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June 30, 2004

Just How Far South Has the Public Gone on Iraq?

Pretty darn far. Yesterday, I mentioned that Bush's approval rating on Iraq among independents is now a sizzling 29 percent.

Here's some more data from that CBS News/New York Times poll that shows how extremely unhappy the public (especially independent voters) is with the Iraq situation. I was particularly struck by this finding: the public, by more than 3:1, thinks that US involvement in Iraq is creating more terrorists who are planning to attack the US (55 percent), rather than less (17 percent). Wow. More potential airline highjackers, bioterrorists and what have you, rather than less. That's really an amazing finding and shows how far the administration's strategy for the war on terror has sunk in public esteem.

Similarly, by about 4:1, the public thinks that US military action against Iraq has increased (47 percent) rather than decreased (13 percent) the threat of terrorism against the US. Looked at another way, 85 percent think the Iraq war has either made no difference or increased the threat of terrorism.

Moreover, by about 2:1 (60-32), the public believes the result of the war with Iraq has not been worth the associated loss of American life and other costs (that result skies to 65-28 among independents). And we're edging toward a majority saying we should have stayed out to begin with (and we're already there among independents).

But will the handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis get views on Iraq headed north again? I doubt it, unless the situation on the ground in Iraq improves dramatically, which seems highly unlikely. And keep in mind how the public is viewing this handover: they're for it, but they regard it as a sign of failure, not success, for Bush's policy. A just-released Gallup poll finds 60 percent saying the handover, given that stability has not yet been established, does indicate that US policy is failing, compared to 32 percent who think the handover means success (and it's 66-25 among independents).

Note also that 70 percent now think significant numbers of US troops should remain in Iraq for only two years or less, but just 36 percent believe such a deadline will be met. Food for thought for John Kerry, who, so far, has not been able to open up a significant lead over Bush--despite his horrific numbers--on who can best deal with the Iraq situaiton.

June 29, 2004

That Oh-So-Negative New York Times Poll

It's been a busy day but I couldn't let it go by without a few comments on the new CBS News/New York Times poll. It would be easy to miss, or not understand fully, how negative this new poll is, coming as it does, on the heels of a number of other strongly negative polls. Also, the horse race result (Bush down by a point) is indeed better for the president than the same poll's result last month (a Bush deficit of 8 points). But Bush, while behind by less, is still behind and is registering only 44 percent support, a catastrophic level for an incumbent seeking re-election.

As Frank Newport of Gallup recently put it:

None of the five presidents who won re-election [since 1956] were behind their eventual opponent in any trial heats after January in the year prior to their election.

So, one point deficit or 8 point deficit, Bush is still following a losing pattern.

And, as Newport also put it:

Based on historical patterns, Bush's [under 50 percent] job approval rating is thus underperforming the pattern of presidents who have won re-election.

Check again on the losing pattern. Bush's approval rating in this poll is a miserable 41 percent with 51 percent disapproval. And his approval rating among independents is a breathtakingly bad 34 percent.

Moreover, Bush's approval rating on the economy, despite some increase in economic optimism registered by the poll, remains mired at 40 percent approval/52 percent disapproval. And independents give him the same abysmal 34 percent they give him overall.

But that's better than Bush fares on Iraq, where he receives only a 36/58 rating, with independents downgrading him further to 29/62. He does little better on foreign policy in general, receiving a 39 percent rating from the public as a whole and a 32 percent rating for independents.

Only on the campaign against terrorism does he get an approval rating over 50 (52 percent) and, even here, independents still give him a sub-50 rating (48 percent).

And here's more trouble: wrong track (57 percent) is 21 points higher than right direction (36 percent) and is more than 2:1 among independents (62-28).

Yup, it's a referendum on the incumbent and these are terrible numbers to have if you're an incumbent--especially as we shade into July of an election year.

More on this poll tomorrow.

June 28, 2004

The Catholic Vote

In a post recently, I discussed recently released Pew Research Center data that including some interesting findings on religion and politics. Here's another: according to Pew data pooled from May and June, Kerry is leading Bush by a point among white Catholics. That may not sound like much, but in 2000 Gore lost white Catholics by 7 points.

Also in 2000, Gore carried all Catholic voters by 3 points, even as he was losing white Catholics by that 7 point margin. That suggests that a one point margin among white Catholics implies a substantially larger margin among Catholics as a whole.

And, in fact, a recent Gallup report, based on Gallup's late May and early June polls, does indicate that Kerry is running a solid lead among all Catholics. According to that report, Kerry leads Bush among Catholic RVs, 50-42. And note that Kerry has gained much ground since January, when Bush was carrying Catholics 56-42.

So what happened to Karl Rove's plan to tilt Catholics in Bush's direction by emphasizing Bush's conservatism on social issues like abortion and gay marriage? Well, it was always a suspect plan, given that Catholics as a whole hardly differ from the rest of the population in their views on issues like abortion. And, in general, 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 was the assumption underlying Rove's plan, but it is highly unlikely to happen. Instead, polling data suggest strongly that these Catholics are far more concerned and moved electorally by other issues, such as the economy, Iraq, health care, education and so on.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Karl Rove doesn't look like such a genius anymore, does he?

The Rural Vote

There have been some signs that the rural vote might be a bit soft for Bush this year, given continuing economic problems and disenchantment with the war in Iraq. Now here is some hard evidence: a just-released poll of likely rural voters in swing states by the Center for Rural Strategies (CRS). The CRS poll finds these voters giving Bush a weak approval rating of just 52 percent, with 44 percent disapproval--a little better than he has fared lately in national polls certainly, as one would expect among rural voters, a group that has been famously sympathetic to Bush, but not terribly impressive. And only 43 percent of these voters think the country is going in the right direction, cmpared to 48 percent who feel it is off on the wrong track.

In terms of vote intention, these voters do tend to favor Bush (51-42), but this 9 point margin is not as wide as one would expect from these voters. For example, voters in this poll who reported voting in 2000 said they favored Bush in that electiion by 18 points (55-37).

There are times when you lose by not winning big. Bush in swing state rural areas in 2004 could be such a time. If his margin in those areas is shaved too much, he will not be able to make up the healthy deficits he is likely to run outside of rural areas in most of these states.

The Nader Vote

As everyone is presumably aware, Nader did not get the Green Party nomination last Saturday, proof perhaps that there is a God. Chris Bowers over at MyDD has an interesting post on how this impacts Nader's chances to affect the 2004 election. You should read the post, but his basic argument is that, without the easy ballot access and semi-legitimacy conferred by the Green Party nomination, Nader is toast as a serious factor in the 2004 election. Bowers asserts:

From now on, no poll that includes Nader should be taken seriously. Libertarian + Constitution now probably poses a larger threat to Bush than Nader + Cobb poses for Kerry. It is time for everyone in the Democratic Blogosphere to relax their sphincters and allow their blood pressure to drop. It is time we started paying Nader the attention he deserves in this campaign--none. To continue complaining about him would border on mental illness.

Ron Gunzburger over at Politics1 is somewhat less adamant but observes:

The Kerry folks must be thrilled knowing that now -- unlike the threat seemingly posed by Ralph Nader just a few days ago -- Nader will now only matter in a few key swing states (Florida and Michigan, plus maybe one or two others). Otherwise, the Green Party nomination of David Cobb on Saturday...gave ballot spots in 22 states to a candidate who plans to largely run a "safe states" strategy. Cobb's website states he "will focus his campaign on states neglected by the corporate parties, he has also said that he will visit and campaign in any state that invites him." In other Nader news, it appears that Nader on Saturday may again have missed the goal of obtaining Oregon ballot status in his second attempt. While more than the requisite 1,000 people attended the "short-cut" mass rally event -- thanks to help from two conservative GOP groups -- the Dems also filled some of the 1,100 seats to thwart Nader from collecting his needed signatures. Nader's folks only turned in 950 signed petitions, although some had multiple signatures. Presuming a few signatures are bad, as is always the case, Nader will have missed again. "It doesn't matter. We'll [still] get on the ballot," said Nader. At this pace, Nader appear likely to win spots on so few state ballots that he will struggle just to finish ahead of Cobb, Constitution nominee Mike Peroutka, and Libertarian nominee Michael Badnarik in terms of national vote totals.

I am inclined to agree that this decision by the Green Party drastically reduces the probability that Nader will be much of a factor this November. As regular readers of DR know, I have always been a skeptic that Nader would be much of a factor even if he did manage to get the Green Party nomination. But I am glad we will not have an opportunity to test that hypothesis.

I also agree with Bowers that it is time to stop taking those Kerry-Bush-Nader trial heats seriously. Arguably, Nader's best shot at influencing the election at this point is not through getting actual votes, but by keeping his name in the national and state trial heats and thus inflating perceptions of Bush's electoral strength.

Is that sad or what? There's a simple solution though (pollsters are you listening?). Stop putting his damn name in the trial heats.

June 26, 2004

Why Isn't Kerry Farther Ahead?

There have been two major polls (I don't consider Fox a "major") since the middle of June--The Washington Post and Gallup--and in both of them Kerry leads Bush among registered voters (in the Post poll by 8 and in Gallup by 4). Not bad for John Kerry, not bad at all.

Some are dissatisfied, however. Why isn't he farther ahead? What about some of the minor polls where he isn't doing do well? Why does Kerry's lead sometimes vanish, even in the major polls (as indeed might happen tomorrow for all I know)?

Calm down. Say your mantra. And meditate on these recent words from Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of The Gallup poll:

Based on historical patterns, Bush's job approval rating is thus underperforming the pattern of presidents who have won re-election. In the broadest sense, Bush's job approval rating has generally been remarkably stable this year, averaging about 50% (which is a symbolic dividing line for an incumbent seeking re-election) since mid-January. The current downtick in his ratings puts him below the pattern of successful presidents. Having a rating below 50% (as is the case with his last four ratings) is not a good sign for an incumbent. If Bush wins this November, he would be the first president since Harry Truman to come from a below 50% rating to win re-election.

The fact that Bush has been behind the likely Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, in several Gallup Poll re-election trial heat ballots this year, means that Bush's re-election probabilities are lower than those of his successful predecessors. None of the five presidents who won re-election were behind their eventual opponent in any trial heats after January in the year prior to their election. If Bush wins this year, he will become the first president to come from behind in election year spring polls to win.

The trial heat patterns of the three presidents who eventually lost were erratic enough, however, to suggest that fluidity is the norm rather than the exception in trial heat ballots at this point in the campaign.

Feel better (at least if you're a Kerry partisan)? Eventually, of course, Kerry does need to take and maintain a solid lead, but it is unrealistic to expect that to happen this early in the campaign. Perhaps after the Democratic convention such a pattern might begin to emerge, but that would be the earliest.

So expect fluidity to continue for awhile. As many have pointed out, deciding you want to fire the incumbent (where we are now) is a different decision than deciding you definitely want to hire John Kerry (the stage of the campaign we are moving into). Once we reach that stage, many swing voters will come off the fence and the political picture should be clarified.

And, make no mistake about it, despite apparent shrinkage in the swing voter pool, there are still plenty of these voters around. According to a just-released report by the Pew Research Center, about a fifth of voters can be classified as swing at this stage of the campaign--sizable, though still down 6-11 points from the proportions of swing voters at analogous points in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 campaigns.

In the Pew data, swing voters who currently express a preference are about equally divided between Bush and Kerry. However, their approval ratings for Bush on the economy (36 percent) and Iraq (34 percent) are notably low. In addition, swing voters in their June data are heavily moderate (49 percent) and independent/no party preference (45 percent) or Democratic (36 percent). Thus, John Kerry appears to be well-positioned to make headway among these voters over time.

Two other interesting notes from the Pew report. They pooled their data from April to June to get enough respondents to look at Bush approval ratings in some key battleground states. Generally, the rank order of approval rating follows from the 2000 results: Bush approval is higher in states he carried in 2000; lower in states he did not. But there is one important exception. Among the nine states they provide data for, Ohio is ranked dead-last in Bush approval, with just 41 percent approval and 46 percent disapproval..

Another intriguing finding is an apparent narrowing of the "religiosity gap"--that is, the tendency for those who attend church more often to vote Republican with far greater frequency than those who attend less often. According to the Pew data, the gap in Bush support between those who say they attend church every week and those who attend seldom or never is now 14 points, compared to 27 points in the 2000 VNS exit poll.

Who knows if this will hold up in this year's election, but it's food for thought. After all, we have not always had the relationship observed in 2000 between church attendance and support for Republican candidates. For example, in the 1980's, there appears to have been only a weak relationship between church attendance and Republican support. But that relationship became quite noticeable in 1992, strengthened in 1996 and strengthened some more in 2000.

Who's to say that relationship might not start heading in the opposite direction? Despite Bush's best efforts, he has had little success inflaming the culture wars and we are now 4 years past the sex scandals that dogged the last years of the Clinton-Gore administration. Keep an eye on this one as we head toward November.

June 25, 2004

A Poll Matthew Dowd Can Be Happy About

At last! A poll that Matthew Dowd can be happy about. While the Gallup folks were busy collecting their data (June 21-23), the fair and balanced folks over at Fox News were busy collecting theirs (June 22-23). To say the Fox News results differ somewhat from the Gallup results would be to considerably understate the case.

The Fox poll has Bush up by 6 points (48-42) among registered voters (RVs). As I discussed in my previous post, Gallup has Kerry up by 4 (49-45) in the identical Kerry-Bush RV matchup. Kind of different!

And check this out. Fox has Bush ahead by 20 points in the solid red states (Gallup had Bush ahead by 8), Kerry ahead by only 3 (!) in the solid blue states (Gallup: Kerry by 14) and Kerry ahead by an identical 3 point margin in purple states (Gallup: Kerry by 9). Huh?!? Kerry ahead by only 3 in the solid blue states--and up by no more there than in the battleground states?

Was Fox really polling the same country? You've gotta wonder. The survey dates of the two polls are virtually identical, we're talking about the same universe (registered voters) and the same matchup--and yet the results are starkly different.

So who do we believe? Well, if it's a choice between Fox News or the Gallup Organization, I don't find this a particularly difficult choice to make. To tell the truth, I rarely pay much attention to Fox News polls, which are invariably and significantly pro-Bush relative to other public polls, but this one seemed so egregiously off and so directly contradicted by the Gallup data that I just had to comment on it.

You might well ask: how on earth do the Fox News folks get such weird results? I don't really know, but one possibility is that they weight their data by party ID. Under this procedure, if you've got, in your view, too many Democrats (like in that pesky Los Angeles Times poll), you simply weight them down and weight the Republicans up so you get to the presumed proper distribution of party ID (those respondents can't really be serious about indentifying with the Democrats!).

I don't know that this is true of the Fox News poll. But it certainly would help explain why their horse race results differ so much from Gallup's (who, like good girls and boys, never weight by party ID--see this good article in the Los Angeles Times explaining why public polling organizations worth their salt eschew this practice). Or how Fox News--again, polling on essentially identical days--could find John Kerry's favorability rating at 42 percent favorable/43 percent unfavorable, while Gallup has it 58 percent favorable/35 percent unfavorable.

While we're on the subject of Fox News polls, it's worth mentioning their new polls of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, which also seem--well, a little surprising. Yesterday, I discussed the June 21-23 ARG poll of Ohio, where Kerry led by 6. Fox, polling on June 22-23, has Bush ahead by 4 in Ohio. Hmmm. Yesterday I also mentioned the June 21-23 ARG poll of Florida, where Kerry was ahead by 2. Fox's June 22-23 poll of Florida has Bush ahead by 9!

Curiouser and curiouser said Alice. Now, if it was anyone but Fox, I might be tempted to ascribe these differences to ARG's use of likely voters (LVs), rather than RVs, as Fox uses. But these are mighty big differences and this is Fox, so I don't buy it.

I especially don't buy it when we look at Fox's Pennsylvania results. Fox, polling on June 22-23, has Bush ahead by 3 among RVs in Pennsylvania. But, the highly reputable Quinnipiac University poll, polling on June 21-22 and also polling RVs, has Kerry ahead by 6. What a difference a day makes--or, considerably more likely, what a difference the Fox News treatment makes.

I have a new slogan for Fox News: "Pro-Bush Results Guaranteed". Unlike "Fair and Balanced", this would allow them to stick closely to their empirical record.

Public Says Iraq War a Mistake

The new Gallup poll is chock full of interesting data. Perhaps the most interesting finding is this: For the first time in this poll, a majority of Americans (54 percent to 44 percent) now say that US made a mistake sending troops to Iraq. Less than three weeks ago, the public was still saying, by 58-41, that sending troops was not a mistake.

Note that these data were collected before the wave of violence that was unleashed Thursday in Iraq.

Another turnaround is on whether the war with Iraq has made the US safer from terrorism. Just 37 percent now say the war has made us safer, compared to 55 percent who say it has not; when Gallup last asked this question in mid-December it was 56-33 the other way.

The poll also finds a majority (51-46) saying it was not worth going to war with Iraq, pretty much where this measure has been since late May.

Bush's overall approval rating, compared to Gallup's last measurement three weeks ago, is down a point to 48 percent. His rating on Iraq is up a point to 42 percent, while his rating on terrorism is down 2 points to 54 percent.

By far the biggest change is his rating on the economy: up 6 points to 47 percent with 50 percent disapproval. This is close to his mid-April rating in this poll (46/52), though still substantially below his 54/43 rating in early January.

Note that the latest Washington Post poll, conducted right before the Gallup poll, registered only a slight improvement in Bush's economic approval rating (just 2 points) and had his disapproval rating dropping only a point, compared to Gallup, which has his disapproval rating declining by 8 points.

Despite Bush's improved economy rating in the Gallup poll, voters still favor Kerry over Bush (53-40) on which candidate can better handle the economy. That Kerry advantage is essentially unchanged since early May.

On the situation in Iraq, Kerry and Bush are nearly tied (47-46 in Bush's favor), a slightly improvement for Kerry over his 3 point deficit in early May. This tie is notable, of course, because sentiment is now so strikingly negative about the Iraq war. Perhaps Kerry's failure to gain an advantage reflects the public's view, captured in other polls, that Kerry does not have a clear plan himself for dealing with the Iraq situation.

Another interesting finding is that, while Bush has a modest lead (51-43) over Kerry in terms of who the public trusts more to handle the responsibilities of commander-in-chief, the public expresses an identical degree of confidence in the ability of Bush and Kerry to handle the responsibilities of commander-in-chief (61 percent in each case).

In terms of favorability ratings, it seems significant that Kerry's net favorability rating (favorable minus unfavorable) is now substantially higher than Bush's. Kerry is +23 on this measure (58 percent favorable/35 percent unfavorable), up from +17 in Gallup's last measurement in April. In contrast, Bush is just +8 (53/45), down from +14 in April. These data are consistent with the recent New York Times story that suggested the GOP's frontal assault on Kerry has not had much success creating an unfavorable image of him.

Turning to the horse race, as ever we must, Kerry leads Bush by 4 points (49-45) among registered voters (RVs). That approximates Gallup's early June result when Kerry led 49-44.

Of course, there's bound to be confusion about this, since Gallup and its clients tend to highlight the likely voter (LV) rather than RV results, which, in this case, actually show Bush ahead by a point (49-48) . And then some media outlets tend to report the Kerry-Bush-Nader results, rather than the Kerry-Bush results, which further clouds the issue.

Let me reproduce, as a public service, my thinking about why you are well-advised, at this stage of the race, to pay more attention to RV than LV results, especially when both are reported. As for why it is preferable to look at Kerry-Bush matchup results, rather than Kerry-Bush-Nader results, I will refer you to a recent analysis I did on the issue.

There's been considerable confusion about which trial heat results to pay the most attention to at this point in the race. Here's my take, which should help clarify why I choose to focus on certain results over others.

One issue is likely voters (LVs) vs. registered voters (RVs). At this point, most polls are surveying only RVs and I believe that's appropriate and, in fact, preferable. It is way too early to put much faith in likely voter screens/models as representing very accurately the voters who will actually show up on election day. There is reasonable evidence that careful likely voter methodologies work well close to the election and do fairly accurately capture that pool of voters. But there is no such evidence for LV samples drawn this far out.

Indeed, my understanding is that Gallup does LVs this early not so much because they believe they are capturing election day voters this early, but more so that they can avoid having to explain sudden shifts in the horse race question as LV data replaces RV data in the fall (the traditional time to switch from RVs to LVs). There have apparently been some problems with this in the past, so reporting both from the very beginning of the campaign eliminates any potential embarrassments along these lines. But that doesn't mean the LV data is any better at this point in time--it merely means they're providing it.

In fact, since the sample size for LVs is smaller and since the composition of the LV sample will shift depending on how political developments are affecting interest and intensity levels among different groups of voters, additional volatility is built into the LV samples that is not there with the RV samples.

And then there are the comparability problems. LV samples are difficult even to compare to one another, since methodologies differ, and clearly can't be compared very well to RV samples, which are the bulk of polls at this time. That's another strike against paying much attention to LV results this early.

So, RVs and Kerry-Bush it is! Looking further at this match-up, Gallup shows Bush ahead by 8 points in the solid red states (won by Bush by 5 points or more in 2000), but Kerry ahead by 14 in the solid blue states (won by Gore by more than 5 points) and ahead by 9 in the purple states (decided by less than 5 points in 2000). And Kerry is carrying independents nationwide by 10 points and moderates by 24 points.

Pretty good news for Mr. Kerry. Some of you may have heard, though, that the latest Fox News poll has wildly different results from the ones just summarized. A bit later in the day I'll offer some comments on the Fox News "findings".

June 24, 2004

Good News from the Provinces

Good news from the provinces. A very recent (June 21-23) ARG poll of likely voters in Ohio has Kerry ahead by 6 (49-43), even with Nader in the mix. (He has an identical 6 point lead (50-44) when Nader is not included.) Polls taken in the last month or so have tended to show Bush ahead in this key state, so this is welcome news for the Kerry campaign.

Especially good news is Kerry's wide 15 point lead among independents (53-38). That's up from a 5 point Kerry lead in May. In Ohio, independents very much hold the balance since the numbers of Republican and Democratic voters in presidential elections are roughly equal and tend to be roughly equally polarized in favor of their candidate. In 2000, Bush won the state by 4 points and independents by 15 points. If Kerry can maintain anything like his current lead among Ohio's independents, Bush will be toast in the state.

Another June 21-23 ARG poll has Kerry ahead by a point (47-46) among likely voters in Florida; two points if Nader is not included (48-46). The key here is again independent voters--in 2000, Gore and Bush were dead-even among these voters in Florida. In this ARG poll, Kerry leads Bush by 13 among independents (51-38), up from a 7 point lead in May.

Finally, Kerry leads a Kerry-Bush matchup 49-43 in a just-released Quinnipiac University poll of Pennsylvania registered voters. In their late May poll, Kerry led by only 3 in this matchup. Again, independents are swinging Kerry's way, giving him a healthy 19 point lead (55-36). Pennsylvania independents also give Bush a stunningly low approval rating: 34 percent approval to 64 percent disapproval.

Persuadable Voters Not Persuaded

There's some good news in the latest Annenberg Election Survey for President Bush. His overall approval rating in the poll, conducted June 8-21, is at the stratospheric level (for him these days) of 52 percent. (Note, however, that the latest Washington Post poll, conducted at the very end of the Annenberg period, June 17-20, pegged his approval rating at 47 percent, the Post poll's worst rating ever for him.)

The poll also found Bush's approval rating in specific areas like the economy and Iraq slightly improved over their late May levels, though still solidly net negative. And on a series of personal characteristics like "inspiring", "trustworthy" and "shares my values" Bush's ratings are generally up over their May values.

The bad news for Bush is that, among "persuadable voters"--that quarter of the electorate who seems open to changing their minds about which candidate to support--he has gone nowhere. In fact, on that series of personal characteristics I just mentioned, his ratings among persuadable voters have almost all gone down, not up, since the last Annenberg survey.

Moreover, only 27 percent of persuadable voters currently think the country is headed in the right direction, identical with the May figure. Bush's approval rating has actually slid a point--down to 44 percent--among these voters. And his approval ratings of the economy (31 percent approval/59 percent disapproval) and Iraq (26/68) are also slight declines from his already-abysmal May ratings.

And check out these figures for persuadable voters on Iraq-related issues, all more negative than they were last month. Only 34 percent of these voters feel the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, compared to 59 percent who feel it was not. Just 17 percent believe the war in Iraq has reduced the risk of terrorism against the United States, compared to 71 percent who believe it has increased that risk. And a mere 37 percent of persuadable voters want to keep the troops in Iraq until a stable government is formed, while 57 percent now say they want to bring the troops home as soon as possible.

I guess you could say the persuadable voters haven't been persuaded.

Edwards for Vice President

I agree with my friend and esteemed co-author, John Judis, that Kerry would be well-advised to put aside the "personal comfort" criterion in choosing a running mate. As John points out, the historical justification for ignoring that criterion is solid, while the justification for putting it front and center is thin.

So: back to politics. Who would help the ticket the most? Again, I agree with John that Edwards would likely help the most. I believe he would make a substantial contribution to increasing the ticket's appeal among white working class voters in culturally conservative swing states, especially where it is most necessary--outside of the unionized working class. Even if one assumes that Gephardt has appeal to the unionized rank-and-file of the working class, as opposed to labor leaders, that still leaves out the vast majority of the white working class--well over four-fifths. And it is among these non-unionized white working class voters that Democrats have had the most trouble and where Gore got really hammered in 2000.

One particular trouble spot is among those with some college--the upwardly striving working class. Because of severe underperformance among whites with this educational credential, Gore lost the group as a whole by 6 points in 2000. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, won them by 8 points in 1996.

Where is Kerry right now? Gallup data indicate that he has gone from a 6 point deficit among some college voters in early May to a 9 point advantage among this group in their early June poll. That's largely responsible for the overall shift in the horse race from a tie in early May to a 5 point Kerry advantage in the June poll.

Kerry needs to keep those some college voters down on the farm. One way that would help would be to select Edwards as his running mate. Regardless of whether he enjoys drinking beer and shooting pool with the guy.

Gone Guest-Blogging

Today through Saturday, I will be over at Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo guest-blogging while Josh is taking a well-earned vacation. So please stop by his site--as most of you do already, I imagine--to catch my latest thoughts on things political.

I will be back at Donkey Rising on Sunday with my usual data-obsessed ruminations. For all those who clicked through from Josh's site to check out DR, I hope you'll be visiting regularly when I'm back at my regular post.

June 23, 2004

When the Public Says the Economy Isn't So Good, Perhaps That's Because It Isn't

The Washington Post had an interesting article today on how "Quality of New Jobs Is Focus of Election-Year Debate". In standard fashion, the article quotes statistics from both sides of the dispute and makes no attempt to sort out who has the stronger case.

Let me try and remedy that. The article cites an interesting study by CIBC World Markets that finds:

...U.S. job creation since late 2001 has been concentrated in low-paying industries such as hospitality, education and personal services, while job losses have hit higher-wage sectors such as transportation, manufacturing, utilities and natural resources.....The message is clear: The vast majority of the jobs that evaporated during the job-loss recovery were high-quality jobs.

The Republican reply to this kind of claim is to say that many high-wage industries are now growing and adding workers. That's true, but even if such industries are now adding workers, if they are growing slower than the average industry--which turns out to be the case--their share of overall employment will continue to decline and the employment share of low-wage industries will continue to rise.

Score one for the Democrats.

The article also quotes Stephen Roach, chief economist of Morgan Stanley, on the nature of wage growth in this recovery:

Despite the well-advertised pick-up of job growth, recent trends in real wage income remain very disappointing. This, in my view, underscores one of the most serious shortcomings of this recovery -- an unprecedented shortfall of the most important piece of personal income growth, wages and salaries.

Democrats support that view, pointing out that "[a]fter adjusting for inflation, average weekly earnings fell 0.4 percent last month and 0.5 percent in the 12-month period." In other words, real weekly earnings are declining, not rising.

The Republican counter to this is to say that "[a]verage hourly earnings, adjusted for inflation, have risen 2.4 percent since Bush took office". But most of that gain took place in the period immediately after Bush took office, before the recession really started to bite. In the current period, real hourly earnings, just like real weekly earnings, are headed downwards. According to economist Jared Bernstein at the Economic Policy Institute, real average hourly earnings declined .3 percent last month and are down a full percent in the last six months, which includes, of course, all the months of good job growth touted by the GOP.

Score another for the Democrats. And that's even without mentioning the benefits aspect of job quality trends, as health care costs continue to soar and the availability and stability of coverage continue to decline. Or the inequality of what little wage growth there has been over the last three years. Or rising prices, especially for gas.

The most compelling hypothesis about why voters are not happy with the Bush economy remains the simplest: it's not that good. In fact, it's still pretty bad. Trust the people: they know what they're experiencing.

Just as they did in the 1990's. Bill Clinton's administration presided over the creation of stunning numbers of jobs (2.8 million in 1993, 3.9 million in 1994 and another 2.2 million in 1995) before the labor market truly tightened in early 1996, real wages started surging and Clinton finally reaped the political benefits of economic optimism. Check out these month-by-month numbers (in thousands) for job creation from 1994 alone, more than a year before the public turned optimistic: 270, 192, 468, 357, 339, 310, 359, 303, 354, 206, 425, 270. Wow. And the Bushies think there should be a tidal wave of economic optimism because there's (finally) been three lousy months of good job growth.

That's what they call chutzpah. And, as they used to say in Papa Bush's day, being out of touch. Way out of touch.

June 22, 2004

Are Independents Giving Up on Bush?

I covered the basics of the new Washington Post poll yesterday. Today I want to comment on the notably negative views of Bush expressed by independents in this poll (the Post makes basic crosstabular information from their polls available interactively on their website, a facility which is well worth checking out).

These views are so negative that they suggest a decisive majority of independent voters may be in the process of giving up on Bush--becoming more and more convinced that his performance in office has been too poor to merit re-election and that Kerry is almost certainly a better bet than he to run the country. The more that perception settles in among these voters, the more the GOP will have to rely on big Republican turnout that is not countered by big Democratic turnout to win. I consider the latter a highly unlikely scenario in this election year.

In this poll, Bush's overall approval rating among independents is just 44 percent, with 56 percent disapproval. And in the two critical areas of Iraq (36/62) and the economy (35/65) his ratings among this group are truly dreadful and much worse than among the public as a whole.

And there is not a single issue area in this poll on which independents prefer Bush to Kerry. In fact, the closest Bush comes to Kerry is on the situation in Iraq and on the US campaign against terrorism, where he lags Kerry by a comparatively modest 5 points. In all other areas, Kerry has impressive double-digit leads over Bush: international affairs (13 points); health care (17 points); the economy (17 points); taxes (19 points); the federal budget deficit (20 points); education (21 points); and prescription drug benefits for the elderly (26 points).

How can Bush win with this kind of sentiment among independents? I don't believe he can. But how well positioned is Bush at this point to play to the independent voter and turn these numbers around? Not well I think given the hard-line conservatism he's practiced since he was elected. The (independent) chickens may be coming home to roost.

June 21, 2004

Kerry Ahead on Handling the US Campaign Against Terrorism (!)

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll suggests rather strongly that President Bush has failed to generate much political benefit from a series of events that has included a good jobs report, some diplomatic progress on the Iraq situation and the funeral of Ronald Reagan. In the poll, conducted June 17-20, Kerry is ahead of Bush among RVs by 8 points (53-45).

Any more bounces like this one and John Kerry may not have to bother to campaign at all.

And in perhaps the poll's most startling result, the public now says it prefers Kerry over Bush on who would do a better job handling the US campaign against terrorism (48-47). That's a big change from late May when Bush was leading Kerry 52-39--which, in turn, was down from a 21 point Bush lead the month before.

I think I detect a pattern here. Kerry is also ahead of Bush on handling health care (+21), taxes (+13!), prescription drug benefits for the elderly (+12), education (+10), international affairs (+8), the economy (+5) and the federal budget deficit (+4). In fact, the only area where the public says it prefers Bush over Kerry is, interestingly enough, on handling the situation in Iraq, where Bush leads Kerry by 5 (50-45).

I say "interestingly enough" because other data in the poll show that people are not at all happy with how Bush is currently handling the situation in Iraq. His approval rating on Iraq, while improved over last month in the same poll, is still solidly negative at 44 percent approval/55 percent disapproval. Moreover, the poll has the most negative reading yet on whether "the war with Iraq was worth fighting": 47 percent say yes, compared to 52 percent who say no. And a remarkable 71 percent now say that there has been an "unacceptable number of US military casualties in Iraq"--also the most negative reading yet.

A host of other indicators also show the most negative results so far, including whether the war with Iraq has "contributed to the long-term security of the United States" (down to 51 percent), damaged US relations with other countries with other countries who opposed the war (up to 63 percent), contributed to long-term peace and stability in the Mideast (down to 42 percent) and damaged the United States' image in the rest of the world (up to 76 percent). And a high point has been reached (42 percent) in the number of Americans who say we should withdraw our military forces from Iraq "even if that means that civil order is not restored there".

Bush's approval ratings outside of the situation in Iraq are also unimpressive to downright poor. His overall approval rating has remained at 47 percent over the last month, according to the poll, while his disapproval rating has risen slightly to 51 percent.

That's bad enough for a president who had hoped to start recovering politically. But the real shocker is the drop in his approval rating on handling the US campaign against terrorism: down from 58 percent approval/39 percent disapproval last month to 50 percent approval/48 percent disapproval today.

Of Bush's other approval ratings, only one, education, breaks 50 percent, coming in at 51 percent approval/45 percent disapproval. The others are just plain bad: the economy (46/53, barely changed from the last two months); international affairs (43/55); taxes (42/54); prescription drug benefits for the elderly (40/50); the federal budget deficit (39/56); and health care (39/57).

Doesn't the public approve of anything? Sure: Bill Clinton. His approval rating is up 7 points in the last year to a healthy 62 percent rating today. It would seem that the public's increased misgivings about Bush's performance are making the Clinton era, despite Clinton's personal foibles, look pretty good by comparison.

I think they're onto something.

June 17, 2004

Gone Fishin'

Back Monday.

June 16, 2004

Now That You Mention It, It Has Been a Pretty Lousy Three Years

Mother Jones magazine today released an interesting new poll that shows, in more detail than any other recent poll, just how negatively voters feel about the progress the country has made in the last three years and how ready they are for a change.

For example, the poll asked voters about a series of issues and whether the country is now better off, or worse off, on that issue than it was three years ago. The most lop-sidedly negative response was on the deficit where just 8 percent said the country was doing better than three years ago, compared to a stunning 80 percent who said the country was doing worse.

Perhaps the deficit rating is not a surprise, but it is impressive how negative voters were on a wide variety of other issues: job security (19/65, for a -46 net rating); incomes keeping up with the cost of living (20/65, -45); access to affordable health care (19/59, -40); personal privacy (19/59, -40); moral values (22/58, -36); creating good-paying jobs (27/62, -35); the economy (31/62, -31); public schools (27/51, -24); tolerance for people not like us (27/51, -24); special interests (20/43, -23); and even the tax burden (29/54, -25). (Note that the poll asked the same set of questions about progress in the last three years, but applied to the respondent him or herself, not the country as a whole. Somewhat surprisingly, the answers, while a bit less negative, were very close indeed to the responses for the country as a whole.)

No wonder only 30 percent of voters in this poll felt the country was going in the right direction, compared to 62 percent who felt the country was seriously off on the wrong track. Similarly, just 38 percent wanted to continue in the direction Bush is headed, compared to 57 percent who wanted to go in a significantly different direction.

In terms of winners and losers in the last three years, voters have negative views that are consistent with their views about the country's lack of progress. Voters felt overwhelmingly that the wealthy were winners, not losers (85/9), as well as big corporations (71/22) and CEOs (65/25). The poor, on the other hand, were viewed as losers, not winners (15/75), as were American workers (30/63) and the middle class (37/56).

Other interesting findings from the survey:

1. Kerry is ahead of Bush among RVs 49-44, including leads of 27 points among moderates, 23 points among young voters (18-29) and 9 points among independents.

2. Bush's approval rating is net negative in the poll (47/49) and is only 42 percent among independents.

3. Almost without exception in the poll, the views of independents and Democrats are relatively close together and the views of independents and Republicans are quite far apart. That includes views of how much progress the country has made in the last three years, who the winners and losers are and attitudes toward the Iraq war.

4. Attitudes toward labor unions were strikingly positive. Only John McCain scored better in a series of thermometer readings included in the poll (Sweeney-McCain: the dream ticket?)

5. Registered voters who were not deemed likely voters (LVs) were heavily skewed toward the Democrats in everything from party ID and vote intention to their views on how much progress has been made under the Bush administration. That suggests that if turnout is high this November--as almost all campaign interest measures so far suggest--that will be a boon to the Democrats.

6. If you include leaners, Democrats have a 10 point party ID advantage among RVs in the poll. Take that, Matthew Dowd.

June 15, 2004

Kerry and the Economy

The Washington Post had a story today on how "Kerry Will Hit Bush Harder on the Economy". The article's lead:

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), dismissing economic and jobs growth as too little, too late, will step up his campaign accusing President Bush of saddling the middle class with lower wages and higher costs for health care, education and gasoline, top advisers said yesterday.

With polls showing voters unhappy with Bush's economic stewardship, Kerry will spend the remainder of June arguing that the president's policies have left most voters -- and the country -- in worse financial shape.

The Democratic nominee will paint a gloomy picture: the worst jobs performance since the Great Depression, an explosion of personal bankruptcies, skyrocketing bills for child care, health insurance and education, all piled on top of workers who are earning less or working more.

Sounds like a good approach to me. And, as the article grudgingly admits, Kerry, in doing so, will be generally factually accurate in his claims and reinforcing what voters actually believe about the performance of the economy under the Bush administration.

Of course, this being a standard mainstream press story, there is the obligatory attempt to show how Kerry will be lying to, or at least grossly misleading, voters, even as he is telling the truth:

But a recent spate of positive economic news threatens to complicate, if not contradict, Kerry's impending attack. The economy is growing at its fastest clip in 20 years, 1.4 million jobs have been created in the past nine months, including nearly 250,000 in May alone, and wages are starting to climb for many workers.

Well, there is no doubt that the economy, since the fall of last year, has done better than its truly deplorable performance throughout most of the Bush administration. But in their effort to be "balanced", the Post reporters rather deceptively present the economic data to make it sound like the economy's going gangbusters and Kerry has to wilfully ignore that indisputable fact.

But it is disputable. It is not correct to say "[t]he economy is growing at its fastest clip in 20 years". Rather, it's growing about at about 4 percent a year these days, which is quite ordinary, especially for this late in an economic expansion. What the reporters are apparently referring to was the annualized growth rate in the third quarter of last year which, at 8.2 percent, was indeed the highest quarterly growth rate since the fourth quarter of 1983. But that was one quarter nine months ago, not today. Well, perhaps it all depends on what the meaning of "is" is.

And what about "1.4 million jobs have been created in the past nine months"? But this figure is arrived at only by adding 6 months of pretty lousy job growth onto 3 months of pretty good job growth, so as to produce a figure of sufficient magnitude to sound impressive. I covered this deception in a previous post, but let me add a salient point here: the economy has to add about 140,000 jobs a month simply to keep up with labor force growth and prevent the number of unemployed workers from rising. And 140,000 jobs a month over nine months comes to 1.26 million jobs. Therefore, the seemingly impressive addition of 1.4 million jobs is just barely over the number of jobs the economy needed to add over that period simply to prevent the number of unemployed from increasing.

Doesn't sound so impressive that way, does it?

Finally, how about "wages are starting to climb for many workers"? Depends on what your definition of "many" is. Here's an excerpt from a recent article by economists Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker on The American Prospect website:

Back in the late 1990s, we recognized the unique nature of the first full-employment economy in decades and wrote a book to document the phenomenon. One of our observations was that fast productivity growth is a necessary condition for raising the living standards of working families, but not a sufficient condition. You also need very low unemployment to ensure that the gains are evenly distributed.

The latest data confirm our findings with a vengeance. Productivity, which accelerated in the second half of the 1990s, has sped up once again since 2000. At the same time, the unemployment rate has remained stubbornly high. The official rate, measured last month at 5.6 percent, doesn’t capture the full picture because millions of job seekers, who had given up the search due to lack of prospects, are just starting to get back in the game. If they were officially considered to be looking for work, unemployment would be over 7 percent.

This combination of strong productivity growth and weak labor markets translates into wage stagnation for most, along with increased inequality. Full-time workers’ weekly earnings, adjusted for inflation, show a widening gap between the highest and lowest wages. For workers below the 75th percentile -- those earning less than the top 25 percent are earning-- real earnings grew by less than one percent. Only those at the top of the wage scale have benefited from the economic recovery, as real earnings at the 90th percentile grew 2.5 percent for men and 4.5 percent for women. These findings suggest that at least three-quarters of adult, full-time workers currently lack the bargaining power to press for a fair slice of the expanding pie. They are contributing impressively to this economy, but it is not returning the favor.

So rock on, John Kerry. Hit 'em hard and be confident your approach is both factually accurate and likely to be well-received in the court of public opinion. The Post and the rest of the mainstream press will never give you full credit for this, in their endless quest for a spurious balance. But in the end, the ones with the votes are the ones living in the real economy, not getting spun in the newsrooms.

June 14, 2004

Kerry and Iraq

A front-page article in The Washington Post today detailed Democrats' concerns that:

[Kerry] has not crisply articulated what a Kerry presidency would stand for beyond undoing much of the Bush agenda.

So far, these concerns have not slowed Kerry. But if Kerry cannot change this perception coming out of next month's Democratic convention in Boston, it could prove much harder for the party to maximize turnout, win over Ralph Nader voters and keep independents from swinging to Bush, they say.

I agree with Noam Scheiber that the real problem here for Kerry is less maximizing turnout/exciting the base than it is keeping swing voters on Kerry's side. But, as Scheiber acknowledges, the fact that "Kerry hasn't yet stumbled onto a compelling, affirmative pitch" could eventually be a real problem with these voters.

A compelling, affirmative pitch for Kerry is needed on both domestic and international issues, but that need is perhaps clearest on the international side, particularly on Iraq. Consider these data from the recent Los Angeles Times (LAT) poll.

According to the LAT poll, Bush's approval rating on Iraq is just 44 percent, with 55 percent disapproval. By 53-43, the public now believes the situation in Iraq was not worth going to war over. And by 61-35, they believe the US is getting bogged down in Iraq, rather than making good progress. Finally, just 35 percent believe Bush has offered a clear plan on how he would handle the Iraq situation, compared to 44 percent who believe he has not.

Pretty negative, huh? Trouble is, just 15 percent think Kerry has offered a clear plan on the Iraq situation, compared to 34 percent who believe he has not and 43 percent who say they haven't yet heard enough from Kerry to form an opinion. In addition, 55 percent say they generally know not too much or nothing at all about Kerry's proposals on foreign affairs. These are not encouraging figures.

Moreover, one of the key components of Kerry's Iraq plan, such as it is, meets with a tepid response. Just 46 percent say they agree with Kerry's assessment that "President Bush has lost credibility around the world and that only a new president can rally the support of U.S. allies to help stabilize Iraq", compared to 47 percent who disagree.

In an intriguing manifestation of this possible problem for Kerry, a recent Time magazine poll of Catholics, a swingish constituency, found Kerry ahead among these voters by 49-38 on who has a plan for the economy, but behind Bush by a point (44-45) on who has a plan for Iraq and trailing by 12 points (38-50) on who has a plan for fighting terrorism.

So Kerry has some work to do to convince voters, especially swing voters, he has an affirmative, compelling plan for bringing the Iraq war to a successful conclusion--in other words, that he has a plausible and responsible exit strategy for the US. While he's probably right that just announcing an exit date won't work, either as policy or politically (by 73-24, the public, according to the LAT poll, opposes simply setting "a deadline for the withdrawal of all American troops in Iraq"), that doesn't mean what he's put on the table so far is an adequate plan--especially in terms of impressing swing voters. Whether it's sooner or later--preferably sooner--he's eventually got to confront that problem.

June 13, 2004

Students for Kerry

The Leon and Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy has released a new poll of (four-year) college students, conducted by Hart Research. The findings confirm earlier poll results that suggest college students, as with young voters in general, are leaning strongly toward the Democrats and Kerry.

In terms of party ID, Democrats currently enjoy a healthy lead among students of 14 points (44-30).

In the poll's prospective ballot question, Kerry leads Bush by 12 points (42-30) among students, with just 4 percent going to Nader (note that Kerry’s lead is actually slightly larger–13 points (45-32)–among students who are registered voters). Kerry's support is broad and includes leads among men (7 points) and among whites (8 points).

College students also favor Kerry over Bush on a wide range of characteristics. By 28 points, they think Kerry better understands the needs of college students, by 18 points, they believe he "cares about people like me", by 12 points that he is honest and truthful, by 10 points that he is personally likable, by 9 points that he can get things done and by 6 points that would use good judgement in a crisis. Bush receives advantages only on "willing to take a stand, even if it is unpopular (8 points) and being a strong leader (1 point).

On issues, Kerry's advantages are even more pronounced. Bush has a lead only on defending the country from future terrorist attacks (13 points). But Kerry leads on protecting the environment (45 points), improving education (27 points), dealing with the costs of college education (27 points), improving the health care system (26 points), improving the jobs situation (24 points) and "making wise decisions about what to do in Iraq" (4 points).

Finally, consistent with other polls, college students support allowing gay marriage (52-38) and overwhelmingly oppose a constitutional amendment to ban such marriages (63-29).

The only bad news here for Kerry and the Democrats is that students express increasingly low levels of confidence in the efficacy of voting in presidential elections as a way to bring about social change. That kind of attitude could contribute to keeping turnout down, when the Democrats would clearly benefit from as high turnout as possible among college students.

On the other hand, the survey found that college students were overwhelmingly convinced that the outcome of this particular election would really matter for making progress on the important issues facing the country--more convinced, in fact, than the public as a whole. Democrats would be well-advised to try to build on students' clear understanding of the stakes of this election.

June 12, 2004

Yet More On That LA Times Poll

As a public service, I reproduce the reply (originally in ABC News' The Note) of Susan Pinkus, Director of the Los Angeles Times Poll, to Matthew Dowd's allegations. Note her point about not weighting by party ID, as well as the useful time series data on party ID in the LAT poll. And note that the Democrats' current 13 point lead is not out of line with the previous LAT poll data.

After reading Matthew Dowd's assessment of the Los Angeles Times Poll in ABC News' The Note, I feel that I have to respond to his assertion that the poll is a 'mess.' His negative spin of this poll is, quite truthfully, not unexpected. The Times makes every effort to use sound methodological techniques that are used by most reputable research and polling organizations. The questionnaire and methodology is available for anyone to see and conforms to the guidelines set forth by the National Council on Public Polls and the American Association for Public Opinion Research. Although Dowd does not like the results of the Times poll, I stand behind the poll's results and the sound statistical methods used.

If Dowd doesn't like the Times results, did he have a problem with the latest Gallup and CBS/New York Times polls? The horserace numbers are similar to the results of these two latest polls. Gallup had Kerry ahead by 5 points in the two-way race and CBS had Kerry up by 8 points.

The Times does RDD (random digit dialing) sampling which reaches households with listed and unlisted telephone numbers. The poll weights slightly (for minor corrections) based on census data for sex, race, age and education and does not weight for party ID. Party ID is a moving variable that changes from one election to another, and weighting by party registration makes no sense nationally because many states don't have their voters register by party and some states don't have voters register to vote until the day of the election.

Here is the breakdown of party affiliation in Times polls going back to September 2001:

DATENDEMINDREPSD
06/04438242572
03/044332625102
11/035312526123
04/033381926104
02/034283026104
12/02433282792
08/02335262883
02/026312627112
11/015342825104
09/01538202683

As you can see, the numbers are pretty similar to one another (all within the margins of error).

It is also interesting to me that if the poll is 'a mess,' why is he reporting data from the poll -- results that hopefully make his point? Why doesn't he report that the job approval ratings are very similar to those that other polling firms are finding? For example, a new Fox poll released today shows Bush's job approval 48 percent to 45 percent disapproval. Annenberg's numbers show Bush's approval to disapproval ratings at 48 percent to 49 percent. The Times poll has Bush's positive to negative ratings 51 percent to 47 percent. Annenberg also had Bush handling the situation in Iraq at 40 percent approve and 56 percent disapprove; the Times poll shows 44 percent and 55 percent. Annenberg has Bush handling the nation's economy at 41 percent to 55 percent; the Times had 43 percent to 54 percent.

However, if you look at all the questions, not just the horserace there is uneasiness about what is happening to the country (56 percent think the country would be better off if it moved in a new direction, 58 percent think the country is seriously off on the wrong track -- which most polls are showing) and doubts about President Bush's presidency. On the other hand, Kerry needs to do better than he is about what his proposals are. Which will win stability or change -- we'll know on Nov. 2.

June 11, 2004

More On That LA Times Poll

First, on the controversy that has emerged about the new Los Angeles Times (LAT) poll. In essence, the criticism of the poll comes down to this: there are too many Democrats in the poll, which explains how Kerry can be leading Bush by 7, despite losing to Bush among independents and having a smaller margin among Democrats than Bush has among Republicans, and how the Democrats can be 19 points ahead in the generic congressional ballot.

And it is true, as LAT poll Susan Pinkus has admitted, that the current LAT poll has has an unusually large 13 point Democratic advantage on party ID (the sample is 38 percent Democrats, 25 percent Republicans and 24 percent independents). It could be true that there is some problem with the poll that led to oversampling of Democrats (though, since this is an RV, not LV poll, there is no obvious culprit for this problem). Or it could be plain old sampling error--the mean of this poll just happens to be unusually far away from the true population figure. Or it could be there is a surge toward the Democrats that is driving up the number of Democratic identifiers among voters and enhancing the Democrats' party ID advantage. (Or it could be a combination of the second and third explanations: there is a surge toward the Democrats and sampling error in the LAT poll produced an unusually high number of Democrats, even given that Democratic surge.)

Of course, no one can "prove" anything here. But I, for one, find these figures (the Democratic party ID advantage and generic congressional ballot advantage) generally plausible, if perhaps a bit on the high side. There are ample grounds for thinking there is, in fact, a surge toward the Democrats and their positions and away from the Republicans and their positions among the broad electorate. A growing Democratic party ID advantage is a logical consequence of that surge, since party ID does not remain stable as political conditions change.

Indeed, the Democratic party ID advantage has been growing ever since the post-9/11 surge in Republican party ID ended sometime in 2003, so the LAT 13 point Democratic advantage, while seemingly high, fits well with trend. Note also that it is not without recent precedent: a recent ABC News poll gave Democrats a 10 point party ID lead and a January CBS News/New York Times poll gave the Dems a 13 point lead (though note that this included leaners). The same is true of the Democrats' big advantage on the generic Congressional ballot; public polls have been showing that advantage growing steadily for quite awhile and a number of polls have shown the Democrats with double-digit leads (though, admittedly, none has shown a lead as high as LAT's).

Conclusion: there is no good reason to ignore the results of this poll (unless you're Matthew Dowd, of course, who has his own reasons for doing so). Like all polls, it should be taken with a grain of salt and considered in relationship to other polls. But there's no need, in my view, to be any more stringent that that.

So back to the data. I promised to discuss the Bush-Kerry comparisons on traits and issues, which were generated by giving respondents a series of statements of the form "he......." and asking them whether the statement applies more to Bush or Kerry.

It is interesting to compare Kerry's worst area ("he flip-flops on the issue") to Bush's worst area ("he is too ideological and stubborn"). By almost 2:1 (48-25), voters felt flip-flopping applies more to Kerry, but by well over 3:1 (58-16), voters felt being too ideological and stubborn applies more to Bush (57-14 among independents and 64-11 among moderates). Given the pragmatic, problem-solving orientation of American voters, that seems like an exceptionally poor position for Bush to be in.

It's also worth noting that Bush's numbers in his second-worst area ("he has better ideas for handling the problems of cost and access to health care") are also worse (51-24 against him; including 50-19 among independents and 63-11 among moderates) than Kerry's numbers in the flip-flopping area.

Other good areas for Kerry are "he has better ideas for strengthening the nation's economy" (48-37 in his favor, including 46-31 in Ohio) and "he cares about people like me" (47-35, including 45-31 in Ohio), while good areas for Bush are "he would be best at keeping the country safe from terrorism" (50-31 in his favor) and "he shares my moral values" (45-36).

Finally, note that Bush has no advantage at all on "he will be a strong leader for the country" (44-44) and only a one point advantage on "he has the honesty and integrity to serve as president" (41-40). For a president whose stock in trade used to be the strong leader who told it like it was, that's not very encouraging news.

But more encouraging than this: by 52-22, voters say the country is worse off, rather than better off, due to the economic policies pursued by Bush in the last three years. And it's an essentially identical 52-23 verdict on that question in Ohio.

Perhaps instead of wondering whether there's a surge toward the Democrats, we should be wondering why it took so long!

June 10, 2004

Sorry, GOP, No Reagan Death Bounce Here

The Los Angeles Times (LAT) has released a major new national poll that includes oversamples in three battleground states, Ohio, Missouri and Wisconsin. And it provides little evidence that the GOP's fervently-desired "Reagan death bounce" is materializing; in fact, Kerry's 7 point lead among RVs in this poll (51-44), conducted entirely since Reagan's death, is actually larger than Kerry's lead in a recent Gallup poll that only partially overlapped the period since Reagan's death.

The breakdown of the horse race data provides some interesting results. Bush's current advantage among men is almost non-existent (49-48), while he is behind by 13 points (40-53) among women. Kerry is ahead by 10 points among 18-29 year olds, consistent with the lead he has had among young voters in most polls. And he has a 2:1 advantage among moderates (60-32), though, interestingly, and in contrast to other recent polls I've seen, he runs slightly behind among independents (46-49; note, however, that among moderate independents, Kerry has a huge 63-31 lead). In terms of the three battleground states where LAT oversampled, Kerry is losing 42-48 in MO, dead-even in WI (44-44) and ahead 46-45 in OH).

And here's a startling result from their generic congressional ballot question: Democrats are favored over Republicans by an amazing 54-35 margin, including 3:1 among moderates (60-20) and even 51-38 among male voters.

In terms of direction of the country, the classic right direction/wrong track question is heavily negative (34 right direction/58 wrong track). And a related question, "...do you think the country is better off because of George W. Bush's policies and should proceed in the direction he set out, or do you think the country is not better off and needs to move in a new direction?", also returns a resoundingly negative 39/56 verdict, including 26/61 among moderates and 35/58 in Ohio.

Bush does get an approval rating that is high by his recent standards (51 percent). He is, however, net negative among independents (48/50) and moderates (44/52) and only 48/48 in Ohio. His other approval ratings are unimpressive, if a tad higher than in other recent public polls: 54/42 on the war on terrorism; 44/55 on Iraq; and 43/54 on the economy (as LAT notes, essentially unchanged since their last poll in late March, despite the last several months of pretty good job growth).

In the poll, almost half the country (49 percent) now says they have an unfavorable impression of Bush, compared to exactly half who say they are favorable, for a razor-thin +1 net rating. Kerry, in contrast, is only viewed unfavorably by 32 percent, compared to 51 percent who view him favorably, for a +19 net rating. Note that that relationship is replicated in Ohio, where Bush is +1 on favorability and Kerry is +16.

I'll cover the Bush-Kerry comparisons on specific traits and issues tomorrow.

Will the Economy Save Bush (June Edition Supplement)

I gave my basic views on this question a few days ago. But I couldn't resist calling attention to this well-researched front-page article, "Economy Provides No Boost to Bush", in The Washington Post. Here's an excerpt from the article, starting with some salient data that I really wish the media would keep in mind when they write about this issue:

Bush is not the first president to suffer from a disconnect between objective economic indicators and voter perceptions on the economy. The economy began growing steadily in March 1991, when President George H.W. Bush registered a 49 percent approval rating on his handling of the economy. But by July of 1992, those approval ratings had slid to an abysmal 25 percent, presaging his electoral defeat three months later.

By October 1994, economic growth had climbed to a healthy 4 percent, and unemployment had slid from 7.5 percent in 1992 to 6.1 percent. Yet President Bill Clinton's economic job approval ratings were stuck at 43 percent, with 52 percent disapproving. The GOP swept into power on Capitol Hill the next month. It was not until June 1996, more than five years into the longest peacetime economic expansion in history, that Clinton's approval ratings on the economy turned solidly positive.

"Americans are a show-me people," said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion expert at the American Enterprise Institute. "They need to be shown that things have actually been changed, and I think in an economic recovery, this means seeing the guy down the street getting his job back rather than good jobs numbers."

For President Bush, the disconnect has been far more pronounced. Over the course of this year, according to Gallup polling, disapproval of Bush's handling of the economy has risen in lock step with the economy's performance, from 43 percent in early January to 58 percent. "It may be hard to evince positive responses to anything we ask them," conceded Frank Newport, Gallup's polling director.

For Republicans, frustration is beginning to show. Last week, when the Labor Department announced that an additional 248,000 jobs had been created in May, House Ways and Means Committee Republicans e-mailed reporters, blaring, "It's a Booming Economy, Stupid."

But John R. Zaller, a political scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles, suggested that voters may not be stupid. They just may have considerably sharper antennae than economists.

In the fall of 2000, when most economic indicators continued to surge, anxiety among voters began to take a toll on Democrat Al Gore's White House bid, Zaller said. That anxiety proved to be prescient: By the spring of 2001, the economy had slipped into recession.

This go-round, jobs are coming back, but Americans may sense that those jobs are not of the same quality as the work that was lost, Newport said. Any good economic news is being tempered by high gasoline prices, and a generally sour mood has made voters skeptical.

June 9, 2004

Southwestern Hispanics Lean Strongly Democratic

On May 17, I mentioned the state-level polls of Hispanic LVs done by the New Democrat Network and allowed as how the full results would be released shortly.

Well, they fooled me. NDN never did post the full results on their website--hopefully, they'll get around to doing that at some point--but I did manage to secure a copy of the topline results and can now provide a bit more detail on these polls.

In that earlier post, I mentioned that:

While [Kerry] 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.

Here's the backstory to those strong Kerry leads among Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico Hispanics. Since the stories are pretty similar in the three states, I'll provide data for all three states in uniform AZ, NV, NM order as I go through the findings.

Start with favorability ratings. Southwestern Hispanic voters are net negative on Bush (42 favorable/53 unfavorable, 41/54, 40/52), but quite positive about on Kerry (52/28, 50/27, 55/26). And they are very positive about the Democratic party (71/18, 62/22, 72/19), but tepid-to-negative about the Republican party (48/43, 35/51, 37/44). Note also that the Democrats have huge advantages in party ID in all three states (by 51, 34 and 51 points, respectively).

Turning to Bush's approval ratings, they are poor to abysmal in all areas tested by NDN. (Note: these job ratings are not done in standard approve/disapprove format, but rather by giving respondents four choices: excellent, good, mediocre, poor, similar to the way Zogby does job ratings. "Excellent" and "good" are combined here to give Bush's positive rating in the different areas.)

Bush's overall job ratings are generally poor (37, 39, 40). His ratings on "upholding moral values" are better (43, 49, 46). But the rest of his ratings are substantially more negative than his overall job rating: keeping his promises to the Hispanic/Latino community (22, 26, 25); creating jobs (29, 34, 30); improving the quality of public schools (28, 32, 30); improving access to affordable health care (35, 30, 39); dealing with the immigration issue (27, 25, 34); protecting Social Security and Medicare (29, 33, 34); and funding social services for the elderly (30, 34, 39).

Turning to party images, the Democratic party is strongly favored over the Repoublican party in all areas tested by NDN save fighting terrorism the most effectively and helping businesses the most. These area where Democrats are favored include: helping you and your family live a better life (+36, +35, +35); upholding moral values best (18, 15, 23); being committed to public education (42, 25, 37); creating a large number of new jobs (41, 24, 41); helping working families the most (61, 37, 51); supporting universal health care (30, 42, 42); and doing a better job on immigration issues (10, 26, 15).

These states all look like they're going to be close. Based on these data, the key to taking these states for Kerry would seem to lie in ensuring a high level of Hispanic mobilization and turnout in November.

June 8, 2004

Gallup Delivers Bad News for President Bush

Gallup released their latest poll today and it contains mostly bad news for the president. And the poll, which was conducted June 3-6, and therefore partly overlaps with the period after Reagan's death, certainly shows little evidence of a "Reagan death bounce" for Bush (though it remains possible that later polls will turn up evidence of such a bounce).

Turning first to the horse race numbers, Kerry leads Bush by 5 points among RVs (49-44), up from a 2 point lead in their May 21-23 poll. It's also interesting to note that, for the second straight poll, Gallup's LV numbers (a 6 point, 50-44 lead for Kerry) closely match their RV numbers.

Gallup helpfully provides a solid red/purple/solid blue breakdown of the Kerry-Bush RV matchup. That breakdown shows Kerry with a very healthy lead in the solid blue states (57-37( and Bush with a surprisingly modest one in the solidly red states (48-44). And, most critical to Kerry's electoral chances, he replicates his national lead of 5 points in the purple states (49-44).

The poll shows Bush with a modest uptick in his overall approval rating (up 2 points in the last two weeks to 49 percent, with disapproval remaining steady at 49 percent). But his approval rating on the economy, despite the recent pretty good job numbers, has not budged since early May and remains mired at 41 percent. In fact, this latest poll shows his disapproval rating on the economy actually going up slightly (by 2 points, to 58 percent) in the last two weeks.

Bush's approval rating on handling terrorism remains his relative strong point at 56 percent--but even that, of course, is way down from the gaudy ratings of 65 percent and above he consistently received until this spring. And his rating on Iraq is essentially unchanged from a month ago at a very poor 41 percent approval/57 percent disapproval. His rating on handling foreign affairs is only slightly better at 44/54.

But his worst ratings are in two domestic areas of potentially large significance to November's outcome: energy policy and prescription drugs for seniors. In both areas, he receives identically abysmal 33/58 ratings. The energy policy rating suggests that high gas prices are indeed hurting Bush politically and the prescription drugs rating indicates that the new discount drug cards are not--despite the predictions of various Republican operatives--improving public perceptions of Bush's performance in this area.

Not a lot of good news here for the current occupant of the Oval Office. No wonder Republicans have been floating the idea of a Reagan death bounce for Bush. Nothing else seems to be working.

June 6, 2004

Will the Economy Save Bush? (June Edition)

Well, it's that time of month again: the new jobs report is out and the usual spate of news stories have ensued, making the pretty good job numbers (248,000 jobs created in May) sound way better than they really are and, of course, speculating that this allegedly torrid pace of job creation will wind up taking the economy issue away from the Democrats.

As I said in the May edition of this post: not likely. And for basically the same reasons that were well-summarized in Paul Krugman's May 25 column on Republicans' "Delusions of Triumph" on the economy. I reproduce key parts of Krugman's column here, merely updating the numbers to take account of the new jobs report. Everything Krugman said in his column remains dead-on, even with this extra month of job growth taken into account:

Let's start with the [1.2 million new jobs] created in the last [five] months. Is that exceptional? Well, during the first [five] months of 2000, the last presidential election year, the economy created [1.4] million new jobs...[1.4] million jobs [have been] created since last August (when job growth finally turned positive). But in [May] 2000, payroll employment was [2.6] million higher than in August 1999.

And that was after seven years of sustained employment growth; rapid job growth is hard to achieve when the economy is already close to full employment. To find a year comparable to 2004, we need to look back to 1994, when the economy was still recovering from the first Bush recession. In the first [five] months of that year, the economy added almost [1.6] million jobs.

The experience of 1994 also gives us some indication of how likely job growth is to "redefine" an election. Between December 1993 and November 1994 the economy gained 3.6 million jobs, a number beyond the Bush administration's fondest dreams. Yet voters, convinced that Bill Clinton was leading the country astray, gave his party a severe defeat in that year's midterm elections. So it's interesting that a new CBS News poll finds that 65 percent of Americans believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction — a level not seen since 1994.

He concludes:

And employment is chasing a moving target: it must rise by about 140,000 a month just to keep up with a growing population. In [May], the economy added [248,000] jobs. If you do the math, you discover that President Bush needs about four years of job growth at last month's rate to reach what his own economists consider full employment.

The bottom line, then, is that Mr. Bush's supporters have no right to complain about the public's failure to appreciate his economic leadership. Three years of lousy performance, followed by [three] months of good but not great job growth, is not a record to be proud of.

Well said, Mr. Krugman. And for further explanation of voters' stubbornly non-elated response to these modest economic improvements, let's turn to a May 24 Gallup report on their "Index of Investor Optimism" and how it may be being affected by the Iraq war.

A more plausible explanation [for economic pessimism], however, might simply lie in the unusual nature of the current economic expansion. Although job growth seems to have improved during the past couple of months, we are still experiencing one of the slowest job-growth expansions in history. This has combined with the outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries to produce a great deal of job insecurity for the average working family. In turn, this overall insecurity in the labor market has led to a compression of middle-class wages.

Now, we have an externally generated surge in energy prices and inflation that is creating significant financial hardship for many Americans. For example, 43% of investors say that the surge in gasoline prices has created financial hardship for their households. And, three in four of those experiencing such financial hardship say it is either moderate or severe.

Whether the overall economy is doing well or not, many Americans are experiencing a severe wage-price squeeze. As a result, it is not surprising that they are much less optimistic about the economy and the investment climate than many of their financially better-off counterparts. While Iraq may continue to dominate the headlines in the months ahead, it could be this wage-price squeeze that turns out to be the most important story as the presidential election approaches later this year.

These analyses are consistent with results of an ARG poll, conducted June 1-3, right after this allegedly spectacular month of job creation. The results show no lifting of the economic pessimism that is bedeviling the Bush administration.

Bush receives an economic approval rating of just 42 percent, with 53 percent disapproval, pretty very close to his 43/50 overall approval rating. (Note to horse race fans: the poll also shows Kerry leading Bush by 2 points, 48-46). Moreover, just 19 percent say the national economy is getting better, actually less than 27 percent who said it was getting better at the beginning of May. And only 27 percent say the economy will be better a year from now, a substantial drop from the 45 percent who were optimistic about the economy at the beginning of May.

Conclusion: the economic clouds over the Bush administration are not likely to lift anytime soon. And we're getting very close to the "lock-in" point in the election year where voters' views of the economy and the incumbent administration's handling of it become hard to change in time for election day, no matter how good the economic trends become.

In short, as far as the economy and the Bush administration go, the latest jobs report can reasonably be described as "too little too late", rather than as a harbinger of rebounding voter confidence.

June 5, 2004

Independent Voters and the Bush Presidency

Gallup has put out an interesting new analysis discussing the high levels of partisan polarization in views of Bush. In the most recent Gallup poll, 89 percent of Republicans approve of the job Bush is doing as president, compared to just 12 percent of Democrats who approve. That 77 point gap is the highest of Bush's presidency.

Moreover, the strength of partisan approval and disapproval is striking. Among Republicans, 64 percent strongly approve of Bush's performance and, among Democrats, 66 percent strongly disapprove.

These are impressive figures, but for my money the most interesting data in the Gallup analysis are actually about independents. The analysis includes a chart of Bush approval by Democrat, Republican and independent which shows that, starting in early May, Bush's approval rating among independents dropped to 40 percent and stayed there.

That drop, if not reversed, may well prove to be the death knell of Bush's presidency. I just don't see how Bush can pull it out if he's only running at only 40 percent approval among independents; the close relationship between approval and voting support would imply a healthy Bush deficit among independents on election day which, in turn, would make it highly unlikely that Bush could win (keep in mind that Bush actually carried independents by 2 points in 2000 and still lost the popular vote).

Note also the structure of Bush's approval rating among independents. His 40 percent approval rating only includes 16 percent who strongly approve of his performance. But, among the 55 percent who strongly disapprove of his performance, 41 percent strongly disapprove.

So Bush has independents fired up. Trouble for him is, it's the wrong way: they're fired up against him. Maybe that's part of the reason why the Bush campaign seems to be concentrating on mobilizing their base; they're hoping they can bring out those voters in droves and swamp the negative trend among independents.

But that's probably not going to work either. According to figures cited by William Schneider in the National Journal, independents are following this year's campaign with unusual intensity--not far removed, in fact, from the intensity with which Democratic and Republican partisans are following the race, which is, in turn, unusually high by historical standards.

Alas for Bush, this may turn out to be the election where everyone shows up. And, if that's the case, it'll be the Republican base that gets swamped, not the other way around.

June 4, 2004

Swing Voters in Swing States Can't Stand Bush

The Annenberg Election Survey has just released some new data on "persuadable voters" in the battleground states (about 11 percent of the nation's public) and it is very interesting data indeed. (Annenberg defines persuadable voters as those that say they are undecided or who have a preference but say there's a "good chance" they could change their minds; for Annenebeg's definition of battleground states, see my May 26 post.) Probably the most striking thing about the data is how little these voters like George Bush and where he's led the country.

Consider these findings. Swing voters in swing states give Bush an overall approval rating of just 44 percent. But that's good compared to how they feel about Bush's handling of the economy and Iraq. In both cases, Bush's approval rating is a stunningly low 30 percent, with 60 percent disapproval. Wow. Sounds like these voters are ready for a change.

That's confirmed by their responses to th right direction/wrong track question: 2:1 wrong track over right direction (59/25). In addition, 85 percent of these voters believe the current state of the economy is only fair or poor and only 14 percent believe Bush's economic policies have made the economy better.

As Bush's 30 percent approval rating on Iraq suggests, these voters are very negative indeed on the Iraq situation and whether it's accomplishing anything positive. By an overwhelming 69-20 margin, they don't believe Bush has a clear plan to bring the Iraq situation to a successful conclusion. By a similar margin (67-19), they don't believe the war in Iraq has reduced the risk of terrorist attacks against the US. They also don't believe, by 53-40, that the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over.

And they're interested in getting US troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. By 52-41, they say we should bring our troops home as soon as possible, rather than keeping troops in Iraq until a stable government is formed (the public as a whole narrowly favors keeping troops in Iraq by 49-46).

Note also that Bush's approval rating on handling the war on terrorism among these voters is net negative (44/50).

Besides their decidedly negative views on Bush, other characteristics of these voters suggest their accessibility to Kerry's campaign. Compared to the general public, either nationwide or just in the battleground states, these voters are less likely to describe themselves as conservative, less likely to be Republican, less likely to attend church frequently and less likely to own a gun.

Is it a done deal for John Kerry among these voters then? No. He still has to close the sale. At this point, his net favorability rating among these voters (+3) is no higher than Bush's. These voters are also paying less attention to the campaign than other voters, so Kerry will need to catch their attention to turn them decisively in his direction.

And that brings us back to the boldness issue I've been posting about lately. Kerry needs to excite voters in general about his campaign and these voters in particular. As the campaign unfolds, an overly cautious approach may miss an opportunity to turn the swing voters in swing states into a Kerry constituency. And note these voters' sentiment about keeping troops in Iraq. Even if he doesn't want to specify an exit date, he does need to convey to these voters that he has a plan for successfully concluding the Iraq war and getting those troops back home.

June 3, 2004

Church Attendance, Values and Politics

Susan Page had a front-page article in today's USA Today on "Churchgoing Closely Tied to Voting Patterns". The article contains much useful data about religiosity and voting, including information on how the "attendance gap"--those who frequently attend church vote Republican at substantially higher rates than those who don't--has evolved over time. (Unfortunately, a nice chart with these data is only available in the paper's print edition).

That gap was almost non-existent in 1968, grew to 10 points in 1972, declined to 4-7 points in the '80s and then emerged in full force in '92 and beyond: 17 points in 1992, 19 points in 1996 and 20 points in 2000.

Why was this? John Green of the University of Akron is quoted in the article giving the standard explanation:

Once social issues came to the forefront — abortion, gay rights, women's rights — it generated differences based on religious attendance. More observant people tend to have more traditional morality, and they moved in a more conservative direction because of those issues.

There's a lot of truth to this, but the other side of the equation is important too: less observant people tend to have less traditional morality--prizing tolerance, diversity and women's rights--and have moved in a liberal direction. Thus, though they may not attend church every week, they're voting their values just as much as the folks who do. The USA Today story gives this aspect of the attendance gap short shrift.

The article also implicitly poses this attendance gap as a big problem for the Democrats. In reality, given what we know of trends in social values and church attendance (see my May 27 post), it makes more sense to see it as a Republican problem. Over time, the ranks of those with less traditional morality and less frequent church attendance will continue to grow and, so, therefore, will the ranks of Democratic-leaning values voters.

These are changes that Democrats should welcome and build on. Which means it's high time Democrats started contesting the idea that the only folks who take values--including religious values--seriously are those that attend church every week. That's neither logically nor empirically true and certainly runs counter to what the Democratic party stands for. Instead, we should defend diversity in attendance practices just as we defend diversity in other areas. After all, most Americans believe the key aspect of religion is not how often you attend church but rather how you practice the values your religion teaches. Sounds like an idea Democrats should embrace and promote, rather than worrying unduly about the attendance gap.

June 2, 2004

On the Question of Boldness (Part Two)

Turning to the question of boldness on the domestic front, the problem here is less that Kerry doesn't have any bold proposals, than that he hasn't been able to figure out a compelling way to highlight them. That's a shame because, as Stanley and Anna Greenberg point out in their interesting report "Toward a Bold Politics":

...the Kerry proposals – on health care and energy – that are his two boldest... win the most voter support (80 percent, including over half of the electorate that strongly supports them). To address the health care crisis, Kerry offers a broad government initiative to cover all children, qualify all Americans to purchase insurance in the federal-employee pool, provide tax credits and close drug company loopholes to reduce costs. On energy, Kerry promises a Manhattan project to achieve energy independence in 10 years, promote renewables and fuel efficiency.

Another area where Kerry has some good ideas is education. As Michael Winerip pointed out recently in an admirably crisp article in The New York Times:

The secret to quality public education has never been a big mystery. You need good teachers and you need small enough classes so those teachers can do their work. Period.

In terms of the availability of good teachers, the root of the problem is widely noted. As Matthew Miller put it in a recent column, "Think Bigger on Teachers":

....up through the mid-1970s, the quality of the teacher corps was subsidized by discrimination. Women and minorities didn't have as many opportunities outside the classroom. An enormous talent pool came into the schools, talent that is now nearing retirement. These teachers' younger counterparts aren't choosing teaching; they're becoming doctors and lawyers and businesspeople instead.

And, given the lower pay, poorer working conditions and more difficult students in high-poverty schools, the lower quality part of this lower quality teaching corps winds up in those schools, teaching the very kids who need great teachers the most.

Kerry's proposal to deal with this problem is called a "New Bargain for America's Children and Teachers". Here's the basic idea from his website:

...[Kerry's] “New Bargain for America's Children and Teachers” will recruit or retain 500,000 teachers over the next 4 years . Working together with parents, principals, and communities across America, John Kerry will offer teachers and children a new bargain. The new bargain will offer teachers more—providing better pay and preparation—and will ask for more in return—requiring high standards and rewarding results for our children.

Kerry's plan will recruit quality teachers for high-need schools and for subject areas like math and science by offering pay hikes of at least $5,000. He will also establish a new teacher corps for recent college graduates.

Great idea! Problem is, as Miller points out:

Kerry's new plan offers exactly the right framework. Yet the budget he puts behind it, roughly $3 billion a year, isn't nearly enough to make the difference he seeks.

In a new book I estimate it would cost $30 billion a year (not $3 billion) to raise starting salaries for high-poverty teachers from roughly $40,000 to $60,000 - and to make it possible for the best performers to eventually earn as much as $150,000. This new trajectory would revolutionize the way the career is viewed by college students choosing a career.

Miller concludes that:

A bolder call (via Kerry's new bargain) to have the nation make the best teachers of poor children millionaires over their careers could make the press and public see there's a difference on schools that matters. With the stakes so high, in other words, Kerry may want to think bigger - so that his teacher plan is more effective as policy and more potent as politics.

Souds good to me, though, as Matthew Yglesias pointed out in his post on Miller's column, the education issue ranks below Iraq, economy/jobs and health care in terms of salience. Still, it's interesting to note that, according to the Greenbergs, a "bold" education proposal polls better than Kerry's actual education proposal in the areas of preschool, class size and college access. Perhaps the same thing would be true in the teachers area.

Clearly, the devil is in the details on all this. Kerry does have fiscal and political constraints on what he can advocate (though, as many have noted, Clinton initially got elected on a synthesis of fiscal responsibility and "putting people first" not fiscal responsibility alone). And simply advocating that Kerry "Go Big", as MoveOn, in conjunction with Arianna Huffington and Joe Trippi, has suggested in a recent petition, understates the challenges Kerry has in framing "bold" proposals so they reach and inspire swing voters.

But I do think the raw materials are already out there for a bold Kerry domestic agenda that could indeed be compelling for voters. So far, I don't believe he's succeeded in communicating that agenda to voters. He's got plenty of time but, in the end, voters will want to know what the Kerry campaign is about. An overly-cautious, let-Bush-lose approach will not answer that fundamental voter question.