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May 31, 2004

On the Question of Boldness

Just how bold does John Kerry need to be? There's certainly a reasonable argument that he doesn't need to be bold at all. As pollster Mark Penn remarked in some story I read, many successful campaigns have been run on little more than "it's time for a change".

Can John Kerry get away with such an approach? Maybe. Certainly, his lack of a bold approach in one area--Iraq--has seemed to work fairly well so far. As discussed in my previous post, Kerry has resisted putting forward an exit strategy for Iraq, choosing instead to focus on improving and internationalizing Bush's policy by bringing in NATO troops, establishing an international high commissioner for Iraq, more training for Iraq's own security forces and so on. This may not be a crystal clear alternative to the direction of Bush's policy but, as Bush's policy has imploded and dragged him down politically, Kerry's campaign has been able to benefit from Bush's woes nonetheless.

For some, this has been exactly the right approach and should be continued indefinitely (see, for example, Noam Scheiber's comments in his New Republic blog). The theory is that anything as specific as an exit strategy on Kerry's part would shift the political conversation away from the actually-existing mess in Iraq and toward discussion of Kerry's strategy and whatever Bush's counter to that strategy would be. That would be bad since that would interfere with hanging the whole Iraq mess around Bush's neck and forcing him to "own it", as the expression goes.

Could be. But doesn't it come down to how well you think such an approach fits into the generally-accepted two stage process by which a challenger can beat an incumbent president? First, voters have to decide they're interested in firing the incumbent; then they have to decide that the challenger is a good alternative to the incumbent. Clearly, the cautious approach fits well into the first part of the process--as voters are getting convinced the incumbent needs to go, why confuse them with a lot of "bold" ideas from the challenger? Let the voters think long and hard about how bad the incumbent is, not the detailed plans of the challenger.

So far so good. But it is in the second part of the process--voters deciding they want to hire the challenger--that an approach distinguished mostly by caution can run into trouble. Granted, if voters hate the incumbent enough, the challenger can do and say very little and still appear to be a compelling alternative to voters. But, for all Bush's problems, I don't think this is going to be one of those elections. Among swing voters--not Democratic voters, who I believe will cut Kerry a great deal of slack in the agenda department--the distaste for Bush does not run deep enough. They will need a reason to believe in John Kerry.

Which brings us back to Iraq. David Corn has an interesting piece, "How Bold Should Kerry Go", on The Nation website, which quotes a Democrat close to Kerry's foreign policy team as saying:

Kerry is playing it very cautiously. It's a prevent-defense kind of game. He's counting on Bush to keep making mistakes. I'm skeptical of it. But it could work. My fear is that he's not setting a strong enough foundation for people not only to reject Bush but to embrace Kerry.

Exactly. Among voters who need to be convinced the most, cautious may not cut it. Here's a revealing passage from a good article by Tim Grieve on Salon about Kerry's recent campaiging:

Oddly, it's the more conservative Democrats -- plus swing voters and Republicans thinking of crossing over -- who may need to hear more of Kerry's Iraq alternative. Beverly Weyenberg, a retiree who turned out to see Kerry in Green Bay Thursday night, saw the candidate on TV about six months ago and knew instantly that he'd be her choice. "I felt it so strongly that I wrote it down on my calendar," she says, adding that she "felt the same way about John F. Kennedy." Still, she gets a little teary when she starts to thinking about those "kids" dying in Iraq, and she wants to know Kerry's plan for bringing them home soon.

So, too, does a Republican shuttle-bus driver in Green Bay who voted for Bush in 2000 but is having second thoughts now. He can't help thinking that the war was really about oil, that Donald Rumsfeld is hiding something. He trusts Bush because he trusts Colin Powell, but with Powell on the outs he's worried. He's thinking about Kerry, he said, but he's worried that Kerry won't be able to get out of Iraq, either.

Sure, these anecdotes are hardly definitive, but they get at what's worrying me about the Kerry approach. There's a point at which stage one (reject the incumbent) must turn into stage two (hire the challenger) and, so far, I'm not convinced Kerry's got his stage two mojo working.

And I don't just mean on Iraq and foreign policy. I mean in the domestic arena too. But that's a subject for another post.

May 28, 2004

Independent Voters Say: Give Me an Exit Strategy!

It has been widely acknowledged that Kerry has a problem differentiating himself from Bush on how to handle the Iraq situation, given that Kerry won't commit himself to, or even talk about, an exit strategy. But it has been widely misunderstood that that problem lies in Kerry's appeal to Democratic voters.

Personally, I think Democratic voters are likely to stick with Kerry no matter what his Iraq position--because they want to get rid of Bush so badly. What I worry about is his ability to appeal to independent voters, without some kind of exit strategy.

Consider how fed up political independents are getting with the Iraq situation. In the latest CBS News poll, an overwhelming majority of independents say the result of the war with Iraq hasn't been worth the loss of American life and other costs of the war (67-25). And in the new ABC News/Washington Post poll, by more than 2:1 (65-32), independents believe we have gotten bogged down in Iraq. rather than making good progress.

Moreover, according to the CBS News poll, this is a group that now believes, by 52-40, we made a mistake getting involved in the war in Iraq and also believes, by 49-44, that we should have just stayed out of Iraq, rather than taking military action. Finally, independents have been in favor, for the last month, of turning over "control to Iraqis as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not completely stable" rather than having "United States troops stay in Iraq as long as it takes to make sure Iraq is a stable democracy" (essentially the Kerry position). In the latest CBS News poll, the margin among independents is 51-43 in favor of turning over control to Iraqis as soon as possible.

Despite these sentiments and the clear direction of change among these voters--toward less and less interest ins staying the course and more and more interest in an exit strategy--Kerry has refused, so far, to even mention the "E" word. Why?

One reason may be because he believes it would be wrong to simply withdraw the troops and abandon Iraq. And he's right about that. But there are ways to talk about an exit strategy without being irresponsible; an exit strategy doesn't mean just yanking the troops out. But it does mean setting a date to leave and a plan to turn genuine control of Iraq to an elected Iraqi government within that time frame.

James Steinberg and Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution have sketched the elements of such a plan, with an exit date of the end of 2005, hardly a precipitate departure. Other sober-minded foreign policy analysts like Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, have called for a similar approach.

An exit strategy: it's not just for hard-core peaceniks anymore. Increasingly, mainstream analysts and mainstream voters--i.e., independent, swing voters--are leaning in that direction as well. Kerry has a chance to reach these voters with something clear and definite about how he intends to get the US out of Iraq. And if he doesn't, who's to say that Bush might not put one on the table first?

That's something to be avoided. C'mon, John, can you say E-X-I-T? I think you can.

May 27, 2004

Fun Facts on Religion and Politics

You asked for it. Or maybe you didn't. But here it is anyway. Make of it what you will!

1. Most progressives are religious. For example, in 2000, 81 percent of Gore voters professed a religious affiliation. That’s within shouting distance of the 89 percent of Bush voters who professed a religious affiliation (2000 National Study of Religion and Politics [NSRP]).

2. It is true that progressives attend church less than conservatives. In the 2000 VNS exit poll, 33 percent of Gore voters said they attended church once a week or more, compared to 49 percent of Bush voters who said they attended church that often. (Note that both figures are probably too high–VNS data show levels of attendance that are inconsistent with all other data sources–but the magnitude of attendance difference between Gore and Bush voters is probably about right.)

But the whole US population is trending toward less observance, not more. For example, in surveys taken over the last thirty years, it is the ranks of those who never or rarely attend church that have grown the most. According to a National Opinion Research Center (NORC) study, those who said they never attended church or attended less than once a year went from 18 percent in 1972 to 30 percent in 1998 . Confirming this latter figure, the National Election Study found that those who say they never attended was at 33 percent of the citizenry and 27 percent of voters in 2000 . That is a group about twice the size of those who identify themselves as members of the religious right, and it is a group that has tended to vigorously support Democrats rather than Republicans.

Indeed, according to the NORC study, if you add to the 30 percent mentioned above those who say they attend church only once or a few times a year, it turns out that about half the US population attends church only a few times a year or less.

3. In the 2000 VNS exit poll, it was widely noted that Bush won the support of voters who say they attend church more than weekly by 63 to 36 and voters who say they attend church weekly by 57 to 40 . And these voters make up 43 percent of the electorate. But even according to these unusually high VNS figures, the more observant groups were only a bit over two-fifths of the electorate. Each of the groups in the less observant three-fifths of voters—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 percent margin.

4. Not all evangelicals are conservative Republicans. Far from it. In the 2000 NSRP, a large subgroup of white evangelicals–“less observant” white evangelicals (about one quarter of white evangelicals and 7 percent of all voters)–supported Bush only 55-45. And in 1996, the same group either split their votes between Clinton and Dole or actually supported Clinton, depending on which survey you look at.

Early 2004 NSRP data from this spring use a different categorization (“traditional”, “centrist” and “modernist” evangelicals) and also show a progressive group of evangelicals–the modernists, about one-sixth of evangelicals. This group actually supports Kerry over Bush by 9 points (46-37).

5. Karl Rove has claimed that there were four million evangelicals who didn’t go to the polls in 2000, but who can be turned out in 2004. This is an urban legend. There is, in fact, no evidence that evangelicals’ turnout in 2000 was particularly low (it was about at the national average) and that, therefore, there are, in any meaningful sense, “missing” evangelicals in the voting pool.

John Green, perhaps the leading academic analyst of religion and politics, has said that these missing evangelicals Rove alludes to are more “mythical” than missing. And, to the extent they might really exist, he believes they are far more likely to be in solid red states than in contested battleground states.

6. Conservatives and the GOP have made aggressive efforts to target Catholics. But there is no evidence that this targeting is actually working. “Traditional” Catholics, to be sure, are strongly supporting Bush (60-30), according to the 2004 NSRP data. But they are only 27 percent of all Catholics. The rest of Catholics–73 percent–are supporting Kerry. The includes the “modernist” group (31 percent of Catholics) who support Kerry by a lop-sided 61-33 and the “centrist” Catholics–who are both the largest (42 percent) Catholic group and the real swing group among Catholics–who support him by 45-41.

More broadly, there is little evidence that centrist and modernist Catholics, which is the overwhelming majority of Catholics–including among Hispanics–are likely to vote the conservative social positions of the Catholic church on issues like abortion or gay marriage. That is what the GOP has been banking on, but it is highly unlikely to happen. Polling data suggest strongly that these Catholics are far more concerned and moved electorally by other issues, such as the economy, education, health care and so on.

7. The GOP has also targeted Jews. Again, there is no evidence their appeals are working. In the 2004 NSRP, Jews favor Kerry by 46 points (70-24).

Moral for the GOP: Don't count your (religious) chickens before they've hatched.

May 26, 2004

Battleground States Update

The Annenberg Election Survey released data today that suggest Kerry's ads in the battleground states are having the desired effect of improving public impressions of Kerry in those states. In the May 3-16 period, Kerry's favorability rating in the battleground states was 39 favorable/33 unfavorable. In the May 17-23 period, his rating improved to 44/32. As for Bush, his favorability rating in these states has declined from 48/38 to 44/44.

Other recently-released swing states data are also positive for Kerry. Yesterday, I mentioned the Gallup data which showed Kerry ahead by 5 in the "purple states" (the 16 states where the 2000 winning margin was less than 6 points; note that Annenberg's "battleground states" include all 20 states where the Bush and Kerry campaigns have been running TV advertisements--that means, in addition to the purple 16, Annenberg includes CO, DE, LA and WV). And Zogby has recently released a group of 16 "battleground state" polls(here, battleground states are the same as Gallup's purple states, with the exception of WV being substituted for ME), conducted May 18-23 for WSJ.com. These polls show Kerry ahead in 12 of these 16 battleground states: FL, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, NM, OH, OR, PA, WA and WI. Bush is only ahead in four: AR, IA, TN and WV.

Note that all these polls included Nader in the trial heat mix, so these results are particularly bad news for the Bush campaign. Note also, that where Kerry leads in 2000 blue states, his leads are all outside the margin of error. In addition, his leads in the 2000 red states of Ohio (+5) and New Hampshire (+10) are also outside the margin of error.

One caveat: the Zogby polls were conducted over the internet with "respondents who agreed to take part. Likely voters from each state followed instructions sent by e-mail that led them to the survey located on Zogby's secure servers in Utica, N.Y". Well, this isn't like an internet "poll" where anyone who wants to can participate, but one still wonders whether this kind of polling might be biased in ways that would throw off the results. I don't know that for sure, but it's a caution that's worth keeping in mind.

May 25, 2004

Sorting Out the Latest Horse Race Data

We have three new public polls to consider:

CBS News, May 20-23
ABC News/Washington Post, May 20-23
Gallup, May 21-23

Note that the survey dates for all three polls are virtually identical. Comparing apples to apples--that is, my favorite apples of RV, Kerry-Bush matchups--all three polls agree Kerry is ahead: Gallup by 48-46; ABC News by 49-47 and CBS News by 49-41.

On the CBS News result, their internals show Kerry leading by 16 points (!) among independents (51-35). My my. Considering that Kerry only needs to win independents by a few points to pretty much guarantee himself an election victory, that's quite a result.

For what it's worth, Gallup finally has its RVs and LVs agreeing: Kerry is ahead in both samples by two. In their last poll, Bush was ahead by 1 among LVs, while behind by 6 among RVs.

Gallup also provides a breakdown of the RV, Kerry-Bush matchup by red, blue and purple states (thanks, Gallup!). That breakdown shows Kerry leading by 5 points in the purple states (50-45). In 2000, Gore and Bush were dead-even (48-48) in the purple states.

Not a bad set of horse race results for Mr. Kerry, not bad at all.

So, How Did the President Do Last Night?

Pretty poorly, in my judgement. You can read my reaction and that a number of other interesting folks in this compilation at Salon.com.

Here's the first few paragraphs of my comment, in case you don't have a Salon sub (get one!). But the compilation as a whole is well worth reading, if you have access.

President Bush's speech, whose purpose was to rally public opinion in favor of his Iraq policy, proposed no change of course and no timeline for concluding U.S. involvement. Indeed, with the exception of bulldozing the Abu Ghraib prison, Bush offered absolutely no new ideas on how to deal with the huge difficulties the U.S. currently confronts in Iraq. Instead, he appeared to be relying on a strategy of looking stern and determined, saying that "the terrorists cannot be allowed to win" and comparing the American vision of "liberty and life" with the terrorists' vision of "tyranny and murder." If that all sounds familiar, it's because Bush has been striking the same poses and saying the same things -- to decreasing effect -- ever since the U.S. invaded Iraq, and, in fact, considerably before it.

This is not likely to be an effective strategy. The public has turned increasingly negative on the war in Iraq and, more broadly, on Bush's conduct of the war on terrorism. Simply asserting that we're doing the right thing and we must continue to do it is not going to turn those negative views around. Instead, since the public believes that the current course in Iraq is not containing, much less resolving, the very serious problems, proposing a change from that course was the only plausible way to turn public opinion in his direction.

That is exactly what Bush failed to do and why we may reasonably expect that public opinion will not turn in his favor. And public opinion now is remarkably negative.

May 24, 2004

Bush's Approval Rating Now Net Negative on War on Terrorism!

Wow! Not only has Bush's approval rating on handling the war on terrorism been dropping like a stone, the Annenberg Election Survey has now measured it in net negative territory: 46 percent approval/50 percent disapproval (May 17-23). That's a first and a very significant first. It means Bush's area of greatest strength is rapidly turning into political liability.

And check out the internals on this question: 41/53 among independents; 41/56 among 18-29 year olds; 41/56 among Hispanics and 40/54 among moderates.

The poll also finds the public now saying that the soldiers at Abu Ghraib followed orders (48 percent), rather than acted on their own (30 percent). That's a switch from two weeks ago when it was 47-31 the other way.

The poll has Bush's approval rating on Iraq at 39/57, including just 33/61 among independents and 30/66 among Hispanics. And, on whether "the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, or not", the poll finds just 40 percent saying it was worth it, compared to 54 percent who say it wasn't. Among independents, the split is slightly more negative at 39/55, much more negative among moderates (30/64) and stunningly more negative among Hispanics (22/75).

These numbers are bad enough, but the numbers in the new CBS News poll (May 20-23) are, if anything, even worse. Consider this one: only 30 percent now say the country is headed in the right direction, compared to 65 percent who say it is off on the wrong track. The latter is the highest number ever recorded by the CBS News poll since it started asking this question in the mid-1980s. As the CBS News polling analysis puts it:

The last time the percentage that said the country was on the wrong track was as high as it is now was back in November 1994. Then, Republicans swept into control of both houses of Congress for the first time in decades.

The poll also finds Bush's overall approval rating down at 41 percent, with 52 percent disapproval. I believe that's the lowest of any public poll during Bush's presidency. In addition, Bush's job rating on foreign policy is 37/56 and his rating on the economy is 36/57.

Speaking of the economy, only 20 percent believe Bush administration policies have increased the number of jobs in the US and more people now believe the economy is getting worse (32 percent) than getting better (23 percent). Last month, the figures were roughly reversed at 30 percent better/26 percent worse.

Guess that better be a hell of a speech tonight! The public does not seem, shall we say, to be in a particularly receptive mood for the president.

May 23, 2004

Are the Odds Against Bush?

Yesterday, I struck a few cautionary notes about how optimistic Democrats should be, despite the recent promising political news. But today we'll balance that by taking a walk on the optimistic side, courtesy of our friends at Democracy Corps.

Their latest analysis memo is titled: "Bush's Long Odds: A Report on the New Phase of the 2004 Election", based on their latest survey of LVs, conducted May 10-13. (You can also find a very detailed chart pack here.) Well, I don't know about "long odds"--that probably overstates the case--but the more judicious "[h]e is more likely to lose than win", as they put it in the first paragraph of their memo, seems more defensible.

Why are they so optimistic? In their view:

Whether it is the vote or job approval or personal favorability, Bush has become a 47 percent president at best. In almost every area, he is being dragged down by even stronger negative trends....In this new phase, the whole framework for the election now re-enforces Bush’s marginality. Big forces are at work, undercutting Bush’s case for progress and point of view on the economy, budget priorities, foreign policy and national security. As a result, Bush wins the argument in no area in this survey, putting the election on the Democrats’ terrain.

Here are some of the data that support their viewpoint. The poll has right direction/wrong track at 37/56 and has DCorps' related question "do you think the country should continue in the direction Bush is headed or go in a significantly different direction?" at 42 Bush's direction/54 significantly different direction.

Moreover, when this question is applied to 12 different specific issue areas, voters only want to continue in Bush's direction on one area, the war on terrorism (56/42), but even here Bush's net of +14 is sharply down from a net of +33 in January. In all other areas, Bush is net negative on which direction the country should go in: the federal budget (-31); health care (-28); prescription drug coverage for seniors (-22); jobs in America (-19); the economy (-16); foreign policy (-13), Iraq (-11); middle class living standards (-10); national priorities (-8); education (-8); and taxes (-4).

The wish (by 13 points) to go in a significantly different direction on foreign policy is a particularly important result. In February, the public was split down on this question. And DCorps reports that, as a predictor of the presidential vote, judgements on the direction of Bush's foreign policy are as important as any other issue in predicting the presidential vote (which DCorps has at 49-47 Kerry) and substantially stronger than judgements about Bush's direction in the war on terrorism.

Not surprisingly, the poll finds confidence in the Iraq situation declining rapidly. By 14 points (55-41), voters now say the war in Iraq was not worth the cost of US lives and dollars. And, by an identical 55-41 margin, voters believe the US is losing control in Iraq, rather than making progress. Finally, by identical 50-45 margins, voters believe that the war on Iraq has made the war on terrorism harder, rather than helped it and believe that the Iraq war has made us less, not more, secure.

On the economy, it's worth quoting the DCorps analysis memo at length:

It is time to take the voters’ frustration with the economy seriously, despite continuing reports on job creation, the strong economy and the good news that lies ahead. This month’s results are the most dramatic yet, as Bush drops on economic measures rival the changes on Iraq. It is possible that elite satisfaction with the economy and Bush’s talk about economic progress is producing an economic backlash in the country, particularly among average and middle class voters.

Virtually all public polls report a drop in Bush’s job ratings on the economy. This
survey re-enforces that: 57 percent want to go in a significantly different direction on the economy, with 48 percent saying they feel strongly about that. The number for change has reached over 60 percent for non-college voters. This month, there has been a dramatic rise, up from 57 to 65 percent, saying there has been economic gains for the highest earners, but not for the middle class, for whom jobs are scarce and health care costs are skyrocketing.

Just so. This analysis can be constructively read in conjunction with Richard Stevenson's rather befuddled article in The New York Times "Economic Signs Are Pointing Up, but Bush's Ratings Are Not". Sorry, Richard, it's not just that those pesky voters are confused by all the Iraq news and can't see just how good things are getting. For the average voter, things really aren't all that great.....and that's trouble for Bush, no matter what happens in Iraq.

"Long odds" for Bush's re-election? Maybe not. But unfavorable odds? Very possibly.

May 22, 2004

Cautionary Notes Department

I've been arguing for quite a while that the key numbers to look at are not the horse race numbers between Kerry and Bush but rather all the indicators that show voters losing confidence in the incumbent. We've had those in abundance for a couple of months, including indicators that show declining voter confidence in Bush's handling of the war on terrorism, once his seemingly impregnable electoral advantage.

But now that Kerry seems to have taken a small lead in the horse race and now that the media have finally absorbed the fundamental fact that Bush is doing poorly, not well, in comparison to previous incumbent presidents, perhaps it's time to strike a few cautionary notes. After all, the election is still over five months away, the lead may change hands again several times, and Kerry's position, while strong, is hardly unassailable.

A first cautionary note worth paying attention to is provided by Matthew Yglesias in an article on the The American Prospect website. As Yglesias rightly points out, the elections about which we have relevant polling data only go back to 1948, which is a mighty small dataset. Hence, just as caution was well-advised when it appeared by historical standards that Bush would win, so is caution well-advised now when it appears that, by those standards, he is likely to lose. Moreover, as Yglesias points out, if you expand the number of cases under consideration by including elections where a sitting vice president runs to succeed an incumbent president (1960, 1988, 2000) as sort of quasi-incumbent elections, the historical picture looks a little cloudier.

Personally, I still think Bush is in a great deal of trouble. But we should be cautious about relying too much on the historical record in assessing his likelihood of losing.

Another cautionary note is struck by Terence Samuel, also on the Prospect website. His article, "Chicken Littles Recant", points out how quickly Democrats tend to go from being more depressed than they should be by political trends (oh no, Kerry's only running even with Bush; he should be ahead by 10 points; disaster looms!!) to being excessively optimistic (Kerry's ahead, Bush is sinking fast--Kerry's going to win by a landslide!!)

As he points out:

This is an up moment, but it was only a few weeks ago that some influential but unnamed Democrats were wringing their hands on the front page of The New York Times about how Kerry was blowing their big opportunity to win back the White House.

Let's try to remember this and not get similarly silly the next time the polls and news cycle go south for Kerry.

Finally, Josh Marshall cautions us not to conclude from the current good news that now is the time for Kerry to ratchet up his aggressiveness and take center stage away from the president. As he puts it:

....partisan polarization will intensify in the coming months. And that will help the president in many ways, getting some of the attention off him and on to Kerry. But a judgment about the president like the [negative] one I've described above, once made, can be hard to unmake. And for the moment, with so many of the president's actions delivering abysmal dividends to the nation he's led, that judgment is being made against the president. So, for the moment, I'm not sure having Kerry give Bush center stage is such a bad thing.

Of course, that doesn't really tell us when Kerry should turn up the heat. But it's a reasonable point that we should not necessarily assume that a bit of good news means that time is now.

May 21, 2004

More Swing State News and Views

A new Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll has Kerry up by 5 in Pennsylvania among RVs (48-43). The poll shows PA voters turning against the Iraq war, undoubtedly a factor in Kerry's current lead.

Speaking of swing states, here's some useful weekend reading. First, check out a new feature on The American Prospect website, "Purple People Watch", which they say they will post weekly. It's a roundup of political developments, polls, etc., from the swing, sometimes termed "purple", states. It looks like it should be quite useful, though it seems oddly hard to find on their website. I also noticed that, in a state or two, the poll they cite is not actually the latest one. Still, a very useful feature and I recommend it.

And, if you haven't already, you should scoot over to the DLC's website and check out Mark Gersh's article on "The New Battleground". Gersh, the data guru to countless Democrats, has an interesting take on which of the swing states are most truly in play and, commendably, figures into his assessments how a given state has changed demographically since the last election. I don't agree with everything he says, but it's food for thought in all cases.

Swing State News

I haven't been able to find a public link to it, but here are some data from a recent (May 11-16) Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (GQR) poll of LVs in the battleground states (AZ, AR, FL, IA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NH, OH, NM, OR, PA, WA, WI, WV). The poll finds that only 36 percent of voters in these states think the US is headed in the right direction, compared to 57 percent who think it's going in the wrong direction.

Bush's approval rating is at 46 percent, with 50 percent disapproval, and Kerry is leading Bush in a trial heat match-up by 5 points (50-45). This result is consistent with most other data from the battleground states as a whole, which have shown Kerry with at least a modest lead for quite some time. Note also that Kerry's lead is a slightly larger 6 points among independents in the battleground states (48-42), another good sign for the Kerry campaign.

Finally, the GQR poll finds that Kerry has made gains among battleground voters, compared to one month ago, on whether various positive characteristics describe Kerry well. Examples include: "will keep America strong" (up 9 points to 57 percent); "honest and trustworthy" (up 7 points to 57 percent); "strong leader" (up 7 points to 59 percent); and "has what it takes to be President" (up 6 points to 57 percent).

Recently-released state level polls include:

Arizona: Behavior Research Center Rocky Mountain poll (April 29-May 4) has Bush up by only 4 over Kerry (46-42). Note Bush's low support level, well into the danger zone for an incumbent.

Florida: ARG poll (May 17-19) has Bush up by a single point (47-46). Besides Bush's low support level, note Kerry's 7 point lead among independents (47-40). In 2000, Gore and Bush split Florida independents down the middle.

May 19, 2004

Outbreak of Party Unity!

It's nice to see the two main factions of the Democratic party--liberals and New Democrats--burying the hatchet, and not in each other. Check out this article "Come Together" by Robert Kuttner and Will Marshall in the new issue of the The American Prospect. Kuttner, of course, is a founder of that magazine and a long-time stalwart of the labor-liberal wing of the party, while Marshall is President of the Progressive Policy Institute, the DLC's think tank.

Kuttner and Marshall have had some vigorous, not to say bitter, disagreements in the past, as New Democrats and liberals have squared off on topics ranging from economic policy to welfare reform to electoral strategy. But they're apparently thinking better of one another these days, as evidenced by the first two paragraphs of their article:

If liberals and New Democrats sometimes seem like the Hatfields and McCoys of center-left politics, it's because we each believe passionately that America's progressive soul is worth fighting for. For the most part, these debates within the family reflect principled disagreements about the best strategy for achieving both a just society and a progressive majority that embraces it. But though we still may disagree about some details, after years of radically conservative dominance of national politics, we find ourselves in vehement agreement with a simple proposition: The radical right is closing avenues of opportunity to working Americans.

This right-wing dominance, however, has produced a new unity on the progressive side. In this spirit, a group of us has gathered under a flag of truce to work out an alternative to Bushonomics: a progressive growth strategy for expanding the middle class.

The progressive growth strategy they lay out is a good one and, I would think, acceptable to almost anyone who cares to call themselves a Democrat. The four main elements of the strategy are:

1. Return fiscal sanity to Washington;

2. Don't starve government, feed innovation;

3. Reform the tax code for the benefit of working families; and

4. Expand the economic winners' circle.

Kuttner and Marshall provide specific ideas in each area that, again, all Democrats should find palatable and useful. By all means, read the article in full and see what you think. And if that whets your appetite for yet more party unity-oriented material, read E.J. Dionne's article in the same issue of the Prospect on "Democratic Detente". Dionne observes:

For two decades, the Democratic party has been riven by sharp ideological arguements. Those debates were in some respects necessary and important. But it's obvious that many of those conflicts are irrelevant to our moment, and say far more about the past than the future. The road to nowhere is paved with rote disputes between center and left.

Amen. Dionne then lists 10 "tired and useless arguments that progressives ought to stop having" along with "10 new ones that they should start making". Unfortunately, the article is not available online as yet, so you'll have to snag a copy of the print magazine to check out exactly what those arguments are. But I recommend you do so; it's worth the effort.

May 18, 2004

Gay Marriage: Not Such a Big Deal After All?

Gay marriage was big news today with front-page stories, accompanied by photos, of gays marrying in Massachusetts. It didn't look particularly frightening; quite the contrary, the people involved looked nice and rather ordinary, not threatening. As E.J. Graff pointed out on The New Republic website, that helps explain why, so far, the expected backlash against gay marriage has failed to gain momentum: once you see the actual people involved, it's harder to get bent out of shape about it.

Recent public opinion data support the idea that publicity around gay marriage is not provoking a firestorm of opposition, but rather a halting movement toward acceptance. For example, in a May 2-4 Gallup poll, support for recognizing gay marriages is actually higher than it's ever been measured before (42 percent against 55 percent opposition). The new Newsweek poll also finds, for the first time, a majority (51 percent) of the public saying they support some kind of legal recognition of gay or lesbian couples (either full marriage rights or civil unions), as against 43 percent who oppose such recognition. And among 18-29 year olds, support for legal recognition is overwhelming (64-34).

Now, none of this is to say that we don't have a long way to go before this issue is completely resolved. And we will see public opinion move back and forth in reaction to particular events. But the net result of that ebb and flow will continue to be toward acceptance and tolerance, as the harmless reality of married gays and gays in civil unions quietly keeps on doing its good work. And, in the end, the iron fist of demographic change (see 18-29 year old data above) will finish the job.

So, How Do We Get Out of This Place?

Here is the first paragraph of Ryan Lizza's New Republic article on Kerry's Iraq position:

Iraq has been a vexing issue for John Kerry. Every time he takes a position, the domestic political ground seems to shift under his feet. He supported the use-of-force resolution in 2002, only to find that Democratic audiences hated the war and were flocking to Howard Dean. So Kerry adjusted his rhetoric to sound more like the Vermont governor. Then, once assured of the nomination, he began tacking back to the center to court moderate, general-election voters. Now, just as much of the country is moving left on the war, Kerry has moved right. He supports more troops if commanders in the field want them and has called for a high commissioner in Iraq who can bypass the U.N. bureaucracy. What's more, after opposing last year's $87 billion Iraq supplemental, he is prepared to support Bush's new $25 billion request.

That captures Kerry's problem nicely. While he's talking about how to stabilize Iraq responsibly and effectively, the public increasingly just wants to get the hell out. That suggests that Kerry needs to reframe his approach. It needs to be reframed as the quickest possible responsible way to get out of Iraq, not simply as the responsible way to deal with the Iraq situation, no exit date specified. Otherwise, he risks being out-of-step with rapidly shifting public opinion.

One possible way for Kerry to blend responsibility and exit strategy was suggested today by James Steinberg and Michael O'Hanlon of the oh-so-responsible Brookings Institution. In their Washington Post op-ed, "Set a Date to Pull Out", Steinberg and O'Hanlon propose that US commit itself to terminating military operations by the end of next year, following the Iraqi elections and the adoption of a new constitution. They argue that, while the US should indicate its willingness to stay as part of some international force, that would only be at the specific request of the new Iraqi government. They further argue that, while the US should encourage a democratic, tolerant Iraq, we must be willing to accept the type of government the Iraqis themselves choose. Finally, our security interests in Iraq should be pursued through collaboration with Iraq's neighbors and with others that share those interests, such as NATO and the UN, rather than unilaterally by ourselves.

Of course, the devil's in the details with plans like these. But the Kerry campaign's got to start somewhere if it hopes to surf, rather than fight, the current wave of public disaffection for the Iraq war.

May 17, 2004

Kerry Strong Among Hispanics in the Southwest

The New Democrat Network (NDN) is set to release a poll tomorrow of Hispanics in four key states: Florida, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada. There'll be more to say about the poll then, when the full results are available, but NDN has already dribbled out a few results for newspapers in those states.

While he is behind among Florida Hispanics, apparently because of overwhelming suppport for Bush among Cuban-American Hispanics, in the southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada, Kerry's looking very strong. Among Nevada Hispanics, Kerry is ahead of Bush 58-31, a 27 point lead that is quite close to Gore's 31 point lead in 2000. And Kerry is ahead by 59-30 among Arizona Hispanics, a 29 point lead that is closely approximates Gore's 2000 margin in that state (also 31 points). Finally, in New Mexico, Kerry is ahead by an overwhelming 64-25; that 39 point lead is actually a bit larger than Gore's very healthy 34 point lead in 2000.

So Kerry's looking very good among southwestern Hispanics, a tale that was also told in the Democracy Corps poll of Hispanics that was released back in March. More on this poll tomorrow.

A Question of Trust

Here's a result from that recent Time/CNN poll that I never got around to flagging but it's an important one: Bush's status as "a leader you can trust" as opposed to one about whom "you have some doubts and reservations" continues to decline. For the first time, he's under 40 percent on this one, with 39 percent saying he's a leader they can trust, compared to 59 percent who have doubts and reservations (37/61 among independents).

Also dipping below 40 percent for the first time in this poll is the number who say the war against Iraq was "was worth the toll it has taken in American lives and other kinds of costs". That's now down to 37 percent, as against 56 percent who say the war hasn't been worth those costs (35/60 among independents).

May 16, 2004

New Polls Bring New Lows for Bush

Two new polls--one from Newsweek and the other from Time/CNN--have Bush hitting new lows in important ways.

First, the Newsweek poll. In this poll, Bush's overall approval rating is down to 42 percent, with 52 percent disapproval, his lowest rating yet in any public poll. (Note: Zogby also has his rating at 42 percent, but Zogby job ratings are based on a different question and are therefore not directly comparable with other public polls.) And Bush's approval rating on Iraq is down to 35 percent, with 57 percent disapproval, also a new low. Wow. It was just a few days ago that his Iraq rating went below 40 for the first time. Yes, the Bush campaign is on the move!

Bad as the Newsweek findings are for Bush, the findings from the CNN poll are probably worse. First, the poll finds Kerry ahead of Bush in practically every issue area, including protecting the environment (+22); health care (+19); reducing the deficit (+18); handling the economy (+13); and even taxes (+6). But here's the really significant part: besides these domestic issues, Kerry is also ahead of Bush on handling foreign policy (+2) and handling the situation in Iraq (+3). A couple of weeks ago, Bush had a healthy lead on handling Iraq; last week Bush had a small lead; this week, he's behind. Clearly the tide is turning.

And even on his "signature issue", as it were, handling the war on terrorism, he only has a 7 point lead over Kerry (49-42). I am quite sure that that is the smallest lead we have seen yet for Bush on this issue. If he loses a few more points and Kerry gains a few more, he and Kerry will be essentially tied on handling terrorism! I suspect that would get them kind of worried down at Bush-Cheney re-elect.

And here's more on Bush's declining terrorism advantage. According to the CNN poll, more people now think Bush is doing a poor job (47 percent) than think he is doing a good job (46 percent) on handling terrorism. Ouch. That's gotta hurt when you used to think that one issue guaranteed you re-election. (Note that this question isn't phrased as a typical job rating ("Do you approve or disapprove of the job President Bush is doing handling......"), so we can't really say his job rating on handling terrorism is now below 50. But, on the evidence of this question, I would not be surprised to see such a rating fairly soon.)

Turning to the horse race data, only one of the polls mentioned above, provides registered voter (RV) data--the Newsweek poll--and that poll has Kerry ahead of Bush, albeit by only a single point (46-45; though note that Kerry has a nice 7 point lead among independents). The CNN and Zogby polls both use the less desirable (in my view) likely voter (LV) approach and both have Kerry ahead by more--CNN by 5 (51-46) and Zogby also by 5 (47-42).

And here's something to chew on: in all three of these polls, the addition of Nader to the trial heat question does not reduce Kerry's margin, since Nader winds up drawing about equally from Kerry's and Bush's support. Interesting.

May 14, 2004

Kerry Ahead in Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin and Oregon

State polls are starting to reflect the move toward Kerry we're seeing in the national polls. An Ohio ARG poll of likely voters (LVs), conducted May 10-12, shows Kerry ahead of Bush by 7 points (49-42), even with Nader in the mix. Note that independents favor Kerry by 5 points; by comparison, when the Democrats lost the state in 2000, independents favored Bush by 16 points.

A Hamilton, Beattie and Staff poll of Florida LVs for ACT, conducted April 29-May 9, has Kerry up by 3 (50-47). Note that, while Kerry and Bush were tied among independents in the first half of the poll, in the latter half of the poll Kerry led by an amazing 31 points among independents. In 2000, Gore and Bush were dead-even among Florida independents.

A Lake Snell Perry poll of Wisconsin LVs, also for ACT, has Kerry ahead, this time by 9 points, and even with Nader in the mix. Kerry leads by 13 points among independents; in 2000, Bush actually won independents in the state by 6 points.

Finally, a Research 2000 poll of Oregon LVs, for the Portland Tribune, has Kerry ahead by 4 (50-46), with a 15 point lead among independent voters. In 2000, independent voters were evenly split between Gore and Bush.

Perhaps it's just me, but I think I'm beginning to see a pattern here.

May 13, 2004

Bush Rating on Iraq Below 40!

I believe this is the first time I've seen this in a public poll: Bush's approval rating on Iraq has been measured below 40 percent. In the latest CBS News poll, conducted May 11, his rating on Iraq clocks in at 39 percent approval/58 percent disapproval (only 37 percent among independents).

Also in the poll, his overall approval rating is down to 44/49 (42/46 among independents) and his approval rating on the economy is now just 34/60 (30/62--more than 2:1 disapproval--among independents). And even his rating on handling the campaign against terrorism is a less than stellar 51 percent.

So, let's see, his overall rating is 44 percent and his average rating in what are probably the top three issue areas--the economy, Iraq and terrorism--is now a dismal 41 percent. Lo how the mighty have fallen.

And, wait, there's more. For the first time, less than 30 percent (29 percent) say the result of the Iraq war was worth the loss of American life and other costs, compared to 64 percent who say it wasn't worth the costs. And among independents, it's now an amazing 3:1 against the war being worth it (69/23).

The poll has a similarly lop-sided result on whether US is in control of the Iraq situation. By 57-31, the public says the US is not in control of events in Iraq, a margin that rises to 59/25 among independents--almost 2:1. The increasing sense of lack of control is probably an important reason for the increasing willingness to turn over control to the Iraqis as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not completely stable, rather than keep troops in Iraq as long as necessary (now 55-38 for turning over control, up from dead-even at 46-46 in late April).

Could Bush's ratings on Iraq get any worse? Based on the way things are going, I would have to say that's a very strong possibility.

May 12, 2004

Take Two Columns and Call Me in the Morning

Still getting panic attacks, even after looking at my two posts below on the latest Gallup and Pew data? And despite everything I've been saying for weeks about all the damage Bush is sustaining, remember it's a referendum on the incumbent, it's too early to expect Kerry to have a big lead, etc?

Sounds like some stronger medicine may be required. You need to immediately check out the two columns mentioned below and then resume your deep breathing exercises.

The first column is by Andrew Kohut in today's New York Times. The most relevant part of the column is as follows:

The real reason that Mr. Kerry is making so little progress is that voters are now focused almost exclusively on the president. This is typical: as an election approaches, voters first decide whether the incumbent deserves re-election; only later do they think about whether it is worth taking a chance on the challenger. There is no reason to expect a one-to-one relationship between public disaffection with the incumbent and an immediate surge in public support for his challenger.

We saw the same dynamic in the 1980 race. President Jimmy Carter's favorable rating in the Gallup surveys sank from 56 percent in January to 38 percent in June, yet he still led Ronald Reagan in Gallup's horse-race measures. For much of the rest of the campaign, voters who disapproved of Mr. Carter couldn't decide whether Mr. Reagan was an acceptable alternative. Through the summer and early fall, the lead changed back and forth, and CBS/New York Times and Gallup polls showed conflicting results — at one point in August, Gallup found Mr. Reagan ahead of President Carter by 16 percentage points, yet just two weeks later it registered a dead heat. It was not until the two men held a televised debate eight days before the election that Ronald Reagan gained legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate.

Similarly, in May 1992 President George H. W. Bush had only a 37 percent approval rating according to a Times Mirror Center survey, but the same poll showed him with a modest lead, 46 percent to 43 percent, over Bill Clinton. Only the Democratic convention and the debates brought about an acceptance of Mr. Clinton (even though his negative ratings were higher than Mr. Kerry's are now). It took a long time for him to be seen as an acceptable alternative to Mr. Bush.

Should the voters' disillusionment with the current President Bush continue, they will evaluate John Kerry and decide whether he is worth a chance. But, as in the past, the focus at this stage is on the man in the White House — and given the events in Iraq, it is unlikely to come off him any time soon. Mr. Kerry's lack of progress should not, for now, be cause for concern to Democrats. Public opinion about Mr. Bush is the far more important barometer — and if it remains low, Mr. Kerry will have a chance to make his case.

Got that? Words of wisdom from Mr. Kohut. And here are some more from Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, writing in The Hill:

In the latest Gallup poll, John Kerry leads George Bush by five points among registered voters when Nader is included, and by 6 when he is not.

......No challenger has ever done as well against an elected incumbent at this point in the cycle. Every incumbent who won re-election had a double-digit lead over his challenger at this stage. Lyndon Johnson led Barry Goldwater by 59 points in the spring of ’64. Bill Clinton led Bob Dole by 14 points, Ronald Reagan led Walter Mondale by 17 and Richard Nixon was ahead of George McGovern by 11.

Of course, some incumbents who went on to lose were doing better than Bush is today. The president’s father led Clinton by six points at this stage but was beaten anyway.

Thus, Kerry’s margin is 11 points better than was Bill Clinton’s at a similar point in time against Bush I. What, you haven’t seen that “Kerry stronger than Clinton” headline?

Only one challenger has ever done as well against an incumbent at a comparable time in the election cycle. Jimmy Carter had a similar six-point lead over the unelected and subsequently defeated Gerald Ford. The nation had just been through the long national nightmare of Watergate and Ford had pardoned Nixon.

.....campaigns are events that unfold over the course of the cycle. Most of the movement in polls comes in the aftermath of the conventions. Incumbent presidents are the best-known politicians around. Challengers are usually not as well known. Kerry is no exception. Today, many voters are expressing a preference for the Kerry they don’t know over the Bush they do. That is striking. Often, unpopular politicians still lead at this stage.

But Bush doesn't! OK, back to your deep breathing. Re-read columns as necessary if panic symptoms recur.

Pew Poll Has Kerry Ahead by 5, Bush Approval at 44

The just-released Pew poll is singing the same song as the Gallup poll I discussed yesterday. Kerry leads Bush by 5 points among RVs (50-45), which includes leads of 7 points among independents, 14 points among seniors and 22 points among 18-29 year olds. And Bush's approval rating is down to 44 percent with 48 percent disapproval (40/49 among independents).

The Pew poll also has satisfaction with the direction of the country down to 33 percent, with 61 percent dissatisfied. In early January, the same indicator was at 45/48.

And Kerry, as in the Gallup poll, is faring better in match-ups with Bush on who can do the best job on various issues. Kerry is now leading by 22 on improving the health care system (up from 13); by 15 on improving the job situation (up from 8); by 15 on improving education (up from 4); and by 10 on improving economic conditions (up from 5). He has also mostly eliminated Bush's leads on making wise decisions about foreign policy (now 1 point, down from 6 previously) and, critically, about what to do in Iraq (now 3 points, down from 12 before).

Looks like all those pundits who thought Bush was escaping unscathed from the recent torrent of bad news were calling it early--way early.

May 11, 2004

Kerry Ahead by Six

The latest Gallup poll has Kerry leading Bush by 6 points among RVs (50-44), up from dead-even 5 days before. (47-47). (Oddly, Gallup's LV match-up has Kerry slipping to 47-48 from a 49-48 lead 5 days ago. But, as I have repeatedly argued, it is the RV match-ups, not the LV match-ups, that best reflect the state of the race this early in the campaign. This absurd result from Gallup is one more reason to ignore the silly LV data whereever possible.)

That should make a lot horse race obsessives out there happy. But other findings from the poll are probably more important. Like this one: Bush's approval rating is down to 46 percent with 51 percent disapproval. That's a net negative rating of -5. At the beginning of the year, Bush's rating in the Gallup poll was 59/38, for a net positive rating of +21. Quite a shift.

Bush's approval rating on the economy is unchanged at an abysmal 41/56, while his rating on terrorism actually went up slightly to 54/43 from 52/45. But his rating on handling the situation in Iraq has continued its downward trajectory, sinking to 41/58 from 42/55.

The poll also shows Kerry doing much better in comparisons with Bush on handling three key issues: the economy, the situation in Iraq and terrorism. On terrorism, while Kerry remains solidly behind Bush by 17 points (55-38), that's a significant contraction from Bush's 60-33, 27 point lead two months ago. On the economy, Kerry has widened his 50-42 lead two months ago to a 54-40 edge today. And on Iraq--very significant in my view--Kerry has mostly eliminated Bush's 15 point lead from March to a mere 3 points today (48-45).

As for whether "it was worth going to war in Iraq or not", the public now says it wasn't worth it by 54-44. Note that this is the first time Gallup has received a negative response to this question. Indeed, just five days ago, it was still 50-47 in favor of the war being worth it.

In addition, there is now close to an even split on whether the US should withdraw at least some troops from Iraq. A total of 47 percent says we should either withdraw all troops (29 percent) or some troops (18 percent), compared to 49 percent who want to either send more troops (25 percent) or keep troop levels as they are (24 percent). And close to half (45 percent) now say they'd be upset if Bush sent more troops to Iraq, up from 38 percent two months ago.

Bush is running out of options. And, as Bush is sinking, Kerry is cranking up his campaign. Stay tuned.

May 10, 2004

Pessimism on Iraq Deepens

In the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll , only 33 percent of voters say the country is going in the right direction, compared to 50 percent who say it is off on the wrong track. 33 percent! And it's only 25 percent among independents.

That kind of negative sentiment can't be explained simply on the basis of the economic pessimism I discussed in the last couple of posts or of other domestic problems, grave as they may be. Voter pessimism about the direction of the country is also tied to the sense our foreign policy in general, and Iraq policy in particular, are in a shambles.

In the NBC News poll, Bush's job rating on foreign policy is down to 43 percent approval/51 percent disapproval, his worst rating ever in that poll. And in the latest Ipsos-AP poll, his rating on handling foreign policy and terrorism (my emphasis) is down to just 50 percent. (Forties, here we come!)

The reasons for these low ratings are not too hard to find, as the public ponders the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, the growing power of extremist Shiite leader, Moqtada Sadr, escalating US casualties and the complete lack of a plausible exit strategy. They have come to the conclusion that the situation is out of control--quite literally. By 60-34, voters say the US is not in control of the situation in Iraq.

They also say, by 64-19, that the Iraqi people will not be ready to take over and run their country by June 30 and, by 51-27. that Iraq will not be able to establish and maintain a stable, democratic government. The latter finding reverses a March reading on the same question where, by 46-40, voters thought Iraqis would be able to maintain a stable, democratic government.

Finally, voters today think removing Saddam Hussein from power was not worth the number of US military casualties and associated financial costs (47-42). That's another change from two months ago when voters thought removing Saddam was worth the casualties and costs by 50-44.

So voters are deeply pessimistic about what's going on in Iraq and are increasingly convinced the war hasn't been worth the effort and lives we have put into it. In fact, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, 60 percent of Americans are now willing to say we've "gotten bogged down in Iraq". Shades of Vietnam! And, as was the case with Vietnam, it sounds like the public is losing interest in staying the course and becoming oriented instead toward how the country can extricate itself from this particular quagmire.

But how to do this? Kerry has offered an alternative approach to that of the Bush administration. And the Center for American Progress (CAP) has offered a plan that is consistent with much of what Kerry (and other Democrats) have said, but provides more detail and specifics on how a more sensible strategy for Iraq might be conducted. I find myself in agreement with much of what CAP has to say.

However, both Kerry and CAP (and the school of thought they represent) seem short in the exit strategy department. I think the public increasingly wants to know: "How do we get out of Iraq?". Neither Kerry nor CAP addresses this question head-on.

In the end, as public opinion continues to shift, that may not be a viable approach. Michelle Goldberg in Salon has a good article today on "Time to Get Out?", that raises the issue directly and outlines the debate that is starting to emerge around it. In the article, she summarizes pollster John Zogby's position as "Kerry should start talking about exit strategy....he should offer voters the prospect of ending the war, even if that prospect remains vague".

He may be on to something.

May 9, 2004

More on Economic Pessimism

On Friday, I pointed out that the good jobs report for April seemed unlikely to turn voters' negative views of Bush's economic management around. Here's some more evidence supporting that judgement.

First, note that both the new ARG poll and the new AP poll have Bush's approval rating on the economy down to the lowest levels recorded by these polls (38 percent and 43 percent, respectively). Guess voters haven't yet absorbed the good news about how the economy is "strong and getting stronger" and about how "tax relief is working".

And here's a result from the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that crisply captures voters' current economic pessimism and the difficulties Bush is going to have turning that pessimism around. By 2:1 (60/31) voters agree that "On the basis of what I see for the future, the signs point to an economy that is going to be in trouble--jobs are moving overseas, the budget deficit is growing, and too many jobs do not have health insurance or pensions.", rather than "On the basis of what I see for the future, the signs point to an economy that is going to be strong--jobs are being created, inflation is low, and the stock market is up".

Clearly, voters' economic pessimism is deeply-rooted in a wide range of economic problems that have uniformly gotten worse on Bush's watch. And it's not likely to go away because we've finally got some good monthly job numbers. In the immortal words of Ricky Ricardo, he's still "got a lot of 'splainin' to do".

May 7, 2004

If the Economy's Doing So Well, Why Do Voters Think He's Doing Such a Lousy Job?

Greeted with the usual histrionics by the press (exceeds expectations! second straight month of strong growth!), today's jobs report indicates that 288,000 jobs were added to the economy in April. Is the economy about to bail Bush out politically?

Not likely. First, let's put these numbers in perspective. Adding 288,000 jobs, while excellent by recent standards, actually remains below the administration's own job growth projections of 306,000/month, made by the CEA when the 2003 tax cuts were passed one year ago. So far they've only hit that figure in one month (last month) and they continue to be well on track for an extraordinary negative job growth record over the course of Bush's administration. In addition, recent job growth has, so far, failed to alter the stagnation in wage and salary growth that currently afflicts the labor market. (For more detail on all this, see the Economic Policy Institute's excellent Job Watch site.)

Second, let's look at the numbers from the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted May 1-3--that is, right after the month when the 288,000 jobs were added. Key findings from the poll are well-summarized by the Journal's John Harwood:

[Poll] results reflect a mood closer to the unsuccessful 1992 re-election campaign of the current president's father than to prevailing sentiment during Bill Clinton's successful bid for a second term in 1996. Only 42% say they are better off than four years ago, compared with 33% who say they are worse off and 23% reporting "about the same." Pluralities of political independents, swing voters and senior citizens say they have become worse off under Mr. Bush.

Voters remain skeptical [about the economy]. Disapproval of Mr. Bush's handling of the economy, 53% to 41%, represents the weakest showing of his presidency. After months of high-profile discussion of job losses, the proportion of Americans who expect better times in the next year has fallen to 42% from 50% in January. By 51% to 40% voters say Mr. Bush's tax cuts were too large, while a 63% majority shrugs off recent stock-market gains as benefiting "only businesses and investors," not "nearly all Americans."

The problem for the administration is that voters respond mostly to the economic situation on the ground, not "good" economic statistics. Economic growth in 1992, for example, was pretty good--close to what we are experiencing this year--but that didn't help Bush's father much.

Another example, less widely-known, is 1994 and its comparison to 1996. 1994 was actually quite a a good year not just for economic growth, but also for job growth--better, in fact, than 2004 is likely to be. In March of 1994, the economy added 468,000 jobs and in April, 357,000 jobs; about 3.9 million jobs were added over the year as a whole. But wage decline and income stagnation continued during that year, economic pessimism failed to lift and, as a result, the incumbent Democrats never got the lift from the economy's performance that they thought they would.

In contrast, in 1996, not only were overall economic and job growth good, but the labor market was also delivering strong wage and income growth. As a result, economic optimism soared, starting in the spring of that year, helping Clinton to an easy re-election victory.

All this suggests that Bush will continue to be in trouble on the economy until and unless it starts performing like the mid-90's Clinton economy. And don't hold your breath on that one.

May 6, 2004

Yes, Bad News Does Hurt Bush (Part Deux)

Yesterday, I was arguing that this race is a referendum on the incumbent and Kerry backers should take heart from how poorly--and increasingly so--Bush is doing in the eyes of voters. The release of the latest Gallup poll, provides abundant support for that viewpoint.

There's even some good news on the horse race numbers people have been obsessing about. Kerry is now tied with Bush in Gallup's RV matchup (47-47), an improvement from his 46-50 performance in their mid-April poll. The same pattern can be seen in Gallup's LV version of this matchup, with Kerry ahead 49-48, compared to lagging 46-51 in mid-April.

Note also that, continuing a pattern I've noted of late, Kerry is doing better in the battleground states than overall. In an LV Kerry-Bush-Nader matchup (the only relevant data Gallup provides), Kerry is ahead of Bush by 4 points (48-44) in the "purple states", while tied in the national race.

But the really cool stuff here is how dreadfully Bush is doing in every area Gallup asked about. In terms of whether people are satisfied or dissatisfied with way things in the country are going, 36 percent say satisfied and 62 percent say dissatisfied--the worst rating of his presidency.

Bush's overall approval rating is now 49 percent approve/48 percent disapprove, tied for the worst of his presidency. And here are his approval ratings in four specific areas, all the worst of his presidency: the economy, 41 approve/56 disapprove; foreign affairs, 42/53; the situation in Iraq, 42/55; and terrorism, 52/45 (!).

Hope that cheers everybody up.

May 5, 2004

Take a Deep Breath and Repeat After Me: It's a Referendum on the Incumbent

Tim Grieve has a useful article on Salon.com today on Democrats' "Premature Panic". He has a nice lead that should make help Democrats take a deep breath and calm down a bit:

With just months to go in an election that ought to be a referendum on President Bush, the New York Times runs a front-page story: The Democrats are in serious trouble. Although Bush's approval ratings are low, the presumptive Democratic nominee can't get any traction. His campaign "continues to confront a cloud of doubts and reservations," the Times says, and voters are complaining that he hasn't offered the country a clear vision for the future.

It may sound like the Times on John Kerry in 2004. In fact, it's the Times on Bill Clinton in 1992.

Grieve goes on to point out:

The Times [in 1992] said then that unnamed "political professionals in the Democratic Party" were troubled that Clinton hadn't made a better impression on the nation's voters. [Adam] Nagourney's piece Sunday reported that "Democratic Party officials" have similar worries about Kerry.

But there's a key difference here: In April 1992, the New York Times/CBS News poll showed Clinton trailing President George H.W. Bush, 49 percent to 40 percent, among registered voters. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows Kerry and President George W. Bush in a statistical dead heat.

Yes, yes, 2004 is not 1992, there was the Perot factor and so on. But food for thought, no? Perhaps we're not as bad off as many Democrats seem determined to believe.

Democrats would get less hysterical, I think, if they firmly kept in mind one fundamental truth abut this election: it's a referendum on the incumbent, as Chuck Todd reminds us, not John Kerry. So they key thing at this state of the campaign is how voters feel about the incumbent. If it's negative, then Kerry is likely to win if he can convince voters he's an acceptable alternative. But that is a process that will take some time, since voters who are thinking of abandoning the incumbent for his opponent are unlikely to do so all at once. Instead, that change is likely to happen in increments as Kerry makes his case and voters get to know him better. In short, the sudden 10 point leads that some Democrats appear to be looking for are unlikely and their current absence is no cause for panic or even much serious worry.

Rather than rending their garments about how close the horse race currently is, Democrats should be taking heart from the continued growth of negative feelings about Bush. The latest Quinniapiac University poll has Bush's approval rating down to 46 percent approve/47 percent disapprove--their first net negative rating for Bush and well into the incumbent danger zone. The also have Bush's approval rating on the economy at 41 approve/52 disapprove, on Iraq at 42/51 and even his rating on handling terrorism at just 54 percent.

Voters just don't think Bush is doing a good job. And that's great for Kerry. So, relax, take a deep breath and try to stay calm. The fundamentals of the race are very promising. And the last thing Kerry needs is for Democrats to go wobbly on him just because he doesn't already have a big lead.

May 4, 2004

Could Kerry Win in a Landslide?

Chuck Todd, editor of The Hotline, has an intriguing article in the new issue of The Washington Monthly that makes the case Kerry could indeed win in a landslide. In fact, he argues that, if Kerry wins, it is much more likely to be by a landslide than in a close election.

His reason for believing this is very simple: "Elections that feature a sitting president tend to be referendums on the incumbent--and in recent elections, the incumbent has either won or lost by large electoral margins." He goes on to say: "If you look at key indicators beyond the neck-and-neck support for the two candidates in the polls--such as high turnout in the early Democratic primaries and the likelihood of a high turnout in November--it seems improbable that Bush will win big. More likely, it's going to be Kerry in a rout."

I like the sound of that. (Clearly the man's a genius!) And here's Todd's take on the electoral fate of recent incumbent presidents, with a particular focus on Jimmy Carter and the interesting parallels between his presidency and Bush's:

In the last 25 years, there have been four elections which pitted an incumbent against a challenger--1980, 1984, 1992, and 1996. In all four, the victor won by a substantial margin in the electoral college. The circumstances of one election hold particular relevance for today: 1980. That year, the country was weathering both tough economic times (the era of "stagflation"--high inflation concurrent with a recession) and frightening foreign policy crises (the Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan). Indeed, this year Bush is looking unexpectedly like Carter. Though the two presidents differ substantially in personal style (one indecisive and immersed in details, the other resolute but disengaged), they are also curiously similar. Both are religious former Southern governors. Both initially won the presidency by tarring their opponents (Gerald Ford, Al Gore) with the shortcomings of their predecessors (Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton). Like Carter, Bush is vulnerable to being attacked as someone not up to the job of managing impending global crises.

Everyone expected the 1980 election to be very close. In fact, Reagan won with 50.8 percent of the popular vote to Carter's 41 percent (independent John Anderson won 6.6 percent)--which translated into an electoral avalanche of 489 to 49. The race was decided not so much on the public's nascent impressions of the challenger, but on their dissatisfaction with the incumbent.

Todd may or may not be right about all this. But he makes a clear case for his viewpoint and it's well worth considering.

May 3, 2004

Does the Middle Class Know Its Interests?

Here is the beginning of an article I just published in The American Prospect's excellent special report on "Bush's War on the Middle Class". You can read the entire article here and access other articles from the special report here.

It's getting harder and harder to be middle class. As a result of the Bush administration's relentless tax-cutting agenda -- designed to limit the ability of government to deliver services -- the lives of middle-class Americans are becoming more difficult and less secure, in areas from health care to pensions to public schools. But, in the immortal words of Bob Dole, "Where's the outrage?" Why have these attacks not provoked a greater political reaction? And what chance is there for a progressive middle-class response to these attacks in the future?

This lack of outrage seems particularly odd because the middle class is aware of the attacks upon it. People in general, and the middle class in particular, believe that Bush-administration policies have favored the interests of large corporations and the rich over those of ordinary people and the middle class. An early January CBS News poll found that, by huge margins, the public thought that Bush administration policies favor the rich (57 percent) rather than the middle class (11 percent), the poor (1 percent), or all groups the same (25 percent). By a nearly 2-to-1 margin (58 percent to 30 percent), the public said that George W. Bush is more interested in protecting the interests of large corporations than those of ordinary Americans. And by almost 3 to 1 (64 percent to 23 percent), the public thought big business has too much influence, rather than the right amount, on the Bush administration.

Research repeatedly shows that middle-class views track those of the general public very closely, both because of the middle class' large size and its political positioning (between the poor and the rich). But we don't have to merely assume that the middle class shares these jaundiced views of the Bush administration's policy bias. Where available, data for middle-class subgroups within surveys confirm this. In an April 2003 ABC News/Washington Post poll, 57 percent overall said that Bush's proposals on cutting taxes favored the rich, while 11 percent said that they favored the middle class. These figures are almost exactly the average of the two income breaks that best capture the middle class ($30,000 to $50,000 and $50,000 to $75,000). In the same poll, 61 percent thought that large business corporations had too much influence on the Bush administration, compared with just 8 percent who thought that they had too little -- again, almost exactly the average of the two middle-class income brackets. And in a March 2004 ABC News/Washington Post poll, 67 percent overall thought that Bush cared more about protecting the interests of large business corporations, compared with 26 percent who thought that he cared more about protecting the interests of ordinary working people -- almost exactly the result for the middling education category of "some college."

Is it possible, though, that the middle class recognizes that the Bush plan doesn't serve it well but still believes, on balance, that the policy's relative priorities are the right ones? That is most emphatically not the case, either. The middle class consistently and overwhelmingly rejects the prioritizing of tax cuts over social investment. In the April 2003 ABC News poll, the two middle-class income brackets averaged 70-percent support for spending more on domestic programs -- like education, health care, and Social Security -- and 28-percent support for cutting taxes. These respondents also said, by 64 percent to 27 percent, that cutting taxes is more important to Bush than providing services, while, by 68 percent to 30 percent, they said that providing services is more important for them personally than cutting taxes. Indeed, no matter how the general trade-off between tax cuts and social investment is framed, middle-class priorities seem consistently skewed toward investment and away from tax cuts.

May 1, 2004

Arizona Dreaming

Arizona State University and KAET-TV have just released a new poll of RVs in Arizona. And here's the shocker: Bush is ahead of Kerry by only 3 points, 41-38, even with Nader in the question and drawing 3 percent. It's bad for Bush that's it's so close. And it's bad for Bush that he's drawing only 41 percent as the incumbent; undecideds usually break heavily for the challenger.

How did this red state get into play, when it's only voted once for the Democratic candidate since 1948? Well, that one time wasn't so long ago--1996--and the fact is that many factors are conspiring to turn Arizona from red to blue. It's no longer the state it was when Barry Goldwater was its dominant politician. Instead, it elected a popular and dynamic Democratic governor, Janet Napolitano, in the very Republican year of 2002 and it seems headed in a direction very different from that of the Republican hard right conservatives who have dominated the state's politics for many years (and are now busily isolating themselves from the Arizona mainstream; see this post by Mark Schmitt).

George Will summarizes some of the relevant changes in Arizona in a recent column, including urbanization, in-migration and the growth of the Hispanic population, which went from 19 to 25 percent of the state in the 1990's.

The two key counties to watch in Arizona are Pima County (Tucson) and Maricopa County (Phoenix). Democrats have done particularly well in Pima, which Gore carried by 8 points in the 2000 election. But the Democrats have also benefitted from a continuing pro-Democratic trend in Maricopa county, the largest county in Arizona and the county with the largest growth in the nation. In 1988, Bush senior carried Maricopa by a 65 to 34 percent margin; in ‘00, his son’s margin was down to just 53-43, a swing of 21 points toward the Democrats.

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

Maricopa's pro-Democratic trend seems particularly tied to the growth of its Hispanic population. In the 1990's, the share of Hispanics in Maricopa went up about a point a year, while the white share went down about a point a year. Given that Arizona Hispanics vote unusually heavily Democratic, like southwestern Hispanics in general, that is highly significant. Democracy Corps' recent poll of Hispanics, in fact, had Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada Hispanics voting Democratic by 33 points, 10 points more than among Hispanics nationwide.

Sounds like the stage is set for an Arizona surprise this November.

Note: this post corrects an earlier version where Arizona didn't get credit for voting for Truman, FDR, etc.; sorry Arizona.