorities should be to focus on finding Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda members, rather than focus on dealing with Saddam and Iraq (CBS News/New York Times poll, December 21-22, 2003)

• Americans strongly believe (60 percent to 37 percent) that, given the goals versus the costs of the war, the number of US military casualties so far has been unacceptable (ABC News/Washington Post poll, December 18-20, 2003)

The Economy and Taxes

• The public overwhelmingly (81 percent) says that most Americans are not better off financially than they were in 2001. This includes 40 percent who say most Americans are not as well off and 41 percent who say they are in the same shape. Just 17 percent say most Americans are better off (ABC News/Washington Post poll, December 18-20, 2003)

• By 3:1 (54 percent to 18 percent), Americans say the country is financially worse off, rather than better off, than when Bush took office (Los Angeles Times poll, November 15-18, 2003)

• Over three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) say they personally are either not as well off (27 percent) or in about the same shape (50 percent) as when Bush took office. Only 22 percent say they are better off (Los Angeles Times poll, November 15-18, 2003)

• Most Americans (55 percent) think Bush is not spending enough time dealing with economic problems, compared to 42 percent who think he is (ABC News/Washington Post poll, December 18-20, 2003)

• Most Americans (68 percent) believe that Bush’s overall economic policies in the last three years have either made the economy weaker (43 percent) or had no effect (25 percent). Just 24 percent believe his policies have made the economy stronger (Los Angeles Times poll, November 15-18, 2003)

• Most Americans (55 percent) think the Bush tax cuts have either had no effect on the economy (35 percent) or mostly hurt the economy (20 percent). This compares to 41 percent who say the tax cuts have mostly helped (ABC News/Washington Post poll, December 18-20, 2003)

• Most Americans believe (58 percent to 34 percent) that spending on improving roads, bridges and schools, rather than returning money to taxpayers through tax cuts, would be the most effective way to stimulate the nation’s economy (Los Angeles Times poll, November 15-18, 2003)

• Bush has net negative approval ratings on both the economy and taxes: 46 percent approval/48 percent disapproval on the economy and 45 percent approval/47 percent disapproval on taxes (Newsweek poll, January 8-9, 2004)

Health Care

• 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 (ABC News/Washington Post poll, December 3-7, 2003)

• Seniors just barely say (46 percent to 39 percent) that they favor the new prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients–unusually low for a group that’s just received a new benefit (Gallup poll, December 5-7, 2003)

• Seniors overwhelmingly (85 percent) say that 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 (Gallup poll, December 5-7, 2003)

• A lop-sided majority of seniors (78 percent) also say they are very (58 percent) or somewhat (20 percent) concerned that these changes “benefit prescription drug companies too much” (Gallup poll, December 5-7, 2003)

• By more than 2:1 (59 percent to 28 percent), seniors think the new Medicare plan will do more to benefit prescription drug companies than Medicare recipients (Gallup poll, December 5-7, 2003)

• Despite the passage of the Medicare prescription drugs bill, Americans give Bush just a 37 percent approval rating on handling health care issues, with 50 percent disapproval. This is essentially unchanged since November, before the bill was passed (Newsweek poll, January 8-9, 2004)

• Americans give Bush the same low 37 percent approval rating on handling Medicare, with 47 percent disapproval. Here, too, his rating is essentially unchanged since before the bill was passed (Newsweek poll, January 8-9, 2004)

• By a wide margin (59 percent to 39 percent), Americans believe it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have health coverage (Gallup poll, November 3-5, 2003)

• Bush’s job rating on “the cost, availability and coverage of health insurance” is a truly abysmal 28 percent approval/63 percent disapproval (ABC News/Washington Post poll, October 26-29, 2003)

Education

• Two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) think the Bush administration’s policies have either made the nation’s schools worse (26 percent) or had no effect (41 percent). Just 23 percent believe these policies have improved the schools (CBS News/New York Times poll, September 28-October 1, 2003)

• The public overwhelmingly (84 percent to 14 percent) believes that the best way to judge a school’s performance is to see whether students show reasonable improvement from where they started, rather than whether they meet a fixed standard, as specified in the NCLB Act (Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll, May 28-June 18, 2003)

• By more than 2:1 (66 percent to 32 percent) the public does not think a single test, as in the NCLB Act, can provide a fair picture of whether or not a public school need improvement (Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll, May 28-June 18, 2003)

• The public also strongly believes (72 percent to 26 percent) that a single test cannot accurately judge a student’s proficiency in English and math (Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll, May 28-June 18, 2003)

• By a substantial 66 percent to 30 percent margin, the public believes that the current emphasis on standardized tests will lead teachers to “teach to the test”, rather than teaching their subjects (Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll, May 28-June 18, 2003)

• Americans strongly believe that teacher salaries are too low (59 percent) and that teachers should be paid higher salaries as an incentive to teach in schools that are identified to be in need of improvement (65 percent) (Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll, May 28-June 18, 2003)

• By almost a 50 point margin (73 percent to 25 percent), the public says we should focus on reforming the existing public school system, rather than trying to find an alternative to that system (Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll, May 28-June 18, 2003)

• The public strongly opposes (60 percent to 38 percent) allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense (Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll, May 28-June 18, 2003)

January 13, 2004

Bush Democrats?

David Brooks' piece in The New York Times today on "Bush Democrats" just isn't terribly convincing about the alleged political salience of this phenomenom.

Consider the kind of evidence Brooks brings to bear--chiefly about splits in the Democratic ranks on Iraq-related poll questions and unity among Republicans. But that kind of result depends on which Iraq questions you look at.

For example, CBS News recently found that 74 percent of Democrats thought the result of the war with Iraq was not worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq, compared to just 14 percent who thought it was. Pretty unified. And 68 percent of Republicans thought the Iraq war's result was worth cost, compared to 21 percent who didn't. Also pretty unified.

This kind of polarization is actually more common than not on polling questions these days--as many analysts have commented--and Brooks appears to have wilfully overlooked it in order to make his point.

Heck, you can even find examples that are the complete reverse of what Brooks points to. In the last ABC News poll, Democrats overwhelmingly believe (79 percent to 19 percent) that, given the goals and costs of the Iraq war, the level of military casualties has been unacceptable. But the Republicans, they're split! While 54 percent think the level of casualties has been acceptable, a healthy 40 percent think it has not.

So should we start talking about Dean (or Clark) Republicans?

DR doesn't think so, but it does suggest the problems with Brooks' logic and evidence.

Brooks also mentions that 20 percent of Democrats say they'll vote for Bush in a hypothetical Bush-Dean matchup, while Republicans are much more unified around their prospective nominee. But that's hardly suprising, given that Republicans know exactly who their nominee will be, while Democrats do not--in fact, many of them have not yet really focused on the upcoming presidential contest. In these circumstances, 20 percent support from Democrats is not all that impressive--especially given the unrealistically large lead Bush has in this particular horse race question (20 points). The race will wind up being a lot tighter and Bush's Democratic support will fall commensurately.

Finally, in the same poll cited by Brooks (the CBS News poll linked to above), just 11 percent of Democrats say they'd vote for Bush against "the Democratic candidate". That's probably a more reasonable estimate of Bush's current Democratic support. And how much support did Bush actually get from Democrats in 2000? You guessed it: 11 percent.

The more things change.....

January 12, 2004

Bush Doing Terribly with Hispanics

That's the real message of two polls of Hispanics recently released by the Pew Hispanic Center (PHC). Of course, some of the presss, in their typically bone-headed way, have played up the fact that in the second PHC poll, taken in early January, Bush polls better among Hispanics than he did in the first PHC poll, conducted in early December, before Saddam was captured.

Wow. That's a shocker. Bush got a bounce among Hispanics, just like he did among the general public. But does that mean he's in a "strong position" with Hispanics, as an AP story on these polls put it?

Hardly. A review of the data from the PHC polls indicates that Bush is in an amazingly weak position with Hispanics and, as his bounce dissipates, is likely to be facing a very skeptical Hispanic electorate during the 2004 election campaign.

Take the issue of Iraq. In the December 8-11 PHC poll, Bush's approval rating on Iraq among Hispanics was just 32 percent, with 57 percent disapproval. By comparison, in the public poll closest to the dates of the December PHC poll (CBS News/New York Times, December 10-13), Bush's approval rating on Iraq among the general public was 45 percent approval/47 percent disapproval.

In addition, Hispanics in the December PHC poll endorsed by 15 points the proposition that "the Bush administration deliberately misled the American public about how big a threat Iraq was to the US before the war began (53 percent to 38 percent). And a slight plurality of Hispanics (47 percent to 45 percent) said the US made "the wrong decision in using military force against Iraq". That compares to an analogous question in the CBS News poll mentioned above, where, by 64 percent to 28 percent, the general public said we did "the right thing in taking military action" and the exact same question in a mid-October Pew Research Center poll, where, by 60 percent to 33 percent, the public said we made the right decision in using military force against Iraq.

Finally, by 60 percent to 31 percent, Hispanics in the December PHC poll said the war in Iraq was not worth "the toll it has taken in American lives and other kinds of costs'. This compares to a 54 percent to 39 percent not-worth-it verdict among the general public on an analogous question in the CBS News poll.

In short, this poll documents that Hispanics, far from being patriotically enamored of the Iraq war, as has been erroneously asserted by some pundits, are actually far more critical of it than the general public. In fact, even in the January poll, since the post-Saddam capture increases in positive feelings about the Iraq situation among Hispanics are about equal to increases observed among the general public, Hispanics remain much more critical about Iraq than the public as a whole.

The same basic story can be observed in Hispanics' views about the economy: more negative views than the public as a whole before Saddam's capture, then an upward bounce in economic evaluations after Saddam's capture--but no larger an upward bounce than other polls have captured among the general public. As a result, despite the bounce, Hispanics continue to be signifcantly more negative than the public as a whole about the economy.

One last note on these polls. In the December poll, Bush's re-elect number among Hispanics was an abysmal 27 percent, compared to 56 percent for the Democratic candidate. That's a 29 point gap and with any reasonable allocation of undecideds that gap should, if anything, be considered wider. By comparison, in 2000, Bush received 35 percent support among Hispanics and lost them by 27 points.

And we're supposed to believe Bush is in a "strong position" with Hispanics? Maybe in some other universe.

January 11, 2004

Dean: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Democrats tend to have a hard time dealing with Dean in all his complex glory: the good (he's a terrific candidate in some ways and is helping remake the party in ways that are absolutely necessary); the bad (he's got a number of very serious political liabilities that might make it difficult to carry swing states like Ohio); and the ugly (not only that he's more likely than, say, Clark or Gephardt to get creamed).

One Democrat who doesn't have this problem is Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic. Cohn, a Dean supporter, is nonetheless well aware of his dark side, so to speak, and lays it all out in a terrific article, "The Case for Dean". Highly recommended.

For those Dean opponents who have a hard time seeing the ways Dean walks in the light, DR recommends Nick Confessore's article in the new Washington Monthly, "The Myth of the Democratic Establishment". Confessore shows how the Dean phenomenom is, in a sense, an inevitable response by the party rank-and-file to a party establishment and infrastructure that are not only not effective, they're barely even there. Thus, if Dean did not exist, the party, if it really wanted to move forward, would have to invent him.

But, of course, they don't have to. He's here and all Democrats should realize that, whether or not he gets nominated and, if nominated, whether or not he gets elected, his campaign has made a signal contribution to revitalizing the Democratic party. As for those who would have preferred he'd stayed in Vermont and never achieved such prominence--in the immortal words of Marion Barry: Get over it.

January 9, 2004

What Do Bush's Current Approval Ratings Mean?

The latest Gallup poll measured Bush's approval rating at 60 percent. How should we interpret this?

USA Today said on its website: "Bush Approval Rating Grows". Not reallly. In fact, compared to Gallup's last poll, his approval rating has actually declined by 3 points, giving back almost half of the bounce he received from Saddam's capture (a trend which DR predicted would quickly emerge unless the situation on the ground in Iraq improved dramatically--which, of course, it hasn't).

Well, but how about the fact, as Gallup points out, Bush's approval rating at this point is higher than recent presidents seeking re-election like Bush I and even Bill Clinton?

The problem here (even accepting the level indicated by Gallup, which has been running high relative to other public polls) is trend. Bush's 60 percent rating is being captured post-bounce, in the midst of a downward trend where most of that bounce could easily disappear. This, in fact, has been the pattern throughout the entire Bush administration--LiberalOasis calls it the "Bush Cycle"--where an approval spike generated by a Big Event (9/11, the invasion of Iraq, the capture of Saddam) is followed by a long period of decline where he loses support at the rate of 2-3 points a month.

If this pattern repeats itself, Bush's post-Saddam capture increase in his approval rating will vanish in another month or two and he'll be back at 50 percent and headed down in another couple of months (sooner in other polls because, again, Gallup's approval ratings have been running high).

If that happens, then Bush doesn't look so good. The last two presidents to get re-elected (Reagan and Clinton) had approval ratings that went up in the first half of the election year. The last two presidents to get defeated for re-election (Carter and Bush I) had approval ratings that went down over the same period. Which of these categories Bush II belongs to is likely to be more predictive of his fate than the current level of his approval rating.

January 7, 2004

Clark on the Move

No question about it, Wes Clark's campaign is starting to get some traction. First, he's moved past John Kerry into second place in the latest ARG New Hampshire tracking poll. Since December 26-28, Kerry has lost 6 points and Clark has gained 4, resulting in the switch in their relative positions.

And then the latest Gallup national poll has Clark closing the gap with Dean dramatically among Democrats and Democratic leaners. Right now, Dean is ahead of Clark by just 24 percent to 20 percent (and this is the first time Clark has been in the 20's since October 6-8). As recently as December 11-14, Dean was ahead of Clark by 21 points, 31 percent to 10 percent--so Clark has doubled his support in the last three weeks, while Dean has lost a quarter of his. And this last poll was taken before Clark's attractive tax plan was released and therefore does not reflect any boost he may be receiving from that announcement.

Not too shabby. A second place finish in New Hampshire and some victories on February 3 and he's off to the races.

In light of his progress, this seems a good time to review DR's November 1 recommendations on "How Clark Could Win the Nomination". How's he doing?

1. Work the Electability Angle. Check and double check, with the release of his tax plan.

2. Break Through in the South. That does indeed seem to be his plan and he appears to be in a good position to do so.

3. Go for the Noncollege Crowd. We lack good data here, but DR's sense is that Clark's support, especially relative to Dean, is drawn disproportionately from this group.

4. Go for independents and Republicans. We really lack good data here, but Clark is, in DR's view, positioning himself well to receive support from this not-insignificant bloc of Democratic primrary voters.

5. Work the Arithmetic. In terms of superdelegates, he isn't doing terribly well at this point. But, if Matthew Yglesias is right and superdelegates tend to follow the political winds, perhaps the time is now right for Clark to start lining up additional support from these quarters.

So far then, Clark seems to more-or-less be on DR's wavelength in terms of how he's conducting his campaign. Good luck to him. Wish, though, he had another signature issue besides his tax plan on the domestic front that could help wash away that "laundry list" feel one often gets from his domestic pronouncements.

Is that going to happen? Well: let's ask him!

(from an online chat earlier today on Clark04.com that DR participated in)

- Ruy Teixeira of "Donkey Rising" asks The tax plan you just released can fairly be characterized as a signature issue for your campaign. Is there another dometic issue you might give the same kind of treatment to? If so, what is it? Education (a personal favorite of mine)? Health care? Retirement?

- Ruy, I have so many issues that I feel strongly about....we're in a health care crisis, and I want to see us move our system into the promotion of wellness and good health, not just treating illnesses....we neeed comprehensive diagnoastic and preventive care. Then there's education, and I am an especially strong believer in preswchool education for all children, and we're going to make that happen...and then there's the problem of jobs, and this may be the biggest challenge of all...we simply have to create jobs in this country...and thus far we' are failing to create enough jobs....Alll that's important to me. Wes

DR'll take that as a "not really" or perhaps an "I know what you mean, but we haven't figured that one out yet". Sounds like the Clark campaign's got a bit of work to do in that department.

But, overall it's been a pretty darn good three weeks for Clark. And it'll be very interesting to see what happens next.

January 6, 2004

Deep in the Heart of Taxes

Wes Clark's receiving a lot of good publicity for his new tax plan. And well he should. It's a good plan that could go a long way toward addressing the Democrats' vulnerabilities on taxes and might prove quite popular with general election voters, who, DR has heard, tend to look favorably on middle class tax cuts.

Clark should also, of course, strengthen his electability case over Howard Dean with Democratic primary voters. Now, he not only has superior national security credentials but also a clear advantage over Dean on the tax issue.

Dean, for his part, seems determined to stick with his Mondale-ian insistence on taking back all the Bush tax cuts and therefore, in effect, raising taxes on the middle class. This is in spite of a boatload of polling evidence showing that, while rescinding all of the Bush tax cuts is quite unpopular--even with Democrats--repealing those for the rich and leaving the middle class tax cuts in place is viewed far more favorably.

Time for Dean to stop being stubborn on this one and embrace the kind of approach Clark is advocating. Middle class tax cuts: try 'em, you'll like 'em! And winding up like Walter Mondale--you wouldn't like that at all.

January 5, 2004

Reality Sets In

Yesterday, DR reported on data from the December 30-January 1 Time/CNN poll that suggest Bush's bounce from the capture of Saddam may already be evaporating. This should come as no surprise since the rate at which US and allied forces are suffering casualties has not declined since Saddam's capture. If anything, it has gone up. This is not exactly what the public had in mind.

Actually, signs of public unease with the effect of Saddam's capture on the Iraq situation and on the war on terror had already emerged before Christmas, according to the CBS News/New York Times poll. For example, right after Saddam's capture, those saying his capture would decrease attacks against US troops in Iraq outnumbered those saying his capture would increase such attacks by 24 percent to 19 percent. By December 21-22, those numbers had reversed: by 25 percent to 20 percent, the public felt attacks against US troops were more likely to increase than decrease. More dramatically, right after Saddam's capture, the number saying his capture would increase the threat against terrorism was about equal to the number saying his capture would decrease that threat. But, only a week later, twice as many were saying Saddam's capture would increase, not decrease, the terrorist threat (31 percent to 15 percent). And, intriguingly, by a wide margin the public said US priorities should be to focus on finding Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda members, rather than focus on dealing with Saddam and Iraq (61 percent to 24 percent).

Finally, other data from the Time/CNN poll suggest some of Bush's key vulnerabilities outside of Iraq continue unabated. For example, 57 percent of the public agree Bush is "out of touch with the problems people like you face in their daily lives", compared to 40 percent who say he is in touch (this indicator is more lop-sided among political independents: 60 percent to 37 percent). In addition, 57 percent believe Bush "pays too much attention to big business", compared to 35 percent who don't (63 percent to 29 percent among independents). And the majority of the public, for the first time, says Bush "hasn't paid enough attention to the country's most important problems" (52 percent), while 45 percent say he has the right priorities (54 percent to 42 percent among independents).

Perhaps the punditocracy was a bit premature in declaring Bush's re-election assured after Saddam's capture.

January 4, 2004

Is the Bush Bounce Already Over?

Hard to say until we see a few more polls, but it is interesting to note that the just-released Time/CNN poll, which was conducted December 30-January 1, has his approval rating at just 54 percent, only a couple of points over their mid-November poll. This poll be one of the first to reflect the public's realization that the capture of Saddam Hussein did not, in fact, end the war in Iraq, nor even appreciably reduce the amount of violence directed at US troops.

DR was also intrigued by the results of their re-elect question, which were closer than results on similar questions in earlier post-Saddam capture polls: 51 percent said they were very or somewhat likely to vote for Bush's re-election, compared to 46 percent who said they were very or somewhat unlikely to vote for him, with very unlikely (38 percent) being 5 points higher than very likely (33 percent). And, significantly, among independents, where Bush had been picking up some ground since the capture, those saying they are unlikely to vote for Bush's re-election (52 percent) now outnumber those who say they are likely to vote for him (46 percent). The former figure includes an astonishing 42 percent of independents who say they are very unlikely to support Bush's re-election, far higher than the 26 percent of independents who say their support is very likely.

January 1, 2004

How to Talk About Education

It's the new year and, with the holidays behind us, time to start posting again. So here goes.

DR was struck, in looking through the latest Washington Post poll, how poorly Bush is doing on the education issue. In this poll, his approval rating on education is down to 47 percent, 8 points lower than his late October rating and by far the worst of his presidency. And this rating is in mid-bounce, as it were, when most of his other domestic ratings have gone up at least a bit in response to the positive mood generated by Saddam's capture.

Why the poor education rating? Apparently the public is less than enthralled with the results so far of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, where states either tend to have huge numbers of failing schools or standards so loose that proficiency doesn't mean anything (exhibit A: Texas says that 85 percent of its fourth-grade students are proficient, yet the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the gold standard for student testing, says only 27 percent are). And, of course, nobody's got any money to improve the schools and fix problems because of almost universal state budget problems.

As DR has argued before, the policy train wreck the NCLB is fast becoming is potentially a huge liability for Bush and a big opportunity for the Democrats. But (and here's the tricky part), that's only going to be true if the issue is handled correctly.

The big problem for the Democrats will be resisting the temptation to simply denounce NCLB as a failure and leave it at that. That would be a big mistake. Polling data could not be clearer that the public supports holding schools accountable for meeting standards and does not wish to depart from such an approach. Therefore, Democrats must strenuously avoid appearing uninterested in holding schools to standards and only interested in more spending on education.

As with affirmative action, this is another clear case of "mend it, don't end it". Voters want to know how you're going to help students meet standards, not how you're going to discard standards and provide more resources to schools.

But, provided they maintain the public's commitment to high standards and stringent accountability, Democrats will find a receptive audience for proposals to give schools the resources they need to modernize to meet the needs of today’s students. That includes universal access to pre-school and after-school, a dramatic commitment to increased teacher quality and ensuring that every student can continue their education beyond high school. This, in turn, will mean changing the ways schools operate, recruit teachers and provide services. A modernization program on this scale will go far toward branding the Democrats as the party of the future, whereas giving up on standards and just calling for more spending will make them sound like the party of the past.