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March 31, 2004

Thinking About Offshoring

Offshoring is becoming a very hot issue indeed. As I discussed in a recent post, the offshoring issue is at the top of voters' economic concerns (along with health care costs). And, as I mentioned in another recent post, Bush's job rating on handling jobs and foreign competition is a bottom-scraping 28 percent, with 60 percent disapproval.

So: how to handle this? Obviously, Kerry and the Democrats are going to go after Bush for allowing the outsourcing trend to gather steam and link that to his overall lousy record on jobs.

That's the easy part and they should do it. Beyond that, however, to gain maximum political advantage from this issue, the Democrats will need a plausible program and compelling message around the issue.

To think this through, let's examine some of the basics around offshoring. Specifically, how big is the problem now and where is it going?

According to Doug Henwood, writing in The Nation (and see Henwood's excellent new book, After the New Economy, for more of his astute economic analysis):

Since the peak in employment in March 2001, the US economy has lost 2.4 million jobs. But that actually understates the jobs deficit. Historical averages for normal postrecession job growth indicate that employment should be some 8 million higher than it was in January. But estimates of outsourcing, while imprecise, are in the low- to mid-six figures, suggesting that it can explain no more than a twentieth of our jobs problem. And in a more "normal" economy, the US economy would generate half a million jobs every two months. Something else is clearly awry.

The most widely cited projections for offshoring come from Forrester Research, which estimated in a November 2002 report that 3.3 million service-industry jobs would go offshore by 2015. That looks like a big number, but it needs to be put in perspective. In January the United States had 108 million service jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy should add 22 million jobs between 2000 and 2010 (almost all of them in services); if we stretch that projection to account for the additional years in the Forrester study, that's 33 million. So the best estimates we have are that the outsourcing total equals about one in thirty of today's jobs, or one in ten of the next decade's new jobs.

So offshoring, especially of service jobs, where much of the intensity of current concern comes from, is only a relatively minor contributor to our overall job problems and, projecting forward, seems unlikely to cripple US job growth in the future.

Why are people so worried then? I think the answer has to do with the type of jobs--service jobs, including highly-skilled ones--that are increasingly being lost. The numbers may not (yet) be large in absolute terms, but, as far as many Americans are concerned, the handwriting is on the wall: no jobs, including well-paid, highly-skilled, white collar ones, are truly "safe". That's quite anxiety-provoking for Americans who are used to thinking of manufacturing jobs disappearing and/or going abroad, but have assumed good white collar jobs, which could be accessed through obtaining more education, would, in the end, replace them.

Now people are thinking: "Maybe not!" And that's scary. As Lee Price and Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute put it:

The offshoring of white-collar jobs could pressure labor markets for skilled professionals in much the same way that manufacturing trade pressured blue-collar labor markets for the past 20 years - by placing steady downward pressure on wages....The full impact of [this] phenomenon will be felt in the years to come as (1) a very large proportion of the jobs in America today could be done outside the country and (2) those jobs can be done much more cheaply abroad. In little more than a decade, governments of nations constituting more than half the world’s population (China, India, Eastern Europe) have decided to join the world market system. Those countries have large and rapidly growing pools of talented and educated people with much lower incomes than people with similar skills in the U.S.

(Gulp) Professional jobs getting into the same pickle (or even close to it) as blue collar jobs? Whodda thunk it?

In this context, let's consider what the Kerry campaign has put on offer. The centerpiece (so far) of their program in this area is a proposal to end tax benefits for companies investing abroad, coupled with a reduction in the domestic corporate income tax. Most economists sympathetic to the proposal see it as being somewhat effective at the margin in keeping some jobs in the United States, but unlikely to have a large effect on the long-run offshoring trend or (as with Kerry's proposed tax credit for manufacturers) on the current US jobs situation.

This suggests two things to me.

1. This approach can't substitute for an overall job creation strategy. Such a strategy should have a central role for direct government spending--on infrastructure, on schools, on an energy independence plan, all of which are in Kerry's policy platform on his website--which is likely to be much more effective and sound much more effective than tax incentives.

2. This approach will not even have a substantial effect on the offshoring trend, its ostensible target. The problem is too fundamental to respond much to changes in tax incentives.

Therefore Democrats need to think bigger if they are to put something on the table that actually sounds like it might make a real impact on this problem.

Here are two sets of recommendations, from Gene Sperling and Bob Kuttner, that provide useful raw material for such bigger thinking. Note particularly the emphasis both put on socializing benefits costs to US employers and investing in technology, infrastruture and education.

Gene Sperling's recommendations: (from his March 1 op-ed in The Washington Post)

Take job creation seriously....[call] for new jobs tax credits, temporary tax cuts for families who would spend the money, and state assistance that would reduce education cuts, tax increases and tuition hikes that only fuel downturns....we should address the degree that tax policy as well as high health and energy costs make job creation less attractive here. Furthermore, we need to invest in a modern infrastructure in remote and poor areas. While lower wages in India and China may be a fact of life, why should we ever be outpaced because there is better broadband in Bangalore than Buffalo?

A "preemption strategy."....Why not employ "reverse industrial policy" ideas such as creating "globalization adjustment zones" and investment incentives for communities and retraining options for workers before, not after, jobs are lost? We could even consider buy-out strategies for small-business owners, workers and small farmers in select cases where a few stakeholders block clear and broad-based interests of the U.S. economy or global poverty reduction.

Real dislocation insurance, not token retraining....[merge] our unemployment insurance and our retraining and reemployment services into a seamless system available at a single location where we also provide temporary health care, mortgage assistance and wage insurance for older workers willing to work but unable to find jobs at comparable wages. Access should be universal, not dependent on whether a job was lost to trade, technological changes or a weak economy.

Education -- really. For less than the cost of the recent tax cuts for only the top 1 percent of earners, our nation could have afforded a universal preschool and after-school initiative and a dramatic effort to encourage more young, disadvantaged Americans to seek and afford a college degree.

Break the deadlock on trade and global poverty reduction....[seek] a broader and more creative globalization agenda that supports universal basic education, fights abusive child labor and sweatshops, strengthens civil society watchdogs and independent monitors, and funds transition assistance to workers and small farmers hurt by market opening, while insisting on codes of corporate conduct that support core labor rights.

Bob Kuttner's recommendations (from his March 5 American Prospect column):

Raise purchasing power in the Third World (and at home.) Democrats have pledged support for global labor standards, including the right to join a union. But right now the United States would not pass that test, because our own labor laws are not enforced.

Raise wages, especially in service-sector jobs. Some jobs will never move overseas, because they have to be close to their customers-teachers, health care workers, retailing and hospitality workers. This "new-collar" service sector is the successor to the blue-collar middle class. It needs higher minimum wages, benefits, and unions to fight for them.

Demand fair trade. China and India have a right to compete for jobs, but not to steal our technology and intellectual property. Japan needs to be as open as the United States. The administration needs to demand a level playing field.

Socialize costs that put US firms at a competitive disadvantage. American companies pay health care and pension costs that are paid socially overseas.

Use public funds to invest in new technologies that create good jobs and serve other national goals such energy independence. John Kerry has already led on this one.

So: lots of good ideas about dealing with offshoring and the general effects of trade. Let's hope we start hearing some of them on the campaign trail

March 30, 2004

Stay Calm and Look Closely at the Data

Gallup has released new data that have led to quite a bit of media comment and need to be sorted out. What are the key findings of this poll and how plausible are they?

The first thing to note is that the poll confirms the erosion of support for Bush's handling of the war on terror. Since that support is essentially the foundation on which Bush is building his re-election effort, bad news in this department, in my view, more than cancels out any good news for Bush on other fronts (which I'll get to in a moment).

According to the poll, Bush's approval rating on handling terrorism is now down to 58 percent, by far the lowest he's ever registered, and his disapproval is up to 39 percent, by far the highest he's ever registered. That's very significant and I find it hard to believe that the importance of this trend could be overlooked.....but it was, by USA Today, whose story on the poll by Richard Bendetto was headlined "Majority Supports Bush on Terrorism". Apparently the fact that his job rating on terrorism is still over 50 percent is deemed more important than the fact that it's falling rapidly.

The poll also finds the public: (1) endorsing the idea that Bush misled the public for political reasons (53-44); (2) saying that the Bush administration, based on pre-9/11 information, did not do all that could be done to prevent the 9/11 attacks (54-42); and (3) believing that the Bush administration is covering up something about its intelligence information concerning possible terrrorist attacks before 9/11 (53-41).

In addition, the public is now split on: (1) whether to believe Richard Clarke (44 percent) or the Bush administration (46 percent) on whether the administration paid enough attention to the terrorist threat before 9/11; (2) whether Bush after 9/11 paid enough attention to the al Qaeda threat (49 percent) or did not pay enough attention because he was too concerned about Saddam Hussein (46 percent); and (3) whether the Iraq war is part of the war on terrorism (50 percent) or an entirely separate military action (48 percent). (Note that the latter question returned a healthy 57-41 majority in favor of the Iraq war being a part of the war on terrorism when it was first asked last August.)

I'd say some very serious doubts have been raised here--doubts that threaten Bush's case for re-election in the most fundamental way.

The poll also finds Bush's ratings tanking in two domestic areas. On the economy, his rating is now 42 percent approval/55 percent disapproval--tied with last October for his lowest approval and highest disapproval ever.

On Medicare, his rating is now only 35 percent approval/55 percent disapproval. That's down 9 points on approval and up 14 points on disapproval just since the beginning of February.

In light of all this, it's amazing that the Gallup poll pegs Bush's approval rating at 53 percent, up 3 points since their last survey on March 8-11. Bush hasn't broken 50 in the other 4 national polls taken since mid-March, averaging 48 percent approval, 5 points below the Gallup rating.

It's also amazing that Gallup has Bush's approval rating on Iraq going up to 51 approval/47 percent disapproval, so that Bush is a net +4 on the issue. Newsweek, in contrast, who polled on two days (March 25-26) partially overlapping the Gallup poll (March 26-28), had Bush's approval rating on Iraq going down to 44 percent approval/50 percent disapproval for a net -6 on the measure.

Quite a contrast. Which brings us to Gallup's horse race result. Gallup has Bush ahead of Kerry of by 4 points (51-47) among LVs and by 3 points among RVs (49-46). This has occasioned considerable comment because this apparent Bush lead was measured at the end of a very tough week for the administration, with all the damage to Bush's image outlined above.

Several points are worth noting here. First, there are three national polls proximate in time to the Gallup poll, all of which show a slight Kerry lead: Rasumssen (1 point among LVs on 3/29, rising to 2 points today); Pew (1 point among RVs); and Newsweek (1 points among RVs).

Second, it is possible that the Gallup results are a bit of a pro-Bush outlier because of the composition of the sample. The Gallup report on this poll points out:

There has been no change over the past several weeks in the percentage of Republicans and Democrats supporting their own party's candidate, or in the candidate preferences of independents. Rather, the increase in support for Bush over the past few weeks comes mostly from an increase in the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Republicans, and a comparable decline in self-identified Democrats. This could be the natural result of a shift in the political environment now that the Democratic primary season has concluded.

Maybe. Or it could be that, for whatever reason, Gallup happened to draw a disproportionately Republican sample. That would explain some of the anomalies in the poll that have just been outlined. It would also imply, of course, that the bad news for Bush is a bit worse than it appears in this poll.

Another possibility--not mutually exclusive with the pro-Republican sample possibility--is that Gallup caught a movement toward Bush on the heels of the administration's take-no-prisoners attack on Clarke, including Frist's "you sir are a scoundrel who may have committed perjury so let's declassify your earlier testimony", which Clarke initially did not comment on. Media coverage of Clarke's pushback on the administration ("sure, let's declassify everything") did not really hit until after the weekend, when Gallup's poll was over. That would be consistent with the data from the Rasmussen tracking poll which did show movement toward Bush on the days covered by the Gallup poll and then movement back toward Kerry afterward.

The final finding from the Gallup poll that is getting a big splash was in a USA Today story on TV ads producing a big Bush surge in battleground states. The story says that Bush has gone from 28 points down to Kerry in mid-February to a 6 point lead today in these states.

One would expect, given that the race has tightened, for Bush to have made the most progress where his ad spending was heaviest. But that's quite a turnaround and one wonders about its magnitude. First of all, if we're talking about the effects of the Bush ads, it would make more sense not to start with Gallup's mid-February poll, which showed Kerry ahead by 12 points among LVs--Gallup's biggest lead for Kerry and actually a bit of an outlier among other public polls.

It would make more sense instead to start with Gallup's early March poll, which was proximate to the start of the Bush campaign's heavy ad spending. We can proxy the Kerry lead at the time in these states by using the "purple state" breakout Gallup used in its report on that poll (see my March 10 post). In that breakout, Kerry was ahead by 16 points in the purple states, so the swing to today's 6 point Bush lead is not quite as dramatic.

And I even wonder about that. It's hard to find this movement toward Bush over the last three weeks in state polls that have been released in various battleground states. Given the magnitude of the shift implied by the Gallup data, you'd think these polls would be chock full of good news for Bush. But, by and large, they have not been.

So, in conclusion, I urge people to remain calm and focus on the many important ways in which Bush's case for re-election is being steadily undermined. Gallup's poll is, after all, only one among many public polls, despite the over-abundant media attention it tends to get. One has to consider Gallup's results in this context to get the full story.

March 29, 2004

Bush's Real Problem....and Kerry's Opportunity

The real problem for Bush at this point is not so much that the Clarke revelations and the questions they raise will automatically pay big dividends for Kerry. It's that these developments are eroding Bush’s support at its presumed bedrock: his handling of the war on terror and related issues.

As I mentioned on Saturday, the latest Newsweek poll has Bush's approval rating on handling terrorism and homeland security down to 57 percent. I also mentioned that, at this point, a plurality of voters (42 percent) say they'll be less likely to vote for Bush because of his handling of postwar Iraq, rather than more likely (34 percent).

Here's some more telling detail from the same poll. A plurality of voters (40 percent) also say they’ll be less likely to vote for Bush because of his decision to invade Iraq, rather than more likely (37 percent). Note that two months ago both of these indicators were net positive for Bush–those saying they were more likely to vote for Bush outnumbered those who saying they were less likely.

Even his greatest strength–the response of his administration to the terrorist threat after 9/11–is attenuating as an influence on voters. It is true that today those saying they’re more likely to vote for Bush because of his actions in this area outnumber those saying less likely by a 22 point margin (50-28). But two months ago that same question returned a 39 point Bush advantage (60-21).

And here’s a very significant result: At this point, just 25 percent believe the US military action against Iraq has done more to decrease “the risk that large numbers of Americans will be killed or wounded in a future terrorist attack”. That compares to 41 percent who say the action against Iraq has done more to increase that threat and another 27 percent who say the Iraq action has made no difference.

The public is also now close to split on whether the Bush administration has done all it could to fight terrorism (46 percent) or has not done all it could (43 percent). Note that political independents now believe by 47 percent to 40 percent that the Bush administration has not done all it could.

The same closely-divided public can be seen in a question on whether the attention the attention the Bush administration has given to Iraq has (42 percent) or has not (47 percent) distracted from efforts to fight terrorism. Again, independents are tilted the other way: by 47 percent to 44 percent, they think Iraq has distracted from efforts to fight terrorism.

The key task for Kerry is to turn this apparent erosion in public support for Bush’s handling of the war on terror, along with Bush's increasingly poor domestic ratings (see Saturday's post), into real momentum in his direction. According to most polls, Kerry now has a slight lead in Kerry-Bush trial heats. That’s a start, but Kerry clearly has a way to go before he recaptures a significant advantage in the race.

March 28, 2004

Deconstructing David Brooks

Well, somebody had to do it. And they did it. Sasha Issenberg has a story in Philadelphia Magazine about David Brooks' proclivity for sweeping cultural generalizations that aren't supported by facts. For example, in his influential Atlantic Monthly magazine article about Red and Blue America, where Brooks visited Franklin County, Pennsylvania, a presumed exemplar of Red America, he claimed:

On my journeys to Franklin County, I set a goal: I was going to spend $20 on a restaurant meal. But although I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu --steak au jus, "slippery beef pot pie", or whatever -- I always failed. I began asking people to direct me to the most expensive places in town. They would send me to Red Lobster or Applebee's. I'd scan the menu and realize that I'd been beaten once again. I went through great vats of chipped beef and "seafood delight" trying to drop $20. I waded through enough surf-and-turfs and enough creamed corn to last a lifetime. I could not do it.

Turns out it's pretty easy to spend $20 on dinner in Franklin County, including at the Red Lobster.

In the same article, Brooks remarks that:

In Red America churches are everywhere. In Blue America Thai restaurants are everywhere. In Red America they have QVC, the Pro Bowlers Tour, and hunting. In Blue America we have NPR, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and socially conscious investing.

Turns out that QVC's audience, according to their vice president of merchandising, skews Blue, not Red.

In another influential article, this one in The Weekly Standard, on "Patio Man" who lives in fast-growing "Sprinkler Cities" mostly in the South and West, Brooks said that the women of Sprinkler Cities were "trim Jennifer Aniston women [who] wear capris and sleeveless tops and look great owing to their many hours of sweat and exercise at Spa Lady".

Turns out that Spa Lady's franchises are all in New Jersey.

There are many other examples in the article that show Brooks frequently overstates how well the real world fits his cultural models. This is important because Brooks' status as a sociological and political analyst is heavily based on his presumed ability to capture the real America through his acute cultural observations. If those observations are merely charming anecdotes that are bit fanciful to begin with and cannot be generalized into larger socio-political categories, his analysis loses a great deal of its power. And that, in turn, undermines what Issenberg terms "the Brooks Consumer Taste Fallacy, which suggests that people are best understood by where they shop and what they buy". Take that away--people are not best understood by where they shop and what they buy--and Brooks would have to make his political case the old-fashioned way: with reference to hard facts, documented trends, survey data and all the rest of the boring stuff other analysts (like myself) have to rely on.

And, as I've suggested in other writings, when Brooks does have to makes his case in these more straightforwardly political ways, his analysis frequently has serious problems. See, for example, this post on his analysis of "Bush Democrats" or this article, where I discuss his analysis of exurban political trends.

In other words, if you take away his cultural generalizations, his political analysis has to stand on its own merits and can be distinctly underwhelming.

Of course, Brooks' defense of his approach--which we get in the Issenberg article--is that he really doesn't mean his cultural-political assertions as factual assertions. They are not meant to be taken literally and are more in the nature of jokes or satire.

That's fine, but then he needs to ease up on the sweeping cultural-political generalizations he tends to make and the very high explanatory power he tends to assign them in explaining contemporary politics. Or else he shouldn't be suprised when people take what appear to be claims about the real world and put them to the test.

You live by the sword, you die by the sword.

March 27, 2004

Clarke Revelations Take Their Toll

The latest state and national polls suggest that the Richard Clarke's revelations about the Bush administration's mishandling of the war on terror and their obsession with invading Iraq at the expense of prosecuting that war are damaging Bush and his re-election effort. And they have certainly stopped the pro-Bush momentum detectable in horse race questions in the second and third weeks of March.

A just-released Newsweek poll has Bush's approval rating on handling terrorism and homeland security down to 57 percent, a sharp decline from 70 percent two months ago. It is also significant that this rating is down in the 50's--Bush's ratings on terrorism, homeland security and related issues have been steadily in the 60's or above in this and other public polls for a very long time.

Bush's approval rating on Iraq is now 44 percent, with 50 percent disapproval (up from 39 percent disapproval at the end of last year). And a plurality of voters (42 percent) say they'll be less likely to vote for Bush because of his handling of postwar Iraq, rather than more likely (34 percent).

Bush's overall approval rating in the poll is 49 percent and his ratings on specific domestic issues are uniformly worse. His approval rating on education is 47 percent and his rating on tax policies is only 43 percent (49 percent disapprove). Worse than that, 54 percent and 58 percent, respectively, disapprove of his handling of the economy and of Medicare.

And check this out: his approval rating on handling "jobs and foreign competition" is a stunningly dismal 28 percent, with 60 percent disapproval (!).

Currently, Kerry leads Bush by one point (48-47) in this poll, slightly up from a tie one week ago. And Bush's re-elect number has declined slightly, from 46 percent to 45 percent.

Other national polls also suggest Bush's slippage in presidential trial heats. The Rasmussen Reports national tracking poll found a 47-43 Bush advantage over Kerry on March 19 turning into a 48-44 Kerry advantage over Bush by March 25 (though note that Kerry's lead in that poll has declined in the last couple of days). And the latest Fox News poll, conducted March 23-24 has the Bush-Kerry race tied up 44-44. Since the Fox News polls tend to be notoriously pro-Bush (Bush typically fares about 5 points better in Fox polls than in Gallup polls), that suggests a more reliable poll like Gallup would have showed a significant Kerry lead on those survey dates. Note also that this Fox poll has Kerry-Edwards 5 points ahead of Bush-Cheney (48-43), a race they had dead-even in early March.

Turning to state polls, there is also some positive news for Kerry. The Hotline's round-up of state polls finds Kerry leading in states with 229 EVs and Bush leading in states with 101 EVs, for a 128 EV lead for Kerry. Notable recent results include a 10 point lead for Kerry in Iowa (51-41), a 3 point lead for Kerry in Minnesota (47-44) and a 3 point lead for Kerry in Wisconsin (46-43, even with Nader included, so Kerry's "true" lead is probably larger).

And here's a big one: The University of Cincinnati's Ohio Poll has Kerry ahead 46-44 in Ohio, even with Nader included in the matchup. Kerry's ahead by 13 points among independents, 16 points among moderates and by 34 points among young voters. Other data from the poll show that Bush has negative favorability ratings among all these groups: 33 percent favorable/52 percent unfavorable among independents; 46/51 among moderates; and 30/62 among young voters. Note also that Ohio Polls earlier this year had Bush's approval rating on the economy at 40 percent, with 58 percent disapproval and also found that the economy was far and away the most important issue for Ohio voters.

Other interesting red state news: Bush is up by 7 points in Missouri (49-42), but is only tied with Kerry in West Virginia (46-46), even with Nader in the race. And here's a very intriguing one: Bush is only leading Kerry by 4 points in Colorado, even in a poll conducted by a Republican pollster (McLaughlin & Associates) and even with Nader included!

A fella can dream, can't he?

March 26, 2004

Tax Cuts Vs. A Balanced Budget Vs. Increased Spending

The latest Ipsos-AP poll has an interesting exercise that clearly illustrates the public's relative priorities when it comes to tax cuts, a balanced budget and increased spending. These relative priorities can be inferred from the findings of other public polls, but the Ipsos-AP exercise throws these priorities into exceptionally sharp relief.

Here's what they did. Ipsos asked two questions about these priorities (via split sample). The first was "If you had to choose, would you prefer balancing the or cutting taxes?" The public's response was overwhelmingly in favor of balancing the budget (61 percent to 36 percent).

The second question was: "If you had to choose, would you prefer balancing the budget or spending more on education, health care and economic development?" The public's response here was equally overwhelmingly in favor of increased spending. So balancing the budget trumps cutting taxes and increased spending trumps balancing the budget.

This is nice to know, but it does raise some troubling questions. If that's the public's view, how did the Bush 2001 and 2003 tax cuts pass? Why did the Bush administration believe it could get away with flouting the public's priorities so ostentatiously? And why has there not been–at least as yet–a public backlash against the Bush tax cuts and their baleful social implications?

These are important questions. At least part of the answer lies in changes in the US political process highlighted by political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson in this paper and in their forthcoming book, Off Center: George W. Bush, Tax Cuts and the Erosion of Democracy .

Hacker and Pierson argue that the political environment in the US has changed in two basic ways (both of which, in my view, are particularly useful for understand the GOP’s current style of politics). The first is that politicians in this dealigned, money-driven era have increased incentives to reward their base, including partisans, activist groups and the wealthy, since incumbents who avoid primary challenges (which tend to come from the base) and receive high levels of financial and interest group support are now almost assured of re-election. Pleasing the base is the key to keeping that re-election machine going, not following the preferences of general election voters.

The second is that politicians have an increased ability to avoid the electoral consequences of displeasing average voters. Most obviously, the number of competitive elections has declined and the ability of unions and other local, grassroots organizations to punish incumbents has decreased. Less obviously, but just as important, legislation has become ever more complex, and polling ever more sophisticated, making it easier to hide large drawbacks of legislative changes from average voters and highlight small benefits instead.

Together these changes in the political environment mean that the benefits to legislators of ignoring the the public's preferences have increased while the costs of doing so have gone down. Applying this to the case of the tax cuts, GOP legislators clearly saw how much the cuts would please their base and thought they could get away with passing them by playing up the minor savings for the typical voter and hiding the huge payoffs for the rich and overall budgetary damage from the cuts.

Let's hope there's finally some payback for these guys this November. In the meantime, if this discussion piques your interest, I have an article in the forthcoming issue in The American Prospect that goes into much more detail on these questions.

March 25, 2004

It's Tempting to Just Run on the Economy and Health Care

Especially since they seem to go so closely intertwined in voters' minds. In the latest Democracy Corps poll, the top three economic problems rated "very serious" by voters were rising health care costs (53 percent), employers cutting back contributions for employees' health insurance and pensions (38 percent) and job losses to China and India (37 percent).

And in another question asking voters which two of a list of seven economic problems qualified as "major long-term" problems, the top two were "jobs being outsourced overseas" (selected by 43 percent of voters) and "health care costs rising every year" (selected by 35 percent).

But that would be wrong. Sure these two issues are both (a) highly salient and (b) areas of clear Democratic advantage. Beating Bush, however, will require a more wide-ranging approach that takes a few more risks.

Start with Iraq and the national security issue. As I mentioned the other day, Bush currently leads Kerry on who could handle the situation in Iraq better (53-37). And he leads Kerry by even more on handling terrorism and homeland security (56-35). It's probably not stretching things too much to say that if Kerry can cut these margins in half, he'll win the election.

The raw material for cutting those margins is certainly there. The Democracy Corps poll shows about half the public saying Bush doesn't have good plans for Iraq, that he has a go-it-alone policy that creates a lot of uncertainty in the world, that America's security depends on building strong ties with other nations, that Bush misled the country about reasons about reasons to go to war in Iraq and that the war in Iraq was not worth the cost of US lives and dollars. And this survey was conducted before this weeks intense wave of bad publicity for the administration from the testimony and public statements of Richard Clarke.

A great time to push on the Iraq mess and the president's credibility, right? But, as Matthew Yglesias reports on Tapped today:

Last night I saw Terry McAuliffe speaking to a Democratic Party MeetUp at Lucky Bar here in Washington. He was, as one would expect, highly critical of George W. Bush's leadership. He managed, however, not to mention the war on terror at all in the course of his presentation, focusing instead on jobs, health care, and education. This was a bad strategy when it was first unveiled for the 2002 midterms; it's been a bad strategy ever since, and it's an absolutely awful strategy for this week.

The kind of approach exemplified by McAuliffe's talk has got to go. But let me commend him for at least mentioning education. That issue's part of what I call the "E3" issue set (education, the environment and energy) that needs to get a more prominent role in the campaign.

Take education. Bush is hugely vulnerable on this issue because of the many problems with the No Child Left Behind Act and the general sense that education is getting shortchanged in the current fiscal environment. And this is an important issue to voters (if not quite as important as the economy and health care).

But in the recent Newsweek poll, Kerry only has a 3 point lead over Bush on who can best handle the issue. That should be larger.

As for the environment and energy, these are issues with lower salience, but are also issues where Bush is generally perceived as doing a lousy job. Bush's terrible ratings on the environment have been documented in poll after poll and now Gallup has released some data showing the public's view of his performance on the energy issue is also bleak.

According to these data, Bush's rating on energy was highest right after he was elected, in March, 2001, when 58 percent said he was doing a good job on this issue. From then on, it declined steadily every time Gallup took a reading, falling to 54 percent in April of that year, then to 46 percent in March, 2002 (one area where his post-9/11 approval spike apparently never kicked in), then to 39 percent in March, 2003 and finally to 34 percent this month.

So there's a great deal of opportunity on the E3 issues, if Democrats care to take it. And a strong program in these areas--building a 21st century P-14 school system (preschool through 2 years of college), energy independence and safeguarding the environment--would go a long way toward giving Kerry's domestic approach the optimistic, forward-looking character it needs. That would help reach the swing voters Kerry needs to win, as well as mobilize the young voters that are already moving in his direction (see yesterday's post).

March 24, 2004

Newsweek Misses the Story on Young Voters

Newsweek has a story on their website headlined "Ralph Rocks the Vote", based on their most recent Ipsos "Genext" poll of young voters. The story dwells on how Nader draws 12 percent among young voters in their poll--double what Nader is drawing among all registered voters in other Ipsos polls--and what good news this is for Bush.

Buried in the story (and in the full survey data) is other information that suggests the real story is how anti-Bush young voters are and what poor shape the president is still in with these voters.

Consider the following. By almost 20 points, young voters think the country is off on the wrong track (58 percent), rather than going in the right direction. And three-quarters believe the unemployment situation will not improve in the next six months, either staying the same (47 percent) or actually increasing (28 percent).

Bush's approval rating among young voters is now only 44 percent, with 54 percent disapproval, having dropped steadily among this group since early January of this year. His approval rating on the economy is now 46 percent, his approval rating on "domestic issues like health care, education, the environment and energy is 43 percent and even his rating on "foreign policy issues and the war on terrorism" is down to 50 percent.

His hard re-elect--"definitely vote to re-elect"--is an anemic 32 percent, 14 points lower than the 46 percent who say they will "definitely vote for someone else" (another 20 percent say they would “consider voting for someone else). And young voters also say they favor Democrats in this year's Congressional election by a strong 12 point margin (51-39).

OK. What about that Kerry-Bush-Nader horse race among young voters that's allegedly such good news for Bush? Yes, it's true that Nader draws 12 percent in this matchup. But it's also true that Kerry leads Bush by 9 points, 47-38 in the same matchup. In other words, even in a period where Bush has been making good headway in horse race matchups, and even with Nader in the mix and drawing a preposterously high 12 percent, Kerry still has a substantial lead over Bush among young voters.

In my view, that doesn't qualify as good news for Bush.

And let me rant and rave a little, if I may, about the way Nader's so-called candidacy is being handled by the media and polling organizations. I'll say it straight-out: I don't think this man's name should be included in any horse race questions, particularly on national polls. It is highly probable Nader's candidacy will amount to very little and, therefore, including him in Bush-Kerry matchups, where inattentive voters can declare their "support", wildly inflates his importance and overstates Bush's strength vis a vis Kerry.

Why do I say it's highly probable Nader's candidacy will be a big nothing? Because it's likely he won't even be on the ballot in a lot of states. Because he has no party line to run on this time and practically no prominent supporters. And because in a close election, voters are going to remember 2000 and how it did make a difference who got elected and choose not to throw away their vote. All this is likely to drive down his vote far below what he received last time....and last time he received only 2.7 percent.

I've made this argument before. As has Mark Schmitt and others. As has Rasmussen Reports, who--God bless 'em--have decided not to put Nader in their horse race questions. Would that more polling organizations would follow their lead.

Let me strongly recommend, then, that you ignore the Bush-Kerry-Nader trial heats and concentrate on the Bush-Kerry matchups. That's where the real action is and where the real state of the race can be discerned.

Speaking of Rasmussen Reports, the latest release of their Bush-Kerry (no Nader!) tracking poll shows a sudden shift toward Kerry, so that he's now leading Bush, 47-44. It could be that the tide is turning back to Kerry with all the punishment the administration has been taking lately. Stay tuned.

March 22, 2004

Kerry Leads Bush in Zogby Poll

Zogby's new poll has Kerry up, 48-46 over Bush. The poll also has Bush's job rating down to 46 percent, a decline of 5 points from Zogby's mid-February reading. And Bush's re-elect number, consistent with the Newsweek poll I have been discussing, is mired at 45 percent. Again, this underscores the extent to which recent gains by Bush, such as they are, do not reflect any real change in the public's evaluation of the job he's doing and whether he deserves to be re-elected.

Youth, Seniors, Independents and Bush

It's interesting to note that, even with Bush's relatively strong recent performance in horse race questions, and even with Nader thrown into the mix, Bush's soft spots are still readily apparent in the recent Newsweek poll. The Polling Report has the demographic breaks here on this matchup.

The top line on the matchup is that, while Kerry-Bush is a dead heat in the same poll, with Nader thrown in, Bush has a 2 point lead (45-43), with Nader drawing 5. But Kerry still leads among young voters by 48-38, with Nader drawing 7, among senior voters by 18 and among independents by 8 (with Nader drawing 12!). Though the data aren't provided, it's reasonable to assume that Kerry's lead over Bush is larger among all these groups with Nader not included in the matchup.

Who Do You Trust on Iraq?

Here's a couple of interesting results from the Newsweek poll I discussed yesterday. Only 30 percent say the US military action in Iraq has decreased the risk that large numbers of Americans will be killed or injured in a future terrorist attack. That compares to 63 percent who say either the risk has increased (36 percent) or hasn't changed at all (27 percent).

Yet the same poll finds Bush favored over Kerry (53 percent to 38 percent) on handling the situation in Iraq.

Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it?

March 21, 2004

Race Tightens, But Bush Weaknesses Remain

The latest Newsweek poll has Bush and Kerry dead-even, 48-48. I had initially been skeptical of the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that first suggested this tightening, because other surveys with similar dates did not. But with this poll and the recent CBS News/New York Times poll, that does seem to be what’s happening.

The reason for this is not mysterious. The Bush campaign has unleashed a barrage of aggressive campaign ads and surrogate attacks that have succeeded in driving up Kerry’s negatives. For example, in the Newsweek poll, Kerry's unfavorable rating has gone up from 27 percent to 36 percent. And both the Newsweek and CBS News polls have findings indicating more people think Kerry takes his positions to please voters than that he says what he believes.

Should Democrats be pressing the panic button about these developments? I don’t think so, for several reasons.

First, the Bush push-back was inevitable and it was equally inevitable they’d find some statements by Kerry to push back on. If it hadn’t been the foreign leaders and the "first I voted for it, then against it" quotes, they would have found other quotes to use. No matter what Kerry said or did not say, it would not have forestalled these attacks.

Second, running this kind of early, highly negative campaign is a sign of weakness, not strength on the part of the incumbent. If you have a decently positive record to run, this is the time you spend reminding people how great your presidency has been. But this is difficult for the Bush campaign to do, as there's little positive for them to run on. As even Bush booster David Brooks had to admit, Bush's compassionate conservative image and program are in tatters. Voters continue to be very unhappy with the economy and the job Bush has done in this department. And the messy situation in Iraq and around the world vexes Bush's ability to run on his foreign policy accomplishments.

Finally, and closely related to the previous point, recent events have tended to undercut, not improve, Bush's ability to run on his record. The messy situation in Iraq and around the world has simply become messier. The Medicare prescription drugs bill is now not only unpopular, but a scandal that further damages Bush's credibility. The economy continues to limp along. And so on.

That's why, despite making headway in the Bush-Kerry horse race, Bush's approval rating hasn't budged (flatlined at 48 percent in the Newsweek poll), his re-elect number isn't going anywhere (46 percent, about his average for the year in this poll) and voters are viewing the Republican party more, not less negatively (note that the Democrats now have a healthy 7 point lead in the generic Congressional contest).

So what should Kerry do? Pretty simple. Push back. And I agree with Josh Marshall that the best way to push back is to go after Bush's credibility. Again and again and over and over.

Failing to do that would be the real mistake here. It's almost impossible for Kerry to be too aggressive in going after Bush. Let's hope he and his campaign fully appreciate this.

March 19, 2004

The Medicare Prescription Drugs Bill: Another Miserable Failure

On Wednesday, The New York Times officially caught up with DR in an article headlined "Seems Like the Last Word on Medicare Wasn't". As the article points out: "When President Bush signed into law the biggest expansion of Medicare in 38 years last December, the moment was widely considered one of unalloyed triumph for the Republicans."

But it ain't so unalloyed any more. Even John Rother, policy director of the AARP, which supported the Medicare bill, has to admit:

When we measure public opinion, what really stands out right now is that essentially the Democratic charge has taken hold, and people do see the bill as very favorable to the pharmaceutical companies and to insurers. I think they're much less clear about whether the bill helps them personally or not.

He's got that right! According to the new CBS News/New York Times poll, by more than 4:1 (34 percent to 8 percent), Americans believe that the policies of the Bush administration have increased, rather than decreased, the cost of prescription drugs for the elderly (another 27 percent say there's been no effect). And among seniors, the intended benefiaries of the legislation, it's even more lop-sided--by more than 5:1 (43 percent to 8 percent), they say Bush's policies have increased, not decreased, their drug costs.

Not exactly what the GOP had in mind. At this point, they're reduced to asserting that the truth about the bill eventually come out or (even more laughable) the availability of drug discount cards this summer will really turn things around.

AARP's Rother allows that could happen "but it's hard to predict". Actually, I don't think it's hard to predict: it won't.

Of course, the administration's problems on this front are being seriously exacerbated by the emerging scandal about suppression of cost estimates for the bill. Richard Foster, the analyst whose estimates were suppressed, now says he believes the White House directly organized and encouraged the effort to keep his estimates out of the legislative process.

They'll deny it, of course. But every little bit hurts. And it illustrates a problem with the conventional wisdom about "Bush's good week". This judgement is apparently based on: (1) Kerry's less-than-stellar performance beating back various rhetorical salvos from the Bush campaign in the past week; and (2) the horse race result in the CBS News poll cited above, which shows Bush with a small lead over Kerry.

But the other side of this is that, outside of these rhetorical exchages, nothing good has happened in the real world that puts Bush in any stronger position than he was. Quite the contrary. Instead we have: the terror bombing in Spain, that shows terrorism is alive and well; the bloody attacks in Iraq; Iraq coalition partners bailing out left and right; the Medicare scandal; and CBS News and other polls showing no change in voters' gloomy perceptions about the direction of the country, the state of the economy and the situation in Iraq.

So don't let the CW fool you. Bush is still in a lot of hot water. Time for the Kerry campaign to come right back at 'em.

March 18, 2004

The Big Shift: How Public Opinion Has Changed on Iraq

It's the one year anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. That makes it a very good time to review how public opinion on Iraq has evolved since the invasion, going from strong support to the question-laden, how-do-we-get-out-of-this-mess view that characterizes the public today.

CBS News has usefully summarized some of the relevant data in a report, "Shifting Opinions on Iraq". The report points out that Bush's approval rating skied to 73 percent when US troops entered Baghdad. In the latest CBS News poll, it's down to 51 percent, a drop of 22 points.

Similarly, Bush's approval rating on Iraq reached 79 percent after the fall of Baghdad. But in the latest CBS News poll, it's down to 49 percent, a decline of 30 points.

What happened? After all, the Iraq army was beaten in short order and in December Saddam Hussein was captured. But, as far as the public was concerned, Saddam's capture did little to remedy the three big problems with our occupation of Iraq: casualties, financial costs and WMD (the abundance of the first two and the lack of the third). It is these problems that have undercut--and continue to undercut--public support for the Iraq war and occupation. Therefore, since Saddam’s capture clearly did not solve any of these problems--far from it--his capture, in the end, did little to change increasingly negative public views of the Iraq situation.

These negative views include the following. According to CBS News polls, a majority says “the result of the war with Iraq” was not worth “the loss of American life and other costs” (51 percent to 42 percent). A majority (55 percent) also believes that, as a result of the war with Iraq, the US is either less safe from terrorism (19 percent) or there has been no change (36 percent), rather than that we are safer from terrorism (42 percent). In addition, 61 percent say that the Bush administration was either hiding elements (45 percent) or mostly lying (16 percent) about what they knew about Iraq’s WMD. The public also believes that the the Bush administration intentionally exaggerated intelligence findings to build support for the war (59 percent), rather than interpreted that intelligence accurately. And, it’s fascinating to note that, at this late date, 57 percent still think either that the Iraq threat could have been contained (45 percent) or that it wasn’t a threat at all (12 percent), compared to 42 percent who believe Iraq’s threat merited immediate military action.

Data from other public polls show the public believes that Bush does not have a clear plan for handling the Iraq situation, thinks the level of casualties the US is sustaining is unacceptable and strongly opposes the extra $87 billion that was allocated by the US Congress last November for the Iraq occupation. They also overwhelmingly believe that capturing Osama Bin Laden and breaking up al-Qaeda should be the central front in the war on terrorism, not capturing Saddam and establishing democracy in Iraq.

So there's been quite a shift in public opinion since the euphoric days last April when the US troops stormed into Baghdad and the statue of Saddam came down. One can summarize these data by saying the public now has two big questions about Iraq and the war on terror for which it's seeking answers.

(1) How do we get out of Iraq? That's not to say the public wants the US to precipitately withdraw and let Iraq degenerate into total chaos. But the public does want to know how the casualty count can be drastically reduced, the financial and military burden shared and the US occupation come to an eventual and successful close.

(2) How can we stop terrorism? The public was always unclear on the relationship between US national security and the invasion of Iraq. The failure to find WMD in Iraq has underscored those doubts, as has the continuing failure to dismantle the Al Qaeda terror network. The latter failure has, of course, been recently and bloodily illustrated by the March 11 train bombing in Spain.

Current Bush administration policy has no good answers to either one of these questions. That suggests public support for the Iraq occupation and for the administration's Iraq-centered approach to the war on terror will continue to ebb, until such answers are forthcoming.

It also suggests some lessons for the Kerry campaign. Kerry must avoid anything--like tangential comments about foreign leaders' presidential preferences--that takes the heat off Bush for not providing these answers. How do we get out of Iraq? How do we stop terrorism? Bush does not have convincing answers other than to continue doing what already isn't working and voters should be relentlessly reminded of this. The key is to keep Bush on the defensive, rather than letting him push back on peripheral comments and issues that connect to his general status as commander-in-chief, rather than to his specific failures in the field.

The other side of this, of course, is that Kerry needs his own answers to these very questions. What is Kerry's plan to get the US out of Iraq? What is Kerry's plan to stop terrorism? His recent speech at George Washington University certainly provides elements of answers to these questions, but it was focused more on "protecting our military families in times of war", as the speech's title put it. That personnel-focused approach to strengthening our military and connecting to military families and veterans has much to recommend it (see David Kusnet's piece on The New Republic's website), but it does not fully answer these two questions.

I suggest he do so.

March 17, 2004

No Wonder Bush Is Running as a War Leader

He just doesn't have much else to run on. The latest Gallup poll finds economic optimism plummeting, with only 44 percent saying the economy is getting better, down from 53 percent in mid-February, which was down from 66 percent in early January.

This isn't what's supposed to be happening when the economy is growing at a decent rate. But it is. The typical voter just doesn't like where this economy is going and how this recovery has proceeded. That's why a recent front-page article in The Wall Street Journal was headlined "Improving Economic Signals May No Longer Deliver Votes". The GDP growth rate doesn't do much good with voters if good jobs seem to be disappearing, benefits are being cut and wages are stagnating.

As the WSJ article puts it:

[B]asic changes in the way the economy works have created a new political equation this year, loosening the old links between prosperity and a president's popularity.

And the article presents anecdotal evidence that this changed equation is reflected in the anti-Bush leanings of swing voters in West Virginia, Pennsylvanian and Ohio. As 2000 Bush voter and self-described conservative Chuck Svokas of Weirton, WV puts it, Bush "doesn't look like he has a grasp of what needs to be done for the American economy". He says he'll vote for Kerry this year.

That's an anecdote, but the latest CBS News/New York Times poll has hard data on the deep economic hole Bush is in with voters. His approval rating on the economy is at 38 percent, with 54 percent disapproval. That's his second straight sub-40 economic rating in this poll. Only 28 percent say the economy is getting better (note that this question includes a "staying the same" option and is therefore not directly comparable to the Gallup rating). Only 14 percent believe that Bush administration policies have increased the number of jobs in the US. Only one-fifth say the nation's economy is better today than when Bush took office and the same low number say their family is financially better off today than it was when he took office.

People also say they are uneasy (57 percent) rather than confident (39 percent) in Bush's ability to make the right decisions about the economy. In addition, just 39 percent say that if Bush is re-elected he is likely to increase the number of jobs and just 30 percent think the economy will get better if he gets re-elected.

Not exactly a vote of confidence. No wonder Bush's current campaign slogan is "I'm a war leader". Saying he's a leader on the economy wouldn't even pass the laugh test.

March 15, 2004

The Failure of the GOP's Hispanic Strategy

The March 10 Wall Street Journal had a story headlined "Bush's Gambit for Votes of Hispanics Fizzles". Of course, that's not exactly a scoop, since I've been making the same point for a very long time, backed up by copious amounts of data. But I guess it's nice to see the mainstream press catching on. The fact of the matter is that the strongest part of the GOP's argument about Hispanics is that they need to make progress among this voter group. Evidence of actual progress among Hispanics has been conspicuously lacking.

The failure of the GOP's Hispanic strategy is underscored by a just-released Democracy Corps poll of Hispanic likely voters that includes oversamples in three southwestern states (NM, AZ and NV) and among non-Cuban Hispanics in Florida. (You can read the poll here and the analysis memo here.)

In the poll, just 33 percent of Hispanics think the country is going in the right direction and 52 percent say it is off on the wrong track. And they give Bush an approval rating of only 46 percent.

The Democrats retain a huge lead of almost 40 points (65-26) on party ID. This includes a larger lead in the southwest (45 points) and a substantially smaller, but still significant one among non-Cuban Hispanics in Florida (12 points).

In terms of the presidential contest, Kerry beats Bush among Hispanics by 23 points (57-34), which includes a whopping margin of 33 points in the southwest and 7 points among non-Cuban Hispanics in Florida.

As the analysis memo points out, it is unlikely that Bush will get many more votes than he pulls in pre-election polls. Almost all Hispanic undecided voters are likely to break toward the Democrats based on past Hispanic voting patterns, undecided voters' heavily Democratic party ID and the general tendency of undecided voters to break toward the challenger.

In short, the GOP Hispanic strategy is in a shambles. Their clever strategy of targeting Hispanic voters has run into a fairly major problem. The current Republican party (aka the white people's party) just doesn't have a lot to offer an overwhelmingly working class, immigrant-based, minority population like Hispanics. "We're socially conservative, too" or "Some of us speak Spanish" just doesn't cut it with a group whose real-life needs call for more government action, not less.

DR Welcomes The Gadflyer

Right now, you're probably asking yourself: where can I find a progressive, edgy webzine, featuring a wealth of talented young writers, that's going to take the kind of tough approach to Bush and the right that they've taken to us?

Well, ask no longer. It's here: The Gadflyer opened its cyberdoors today and it is well worth a visit (full disclosure: I am a member of their Board of Advisors). As Paul Waldman, editor-in-chief of The Gadflyer puts it:

What progressives should learn from Norquist isn't just the power of organization and coordination, as important as they are. Rather, it's the warrior spirit that animates Norquist and his allies. As Newt Gingrich told the conservative Heritage Foundation back in 1988, "This war [between liberals and conservatives] has to be fought with the scale and duration and savagery that is only true of civil wars." After George W. Bush took office in 2001, Norquist told the crowd at a Republican fundraiser, "The Democrats are the Lefties, the takers, the coercive utopians…They are not stupid, they are evil. Evil!"

No one is suggesting that progressives go to these extremes, either in their hearts or in their rhetoric. But they need to understand what they're up against. In the 1984 film that made the career of California's current governor, a soldier sent back from the future explains to the heroine the nature of her cyborg enemy, and offers a perfect description of today's conservative movement: "It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity or remorse or fear. And it absolutely will not stop – ever – until you are dead." When this is what you're facing, you have two choices. The first choice is to run and hide. Rightly or wrongly, this is the choice progressives believe their leaders have taken in the past few years. The second choice – the only choice – is to stand and fight.

Or, as Tom Schaller, The Gadflyer's executive editor puts it:

Years from now, we will look back on this time as a critical moment in the history of American politics in general and progressive politics in particular. It will be either the moment when progressivism was beaten into utter submission and began its long walk in the wilderness, or the moment when progressives got up off their knees and turned the tide.

There is no doubt that the right has many advantages in the war of ideas and the war of politics, not least of which is the seemingly limitless stream of money that funds their efforts. But more than any other factor, their successes have been built on the mindset with which they approach politics. Simply put, they play to win.

It's time for progressives to do the same.

Kinda gets the blood coursing in your veins, don't it?

So, without further delay, point your browser at The Gadflyer and stop by often.

March 13, 2004

What Is to Be Done (on Jobs)?

Yesterday, I reported on the latest NCB News/Wall Street Journal poll which, along with other recent data, highlights key role that economic anxiety is likely to play in this November's election. Today's Washington Post has a front page article on how the Bush economic team keeps making mistake after mistake in responding to voters' economic concerns.

Advantage Democrats. But what is to be done to turn this advantage into the maximum number of Democratic votes? That's where things start to get tricky.

Start with the idea that there is something very odd indeed about the current pattern of job loss and failure to create new jobs. Charlie Cook expressed it well in his March 9 column:

For almost a year, I have been on a tirade about the political importance of the jobs issue in this election, even before I saw an eye-popping August report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on the subject. The New York Fed study showed that during the twin economic downturns of the mid-1970s, 49 percent of the job losses were cyclical -- or temporary job losses -- such as letting a shift go at the plant. Meanwhile, 51 percent of the job losses were structural, permanent job losses. The study went on to show that during the next downturn -- in 1981 and 1982 -- the percentages were exactly the same, 49 percent were cyclical, 51 percent were structural. The 1991-92 downturn was somewhat different, with only 43 percent of the job losses cyclical, and 57 percent structural.

What about this downturn? A measly 21 percent of the job losses are cyclical ones, while a whopping 79 percent are structural, permanent job losses. Why is this bad? It's bad because we know that it always takes longer to create a brand new job than it takes to call a shift back at the plant.

In December, the CEO of a California-based high tech firm told me that "there is no amount of overtime that we will not pay, there is no level of temporary services that we will not use, there is no level of outsourcing or offshoring that we will not do, in order to prevent us from having to hire one new, permanent worker in the U.S." As I travel around the country, meeting with business leaders, I hear similar, though less succinct thoughts in almost every sector and every part of the country. U.S. wages, health care, and other benefit costs have gotten so high -- and the press by investors for high stock prices is so great -- that the premium is on wringing every last bit of work out of as few employees as possible, to do anything but incur the costs of adding permanent employees.

If this description is roughly accurate, then this dynamic is going to be hard to counter by getting a bit tougher on trade, cracking down on "Benedict Arnold" corporations or providing a tax credit for manufacturers. Instead, it appears to call for a more direct role for the government in fostering job creation through direct spending (likely to be more effective in the short term) and socializing costs like health care and pensions that put US firms at a competitive disadvantage (likely to be more effective in the long run). Kerry does have some ideas along these lines--for example, his state tax relief and education fund, his energy independence plan and his plan to socialize and control some health care costs--but, perhaps because they don't lend themselves as easily to applause lines in speeches, we hear less about them.

That may have to change. A Democratic approach to job creation, in the end, has to sound like it would work. And my guess is that American voters will applaud the lines about Benedict Arnold corporations, unfair trade and the evils of outsourcing, but won't find them convincing as a way to create jobs. They will be looking for a more serious program that gets to the root of the current jobs crisis and the Democratic campaign has to be ready to give it to them.

March 12, 2004

Economic Anxiety and Bush

The University of Michigan's preliminary March reading of consumer sentiment shows consumer confidence dropping again, just as it did in February. All the more reason to pay heed to the findings of the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll which indicate economic anxiety is likely to play a large role in the November election, and all to Bush's detriment.

The poll has Bush's approval rating on the economy at 45 percent approval/51 percent disapproval, down from 49/45 in January. In addition, the poll now shows more saying the economy has gotten worse in the last year (35 percent) than say it has gotten better (33 percent). That's a substantial shift from January when 43 percent said the economy has gotten better and only 23 percent said iit had gotten worse.

And economic issues, such as jobs and economic growth, will be most important, according to respondents, in deciding their November vote (36 percent), followed by domestic issues, such as health and education (27 percent) and only then by national defense issues, such as Iraq and the war on terror (18 percent). That's 65 percent saying they're going to vote on the basis of Bush's two weakest areas.

Ah, but do they hold Bush responsible for the state of the economy? After all, his favorite mantra these days is that continuing economic problems are just the lingering effects of 9/11 and the situation he inherited from the Clinton administration. This poll indicates those pesky voters may hold him responsible, despite his efforts to wiggle out of it: 30 percent say his policies are mainly responsible for the state of the economy and another 50 percent say they are partially responsible.

But the really bad news for Bush is has to do with the kinds of economic problems people are upset about and their attitude toward his tax cuts. The poll presented people with six controversial elements of the US economy and the three people said were most important to their evaluation of the economy were "the number of jobs moving overseas", "jobs for lower-paid workers that lack health and retirement benefits' and the budget deficit, all areas of very serious weakness for Bush. Moreover, when asked for their feelings about these economic elements and presented with four choices about that, ranging from very cheerful to very gloomy, only 4 percent selected the cheerful option (these elements don't represent a problem today and in the future and America has the same economic security it always has had), compared to 47 percent who selected the gloomy option (these elements are a major problem today and in the future and America no longer has the economic security it had in the past).

As for the tax cuts, 59 percent still say they have either hurt the economy (23 percent) or had no real effect (36 percent). And, by 55 percent to 39 percent, people say the tax cuts are too large and should be repealed for those with over $200,000 in income (Kerry's position), rather than that the tax cuts are the right size and should all be kept and made permanent (Bush's position).

OK. That's the playing field. But how can the Democrats take maximum advantage of Bush's vulnerabilities in this area? As the typically insightful Ronald Brownstein put it in his latest Los Angeles Times column:

Many Democrats agree Kerry has to flesh out his own ideas for stimulating job growth (which now center on tax credits for manufacturers, grants to states, a tougher line on trade and reducing employers' healthcare costs).

But even if Kerry holds up a blank piece of paper as his recovery plan, it will be tough for Bush to win an argument about the economy unless job growth revives.

He may be right about that blank sheet of paper. But I'd like to think we can do better. I'll offer my thoughts on how to do this tomorrow. In the meantime, the floor is open for suggestions: how exactly should the Democrats address the jobs/outsourcing issue?

Horse Race Update

Yesterday, I cast a skeptical eye on the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll horse race result that had Bush over Kerry 2 points. It just did not match up plausibly with roughly contemporary results from Gallup and ABC New/Washington Post. Today, there's additional confirmation that the NBC News result is probably more an outlier than a trend.

The new ARG poll, conducted March 9-11, has Kerry over Bush by 7 points (50-43) among registered voters, including a very nice 9 point lead among all-important independent voters. It's also worth noting that, with Nader thrown in, Kerry's lead is still 6 points (48-42), with Nader only drawing 2 percent.

The ARG poll also registers Bush's approval rating at a mere 45 percent, which I believe is the lowest ever in this poll.

March 11, 2004

Off to the (NBC News/Wall Street Journal) Races

The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll is out and it has some very interesting findings about the role economic anxiety may play in this coming election. I'll cover those findings and provide some thoughts about how Democrats should approach the issue in tomorrow's post.

But today I thought I'd say a word or two about Bush's relatively strong horse race showing in this poll (2 points ahead of Kerry), compared to other recent public polls, which has occasioned some comment. Josh Marshall, for example, noted this and wondered whether the result was "an outlier or a trend" or perhaps was due to the NBC News question being asked of all adults, instead of registered or likely voters.

The all adults hypothesis doesn't seem to fit. Gallup and ABC News (see my March 9 post) do provide figures for all adults, in addition to registered/likely voters: in the Gallup poll, Kerry of Bush is ahead by 5 points among all adults and in the ABC News poll, Kerry is head of Bush by 11 points among all adults.

So we can safely reject the all adults hypothesis. What about time frame? Is the NBC News poll much more recent, so perhaps they're catching a shift in the public mood? Seems doubtful. The NBC News poll was conducted March 6-8, the Gallup poll March 5-7 and the ABC News poll March 4-7. That seems too close to account for the difference unless you believe March 8 was a very special day indeed.

So, to answer Marshall's question, it seems more outlier than trend. We'll see what other polls have to say as they come out, but that's the way it looks right now.

Actually, there were some other interesting horse race results in this poll that are at least as worthy of attention, if not more so. The poll had two tickets matched up against Bush-Cheney. The first, Kerry-Edwards, runs dead even with Bush-Cheney. The second, Kerry-Gephardt, runs 6 points behind Bush-Cheney. Interesting.

The poll also asked people whether they preferred that the Democrats or Republicans control Congress after the next election. By 4 points, they said they preferred that the Democrats wind up in control of Congress. That may not sound like much, but in this poll, that question has not returned a pro-Democratic margin since December, 1999. Now there's a result to conjure with.

March 10, 2004

The Red, the Blue and the Purple

Yesterday, I mentioned the Gallup finding that Kerry is doing even better in "purple", swing states (the margin of victory for Gore or Bush was less than 5 points) than in "blue" states (Gore's margin of victory was more than 5 points). I got curious about how Kerry's current performance compared to the actual vote in 2000, using the red, blue and purple categories defined by Gallup. Here's what I found.

In 2000, Gore lost the Gallup red states by 57-41, carried the Gallup blue states by 55-40 and the purple states (Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin) were a dead heat, at 48-48. Today, the Gallup data (using likely voters and throwing in Nader to make the comparison more exact) show Kerry also losing in the red states, though by less (51-45), running about the same as Gore in the blue states (55-42) and running way ahead of Gore in the purple states (52-39).

What this means is that Kerry's overall lead in the Gallup poll is in no way traceable to running up the vote in the blue states; he's simply holding the Gore lead in those states. Instead, Kerry's lead over Bush is driven by exactly what you'd want it driven by: strongly improved performance, relative to Gore, in swing states and whittling down Bush's lead in the red states.

In light of this analysis, it's interesting to look at a Barron's analysis by John Zogby of state-by-state polling (both his own and others) that shows Kerry holding 85 percent of the blue state (defined here in the traditional way as states Gore carried, no matter how small the margin) electoral votes plus New Hampshire, Bush holding only 63 percent of the red state electoral votes and 136 electoral votes "in play". The in play electoral votes, in Zogby's analysis, are distributed over 12 states (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin), 8 of which were carried by Bush in 2000 and only 4 by Gore, meaning the Republicans have much more turf to defend than the Democrats.

The beauty part, of course, is that turf may be very difficult to defend if the Gallup purple state calculations are any indication of how voters in this very similar group of "in play" swing states are leaning. It's a long way to November, I'll grant you, but you've got to be happy with how this election campaign is starting out.

March 9, 2004

Have Voters Been Brainwashed by the Democratic Nominating Contest or Do They Just Not Like Bush So Much Any More?

DR reports. You decide.

Here are the most interesting results from the latest Gallup/CNN/USA Today and ABC News/Washington Post polls.

1. In the ABC News poll, Kerry is leading Bush by 9 points (53-44) among registered voters. With Nader thrown in, he still leads by 4 points, with Nader drawing 3 percent. In the Gallup poll, Kerry leads by 8 points (52-44) among likely voters. He also has more "hard" support (those who say they are certain to vote for him) than Bush (45-38). With Nader thrown in Kerry still leads by Bush by 6 points (50-44), with Nader at just 2 percent.

Note that these two polls measure Nader support at 2-3 percent, while the much-publicized Ipsos/AP poll had his support at 6 percent. I suspect the Gallup/ABC News figures are better measures of his current support.

Update: Gallup has issued a report on their new poll. In the report, they break down states into red (Bush won by 5 percent or more), blue (Gore won by 5 percent or more and purple (the margin of victory for Gore or Bush was less than 5 percent; this includes of course almost all the swing states the current campaigns are likely to focus on). In blue states, Kerry is ahead of Bush 55 percent to 42 percent among likely voters. Not unexpected. But in purple, swing states, he is ahead of Bush by even more, 55-39.

And for those fretting perhaps more than they need to about Nader, here are the analagous figures with Darth Nader in the mix: 55-42 in blue states and 52-39 in purple states.

Not so bad, huh? So relax (at least about Nader).

2. Bush's overall approval rating in the ABC News poll is 50 percent, with 48 percent disapproval (his highest ever). His rating in the Gallup poll is 49 percent, with 48 percent disapproval (tied for his highest ever).

3. Bush's approval ratings in the ABC News poll are only above 50 percent in two areas: the US campaign against terrorism (63 percent) and protecting Americans constitutional rights and freedoms (61 percent). Significantly, his rating on the economy has now dipped below 40 percent (39 percent approval/59 percent disapproval). His other poor to very poor ratings are, in descending order: education (50 percent approval/45 percent disapproval); taxes (50/47); the situation in Iraq (46/53); the issue of same-sex marriage (44/52!); creating jobs (43/54); prescription drug benefits for the elderly (41/49); Social Security (38/55); the cost, availability and coverage of health insurance (32/62); and the federal budget deficit (30/65).

4. In the ABC News poll, Kerry is now 5 points ahead of Bush (49-44) on who would do a better job coping with the main problems the nation faces ove the next few years. He has also now caught up with and surpassed Bush on who would do a better job handling the situation in Iraq (48-47). And he has widened his lead over Bush on dealing with the economy to 12 points (53-41).

5. Also in the ABC News poll, here are voters' choices for the single most important issue in deciding their vote for president: economy/jobs (36 percent); terrorism (17 percent); Iraq (10 percent); education (8 percent); Medicare/prescription drugs (7 percent); and health care (6 percent). And here are Kerry's leads over Bush on dealing with these issues: the economy (+12); terrorism (-21); Iraq (+1); education (+12); Medicare/prescription drugs (no data available but a reasonable guess is that Kerry would have a substantial lead); and health care (+20).

6. In the ABC News poll, 41 percent say they want to keep moving in the direction Bush has been taking the country, compared to 57 percent who want to elect a president to take the country in a different direction.

7. Kerry beats Bush on every characteristic ABC News tested except "is a strong leader". On "tolerant of different points of view", he beats Bush 73 percent applies/17 percent doesn't apply to 47/51. On "honest and trustworthy" he beats Bush 59/30 to 54/45; on "understands the problems of people like you" he beats Bush 58/34 to 41/57; and on "stands up to special interests" he beats Bush 54/30 to 51/44.

And even on "strong leader", Kerry is virtually tied with Bush, 61/29 to 63/36.

8. In the ABC News poll, just 26 percent say Bush cares more about protecting the interests of ordinary working people, compared to 67 percent who say he cares more about protecting the interests of large business corporations. That's his worst rating ever, including during the summer of corporate scandals in 2002. In contrast, by 60/23, the public says Kerry cares more about the protecting the interests of ordinary people.

9. In the Gallup poll, by 66/30 people say it is inappropriate for political candidates to run camapign ads using images depicting the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When asked specifically about Bush's use of such ads, people still say by 54/42 that it is inappropriate.

10. In the Gallup poll, 40 percent of likely voters now say that they usually, almost always or always vote Democratic, compared to 36 percent who they typically vote Republican. Two months ago, Republicans had the advantage on this question, 44/37.

March 8, 2004

More on Young Voters' Democratic Leanings

I had a brief note in DR on March 2nd about the latest Newsweek "GENext" poll that showed young voters leaning toward the Democrats. The full results of that poll have now been released, so a more complete account of these pro-Democratic leanings--and strong leanings they are--is given below.

In the poll, Bush's approval rating among young voters is just 46 percent, down 8 points from a month ago. His appproval ratings on the economy and “domestic issues like health care, education, the environment and energy” are even worse: 40 pecent approval/56 percent disapproval and 39 percent approval/58 percent disapproval, respectively.

Young voters are also strongly convinced the country is off on the wrong track (58 percent), rather than going in the right direction (40 percent).

And the number saying they will definitely vote against Bush is up to 47 percent, a 13 points rise from last month. That compares to a mere 28 percent of young voters who say they would definitely vote to re-elect him. Moreover, in a direct Kerry-Bush matchup, young voters choose Kerry over Bush by an impressive 15 point margin (56 percent to 41 percent).

The strong pro-Democratic tilt among young people extends to the question of which party they want to see gain control of Congress: by a 13 point margin (50 percent to 37 percent), they prefer the Democrats.

March 7, 2004

Another Sign of Party Unity

A month ago, I remarked on how Kerry's candidacy seemed to have the potential to unite all wings of the party, including its traditionally feuding New Democrat and liberal wings. Since then we have indeed seen much closing of the ranks among Democrats, including in the polls, where Kerry is losing very few Democrats to Bush. Here's another sign of that emerging Democratic unity: two op-eds in The New York Times today, one by Stan Greenberg, associated with the liberal wing of the party and one by Bruce Reed, president of the DLC.

And here's the shocker: they didn't attack each other or their respective wings of the party in any way! Instead, Greenberg recommends that Kerry not counter the Republicans' narrow culture war strategy with an equally narrow class war strategy of his own, but rather with an expansive John F. Kennedy-style vision of an opportunity society that works for all Americans. I agree! And Reed recommends that Kerry swipe Bush's "reformer with results" label, since Bush has compiled an abysmal record as a reformer (from education to domestic security), while Kerry has shown a solid commitment to reform throughout his Senate career. I agree!

Of course, putting these insights together presents some problems--"reformer with results for the opportunity society" seems a bit long for a bumper sticker. But it's nice to see Democrats from formerly warring factions of the party concentrating on strategy against the Republicans rather than why the other side of their own party is wrong.

March 6, 2004

Will Nader '04 Be More Like Nader '00 or Buchanan '00?

There has been quite a bit of consternation lately about an Ipsos-AP poll that showed Nader receiving 6 percent of the vote in a matchup against Kerry and Bush. Obviously, if Nader received support in this range in November it would be very bad indeed for the Democrats.

To which I say: relax everybody. Nader's not going to get that kind of support and he's unlikely to even match the support he received in 2000. In fact, I think his fate is more likely to be like that of Pat Buchanan in 2000, who also drew some early support in polls, but would up with very few votes (.43 percent) because his candidacy had no real constituency or plausible rationale.

Consider these data. In late 1999, when Buchanan, like Nader today, was the only third party candidate being tested in polls, he was drawing anywhere between 5 and 10 percent support when matched up against Gore and Bush. Then, in late spring, when horse race polling resumed and Nader was also included in the matchup, he dropped considerably, but was still drawing 3-5 percent support. Of course, by the time the election rolled around, even that support collapsed and he wound up with less than half a percent of the vote.

Obviously, almost all of that early Buchanan support was extremely soft and very easy for Bush to peel away once push came to shove and Republicans who were supporting Buchanan focused on taking back the White House. That's going to be Nader's fate in 2004: he may pull the early 4-6 percent here and there in polls (though hopefully most pollling organizations will choose to exclude this peripheral candidate without a party or likely ballot access in many states from their questions) but that support will be very, very soft, declining as the election gets closer and essentially disappearing on election day. In the end, a candidacy that lacks a distinct constituency and a rationale that even passes the laugh test (Kerry and Bush: no difference!) will receive the support level it so richly deserves--almost nil.

Actually, another finding from the Ipsos-AP poll is of more political signficcance than Nader's 6 percent. Right now, just 35 percent of Americans say the country is going in the right direction, while 60 percent say it is off on the wrong track. That's down from 44 percent right direction/52 percent wrong track last month and puts Bush in the serious danger zone for incumbents. And this poll was taken before Friday's incredibly bad jobs report (just 21,000 new jobs).

In short, forget about Ralph and keep your eyes on the prize.

March 5, 2004

What Happened to the 50-50 Nation?

It's been lurking at the top of the right-hand nav bar, but I thought I'd draw people's attention more directly to a piece I recently published in the British magazine, Prospect.

I think it's a useful summary of where we've been and where we're going, so I offer it as an aid to thinking through political prospects for 2004 and beyond.

To whet your appetite, here are some excerpts:

In 2000, Al Gore and George W Bush divided the popular vote almost evenly (Gore led by a scant half percentage point) and Bush gained the presidency only after some controversial intervention by the supreme court. The Senate was divided 50:50 (until the defection of Jim Jeffords from the Republicans in 2001). And the House of Representatives was divided between 221 Republicans (50.8 per cent) and 212 Democrats plus 2 independents (49.2 per cent).

After the election, John Judis and I argued in our book The Emerging Democratic Majority that, despite currently being a 50:50 nation, America was changing in ways that were likely to produce a Democratic majority within a decade. Here are the trends we thought were leading in that direction.

Professionals Professionals are college-educated white-collar workers who produce ideas and services. They worry about the quality of their product and service, rather than simply whether it produces a profit, and tend to be socially liberal. They include doctors and nurses, software programmers, actors, teachers, engineers and fashion designers. In the 1950s, professionals made up 7 per cent of the working population and were the most Republican of all occupational groups. But as the US economy has changed - as the production of ideas and services has displaced the production of things - professionals in the workforce have more than doubled to 16 per cent. They are even more heavily represented among voters, comprising about a fifth of the electorate nationally; more in some northeastern and far western states. And a majority of them are now Democrats. In the past four presidential elections, professionals on average voted Democrat 52 to 40 per cent.

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These are the long-run trends that we believed were reshaping US politics. In the short run, however, things have turned out differently. In the 2002 elections, the Republicans did very well (especially given that the president's party usually loses seats in the first election of his term), gaining two seats to take back control of the Senate, and six House seats to bolster their majority there. And of course, George W Bush's presence in the White House gave them unified control of the government - something they had not achieved even during the Reagan conservative revolution.

How did this happen? Start with this: if the elections had been held not in November 2002, but on 10th September 2001, the Democrats would have made impressive gains, increasing their one-seat advantage in the Senate and perhaps winning back the House. At the time, Bush was seen as a weak and ineffective leader, who was most comfortable reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to schoolchildren. His approval ratings, as low as 51 per cent in some polls, were poor for a president in his first year. In addition, the Clinton boom had given way to an economic slowdown. Combine these factors with popular support for Democratic positions on social security, healthcare, the environment and the economy, and you had all the elements for a Republican disaster.

Instead, 11th September happened. Bush res-ponded by abandoning his indifference to world affairs. His initial performance, leading to the ousting of the Taleban regime in December 2001, strongly enhanced his reputation. Bush's approval rating hit 90 per cent in late September and did not fall below 80 per cent until March 2002. The rising approval of Bush, along with the importance attached to national security, increased support for the Republicans. In August 2001, a Harris poll had found only 37 per cent of voters thought the Republicans in congress were doing an excellent or pretty good job; by mid-October, that number had soared to 67 per cent.

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Taking their cue from the White House, Republican candidates repeatedly charged their Democratic opponents with ignoring the war on terror and national security. In the Georgia Senate race, Republican Saxby Chambliss, who had never served in the military, attacked incumbent Max Cleland, a war hero who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, for not supporting the Republican plan for the homeland security department. The Republicans even went so far as to run an ad linking Cleland to images of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

Nevertheless, with three weeks to go before the election, Democrats were leading in polls and many of the races. It looked as if they would hold or increase their margin in the Senate while winning seats but failing to take back the House. During those last weeks, Bush undertook a whirlwind national tour that highlighted the threat from al Qaeda and Saddam. In the last week alone, Bush made 17 stops in 15 states. At each stop, after briefly trying to allay voters' fears about Republican economic policies, he would launch into a jeremiad about the threat from abroad. As he put it during a stop in Charlotte, North Carolina: "You've just got to understand there's an enemy out there that hates America... No longer can we assume oceans will protect us... We must assume that the enemy is coming, and we've got to do everything we can to protect the homeland. That's why I started talking about the issue of Iraq."

Bush's final tour turned a dead heat into victory for the Republicans and generated a pro-Republican surge. Republicans had trailed Democrats by three points in Gallup's poll of likely voters on 21st-22nd October. By election weekend, 12 days later, the Republicans led by six points.

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After the election, GOP pollster Matthew Dowd argued that the Republicans had won not because of Bush's response to 11th September, but because voters trusted them more to improve the economy. If that were true, the election might have augured a new political era. But the war on terror completely overshadowed and in the end defined the terms of the campaign. The key factors in the Republicans' success were all traceable to the peculiar post-11th September circumstances of this election.

These factors are no longer so strong and will weaken further, which is why November's election should be very competitive.

Instead of the splendid little war that the president's advisers thought would ensure his re-election, the invasion of Iraq is threatening to turn into a liability for Bush, despite Saddam's capture. Bush's approval ratings have returned to about the level they were before 11th September. Support for the war and Bush's handling of it have dropped sharply.

January was the second deadliest month for US troops since combat operations were declared over (November was the worst). And then there was the claim made by David Kay, former chief of the US search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that there were no such weapons in Iraq, either now or before the US attacked.

According to recent polls, the US public believes that Bush does not have a clear plan for handling the Iraq situation and considers the level of casualties to be unacceptable.

They believe strongly that the results of the war have not been worth the costs in lives and dollars. They also strongly oppose the extra $87bn that congress allocated in November for the occupation and are very sceptical that they were told the full truth about Iraq and its WMD before the invasion. Most significantly, the public overwhelmingly believes that the war with Iraq has not made the US safer or reduced the terror threat, and that capturing Osama bin Laden and crushing al Qaeda should be the main purpose of the war on terror.

While Iraq may become a liability, Bush continues to enjoy high approval ratings for the broader war on terror. Still, the idea that the GOP will enjoy a long-lasting advantage on foreign policy looks less plausible with every passing month. The public now gives Bush rather poor ratings in the umbrella categories of foreign policy or foreign affairs.

Bush's problems do not stop with Iraq. The economy refuses to catch fire, despite a 8.2 per cent growth rate in the third quarter of 2003. While growth should be respectable this year, relatively high unemployment and low levels of job creation, and sluggish wage and income growth, are likely to persist. The Bush administration may wind up presiding over a net loss of jobs (particularly in the manufacturing sector), something that no administration has experienced for 70 years.

In contrast, when Clinton was running for his second term in 1996, the economy was firing on all cylinders: strong growth, low unemployment, high levels of job creation and strong wage and income growth. Bush will not have such a record to run on. That will make it more difficult for him to defend his gigantic tax cuts ($3 trillion over the course of the decade), which were sold on the basis of their economic benefits. The public has never been particularly enthusiastic about these tax cuts, seeing them as having little positive effect on the economy and as benefiting the wealthiest. Those views seem unlikely to change.

Intimately linked to these tax cuts is the ballooning federal budget deficit. The idea that it is out of control is sinking in with the US public, and polls indicate that Bush has lost all credibility on fiscal responsibility. His declaration, made as he presented his budget for fiscal year 2005, that he would cut the half-trillion dollar budget deficit in half while also occupying Iraq, reducing taxes by another trillion dollars, increasing defence and homeland security spending, and travelling to the moon, bordered on the bizarre.

Even the two big domestic achievements of the Bush administration - the No Child Left Behind education reform act in 2002 and the Medicare prescription drug act at the end of last year - are proving to have mixed results. The first act, which mandates continual testing and sanctions against low-performing schools, was supposed to give the GOP a "tough love" image on the issue, without much additional spending. But the inflexible testing-based regime has developed a bad reputation as an "unfunded mandate" that fiscally-strapped states have to find the money for. State legislatures are in open revolt against the act; Republican-controlled Virginia, Utah and Ohio have threatened to opt out of it entirely. As a result, the political advantage that the GOP hoped to open up on schools has vanished; Democrats now run double-digit leads on the issue in public polls.

The prescription drugs act was intended to steal a traditional Democratic issue by providing a new drug benefit for senior citizens through Medicare. The provision of such an expensive new entitlement, GOP strategists believed, would burnish Bush's "compassionate conservative" credentials and immunise him against the charge that he is only willing to spend money on the rich. It hasn't worked out. The act is expensive (an initial estimate of $400bn over ten years has been increased to $540bn), though not because it is particularly generous. A senior citizen with $5,000 in annual drug costs will still pay about $4,000 out of his own pocket. The government declined to use its bargaining power with pharmaceutical companies to reduce drug prices. Not only did the act include no cost containment provisions, it actually makes it more difficult for US citizens to buy drugs from Canada, where prices are substantially lower. Bush's approval ratings on healthcare, Medicare and even prescription drugs for seniors remain abysmal.

The two signature achievements, therefore, have done little to alter the perception that Bush and his administration are out of touch with ordinary Americans and tilted towards the interests of the rich - a sentiment that polls regularly record. This is only reinforced by a legislative and executive record that, apart from these acts, is one long effort to promote business interests through tax breaks, deregulation and rolling back environmental protections.

In every area reviewed above - including the invasion of Iraq - Bush has overplayed his hand and is out of step with public opinion. He started his presidency acting as though he had won a landslide in a country that was thirsting for a radical anti-government agenda. That misinterpretation of the public mood was fuelled by 9/11 and its aftermath when Bush benefited from the largest and longest "rally effect" the US presidency has ever seen. In effect, Bush took it as a licence to ignore public opinion and pursue the agenda dearest to his heart, the hard-right agenda of the base of the Republican party.

This is a bizarre strategy for a party that wants to build a new majority in the mode of William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt 100 years ago. Usually, majority-building involves moving towards the centre, not hard right (or left) to pick up moderates and independents. Instead, the Bush team seems intent on firing up its most resolute partisans and assuming that the rest of the voters they need will just follow.

This approach is oddly misguided, given what we know of the leanings of independent voters - the true centre of US politics. Recent opinion data shows clearly that the political views of Democrats and independents (two thirds of the electorate) are converging and pulling away from the Republicans. Democrats and independents are converging in their declining support for an aggressive foreign policy, in their increasingly sceptical attitude towards business and in their increasingly liberal and relatively secular social attitudes. In each case, they hold views much closer to one another than to Republicans.

Some argue that the real divide in the US is cultural. There is modern, secular, socially liberal "blue" America and there is traditional, religious, socially conservative "red" America and that is what political conflict in America is now about. A cultural war has replaced the struggle between economic interests. This is an exaggeration. Conflict around traditional policy issues remains intense. And political divisions by income, occupation and education are still a central part of the political landscape.

However, it is true that cultural divisions are also a key driver of voting behaviour. In the presidential election of 2000, whether a voter owned a gun and how often he or she attended church were good predictors of how that person cast their ballot. According to exit polls, Bush won the support of voters who said they attended church more than weekly by 63 per cent to 36 per cent, and voters who said they attended church weekly by 57 per cent to 40 per cent. These voters made up 43 per cent of the electorate, according to opinion polls.

What makes less sense is the idea that these cultural divisions favour the maintenance of a 50:50 nation or, still less, somehow favour the Republicans. Delving into the church attendance example, start with the point that the exit poll estimate that 43 per cent of US voters attend church weekly or more than weekly is too high, according to more reliable sociological surveys of church attendance. Move on to the fact that the groups in the less observant three fifths of voters in the exit polls - those who said they attended church a few times a month, a few times a year or never - preferred Gore over Bush, with support particularly strong among never-attenders, who gave Gore a 61 to 32 per cent margin.

Most critically, in surveys conducted over the last 30 years, it is the ranks of non-churchgoers that have grown the most. Those who said they never attended church or attended less than once a year grew from 18 per cent in 1972 to 30 per cent in 1998. This group is about twice the size of those who identify themselves as members of the religious right, and tends vigorously to support Democrats.

Much the same story could be told about other cultural divisions separating red and blue America: abortion rights, attitudes towards sexuality, women's rights and feminism, civil rights and ethnic diversity and gay rights. The trend over time is towards more liberal views on all these issues, so the influence of vociferous opponents will wane and the influence of supporters will increase. Cultural divisions are not a stable basis for a 50:50 nation or a new Republican majority. They signal instead a Democratic majority that accepts and builds on these social changes.

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Click here to read the entire article.

March 4, 2004

More Democrats More United

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article today by John Harwood and Jacob Schlesinger titled "Kerry Finds Himself in Enviable Position" with the subtitle "Democrat Begins Big Race with Party Unity, a Positive Image and Lead over Bush in the Polls". It's worth reading just to remind yourself how exceptionally well the primary process has worked out for the Democrats.

In the article, Democratic pollster Paul Maslin remarks about the shape Kerry is in at this point:

I don't think there's ever been anyone healthier.

Democratic pollster Geoff Garin adds:

You probably have to go back more than 50 years to find a nominating process less divisive. There is no meaningful group of disaffected Democrats coming out of this process.

And conservative, but always fair-minded, opinion analyst Karlyn Bowman summarizes:

It is rare that a primary campaign strengthens the nominee. This campaign has clearly done that.

The article also provides some useful data on where recent presidential races were at similar times in the election year. The most striking datum is from 1992, when Clinton was trailing Bush 50 percent to 44 percent in an early March Gallup poll and losing about one-quarter of Democratic voters to George H.W. Bush. In contrast, Kerry is ahead of the current George Bush 51 percent to 46 percent and is losing only 7 percent of Democratic voters to his Republican opponent.

Party unity. It's a wonderful thing.

But it's not just that Democrats are more united than many thought they'd be--there's also more of 'em. This is the trend I've written about quite a bit: the return of the Democratic advantage on party ID. Significant numbers of voters are rethinking the wisdom of being Republicans and switching (or switching back) to being Democrats. Of course, most of us were Democrats before it was cool, but we certainly welcome the newcomers (or returnees, as the case may be).

Here are some recent data that confirm the emergence of this trend. According to the Harris Poll, the Democrats averaged a 5 point lead on party ID over the course of last year, a 2 point gain over 2002. And a just-released Kaiser Family Foundation poll gives the Democrats an 8 point lead in party ID, before leaners are factored in. With leaners factored in the Democrats have a nice 10 point lead in party ID, 47 percent to 37 percent.

And here's a related shocker: in the same poll, 28 percent say they're liberals, compared to 35 percent who say they're conservatives. Pretty close! Now this result probably has something to do with the way Kaiser asks the ideology question:

Would you say your views in most political matters are very liberal, somewhat liberal, moderate, somewhat conservative or very conservative?

Possibly what's going on here is that being able to say you're "somewhat liberal" instead of just "liberal" leads a number of moderates who actually are fairly liberal, but are normally afraid liberal really means "very liberal", to accept the liberal label. Interesting, if true.

Which leads me to say: Closet liberals, we don't care if you're only "somewhat" liberal! We'll take everyone we can get.

March 3, 2004

On to November

Well, the voters have spoken: Kerry's the one. And they're probably right. On balance, Kerry was--is--the best candidate of those available. Richard Gephardt was old news and would have been chopped up for his positions on tax cuts and health care. Howard Dean was an undisciplined campaigner who was easy to typecast as being too extreme. Wes Clark was not ready for prime time. And John Edwards lacked the gravitas, experience and national security street cred to beat Bush.

So that leaves John Kerry. And that's what we got. I agree with Josh Marshall: Kerry is a very solid candidate and he will--very importantly--not give up on beating Bush until the last dog dies. The guy's a fighter and we're going to need that in this election. Someone who fades down the stretch would be disastrous. Kerry won't.

What should we do now? Get and wear your Kerry buttons, sign up as volunteers, etc. And (very important!) send money. As LiberalOasis argues, the "$100 revolution" started by Howard Dean shouldn't stop; it should continue as Kerry faces off against Bush. Kerry needs both the money and the type of grassroots politics those small donations promote. Click here to make your contribution. (I did!)

What should Kerry do now? I had some advice for him awhile ago that still seems reasonable. And my post from yesterday tells him what his target should be: independent voters, who are ripe for the picking. Democrats and Republicans are likely to be about equally polarized for their candidates, so it's up to the independents. Think of it as the national equivalent to the Ohio test. Just as Kerry is very likely to win the election if he can win Ohio, so is he very likely to win the election if he can win independents nationally.

In 1992, Clinton won independents by 6 points and in 1996 he carried them by 8 points. Kerry doesn't need to win by that much. A couple of points should be more than adequate. Given how fed up independent voters seem with Bush these days, that hardly seems an insurmountable obstacle.

March 2, 2004

Independent Voters Desert Bush

Actually, Bush's numbers are poor with the public as a whole in the latest CBS News poll, but his numbers with independents suggest particularly serious difficulties with this group of swing voters.

In the poll, Bush's overall approval rating is 47 percent--bad enough, but independents give him only 45 percent approval. Similarly, his approval rating on Iraq is 46 percent, with independents even lower at 45 percent. Even more striking, Bush's approval rating on foreign policy is now down to 44 percent, with 45 percent disapproval, with independents much more negative at 39 percent approval/48 percent disapproval. But even that looks good compared to his ratings on the economy: 37 percent approval/56 percent disapproval among all voters and 33 percent/56 percent among independents.

In terms of the horse race, two questions (Bush vs. generic Democrat and Bush-Cheney vs. Kerry-Edwards) return the same low level of support for Bush among independents (41 percent). On the Bush-Cheney vs. Kerry-Edwards horse race (which Kerry-Edwards wins by a 50 percent to 42 percent margin), it's also interesting to note that Democrats and Republicans are identically polarized: 88 percent to 8 percent for their ticket.

Other noteworthy findings: by 55 percent to 32 percent (55/30 among independents) people believe Bush's decisions are influenced by special interests. At this point, people are much more closely split on Kerry (38/31, and 38/31 among independents).

Also, 67 percent believe that Kerry either cares a lot or some about "the needs and problems of people like yourself", compared to 58 percent for Bush. And, by 53 percent to 14 percent, people believe that Bush's policies have decreased, not increased, the number of jobs in the US (53/11 among independents).

Finally, opinion on the war in Iraq continues to head south. By 52 percent to 42 percent, people say the war was not worth the loss of American life and other costs; by 58 percent to 40 percent, they think that the Iraq threat could have been contained or wasn't a threat at all, rather than that it required immediate military action; and by 59 percent to 32 percent they think Iraq WMD intelligence was exaggerated to build support for the war.

Young Voters Desert Bush

DR has been arguing for quite some time that young voters are leaning Democratic this year and that the higher youth turnout is in November, the better for the Democrats. Strong supporting evidence for this view is provided by the latest Newsweek "GENext" poll of 18-29 year olds.

In this poll, Bush's approval rating among youth is just 46 percent, down 8 points from a month ago. And the number saying they will definitely vote against Bush is up to 47 percent, a 13 points rise from last month. Moreover, in a direct Kerry-Bush matchup, young voters choose Kerry over Bush by an impressive 15 point margin (56 percent to 41 percent).

The GOP's best bet here is that old standby youth apathy. Let's hope they're unpleasantly surprised this November.

March 1, 2004

Vulnerabilities of the Medicare Prescription Drugs Bill

Recent news reports indicate that the Medicare prescription drugs bill continues to get a tepid-to-hostile reaction from the public, especially seniors, the intended beneficiares of the bill. To understand this poor reception, it’s instructive to review how public opinion evolved on the bill. Such a review shows that the current political problems of the bill were foreshadowed every step of the way by public opinion as the bill moved toward passage.

July, 2003

In a July Gallup report on attitudes toward Medicare reform, seniors opposed, by 69 percent to 24 percent, an effort to shift most Medicare recipients into managed care plans. And, by 63 percent to 20 percent, seniors believed the new Medicare bills then being considered by Congress would not do enough to help pay the cost of prescription drugs.

Another Gallup report in the same month showed that Bush’s job approval dropped twelve points among seniors in the last half of June, a period when coverage of the Medicare prescription drug bills was particularly intense.

October, 2003

As the Medicare bill continued to move toward passage, an October CBS News/New York Times poll showed that Bush’s approval rating was just 41 percent among those 65 and older, a fall of 22 points since May of that year.

An October Washington Post poll showed that Bush’s approval rating on prescription drugs for seniors was an abysmal 35 percent and his approval rating on the cost, availability and coverage of health insurance was a dreadful 31 percent with 60 percent disapproval.

November, 2003

According to a poll taken right before passage of the bill by Peter Hart Research for the AFL-CIO, almost two-thirds of voters 55 and older thought Congress and the White House should work for a better Medicare prescription drug plan than the one on offer. Just 19 percent wanted Congress to pass the bill under consideration.

The same poll found that 65 percent of these voters viewed the drug plan unfavorably and the same number viewed the subsidies for private HMOs unfavorably. Also, 64 percent opposed the bill’s provisions to ban importation of drugs from Canada and an overwhelming 78 percent said the bill didn’t do enough to protect retirees now covered by employer-provided prescription drug plans.

Another poll taken around the same time by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that, based on a carefully neutral description of the bill, the public as a whole opposed the bill 42 percent to 40 percent, registered voters opposed it 44 percent to 39 percent, those over 50 opposed the bill 49 percent to 36 percent and those over 65 opposed it 49 percent to 33 percent. And, interestingly, those holding a favorable opinion of AARP, which of course endorsed the bill, opposed its passage 45 percent to 38 percent.

December, 2003

When the ink was barely dry on the bill, the Washington Post found that strong pluralities of both seniors (47 percent to 26 percent) and those 55-64 (46 percent to 32 percent) disapproved of the Medicare changes voted by Congress. These findings led nonpartisan pollster Andrew Kohut to say, “This is a surprisingly tepid reaction to this big legislation.”

More evidence of seniors’ dismay was provided by a Gallup poll released about the same time. Seniors just barely said (46 percent to 39 percent) that they favored the new prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients. That’s amazing for a group that had just received a new benefit.

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

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

January-February, 2004

A January Gallup poll found that 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 February an Ipsos-Associated Press (AP) poll found that, by 71 percent to 26 percent, the public thought that the government should negotiate with drug companies for lower drug prices, rather than allow drug companies to set their prices without government interference. The poll also found that, by more than to 2:1 (65 percent to 32 percent), the public thought the government should make it easier to important drugs from Canada. Finally, after all the GOP’s efforts on the prescription drugs issue, the poll found that the public strongly favored the Democrats over the Republicans (52 percent to 33 percent) as the party most likely to make prescription drugs more affordable.

Also in February, a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that seniors, by more than 3:1 (55 percent to 17 percent), had an unfavorable impression of the new law. Moreover, among those who knew the law had been passed and signed into law (just one-third of seniors), an overwhelming majority (73 percent) had an unfavorable impression of the new law.

These data suggest a couple of key areas of vulnerability for the GOP around this bill: inadequate coverage and no curbs on prices.

Of the two, inadequate coverage presents the most glaring vulnerability. As the data above suggest, seniors already see the benefit, in a general way, as not going far enough. And, once seniors are informed of the specifics of the coverage, particularly the “doughnut hole” in coverage between $2250 and $5100 in out-of-pocket costs, it really sends them through the roof, according to both news stories and focus group research.

This is just not what seniors had in mind when they envisioned a prescription drug benefit. As nonpartisan analyst Charlie Cook presciently observed back in July of last year, when negative sentiment about the impending bill was starting to become obvious:

Even the most cursory look at polling data and reports from focus groups indicates that senior citizens have very specific ideas of what they expect in a prescription drug benefit. What they have in mind is something resembling what a Fortune 500 company provides (or used to provide) employees: A modest premium, minimal co-pay, no gaps, no restrictions on what drugs physicians can prescribe and unlimited coverage.

Cook concluded, given that the drug benefit likely to be passed didn’t look anything like this:

If the prescription drug benefit is a factor in next year's election, it will be as an albatross around the necks of Republicans and the Bush administration.

Exactly. Seniors just aren’t getting anything close to what they had in mind and this discrepancy, so vividly encapsulated in the doughnut hole, is potentially a very, very serious problem for the GOP.

But the issue of no curbs on prices is also very important. The AP data indicate that the public overwhelmingly favors the use of government negotiating power to lower drug prices. And, as with the doughnut hole in coverage, reports from the field indicate that seniors are outraged to learn that the bill expressly prohibits the government from doing so.

The issue of failing to curb prices gains additional force from its relation to the generic problem of escalating health care costs. Poll after poll shows that the most serious overall 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. Failure to control drug prices is just one more example of this critical problem that the GOP, in the public's eyes, has done little to address.

These two broad areas of vulnerability suggest that the GOP in 2004 may have a hard time defending their greatest programmatic achievement in the domestic area.