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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.