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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?


The campaign needs a bit of humor. There is no question that choice of spectator sport is statistically related to political identity -- those who follow Hockey and Soccer tend to be Democrats, And this identity is stronger if the players are women. But I believe the real Democratic sport is dog sledding.

Thus a suggestion. Sharpton and Kucinich need to travel up to Alaska, and watch the start of the Iditarod -- (March) -- and lay claim to the sled dog fancy vote. Since ESPN always has a crew around for the race, they will get major coverage, and in the process have a little fun at Bush's expense. Perhaps they could even find a bush pilot who could fly them along the route, They might even take a try at Mushing. The whole idea ought to be something like "not a single sport forgotten"

On "Fresh Air" tonight there was an interview with Clinton's White House Joke Writer, who apparently has a new book just out. Very interesting discussion of the theory of Presidential and VP humor, and in listening to the discussion, and the theory of communications linked to their skill -- it struck me that indeed, both Kerry and Edwards need such services, and need them soon. On one hand yes -- the election is dead serious -- but the shortest route to showing a playful and human side and capacity is well placed humor.

Excellent point. There's an important distinction between being a quick and compelling story and being true.

Redintegro Iraq,

Atrios links to an interesting article in TAPped today - maybe the Nascar dads are not a traditional swing vote - but they may be coming around!

those who follow Hockey and Soccer tend to be Democrats

I had no idea that my two favorite sports could be used to accurately divine my political affiliation.

But in this case, it worked. Cool.

I had the same feeling watching some network report about NASCAR Dads the other night: they're part of the Bush base, not swing voters. The only thing swing about them is, if they swing even a tiny percentage away from Bush, he's going to get his butt kicked.

One worrisome question: does the DLC know this is nonsense? They still seem to think it's 1985; from many of Al From's statements, he appears obsessed with remaking the party in the image of Southern Democrats. It's nice the primary voters have rejected that idea, but I worry there'll be constant pressure on Kerry to "move more center", which in the minds of some seems to mean "sound like John Breaux".

Why do we have to define a "swing voter" group as one whose majority swings between the two parties? In an electorate as closely balanced as this one, a 10 percentage point swing in a group highly identified with the other party can still make a huge difference. Now, it may well be that a party can waste time and money chasing such a swing (e.g., I hope and expect, the Republicans with hispanics), but if it takes place it can tip an election. The question is whether the Democrats can go from 27 percent to 35 or 40 percent of the "NASCAR Dads," or whatever equivalent label you want to give to that demographic. And the impact of such a shift can be huge if it happens disproportionately in, say, Ohio and Missouri rather than Mississippi and South Carolina. The point is not that Nascar Dads are clearly swingable, but that we should stop looking for a huge realignment among one group and focus on getting small-but-significant ones in a bunch of groups. Once again, Karl Rove understands how the world works; why can't we?

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.

Doesn't this imply that Kerry IS the generic Democratic presidential candidate? I kinda wish a living, breathing person could bring in a few more percentage points...

Maybe this is the other side of Kerry's electability coin.


1) define swing voters who are actually die hards.
2) trumpet how well you're doing with said swing voter group.
3) get the big mo re: swing voter support.
3) hope the bait and switch works and real swing voters vote for you because other swing voters are going it.

Everybody loves to vote for the winner!!!

Followup: are there any reliable models to predict the percentage of bandwagon voters?

Its great to learn that my old buddy from college days Charlie Cook is DR's favorite non-partisan analyst. Well having been present at the Creation, Charlie's that is, and having taught the boy everything he knows, DR should be pleased to know that he is better than Charlie...

There seems to be more similarities between this election and 1992 than just the name. Does someone have the data on what groups switched from Bush in '88 to Clinton in '92? This may give some insight into those groups that may be prone to flip again this year.

It would be nice if I felt as sure as the DC Beltway crowd apparently does, that the Democratic base was firmly secured, before we even begin detemining and targeting the so-called "swing voter."

I've worked for the Hawaii Democratic Party as its communications coordinator for the past year. My personal experience from talking to ordinary citizens on a daily basis leads me to firmly believe that THE primary issue for voters in this forthcoming campaign is the veracity, credibility, and competence of George W. Bush -- period.

In this last three days alone, prior to our upcoming presidential caucuses on February 24, I've received phone calls from at least 20 Hawaii Republicans who are self-described moderates and social liberals. Every single one of them (mostly older voters) has expressed their alarm or disgust with George W. Bush and his right-wing neocon crowd. They've reached the tipping point, and have decided to formally switch their party membership and affiliation after being ridiculed and browbeaten by local Bush apparachniks for daring to question the official GOP party line.

The most recent polls show that the only thing keeping Bush from plunging into the murky depths of 20% approval ratings is his still semi-robust public approval rating as a strong and decisive leader of high moral character.

That point is the Bush Administration's lynchpin, and Democrats need to sheer it. Demolish that image in the eyes of the American voter -- which includes "NASCAR Dads" and "Soccer Moms" and "Yuppies" and every other elusive demographic discovered by political consultants over the last 30 years or so -- and I can almost assure you that everything else will fall into place.

Therefore, it would be better if Democrats focused on the simple fact that from the very moment he was inaugurated, Bush hasn't been truthful about almost anything -- and hammer that point home.

Remember those planted stories on Inauguration Day, which told the public about a vandalized West Wing, and an Air Force One looted of its silver and crystal by those nefarious Clintons? Start at the very beginning and go from there:

1. Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force

2. The Rationale for Tax Cuts (Round One)

3. Secretly negotiating with the Afghani Taliban over the Trans-Caspian pipeline to the Uzbekistan natural gas fields

4. Denying that outgoing Clinton Administration NSA Director Sandy Berger comprehensively briefed the incoming Condi Rice

Etc., etc., etc.

The best way to approach this campaign to drive the Bush Cartel from the White House is NOT by avoiding controversy and confrontation, or by watering down the Democratic platform so as to appeal to everybody -- or, as is the more likely case, not offend anybody. It will be by laying down a steady barrage of truth, keeping the Bush campaign off-balance and under constant fire, in preparation of a full frontal assault.

The Democratic base is alarmed and angry in a way they haven't been in 35 years. Democratic leaders need to recognize that fact and use this rare opportunity it to their decisive advantage, and not foolishly seek ways to diffuse that anger so as to not offend some narrow demographic of suburban white middle class people. Hell, those white middle class people are getting alarmed too! So let's ride this wave for once, and not swim against the tide.

Honestly, sometimes I think political analysts and the DC punditry get a little too nuanced for their own good -- and eventually everyone else's as well -- which blinds them from ever seeing the forest for the trees ...

I don't think the key to 1992 is that people switched from Bush to Clinton. Clinton got a smaller percentage than Dukakis, but Bush was down from 50 Million to 40 Million. The key was that Perot drew much more from the Bush supporters than from Dukakis's.

Democratic Majority
That is the funniest thing I've read all year.
Wait I got an idea, why don't you guys get a real public policy, an idea, something besides beat Bush, and labeling people like a bunch of bigots.

RE: Just Wanted to Let You know "HA! HA! HA! Democratic Majority That is the funniest thing I've read all year. HA! HA! HA! Wait I got an idea, why don't you guys get a real public policy, an idea, something besides beat Bush, and labeling people like a bunch of bigots."

Nah. Just stating the simple truth about all you GOP bigots and fools will more more than good enough for us to be able to whip your ignorant right-wing Republican ass.