« January 2005 | Main | March 2005 »

February 28, 2005

Bush's Approval Ratings Decline as Support for His Social Security Plan Heads South

The latest Pew Research Center poll finds Bush’s approval ratings headed downwards. In the poll, Bush’s overall approval rating is now 46 percent approval/47 percent disapproval, compared to 50 percent/43 percent in January. His approval ratings on Iraq (from 45/50 to 40/53) and on foreign policy (from 48/43 to 43/46) have fallen even further over the same period. And even his approval rating on handling terrorist threats has declined from 62 to 59 percent.

The Pew poll also shows that, despite a recent uptick in optimism about prospects for stability in Iraq, support for the Iraq war itself is declining. The public is now split 47 percent-47 percent on whether using military force against Iraq was the right decision or wrong decision, the most negative reading ever on this poll question by Pew. Moreover, independents now believe using military force was the wrong decision by 53-42, the most negative reading yet among this particular group.

As for whether Bush has a clear plan to bring the Iraq situation to a successful conclusion, just 32 percent now believe he does, compared to 61 percent who think he does not. That is also the most negative result ever on this particular question. It would appear that the Iraqi elections, despite favorable initial reaction, have not fundamentally altered dubious public views of the Iraq situation.

The latest NPR poll provides the most recent evidence that Bush’s efforts to build support for his Social Security plan have been singularly ineffective. In this poll, despite findings that indicate Bush has a more favorable image than the GOP as a whole on approaching Social Security issues, an unaided question that simply refers to “President Bush’s proposed changes to Social Security” gets a very negative response: Only 30 percent say they favor his proposed changes, compared to 53 percent who say they oppose them. Moreover, only 13 percent strongly support these changes, while three times as many (38 percent) strongly oppose them.

Additional questions in the poll show that opposition is still high when respondents are given some details about Bush’s plan. When referred to as Bush’s “proposal to create voluntary Personal Retirement Accounts as part of the Social Security system”, opposition is 49-41. And when referred to as Bush’s “proposal to privatize Social Security and divert part of the Social Security system into private accounts”, opposition is a sharper 58-34.

Thus, no matter whether Bush’s plan is referred to with his preferred language or with that preferred by Democrats, the result is still opposition. This suggests the degree to which Bush’s persuasive efforts are hitting a brick wall.

February 27, 2005

More On Winning Southern Moderates

Georgian Ed Kilgore of New Donkey follows up on DR's recent posts (see Feb. 20 and 23 below) on Democratic prospects among white moderates in the south. Kilgore offers some clarifying insights about the weakness of Kerry's and Gore's messages for southern voters in 2000 and 2004:

Personalities aside, the biggest difference between Clinton '96 and Gore '00 had to do with how each candidate dealt with two sets of issues: culture, and role-of-government--both big "trust" issues in the South. Clinton was thoroughly progressive, but went well out of his way to make it clear that he wanted abortion to be "safe, legal and rare," that he supported a modest gay rights agenda because everyone who "worked hard and played by the rules" should be treated the same; and that he fought to maintain and even expand the social safety net on condition that it truly represented a "hand up, not a handout."...in general, Clinton's whole '96 message was that he was willing to reign in government's excesses, while fighting to defend its essentials--the famous M2E2 (Medicare, Medicaid, Education and the Environment).

Compare that message to Gore's, and you go a long way towards understanding why the guy lost nearly half of Clinton's southern white support. Gore was forever bellowing about partial-birth abortion legislation (supported by about three-fourths of southerners) representing a dire threat to the basic right to choose. While Clinton called for "mending, not ending" affirmative action, Gore pledged to defend every aspect of affirmative action with his life. Clinton talked about balancing gun ownership rights with responsibilities. Gore talked about national licensing of gun owners. Clinton talked about making government "smarter, not bigger." Gore never mentioned his own role in the "reinventing government" initiative, and boasted an enormous policy agenda that added up to a message that he wanted to expand government as an end in itself.

...Kerry tried to avoid Gore's mistakes on specific cultural and role-of-government issues, but never talked about these themes more than occasionally, and never came across with any kind of authenticity in his efforts to project himself as a man of faith, a hunter, a government-reformer, or a family guy. While Gore got killed by his positioning and the lack of a compelling message, Kerry got killed by the lack of a compelling message and by those personal characteristics--distorted and exaggerated by GOP propaganda--that made him seem alien to southern voters.

Rightly or wrongly, both Kerry and Gore wrote off the south in their campaign strategies. But demographic trends, such as the rapid increase of African American and Hispanic voters and continuing reverse migration may well put some southern states back in play by 2008 --- especially with a more thoughtful strategy targeting southern moderates.

February 26, 2005

NPR Poll: Dems Have Early Edge for '06 Elections

A newly-released poll for National Public Radio gives Democratic congressional candidates an early lead in the 2006 congressional campaign. The poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research 2/15-17 indicated that 42 percent of repondents would vote for the Democratic candidate and 36 percent would vote for the Republican candidate in their district, "if the election for Congress were held today."

The 6 point Democratic advantage was in line with a GQRR poll conducted in January that gave the Dems a 5 point advantage in '06. A December Ipsos-Public Affairs poll gave the Dems a 7 point advantage in response to the question "And if the election for congress were held today, would you want to see the Republicans or Democrats win control of Congress?"

February 24, 2005

GOP Playbook Now Online

Democratic strategists interested in oppo research will find an enlightening read at Think Progress, where the 160 page GOP Playbook of leading republican spin doctor Frank Luntz is being posted and dissected.

Likening the Playbook to “the Holy Grail of Republican Frames,” Tom Ball of Political Strategy, notes:

Luntz is the most influential Republican Party pollster and political consultant. He is the lead researcher who test messages, marketing and polling on what best works to sell GOP policies, and is the authority in the party for crafting unified, market tested sound bites for the GOP agenda. He was responsible for crafting the wording of the Contract with America for Newt Gingrich and market testing the terms and phrases used within it.

The Playbook post illuminates some of the darker corners of the GOP’s philosophy of propaganda. As the Daily Kos notes of the Luntz Playbook:

In his memo on how to manipulate American perception on the economy, right-wing spinmeister Frank Luntz advises conservatives to “resist the temptation’ to use facts and figures about the economy. (You know, all those pesky statistics about lower wages, unemployment, skyrocketing deficits, etc.) Instead, he advises, you can’t go wrong if you continuosly remind people about the terrorist attacks of 9/11. “This is the context that explains and justifies why we have $500 billion deficits, why the stock market tanked, why unemployment climbed to 6%.”

Poll Says America Is Ready for Woman President

A new Siena College Research Institute Poll for Hearst Newspapers provides strong encouragement for women Presidential candidates. The Poll, conducted 2/10-17, found that 81 percent of the respondents would vote for a woman for President. A surprising 60 percent expect a woman to head the Democrats' 2008 ticket and 42 percent expect a woman to be the Democrats Vice Presidential candidate. Only 18 percent of the respondents expect a woman to head the GOP ticket, while 28 percent expect a woman to be the Republicans' Vice Presidential candidate.

Interestingly, the poll found very little difference between men and women on expectations of and support for a woman Presidential candidate. Two-thirds of the respondents said that a woman would be "better than a man president" on domestic issues and 52 percent said that there would be no difference on foreign policy, 24 percent said a woman would be better and 11 percent said a woman would be worse on foreign policy. Asked which gender would make a better "Commander-in-Chief," 45 percent said there would be no difference, 18 percent said a woman would be better and 23 percent said a woman would be worse.

Asked their preferences of which of four women political figures should run, 53 percent said Hillary Clinton should run, followed by 42 percent for Condoleezza Rice, 33 percent for Elizabeth Dole and 13 percent for Barbara Boxer.

February 23, 2005

Where Have All the Southern White Moderates Gone?

In 1996, Clinton split the southern vote, 46-46, with Bob Dole. One of the keys to his strong performance was this: he actually carried southern white moderates by 46-44.

In 2004, however, Kerry got beaten by 15 points in the south (57-42). So where have all the southern white moderates gone?

In a sense, nowhere. The ideological profile of the southern electorate has barely changed since 1996: it was 17 percent liberal/44 percent moderate/39 conserative then; it is 17 percent liberal/43 percent moderate/40 percent conservative now. And among whites, the ideological profile was 15 percent liberal/43 percent moderate/43 percent conservative in 1996; it is 14 percent liberal/41 percent moderate/45 percent conservative now.

Not much change. But what has changed is a big swing from Clinton's 46-44 support among southern white moderates in '96 to Kerry's 58-41 deficit among the same voting group, whose size and electoral weight remains as potent as ever, in 2004.

There's your target. Move southern white moderates back toward parity and the Democrats are back in the (southern) ballgame.

Harold Meyerson on The Dems and Working Class Voters

Harold Meyerson has an interesting piece in Wednesday's Washington Post that examines the Dems problems with a key sector of the electorate. Noting an analysis that first appeared here on Donkey Rising, Meyerson asks the key question: "how do the Democrats win back the allegiance of the white working class?" Here are a few excerpts:

The redoubtable and unpronounceable Ruy Teixeira, Democratic poll analyst par excellence, has been rooting around in the raw data newly released from the 2004 exit poll and has come up with one morsel that should cause Democrats everywhere to gag. It's not just that John Kerry got clobbered by working-class whites. It's that 55 percent of white working-class voters trusted Bush to handle the economy, while only 39 percent trusted Kerry.

... I think the Democrats kid themselves if they think this problem is Kerry-specific. To begin, de-unionization has taken a huge chunk out of Democratic vote totals. Unionized working-class whites tend to vote Democratic at least 20 percent more than their nonunion counterparts, but with private-sector unionization now fallen to less than 8 percent of the workforce, there aren't enough unionized whites to put a state such as Ohio into the Democratic column.

... on a broad range of economic matters, Democrats have alarmingly little to say to working-class Americans. For the past 35 years, as short-range share value has come to dominate our form of capitalism and the burden of risk has been shifted to the individual employee, far more manufacturing jobs have been sent abroad from the United States than from any other advanced industrialized nation. As the middle fell out of the economy, the Democrats advocated job retraining and, eventually, some form of managed trade, but these policies were too little and too late.

Today's working class isn't found largely in factories; it's in nursing homes, on construction sites, in Wal-Marts. Republicans talk to its members about guns, gays and God. Democrats often just stammer. And given the imbalance of power in today's de-unionized workplace, Democrats couldn't do much better than Bush when it comes to boosting wages in this raise-less recovery.

Democrats win when they deliver prosperity and security for working Americans, and in today's capitalism, those have become increasingly unattainable goals. Which is why, as they only now gear up their think tanks, Democrats need to promote alternatives to the kind of shareholder-driven capitalism into which our system has descended, to the detriment of millions of underpaid, insecure workers. They need to side with Main Street over Wall Street. Like the conservatives 40 years ago, the Democrats need to offend their own elites to build an America that reflects their best values, and in which working people can and do count on them for support.

February 22, 2005

Outside of a Small Circle of Friends

That's about the limit of support for Bush's basic approach to Social Security "reform". A new Gallup analysis shows that, outside of paid-up members of the Republican base, almost no subgroups of the electorate support Bush's approach and most are outright hostile.

Here's the question that Gallup bases its analysis on:

As you may know, one idea to address concerns with the Social Security system would allow people who retire in future decades to invest some of their Social Security taxes in the stock market and bonds, but would reduce the guaranteed benefits they get when they retire. Do you think this is a good idea or a bad idea?

A pretty fair summation, I think, of Bush's approach. And here's Gallup on what people say when asked this:

About 4 in 10 Americans have consistently said that such a proposal is a "good idea," while slightly fewer than 6 in 10 have said it is a "bad idea." An analysis of support for the reform proposal by subgroup -- based on an aggregate of the three polls in which the question was asked -- reveals that few subgroups endorse it. Republicans and conservatives are most likely to express support, and younger Americans are more likely than older Americans to favor this reform approach. The data suggest the president would have a lot of work to do to convince others to support such a proposal.

Indeed. The data adduced in the rest of the analysis include the following levels of opposition to Bush's approach: 61-34 among independents; 65-31 among moderates; 55-41 among those 30-49 years old; 63-33 among those 55-64; and 64-31 among those 65 or older.

In addition, just 40 percent of whites support Bush's proposal and every income group opposes it save those with $100,000 or more in income. And even these affluent respondents only support it by a narrow 51-47.

As the Gallup analysis concludes: "At this stage, it looks as if there is little initial support for the proposal outside of Bush's most reliable supporters." That's the simple truth of the matter, no matter what the administration shills keep on saying.

Harris Poll Cites Drop in Support for Iraq Occupation

The latest Harris Poll reports that 59 percent of Americans support "bringing most troops home in the next year," up from 47 percent reported in November.

As Chris Bowers of My DD notes:

The important point about this poll is that all other questions except this one did not significantly change. In other words, this is not an outlier, and the public wants to withdraw within the next year. In fact, considering the lack of movement among other questions, much of the newfound support for withdrawal must be coming from those who believe the invasion was the right thing to do.

Taken together with the AP-Ipsos Poll reported below, showing 53 percent of Americans opposing the U.S. role in "spreading democracy," it appears that the President has some convincing to do at home, before he can make his pitch credible in Europe.

AP-Ipsos Poll: Allies Skeptical About U.S. Exporting Democracy

As President Bush tries to drum up European support for U.S. Iraq policy, a majority of those polled in nations identified as U.S. allies believe that the U.S. should not spread democracy, according to a poll by Associated Press-Ipsos, reported in The New York Times. Majorities in Spain, Italy, Mexico, Canada and South Korea agreed that "it should not be the U.S. role to spread democracy." The margins were even larger among key U.S. allies

France - 84%
Germany - 78%
Britain - 67%

Even in the U.S., 53 percent agreed that exporting democracy was not a proper role for the U.S.

As the Times reports, "It's hard to believe our allies are indifferent to the spread of democracy," said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. "But they obviously don't feel comfortable with George Bush as the self-annointed spreader of democracy."

February 21, 2005

Finding Common Ground in Abortion Debate Minefield

Democratic candidates are on solid political ground in opposing criminal penalties for women who have abortions and supporting safe and legal abortion as a general principle, according to numerous opinion polls. But the common ground turns into a minefield for Democrats addressing a range of related issues, such as parental consent, partial birth abortions and the "morning-after pill," according to other recent polls.

Two recent articles help clarify the issues and political ramifications. David D. Kirkpatrick's article in the New York Times, "For Democrats, Rethinking Abortion Runs Risks" provides an overview of the political challenge:

In their search for middle ground on the subject of abortion, Democrats are encountering a mixture of resistance and retreat from abortion rights advocates in their own party. Since its defeats in the November elections, nothing has put the fractured soul of the Democratic Party on display more vividly than abortion. Party leaders, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and the new chairman, Howard Dean, have repeatedly signaled an effort to recalibrate the party's thinking about new restrictions on abortion....But abortion rights advocates warn of a bigger revolt within the party if its members start compromising on new abortion restrictions like parental notification laws or the fetal-pain bill.

"Better Choices," a Boston Globe Editorial, provides a thoughtful exploration of alternative policies that can help find common ground:

Access to reliable birth control is an obvious way to reduce the need for abortion. Birth control has been legal since the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision by the Supreme Court, but religious conservatives have blocked making even condoms available in high schools. ...women who are driven to have abortions -- the majority of whom are young and poor -- would have better options if society provided them with support in raising their children. Instead, states are passing ever more stringent welfare laws that eliminate benefits for pregnant women and for those with ever younger children. Some centers for unwed mothers provided by opponents of abortion do provide prenatal care and parenting classes, but most simply aim to steer women away from abortions. After that, they're on their own. Women who are desperate should not be forced into motherhood, but financial and social support would help make their decisions more of a true choice.

...Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, who opposes abortion, has filed the ''Prevention First Act," which would require insurance plans to cover prescription contraceptives, give emergency contraception to rape victims, and fund comprehensive sex education, including discussion of birth control, in public schools.

Majorities of Americans still support keeping abortion legal in at least some circumstances. But everyone should be able to agree on ways to make abortions less frequent or necessary. Reid's legislation would be a good test of the sincerity of all those calling for common ground.

The stakes are high for Democrats, including future support of Catholics and feminists, and balancing the concerns of all Democratic constituencies will not be easy. But an earnest search for common ground can help create a stronger Democratic consensus

February 20, 2005

What Happened in the South in Bush's 2004 Election Victory?

On the most straightforward level, of course, what happened in the south (defined as the 11 states of the Old Confederacy plus Kentucky and Oklahoma) was that it provided Bush with rock-solid support, as he carried all 13 southern states, including the most contested state, Florida. That was central to his election victory.

Digging deeper into the data, though, a number of interesting patterns emerge that go far beyond that undeniable fact.

1. While the south did move in Bush's direction in the '04 election, it moved about the same, in terms of percentage points, as the rest of the country.

2. In the 2000 election, however, the south did move more in Bush's direction (12 points) than the rest of the country (7 points). In 1996, Clinton actually split the southern vote with Dole, 46-46.

3. In the 2004 election, despite the fact that Bush did not disproportionately increase his percentage point margin in the south, 58 percent of his gains in vote margin came from the south, reflecting disproportionately high turnout increases in a number of those states.

4. Bush's biggest gains in percentage point margin in the south in 2004 were in micropolitan and rural areas, not metro areas. And, since 1996, the Republican presidential margin in the south has increased by 29 points in rural areas, by 26 points in micropolitan areas and by only 12 points in metro areas.

5. Since 1980, the south's share of the national popular vote has increased by 5 points. That has been entirely within southern metro areas; the vote share of southern micropolitan and rural areas remains unchanged.

Since it appears that these rapidly growing metro areas in the south have been significantly less susceptible to Bush's appeal than the micropolitan and rural areas of the south, it is undoubtedly these metro areas that hold the key to a southern comeback for the Democrats.

February 19, 2005

Is Conservatism the Dominant Political Creed in America?

By Alan Abramowitz

“Conservatism is the dominant political creed in America.” That’s what Karl Rove, George Bush’s longtime political advisor and newly appointed Deputy Chief of Staff, recently told a gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. Rove urged the assembled activists to pressure the Republican Party to continue the conservative policies that he claimed have led it to victory in recent years.

Not surprisingly, Rove’s comments were received enthusiastically by his conservative audience. But was he correct in claiming that, “conservatism is the dominant political creed in America”? If you judge by the political make-up of the Bush White House staff and cabinet you’d certainly think so. But an examination of the political views of the American electorate reveals that Rove’s claim is incorrect. In fact, the dominant political creed in America today is neither conservatism nor liberalism but centrism.

During 2004, the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan interviewed a representative sample of voting age Americans before and after the presidential election. The 2004 National Election Study (NES) survey, which was the most recent in a series that began in 1948, included a much larger number and variety of questions about domestic and foreign policy issues than a typical media or exit poll. As a result, it is ideally suited to measuring the political views of the American public.

Based on their answers to 16 questions in the 2004 NES survey, I classified Americans as strong liberals, moderate liberals, moderates, moderate conservatives, or strong conservatives. The questions asked about such issues as abortion, gay marriage, health insurance, government responsibility for jobs and living standards, the overall level of government spending and services, the death penalty, defense spending, reliance on diplomacy vs. military force in foreign policy, government assistance to racial and ethnic minorities, gun control, and the role of women in society.

Very few Americans held consistent views on these 16 issues. Only 9 percent were strong liberals and only 8 percent were strong conservatives. 83 percent of Americans were found in the three middle categories: 22 percent were moderate liberals, 24 percent were moderate conservatives, and the largest group by far, 36 percent, were moderates who took about as many conservative positions as liberal positions.


Graph of Recoded 16-Item Libcon Policy Scale





Liberal/conservative scores strongly predicted presidential voting. 99 percent of strong liberals voted for John Kerry while 98 percent of strong conservatives voted for George Bush. But the votes of these two groups cancelled each other out. It was the three middle categories that provided George Bush with his margin of victory in 2004—he received 54 per cent of the vote from these centrist voters.

George Bush did not win the 2004 election because a majority of Americans embraced his and Karl Rove’s conservative philosophy. He won because he did slightly better than John Kerry among the large majority of the electorate found at or near the center of the ideological spectrum where American elections are almost always decided.

February 18, 2005

Whither Liberalism?

John Judis has an important article “Structural Flaw: How Liberalism Came to the US” in the latest (90th anniversary) issue of The New Republic. (Note: this is a pass-through link and is available to everyone, not just TNR subscribers.) Judis argues that liberalism’s success in its heyday (1930s to 1960s) was primarily due to special structural factors that made it relatively easy to strike a progressive bargain with business and that liberalism’s decline since then is primarily due to the disappearance of those special structural circumstances and the rise of militant business resistance to reform. He concludes that reviving liberalism depends not just on Democrats winning elections (which remains quite feasible, given demographic, economic and ideological trends in the US), but in using governmental power to promote circumstances within which a new liberalism can flourish.

Here’s the introduction and conclusion to his article, which well-summarize his case:

In the wake of almost every Democratic defeat since 1972, liberals can be found insisting that, if their candidate had adhered to the party's core economic beliefs and steered clear of social issues, he would have done much better, if not won. If Democrats were to return to "the liberalism this country once heard from Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy," Princeton University sociologist Paul Starr declared in The New York Times last month, it would "give the Democratic party back its majority." But this electoral advice--whatever its merits--sidesteps a much more basic and disturbing question: Is it possible any longer to enact the kind of liberal program that Roosevelt and his successors did? In other words, even if a Democrat were elected in 2008 on a liberal platform, would he or she be able to put it into effect?

If you look at the history of liberalism, what you discover is not reassuring. From 1932 through 1974--even when Republicans Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon were president--liberals got much of their program enacted, but, since then, they have failed abysmally. In 1977, Jimmy Carter championed bills that matched almost perfectly what Starr includes in his liberal agenda--"progressive taxation, affordable health care ... environmental [and] labor protection"--but Carter failed to get any of them passed even though he had a sizable Democratic majority in Congress; in 1993 and 1994, Bill Clinton couldn't enact his signature health care measure with an almost equally large congressional majority.

It is convenient to blame these failures on incompetence, but the truth is that structural factors were more important. Liberalism's success from the '30s through the 1960s was based primarily upon certain special economic and political conditions: popular pressure from below, business' acquiescence in reform, and the conviction of the nation's opinion-makers that reform was good for America. Since then, dramatic changes in the international economy have turned business against reform and weakened the other forces supporting reform. Liberalism is by no means defunct, but it has been put on the defensive--most particularly, in this second Bush term. If Democrats want to revive liberalism, and not merely win office for themselves, they will have to address--and, where possible, rectify--the conditions that have undermined it....

To revive liberalism fully--to enjoy a period not only of liberal agitation, but of substantial reform--would probably require a national upheaval similar to what happened in the '30s and '60s. That could happen, but it doesn't appear imminent. What is more probable is a gradual move back toward the center, where older programs would be protected from assault (although not from refinement), where incremental change could be made, and where the stage could be set for a fuller revival if circumstances warranted. This could result, ironically, from the same causes that initially turned the United States away from liberalism.

In the past, the world has overcome industrial overcapacity through world wars and depressions, but with neither likely (one hopes!), the world economy is unlikely to recover its earlier brisk postwar pace. The extended U.S. boom of the late '90s, it is now clear, was a momentary spike brought about by speculation in information technology. If the economy does continue to grow sluggishly--creating greater insecurity even among the so-called investor class--it is likely that public discontent with business will rise again, as it did in the early '90s, and provide an opening for Democrats, and, through them, for liberal reform. But liberals will have to take advantage of this opening in a way that they failed to during the '90s.

Taking advantage would mean devising new approaches to domestic and international policy that are fair and efficient--and that don't allow the opposition to raise the specter of big government. A bloated national health insurance system could eventually be worse than none at all, but, designed properly, a national health system could widen access and keep costs under control, benefiting many businesses as well as workers. The perils of globalization can't be effectively addressed through trade protection, as some industrial unions still insist, but, by improving education, by encouraging foreign manufacturing firms to locate here, and, as economists like Rodrik have begun to argue, by international reforms that will protect workers from the vicissitudes of monetary instability.

Liberals would also have to rebuild the infrastructure of democratic pluralism through encouraging, subsidizing, and defending unions and whatever other form of countervailing social organization is feasible--from community groups to Internet-based virtual communities. The Republicans took this lesson from the older New Deal movement and have built a political infrastructure of their own while attempting to destroy what the Democrats have constructed. Liberals would have to do whatever is necessary--including, above all, tightening labor law--to rebuild their movement from below.

Liberals are not without recourse. Just as the liberals of the '30s could draw upon three decades of progressive reform plans, today's liberals can draw upon 30 years of discussion about national health insurance, environmental and consumer protection, pension reform, international trade and investment, and worker training. These policies have been featured in many campaigns, although they have frequently been overshadowed by abortion or gun control. Starr and other liberals are right to insist that they be front and center--not because, by doing so, Democrats will be guaranteed electoral success, but because, without them, the Democrats are simply a collection of heterogeneous interests and identities united primarily by distaste for Republican conservatism. They may win elections, but they will be totally unprepared to change America for the better. And that, after all, is what politics should be all about.

Social Security: Son of That Dog Won't Hunt

That pesky public. The more it hears about Bush's proposal on Social Security, the less it seems to like it and the more it seems to reject the whole "ownership society" concept that Bush has attempted to tie into the proposal.

Consider these findings from the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

1. After all of Bush's crisis-mongering, only 17 percent of the public is willing to term Social Security's financial situation a crisis.

2. After all of Bush's stumping for his proposal in the last two months and all the coverage in the press, the percentage believing we should make some adjustments, but leave the "Social Security system basically as is" has risen from 39 to 50 percent, while the percent saying we should change the Social Security system "to allow people to invest some of their Social Security taxes in private accounts" has declined from 45 to 40 percent.

Similarly, over the last two months, Bush has not been able to push the number over 40 percent who think it is "a good idea....to change the Social Security system to allow workers to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market?", while the number thinking it's a bad idea has remained steady at 50-51 percent.

Not only that, of those who think this change is a bad idea, 60 percent say their position is "completely firm and unlikely to change". That's just the reverse of the situation with those who think the change is a good idea, where 68 percent say they're "open to changing their mind".

3. How committed are people to the idea of private accounts? Four times as many give primary importance to keeping the system from running short of money (49 percent) than give that level of importance to creating investment accounts (12 percent).

4. How interested are people in the ownership society approach? By 61-32, the public says Congress should place the most emphasis on "providing guarantees for the future" in Social Security and health care, rather than "giving people more responsibility and personal control".

5. How to save money in the Social Security system? Only two proposals tested by NBC/WSJ garnered majority support: limiting the benefits that are paid out to wealthy retirees (64 percent) and, intriguingly, gradually increasing the Social Security payroll tax (51 percent).

Guess those RNC talking points aren't quite doing the job!

Once Again on the Party ID Question

Mark Blumenthal of Mystery Pollster plunges into the latest controversy around partisan distribution in polls and their apparent relation to outlier results, like Gallup’s 57 percent approval rating for Bush in their February 4-6 poll. In his post, “On Outliers and Party ID”, Blumenthal marches, in an admirably-organized way, through the various polling issues raised by this problem. Here’s an excerpt from his post, but, by all means, read the whole thing. It’s well worth the effort.

Unlike pure demographic items like age and gender, party ID is an attitude which can change especially from year to year....The problem is that partisan composition of any sample can also vary randomly -- outliers do happen. Unfortunately, when they do we get news stories about "trends" that are really nothing more than statistical noise....

The conflict leads to some third-way approaches that some have dubbed "dynamic weighting." I discussed these back in October. The simplest and least arbitrary method is for survey organizations to weight their polls by the average result for party identification on recent surveys conducted by that organization -- perhaps over the previous three to six months. The evolving party identification target from the larger combined sample would smooth out random variation while allowing for gradual long-term change (see also Prof. Alan Reifman's web page for more commentary on this issue).

....The party ID numbers ought to be a standard part of the public release of any survey, along with cross-tabulations of key results by party identification. Gallup should be commended for releasing data on request even to critics like [Steve] Soto, but it really should not require a special request.

Also, when a survey shows a sharp shift in party identification, news coverage of that survey should at least note the change -- something sorely lacking in the stories on CNN and in USAToday about the [Gallup] February 4-6 survey.

Job One: Identifying Democratic Principles

In "First Principles: What Constitutes Necessary Rethinking, and What Constitutes Selling Out?," American Prospect editor Michael Tomasky has an important discussion regarding the need to identify the Party's core principles, as well as areas of possible compromise in order to build a solid majority in the electorate. As Tomasky notes:

...Self-examination does not mean inevitably moving to the middle. Adopting a centrist pose can be every bit as knee-jerk and shallow as insisting that nothing’s changed since 1974, and it can be even more debilitating politically than going (or staying) left...But having such a conversation -- a conversation that really tries to figure out the difference between liberalism’s first principles, on which there can be no compromise, and its secondary assertions, which may need a rethink -- is of vital importance.

..These are hard conversations to have. Keeping abortion a legal and, therefore, safe option for women is, for me, is a first principle, because the option gives women moral autonomy over an extremely personal decision that the state should not make in their behalf. But the rhetoric used to support that option is not a first principle. It’s a tactic, and it’s right to talk about that...Gay marriage is a first principle, and someday the country will accept it. But it’s reasonable to have a conversation about how to deal with the question politically until that someday arrives.

These conversations are necessary to strengthen liberalism. If abortion-rights activists find a better way to defend abortion rhetorically, thus appealing to more Americans and speaking to feelings of conflict some people may have about the practice, isn’t that a good thing? Doesn’t that do more to protect abortion in the long run? No one’s talking about reaching out to the religious right. They’re completely unreachable. There are, however, millions of Americans who aren’t religious extremists who have mixed feelings about abortion. A political movement that doesn’t try to persuade the conflicted isn’t much of a movement.

Hard questions, indeed, but vitally necessary ones and Tomasky's article is a good place to start.

February 17, 2005

Dems Need to Re-Think Consultant Policies

Amy Sullivan has a must-read article for Democratic strategists in the Washington Monthly entitled "Fire the Consultants: Why Do Democrats Promote Campaign Advisors Who Lose Races." Sullivan makes a compelling case that the Democrats have created an unhealthy tradition of rewarding failure, while denying promising consultants who actually win races the opportunity to show what they can do. Says Sullivan:

Since their devastating loss last fall, Democrats have cast about for reasons why their party has come up short three election cycles in a row and have debated what to do. Should they lure better candidates? Talk more about morality? Adopt a harder line on national security? But one of the most obvious and least discussed reasons Democrats continue to lose is their consultants. Every sports fan knows that if a team boasts a losing record several seasons in a row, the coach has to be replaced with someone who can win. Yet when it comes to political consultants, Democrats seem incapable of taking this basic managerial step...

Few insiders dare complain about the hammerlock loser consultants have on the process—certainly neither the professional campaign operatives whom the consultants hire nor the journalists to whom the consultants feed juicy inside-the-room detail...[According to] Dan Gerstein, a former advisor to Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.). “If a company like General Motors had the same image problem that the Democratic Party does, they would fire the guys responsible,” Gerstein told me. But not Democrats. “We don't just hire those guys,” Gerstein said, “we give them bonuses.”

This Peters Principle effect of Democratic operatives rising—or muscling their way—up to the level of their incompetence, happens for a simple reason: The consultants are filling a vacuum. After all, someone has to formulate the message that a candidate can use to win the voters' support. Conservatives have spent 30 years and billions of dollars on think tanks and other organizations to develop a set of interlinked policies and language that individual Republican candidates and campaigns can adopt in plug-and-play fashion. Liberals are far behind in this message development game...

Republicans, of course, don't have any natural monopoly on strategic talent—they just give their best young strategists chances to run the biggest national races. In all likelihood, there is another Karl Rove or James Carville out in the Democratic hinterlands, who ought to be playing essential roles in the most important races...But any new talent will likely remain on the national margins—running races for Congress and judgeships—until someone breaks up the consultant oligarchy.

February 16, 2005

Don't Think Rural, Think "Micropolitan"

Most of the counties in the US lie outside of metropolitan areas (roughly two-thirds). These nonmetro counties are typically thought of as rural by most people. But all rural areas are not the same--many have an urban core, albeit a small one, which dominates a central county and to which people in surrounding counties may commute. These areas have recently been designated "micropolitan areas" by OMB to differentiate them from other nonmetro areas. Here's the Economic Research Service on the basic definition of micropolitan areas:

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was urged by various sources in the last decade to delineate the entire land surface of the country into areas, and not leave the territory outside of metro areas as an undifferentiated residual. As a partial response, OMB designated micro areas using the same procedure as that for metro areas. Any nonmetro county with an urban cluster of at least 10,000 persons or more becomes the central county of a micro area. As with metro areas, outlying counties are included if commuting to the central county is 25 percent or higher, or if 25 percent of the employment in the outlying county is made up of commuters from the central county. Because they are county-based and include outlying areas, the total area population reaches well beyond 50,000 for many micro areas. The inaugural set of 560 micro areas includes 674 counties and ranges in size from 13,000 (Andrews, Texas) to 182,000 (Torrington, Connecticut).

Micro areas contain just under 60 percent of the nonmetro population, with an average of 43,000 people per county. In contrast, the 1,378 "noncore" counties, with no urban cluster of 10,000 or more residents, average just 14,000 people.

It is these micropolitan areas that include the bulk of the rural population, as mentioned above, even though they are only about a third of rural counties and include only about a quarter of rural land area. They tend to be more economically dynamic and, of course, are far denser than other rural counties, with about a third of micropolitan residents actually living in the principal cities of these areas (the corresponding figure for metro areas is not so much higher, about 40 percent).

Much more fascinating detail on micropolitan areas, as well as the entire new system of metro classification promulgated by OMB, may be found in this excellent report from the Brookings Institution, "Tracking Metropolitan America into the 21st Century: A Field Guide to the New Metropolitan and Micropolitan Areas".

Are their political implications to this? Sure. If Democrats want to improve their performance in rural areas, that must principally be about improving their performance in micropolitan areas. Three-fifths of the rural vote and three-fifths of Bush's gains in rural areas in 2004 were in micropolitan areas. And micropolitan areas, by virtue of their relatively high density and significant urban populations, should be more cosmopolitan and more open to Democratic appeals than the thinly-populated, non-micropolitan areas that make up the rest of rural America.

February 15, 2005

Who Mobilized the Most in 2004?

By Alan Abramowitz

According to the 2004 American National Election Study (NES), both major parties contacted record numbers of voters prior to the 2004 election. However, according to the NES data, the percentage of voters contacted by the Democratic Party increased much more dramatically than the percentage contacted by the Republican Party. 31 percent of respondents in the post-election phase of the survey reported being contacted by the Democratic Party, shattering the previous record of 22 percent set in 2000. 28 percent of respondents reported being contacted by the Republican Party, also breaking the record of 25 percent set in 2000. In addition, 18 percent of voters reported being contacted before the election by a non-party group or organization.

And these mobilization efforts appear to have had an effect, especially among less educated and lower income voters. The difference in reported turnout between those who were contacted and those who were not contacted was 32 points among the high school educated, 21 points among those with some college education, and only 8 points among college graduates. Similarly, there was a difference in turnout of 32 points among respondents with family incomes below $25,000, 30 points among those with family incomes between $25,000 and $49,999, 14 points among those with family incomes between $50,000 and $89,999, and only 5 points among those with family incomes of $90,000 or more. Among voters who were contacted, the gap in turnout between the lowest and highest income groups was only 8 percentage points. Among those who were not contacted, the gap in turnout between the lowest and highest income groups was 26 percentage points.

These data show that despite the outcome of the election, Democrats outmobilized Republicans in 2004. In addition, the 2004 results indicate that Democratic mobilization efforts matter more than Republican mobilization efforts because mobilization has a greater impact on lower SES voters than on higher SES voters. We need to make sure that these efforts continue in 2006 and 2008.

Dems Toughening Up?

When Tom Delay spearheaded the coup-by-gerrymander in Texas that netted the GOP four additional congressional seats in one brazen swoop, you could hear the Democratic jaws dropping from Passaic to Tarzana. But Delay's coup may prove a blessing in disguise, albeit a very good disguise, because it awakened many Democrats to the stark realization that, 'geez, these guys are playing hardball, while we're still playing patty-cake.' Now comes new hope that the Dems are gearing up for some serious strategic and tactical hardball of their own, according to Ronald Brownstein's second of two articles on the subject in today's LA Times, "Democrats Seek to Outmaneuver Republicans by Imitating Their Strategy." Please, may it be so.

Notes Brownstein:

Bush did split Democrats last week on legislation restricting class-action lawsuits — 18 Senate Democrats joined with Republicans to pass the bill. But mostly, Democrats have unified behind a fervent resistance to Bush, which discourages internal dissent and aims more at mobilizing their core supporters than converting swing voters.

That direction is evident from the near-unanimous opposition among Democrats to Bush's Social Security and budget plans and the selection Saturday of Howard Dean, the left's great hope of the 2004 presidential campaign, as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

In each particular, the emerging Democratic strategy draws more on GOP precedents than the Democrats' own tactics during the 1990s.

Those Democrats urging scorched-earth opposition to Bush's central proposals cite the relentless attacks by Gingrich, then the House minority whip, against the Democratic congressional majority through the early 1990s and the successful efforts by GOP strategist Kristol to deter Republicans from cooperating with Clinton on healthcare reform.

To discourage dissent, Democrats are also adapting Republican techniques. Though still not as tough as the GOP, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) is moving more forcefully than Gephardt, her predecessor, to threaten Democrats who back Bush with the loss of prized committee seats.

Privately, Democratic interest groups have discussed the creation of a liberal equivalent to the Club for Growth that would campaign against defecting Democrats. The online liberal behemoth MoveOn.org is already targeting ads at the one House Democrat — Florida's Allen Boyd — backing Bush on Social Security.

Any Democrats who support Bush's Social Security proposals will "face real consequences from the base of the party," warns Robert Borosage, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America's Future.

February 14, 2005

Will the Real Party Preferences of the American Electorate Please Stand Up? (Part Deux)

Yesterday, I wrote about Bush's plumetting approval rating (from 57 percent to 49 percent) in the Gallup poll and speculated that this new, more reasonable Bush approval rating was probably accompanied by the abrupt disappearance of the wacky +9 Republican party ID in their earlier poll.

As Fidel might put it, history has absolved me. Steve Soto is on the case and has extracted the party ID distribution of the latest poll sample from Gallup. It is +1 Democratic. So, from February 4-6 to February 7-10, Gallup is telling us there was a 10 point swing in party ID, from +9 Republican to +1 Democratic.

That strikes me--and most others outside of Gallup HQ, I suspect--as pretty damn implausible.

Social Security: That Dog Won't Hunt Department

On February 6, Nick Confessore argued in the New York Times that "Going for Broke May Break Bush" and the next day Ron Brownstein commented that "Bush's Social Security Equation Comes Up Short on Money, Trust". And in last Friday's New York Times, the bloody implications of indexing Social Security benefits to prices, instead of wages, were copiously detailed.

Things just aren't coming up roses for the president as he continues to stump for his Social Security plan. It looks like it's going to be harder than Bush anticipated to move public opinion in his direction. And that's for a very good reason: the underlying structure of public opinion is hostile to Bush's approach.

Consider these results from a just-released Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard survey of public opinion on Social Security issues:

1. Only about a quarter (27 percent) say Social Security is in a crisis, 46 percent say Social Security has major problems, but is not in a crisis, and the rest say the program has minor problems or no problems. Note that the "crisis" figure in this question is actually substantially lower than it was in the late 1990's when it reached as high as 36 percent.

2. The only ways of fixing Social Security's future financial problems that garner majority support are two alternate wording about benefit cuts for the wealthy: "reducing the rate of growth in benefits for wealthy retirees only" (60 percent) and "cutting guaranteed benefits for wealthy retirees only" (54 percent). But that's not what Bush proposes to do--he proposes to cut everybody's benefits, which gets quite a different reception: "reducing the rate of growth in benefits for future retirees" gets only 30 percent support and "cutting guaranteed benefits for future retirees" receives just 13 percent support.

3. No matter whether the accounts in the president's plan are referred to as "private" or "personal", they get about the same middling level of support in the abstract (that is, without any tradeoffs or costs). But that 54-57 percent majority support drops to a dead-even 46-46 split once Bush's name is associated with the plan and drops much further when some of the plan's tradeoffs and costs are mentioned.

This can be seen in two ways. First, followups to the general question of support for private/personal accounts show sharp drops in support for these accounts when costs/tradeoffs are mentioned. Specifically, support drops to 34 percent when it is pointed out that those who open accounts but make poor investment decisions would wind up with lower benefits than under the current system; to 29 percent if it is true that the plan including private/personal accounts would not by itself solve Social Security's financial problems; and to 22 percent if the government would have to borrow $700 billion or more to set up these accounts.

Second, a question that mentions both the stock market option for Social Security contributions and changes in guaranteed benefits yields majority opposition to such an approach. People are opposed 52-43 if the change in guaranteed benefits is referred to as "reducing the rate of growth in benefits" and are opposed by an overwhelming 66-30 if the change in benefits is simply referred to as "cutting guaranteed benefits".

4. Finally, just 9 percent believe creating private/personal accounts would, by itself, solve Social Security's financial problems. And slightly more people believe young people will wind up with less money under a personal accounts system (35 percent) than believe they will wind up with more money if these accounts were available (33 percent). Another 24 percent believe young people will do about the same under a personal accounts system as under the current system. That means there's a 59-35 majority against the idea young people will gain with a personal accounts system.

As a certain ex-president might have put it: that dog just won't hunt. We'll see how long it will take for Bush to face this bitter truth.

February 13, 2005

Gallup Approval Ratings Return to Planet Earth

In my February 10 post, I noted that Gallup's 57 percent approval rating for Bush in their February 4-6 poll was way out-of-line with other recent polls and was likely driven by the lopsided Republican party ID advantage (+9) in their sample, rather than any real world shift in public sentiment.

Now Gallup has a new poll, conducted February 7-10, and lo and behold, Bush's 57 percent approval rating has nosedived to 49 percent, in the same neighborhood as other recent polls. It's just a wild guess, but I shouldn't be surprised if this lower rating for Bush was also accompanied by the disappearance of that big Republican party ID advantage (paging Steve Soto!).

You'd think that their first poll's heavily Republican sample and outlier status relative to other polls would make the Gallup folks cautious in interpreting Bush's approval rating drop in their second poll as representing a real political trend. Think again! Gallup, in fact, contructs a whole political story to fit their data, starting with their title "From Public's Perspective, Past Week Not Good One for Bush: Approval ratings drop" and continuing thusly:

The new poll, conducted Feb. 7-10, shows his approval rating is back down to 49% as the news focus has shifted to his proposed federal budget and his plans for changing the Social Security system.

Could be. But an alternative, more parsimonious hypothesis is this: Bush never had a popularity spike to begin with; little changed over the period covered by Gallup's two polls and Gallup's swing against Bush in their latest poll is an artifact of their changing sample composition, not the product of a real shift in public opinion.

But that wouldn't fit with the Gallup philosophy: reality's job is to explain Gallup's data, not the other way around.

Dems Future Scrutinized As Dean Takes Helm of DNC

The February reading list for Democrats provides a host of interesting articles on the party's future prospects and strategy as Howard Dean takes charge of the DNC. It is usually a good idea to begin with the newspaper articles, because of their short shelf-life as freebies. So start with E. J. Dionne's thoughtful piece in the Washington Post Sunday Outlook "Can Dean Give 'Em A Winner?" enumerating and analyzing the choices and challenges facing Howard Dean as he assumes command. Then peddle on over to the Los Angeles Times, and take a peek at Ronald Brownstein's "Democrats Aren't Giving Bush A Break This Term," predicting a much more contentious tone, not only from Dean, but across the Democratic spectrum. Chuck Todd's "Clintonism R.I.P.: How Triangulation Became Strangulation" in the Atlantic has reinvigorated the debate about Bill Clinton's strategy as a template for the Dems' future, but you'll have to subscribe to read it and an accompanying interview, as well as Al From's critique. For an optimistic take, The American Prospect offers Robert Kuttner's "Being Howard Dean: Give the Chair a Chance. You Just Might Like What You See." If you're up for some heavy lifting, check out Peter Dreier's "Why Bush Won: What To Do Next" in the current issue of Dissent. Also reccomended is John Nichols' recent Nation profile "Dick Durbin: Bush Fighter," about Illinois' soft-spoken tough guy and possible prototype for Democratic leaders of the future.

February 11, 2005

Will the Real Party Preferences of the American Electorate Please Stand Up?

The post below points out that the new Ipsos-AP poll has Bush's approval rating at just 45 percent, in rather stark contrast to Gallup's 57 percent rating, which was accompanied by a 9 point Republican party ID advantage.

But it's interesting to note that the Ipsos poll also has a lop-sided party ID advantage--but this time for the Democrats (+12). The fact that the Ipsos party ID figure is for RVs and the Gallup figure for all adults hardly seems adequate to account for this vast difference.

In truth, neither figure seems terribly credible and, therefore, both approval figures are probably outliers driven by the party ID composition of their samples. Certainly neither figure should be taken particularly seriously on its own, though you could average the two if you wish. In that case, you get a 51 percent approval rating for Bush, pretty much in line with other figures from recent polls.

What is to be done about these wacky partisan samples, which give such misleading pictures of current politics? Perhaps it's time to revive "dynamic party ID weighting", an idea whose time may finally have come. Aruguably, this is the time to pursue such an innovation, away from all the passions induced by a political campaign. And, if pollsters did so, I think it would help smooth out poll results and avoid the fake surges this way and that that are starting to erode faith in the veracity of polling.

Of course, down at Gallup and many other polling headquarters as well, the view is probably that all is fine. I can assure them that all is not fine and it is time to trade in their stone-walling for a bit of listening and openness to change.

Bush Approval Sinks in New AP/Ipsos Poll

Not to pile on concerns about the credibility of Gallup's sampling choices, but a new AP/Ipsos Poll indicates 54 percent of adults now disapprove of President Bush's job performance, while 45 percent approve. Seniors over age 65 registered the highest disapproval ratings, a very bad sign for Social Security privatization prospects. The poll, conducted 2/7-9 also showed 57 percent disapproving of Bush's Iraq policy and 56 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy. In addition, 58 percent of the respondents now believe the country is headed down the "wrong track", a hefty increase from 51 percent in January.

February 10, 2005

Gallup's 57 Percent Approval Rating Outlier

As noted yesterday, Gallup's latest approval rating for Bush (57 percent) seems, well, a little on the high side and, teamed as it is with a lopsidedly Republican sample (a 9 point Republican advantage in party ID), seems distinctly lacking in credibility.

It's noteworthy that no other recent poll seems to be able to come close to Gallup's 57 percent rating. ABC News/Washington Post, for example, had Bush's approval rating at 50 percent on January 26-31--but then, that was mostly before the Iraqi elections so perhaps the Post poll couldn't capture that big post-Iraqi election surge toward Bush (Gallup's own explanation for Bush's high rating in their poll).

Newsweek, however, polled on February 3-4--after the Iraqi elections--and found only a 50 percent rating for Bush. But the Gallup poll was February 4-6 so perhaps this surge was late developing?

But, inconveniently for Gallup, Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University were in the field February 3-6 and they also found just a 50 percent approval rating for Bush.

And here's the coup de grace: the new Fox News poll, not generally known for being unfriendly to the president and low-balling his approval rating, found his approval rating, on February 8-9, to be only 51 percent. Moreover, Fox's 51 percent rating is actually a point below their mid-January rating for Bush, while Gallup's recent 57 percent rating is six points above their mid-January rating for the president.

Well, something's happened here. But I don't believe it's among the general public. I think it's more in Gallup's polling and--as indicated at the top of this post--we have some obvious suspects.

February 9, 2005

Kerry’s 2004 ANES Thermometer Ratings: The Least-Liked Democratic Candidate Since McGovern?

By David Gopoian

The feeling thermometer is a measuring instrument that asks respondents to assign a rating of between 0 degrees and 100 degrees to political objects (candidates, other political figures, groups, and institutions). A mean thermometer score of 50 would suggest a neutral evaluation, above 50 favorable, and below 50 unfavorable. Since 1968, the University of Michigan's American National Election Study (ANES) has included feeling thermometers for major party presidential candidates.

The highest overall mean thermometer recorded for a major party presidential candidate, among those who voted for president was for Nixon (mean scores of 67 in both 1968 and 1972). The highest mean Democratic thermometer recorded was for Humphrey in 1968 and Carter in 1976 (62).

The lowest overall mean thermometer score recorded for a major party presidential candidate was 48, for McGovern in 1972. The least-liked Republican nominee was George H.W. Bush in 1992, with a mean score of 52.

The grand mean for all Republican candidates between 1968 through 2000 was 60. The grand mean for all Democratic candidates between 1968 through 2000 was 56. To place what follows in context, both Gore and Bush in 2000 received mean scores of 57.

In the 2004 election, the mean thermometer for Bush was 56. For Kerry it was 52. The absolute difference between Bush’s score and Kerry’s score is not remarkable. In six of the prior nine elections, the gap between the two contenders has been 4 points or greater.

What does make Kerry’s score noteworthy is that his was the lowest mean thermometer recorded for a Democratic nominee since McGovern. His score represents a drop of 5 percentage points from Gore’s mean score four years earlier. The simple interpretation here is straightforward and probably coincides with many preconceptions – John Kerry was the least liked Democratic candidate of the past 30 years.

From that simple interpretation, we may move toward a more careful and truthful assessment. A very unusual pattern characterizes the thermometer scores of both Kerry and Bush in 2004. That pattern reflects intensified partisanship. From 1968 through 2000, party identifiers (including Independents who lean toward one party) generally registered lukewarm feelings toward the candidate of the rival party and substantially warmer feelings toward their own party’s nominees. Democrats, between 1968 through 2000, on average, gave their own nominees a score of 73 and the Republican nominee a score of 46. Republicans in that same time frame gave average scores of 70 for their own nominees and 46 for the Democratic candidates.

Three of those four general trends were ruptured in 2004. Only Kerry’s rating from Democrats followed expectations. Kerry’s mean rating from Democratic identifiers was 72 – close to the grand mean for the prior nine elections. Kerry did about as well as Clinton in 1992 among Democrats and approximated the typical score a Democratic candidate gets from his own followers. Nothing else about the 2004 candidate thermometers followed precedent.

For starters, Republicans gave Kerry a mean score of 32 – six points worse than the score of 38 McGovern received from GOP identifiers in 1972 – and 14 points worse than the score Gore received from Republicans four years earlier. This is the first example of intensified partisanship, and it provides a more nuanced understanding of Kerry’s overall thermometer score – Kerry was the least liked Democrat ever, in the brief history of presidential thermometers, among Republican identifiers. There are some future precincts in New Hampshire and Iowa where that might qualify as a badge of honor.

But if Kerry was the least liked Democrat among rival party followers, George W Bush did him one better in 2004. Bush emerged as the least liked opposition-party presidential candidate, ever, of either major party. Democratic identifiers bestowed upon Bush a mean score of 29 – - a full 12 points lower than the score Democrats gave him four years earlier.

The larger story here is that in 2004, Democratic and Republican identifiers appeared more dramatically polarized than at any time in the past 36 years. The normal respect reserved for American leaders of the opposition party seems to have eroded nearly completely among followers of both major parties. What distinguishes this particular circumstance is its partisan symmetry. Hostility toward the leader of the opposition party is mutually shared by Democrats and Republicans alike. The implications are also magnified by the nearly identical sizes of these blocs of partisan voters (48% Democratic, 47% Republican).

The final bit of data that goes some distance toward explaining Bush’s relative advantage over Kerry in terms is also unprecedented. Of all the candidates who secured their parties’ nominations since 1968, George W Bush was the candidate most revered by his own party. His mean score of 84 surpassed even Reagan’s 1984 thermometer of 78 among Republican identifiers. And in so doing, Bush also bested the previous high rating for candidates from their partisan followers, Bill Clinton’s mark of 80 from Democrats in 1996. In 2004, Kerry attained ratings from Democrats that were typical. Bush generated ratings from Republicans that set records.

GOP Clones Drive Bush Approval Surge

It appears that the Gallup Shop is at it again, oversampling Republicans like pod people, this time to jack up President Bush's post-SOTU approval ratings, reports Steve Soto in the Left Coaster. Soto notes that Bush's most recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup approval rating of 57 percent -- up from 52 percent in early January -- generated considerable buzz among the political pundocracy. But the sample was based on 37 percent Republicans, 35 percent Independents and just 28 percent Democrats--this depite other recent polls showing the Democrats taking a lead over the GOP.

As Soto points out:

Gallup feels that Democrats have fallen through the floor amongst the electorate as a whole, even though other polls since the election show the Democrats retaking a lead over the GOP.

The mid-January NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was based on a sample that contained 39% Republicans and 39% Democrats; poll respondents said that Bush did not have a mandate.

The mid-January CBS News/New York Times poll was based on a sample that contained 34% Democrats and 31% Republicans.

The Pew Center poll and analysis released January 24, 2005 reflected a split of 33% Democrat, 30% Republican.

And it should be noted than an ABC News/Washington Post poll done in mid-December showed that Americans self-identified 11% more as being Democrats (38%) than those who identified as being Republican (27%).

Yet Gallup looks at the electorate over the weekend and somehow feels that Democrats have fallen to only 28% of the electorate, a figure never seen for the party in decades if ever. At what point in our history over the last several decades has the GOP ever had a 9% edge over the Democrats? And knowing that, why would they put out a poll showing a 57% approval rating when they must know that it is based on a bogus sample?

A fair question that merits a straight answer.

New SS Poll Disses Chicken Little

A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted 2/4-6 indicates that the Administration's panic-mongering on social Security isn't finding many believers in red or blue state America. Only 17 percent of the respondents agreed that Social Security was in a "state of crisis" and 50 percent disapprove of the President's "approach to addressing the Social Security system," while 44 percent expressed their approval.

February 8, 2005

It's the White Working Class, Stupid

There are many theories about what drove the 2004 election results and some of the more fanciful (exurbs, fast-growing counties, evangelicals, Hispanics, values voters) have been critiqued on this site. Now, with the release of the raw data from the 2004 NEP exit poll, it is possible to do some closer analysis of trends that really were of high salience. One such trend was the movement of white working class voters away from the Democratic ticket.

Here some findings from an initial pass through the NEP national data:

1. In 2000, Gore lost white working class (defined as whites with less than a four year college degree) voters by 17 points; this year, Kerry lost them by 23 points, a swing of 6 points against the Democrats. In contrast, Gore lost college-educated whites by 9 points and Kerry lost them by 10 points--not much change.

Therefore, white working class voters were responsible for almost all of Bush's increased margin among whites as a whole (which went from 12 to 17 points). And Bush's increased margin among whites, of course, was primarily responsible for his re-election.

2. Almost all of the white working class movement toward Bush was among white working class women, rather than white working class men. Bush won white working class men by almost identical margins in the two elections (29 points in 2000 and by 30 points in 2004). But he substantially widened his margin among white working class women, going from a 7 lead in '00 to an 18 point lead in '04. That 11 point swing against the Democrats among white working class women is arguably arguably the most important single fact about the 2004 election.

3. Looking at married versus single white working class women, both groups appear to have swung substantially against the Democrats. Single white working class women (38 percent of white working class women) went Democratic by 15 points in 2000, but only by 2 points in 2004. Married white working class women (62 percent of white working class women) gave Bush a 15 margin in 2000 and more than doubled that margin, to 31 points, in 2004. Since married white working class women are the bulk of this group and had a slightly larger pro-Republican shift, they are responsible for most of the shift toward Bush among white working class women, but their single counterparts clearly made an important contribution as well.

4. But why did these shifts against the Democrats among the white working class occur? That's a topic that deserves a lengthy discussion, but here are some data to ponder from the NEP poll:

Among white working class voters, 66 percent said they trusted Bush to handle terrorism, compared to just 35 percent who said the same about Kerry. That's pretty bad, but check this out: 55 percent of these voters said they trusted Bush to handle the economy and only 39 percent said the same about Kerry. Guess that Kerry message about the economy didn't quite get through to the white working class!

It's also interesting to note that there wasn't much of a difference in these sentiments among men and women in the white working class: 55 percent of white working class women said they trusted Bush to handle the economy and 40 percent said they trusted Kerry, while 56 percent of white working class men said they trusted Bush on the economy and 37 percent said they trusted Kerry.

That's something to ponder. Not only were white working class women alarmed about terrorism, but they were also, in contrast to previous elections, no more likely to find the Democratic economic message compelling than their male counterparts.

February 7, 2005

GOP Pitch for Black Votes Bears Little Fruit

If they gave an award for least comforting argument for Social Security privatization, the slam-dunk winner would be President Bush, for his comment that the lowered life expectancy rate of African Americans in comparison to whites makes privatization an especially good deal for the Black community. The President's pitch, delivered at a meeting with hand picked African American conservatives in late January, was part of a broader GOP effort to win greater support for his agenda.

Despite media reports to the contrary, the GOP's inroads into the black vote have been limited at best, as Chris Bowers explains in an interesting wrap-up over at MyDD. Although Bush did increase his percentage of the black vote from 9 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2004, Bowers points out that John Kerry received 10 million African American votes more than did George Bush. This was a 25 percent increase over Gore's margin, significant because overall voter turnout increased by only 16 percent in 2004. This was the largest margin of African American votes for a presidential candidate in history. In a two-party, head-to-head comparison, Kerry's portion of the Black vote was even higher than Clinton's in '92 and '96. Lastly, and perhaps most encouraging for the 2006 congressional elections, African Americans, along with union members and voters under 30 are the three groups whose partisan self-identification shifted more strongly toward the Democratic Party in the '04 election, according to the National Annenberg Election Survey.

The mainstream media has made much of the opposition of some African American religious leaders to same-sex marriage as a harbinger of increased future support for the Republican agenda among Black voters who hold strong religious convictions. But Bowers also notes that a late January meeting of leaders of 15 million African American Baptists joined together in declaring their opposition to such GOP causes as increased funding for the war in Iraq, the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General and the continuation of recent tax cuts. They also expressed strong support for leading Democratic Party priorities like a higher minimum wage, greater investment in public education and reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. It appears that African American voters will continue to support candidates and policies that respect their interests --- and that's good news for Democrats.

February 5, 2005

Independents and Young People (Not to Mention the General Public) Display Little Enthusiasm for Bush's Social Security Plan

Well, President Bush threw down the gauntlet in his Tuesday State of the Union speech on his plan to privatize Social Security. Ready or not, here he comes!

So far, response to his initiative has been underwhelming and members of his own party are edging away from it, even as Democrats continue to hold firm against it. A good part of the reason may be seen in recent polls which continue to show the proposal performing weakly once its basic provisions are made clear. Republican politicians are understandably nervous about being associated with a loser and Democratic politicians see little reason to defect when public opinion clearly backs them.

Three new polls provide more evidence of just how difficult the public opinion climate is for Bush. The first is a Westhill Partners poll released by The Hotline this week. Among the key findings are the following:

1. Bush receives a 34 percent approval rating on handling Social Security, with 52 percent disapproval. And among independents, his rating is markedly worse: a mere 23 percent approval and 59 percent disapproval.

2. A question on the seriousness of the problems with Social Security yields just 18 percent saying the system needs to be completely rebuilt (12 percent among independents), with 33 percent saying major changes are needed and 43 percent calling for only minor changes.

3. By 61-29 (66-21 among independents), voters say that keeping Social Security as a program with a guaranteed monthly benefit is more important than letting younger workers decide for themselves how some of their Social Security contributions are invested, with varying benefit levels depending on the success of their investments.

4. By 61-24 (66-16 among independents), voters say Bush's November election victory does not mean the American people support his ideas on Social Security.

5. By 54-42 (61-33 among independents), voters say they would not be likely to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in the stock market if they were allowed to do so.

6. By 50-33 (53-25 among independents), voters say they "disapprove of proposals to incorporate personal accounts into the Social Security program". (Interestingly, despite the Republicans' now-religious belief that saying "personal accounts" rather than "private accounts" somehow makes these accounts much more attractive, the half-sample that was asked this same question with private accounts substituted for personal accounts actually had a slightly less disapproving reaction.)

The second poll showing tough sledding for Bush on Social Security was conducted by Roper Public Affairs for AARP, Rock the Vote and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. The poll is particularly useful for showing how soft support for private accounts is among younger adults (18-39). When supporters of private accounts (based on a question that simply describes the accounts and mentions none of the associated costs and tradeoffs) were asked a series of followups, here is what the poll found.

1. Sixty-one percent of the public (53 percent of younger adults) oppose such accounts if stock market fluctuations could result in decreased money in retirement.

2. Sixty-three percent of the public (57 percent of younger adults) oppose such accounts if they mean a lower guaranteed benefit in retirement.

3. Sixty-eight percent of the public (63 percent of younger adults) oppose such accounts mean massive new federal debt in order to pay current benefits.

4. And 69 percent of the public (65 percent of younger adults) oppose private accounts if they would result in cuts for guaranteed benefits for everyone, not just people who choose to have such an account.

5. In addition, 53 percent of younger adults believe private accounts paid for by Social Security money will hurt Social Security, not help it and 75 percent of younger adults agree both that Social Security should be protected as a guaranteed benefit, not privatized and that it isn't fair to saddle our children with additional Social Security debt by taking money out of Social Security for private accounts.

The final poll with bad news for the Bush plan is the new Newsweek poll, conducted entirely after Bush's SOTU address. Here are some of the key findings:

1. Just 12 percent of the public would support cutting Social Security benefits to retirees to keep Social Security financially solvent.

2. In a completely unaided question, that simply refers to "the changes to Social Security proposed by the President", 36 percent say they oppose these changes, compared to 26 percent who favor them.

3. By 44-40, the public doesn't think allowing one-third of the Social Security payroll tax to be diverted into individual savings accounts will result in a better deal for retirees than the current system.

No doubt about it, Bush has quite a sales job on his hands. Unfortunately for him, the more details of his plan that come out, the more the public seems likely to be reminded of what they don't like about it. In other words, as the data above show, his plan is only popular on the level of vague generality--anything specific and the public starts bailing out. That's a tough dynamic for a president--any president--to overcome.

February 4, 2005

What Do the Democrats Stand For?

Last Sunday, I did a post summarizing the new Democracy Corps poll. Since then, Democracy Corps has released an analysis of their poll, "Toward a Democratic Purpose", that is well worth reading. Here are some key excerpts:

[O]n the key dimensions essential for the Democrats’ re-emergence as a dominant national force, the party falls woefully short. As voters compare the parties, they see a Democratic Party without purpose and defining ideas; a party not at all strong (weak politically, without strong leaders and direction); not the go-to party on protecting the country; ambivalent on basic values, like right and wrong and responsibility; and only marginally ahead on advocacy for people, being on their side.

The starting point for all else is the Republicans’ 28-point advantage (55 to 27 percent) on “knowing what they stand for.” In focus groups, participants talk about “there are too many gray issues for Democrats” and “they've got to start standing for something. You can't be all things to all people.” That is re-enforced by a sense that John Kerry was a “flip-flopper,” underscoring the lack of clear direction. “Kerry one day was over here, and then he was over there. Yeah I do think that’s right and no, I didn’t say that,” said one participant. Another said, “He’s the guy that holds up the line at McDonald's.” The collective impression is that Democrats have no strength of conviction or clarity of direction. That reflects the most immediate national election, but also 2002 when Democrats sought the lowest common denominator and failed to challenge the Republicans on taxes, the economy or Iraq. In the regression model, knowing what the parties stand for is one of the top predictors of party ratings....

For all the problems Democrats have on clarity, strength, values and advocacy, they are nonetheless at parity with the Republicans. Imagine if this period brought new clarity, a defining framework and direction, a new unity in challenging the Republicans, greater attention to values and a passionate advocacy for average Americans.

What is striking is how much of the values playing field is contested and up for grabs. Right now, the voters mostly cannot distinguish between the parties on reform and change, opportunity, or improving America and new ideas, though Democrats begin with a small advantage. The parties are indistinguishable on being in touch, trust, being for families, shares your values, the future and ambition to do better.

Some of these should belong decisively to the Democrats. How can the out-of-power Democrats throw out the Republicans when Democrats have almost no advantage on change and reform? Given their history, how can the Democrats not own the value, opportunity? How can the pro-business and pro-wealthy Republicans be tied on being in touch? And after the decade of the nineties and the uneven growth in Bush’s first term, how can the Republicans have a decided advantage on prosperity? But after the culture war waged by the Republicans, how can they have no advantage on shares your values, trustworthy, and being for families?

The party that figures out these paradoxes will tilt the playing field decisively.

Exactly. Time to get to work.

New Blog on the Block!

The Center for American Progress, an institution I am (ahem) close to, has a new blog, Think Progress. It is really quite excellent: well-written, informative and handsomely-formatted. Check it out.

Ho-Ho Has the Last Laugh

It looks all but certain that Howard Dean will be the next chair of the DNC. But what does it all mean? Some of the press persist in seeing his apparently successful candidacy as a victory for the party's liberals. But that's not really what it's about at all. Ryan Lizze of TNR has by far the best piece explaining the significance of Dean's triumph. Here's the conclusion of his article:

Dean's apparent victory--aides to Roemer and Fowler insist they'll stay in the race, but the rest of the field had dropped out or had plans to drop out by the time The New Republic went to press--proves that a process he sparked in the primaries hasn't faded. Back then, he splintered the party roughly into a reform wing and an establishment wing. That divide was only temporarily papered over during the general election. In his plan for the DNC, Dean declares that he will "make Democrats the party of reform," and reform happens to be a hot word among Democrats these days. The emboldened DNC members talk about reform when they call for Washington Democrats to cede power and help rebuild their state parties. In the pro-Dean blogosphere, the coolest thing to do is to declare oneself "a reform Democrat." What the Deaniacs mean by that is anyone's guess, but they speak in apocalyptic terms. "We need revolution. We need total upheaval," Joyce Nowak, a 60-year-old MyDD blogger told me at one DNC meeting. Chris Bowers, another MyDD blogger, declared, "I can barely believe it. It looks like we finally won something. Outside becomes inside."

But reform is also the new buzzword in the party's idea factories and among its elite as well. Much of the Democratic Leadership Council's recent advice for the party is to retake the mantle of political reform from Republicans using issues like redistricting, ethics, and electoral reform. Similarly, Carville tells anyone who will listen that Democrats must embrace the label of reform. But they are not talking about party-wide revolution. (Carville, after all, was appalled by the open process of the DNC chair's race.) They are talking about issues Democrats can use to defeat Republicans. Dean's first hurdle as chairman will be to erase the cartoon image of him that is seared into the minds of most Americans. But, beyond that monumental task, Dean will somehow have to mend the insider-outsider cleavage in the Democratic Party, a cleavage that he, perhaps more than anyone else, is responsible for creating--and which finally brought him to power.

We shall see if Dean is up to the task.

February 2, 2005

2004 NEP Exit Poll Data Now Available!

I have been critical of Edison/Mitofsky (E/M) for a number of things connected with the 2004 NEP exit poll, but I can't criticize them for not making their datasets easily available. They have allowed the University of Michigan's Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) to make all their data immediately available with full documentation as part of ICPSR's FastTrack data program. That you means that you, Jane and John Q. Public, can now download each and every state dataset, as well as the national dataset, with copious accompanying documentation, simply by visiting this FTP file directory set up by ICPSR. Once downloaded, you can then fool around with them to your heart's content. Have you been wondering how working class whites nationally or in Ohio (or any other state) voted in 2004? Now you can find out.

Here are a few things to note about these data, before you follow the link to the FTP site and start downloading.

1. If you are expecting to find multiple weight variables that will allow you to recreate the exit poll data as it looked in various stages of the data collection and weighting process (so that, for example, you could create datasets that would match up to the crosstabs published on the New Zealand website, Scoop), you will be disappointed. There is one and only one weighting variable provided that incorporates all the various sequential adjustments to the data--for non-response bias, for oversampling, for changing turnout patterrns and, of course, to match the final reported election outcome. Therefore, these data will not allow you to replicate and pick apart the adjustments made to the data at different times on and shortly after election day.

2. To really get much out of these data, you need to have and know how to use a statistical package such as SPSS. Then you can take the datafiles and analyze them in much more detail than has been made available in crosstabular form on the web and in newspapers. For those who use SPSS, things are particularly easy since E/M provides fully-labelled and documented SPSS files for all states and nationally that are ready to go with no data preparation steps necessary.

But if you don't use SPSS or something similar, there's not much here for you beyond the set of final crosstabs that E/M provided to the NEP and clients. These crosstabs have already been widely circulated on the web and provide no new information.

3. In the _ALL directory, E/M provide a datafile that combines the data from all 51 state surveys and even includes a weight that adjusts each survey to represent the portion of the vote cast by each state. Nice! That means you can easily use this combined datafile to create alternative estimates to those generated by national datafile. Speaking as someone who has manually combined state datafiles to make an aggregated file in the past, I particularly appreciate this feature.

4. Documentation for the state datafiles is an improvement over past releases of exit poll data. For example, a map is provided for each state that shows the counties included in each region or "geocode" sampled within that state. And coding for all variables is clearly and thoroughly explained.

So hats off to E/M for providing easy and user-friendly access to their data. I know some will not be satisfied with the release of these data (for example, because of the provision of only one weight variable) and I myself still have many questions about how the polls were conducted and how and why the now-notorious problems with these polls arose. But let's give credit where credit's due: E/M and the NEP are providing a valuable resource about the 2004 election for free to all who are interested. Let's go out there and use it.