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December 31, 2004

Terrorism, Gay Marriage, and Incumbency: Explaining the Republican Victory in the 2004 Election

By Alan Abramowitz

Note: Alan Abramowitz' essay is posted here with the kind permission of The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics. Please visit this excellent online journal, where Abramowitz' essay is now appearing, along with other essays by political scientists James Campbell, Barry Burden, Michael McDonald and Harold Bass, in their current issue on "Post-Election 2004". Access to articles is free, though a temporary guest registration is required.

In 2004, for the first time since 1928, a Republican President was reelected along with Republican majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.President Bush’s margins in both the popular and the electoral vote were relatively narrow. Mr. Bush won 50.7 percent of the popular vote and 286 electoral votes to 48.3 percent of the popular vote and 252 electoral votes for his Democratic challenger, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Despite the closeness of the election, however, the fact that Mr. Bush was the first presidential candidate to win a majority of the popular vote since his father in 1988, the Republican gains in the Senate and House of Representatives, and a dramatic increase in voter turnout have fueled speculation that this was an extraordinary election with potentially long-lasting consequences for American politics.

Some conservative strategists and pundits have argued that the 2004 results may signal the beginning of an era of Republican domination of Congress and the presidency. Ken Mehlman, President Bush’s campaign manager and the incoming chairman of the Republican National Committee, recently claimed that, “The Republican Party is in a stronger position today than at any time since the Great Depression.”

According to Mehlman, “something fundamental and significant happened in this election that creates an opportunity” for the Republican Party to maintain and extend its gains in future elections (Harris 2004, p. A-1). According to Mehlman and other conservative commentators, George Bush’s victory in 2004, along with GOP gains in the House and Senate, were based on a successful two-pronged strategy: (1) emphasizing the need for strong leadership to counter the threat of terrorism, and (2) mobilizing millions of evangelical Christians and other culturally conservative voters upset about gay marriage, abortion, and other threats to traditional values. By aggressively pursuing the war on terrorism and by enacting policies such as a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage and additional restrictions on abortion, these conservatives now believe that President Bush and the Republican Congress can solidify the party’s newly expanded base and ensure GOP control of Congress and the White House for years to come. Some scholars appear to agree with this assessment. Walter Dean Burnham, one of the nation’s leading experts on past party realignments recently observed that, “If Republicans keep playing the religious card along with the terrorism card, this could last a long time” (Harris, p. A-1).

Of course, not everyone accepts the argument that 2004 was a realigning election. Liberal political analysts such as Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress, while acknowledging the significance of Republican victories in the presidential and congressional elections, tend to emphasize the limited nature of the GOP’s gains and attribute Bush’s reelection mainly to skillful use of advantage of incumbency in a time of war. According to Teixeira, “It’s hard to read [the results] in a serious way as a mandate for much of anything.” Similarly, according to political scientist Larry Bartels of Princeton University, support for the GOP by culturally conservative white voters in 2004 was consistent with their behavior in other recent elections and did not signal any major shift within the electorate (Harris, p. A-1).

Read the rest of Abramowitz' essay here.

December 27, 2004

Just How Sick Is the Public Getting of the Iraq Situation?

One reason Bush won in November is that the public wasn't quite sick enough yet of the Iraq war. If they had been sick enough of the mess in Iraq it wouldn't have mattered that Kerry's plan for Iraq wasn't particularly clear or convincing. Enough voters would have gone for Kerry simply because they wanted a change--any change--from Bush's course in Iraq.

Moving forward, however, it remains a distinct possibility that voters will get fed up enough with Iraq that the political damage will not be not containable. Consider these data from the latest Washington Post/ABC News, as summarized by ABC News polling director, Gary Langer (note that these data were collected before the bombing of a US military mess hall in Mosul):

Fifty-six percent, a new high, now say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting, and fewer than half think the United States is making significant progress restoring civil order there. Most call Iraq unready for the election scheduled for late next month, doubt the integrity of the election process and lack confidence it'll produce a stable government.

There are political implications: Fifty-seven percent disapprove of President Bush's work on the situation, a point shy of his worst rating on Iraq, set during the Abu Ghraib scandal last spring. His approval for handling terrorism overall -- his best issue -- has dropped to 53 percent, near its low of 50 percent in June.

....Most broadly, this ABC News/Washington Post poll shows no second honeymoon for Bush after his re-election last month. The nation is as divided as ever, with Americans split, 48 percent to 49 percent, on his overall job performance -- about where it's been for most of 2004. Bush has 55 percent job approval in the "red" states he won -- compared with 40 percent, 15 points lower, in the "blue" states won by Democrat John Kerry.

Comparisons to past year-end polls underscore the difficulties confronting Bush in his second term. His job approval rating is 11 points lower than a year ago, and 18 points lower than two years ago. His rating on terrorism is 17 points lower than at this time last year. There's been a 17-point drop in the number of Americans who say the Iraq war was worth fighting, and a 10-point rise in the number who call U.S. casualties "unacceptable."

That's the situation now. And it seems only likely to get worse. Bush isn't out of the woods yet on Iraq--not by a long shot.

December 22, 2004

Now That You Mention It, Perhaps These Private Accounts Aren't Such a Good Idea After All

On Sunday, I mentioned that support for private accounts tends to plunge precipitously when costs and trade-offs of these accounts are mentioned. The new Washington Post/ABC News poll provides more compelling evidence that this is the case and that, therefore, the level of "hard" support for Social Security privatization is quite low.

In the WP/ABC poll, there is a slight majority (53 percent) in favor of "a plan in which people who chose to could invest some of their Social Security contributions in the stock market". But when a followup is asked ("What if setting up a stock-market option for Social Security means the government has to borrow as much as two trillion dollars to set it up, with that money to be paid back over time through cost savings from the current system?"), that 53 percent is cut in half, so only 24 percent of the public winds up favoring private accounts if that kind of borrowing is necessary to set them up. That's bad news for Bush, since it appears that the administration plans to advocate just that sort of borrowing to set up these accounts.

Yet more bad news for the administration is the public's expressed interest in participating in such accounts if they were set up. Only 37 percent say they would personally put some of their Social Security money in such an account, given that they would "get higher Social Security benefits if the stock market went up, but lower Social Security benefits if the stock market went down." Significantly, people who don't expect to receive their full benefits from Social Security are no more likely to say they would participate in these accounts than are those who expect to receive full benefits. That undercuts one of the key selling points of the administration's plan.

So the public doesn't support private accounts, given the costs of setting up such accounts, and expresses little enthusiasm for participating in these accounts, even if they were available. If Bush is hoping for a groundswell of public opinion to push his privatization proposal over the top, he'd better think again.

December 21, 2004

Bush's "Reagan Lite" Coalition

In the latest American Prospect, John Judis and I consider the results of the 2004 election and assess whether and to what extent an "emerging Democratic majority" is still feasible in light of these results.

Here are some key excerpts where we stress the "Reagan lite" nature of Bush's victory, but the entire article is now available online.

There were certainly reasons to despair after the 2004 election -- chiefly, the awful thought that George W. Bush and a Republican Congress could find the means to exceed the egregious irresponsibility, the xenophobia, the sheer partisan pettiness, and the callous disregard for life and law of Bush’s first term. But the election itself, and Bush’s margin of victory over Democrat John Kerry, were not reasons to despair. Bush won re-election by a smaller margin than Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, or Dwight Eisenhower -- and against a deeply flawed Democratic opponent.

And there was little sign of a party realignment. In the great realigning elections of 1932 and ’36, and ’80 and ’84, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, respectively, created majorities by winning over new blocs of voters from their opponents. In the 2000 and 2004 elections, Bush and the Republicans had to patch together what remained of Reagan’s older coalition -- without those states and voters that had earlier begun moving toward the Democrats. Bush’s victory in 2004 didn’t represent the onset of a new majority but the survival of an older one.

The Democrats surely showed weaknesses in the election, particularly in the Deep South and among white working-class voters, but they also displayed continuing strength among constituencies that will command a growing share of the electorate in years to come. These include minorities, single men and women, and college-educated voters. The Democrats also demonstrated surprising strength among younger voters -- partly, to be sure, because of the Iraq War, but also because these voters are in tune with the cosmopolitan sensibility that the Democrats represent. And in this election, the Democrats benefited from a new Internet-based popular movement that could do for this era’s Democratic Party what the labor movement did for the old party and what the religious right has done for the Reagan Republicans.

In 1980, Reagan won a new majority that combined long-standing Republican support among upscale voters, farmers, and businesspeople with new levels of support from white working-class Democrats in the South and the North. He fused a traditional Republican attack on high taxes with militant anti-communism, opposition to racial preference, and support for a cultural conservatism rooted in church and family. With this appeal, Reagan not only carried the South and the Plains but, drawing on the suburban vote, states like California, Illinois, and New Jersey. In the ’90s, Republicans maintained their support in the South and the Plains, but the Democrats under Clinton won over a new generation of upscale suburbanites and city dwellers who lived in postindustrial metropolitan areas. By winning back a modest share of the white working class and maintaining Democratic support among minorities, Clinton obtained a plurality of votes in ’92 and ’96. He also turned California, Illinois, and New Jersey into Democratic enclaves.

.....Bush failed to capture any of the northeastern or Pacific Coast states that Reagan had won easily in 1980 and ’84, and he failed to make dramatic gains nationally among the voting groups that had moved into the Democratic Party in the 1990s. Rather, the key to Bush’s victory was reviving Reagan’s support among the white working class. According to the post-election survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Democracy Corps/Institute for America’s Future, Bush enjoyed a whopping 24-percent edge among non–college-educated whites, compared with a 19-percent advantage in 2000. (Clinton had actually carried this group by a point in each of his election victories.) Insofar as whites still make up 77 percent of the electorate and non–college-educated whites represent a majority of the white vote, that increase alone accounts for most -- perhaps 70 percent -- of Bush’s improved performance in 2004.

....In the wake of the election, some commentators argued that Bush had dramatically altered the electoral map of the last two decades, but as the corrected exit polls and other post-election surveys have appeared, it has become clear that Bush’s successes were primarily tactical.

....Much was also made of Bush’s support in exurban and rural areas. The president did increase his support in these areas, but that is part of a trend that began in 1980. It did not decide the 2004 election. Only 13 percent of Bush’s gain in overall vote could be attributed to his increased support in the fringe or exurban counties of large metropolitan areas. And this support is unlikely to prove decisive in the future. Despite the fact that exurban areas have been growing fairly rapidly, they start from such a small base that their share of all voters has increased only modestly over the last 20 years, from 3 percent to 5 percent. Together with rural counties, which have been declining in population, these areas have stalled at 25 percent of the vote between 1984 and 2004. Exurbia and rural America don’t make for much of a political growth stock. They help make Republicans competitive, but they don’t give them a new and enduring majority.

....Barring [successful Republican exploitation of a new terrorist attack], the Republicans’ “Reagan-lite” coalition does not appear to have broad enough support to dominate American politics for the rest of the decade. That should open the door to the Democrats and their new coalition -- especially if they can find a way to both mobilize their new center-left and nominate candidates with some comfort level among white working-class voters. The results of the 2004 election suggest that’s the right formula. If Democrats want to win and bring their majority into being by the end of the decade, they should adopt it.

It is interesting to note that John Kenneth White of Catholic Univeristy makes many of the same points that Judis and I do in his very interesting paper on the election, "The Reagan Coalition Meets the Twenty-First Centure" (The paper was written for Zogby and is available on the subscription part of his website; if you can possibly arrange to access this document, I urge you to do so.)

Here are some relevant excerpts from the White paper:

Despite George W. Bush’s win, the Reagan coalition is not nearly as potent as it once was. Contrast George W. Bush’s vote in 2004 with the support his father received sixteen years earlier. While the figures are similar, the power of the Reagan coalition translated Bush Sr.’s 53 percent of the popular vote into 426 electoral votes thanks to victories in 40 states. This year, Bush’s 51 percent garnered him just 286 electoral votes and 30 states. Bush’s puny electoral vote margin ranks among the smallest in history– close to his 271 votes in 2000, Woodrow Wilson’s 277 votes in 1916, and Jimmy Carter’s 297 votes in 1976. Unlike the comprehensive Reagan and George H. W. Bush victories, the 2004 contest came down to a single state: Ohio. If Ohio’s twenty electoral votes had switched from Bush to Kerry, then the Democrat would have become President-elect, and Republicans would be singing the post-election blues.

A principal reason the Reagan coalition is losing its clout is that the United States is experiencing profound demographic and societal transformations–changes that will only accelerate in the years ahead.

....Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s political guru, maintains that Bush’s
tenure is reminiscent of William McKinley’s. McKinley, it should be recalled, sparked a Republican revival that broke a twenty year two-party deadlock that often resulted in minority presidents and disputed presidential outcomes (e.g., 1876, 1884, 1888, and 1892).

....In reality, George W. Bush has not lived up to his McKinley-like potential. McKinley “natural harmonizing” skills created a broad coalition of Northern labor and industrial capital. But Bush’s has hardly been “a uniter” and his partisan base (both ideologically and in sheer geographic size) has shrunk. While the red states loom large following Bush’s victory, it is worth remembering that in four straight presidential elections Republicans have ceded the entire West coast (including Reagan’s native California) to the Democrats. Recall that Reagan won every state in the Far West twice. During the same period (1992-2004), Republicans lost every Northeastern state, except New Hampshire in 2000, which went to Bush only because third-party candidate Ralph Nader was a spoiler. Reagan, on the other hand, carried every Northeastern state twice, save Rhode Island.

Far from creating a renewed Reagan-like majority based on the transformational demography and economy of the 21st century, it seems clear that the base of the Reagan/Bush coalition has shrunk to the South and the interior heartland.

December 19, 2004

Social Security Privatization: The Reform That Isn't Needed for a Public That Doesn't Want It

The Bush administration appears determined to build on its "mandate" and push Social Security privatization early in Bush's second term. This seems an ill-advised plan for several reasons.

First, there is little compelling evidence that Social Security is in any kind of crisis and none at all that carving out private accounts will improve Social Security's fiscal position. In fact, it will almost certainly worsen that position.

Second, there is no evidence that the public is thirsting for this particular "reform". The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that only 35 percent believe Bush has a mandate to allow "workers to invest some of their Social Security taxes in the stock market", compared to 51 percent who believe he does not. And when asked whether they thought it was "a good idea or a bad idea to change the Social Security system to allow workers to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market", half said it was a bad idea and only 38 percent said it was a good one.

The poll also asked two other questions gauging sentiment about private accounts that mentioned some of the potential trade-offs involved in these accounts. The first question returned a 45-39 percent plurality in favor, while the second question returned a 46-41 percent plurality against, perhaps because the second question mentions the huge expenses involved in adding these accounts to the system. But in neither case do you get very strong support for private accounts, which is entirely typical of questions that explicitly mention the tradeoffs of privatization.

Of course, artfully-crafted questions that make private accounts sound like a free lunch (though, interestingly, not the good idea/bad idea question cited above) can find higher levels of support for private accounts. But inevitably this support contracts dramatically if any kind of reasonable followup is asked that mentions any of the costs associated with these accounts.

But if the public is not crying out for Social Security privatization, does that mean Democrats can confine themselves to simply opposing privatization and leaving it at that? I don't think so. If Social Security isn't broken, the overall US retirement and pension system is and the public knows this. Therefore, Democrats must offer something beyond defending the status quo, even if the part of the status quo they are most vigorously defending is worth a strong defense.

What is it that Democrats should be offering? That's a subject for useful debate. Democrats in search of a "compelling economic message" would do well to promote such a debate, rather than wasting time debating whether the party should be "populist" or not. Of course it should be, but populism is not enough: what exactly do Democrats propose to do to actually make the lives of Americans better? No amount of corporation-bashing (or hugging) can substitute for a compelling economic message that answers that question.

December 17, 2004

Bah, Who Needs the Political Center?

Presumably that is the attitude in the Bush White House. Despite losing independents and moderates in 2004, they didn't lose them by enough to spell defeat for the president.

Well, they better hope that formula continues to work, because the administration is getting off on the wrong foot with the political center in this post-election period. Consider these results from recent polls.

1. In the latest Ipsos-AP poll, 43 percent think the nation's going in the right direction, compared to 52 percent who feel it's off on the wrong track. Not so good. But among independents a stunning 68 percent feel the country is off on the wrong track.

2. On Iraq, in the same poll, 48 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq. But among independents, 66 percent disapprove. And in the latest Quinnipiac University poll, Bush's approval rating on Iraq is very poor 41/55 but an even worse 37/58 among independents.

In the Ipsos-AP poll, 47 percent believe it is likely that a stable, democratic government will be established in Iraq, compared to 51 percent who don't. But only 36 percent of independents believe a stable government in Iraq is likely.

Finally, the Q-poll finds the worst numbers ever on whether going to war with Iraq was the right thing for the US to do or the wrong thing. Just 42 percent now say we did the right thing, while 52 percent say it was the wrong thing. And independents have an even harsher judgement: they say war with Iraq was the wrong thing to do by 55-37.

3. On the economy, the Q-poll finds the public disapproving of Bush's handling of the economy by 53-42. Bad, but independents are substantially worse, disapproving of Bush's performance in this area by 58-37.

A poor start indeed for Bush with the political center. Will he do better with these voters in the future? Do he and his political advisors even care? We shall see as (shudder) Bush's second term starts to unfold.

The Final Results Are In

Michael McDonald of George Mason University provides the final turnout numbers and presidential results:

Bush 62,008,619 (50.74%)

Kerry 59,012,107 (48.29%)

Total (all candidates) 122,212,577

(Turnout Rate among eligible: 59.9%)

Margin of Victory: 2,996,512 (2.45%)

So Bush's final percentage point margin is closer to two points than three and his final vote margin is under 3 million. Hardly awe-inspiring--in fact, unprecedentedly weak as incumbent re-election victories go. And we're supposed to believe this is a mandate?

Note: McDonald's turnout rate is based on his estimate of the voting-eligible population and is somewhat different from the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate's voting-age citizen based turnout rate and quite different from the traditional voting-age population (VAP) based turnout rate.

December 16, 2004

The Exurban Myth (Continued)

Yesterday, at the end of the first part of this post on exurbia and politics, I wondered how Mark Gersh/NCEC could come up with so many exurban counties (30) in a single state (Ohio). I don't know the full answer to this since Gersh's piece in Blueprint magazine includes no information on how he or NCEC define exurban counties. However, I did manage to get ahold of an earlier version of NCEC's criteria for typologizing counties and it indicates that pretty much any suburban county that does not contain a large city can be designated as exurban, if it is relatively downscale in terms of occupation, income and education or if it falls below a certain density criterion. (The current criteria apparently differ somewhat, but not by that much, from these earlier criteria.) This approach leads to a number of unusual results including:

1. Some entire MSAs (metropolitan statistical areas) are designated exurban, like the Canton MSA in Ohio and the Pensacola and Sarasota MSAs in Florida.

2. In other MSAs, only the county containing the MSA's main city is designated "urban-surburban" while every other county is designated exurban or even rural. For example, in the Columbus, OH MSA, only Franklin county is termed urban-suburban, while five other counties are designated exurban and two are considered rural. Similarly, all Ohio counties in the Cincinnati MSA are designated exurban except Hamilton county.

3. Medium-sized metro areas wind up being classified almost entirely as exurban or rural. In Florida, for example, there are 16 counties in medium-sized metro areas. Of these, just three are classified as either urban-suburban (1) or suburban (2), while 13 are classified as either exurban (11) or rural (2).

4. Almost no counties are simply designated "suburban". In Ohio, there are only three (compared to 30 exurban counties); in Florida, just five (compared to 21 exurban counties).

Gersh's article even refers to Hillsborough county, which contains Tampa, as exurban! (Note, however, that it is not displayed as such on his map of Florida, so perhaps his enthusiasm for exurbia was simply getting the best of him.)

This approach to defining exurbia is, in my view, simply too broad to be of much use. Collapsing all but the most urbanized parts of big metro areas, almost the entirety of medium-sized metro areas and outer suburbs everywhere into exurbia does considerable violence to the concept and clarifies little.

A geographer friend of mine comments as follows on the Gersh/NCEC approach:

The NCEC criteria don't have much to do with any accepted notion of exurban, since they ignore the geographic requirement of being on the fringe of metro areas. Many of the counties listed as exurban are independent small metro or micropolitan areas....It's "small urban" not "exurban".

In short, analyses like these create a big exurban problem for the Democrats by defining way more voters into that category than is really appropriate. By doing so, these analyses can say or imply "Democrats are losing because of those really fast-growing exurbs, so they are on the short end of the demographic stick!!" instead of the less exciting, but more accurate: "Democrats experienced some slippage in suburban and small urban counties of all types and that contributed to their loss in 2004". The task for the Democrats is the familiar one of getting enough garden-variety suburban and small urban votes back to win; they need not worry about being overwhelmed by a demographic tsunami of Republican exurban votes.

WSJ Poll: Bush 'Mandate' Limp At Best

The first WSJ/NBC News Poll conducted since the election offers scant support for President Bush's assertion that he has "earned a mandate." The poll, conducted by Hart/McInturff December 9-13, found that 41 percent of respondents think the country is "headed in the right direction," while 46 percent agree that it is "off on a wrong track." Bush failed to get a favorable majority for his job approval rating (49-44), while 51 percent disapproved of his handling of both the economy and foreign policy. He did get 51 percent approval for his handling of the war against terrorism, but the poll was conducted before most of the revelations of the Kerik debacle were reported.

As the President launches his campaign to privatize Social Security, the poll reports that only 35 percent of the respondents believe his election entails a 'mandate' for investing SS taxes in the private sector, while 51 percent say it does not. While 41 percent said they were "more confident" that the War in Iraq will come to a successful conclusion, 48 percent said they were "less confident" in that prospect. It appears that the only 'mandate' the President received in his 2 point margin of victory, if he wants to get anything done, is to move toward the political center.

December 15, 2004

The Exurban Myth

Exurbs have been getting a lot of attention in analyses of the 2004 election. According to some observers, Republican domination of these areas was the key to Bush’s re-election victory and, because of the phenomenal level of mobilization in these fast-growing areas, Republicans should continue to out-point the demographically stagnant Democrats in the future.

A careful look at the data suggests to me that there is a great deal less than meets the eye to this thesis. I have already pointed out how exurban counties made only a modest contribution to Bush’s net gain in votes in 2004 and how Republican domination of exurban counties is nothing new and was, in fact, more pronounced under Reagan than it is now.

An interesting angle I haven’t covered yet is how mobilization in exurban counties stacked up to mobilization in other types of counties. In post-election analyses, mobilization and turnout in counties has generally been measured simply by comparing the vote in 2004 to the vote in 2000. The higher the percent increase in votes cast, the more mobilization has taken place, is the general assumption.

But this assumption is not warranted--it leaves out an important variable that affects the number of votes cast: population growth. The more population grows, the more votes should be cast, even if there is no change at all in the level of mobilization; more possible voters = more votes, all else equal. Therefore, if we are interested in the extent to which mobilization changed between the 2000 and 2004 elections, we need to measure the change in votes cast relative to the growth of the population between 2000 and 2004.

Once we measure mobilization in this way, exurbs do not appear to have been more mobilized than most other types of counties. Most of the 22 percent increase in votes cast in exurban counties, it turns out, is attributable not to extraordinary mobilization, but rather to population growth with ordinary mobilization.

In fact, my analysis shows that exurban couties actually increased their vote less relative to population growth (8 percent) than did the central counties of large metropolitan areas (9 percent), counties in medium-sized metro areas.(12 percent), counties in small metro areas (11 percent) or even most types of rural counties (9-11 percent), except for the most extremely rural, where votes cast grew by only 5 percent relative to population growth.

These findings are yet another reason to examine claims about the political potency of exurban counties with considerable skepticism. Mark Gersh, head of the NCEC and leading Democratic number-cruncher, heads in the other direction, however, in his interesting article, “Battlefield Erosion” in the latest issue of Blueprint, the DLC’s magazine.

In this article he ascribes substantially more importance to exurban counties that I have done. The article is based around analyses of three key states--Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania–and he presents data that seem to implicate exurban counties heavily in Bush’s wins in Ohio and Florida and Kerry’s narrowed margin in Pennsylvania.

What explains the difference between his analysis and mine? Several things actually, but the most important one is this: he defines exurban counties much more broadly than I do.

This difference in definitions raises an interesting question: what exactly do we mean by an “exurban” county anyway? How do we know an ”exurb” when we see one? Surprisingly, despite the loose way the term is now thrown around, there is very little rigorous–or even semi-rigorous--discussion anywhere of criteria for defining an exurb.

But here are a couple of definitions I found on the web which fairly reflect the general view of the exurb:

The expression "Exurbs" was coined in the 1950s to describe the ring of prosperous rural communities beyond the suburbs that, due to availability via the new high-speed limited-access highways, were becoming dormitory communities for an urban area (Wikipedia)

Exurb: A region or district that lies outside a city and usually beyond its suburbs (Outline of American Geography)

Note that both definitions allude to exurbs being beyond the conventional suburbs–on the very fringes of metro areas and not suburbs in the conventional sense. That is the idea that led to the identification of such counties as Douglas county, CO, Scott county, MN, Loudon county, VA, Frederick county, MD, Pinal county, AZ, Forsyth county, GA and so on as exurban counties. These are the kinds of counties cited by David Brooks in his influential New York Times article on the exurban voter and that are included as exurban in my analysis, based on their status as fringe counties of large metro areas. I include 133 counties nationwide in my exurban category. They are also the kinds of counties included in a category of New Metropolis/Suburbs of Suburbs counties developed by geographer Robert Lang. In his paper on these counties, Lang enumerates 47 counties that fit this category.

In contrast, Gersh/NCEC designate 30 counties (!) in Ohio alone as exurban. How did they arrive at a definition of exurban so broad that it would generate so many exurban counties in a single state?

More on exurbia tomorrow!

December 13, 2004

The "Values Voters" Debate Continues

The initial take on the allegedly central role of "values voters" in the 2004 election had a shaky empirical foundation: the slight plurality of voters in the NEP exit poll who selected "moral values" as their most important voting issue and who voted heavily (80 percent) for Bush. This line of analysis has come under increasing fire in the recent weeks, as many observers have noted that moral values did not really belong in a list of voting issues like the economy and the war in Iraq and that the NEP exit poll question has not been asked with a values choice before and hence provides no information on any change in this election in the level of values voting.

The latter point is where Christopher Muste picks up the story in his excellent article, "Hidden in Plain Sight: Polling Data Show Moral Values Aren't a New Factor" in Sunday's Washington Post. Muste notes, to begin with:

[T]here's another exit poll that has asked voters about moral values in the past four elections. The Los Angeles Times conducts its own national exit poll. Since 1992, it has asked voters which two issues they considered most important in deciding how they would vote. This year, 40 percent of voters the newspaper surveyed cited "moral/ethical values" as one of their two most important issues. Guess what? That's about the same proportion as in the previous two elections: 35 percent named moral values in 2000 and 40 percent did so in 1996, up from 24 percent in 1992. So this year didn't see an unprecedented surge in values voters rushing to the polls.

I've seen these particular findings from the LA Times polls cited in other articles, but Muste goes on to cite some addtional and very interesting findings from these polls that I have not seen before:

And while Bush strategist Karl Rove must be gratified that the 2000 dip in the turnout of values voters was reversed in 2004, he can't be entirely thrilled by how they cast their votes. The L.A. Times survey showed that moral values voters gave 70 percent of their votes to Bush this year. But that's a drop from 2000, when he won 74 percent. Put another way, 54 percent of Bush voters this year cited moral values -- a decline from the Republican high-water mark in 1996, when 67 percent of Bob Dole's voters named moral values. For Democratic nominees, by contrast, the trend has been up, not down, steadily rising from a scant 9 percent of Bill Clinton supporters naming moral values in the "it's the economy" election of 1992 to 24 percent of John Kerry's voters this year.

Muste goes on to cite other data from the NEP poll and data from a post-election survey by the Pew Research Center that suggest the dominant role of values voters in the 2004 election has been exaggerated and that values voting, in general, should not be narrowly defined by reference to issues like gay marriage and abortion. He concludes:

A large and fairly stable group of moral values voters, whose numbers have been largely consistent over the past three elections, who vote Republican in roughly the same or smaller proportions year after year, who provided no clear winning boost to Bush, and whose idea of what constitutes moral values is hardly uniform. This is a poor fit for the reigning image of a crucial swing vote -- animated single-mindedly by cultural wedge issues -- that turned out in unprecedented numbers to push Bush over the top in 2004. It's time to reel the moral values myth back down to earth.

Amen. I might add, though, that even if values voters weren't important in the way election mythology has indicated, it doesn't mean values, broadly defined, weren't important to voters. Questions of presidential character and of America's role in the world, especially vis a vis the war on terror, are very much bound up with values and affected voters' decisions. But that broad conception of values and voting should't be collapsed to the image of swing voters "animated single-mindedly by cultural wedge issues", as Muste correctly points out.

December 12, 2004

Rating the State Polls

By Alan Abramowitz

Here's a rating of 10 polling organizations that conducted polls in multiple battleground states during the 2004 campaign. The rating is based on the final polls released by each organization in 10 battleground states: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Nevada, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. In order to take into account both the number of states polled and the accuracy of the results, the score of each polling organization is based on the number of states predicted correctly minus the number predicted incorrectly. Predictions of ties do not count. Closeness of predictions to the actual margins also does not count and some polls made correct predictions that were pretty far off the mark.

Here's the list, ranked from best to worst:

1. Rasmussen--10 states polled, 9 correct, 1 tie, +9
2. Mason-Dixon--10 states polled, 9 correct, 1 incorrect, +8
3. SurveyUSA--6 states polled, 5 correct, 1 incorrect, +4
3. Zogby--9 states polled, 6 correct, 2 incorrect, 1 tied, +4
5. Research 2000--5 states polled, 4 correct, 1 incorrect, +3
5. Strategic Vision--7 states polled, 4 correct, 1 incorrect, 2 tied, +3
7. FoxNews/Opinion Dynamics--4 states polled, 2 correct, 2 incorrect, 0
7. Los Angeles Times--2 states polled, 1 correct, 1 incorrect, 1 tied, 0
9. ARG--7 states polled, 3 correct, 4 incorrect, -1
10. Gallup--6 states polled, 2 correct, 4 incorrect, -2

December 10, 2004

Whither the DLC?

Al From's and Bruce Reed's recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, "Get the Red Out" has occasioned much comment, most of it hostile, in the Democratic-oriented blogosphere. Atrios is quite annoyed and feels the DLC basically looks down on 80 percent of Democrats. Josh Marshall is less annoyed, but nonetheless thinks the DLC's attitude is deplorable and shows contempt for most the Democratic party (though see also his followup post where he tempers his criticism a bit and separates himself from the heavy-duty DLC-bashers). Markos Zuniga over at Daily Kos has perhaps the most stinging rebuke, terming the DLC simply "irrelevant". He states:

The DLC is a dying organization. But the quicker it dies, the better we'll be as a party. The path to success lies in finding common ground between the party's myriad constituencies, not in toeing the Gospel According to From and Reed.

I guess I am not persuaded that the DLC is truly irrelevant (though they certainly do and say some irrelevant things) and dying as an organization. I don't even believe that would be a good thing if it were true. The DLC is full of smart people who have many good and useful ideas about the road forward for Democrats. You can see some of them in their WSJ article, but Will Marshall's article, "Heartland Strategy" is a much better source of useful analysis, as is Ed Kilgore's terrific blog, NewDonkey.

But there's no denying it: their tone and their attitude are a genuine problem and, in my view, they should be more sensitive to that problem--especially if they don't want their influence to fade over time. In today's party, they simply can't dominate debate the way the once did. If they try to, by casting every debate in an us-against-them way, they do risk becoming, as Zuniga believes they already are, irrelevant. And I think that would be a shame for an organization that has so much to contribute to the party.

Once Again on the Beinart Question

I don't want to give this dispute more attention than it really deserves, but I did want to flag this excellent piece by David Corn commenting on Beinart's now-notorious argument that the Democrats' main task is to rid the party of those allegedly "soft" on the totalitarian terrorist threat. Corn concludes (rightly in my view):

Beinart, seeking an idealistic guiding principle for liberalism in the 21st century, writes, “Islamic totalitarianism—like Soviet totalitarianism before it—threatens the United States and the aspirations of millions across the world. And, as long as that threat remains, defeating it must be liberalism's north star.” But this is a simplistic formula for liberalism. And history is not as strong a guide as he suggest. Some of the ADAers and their favored John Kennedy (whom Beinart holds up as a role model) followed their north star right into Vietnam. Islamic extremism is indeed a threat to Americans and others. It should be addressed—smartly and vigorously. (A new Marshall Plan? Sure.) But, alas, there is much else going on in the world and at home. And a fixation with the war in Iraq—which does undermine the effort against global Islamic jihadism—is not misplaced; it is appropriate. In fact, it can be a sign that one is serious about dealing with the threat from Islamic extremism. Beinart ought to recognize that rather than propose a loyalty test for a decent left. The ADAers he cherishes excommunicated far-leftists who adhered to an ideology they opposed. Almost six decades later, Beinart advocates shunning leftists who do not share his priorities or who do not voice sufficient enthusiasm for a war on terrorism that Bush unfortunately has largely discredited. That’s not a very liberal attitude.

And, if you're up for yet more discussion, Josh Marshall has a characteristically judicious assessment of the problems with Beinart's argument over at Talking Points Memo.

December 9, 2004

The Struggle for DNC Chair

What is the struggle for chair of the DNC chair really about? Are we seeing a re-run of the DLC-liberal spats that have pre-occupied the party for so many years? I hope not. That would be stupid, counterproductive and pretty far removed from an emerging and much more important dispute about the party's future. Nick Confessore over at Tapped gets it exactly right:

[T]he most consequential split in the Democratic Party going forward is not liberals versus centrists. The key split is not really ideological at all, when you get down into it. Here's how I see the fight shaping up. On the one side are the rump Democratic establishment of consultants, pollsters, and senior members of Congress, people who span the ideological continuum but who share in common an inability to adapt to the Republican ascendancy and recognize it for what it is. Many of them would like Democrats to win more often, but they are not ready to give up the Beltway fiefdoms and influence they still possess in order to achieve it. On the other side are party reformers of left and right, who tend towards ideological ecumenism but are determined to change the way the Democratic Party is organized and funded. Pretty much anyone who is deeply invested in restarting the DLC/liberal food fights is by definition part of this rump establishment, since the distinction of vision between Democratic centrists and liberals pale next to the differences between the Democratic average and the Bush-era conservatives.

Hispanic Revisions Update

The indefatigable Mark Blumenthal over at Mystery Pollster has yet more on the revisions of the the NEP exit poll Hispanic figures. Read his whole post, but here's the essence:

1. The initial TX Hispanic figure of 59 percent support for Bush, according to the NEP, was the result of a "tabulation" error that improperly weighted telephone interviews with early/absentee voters that were conducted to accompany the election day polling place interviews. (OK--but how'd that happen? And why did it take so long for them to figure it out? And what about the TX white vote for Bush now--doesn't that have to be higher as a result?)

2. The 40 percent figure for Bush's national Hispanic support issued by NBC, based on aggregating all the state polls, was not a "correction" of the NEP national poll data, but simply a different, (though better, according to NBC) estimate, of Bush's national Hispanic support. The NEP national exit poll figure of 44 percent for Bush's Hispanic support still stands uncorrected by Edison/Mitofsky, the actual exit pollsters. (OK--but if we needed a better estimate than the national poll estimate because the sampling was screwed up--NBC's story--why is Edison/Mitofsky sticking by their national estimate? If NBC is right, doesn't it need to be corrected? If not, why not?--isn't it a problem that the national poll estimate and the state poll-based national estimate don't matchup (they did almost perfectly in 2000)?

Clear? I thought so. I eagerly await, as I'm sure you do, more "clarifications" from the good folks at the NEP, Edison/Mitofsky, NBC and whoever else is getting into the act.

Bush's Mighty 2 Point Win

This just in from Michael McDonald of George Mason University:

New York just reported its certified election results. With only two states (Maine and Pennsylvania, I use their AP reported results) left to certify we have the following popular vote results:

Bush: 61,816,317 (50.62%)
Kerry: 58,824,880 (48.17%)
Total: 122,124,783 (turnout rate: 59.9% of voting-eligible population)

Bush's popular vote margin is now 2,991,437 or 2.45 percentage points. In all likelihood, it will go lower when Pennsylvania certifies their results.

New York's turnout is now 2.2 percentage points higher than 2000, meaning that turnout was up in every state.

Interesting. That means, among other things, that you could already round his victory down to 2 points, if you were dealing with whole numbers. And even if you're dealing with two significant digits, very soon his margin will likely round down to 2.4 (instead of up to 2.5) which will further promote the sense it was a 2 point victory.

So: the mighty Bush win is now down to 2 points. Spread the word.

December 8, 2004

Oh, What a Lovely Day for a Purge!

Peter Beinart, editor of the The New Republic, proposes in their latest magazine that Democrats stop all this unity nonsense and get down to what's really important: purging the party of all those wrong-headed "softs" who don't have the backbone to stand up (really stand up) to the new totalitarian threat of Islamic fundamentalism. Their failure to "report for duty" (Beinart specifically mentions only MoveOn and Michael Moore but I think his criteria for softness would also implicate most of the liberal blogosphere, most Dean campaign activists, a good chunk of the leadership of the 527s and countless others within the party) cost the Democrats the White House in 2004 and will do so forever until Democrats decisively remove them from power and influence in the party. Yes, it's purge time in the glorious spirit of the late '40s actions against Communists and those soft on them within the Democratic party.

Boy, what a great idea: a massive, no-holds-barred faction fight about who's really tough on terrorism. That may make the blood course in Beinart's veins, but I guess I'm not entirely convinced it's necessary.

For one thing, his prescription seems more suited to, say, the Democratic party of the late '40s than it does to the actually-existing Democratic party of 2004. Noam Scheiber, who is actually quite hawkish himself, makes this point in considerable and, in my view, devestating detail in a comment on Beinart's piece on the TNR website.

Also on the TNR website, John Judis takes Beinart to task for a political prescription that won't work and a complete misunderstanding of MoveOn and Democratic-oriented internet activism in general. I couldn't agree more. Here's a couple of key paragraphs from Judis' article but I urge you to read whole piece:

Initiating factional warfare with, or even purging, everyone to the left of Joe Lieberman will not create a viable Democratic Party. Okay, that may be an exaggeration of what Peter prescribes, but there are clear echoes in his essay of Ben Wattenberg's Coalition for a Democratic Majority, which tried to do something similar after the 1972 Democratic defeat by creating a party centered around Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson. The voters didn't buy it, and they won't buy Peter's party either.

Peter also misunderstands MoveOn.org and the various other Internet-based groups that have sprung up in the last five years. They are not an old-fashioned militant left but part of a college-educated post-industrial center-left politics that was developing under Bill Clinton in the 1990s. One of their big issues was the deficit, hardly a left-wing concern. They became identified with "the left" because they were early and prescient opponents of the Iraq war--a position that can no longer simply be identified with the left and that is not a reason to criticize them. Sure, they shouldn't have participated in marches with the Workers World Party, but these new movements are organized by people who don't have long political pedigrees. If anything, they are the best hope for a new moral vision that will animate the Democrats.

New Study Cites Surge In Student Support for Dems

According to the first national post-election survey of student participation in the 2004 election, the era of student apathy is over and the Democratic Party is the big winner. The poll, conducted by Schneiders/Della Volpe/Schulman from November 9-19, found that 77 percent of college students nation-wide said they voted on November 2nd, and they voted for John Kerry by a margin of 55-41 percent.

The poll also found that 62 percent of the respondents said they encouraged or helped someone else to vote, nearly double the figure for 2000. Interestingly, two-thirds of the respondents were registered in their home town. However, the third who were registered in their college's towns turned out to vote at a slightly higher rate. John Kerry received a healthy majority of all student major groups, except those who majored in education, 51 percent of whom voted for Bush.

DLC Gurus Propose ‘Heartland Strategy’ to ‘Get the Red Out’

Democratic Leadership Council bigwigs Al From and Bruce Reed have an article in today’s Wall St. Journal, “Get the Red Out,” that rolls out a couple of fresh ideas for a Democratic resurgence. Along with their more predictable proposals and pot shots at Michael Moore and Joe Trippi, From and Reed propose a “Heartland Project,” which would include “family policies that give parents more time to raise their kids right,” a provocative idea that merits further exploration. They also advocate a new message strategy that gives more emphasis to the Democrats’ outsider status, as they “take up the reform mantle” and become “the party of change, protecting our principles, not our programs.” All Democrats may not be able to unite behind the DLC’s positions on Iraq policy, same-sex marriage and other issues, but Reed and From are thinking creatively about the Party’s future, and their ideas merit thoughtful consideration.

December 7, 2004

One of Your Better Postmortems

I particularly liked this exchange, "What Now?: A discussion on the way forward for the Democrats" among a very good panel of political observers (E.J. Dionne, Ed Kilgore, James Pinkerton, Walter Shapiro, Michael Tomasky, Paul Glastris and Amy Sullivan) in the new Washington Monthly. Almost everything said is intelligent and perceptive--not always the case with these postmortems--and I found the comments on the national security issue and on the use of narrative in campaigns especially worthwhile. Highly recommended.

A Note on Florida

I commented on Sunday about the exaggerated importance assigned to the rural/exurban vote in Ohio. Much the same thing could be said about Florida: when you look closely at the county by county vote in Florida, rural/exurban areas were much less important to Bush's victory there than generally supposed.

Specifically, my analysis finds that Bush received a net gain of 308,000 votes from metro Florida outside the exurbs this year and just an 82,000 net vote gain from exurban and rural counties. Indeed, about half his net vote gain can be accounted for by looking only at counties in medium-sized metropolitan areas like Jacksonville, Pensacola and Sarasota.

The more I look at the data, both nationally and in states like Florida, Ohio and ohers, the more I'm convinced these medium-sized metro areas are critically important to Democrats' electoral chances. I realize it's more fashionable for Democrats to weep and wail and gnash their teeth about rural/exurban areas. But these medium-sized metros deserve more study and strategic thought than they have received so far--much more.

December 5, 2004

Reconsidering the Conventional Wisdom About Ohio

Everybody knows what happened in Ohio, right? Hordes of evangelicals descended on the polls in rural and exurban areas and their votes for Bush swamped the Democrats' valiant, but doomed, mobilization efforts in urban areas.

Steve Rosenthal, head of the leading Democratic 527, America Coming Together (ACT), has a very interesting article in The Washington Post today that questions this conventional wisdom with hard data, including a post-election poll of 1,400 rural and exurban voters in Ohio counties that Bush won by an average of 17 percentage points. I recommend it strongly.

Here are some key excerpts from the article:

The first myth: Many more churchgoing voters flocked to the polls this year, driven by the Bush "moral values" and the gay marriage referendum. Reality: In Ohio, the share of the electorate represented by frequent churchgoers actually declined from 45 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2004.

Second myth: The Bush campaign won by mobilizing GOP strongholds and suppressing turnout in Democratic areas. Reality: Turnout in Democratic-leaning counties in Ohio was up 8.7 percent while turnout in Republican-leaning counties was up slightly less, at 6.3 percent. John Kerry bested Bush in Cuyahoga County (home of Cleveland) by 218,000 votes -- an increase of 42,497 over Gore's 2000 effort. In Stark County (Canton) -- a bellwether lost by Gore -- Kerry won by 4,354.

Third myth: A wave of newly registered Republican voters in fast-growing rural and exurban areas carried Bush to victory. Reality: Among Ohio's rural and exurban voters, Bush beat Kerry by just five points among newly registered voters and by a mere two points among infrequent voters (those who did not vote in 2000).

Fourth myth: Republicans ran a superior, volunteer-driven mobilization effort. Reality: When we asked new voters in rural and exurban areas who contacted them during this campaign, we learned that they were just as likely to hear from the Kerry campaign and its allies as from the Bush side....[A]ccording to our post-election polling; only 20 percent of exurban and rural Ohio voters reported that they had been contacted by someone from their church, and only slightly higher percentages were contacted by conservative organizations....[V]oters in these Republican counties were just as likely to be visited by a Kerry supporter at their homes as by a Bush supporter. Fewer than 2 percent were visited by a Bush supporter whom they knew personally.

I would add the following to what Rosenthal says, based on my own analysis of Ohio county voting data. Gore lost Ohio by about 165,000 votes in 2000, so Kerry needed a net gain of 165,000+ votes to take the state. My analysis shows that Kerry only gained about 103,000 net votes in all of metro Ohio outside of the exurbs. Therefore, Bush’s 66,000 net vote gain in the exurbs and rural areas was not particularly consequential to the outcome. Kerry didn’t gain enough votes outside of those areas to win anyway.

Or look at it this way. If you take all of the metro, non-exurban counties where Kerry registered net vote gains, including Cleveland's Cuyahoga county (52,000), Columbus' Franklin county (37,000), Cincinnati's Hamilton county (18,000), Akron's Summit county (14,000) and the rest, he still only had a net gain of about 155,000 votes–not enough to take the state even before any counties where he lost net votes, non-exurban metro, exurban or rural, are taken into consideration.

In that light, consider Warren county, that much reported-upon exurban county outside of Cincinnatti, which made for great copy in the 2004 election, as a sort of an evangelical-drive vote machine for George Bush. But in the end it was not key to Bush’s victory in Ohio; he would have carried the state even he had not received one additional net vote from Warren this year.

Finally, it's instructive to compare Kerry's performance in 2004 not just with Gore's in 2000 but with Clinton's in 1996, when the Democrats actually carried the state. While there was heavy falloff in 2004 from Clinton's performance in Ohio's rural and exurban areas, it is also true that Clinton did much better--by a margin of 150,000 votes--than Kerry in Ohio's non-exurban metro areas. Interestingly, about two-thirds of this falloff can be accounted for by declining Democratic support in Ohio's medium-sized metro areas (think Youngstown's Mahoning county, Canton's Stark county, Dayton's Montgomery county, Toledo's Lucas county and so on). Even more interesting, if Kerry had matched Clinton's victory margin in non-exurban metro counties as a whole, he would have won the state, despite the sharp fall-off in rural and exurban support.

'Moral Values' Theory of Election Discredited in WaPo Article

Journalism 101 professors should require their students to read an excellent article in the Sunday Washington Post, "The Anatomy of Myth: How did one exit poll answer become the story of how Bush won?". The author, Dick Meyer, editorial director of CBSNews.com, shreds the argument that concern about declining 'moral values' was the pivotal determinant of the 2004 presidential election. Meyer notes that responses to "a single dodgy exit poll question" ranking 'moral values' as the most important priority for 22% of exit poll respondents over economy/jobs (20%), terrorism (19%) and Iraq (15%) became the basis for a media bandwagon based on lazy reporting and thin suppositions about the meaning of the term.

Meyer likens the term to a "Rorschach test" holding a multitude of meanings for different people, "not a discrete, clear political issue to be set next to taxes or terrorism." Reporters seized on the exit poll responses to the catch-all question as proof that voters were reacting to same-sex marriage, late-term abortion and other cultural concerns of the religious right. Yet to many voters, moral issues include the war in Iraq, personal integrity of the candidates, patriotism or helping the poor. Had the term "moral values" been broken down into such categories in the poll, or had terrorism and Iraq been combined, the ranking would likely have been quite different. As Meyer concludes "the moral values doctrine has morphed from a simple poll finding to a grand explanatory theory to gospel truth. This contaminated strain of punditry needs to be eradicated before it spreads further."

More on the Revision of NEP National Exit Poll Hispanic Data

On Thursday, I covered the downward revision of the NEP exit poll's national Hispanic support for Bush from 44 percent to 40 percent. That swings their Hispanic vote estimate from 53-44 Kerry to 58-40 Kerry. Quite a change: that doubles Kerry's margin among Hispanics from 9 to 18 points. And personally I believe that 40 percent figure is still a touch high and I certainly believe there are still an abundance of unanswered questions about this year's Hispanic results, both original and revised.

Here are some additional materials about the Hispanic results and revisions that you may find helpful. Mark Blumenthal of Mystery Pollster has a post about the revised national Hispanic figures which goes into some detail on a few questions raised by the revision. And the William C. Velasquez Institute (WCVI), which did their own exit poll of Hispanics that indicated a 65-33 lead for Kerry, has a useful press release on the NEP revisions (national and TX) and summarizing their position on Hispanics and the 2004 election. Here's a quotation from the Institute's president, Antonio Gonzalez, on their position:

There is no doubt that some churning of numbers has occurred, meaning Republicans appear to have made significant gains in Texas and Arizona while Democrats appear to have made significant gains in Colorado and Florida. But the net effect among these respective gains is a canceling out of one another. Latino voter partisanship has remained consistent with roughly a 30 point democratic advantage in 2000 and 2004's presidential elections.

WCVI also provides on their website an analysis of their exit poll data by St Mary's University political scientist, Henry Flores, and an extensive powerpoint presentation on their poll's findings.

December 4, 2004

The Nation Serves Feast for Victory-Hungry Dems

Progressives and Democrats seeking spiritual and intellectual nourishmant in the wake of the elections are invited to a grand buffet over at The Nation Online, where 25 writers and activist share their recipes for Democratic victory in "Looking Back, Looking Forward: A Forum." Contributors include Robert Coles, Eric Foner, Susannah Heschel, Noam Chomsky, Medea Benjamin, Dan Carter, Theda Skocpol, Jonathan Kozol and other cutting-edge luminaries. The writers address a range of hot topics, including coaltion-building, faith and politics, ballot reform, candidate development, winning the Latino vote, broadening moral awareness, mobilizing to end the war in Iraq and educational reform, to name just a few issues of current concern.

In addition to the forum, The current online edition of The Nation features interesting posts on political strategy by editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel and Robert Borosage, James K. Galbraith, Robert Scheer and David Corn.

American Prospect's RX For Dems

The current online edition of The American Prospect includes required reading for wonks, pundits and Democrats concerned about preparing for the '06 and '08 elections. A quartet of articles "Facing Up: The Democrats Must Confront What Ails Them," by Garance Franke-Ruta, Sarah Wildman, Sarah Blustain and Matthew Yglesias, offers insightful diagnoses and cures for Democratic political myopia with respect to middle class priorities, abortion, foreign policy and same-sex marriage.

TAP's current issue also includes perceptive articles on strategy and a range of issues bearing on the Party's future health by Alan Brinkley, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Lizabeth Cohen, James Mann, Rick Perlstein, Anna Greenberg, Robert Kuttner, Harold Meyerson, Robert B. Reich, Jeff Faux, Robert Borosage and others.

December 3, 2004

Yup, Still a Roe v. Wade Country

Gallup has released a useful new report on abortion and public opinion. As the report notes, Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. On the other hand, the public does not favor unrestricted access to abortion, though different questions return different answers on the level of restrictiveness the public actually favors (see my earlier analysis of abortion and public opinion).

The sensitivity of public opinion on abortion rights to quesetion wording suggests that the politics of the issue are particularly sensitive to how it is framed in political debate. As Alan Abramowitz observes:

I think that these results [from the Gallup poll], and similar results from other polls, help to explain how Republicans have been able to use the abortion issue to their advantage in recent elections by downplaying the idea of overturning Roe v. Wade while emphasizing support for restrictions on abortion such as the ban on "partial birth" abortions, parental consent, waiting periods, etc. Liberals are now associated with the idea of "abortion on demand" which is opposed by a majority of the public. As long as there doesn't seem to be any immediate danger that Roe will be overturned, liberals are likely to remain on the defensive on the issue of abortion.

Food for thought....

Bush's Lead Down to 2.6 Percent and Falling!

Michael McDonald of George Mason University provides the latest turnout numbers and presidential results:

Total vote for President: 121,491,696

Turnout Rate: 59.6%

Bush 61,755,732 50.83%
Kerry 58,554,961 48.20%
Other 1,181,003 0.97%

Still waiting on 17 states to certify results, including California, New York, and of course, Ohio. Turnout might yet inch up a little higher and Bush may yet drop under 50.8% of the vote. New York is the only state to have a lower turnout rate than 2000.

Interesting! Could Bush's lead drop to 2.5 percent or even (dare I think it?) below? Stay tuned....

December 2, 2004

Bush's Hispanic Support Continues to Fall!

According to a Scripps Howard News Service story today, Bush's Hispanic support in the national NEP exit poll has now been revised down from 44 percent to 40 percent.

Word of this revision came from an NBC official, elections manager Ana Maria Arumi. According to the story, Arumi says that:

...the exit poll over sampled in South Florida where Republicans are strong among Cuban-Americans.

For the revised figures the networks combined 50 state exit polls, which reflected more than 70,000 interviews.

This is obviously a step in the right direction and I can't help but feel some vindication from it, but it does not answer some key questions about this particular survey snafu and actually raises some additional ones.

1. If the initial figure was so far off, why was that? Could it really all be from oversampling in South Florida? But what about the huge overestimate of Bush's Hispanic support in Texas which was just revised downward in the last few days? Isn't whatever caused that overestimate likely to have been part of the problem too? Has that correction of the Texas data even been incorporated into this new estimate of the national figure?

2. And if the Texas data were so screwed up--as the exit poll authorities now appear to admit--how do we know that there weren't other states that were also seriously messed up and are now being uncritically incorporated into this new state-based national estimate?

3. If it is necessary to combine all the state data to get a reasonable national estimate for this particular demographic group, what about other demographic groups? Should we also use state-based national estimates for them? If not, why not?

4. Who's making the decisions here anyway? The Texas revision was announced by AP and credited to Mitofksy/Edison, but this revision is announced by NBC, an NBC official is the one making the claim about South Florida oversampling and the networks are described as the ones pooling the 50 state polls (see above) to get the national estimate. What on earth is going one here?

5. Whoever is, or is not, in charge, at some point there should be an explanation forthcoming of what exactly went wrong, how exactly it was fixed and why exactly it was deemed appropriate to fix it in that particular way. At this point, all we can do is guess at all these things, which reduces one's faith that the fixes they are currently implementing are really the right ones and are (finally) producing correct figures.

Unmarried Women Now Key Element of Democratic Base

A recent Democracy Corps analysis by Anna Greenberg and Jennifer Berktold shows that unmarried women, 23 percent of the electorate in 2004, are becomming a strongly pro-Democratic constituency. Greenberg and Berktold report that unmarried women cast 62 percent of their ballots for John Kerry (vs. 44 percent of married women's ballots), and they tend to hold significantly more liberal views than married women on major issues such as Iraq, the economy and womens' rights.

The Time-for-Change Model and the 2004 Presidential Election: A Post-Mortem and a Look Ahead

By Alan Abramowitz

Based on George Bush’s net approval rating of -1 percent in the final Gallup Poll in June, a 3.7 percent growth rate for real GDP during the first two quarters of 2004, and the fact that the Republican Party had controlled the White House for only one term, the time-for-change model predicted that Mr. Bush would win reelection with 53.7 percent of the major party vote. This forecast was made in late July, before the Republican National Convention and more than three months before Election Day.

In fact, George Bush was reelected with 51.4 percent of the major party vote. The forecast error of 2.3 percentage points was slightly larger than the previous average out-of-sample error of 1.7 percentage points for the time-for-change model. Nevertheless, the model maintained its record of correctly predicting the winner of the popular vote in every presidential election since 1988 and the 2.3 percent forecast error only slightly exceeded the average error of 1.9 percent for 14 national polls that were released in the last four days before the election.

George Bush’s net approval rating (approval – disapproval) of -1 percent in late June was well below the average net approval rating of +11.7 percent for all incumbent presidents who have run for reelection since World War II. In addition, the 3.7 percent growth rate of the U.S. economy during the first half of 2004 was below the average growth rate of 4.5 percent for all presidential election years since World War II. So why did George Bush defeat John Kerry and win a second term in the White House?

George Bush did not win because he ran a brilliant campaign, because John Kerry ran a poor campaign, or because millions of evangelicals turned out to express their opposition to abortion, gay marriage, and Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. He won because he was an incumbent whose party had controlled the White House for only one term. In the past century there have been 11 elections involving such first-term incumbent presidents. Ten of these 11 incumbents were reelected. George W. Bush’s 51.4 percent share of the major party vote was actually the second worst showing for a first-term incumbent in the past century: only Jimmy Carter in 1980 received a smaller share of the major party vote than George Bush.

The good news for Democrats is that 2008, unlike 2004, will be a time-for-change election—one in which the president’s party has controlled the White House for two or more terms. There have been 16 such elections in the past century, with the incumbent party winning 7 times and losing 9 times. Since World War II, the track record of the incumbent party is even worse: 2 wins and 6 losses.

Reestimating the time-for-change model based on the results of all presidential elections since World War II, we obtain the following estimates:

V = 50.3 + .81*GDP + .113*NETAPP – 4.7*TFC,

where V is the predicted share of the major party vote for the incumbent party, GDP is the growth rate of real gross domestic product during the first two quarters of the year, NETAPP is the incumbent president’s net approval rating in the final Gallup Poll in June, and TFC is the time-for-change dummy variable. TFC takes on the value of 0 if the president’s party has controlled the White House for one term and 1 if the president’s party has controlled the White House for two or more terms.

The estimated coefficient of -4.7 for the time-for-change variable means that once a party has controlled the White House for 8 years or longer, it is penalized by almost five percentage points. This obviously makes it much more difficult for the incumbent party to win another term. For example, if real GDP grows at an annual rate of 3.7 percent during the first two quarters of 2008, as it did during the first two quarters of 2004, and if President Bush’s net approval rating in late June of 2008 stands at -1, as it did in late June of 2004, the Republican presidential candidate would be predicted to receive only 48.5 percent of the major party vote in the 2008 presidential election.

Forthcoming in PS: Political Science and Politics

Note: You can read the original article to which this piece is a followup, as well as the entire pre-election symposium on election forecasting, on the PS website.