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February 26, 2004

Public Opinion on the No Child Left Behind Act

Sunday's New York Times had a fascinating article on the huge difficulties administration officials are having selling the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in rock-ribbed Republican Utah. To say they're getting a skeptical reception would be to considerably understate the case.

In light of this reception, which has been duplicated in numerous states around the country, Democrats may be tempted to run hard against NCLB and say, implicitly or explicitly, that it needs to be gotten rid of. A review of public opinion data on NCLB suggests they should resist that temptation.

Public opinion on public education has consistently shown that the public has a two point program for education reform: more accountability and more resources. The linkage between the two is neatly captured by a result from a 2001 Education Testing Service (ETS) survey. Respondents were asked what the best way to improve the quality of the public education was: more funding; accountability or both accountability and funding. The dominant response was both accountability and funding (48 percent), rather than simply more funding (25 percent) or accountability (23 percent).

In many ways, this was the premise of the bipartisan NCLB. Backers of the bill, who not only included the Bush administrion and its Congressional allies, but also Democratic liberals like Ted Kennedy and George Miller, maintained that the strict standards set by the law would be accompanied by increased funding that would help schools, particularly those with many at-risk students, meet those goals.

The public for its part, was also favorably disposed toward the bill in the period before its passage. The 2001 ETS poll, for example, reported support levels ranging from 58 percent (funds tied to performance) to 93 percent (funding for K-3 reading) for the very general provisions of the bill, with the emphasis on annualized testing scoring about in the middle of that range (76-78 percent). The poll also found, however, that a large chunk of the public–about two-fifths–did not have any real knowledge about the bill prior to being asked about it on the survey. A 2002 Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) poll, conducted roughly five months after passage of the bill, found similar support levels for NCLB’s general provisions, combined with the same lack of prior knowledge of NCLB among two-fifths on the public.

Since that period leading up to and right after NCLB’s passage, however, the bipartisan consensus around education policy has broken down. Critics accuse the NCLB of being inflexible and underfunded and constituting, in many ways, an “unfunded mandate” on the states. Recently, we have had the spectacle of Republican-dominated state legislatures in Ohio, Virginia and Utah severely criticizing the law and threatening to opt out of federal funding to avoid being subject to it.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to gauge how much public support for NCLB has actually shifted due to the lack of knowledge problem and due to the lack of consistent time series data (i.e., the lack of questions about NCLB that have been asked in the same way from passage of the bill to the current time period). However, there are certainly indicators that the public has serious problems with many specific aspects of NCLB implementation.

In terms of testing, the public, in a 2003 Gallup/PDK poll, overwhelmingly (84 percent to 14 percent) said 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. And, in the same poll, by more than two to one (66 percent to 32 percent), the public thought that a single test, as in the NCLB Act, cannot provide a fair picture of whether or not a public school needs improvement. The public also strongly endorsed the idea (72 percent to 26 percent) that a single test cannot judge a student’s proficiency in English and math accurately. And, in a January, 2004 Greenberg Quinlan Rosner/Tarrance Group/National Education Association (GQR/TG) poll, 67 percent agreed that the law was unfair because it labels schools as “failing”, if one group of students doesn’t do well on a test, even if the vast majority do; 71 percent agreed that some kids should be given more time to pass tests for their grade due to differing ability levels; and 89 percent supported a proposal to allow schools to evaluate students’ progress on a number of criteria in addition to standardized tests, including classroom performance and graduation rates.

In terms of sanctions and funding, in a January, 2004 CBS News/New York Times poll, the public, by 58 points (77 percent to 19 percent), opposed using the results of tests to withhold federal funds from those schools where students perform poorly. And over four-fifths (81 percent) in the GQR/TG poll wanted schools to be given more time before penalties are assessed if funding promised by the NCLB has not been given to these schools. In the same poll, by 60 percent to 38 percent, voters supported increased funding, rather than cuts, for schools that are not able to meet federal testing standards.

On the other hand, there is little evidence that the public rejects the law itself or wants to do away with it. General descriptions of the law, particularly its goals and broad emphasis on accountability, continue to elicit strong public support. But it seems fair to say that the public would be supportive of changes that would make NCLB more flexible and better-funded. That's the sweet spot for Democrats in criticizing NCLB--not opposing the act, but seeking to reform it in line with the public's twin commitments to effective accountability and more funding.

February 25, 2004

Bah! Who Needs Independents and Young People?

That appears to be the attitude of Bush's political team, given that the president has now announced his support for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. This move has been widely viewed as an effort to satisfy the GOP's conservative base and that judgement seems about right.

Why would the Bushies do this? Because they're very worried about fragmentation of the GOP base, as questions pile up about Bush's free-spending ways and deviations from the conservative agenda (e.g., the immigration bill). They can ill afford such fragmentation in a situation where the Democratic base is consolidating, swing voters are moving away from the GOP and Bush is running behind in trial heats against the probable Democratic challenger. Sure, the GOP spinmeisters talk a good game about how none of the polls really matter at this point; and of course the Democrats are running ahead what with all their free publicity at this point in the campaign cycle; and so on. But they know better.

In fact, it's quite unusual for an incumbent president to be running behind the challenger at this point in the cycle. According to a recent Gallup analysis, every incumbent president back to Harry Truman was leading their eventual opponent (and all other possible opponents) at this point in an election year with the lone exception of Gerald Ford in 1976. And of course, he lost.

So they're right to be worried. And shoring up your base by endorsing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is a natural reaction. But is it smart politics?

Probably not. In fact, it's exactly the sort of thing the Bush strategists wanted to avoid in an election year--having to cater to the conservative base and risk alienating swing voters in the process.

And alienate they will. The latest Newsweek poll shows that, while the public is split about evenly, a strong majority of the most volatile age group, those 18-29, supports either full marriage rights for gays or civil unions (58 percent to 36 percent opposition). Similarly, while a healthy majority (56 percent) of the public supports either full marriage rights for gays (23 percent) or leaving decisions on the issue to the states (33 percent) , rather than a constitutional amendment (39 percent), views among young people are positively lop-sided: 66 percent for full marriage rights or state decisions, compared to 30 percent for a constitutional amendment.

And then there are independent voters, the quintessential swing group. In just-released ABC News/Washington Post data, a question on a constitutional amendment vs. state decisions elicits an even split among the public as a whole, but a 58 percent to 35 percent majority against an amendment among independents. Similarly, an Annenberg Public Policy Center poll question about support or opposition to a constitutional amendment against gay marriage shows an overall 48 percent to 41 percent majority against an amendment, but a larger 52 percent to 37 percent majority against among independents.

So, this attempt to satisfy their base is likely to come at a price among other voters they need to win the November election. Of course, they will immediately seek to rebuild Bush's image as a tolerant, compassionate conservative, as they have done before, through speeches, gestures and other political tools they have at their disposal. But every move like this makes that rebuilding task a little bit harder. And the November election draws ever closer.

February 24, 2004

Deanism Without Dean?

Now that Dean has left the race and the Democratic nominee will either be Kerry or Edwards (probably Kerry), the temptation will be great to just forget about Dean's movement. Democrats who, six weeks ago, took Dean very seriously indeed now appear prepared to deny under oath that they ever did any such thing.

That would be a mistake. As a number of observers have pointed out, the fact that Dean couldn't secure the nomination doesn't mean the process of transformation he started within the Democratic party isn't needed. For a useful sampling of opinion along these lines, see the mini-symposium on Dean on the American Prospect website, with contributions by Michael Tomasky, Simon Rosenberg, Garance Franke-Ruta and Nicholas Confessore and the article in Salon.com by Joan Walsh.

A lot of these authors make the same couple of points in different ways. Here's the short course.

1. Dean did not make a real ideological or policy contribution to the party (though his willingness to stand up to Bush played a critical role in reviving the Democrats' fighting spirit). Confessore well-summarizes Dean's lack of ideological distinctiveness:

He put forward the least radical health-care proposal of any of the five major candidates running before New Hampshire. His ideas to expand federal aid for child care and college tuition were not much more than Clinton retreads. His best-known proposal -- repealing even the middle-class tax cuts passed by Congress in 2001 and 2002 -- was notably only for its stupidity, and he likely would have dropped it had he stayed in the race.

2. Dean's real contribution lay in the process by which his campaign operated, especially via the internet: recruiting enthusiastic volunteers; raising huge sums of money from small donors; and generating a "movement" level of energy at the grassroots of Democratic party. By doing so, he showed the party what it was missing and how hollow Democratic party organization had become.

Therefore, if the party is to maximize its chance of winning in 2004 and, especially, build an effective majority party for the future, it will have to internalize and further develop the organizing methods of the Dean campaign. In a sense, Deanism is now a "third force" in the Democratic party, not clearly tied to either the traditional liberals or the orthodox New Democrats of the DLC. Harnessing that third force is key to the Democrats' future; neither liberals nor New Democrats should delude themselves that things can now go back to the way they were. And, for that matter, neither should John Kerry--he will need the third force's help and plenty of it to beat George Bush.

February 23, 2004

Nader: The Only Thing to Fear Is Fear Itself

In DR's view, Democrats need to get over the obvious fact that Nader's decision to run for president is morally irresponsible, egotistical, betrays the progressive principles he's based his life on, etc. and look the truth squarely in the eye. This guy is irrelevant. He might as well team up with Ramsey Clark and run on the Workers World Party ticket for all the votes he's going to get. He's not going to get 2.7 percent of the vote, as he did in 2000, or even .7 percent of the vote, as he did in 1996. I think we're talking more like .27 percent of the vote, which will put him firmly in the list of splinter party also-rans whose votes are counted but have no real effect on the election. He will join the distinguished company of the American Independent Party, the Citizens Party, the National Alliance Party and, of course, the Libertarian Party, which has averaged a solid .38 percent of the vote in the last three elections. Indeed, as Mark Schmitt points out in an excellent post in The Decembrist, the Libertarian candidate in this coming election will have a more natural constituency on the right, given the distress with Bush among fiscally conservative and libertarian conservatives, than Nader will have on the left and may well outpoll him.

Why is this? Because the fundamental rationale for his candidacy--no difference between the two major parties, so it doesn't matter which one occupies the White House--has no plausibility on the left to anyone outside of, well, the Workers World Party. That's why the left activists and intellectuals who supported him last time are deserting him en masse, from the Green Party to The Nation. Nader will have no organization, no big-name supporters, no money and precious few volunteers. He's likely to fail to get on the ballot in many states and, even where he does, he's unlikely to get more than a handful of votes.

So: be not afraid. Nader will fail and fail big-time. And tell Ralph that Workers World is waiting for his phone call.

February 22, 2004

(New) Morning in America?

The latest Democracy Corps report is titled "New World: Bush in Peril". While Democracy Corps can sometimes be a bit over-optimistic in their poll interpretations, in this case their optimism seems justified.

In their latest survey, they find some significant evidence that the tide is turning. For example, they find that the Democrats now have a 5 point lead in party ID, a lead that first emerged in their polling five months ago and now seems solid. DR has been arguing for awhile that this was occurring and Democracy Corps is kind enough to credit him with correctly predicting the emergence of this trend.

The poll also finds that likely voters give Democrats a 7 point lead in a generic Congressional ballot and give Kerry a 4 point lead over Bush. In addition, by 13 points, voters say the country is off on the wrong track and by 8 points they say they want the country to go in a "significantly different direction" than the direction Bush is headed in. They also say they want to go in a significantly different direction in a wide variety of specific areas: by 32 points on the federal budget; by 25 points on health care; by 22 points on prescription drugs for seniors (more evidence that the GOP has lost the debate on the prescription drugs bill); by 22 points on jobs in America; by 15 points on the economy; by 11 points on taxes (another highly significant finding); by 10 points on creating more employment opportunities; by 9 points on income and wages; and by 9 points on middle class living standards. (For more detail on these sentiments, see Democracy Corps' recently-released report on focus groups with swing voters.)

Democracy Corps also finds that independents and voters in swing areas are moving rapidly away from Bush. In their Bush-Kerry trial heat, independents favor Kerry by 11 points, voters in swing states favor him by 6 points and voters in swing congressional districts back Kerry by 4 points. And, on the question about whether the country should go in a significantly different direction, independents favor a different direction by an impressive 23 points (60 percent to 37 percent), voters in swing districts favor a new direction by 11 points and voters in swing states want the same by 10 points.

The latest Newsweek poll has more on the increasingly chilly climate for Bush. The poll finds his approval rating at 48 percent, with 52 percent saying they would not like to see him re-elected, compared to just 43 percent who say they would (an all-time low in this poll for Bush). He also receives poor ratings on tax policy (45 percent approval/47 percent disapproval); the situation in Iraq (45 percent/44 percent); the economy (41 percent/52 percent); health care (37 percent/50 percent); and (a new and interesting question) job creation and foreign competition (32 percent/55 percent).

So, if it is morning in America again, it definitely isn't the kind that Ronald Reagan had (or proclaimed) in 1984. It's a new morning, whose results, both for the GOP and for the country as a whole (thank goodness), seem likely to be quite different.

February 21, 2004

The Times They Are A'Changin'

Several recent polls provide a wealth of information about how the political terrain is shifting against Bush and the GOP.

Start with the latest Pew Research Center poll. According to this poll, Bush's favorability rating has dropped from 72 percent last April to 53 percent today. And, when respondents were asked to supply a one word description of Bush, they were evenly split (36-36) between those who supplied negative or positive descriptions. That compares to almost a 2:1 split (52-27) in favor of positive descriptions last May. And the most common negative description today? “Liar”, which nobody even mentioned last May.

Bush's approval rating in the poll has fallen to 48 percent (down 8 points since mid-January), the lowest Pew has ever recorded. His approval rating in the last month has dropped has dropped 9 points among white women, 10 points among those 30-49 years of age, 11 points among women under 50, 11 points among white Catholics (a critical swing group), 12 points among high school graduates, 12 points among white non-evangelical protestants and 16 points among those in rural areas.

The Pew poll has Kerry and Bush tied in a trial heat question (47-47), while other current polls show Kerry ahead, but this is still quite a shift from Pew's mid-January poll, when Bush was ahead by 11 points (52-41) in a matchup with Kerry. Republicans haven't budged in the last month, while Democrats have consolidated behind Kerry in the trial heat question and independents have dramatically shifted away from Bush, going from 52-37 Bush to 51-41 Kerry, a swing of 25 points. Similarly, political moderates have gone from 49-43 Bush to 55-39 Kerry, a shift of 22 points.

Another huge shift has been among white non-evangelical protestants, who have gone from 57-36 Bush to 49-46 Kerry, a swing of 24 points. It's also interesting to note that Bush's current lead over Kerry among white men is 16 points--believe it or not, a sign of weakness. In 2000, Bush beat Gore by 24 points among this group.

Big shifts among independents can also be seen in changing evaluations of the political parties. Last June, independents gave the Democratic party a 55 percent favorable evaulation and the Republican party a 54 percent favorable rating. Now 65 percent of independents rate the Democratic party favorably, compared to just 50 percent favorable for the Republicans. And it is entirely because of this shift among independents that the overall public now rates the Democrats more favorably than the Republicans (58 percent to 52 percent).

It's also intriguing to note that independents rate the state of Massachusetts (76 percent favorable) more highly than the state of Texas (70 percent). Hmmm.

More on the shifting political terrain tomorrow.....

February 19, 2004

Is Edwards More Electable Than Kerry?

Poor John Kerry. First, he gets beat up for having so many people think he's electable. You see, that's just the "bandwagon effect" or, for those who wish to dress that point up in fancier intellectual clothing, it's an electoral "bubble", just like the run-up of the Nasdaq. To put it in the simplest possible terms, the reason people think he's electable is 'cause other people think he's electable. Of course, this dynamic is always an important part of any frontrunner's success, so criticizing Kerry for benefiting from the bandwagon effect didn't really have a lot of force. Things that are always true are....well, always true.

But, in the aftermath of the Wisconsin primary, the Kerry-doubters have shifted their line of attack to something with a bit more bite: hard evidence (in their view) that Kerry is less electable than the other viable Democratic candidate, John Edwards.

The basic rap couldn't be simpler and DR pointed out the factoid upon which the rap is based on Tuesday night: Edwards, as he has consistently done, performed much better among declared independents than among Democrats in the Wisconsin primary. And he not only performed better, he actually beat Kerry by a solid 12 points among these voters, 40 percent to 28 percent

Conclusion: since you need to reach independents, not just Democrats--who presumably would support either candidate--to win a general election, Edwards is clearly more electable than Kerry.

To which DR says: maybe. But then again, maybe not. Here are a number of objections which, taken together, suggest the Edwards electability thesis is not quite the irrefutable case that some Kerry-doubters seem to think it is.

1. Edwards may have beaten Kerry among independents in Wisconsin, as well as South Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee. But Kerry beat Edwards among independents in Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona, Delaware, Missouri and Virginia.

2. Independents who vote in the Wisconsin Democratic primary are likely to be fairly liberal. Therefore, just as you can argue that Wisconsin Democrats are likely to vote for either Kerry or Edwards, so are these kind of independents, once they are confronted with the choice between Edwards or Kerry and Bush. So Edwards' advantage over Kerry among Wisconsin independent Democratic primary voters does not necessarily imply a real advantage among the much larger universe of general election independents.

3. When it comes to general election independent voters, Edwards will not have the advantage of little press scrutiny and almost all favorable publicity, like he did in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin primary was a poor test of Edwards' ability to hold up under the spotlight, since the spotlight was almost all on his opponent.

4. General election independent voters, unlike independents in the Wisconsin primary, are likely to be quite sensitive to the national security issue and the credentials of the Democratic candidate to be commander-in-chief. Kerry has a huge advantage here over Edwards and it baffles DR that some observers are glossing this over. The ability of Kerry to highlight real combat experience and campaign with war veterans adds a great deal to the Democrats' ability to appear tough enough to defend the nation's security. Not to mention the implicit comparison with Bush's cushy, politically-connected, non-combat gig in the National Guard, a comparison which is unflattering for Bush, no mater what happens with the AWOL story. Independents who don't like Bush, particularly working class independents, are going to be looking for a way to feel safe about voting Democratic in this election. Kerry has a leg up over Edwards in his ability to provide the assurance.

5. Edwards may have done well among independents in Wisconsin, but, judging from the publicly-released exit poll data, it appears to have been mostly among upscale independents. The Democrat in the general election will have to do well among working class independents as well (not to mention keeping working class Democrats in the fold). Kerry actually has a good track record of support from working class, especially traditional blue collar, voters in Massachusetts. As Michael Crowley points out in an excellent article in the new issue of The New Republic, Kerry has repeatedly shown he can connect with those kinds of voters, where his military and combat experience and friendships with veterans loom large, even when other politicians and elites typecast him as aloof and out-of-touch.

6. In the latest CBS News poll, Kerry wins among all voters by 5 points, but among independent voters by 10 points. But isn't it true that voters don't like Kerry and don't cotton to him personally?

In the latest Time/CNN poll, by 68 percent to 28 percent, the public says that "likeable" applies to Bush, which is good....but not quite as good as the 69 percent to 18 percent by which public says that Kerry is likeable.

And look at other characteristics. In the latest Gallup poll, Kerry has a net rating (applies-doesn't apply) of +33 on being a strong and decisive leader, about the same as Bush's +32; a net rating of +38 on being honest and trustworthy, far higher than Bush's +13; a net rating of +20 on shares your values, compared to Bush's +7; and a net rating of +16 on "generally agrees with you on the issues you care about", compared to Bush's -3.

And check out this one: Kerry has a net rating of +57 on "did his duty for the country during Vietnam", while Bush's net rating on doing his duty is +2. +57 vs. +2. Wow.

Gallup also finds that 15 percent say Bush's actions when serving in the Guard make them less likely to vote for him, compared to 4 percent who say it makes them more likely. With Kerry, on the other hand, it's just the reverse: 19 percent say his combat experience in Vietnam makes them more likely to vote for him, compared to 2 percent say it makes them less likely.

So......Don't get me wrong, I like John Edwards. And it's certainly a respectable hypothesis that he is more electable than John Kerry. But, to put it mildly, I don't think the results of the Wisconsin primary put that hypothesis into the realm of established fact. Indeed, the alternative hypothesis, that Kerry is more electable than Edwards, seems just as plausible, if not more so, once you put those results in a broader context.

February 18, 2004

NASCAR Dads, Meet the Real Swing Voters

Gary Langer, ABC News polling director, has a very good article up on the ABC News website about the silly idea that "NASCAR dads" will be the swing vote that decides the 2004 election. Langer points out that the definitions of NASCAR dad vary wildly and--the fatal flaw--tend not to be swing voters, no matter what the definition. Here's what he came up with when he took the typical characteristics commentators have attached to this group and actually ran the numbers (!)

When we run data from our recent polls we find that married, middle- and lower-income white men account for a single-digit share of the national population, and support President Bush in precisely the same proportion as all white men. (Make it rural white men, and it goes down to low single digits.) And white men, particularly Southern white men, are a solidly Republican group, highly unlikely to swing anywhere, anyhow.

For good measure, we checked rural, suburban or small city married white men with children and incomes under $50,000 in the 2000 exit poll. They accounted for 2 percent of all voters, and supported Bush over Gore by 70 percent to 27 percent. You really want to call this a swing voter group?

Not over here in DR-land, Gary, we know better! And just to stick a fork in this one, here's what DR's favorite nonpartisan analyst, Charlie Cook, had to say on the subject:

But this business about the "NASCAR dad" being the swing voter group of the 2004 election, or any other national election, is one of the dumbest ideas I've heard in my 32 years in and around politics. In NASCAR fans, we are talking about an overwhelmingly white, disproportionately male and Southern electorate. It's also disproportionately working- and middle-class, and in the 30-39 year age bracket, the age group where Bush is strongest.

Don't get me wrong -- these are terrific, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth type people. But any group that is disproportionately white, male, Southern, working- and middle-class 30-somethings is not made up of swing voters.

You tell 'em, Charlie! So: who are the real swing voters? Back to Langer, whose simple definition is a thing of beauty.

In our view, a swing voter group ought to fit two basic criteria — its majority vote ought to swing between Democratic and Republican candidates from election to election; and it ought to be big enough to make a difference in the outcome.

Exactly. And one of the groups that fits this definition quite crisply is an old DR favorite: independent voters. Rather than wasting our time trying to figure out how to reach NASCAR dads, let's try to figure out where independent voters are coming from this year.

Fortunately, that isn't so difficult. We can just ask 'em. According to a just-released CBS News poll, independents give Bush a 46 percent overall approval rating, a 45 percent approval rating on foreign policy, a 46 percent approval rating on Iraq and a 40 percent rating on the economy. They think the country's off on the wrong track by 55 percent to 37 percent and they give Bush only a 41 percent favorability rating. By 52 percent to 40 percent, they don't think Bush has the same priorities for the country that they do.

They favor a generic Democratic presidential candidate over Bush by 48 percent to 38 percent and they also prefer John Kerry over Bush by the same margin.

By 53 percent to 42 percent, they're uneasy about whether Bush can make the right decisions on the nation's economy. About three-quarters think Bush administration policies have either decreased the number of jobs or had no effect and three-quarters also think his policies have either made their taxes go up or had no effect on their taxes.

In terms of foreign policy, 51 percent think Bush is "war president" because of the choices he made, not because world events caused him to be one (38 percent). By 52 percent to 39 percent they don't think the result of the war with Iraq has been worth the loss of life and other costs. In addition, 62 percent believe that either that Iraq was a threat the could have been contained or that it was not a threat and 61 percent believe the Bush administration either hid important elements or mostly lied about what they knew about Iraq's WMD.

Sounds promising. They're (a) real swing voters and (b) accessible to the Democrats in multiple and important ways. Who needs fake swing groups like NASCAR dads when you've got these kind of voters to work with?

February 17, 2004

Does Edwards Have a Chance?

Sure he does. Not a particularly good one, but a chance nonetheless. With his strong second in Wisconsin--at this point, 40 percent to 34 percent with 99 percent of the precincts reporting--he has defied expectations and damped Kerry's momentum, at least temporarily. The last pre-election poll had Edwards down 27 points to Kerry, so closing that gap to 6 points or so is a pretty amazing accomplishment.

And with Dean's distant third in the primary (at 18 percent), it seems likely he'll either drop out or become a complete non-factor anyway. If Edwards can pick up a disproportionate amount of Dean's erstwhile support, that help him turn this opening into a serious, rather than token, two person race (though note that in Wisconsin voters who said they had supported Dean in the past gave about the same number of votes to Edwards and Kerry).

That said, Kerry has now won 15 of 17 contests and leads Edwards by over 400 delegates, 608-190. And the latest CBS News poll, conducted February 12-15, has him trailing Kerry nationally by 53 percent to 7 percent among likely Democratic primary voters.

Of course, we all know how quickly momentum can shift against the national front-runner this campaign season--though the primary process is now so far along that such a shift is far less likely against Kerry than it was against Dean. Still, it's interesting to note that the Rasmussen national tracking poll of Democrats, for what it's worth, has Edwards narrowing the gap with Kerry from 51-18 to 43-25 in the last three days.

Looking at the exit poll results, there are many intriguing results, some of which make Edwards look good (though more as a general election candidate than a Democratic primary candidate), and some of which do not.

In terms of standard demographics, Kerry and Edwards pulled about the same amount of white support (37 percent), with Edwards doing slightly better among white men and Kerry doing slightly better among white women. But Kerry clobbered Edwards among both black voters (55-15) and latino voters (46-23).

Kerry also carried every income group up to $75,000 with his largest margins among the lowest income voters (50-22 among those with less than $15,000). But Edwards beat Kerry among those between $75,000 and $100,000 (41-34) and tied him among those with $100,000 and over.

Edwards also lost every education group up to some college, but tied among college graduates and carried those with a postgraduate education (36-32).

Consistent with these patterns on education and income, Edwards carried the 21 percent of voters who said their family financial situation had gotten better (37-30), but lost among the 75 percent of voters who said their financial situation had gotten worse (45-32) or stayed the same (39-36).

Looking at partisanship and ideology, Edwards, as he has consistently done, performed much better among declared independents than among Democrats. In fact, he managed to actually beat Kerry among independents, which he has not typically been able to do, by 40 percent to 28 percent. But he lost among Democrats (62 percent of voters) by 48 percent to 21 percent

Edwards also won among conservative voters (37-30) and just barely lost moderate voters (41-39). But liberal voters prefered Kerry, 41 percent to 30 percent.

Intriguingly, Edwards lost handily among those angry (43-28) or dissatisfied (44-37) with the Bush administration (82 percent of voters), but beat Kerry among the small numbers either satisfied (50-22) or enthusiastic (36-10) about the administration. Edwards also fared well among the 16 percent of voters who said the national economy was good (40-28), but lost among the 79 percent of voters who said it was not good (41-36) or poor (45-29).

Interesting! So the more overtly populist candidate got the happy camper vote and lost those most dissatisfied with the way things are going. And then to deepen the puzzle, Edwards carried economy and jobs voters (46-35), the single largest group of issue voters, at 41 percent, but lost by wide margins on all the other top issues: health care, Iraq, education and taxes. So one would infer that the economy and jobs voters tended to be disproportionately well-off and satisfied with the state of the country. Whodda thunk it?

One last thought: some commentators are opining that Edwards did well because, like Iowa, Wisconsin has this large and significant group of rural and small town Democratic primary voters. But Edwards actually lost to Kerry 44-33 in rural areas and 41-34 in small towns. His real attraction apparently was in suburban areas, which he carried 39 percent to 35 percent and in small cities, which he narrowly lost 37 percent to 35 percent.

Much food for thought. And perhaps for a more interesting and competitive race for the next few weeks than many--including DR--had believed possible.

February 16, 2004

Why Economic Growth May Not Be Enough

Historically, incumbent presidents have fared well when economic growth numbers were good and not so well when they weren't. That's why, when economic growth in the third quarter of last year came in at a sizzling 8 percent annualized rate, pundits were quick to pronounce Bush's re-election a sure thing.

Since then, economic growth has subsided, but still came in at a solid 4 percent rate in the fourth quarter of last year. Most economists expect this kind of reasonably good growth to continue. By the standards of most economy-based election forecasting models, this should be good enough to give Bush the election.

But will it? DR has previously written on the foibles of these election forecasting models and their spotty track record. And here is a very interesting analysis released by Gallup, based on their latest poll, that goes into some detail about how the jobs issue continues to bedevil Bush, even as the growth rate has improved. The key findings are:

1. The public thinks Bush's economic policies do matter. Nine in ten think the president's policies affect national economic conditions and 8 in ten think his policies affect their own personal economic situations.

2. The number of people mentioning some aspect of the economy as the top national problem has started to increase again. That number has now reached 46 percent, including 20 percent who specifically mention unemployment or jobs. The latter figure is twice as high as a year ago and the highest figure for unemployment/jobs as the top national problem in 10 years.

3. Consumer confidence in the economy is declining again. In the last month, there has been a 10 point decline in the number saying current economic conditions are "good" or "excellent" and a 5 point increase in the number saying they are "poor". There has also been a 13 point decline in those who say economic conditions are getting better and a 13 point increase in those who say they are getting worse.

4. Bush's approval rating on the economy--consistent with other national polls--has slipped to net negative (45 percent approval/52 percent disapproval) after being net positive (54/43) a month ago.

Conclusion: weak job growth is dragging down Bush's image on the economy, despite the pickup in overall economic growth. Therefore, economic growth is unlikely to be enough, by itself, to lift Bush to re-election.

Corollary: the Democratic position on jobs in 2004 will be key. You can check out Edwards' position on jobs here and Kerry's position on jobs here. Both Edwards' and Kerry's approaches seem reasonable enough as far as they go, but a bit scattered and difficult to summarize in a crisp fashion. And both give relatively short shrift to infrastructure spending and put fairly heavy emphasis on tax incentives for manufacturers and getting tough on trade. It seems to DR that reversing the relative emphases here might be desirable given the easily-understood connection between infrastructure spending and job creation, particularly of non-manufacturing jobs. Non-manufacturing jobs, after all, are the overwhelming proportion of jobs in the United States and the kind of jobs most American voters hold. If Democrats hope to capitalize effectively on the jobs issue, they need to be responsive to that reality.

February 15, 2004

Name That Theme!

Jim VandeHei had a useful article in The Washington Post today on how the Democrats intend to run in 2004. The article's title is "Democrats will try a hybrid of old, new themes", which seems fairly accurate. Kerry and congressional Democrats will run on keeping Bush's tax cuts for the middle class, but repealing Bush's tax cuts for the rich; keeping the No Child Left Behind Act, but making it more flexible and better-funded; keeping the Medicare prescription drugs bill but using government purchasing power to drive down drug prices; expanding health care coverage but gradually by building on existing programs; and so on.

This all seems pretty sensible and fits in with a strategy of both motivating the virulently anti-Bush Democratic base and reaching out to more moderate swing voters. It seems a little challenged in the Big Ideas department, though. Who, after all, can get excited about voting for a "hybrid", to use VandeHei's term? Voters are interested in where you intend to take the country, not that you have thoughtfully synthesized the old and the new, however sensible that synthesis may be.

So there's definitely more work to be done here. Otherwise, as Ron Brownstein explains in his article today in The Los Angeles Times, the Democrats are likely to simply sprinkle economic populism on top of whatever hybrid program they have and hope that voters are in the right kind of mood on election day.

DR thinks the Democrats can do better. So the floor's open: what should the Democrats' grand theme(s) be this campaign season? Kerry may still be wrapping up the nomination, but the sooner we all start thinking about this, the better.

February 13, 2004

A Question of Trust: Part Deux

On February 9, DR reviewed results from the latest CNN/Time poll which suggested that the bond of trust between Bush and the American public is undergoing serious erosion. Today, we have results from the just-released ABC News/Washington Post poll which show the same thing, only more so.

By 12 points (54 percent to 42 percent), the public now thinks the Bush administration intentionally exaggerated its evidence that Iraq had WMD. And, by 53 percent to 35 percent, the public thinks the issue of how the administration used intelligence is more important than the accuracy of the intelligence they received.

And here are some very significant figures: just 52 percent now think Bush is "honest and trustworthy", compared to 45 percent who don't. That's down from a 70/26 split on the same question right after the 2002 elcections. And even on "is a strong leader", he is now at 61 percent yes/38 percent no, a considerable drop from a 74/25 split on the question in April of last year, after the US army took Baghdad.

Speaking of the war in Iraq, the poll finds more people saying the war was not worth fighting (50 percent) than say it was (48 percent). This is the first time this question has been net negative and is down from a 70/27 split in favor of the war being worth it in late April of last year. This is a particularly significant finding since the Post question, as with a recent Gallup finding, makes no specific mention of the costs of war (lives, money, etc.).

Turning to Bush's approval numbers, the poll, as DR mentioned yesterday, has his overall rating down to 50 percent, with 47 percent approval. Now, since the Post poll generally runs 5 points or so higher than other public polls on his approval rating (recent example: in the middle of last month, the Post had his approval rating at 58 percent while everybody else was around 53 percent), this suggests his approval rating is really tanking.

On Iraq, his ratings have taken a huge hit, down from 60 percent approval/39 percent disapproval in the middle of last month to 47 percent approval/52 percent disapproval now. That means he's gone from a net +21 to a net -5, a swing of 26 points, in less than two months.

His other approval ratings are also poor, with the exception of handling the US campaign against terrorism, where he still gets 64 percent approval (though even that's down 15 points from late April of last year). For example, his rating on the economy is down to 44 percent approval/54 percent disapproval. That's hardly a surprise when 85 percent of the public says most Americans are not better off financially than they were when Bush took office.

In addition, his rating on education is down to 47 percent approval/45 percent disapproval (by far his worst rating ever in this area), his rating on creating jobs is a horrendous 38 percent disapproval/57 percent disapproval land and on the "cost, availability and coverage of health insurance", he is scraping the bottom with a rating that is net negative by 30 points (32/62).

No wonder John Kerry is faring so well when matched up against Bush these days. He's preferred over Bush by 18 points on the cost, etc. of health insurance, by 14 points on creating jobs, by 9 points on education and by 8 points on the economy. And in the two areas where he currently trails Bush, the situation in Iraq and the US campaign against terrorism, he is actually doing quite a bit better than the Democrats were doing in matchups with Bush in the middle of last month (Kerry v. Bush, of course, wasn't being asked at the time)

On Iraq, Democrats were trailing Bush by 20 points last month; Kerry trails by only 7 points (48-41). And on the campaign against terrorism, Democrats were trailing by 29 points and Kerry trails by only 16 (53-37).

Finally, as mentioned yesterday, Kerry leads Bush by 9 points among registered voters in an election trial heat (52-43). Ah, but does this really mean Kerry's electable or are voters just talking themselves into something, as New Republic writers believe it is their mission in life to point out? (What's next--Diary of a Kerry-o-phobe?)

DR will tackle this controversy in a future post. For the time being, however, he says to these sourpusses: turn those frowns upside down! Good news is good news and positive signs are positive signs. Sometimes the simplest explanations are the best (remember Occam's razor?): Bush is vulnerable and Kerry could beat him (though obviously it's a long way to November, blah, blah, blah).

OK: end of sermon. Now TNR can get back to pointing out what fools the voters are and how equally foolish the rest of us are for taking them seriously.

February 12, 2004

When All Else Fails, There's Always Gay Marriage

Rick in Casablanca said "We'll always have Paris". Less charmingly, the Republicans seem to believe that, whatever bad things are happening to them, they'll always have the gay marriage issue to fall back on. Hence, the president's eagerness to trot out his support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage at a time when his credibility is taking hit after hit, from AWOL to WMD.

How justified is their confidence in the political elixir of gay marriage? In DR's view, not much.

Start with public views on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Recent polls tend to show that, while the public is opposed to legalizing gay marriage, it is evenly divided on the question of a consitutional amendment. The latest Gallup poll, for example, has it dead-even, 47 percent for/47 percent against. Interestingly, that split is actually a little bit more favorable than it was in July of last year, the last time Gallup asked the question, when 50 percent said they were in favor of an amendment, with 45 percent opposed.

The Gallup poll also finds that the issue of same-sex mariage ranks dead last--14th of out of 14--in a long list of issues respondents were asked to evaluate for their importance in affecting their presidential vote.

The latest Newsweek poll also finds the public about split on a consitutional amendment--47 percent for and 45 percent against. But political independents, consistent with a long-standing pattern of relative liberalism on gay rights issues, are substantially more liberal than the public as a whole: they oppose a constitutional amendment by 53 percent to 40 percent.

Other polling data show that independents are also more liberal the the public as a whole on same-sex civil unions (which they tend to support) and on legalizing gay marriage (where they are split about evenly).

But if independents are a problem with this particular line of GOP attack, young voters are even more so. Their views are gay rights issues are conspicuously and unambiguously liberal. For example, even on the contentious issue of gay marriage, young Americans (18-29) favor allowing such marriages by 13-20 points in recent polls.

What this means, of course, is that attempts by the Bush campaign to inflame the issue of gay marriage around a constitutional amendment are virtually guaranteed to alienate large numbers of independent and young voters, when both critical groups of voters, as DR as repeatedly argued, are already leaning Democratic. To reach these voters, without whom Bush will have a difficult time winning re-election, the Republicans needs to shore up Bush's image as a tolerant, compassionate conservative not damage it even further.

And what if the Democrats counterattack by saying that a national constitutional amendment is unnecessary and punitive and that states should make their own laws on the issue (as vice-president Cheney, who has a gay daughter has famously advocated)? Then the GOP difficulties on the issue intensify because, according to a January ABC News/Washington Post poll , the public supports the state law approach over the national constitutional amendment approach by a 58 percent to 38 percent margin. And that margin is 60 percent to 38 percent among independents and more than 2:1 (67 percent to 32 percent) among 18-29 year olds.

In short, they may find the gay marriage elixir just gives them another headache.

Note: The just-released ABC News/Washington Post poll, which typically runs high on Bush's approval rating, has his job rating down to 50 percent and has him losing to Kerry by 9 points among registered voters. More on this poll tomorrow.

February 11, 2004

GOP Worried Sick about Health Care

A Tuesday article in The Wall Street Journal highlighted the huge difficulties the GOP is having getting political traction from their passage of the Medicare prescription drugs bill. The idea of course was to steal a traditional Democratic issue by providing a new drug benefit for seniors through Medicare. The provision of such an expensive new entitlement, GOP strategists believed, would burnish Bush’s “compassionate conservative” credentials and immunize him against the charge he is only willing to spend money on the rich.

It hasn’t worked out that way. The bill was certainly expensive ($400 billion over 10 years, an estimate the Bush Administration increased to $540 billion after the bill was passed), but not because it was particularly generous. A senior with $5,000 in drug costs will wind up paying about $4,000 of that total bill out-of-pocket. The real reason for the expense was the GOP’s refusal to use the potential bargaining power of the government to hold the prices charged by powerful pharmaceutical companies. In fact, not only did the bill include no cost containment provisions, it actually made it more difficult for US citizens to buy their drugs from Canada, where drug prices are substantially lower.

All this, combined with structural changes to make it easier to move beneficiaries out of traditional Medicare into more restrictive HMOs (health maintenance organizations), has ensured the bill’s stunning lack of popularity, especially among seniors. For example, in an early January Gallup poll, 62 percent of seniors (compared to 53 percent among the population as a whole) said that the new presciption drug benefit did not go far enough. And in a December Gallup poll, seniors, by more than 2:1 (59 percent to 28 percent), thought the new Medicare plan will do more to benefit prescription drug companies than Medicare recipients.

Because of this poor reception, Bush’s approval ratings on health care, Medicare and even prescription drugs for seniors remain abysmal–in the 30's–and have barely budged since the bill passed. And those ratings are uniformly worse among seniors than among the population as a whole. Bush and the Republicans also continue to trail the Democrats by wide margins on questions about who can do a better job handling health care issues. That includes prescription drug benefits for seniors; the cost, availability and coverage of health insurance; and health care generally.

Perhaps the most serious point of vulnerability for the Republicans in this whole area is health care costs. Poll after poll shows that the most serious health care worry for voters is costs and that, in fact, concern about health care costs is either at the top or near the top of voters' economic worries. The general perception is that these costs are out-of-control and are more likely than any other factor to suddenly bankrupt or impoverish a family.

In this regard, the probable nomination of John Kerry by the Democrats deepens the Repubublicans' problems. Not only do they have nothing to say that seems remotely plausible about this problem, Kerry has quite a bit to say and most of it makes pretty good sense. You can read a description of his health care program here, which includes some very interesting cost containment measures.

Kerry, as you can see from the above link, is making a particular effort to target the "worried insured" which, in DR's view, is entirely the right approach. If health care plays a significant role in this election--and it should--it will be because the worried insured break decisively in favor of one of the candidates. Kerry wants to be that candidate.

To some extent, he may already be that candidate. Compared with Edwards, for example, he has talked more about health care and more explicitly targeted insured voters. And in every primary so far, he has done disproportionately well among voters who say their most important issue is health care (for example, 62 percent to 25 percent for Edwards among Virginia health care voters).

It must have seemed such a brilliant stroke to the Republicans when they rammed that Medicare bill through the House. Reality, alas for them, has gotten in the way.

February 10, 2004

Kerry (Yawn) Wins Again

The pre-election polls in Virginia and Tennessee suggested neither race would be close and they weren't. Kerry won both easily, though his margin was wider in Virginia (25 points) than Tennessee (15 points).

Edwards placed second in both races with about the same percent of the vote (26-27 percent). Clark placed third in each (a close third in Tennessee and a weak one in Virginia) and is apparently going to withdraw from the race.

The exit polls can be found here on the CNN site, but they aren't really of much interest. You've seen it all before: Kerry is viewed as most electable by a wide margin and rolls up huge margins among the large segment of voters concerned with electability; Edwards on the other hand, does better among voters concerned with qualities like "cares about people" and "having a positive message". In fact, Edwards actually beat Kerry among voters who said these qualities were important in both states.

But is that enough for Edwards to mount a real challenge to Kerry, even with Clark dropping out? Nah. This very interesting Democratic primary battle is drawing to a close. And the really big battle is coming up. Whoever your horse was in the primaries, it's just about time to let that go and concentrate on helping John Kerry beat Bush.

Can Kerry do it? Sure he can--but only if the party unites behind him. Let's try to make that happen and we can argue later about whether he was or was not the ideal nominee.

February 9, 2004

A Question of Trust

Can Bush be trusted? DR doesn't think so. You probably don't either. But, much more importantly, that's what American voters, especially swing voters, are starting to think. If that sense of trust continues to deteriorate, Bush will be, as his father might put it, in "deep doo-doo", since he will have little to fall back on in explaining his increasingly unpopular policies.

Here are some illustrative findings from the latest Time/CNN poll. In this poll, just 44 percent say Bush is "a leader you can trust", compared to 55 percent say they have "some doubts and reservations". Critically, this gap widens to a yawning 23 points among political independents: only 38 percent trust him, while 61 percent have doubts and reservations.

The poll also asks about a series of issues and whether respondents do or do not "in general" believe what Bush says about these issues. With the exception of "the war on terrorism" (31 percent don't believe/66 percent believe), the public is now serious split about Bush's credibility in key areas: the state of the economy (44 percent don't believe/49 percent believe); the federal budget deficit (43 percent/48 percent); Iraq's WMD programs (note usage picked up from White House!) prior to the war (47/47); and the cost of rebuilding Iraq (45/46).

Independents in every case are even more skeptical of Bush. And on Iraq's WMD "programs" and the cost of rebuilding Iraq, they don't believe him by fairly wide margins (53-41 and 52-36, respectively).

In addition, the poll asks respondents to evaluate both Bush and John Kerry on a wide range of personal characteristics. It is striking that Bush--a president said to have benefitted greatly from a strong personal bond with the American people--does little better than Kerry on many of these characteristics and frequently worse. Of course, Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, will come under increased scrutiny as the campaign unfolds, but he starts with a better image, and Bush with a worse one, than many would have thought possible just two months when Saddam’s capture was dominating the news.

For example, by only an 11 point margin (53 percent to 42 percent), the public say "honest and trustworthy" applies to Bush. But they say the same thing about Kerry by 36 points (56 percent to 20 percent).

Or here's an interesting one: 39 percent say "did his duty for the country during the Vietnam war" applies to Bush, compared to 40 percent who say it doesn't , with independents having an even more negative 34/43 split on this question. Kerry, on the other hand, gets an overwhelmingly positive evaluation, 60 percent to 15 percent.

Kerry also does well on "cares about the average American", which 64 percent of the public thinks applies to him, compared to 20 percent who don't, a 44 point margin. Bush only gets a narrow 8 point margin on the same question (53 percent/45 percent) and independents are actually negative by 4 points on whether this characteristic applies to Bush (46/50).

Americans are also convinced that Bush is "too tied to special interests": by 17 points, (55 percent to 38 percent) they say that description applies to Bush and independents endorse that judgement by 24 points (58 percent to 34 percent). Kerry, however, has more saying that description doesn't apply to him (42 percent) than say it does (31 percent).

Almost half the public (47 percent) now says "too extreme in his political views" applies to Bush, while 48 percent say that doesn't (independents are slightly more negative at 48 percent applies/46 percent doesn't apply). But only 29 percent say too extreme applies to Kerry, compared to 52 percent who say it doesn't.

Bush, of course, continues to have some areas of advantage over Kerry--being "a strong and decisive leader" and "can handle the war on terrorism"--but it is interesting to note that one of them is not being "likeable". By 68 percent to 28 percent, the public says that characteristic applies to Bush. But by 69 percent to 18 percent the public also says that characteristic applies to Kerry.

So, the public doesn't trust Bush much anymore and doesn't have the warm personal regard for him they once did. That means he'll increasingly have to sell his policies to the American public on their merits.

Judging from his recent efforts to do so, this is likely to be, shall we say, challenging. Very challenging.

February 8, 2004

Is Bush Getting Perhaps Just a Trifle Defensive?

His performance in his Meet the Press interview certainly seemed that way. Based on the latest Newsweek poll , that defensiveness is easy to understand. His approval rating in the poll is down to 48 percent with 45 percent disapproval, the worst rating of his presidency.

In addition, for the third straight time in this poll, more say they don't want to see him re-elected (50 percent) than do (45 percent). Moreover, he's on the wrong end of an intensity gap: 45 percent strongly don't feel he should be re-elected, compared to 37 percent who strongly feel he should.

Also for the third straight time, John Kerry leads Bush in a head-to-head matchup, this time by 5 points (50 percent to 45 percent), his biggest lead yet.

DR's not sure Democrats are psychologically prepared to deal with all this clear evidence of Bush's vulnerabilities and the very real possibility that he could be beaten in November. In some ways, it's easier to fall back on the gloomy assumption that Rove and the rest of the GOP machine will find some dirty, but clever, way to deliver the election for Bush, no matter how unpopular he starts to get.

Time to ditch this ridiculous outlook. Rove is certainly a good operative and the GOP machine is well-organized and funded. But fundamentally, they have to play with the political hands they're dealt. For awhile those hands were amazingly good, which helped the Rove machine look almost magical in its effectiveness. But now their hands are getting worse which will make the Rove machine look progressively less effective and way short of magical.

In other words, hard work, smart politics and a willingness to play hardball may be all Democrats need to beat these guys. No supernatural intervention, contrary to the beliefs of some, will be required.

February 6, 2004

Zounds! He's Gone Net Negative!

The latest Ipsos/Associated Press poll has Bush's approval rating down to 47 percent, with 50 percent disapproval. That's down from 56 percent approval just a month ago. Apparently, his drop in support has been largest among older voters, those in the Midwest and political independents.

In addition, just 37 percent say they would vote to re-elect Bush, compared to 43 percent who say they would definitely vote against him. That's down from 41 percent definitely re-elect to 33 percent definitely vote against a month ago. And political independents by 2:1 now say they will defiiniely vote against Bush, rather than for him.

Bush's approval rating on the economy has also fallen to 44 percent, down 9 points from early January. There has been a similar decline in those willing to say the country is going in the right direction, falling from about half to four in ten.

Let me close with a quote that had ole DR wiggling his long ears appreciatively:

"I think he's run the country into the ground economically, and he comes out with these crazy ideas like going to Mars and going to the moon," said Richard Bidlack, a 78-year-old retiree from Boonton, N.J., who says he voted for Bush in 2000. "I'm so upset at Bush, I'll vote for a chimpanzee before I vote for him."

By George (or Richard), I think he's got it!

February 5, 2004

Once Again on the Southern Question

Two conservative titans, Bob Novak and George Will, faced off today in the op-ed pages of The Washington Post on the southern question: do or do not the Democrats really need the south? And the winner was......George Will. He pointed out, correctly, that the Republicans won many presidential victories in the years after 1880 while winning few southern electoral votes and frequently none at all. Therefore, the idea you need the south to win presidential elections is ahistorical and ignores the changing regional bases of the parties. (Ignore, however, Will's bizarre contention that the realignment of the south toward Republicans in recent decades had nothing (!) to do with race.)

Novak, on the other hand, relied on that old chestnut "no Democrat has been elected president without winning at least five states of the Confederacy", including Bill Clinton. But as David Lublin and Tom Schaller point out in their excellent article on The American Prospect website, it's also true that Clinton would have been elected anyway without any of those southern states.

The logic of this--a Democrat that can win five southern states will almost certainly not need to win them because of electoral strength outside the south--has been well expressed by a frequent commenter on this site and DR thought he'd just reproduce Frankly0's comment here (originally offered in response to DR's post on "The Nonsouthern Strategy"):

One basic difficulty posed by the south can be expressed as follows. On the one hand, if the Democratic candidate wins even a single southern state, he will, almost certainly, ALREADY have won the election on the basis of other, non-southern states he will have won even more handily. On the other hand, if the Democratic candidate fails to come close to winning in ANY southern state, he almost certainly will NOT have won enough non-southern states to win the election. In this sense, it is a serious mistake simply to ignore the sensibilities of all Southern voters, because for a good number of them, those sensibilities are not terribly different from large segments of voters in other regions. It is this consideration that exposes the real danger of "kissing off" the South -- namely the deviation into a message far too much to the left to win the general election.

I think that the suggestion to craft the democratic message to appeal, for example, to people in Ohio (where Ohio is really a stand in for a much larger region, and a much larger segment of voters across the US) is exactly right. Such a message would have to be a moderate one, and would also appeal to a large number of voters in the South, if not enough to win a single southern state. And this competitiveness in the South would have the desired effects of making the way far easier for down ticket Southern Democrats.

Focusing on a state like Ohio, or, more precisely, the composition of voters it represents, allows the Dem candidate to simplify and sharpen his message -- absolutely critical to the success of that message. The fatal flaw in paying too much attention to electoral math is that it tends to fragment and complicate a message, and a complicated message never gets through. It makes sense to tailor a message to broad segments of the American electorate, but too much attention to very localized issues will only confuse and stupefy the average voter.

If a candidate's message is simple, direct, and appeals to broad segments of the American electorate including most voters in Ohio, then there will be a "rising tide" effect that will increase the candidate's votes in ALL states, even if that increase is not enough to win in a good number of them.

Exactly. Don't forget the south, but the way to the south lies outside it, in states like Ohio. Or to put it in Zen terms: you can't hit the (southern) target if you're aiming at it.

Point of clarification: The definition of south DR uses is the 11 states of the Old Conderacy: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Some add Kentucky (like Novak above, who would have five states, not four, in his little factoid if he didn't include Kentucky). Others add Oklahoma. And there are even those who, in a Mason-Dixonish mood, add West Virginia, Maryland and DC. But the Old Confederacy 11, in DR's view, is basically what the argument is about and it is there he shall stick.

February 4, 2004

Let There Be Peace in the Valley

And there just might be. One of the great virtues of Dean's flame-out in this race is that the leading candidate for the nomination, Kerry, and the possible, though not very likely alternative, Edwards, are both candidates who are basically acceptable to all wings of the party, especially the traditionally feuding New Democrat and liberal wings.

It wasn't so long ago (a month?) that the DLC was launching polemic after polemic against the dread forces of Mondale-McGovernism (chiefly Dean and maybe Gephardt too if they were in a particularly surly mood) which were taking over the Democratic party and leading it down the road to perdition and certain defeat. Never mind that there was a lot more to Dean and Deanism than that--the battle was joined and all the players reported to their appointed places to cudgel one another mercilessly.

If Dean had become the nominee, the kind of party unity the Democrats need might very well have been lacking. Combine that with the fact that Dean in important ways was not the Democrats' strongest general election candidate and the stage was set for an unending round of finger-pointing and blood-letting.

But we've dodged that bullet. Both Kerry and Edwards should be able to do the necessary job of synthesizing the approaches of different wings of the party into a strong general election message that all will feel enthusiastic about supporting. A message like, say......"a positive, middle-class populism".

Whose phrase? Why Al From's, of course, used to describe Kerry's and Edward's campaign messages. This from a man who used to shrink from the word "populism" like it was a deadly poison. Now to the untutored eye it might appear that Kerry's populism (good!, according to Chairman Al) and Gore's populism (bad!, according to Chairman Al) seem to share much in common and even some of the same phrases.

But what the heck. Who's counting. What From is really signalling here is that Kerry's mix of messages, which will include both populism (as it should) and positive, forward-looking programs (as it should) will be acceptable to him, even if Kerry isn't quite a card-carrying New Democrat.

In fact, the DLC appears willing to make him (and Edwards and even Clark) honorary members simply for not being Howard Dean! In their broadside today, they annoint all three of them as having "solid New Democrat credentials".

Well, DR doesn't know if they do. He doesn't even care. But provided we get everyone on board for the Kerry (or Edwards) candidacy, such pronouncements--from any wing of the party--are perfectly OK. For peace in the valley, DR's willing to put up with a certain amount of BS.

February 3, 2004

An Excellent Day for John "Mr. Electability" Kerry

The votes are still being counted as DR works on this post, but it certainly has been a very good day for John Kerry. He won 5 out of 7 contests, only losing South Carolina and Oklahoma, the two most "southern" states and two states the Democrats are highly unlikely to win. But he won two critical southwestern swing states (Arizona and New Mexico), as well as the great midwestern swing state of Missouri, which are more important states to the Democrats. And he won them easily, as he did Delaware and North Dakota.

On the other hand, the fact that Edwards won a state (South Carolina) and so did Clark (Oklahoma: with 100 percent of the precincts reporting, he is ahead by about 1,300 votes, though CNN has not as yet formally declared him the winner) suggests that one or both of these two candidates may well remain around for awhile. Of the two, Edwards had the better day. Looking at the top four contests (AZ,MO,OK,SC), Edwards' winning effort in SC an easy victory, while Clark's in OK was a squeaker. Then Edwards had two seconds, including his almost-winning effort in OK, plus a solid second in MO. Clark, on the other hand, had only his solid second in AZ to go with his squeaker win in OK.

Edwards has another thing going for him that DR finds kind of interesting: in contrast to Kerry, who did substantially less well among independents in each of these states, Edwards generally did substantially better. Here's Kerry's data in these states, with Democratic support listed first: AZ: 45/33; MO: 58/34; OK: 29/18; SC: 31/21. Now here's Edwards: AZ: 7/7; MO: 18/24; OK: 28/34; SC: 43/50.

So Edwards may have an easier time reaching out to independent voters as the primary contests move toward a possible one-on-one stage, as well as an easier time with these voters if he succeeds in getting the nomination (or, more likely, becomes Kerry's running mate).

As for getting the nomination, it's going to be very tough indeed to beat Mr. Electability. In each one of these states, including the two he lost, Kerry beat his closest rival easily among those voters who selected "can beat Bush" as their top candidate quality: AZ: 65/18; MO: 75/12; OK: 55/21; SC: 57/29.

Oklahoma and South Carolina, where Kerry's margins among electability voters were less, were also the two states where there were the fewest electability voters. In neither state did the proportion of electability voters break 20 percent and in neither state was it selected by the most voters as the top candidate quality they were looking for.

So that's the secret, DR supposes, of beating Mr. Electability: the less the contest is about that, the better off the other candidates (which at this point really means Edwards and Clark and possibly just Edwards) will be.

But the primaries, as we move forward, seem likely to be more, not less, about electability. Which means their only chance may be to steal that mantle from him. Good luck. It ain't going to be easy.

February 2, 2004

Still More Even Worse News for Bush

DR's last two posts have discussed the Newsweek and Quinnipiac University polls and how bad things are going for Bush. Now come newly-released data from the venerable Gallup poll, which paint an even more negative picture of how Bush is doing.

In the Gallup poll, Bush’s approval rating is just 49 percent, with 48 percent disapproval–almost net negative. And rest of his ratings in this poll are net negative. On the economy, he has declined from 54 percent approval in early January to 43 percent approval/54 percent disapproval (-11 points). On health care, he has declined from 43 percent approval to a miserable 35 percent approval/57 percent disapproval (-22). On foreign affairs, over the same time period, he has declined from 58 percent approval to 46 percent approval/51 percent disapproval (-5). And check this out: on the situation in Iraq he has gone from 61 percent approval/36 percent disapproval in early January (+25) to 46 percent approval/53 percent disapproval (-7) today. That’s a swing of 32 points in less than a month.

Bush’s favorability ratings have also taken a dive: from 65 percent favorable in early January to 52 percent favorable/47 percent favorable today. In contrast, John Kerry now has a 61 percent favorable rating to just 23 percent unfavorable. And when matched up as the Democratic nominee against Bush, he wins by 7 points, 53 percent to 46 percent.

Kerry also does very well when matched up against Bush on a variety of characteristics. He beats Bush by 50 percent to 41 percent on “shares your values”, by 56 percent to 33 percent on “is in touch with the problems ordinary Americans face”, by 52 percent to 38 percent on “puts the country’s interests ahead of his own political interests” and even by 46 percent to 43 percent on “has a likeable personality”. Bush also has his areas of strength, of course--+14 on strong and decisive leader, +15 on patriotic and +19 on stands up for what he believes in--but Kerry seems competitive indeed with the president.

Especially when you add in results like these: Americans by 50 percent to 45 percent say they would trust Kerry, rather than Bush, to make the decision to send troops off to war, if necessary. The public also says it has more confidence in Kerry than Bush to make sure good jobs are available to all Ameicans (53 percent to 41 percent); to protect their family's economic interests (53 percent to 41 percent); and even to make sure business conditions and the stock market are as good as possible (46 percent to 45 percent).

Finally, consider this result: when asked "All in all, do you think it was worth going to war in Iraq or not?" (note there is no mention of the war's costs), public sentiment is now split right down the middle, 49 percent to 49 percent. Just three weeks ago, that question was at +21 (59 percent to 38 percent) in favor of the war being worth it.

My, my, how times do change. Wasn't the capture of Saddam supposed to make Bush a lock for re-election? No more.

Note: As soon as the exit poll data become available on primary night, DR will post an analysis of the data and overall election results. So look for that in the evening sometime after the polls close.

More Bad News for Bush

Yesterday, DR reviewed some of the findings from the most recent Newsweek poll indicating Bush's current political vulnerability. Today, we'll take a look at the latest Quinnipiac University poll which is chock full of more bad news for Bush.

In this poll, Bush's approval rating is even lower than in the Newsweek poll, just 48 percent, with 45 percent disapproval. That's down 5 points from their last poll just a week ago. And John Kerry runs an impressive 8 points ahead of Bush in a head-to-head matchup, even breaking even among male voters.

Voters say, by more than 3:1 (67 percent to 21 percent), that the economy will be important to their November vote than Iraq. They also say, by 12 points (52 percent to 40 percent) that a new Democratic administration would do a better job on this issue than the Bush administration. And even on Iraq, voters are about equally likely to think a new Democratic administration would do a better job (45 percent) as they are to believe the Bush administration (47 percent) would do better.

The poll also finds that only 52 percent now believe going to war with Iraq was the right thing, compared to 42 percent who believe it was the wrong thing. That's quite a narrow margin for a question that does not even mention the costs of the war. Note that independents (49 percent to 46 percent) and women (48 percent to 45 percent) are now almost split evenly on the question.

Finally, in a fascinating result that speaks to the difficulties the GOP may have using gay marriage as a wedge issue, while voters overall say they do not support a law allowing same sex civil unions, 53 percent to 40 percent, independents narrowly support such a law by 49 percent to 43 percent.

February 1, 2004

Don't Forget About President Bush!

After all, if it didn't look like Bush was vulnerable, the race for the Democratic nomination wouldn't be nearly so interesting. And it would certainly be of much less importance.

Recent developments have surely increased that vulnerability. For example, the Kay revelations have brought back, front and center, the sheer emptiness of the adminstration's case on Iraq's WMD. And the violence of the Iraq occupation has exploded: January, in fact, turned out to be the second-deadliest month for US troops since "major combat operations" were declared to be over. So much for the claim that Saddam's capture would break the back of the Iraqi resistance.

The latest Newsweek poll confirms that increased vulnerability. Bush's approval rating is down to 49 percent, with 43 percent disapproval, his worst rating ever in this poll. And, for the first time in this poll, a majority (54 percent) believes the Bush administration misinterpreted intelligence about Iraq.

Bush also fares poorly on a standared re-elect question, with 49 percent saying they do not want to see Bush re-elected, compared to just 45 percent who say they do. Moreover, Democratic front-runner John Kerry actually edges Bush, 48 percent to 46 percent, in a head-to-head matchup.

No wonder the Democratic electorate is so focused on electability: Bush stands an excellent chance of being beaten this November by the right Democrat with the right message.

But which Democrat with which message? Stay tuned!