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April 30, 2005

Oh Sure, Telling People You Want to Cut Their Benefits Will Certainly Turn These Numbers Around

A little bit before Bush told everyone that, yes indeed, he did want to cut their guaranteed Social Security benefits, Americans United to Protect Social Security released a Hart Research poll that showed how little progress--negative progress--his 60 day tour to promote privatization had made. How anyone could look at these and similar data and conclude that Bush can turn things around by specifying how much he wants to cut benefits is beyond me.

Here are the key findings from the Hart Research poll:

1. Bush's approval rating on handling Social Security is now 32 percent, down from 43 percent on February 6.

2. In January, voters opposed Bush's Social Security proposals by 46-39; today, they oppose them 52-41.

3. The more voters hear about Bush's Social Security plan, the less (52 percent), rather than more (27 percent), they like it.

4. By 43-19, voters say that, if their Congressional representative voted for Bush's plan, it would make them less likely, not more likely, to vote for them in the next election.

5. By 51-34, voters believe Bush's plan would make the Social Security system weaker.

6. By 58-26, they believe Bush has been misleading about his plan, rather than providing a full and accurate description.

7. By 58-32, voters say Democrats are raising legitimate concerns about Bush's plan, rather than engaging in unfair political attacks.

8. Only 18 percent believe Bush's plan would mean higher overall Social Security benefits.

9. In January, voters thought Congress should develop a new plan (64 percent), rather than pass the Bush plan (20 percent). Today, they believe the same thing by a bigger margin: 73-16.

10. By 82-16, voters say Congress should wait on changing Social Security and educate the public, rather than make it a priority to change the system this year.

Sounds like good advice. We'll see if Congress and, especially, George "I'm going to cut your benefits" Bush take it.

April 29, 2005

Does Bush's Sinking Popularity Matter?

That question is explored in depth in an excellent new article by Farhad Manjoo in Salon. Here's an excerpt, but the whole article is worth reading:

Bush's second-term agenda was so unapologetically bold -- he wanted to privatize Social Security, flatten federal taxes, remake the courts and, on the side, democratize the world -- it bordered on the revolutionary. In November, as liberals were sunk in the delirium of defeat, their in boxes buzzing with comic maps dividing North America into the United States of Canada and Jesusland, it seemed that nothing could rein the Republican president in.

Six months later, Bush is the dog that didn't bite. He approaches the end of the first 100 days of his second term with approval ratings that fall below those of all other reelected presidents in the modern era. Americans aren't happy with the direction in which the country is heading. They don't like the economy, and they don't like the war. They also don't like Bush's plans for the nation. If it isn't already dead, Bush's signature domestic-policy effort, the plan to privatize Social Security, is in a persistent vegetative state; hated by Democrats, independents and even Republicans, only divine intervention can save it.

Now the question is whether Bush's sinking popularity -- and his desire to stick with the unpopular Social Security plan -- will hurt the Republican Party's agenda over the next two years and beyond. The GOP continues to advocate world-changing plans. Conservatives want to amend the Constitution, alter the Senate's rules on judicial nominees, and disrupt long-standing fiscal, environmental, global and social norms. At the same time, Bush looks boxed in. There's no money in the federal till to implement his tax cuts. The military's stretched too thin for him to invade another country (such as Iran). And the federal courts are holding his social agenda in check.

Some key Republicans are beginning to balk at Bush's extremism. On questions involving the Social Security plan, or the details of the federal budget, or the confirmation of Bush's nominees, a few moderate Republicans have begun to go against White House plans. If the American public continues to turn away from Bush, political strategists say, it's only logical to expect more defections from their Republican representatives on Capitol Hill.

Economic Pessimism Continues to Grow

New Gallup data show that the public's negative views about the economy are only becoming more negative. Here's the lead paragraph from their report on these data:

The latest Gallup survey finds Americans to be the most pessimistic they have been in two years about where the economy is headed. Today, 61% say the economy is getting worse, while just 31% say better -- a net negative 30 percentage points. That is the worst rating since early March 2003 -- just prior to the beginning of the war in Iraq -- when Americans gave the economy a net negative rating of 44 points, with 67% saying the economy was getting worse and only 23% saying better.

The data in the report also show that independents are particularly pessimistic about economic conditions. Among independents, 78 percent say the economic conditions are only fair or poor, compared to 68 percent among the public as a whole. And independents believe by an incredible 69-22 margin--a net negative 47 points--that the economy is getting worse rather than better.

More raw material for the "revolt of the middle".

April 27, 2005

Revolt of the Middle?

In E.J. Dionne's column yesterday, "Revolt of the Middle", he remarked:

...[S]omething important has happened since President Bush's inauguration. America's moderates may not be screaming, but they're in revolt. Many who reluctantly supported the president and the Republicans in 2004 are turning away. The party's agenda on Social Security, judges and the Terri Schiavo case is out of touch with where moderate voters stand. Worse for Bush and his party, most moderates have a practical, problem-solving view of government and think these issues are far less important than shoring up a shaky economy and improving living standards.

The moderates have rebelled before. This period in American politics is beginning to take on the contours of the years leading up to the 1992 election. That's when Ross Perot led an uprising of the angry middle and Bill Clinton waged war on the "brain-dead politics of both parties." Bush's decision to read the 2004 election as a broad mandate for whatever policies he chose to put forward now looks like a major mistake. In fact, Bush won narrowly in 2004, and he won almost entirely because just enough middle-of-the-road voters decided they trusted him more than they did John Kerry to deal with terrorism.

That seems entirely correct to me. Bush is losing the center of American politics which, as Alan Abramowitz points out in his post on "The New Independent Voter", leans Democratic to begin with. Bush's actions seem designed to accentuate those leanings, rather than counter them, and have contributed mightily to his declining political fortunes.

The new Washington Post/ABC News (WP/ABC) poll provides exceptionally clear evidence of these declining fortunes. Bush's approval rating is now 47 percent approval/50 percent disapproval, as low as it's even been in this poll. His ratings on the economy and Iraq are, respectively, 40/56 (his second-lowest ever) and 42/57. On energy policy, his rating is 35/54. And on Social Security, his approval rating has sunk to 31/64, by far his worst rating ever.

Other results in the poll underscore how Bush is losing the political fight on Social Security. The WP/ABC poll has asked the following question since 2000:

Would you support or oppose a plan in which people who chose to could invest some of their Social Security contributions in the stock market?

Note how the question does not mention any tradeoffs and does not associate the plan with Bush--both of which tend to depress support for privatization. Indeed, this question has about as favorable a wording for privatization as you are likely to see and has never returned a negative response....until now. But now it yields 51-45 opposition. And when combined with a followup to supporters on whether they would suppport the plan if it "reduced the rate of growth of guaranteed Social Security benefits for future retirees", opposition skies to an overwhelming 70 percent.

On who the public trusts to do a better job on Social Security, less than a third (32 percent) now say they trust Bush, compared to half who pick the Democrats in Congress. That 18 point gap in trust is by far Bush's worst performance ever on this indicator.

On Iraq, the public continues to regard the situation with little enthusiasm. By 54-44, they say the war was not worth fighting and, by 58-39, they say the US is bogged down in Iraq.

As for the current brouhaha on ending the filibuster for judicial nominees, the public is overwhelmingly opposed (66-26) to "changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush's judicial appointments." That includes 80 percent opposition among Democrats and 70 percent opposition among independents, demonstrating once again how the GOP's actions are activating the political center against them.

The poll also demonstrates that Bush and the GOP are not faring well on the values front, supposedly a critical underpinning of their hold on power. Consider these data from the poll:

1. By 63-28, the public supports embryonic stem cell research.

2. By 56-40, the public supports some legal recognition of gay relationships and, by 56-39, they oppose a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, preferring that states make their own laws on gay marriage.

3. By 56-42, the public says abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

4. By 51-47, the public thinks Bush does not share their values and, by 58-40, believes Bush does not "understand the problems of people like you".

5. And how about this one: by 47-38, the public says that Democrats, not Republicans, better represent their own personal values.

6. Does the public actually believe political leaders should rely on their religious beliefs in making policy decisions? No: by 57-40, they reject that proposition, including by 65-27 among Democrats, by 59-38 among independents and by 58-36 among moderates--once again showing how today's political center leans very close to the Democrats. Along the same lines, independents (46 percent) and moderates (45 percent) are almost as likely as Democrats (52 percent) to think religious conservatives have too much influence over the Republican party.

The center is there for the taking. When these voters lean Democratic to begin with and are edging close to outright revolt against the way Republicans are currently running the country, Democrats would be foolish to ignore this opportunity. Mobilization is great, but without the center it's defeatable. With the center, it's not. Need I say more?

Liberals Clueless on Class?

Thomas "What's the Matter With Kansas?" Frank has an interesting article on liberal-bashing in the current issue of the New York Review of Books. In "What's the Matter With Liberals?" Frank illuminates the ways Republicans set liberals up and liberals eagerly cooperate to reveal their cluelessness on class, thereby alienating millions of working people. For example, notes Frank:

Conservatives generally regard class as an unacceptable topic when the subject is economics—trade, deregulation, shifting the tax burden, expressing worshipful awe for the microchip, etc. But define politics as culture, and class instantly becomes for them the very blood and bone of public discourse. Indeed, from George Wallace to George W. Bush, a class-based backlash against the perceived arrogance of liberalism has been one of their most powerful weapons. Workerist in its rhetoric but royalist in its economic effects, this backlash is in no way embarrassed by its contradictions. It understands itself as an uprising of the little people even when its leaders, in control of all three branches of government, cut taxes on stock dividends and turn the screws on the bankrupt. It mobilizes angry voters by the millions, despite the patent unwinnability of many of its crusades. And from the busing riots of the Seventies to the culture wars of our own time, the backlash has been ignored, downplayed, or misunderstood by liberals.

Frank mines this vein better than anyone, and the article is well-worth a read, particularly for Democratic candidates and campaign workers. He doesn't discuss solutions, though, and the piece ends up as sort of a lamentation. Also it should be said that there are millions of self-identified liberals who don't hang out in Starbucks or generally act the fool about social class. Finally, to put it all in perspective, Kerry lost to a wartime incumbent by less than 2.5 percent, hardly cause for despair about the Dems' future, especially considering Bush's dismal poll numbers of late and current legislative prospects.

April 26, 2005

The New Independent Voter

By Alan Abramowitz

The distribution of party identification in the electorate is one of the most important factors influencing the outcomes of elections during any political era. From the 1930s through the 1980s, the Democratic Party enjoyed a substantial advantage over the Republican Party in voter loyalties. Since the 1980s, however, the Republican Party has made substantial gains in voter loyalty in the U.S. At present, the American electorate is almost evenly divided in its partisan loyalties: in the 2004 American National Election Study (ANES), 32 percent of American adults identified with the Democratic Party while 29 percent identified with the Republican Party. The 3 point Democratic advantage in party identification was the smallest in the 52 year history of the ANES.

The erosion of the traditional Democratic advantage in party identification over the past quarter century has contributed to Republican gains in national, state, and local elections. Despite the dramatic Republican gains in party identification, however, Democratic candidates have won a plurality of the popular vote in 3 of the past 4 presidential elections. Even in 2004, a Republican incumbent governing in a time of war won a surprisingly narrow victory over a Democratic challenger widely viewed as too liberal and too elitist by a large proportion of the electorate.

In order to explain the strong performance of Democratic presidential candidates in recent elections, one has to consider two other aspects of the recent realignment of voter loyalties in the United States: the increased loyalty of Democratic identifiers and the transformation of the independent voter.

Republican gains in party identification have been achieved largely among former conservative Democrats in the southern and border states. But these conservative Democrats were the least loyal Democratic voters, especially in presidential elections. As a result of their departure, the Democratic Party is now much more unified than in the past. Between 1952 and 1988, Democratic presidential candidates received an average of only 78 percent of the major party vote among Democratic identifiers. In contrast, during the same era Republican presidential candidates received an average of 91 percent of the major party vote among Republican identifiers. In the four presidential elections since 1988, however, Democratic presidential candidates have received an average of 93 percent of the major party vote among Democratic identifiers—even better than the average 91 percent support of Republican presidential candidates by Republican identifiers in these four elections.

The increased loyalty of Democratic identifiers is only part of the explanation for the strong performance of Democratic candidates in recent presidential elections, however. Just as important has been a dramatic change in the behavior of independent voters. Independent voters now comprise the largest segment of the American electorate. According to the ANES, independents made up 38 percent of entire electorate in 2004 and 33 percent of the actual voters. And these independent voters preferred John Kerry to George Bush by a decisive 58 to 42 percent margin. In the 2004 national exit poll, independents also favored Kerry over Bush, although by a smaller 51 to 49 percent margin.

Whether one accepts the ANES estimate of 58 percent or the exit poll estimate of 51 percent, the level of independent support for John Kerry in 2004 represented a dramatic turnaround from the traditional voting tendencies of independent identifiers. According to ANES data, in the 10 presidential elections between 1952 and 1988, Democratic candidates received an average of just 40 percent of the major party vote among independent identifiers. In the four presidential elections since 1988, however, Democratic candidates have received an average of 55 percent of the major party vote among independent identifiers.

The recent trend in presidential voting among independents is consistent with another trend in this group. Political scientists have long recognized that most independent identifiers are not totally neutral toward the two major parties. The large majority of independents lean toward one party or the other, and these leaning independents vote overwhelmingly for the party that they lean toward. In 2004, for example, according to the ANES, 88 percent of independent Democrats voted for John Kerry while 85 percent of independent Republicans voted for George Bush.

In 2004, 45 percent of independents expressed a preference for the Democratic Party while only 30 percent expressed a preference for the Republican Party. This 15 point Democratic advantage among independent identifiers was the second largest in the history of the ANES, topped only by a 16 point Democratic advantage in 1964, the year of the largest Democratic presidential landslide of the modern era. As recently as 1984 and 1988, leaning Republicans outnumbered leaning Democrats.

Why do a plurality of independent voters lean toward the Democratic Party? The answer appears to be that the social and political beliefs of independent identifiers are much closer to those of Democratic identifiers than to those of Republican identifiers. On the issue of abortion, for example, 58 percent of independents and 59 percent of Democrats in the 2004 ANES came down on the pro-choice side compared with 44 percent of Republicans. Similarly 41 percent of independents and 42 percent of Democrats supported gay marriage (no civil union option was offered in the NES survey) compared with only 17 percent of Republicans. On health insurance, 60 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents favored a larger government role compared with only 26 percent of Republicans, and on foreign policy, only 24 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of independents favored greater reliance on military force compared with 61 percent of Republicans.

Independents’ views of President Bush’s performance were also much more similar to those of Democrats than to those of Republicans. Only 11 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of independents approved of President Bush’s handling of the economy compared with 82 percent of Republicans and only 12 percent of Democrats and 37 percent of independents approved of Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq compared with 85 percent of Republicans.

The growing influence of the religious right is another factor that appears to be alienating many independent voters from the Republican Party. In fact, independent voters are less religious than either Democrats or Republicans: 56 percent of independent identifiers in the 2004 ANES indicated that they seldom or never attend religious services compared with 50 percent of Democratic identifiers and 42 percent of Republican identifiers.

These results suggest that the strong showing of Democratic candidates among independent voters in recent presidential elections reflected beliefs that are not likely to change in the short run. If anything, the policies pursued by the Bush Administration and its allies in the House and Senate since the 2004 election could further alienate independent voters. However, Democratic candidates need to do a better job of appealing to these independent voters in House and Senate as well as presidential elections. Focusing on issues on which Democrats and independents agree with each other and disagree with Republicans could help Democrats to make solid gains in the 2006 midterm elections.

April 25, 2005

Strategy Notes:
John Belisarius

The Appalling Elitism behind the Pharmacists' "Right of Conscience" Campaign

The current debate regarding whether individual pharmacists should have a "right of conscience" to refuse to sell birth control medications has been almost entirely composed of either straightforward arguments in support or opposition to the proposed "right" or the discussion of some compromise position that attempts to bridge the gap between customers' rights to buy legally prescribed medication and pharmacists' personal ethical views.

Yet, when one steps back for a moment to look beyond these limited terms of debate, an extraordinary fact quickly becomes apparent -- the proposed extensions of earlier "conscience" laws to cover pharmacists are profoundly and, in fact, grotesquely elitist. They actually propose nothing less then endowing a small group of Americans with a special class of new legal rights and privileges regarding moral/religious issues -- based essentially on their education -- while denying those same rights to everyone else. As a result, the proposed laws are not only basically unconstitutional in intent but also un-American in spirit and contrary to the egalitarian tenets of sincere Christian faith.

To see why this is so, it is only necessary to compare the proposed extension of the "right of conscience" to pharmacists with the purpose of the original "conscience" laws which were designed with doctors and operating room nurses in mind. It was not because doctors or nurses had advanced medical education or knowledge that special provisions were enacted for them, but because the nature of their work might obligate them to personally perform medical procedures they considered immoral, such as abortions or sterilizations, or to personally prescribe and administer abortion-inducing drugs. Granting a doctor or nurse with moral objections to these procedures the legal right to refuse to personally perform them was, as Ellen Goodman noted in a Boston Globe column, both "common decency" and "common sense".

Pharmacists in contrast, do not personally select medications, prescribe them or administer them. They dispense them in accordance with a doctor's instructions. Drug store pharmacists may have more specialized education and greater responsibilities then other retail salespeople, but when they package and sell a customer a product they personally consider ethically objectionable their individual moral involvement and responsibility - which is what we are talking about here -- is in absolutely no way greater or more direct then that of a ordinary convenience store cashier who sells condoms of which he or she morally disapproves or a supermarket, gas station or 7-11 cashier who sells cigarettes that he or she personally considers addictive and poisonous and therefore deeply immoral on ethical and religious grounds.

This is not an abstract issue. There are tens of thousands of retail sales workers who have lost husbands, wives and parents to lung cancer and who are deeply and sincerely disturbed and saddened every single day of their working lives by the moral implications of selling a product whose destructive long-term effects they know all too well. They feel serious moral guilt about selling cigarettes, but do it simply because it is part of their job.

Thus, any proposed individual "right of conscience" for retail sales employees cannot fairly or reasonably be limited to only the men and women behind the pharmacy counter. The people operating the cash register in the drug store may have less formal education then pharmacists and asking for age ID may be less complex then reviewing dosages and double-checking for allergies or incompatible drugs, but as human beings with personal moral and ethical standards, the cashier and the pharmacist are exactly and precisely equal and any new legal rights of conscience extended to one cannot properly be denied the other without violating the fundamental principle of every Americans' right to equality before the law.

In order to disguise this uncomfortable fact -- one which clearly makes the proposed laws constitutionally flawed -- the conservative activists managing the current campaign have resorted to elitist arguments that express a snobbery and contempt for ordinary Americans that can only be described as appalling.

Here, for example, is a statement published in USA Today by the legal council to the Health Care Right of Conscience Project of the Center for Law and Religious Freedom:

Forcing pharmacists to function like supermarket cashiers .will result only in fewer pharmacists for everyone as bright and talented young people decide against entering a profession that treats them like automated medicine dispensers.

And here is the conclusion of a letter published in the New York Times from a pastor of a church who is also the chief executive of a Pharmacy chain:

The last time I checked my license, the Commonwealth of Virginia stated that I am a professional. That means I have choices.

And a spokesperson for the American Pharmacists Association, (which is trying to find a compromise solution to this issue), admits that

Some people seem to say that a pharmacist is nothing more then a garbage man, and that's not what the average pharmacist wants to hear.

It is difficult to imagine more blatant and arrogant expressions of snobbish class elitism. "Bright" and "talented" pharmacists - "professionals", after all, not just "garbage men" -- have highly developed moral and ethical consciences regarding the products they sell and therefore deserve special legal rights of conscience. The illiterate morons who work at the cash register, on the other hand, aren't smart enough or good enough to deserve such special consideration.

This is so unfair, so un-American and indeed so contrary to the ethics of most sincere Christians as to be literally repulsive - and its time for the honest participants in this debate to start saying so. Either every single American retail employee who sells products to the public deserves to have a newly created "Right of Conscience" guaranteed by law or else we need to agree that existing laws covering the rights of retail employees, including retail pharmacists as well as cashiers, are appropriate as they are.

This is America. In this country we don't pass laws that say that pharmacists are more valuable and worthy as moral human beings then cashiers.

The West is the Best...

...Hope for Democrats, that is, according to an editorial in today's Los Angeles Times, "A Blue Tinge in the West". Adding to reports that Democrats are surging in western states (see our recent posts "How the Wast Was Won" and "Go West Young Dem" below), the Times notes that:

The social conservatism that keeps the South red may not be enough for the West. Old-fashioned individual liberty and Democratic populism are getting a hearing. The national Democratic Party seems interested, but unsure how to get to the new rodeo...

The West, once ignored for its paltry populations, has bulked up as the blue states of the Northeast and Midwest lose residents. Latinos with potential Democratic loyalties are moving in. So are retirees from Democratic states, especially California.

The political factors are many. Nevada is at war with the federal government over the proposed nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain. Environmentalism, once sneered at in the spacious, resource-rich West, is gaining a foothold as tourism and adventure sports gain economic importance. Winning candidates have brought fiscal conservatism, pragmatism and workable ideas to the job, generally leaving ideological baggage behind.

The Times editorial offers further clues about the kinds of policies that Dems have ridden to success:

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a native farm boy and former U.S. attorney who took office in 2003, persuaded an initially balky Republican Legislature to spend some of this year's $1-billion budget surplus from mineral and energy industry tax revenues instead of socking it all away. The state boosted spending on highways, a wildlife habitat trust fund, bonuses for teachers and community college scholarships.

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico has won tax cuts, incentives for new jobs and rapport with business interests. Richardson, whose mother is Mexican, appointed two Republicans to his Cabinet along with Indians and Latinos. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano is strong enough that top Republicans are declining to run against her next year.

The editorial suggests that Dems can build on their beachhead in the west by protecting civil liberties and emphasizing privacy issues, such as the GOP's disastrous handling of Terri Schiavo's ordeal, that will "resonate with the hands-off individualism of the mountains and deserts."

April 24, 2005

A Crisis of Confidence?

That's how the new DCorps memo, based on their latest poll, describes voters' views on the Republican direction for the country. The following data from the poll buttress their interpretation:

1. Just 34 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction, down 7 points in the last month and at the lowest point of Bush's presidency (and all of the DCorps' polling since 1999).

2. In terms of Bush's direction for the country, only 41 percent now say they want to continue in his direction, compared to 55 percent who say they want to go in a significantly different direction--again, the lowest point on this indicator of his presidency.

3. In terms of particular issue areas, voters feel the country is going in the wrong direction, rather than right direction, on the federal budget deficit by 57 points, on health care by 39 points, on the economy by 17 points, on education by 14 points and on middle class living standards by 14 points.

4. In terms of Bush's Social Security proposal, voters are adamantly opposed. As the DCorps report notes:

....[S]upport for the president’s Social Security initiative has collapsed. The more voters hear during the president’s 60-day campaign to educate the country, the less they like it. Today, just 34 percent support the idea of Bush’s Social Security reform – down to its lowest point. Opposition is up 8 points in a month, now at 58 percent.....[A]fter a brief period of assessing...private account[s], the country is determined to put a knife in this idea. In the last month, opposition [to private accounts specifically] has jumped to 60 percent, up 9 points, and half the country is strongly opposed. This idea is as dead with the public as anything the administration has offered.

5. In terms of which party would do a better job, Democrats now hold a 22 point advantage on retirement and Social Security, a 19 point advantage on middle class living standards and a 9 point advantage on the economy.

6. On party associations, Democrats hold a 31 point advantage on being for people, rather than special interests, a 22 point advantage on being for the middle class, a 21 point advantage on cares about people, a 19 point advantage on putting the public interest first, a 12 point advantage on protecting personal liberties, a 12 point advantage on being on your side, a 9 point advantage on being in touch and a 6 point advantage on reform and change.

7. Finally, in terms of the generic Congressional ballot, Democrats lead the GOP by 5 points (47-42), including an 18 point advantage among independents (43-25) and a 26 point advantage among moderates (57-31).

Great stuff! The problem, of course, is to translate this obvious disenchantment with the GOP and these emerging Democratic advantages into real political gains for the party in 2006 and beyond. I'll turn my attention to this question shortly.

April 23, 2005

Energy and the Environment? Now That You Mention It, He's Doing a Bad Job There, Too

On Earth Day, Gallup released some data on the public's view of Bush's environmental record. Not surprisingly, it's pretty negative.

On protecting the environment, half now say he's doing a poor job, compared to just 39 percent who say he's doing a good job. That's down from 51 percent who thought he was doing a good job at the beginning of his first presidential term.

And on improving energy policy, his rating is even worse: only 32 percent think he's doing a good job in that area, 26 points down from the 58 percent who thought so at the beginning of his first term.

As for whether progress is being made on the environment, the public is quite pessimistic. Right now, 63 percent say it is getting worse, more than twice the number who think it is getting better (29 percent).

The poll also shows that the public prefers a generally activist approach to improving the environment. As Gallup's report on the poll notes:

....When asked if they "think the U.S. government is doing too much, too little, or about the right amount in terms of protecting the environment" a clear majority of Americans (58%) say "too little" and only a small minority (5%) say "too much." These figures represent the highest ratio of "too little" to "too much" observed since 1992, and a continuing increase in support for governmental action since a low point in March 2003 when 51% held this view.

Such results demonstrate that the vast majority of Americans do not want to see a reduction in the government's environmental protection efforts (as 92% respond that it is doing "too little" or "about the right amount").

Similarly, Americans continue to favor the environment when asked to choose between environmental protection and economic growth. After dipping slightly below 50% last year, a majority (53%) once again says that protection of the environment should be given priority, when environmental protection conflicts with economic growth.

Ipsos-AP have released new data specifically on energy problems and how well Bush is handling them. The verdict: not well at all.

In the poll, exactly twice as many (62 percent) say Bush is not handling the nation's energy problems effectively as say he is (31 percent). The poll also finds 88 percent saying that the higher gas prices affect them personally either a lot (55 percent) or some (33 percent) and 51 percent saying that gas price increases will cause them financial hardship in the next six month, including 30 percent who describe the hardship as "serious".

In terms of specific actions due to increased energy prices, 60 percent say they've turned down the heat or air conditioning in their home, 58 percent have reduced the amount of driving they do and 57 percent have cut back on other expenses.

Energy and the environment: two more areas where the public is apparently starting to run out of patience with the Bush administration's failures.

April 21, 2005

The Case of Pennsylvania

It is easy to show how boneheaded actions and poor performance in areas from Social Security and Terri Schiavo to the economy and Tom DeLay are dragging down Bush's popularity and that of his party. But the key question from now through the 2006 election will be the extent to which that unpopularity spreads to the GOP's Congressional candidates and drags down their electoral fortunes.

Which brings us to the very interesting case of Pennsylvania. Based on a new Quinnipiac University poll, it appears that in this state Republican Senator Rick Santorum, up for re-election in 2006, is definitely being hurt by his association with unpopular GOP initiatives. As Clay Richards, assistant director of the poll, notes:

The numbers show clearly that Sen. Santorum has lost ground in his re-election bid over the last two months. The Senator has come under strong criticism for his outspoken involvement in the Schiavo case and his campaigning for President Bush's unpopular Social Security proposal.

Let's take a look at some of the data from the poll.

1. Santorum's approval rating is down to 48 percent approval/35 percent disapproval (40/40 among independents), only the second time his rating has been below 50 percent. Bush's approval rating in the state is down to 43 percent, with 55 percent disapproval (37/60 among independents), his second worst rating ever.

2. Santorum's re-elect number has slipped to 44 percent, 9 points down from February's 53 percent. And he now loses to Democrat Bob Casey in a Senate horse race question by 49-35, a contest that was only 46-41 in February. Santorum gets thumped, 52-28 among independents, loses 62-28 in the Philadelphia area and loses every other area of the state (except the central area) by at least 11 points.

3. Bush's proposal to change Social Security "to allow people to invest some of their Social Security taxes in stocks and bonds" is opposed 55-37 by Pennsylvania voters (59-31 among independents.

4. By 38-15 (41-11 among independents), Pennsylvania voters say Santorum's advocacy of Bush's proposal makes them less likely not more likely to vote for him. And by 34-14 (41-11 among independents), Pennsylvania voters say Santorum's role in urging Congress to intervene in the Schiavo case makes them less likely not more likely to vote for him.

Sounds like Santorum's loyal service to the Bush machine is starting to backfire on him! And that's got to make Bob Casey--and Democrats everywhere who want to take back Congress--very happy indeed.

How Low Can He Go?

Who knows? But two new polls suggest he hasn't hit the floor yet.

The new CBS News poll has some truly cringe-inducing findings for the Bush administration. On the classic right direction/wrong track question, just 32 percent say the nation is going in the right direction, compared to 62 percent who say it is off on the wrong track. That's a net negative of 30 points on this question, a swing of 20 points from February's rating in this poll, when it was "only" 10 points net negative (42/52 right direction/wrong track).

Moreover, this question generates an astonishingly negative response among independents: 26 percent percent right direction/67 percent wrong track. Wow!

Bush's overall approval/disapproval is now 44/51 (-7), compared to 43/48 (-5) in March. His approval rating on Iraq is now 39/56 (-17), down from 39/53 (-14) in February. His economic approval is down to 34/57 from 36/53 in March. And even his rating on handling the campaign against terrorism has sunk to 53/41, from 61/33 in February.

Bush's approval ratings among independents are all substantially lower than even the anemic figures cited above: 36/56 overall; 35/59 on Iraq, 29/60 on the economy (!); and 50/41 on the campaign against terrorism.

And how about this one: are you confident or uneasy about Bush's ability to make the right decisions about Social Security? That question returned a crushingly negative 70 percent uneasy/25 percent confident response.

Perhaps reflecting which way the wind is now blowing, Democrats in Congress in this poll now get a better favorability rating (49 percent favorable/40 percent unfavorable) than their Republican counterparts (42/49, including 34/50 among independents). That's a switch from public polls earlier in the year had been showing.

The new ARG poll provides similarly sobering news for the White House. The poll has Bush's overall approval rating at 44/50 and his economic approval rating at 38/56--the latter rating the worst rating he has received going back to April, 2004 (the ARG release does not provide any data earlier than that date).

The poll also shows an exceptional level of economic pessimism. In terms of whether the national economy is getting worse or better, 53 percent say it is getting worse, 25 percent say it is getter better and 21 percent say it is staying the same. The 53 percent figure is the most negative figure recorded going back to last April. Moreover, when asked where the economy will be in a year, an amazing 44 percent say it will be worse than today, compared to 27 percent better and 25 percent the same. That 44 percent figure compares to just 2 percent last April who thought conditions in a year would be worse.

More evidence that economic pessimism is running rampant is provided in article today in the Washington Post, "Economic Worries Aren't Resonating on the Hill". That article cites just-released WP/ABC News Consumer Comfort survey data showing that almost half (48 percent) now think the economy is getting worse, compared to just 14 percent who think it is getting better. That's the most negative reading on this question in two years of monthly polls.

Can Bush go lower? On this evidence, I'd have to say yes. How much lower? Don't know, but the way things are going, it could be considerably lower. Stay tuned.

Cookie-Jar Republicans Give Dems Edge

Christopher Hayes's article "Corruption -- A Proven Winner" in the May 2nd issue of The Nation (though not yet available through their website) makes a strong case that corruption and ethics are powerful issues for Democratic candidates. Hayes, a contributing editor to In These Times, shows how the corruption issue was skillfully addressed by Democratic candidates to turn Illinois into a solid blue state in a relatively short time. As Hayes explains:

For much of the twentieth century, Illinois was the quintessential swing state, the Ohio of its day. Its state government tilted toward moderate Republicans. It voted for the winner in the presidential election twenty-one of twenty-four times in the twentieth century through 1996, going for Reagan in 1980 and 1984, George Bush I in 1988 and Clinton in 1992 and 1996. The rock-ribbed Republican suburban "collar" counties around Chicago canceled out the heavily Democratic city, leaving the fate of statewide elections to the fiercely independent voters downstate. Now the state looks like a Democratic lock--Gore and Kerry both won it by double-digit margins--and in these dark days you've got to wonder, How did this happen? And are there any lessons to be gleaned for Democrats elsewhere?

Hayes acknowledges the important role of demographic change in producing the Dems Illinois miracle:

Local observers use the term "perfect storm" to describe the confluence of disparate factors that has produced such a true-blue state, but it's clear that demographic changes account for much of the transformation. Over the past decade, both Chicago and its surrounding suburbs have been getting progressively more Democratic as a result of the widespread migration of black and Latino families into the collar counties, an influx of immigrants and the rightward tilt of the national GOP on social issues, which has alienated many suburban moderates. Also, as John Judis and Ruy Teixeira argue in their book The Emerging Democratic Majority, the transition of the regional economy from manufacturing to service and technology has brought with it a substantial number of professionals with graduate degrees, a group that increasingly forms a bedrock Democratic constituency.

Illinois was clearly ready for a strong Democratic candidate to lead the charge. They found him in Rod Blagojevich, a candidate for Governor who took advantage of an exploding "license for bribes" scandal in the GOP statehouse and turned it into Democratic gold:

In 2002, as the scandal was reaching a fever pitch, Blagojevich won the gubernatorial race by successfully exploiting the taint of scandal against his opponent, Attorney General Jim Ryan, who, while neither related to nor implicated in the scandal, had the misfortune of sharing the same political party and last name as George Ryan. Blagojevich ran a barrage of ads showing side-by-side pictures of Jim Ryan and George Ryan, and promised to clean up state government and pass ethics reform.

But the damage done by licenses-for-bribes has reverberated well past that election, tarnishing the entire Republican brand in the state. When in last year's US Senate race Republican nominee Jack Ryan went down in flames after sealed divorce records revealed he had pressured his wife into attending sex clubs, there was a general "here we go again" feeling to the coverage, despite the fact that Jack Ryan's sins were venial and George Ryan's mortal...[Democratic congressional candidate} Melissa Bean attributes at least some of her support to scandal fatigue among Republicans in her district. "I think it helped a lot," she told me. "It's one thing to be the right candidate for the district and another to be the right candidate at the right time. There's no question that this was a district that was ready for change."

Not every state is as ripe as Illinois, but the Dems do have opportunities elsewhere, including Washington, where the DeLay scandal is percolating nicely. But Hayes argues that they have to work the right levers:

Democrats do have to make the case forcefully. In Illinois the US Attorney's office played a key role in doggedly pursuing GOP corruption, and if Democrats learned anything from the Clinton years, it's the power of an officially sanctioned investigation to turn smoke into fire. But with the GOP currently controlling both houses and barring any ethics investigations that don't have majority support, Democrats will have to rely on the press and public outrage. Of late, it seems Congressional Democrats have been catching on to this, taking steps to move the ball forward on the scandals that the blogosphere has worked feverishly to call attention to, pushing for a floor vote to reinstate revoked ethics rules, and issuing a 147-page report about the "death of deliberative democracy" under the GOP's reign.

The Dems have a great start in making corruption a pivotal issue that will pervade the '06 election. But the outcome will ride on the Dems follow-through, says Hayes:

Congressional Democrats should take a page out of Gingrich's and Blagojevich's books and propose comprehensive ethics reform. They should talk about the "corrupt Republicans" and "restoring transparency and integrity" at every turn. They should use DeLay's mounting ignominy to tar fellow Republicans who benefit from his fundraising and clout. In short, they should make Republican scandal and Democratic reform one of the central narratives of their opposition over the next two years. "Newt Gingrich came to power because of an ethics scandal," says Obama's state political director, Dan Shomon. "Rod Blagojevich got elected partly because of scandal. You can defeat an incumbent if you can catch his or her hand in the cookie jar."

Corruption will be a powerful issue for Democrats for as long as there is a GOP, which is driven by greed as much as any other value. Hayes's article should be included in the playbook for all Democratic candidates in upcoming elections.

'Buying Union' Link Provides Screen for 'Buying Blue' Campaign

The "Buying Blue Can Be Tricky" post below (April 15) mentioned that the AFL-CIO does not provide a list of currently unionized companies on its web page. Not exactly accurate, it turns out. The AFL-CIO does provide a separate web page "Buy American. Buy Union!," which helps consumers identify unionized companies, as well as companies that have been targeted by unions for boycotts as a result of their backward labor policies. "Buy American. Buy Union" should be used as a screen for companies endorsed by the "Buy Blue" campaign.

April 20, 2005

How the West Was Won

A great companion article to Mark Barabak's wrap-up of Democratic inroads in western states (see April 18 post below) can be found at Salon.com, where Tim Grieve kicks off Salon's series of interviews, "Life of the Party," about Dems' future prospects. In the first installment, "Brian Schweitzer, the blue governor of the red state of Montana, may just have the answer to the Democrats' woes," Grieve offers a lively exchange with the ever-quotable Schweitzer. In his introduction, Grieve describes Schweitzer thusly:

A native Montanan who spent time in the Middle East before returning to start his own business, Schweitzer espouses a political philosophy that combines the class-based populism of a John Edwards with the budgetary pragmatism of a Howard Dean, all wrapped up in shit-kicking Western dialect that the Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas Zúniga calls "a genuine version of Bush's fake ranch."

Sounds promising. And Schweitzer has a gift for the kind of straight talk that just might help Dems set the tone for more effective campaigns. Some nuggets from the interview:

Talk like you care. Act like you care. When you're talking about issues that touch families, it's OK to make it look like you care. It's OK to have policies that demonstrate that you'll make their lives better -- and talk about it in a way that they understand. Too many Democrats -- the policy's just fine, but they can't talk about it in a way that anybody else understands

...The problem is, they get to Washington, they drink that water, they get Washington-speak. This is not a criticism of John Kerry. It's the reason that people keep saying, "Oh, [the next Democratic president is] likely to be a governor." It's because governors are faced with this all the time: Their language has to be the language that is clear enough for Joe or Mary Six-Pack to understand. When you speak on the Senate floor or on the House floor or in a Cabinet meeting, you don't even have to use the words that we use. It's a new language -- you know, "budget reconciliation, blah blah blah blah."

No. When you're out visiting with folks in a way that touches their heart, you tell them, "We're going to find the money to do the right thing." Well, when a senator stands on the Senate floor, it'd take him two hours to explain that.

You need to have good solid policy -- that's important. But you've got to touch people. They've got to know you; they've got to know that you believe in what you're saying. And that's probably more important when people vote than your policies. Because how the hell are they going to raise their families, maybe work two jobs, go hunting on the weekend, bowl and drink beer with the boys on Tuesday night, and still have enough time to figure out who's telling the truth about the budget, about healthcare, about education?

Schweitzer isn't all about rhetoric. He recognizes that it's important to deliver needed reforms:

We've gotten just about everything I've wanted: a scholarship program, a healthcare program, a prescription drug program. We passed five [medical malpractice] bills -- five med-mals! -- no tax increases, some economic development bills that are very cool, and a "best and brightest" scholarship program, so every middle-class family in Montana finally can attain the dream to send the next generation to college.

An impressive track record and his advice on reaching out to working people and western voters, in particular makes a lot of sense. Schweitzer also shares his views on fighting terrorism, gun control, improving education and protecting abortion rights, among other issues.

April 19, 2005

Bush's 17th Quarter Approval Ratings Lag Far Behind His Predecessors

A new Gallup report finds that Bush averaged 50.7 percent approval (just 43 percent among independents) in the 17 quarter of his presidency (January 20-April 19, 2005). That compares quite poorly with his predecessors. The report notes:

Most other presidents were well above the 50% job approval mark at similar points in their presidencies: Dwight Eisenhower at 69.0%, Richard Nixon at 60.8%, Ronald Reagan at 58.0%, and Bill Clinton at 57.5%. The lone exception was Lyndon Johnson, who -- unlike the other presidents -- was not beginning his second term during the 17th quarter of his presidency, but rather, nearing the end of it. An average of 44.3% of Americans approved of Johnson at that time. In Johnson's first full quarter after being re-elected (January to April 1965) -- similar to where Bush and the other presidents were in their 17th quarters -- he averaged 68.4% job approval.

The report concludes:

Absent some dramatic international or domestic event that could produce a rally in support, Bush's approval ratings are unlikely to improve substantially in the near term. In the long term, the state of the economy and Bush's ability to handle pressing issues such as Social Security, Iraq, and energy costs will help determine whether Bush can break out of the low 50% approval range, or whether he will slip below that level.

In light of what has been happening lately, especially on the economy, slipping below that 50 percent level seems like a very real possibility.

On Monday, for example, the New York Times had a front page story on "Sudden Bearish Sentiment Underlines Fears on Economy", detailing the sudden and serious investor jitters about the economy.

Also on Monday, Paul Krugman pointed to the unmistakable signs of stagflation that are now afflicting the economy.

Last week, several papers, including the Times, pointed out that real wages in the last year have declined, reversing the steady progress in living standards that had started under Bill Clinton in the mid-90's.

And on April 11, I posted on the latest evidence concerning declining consumer confidence and rising consumer credit worries.

Maybe Bush better savor that 50.7 percent average while he's got it!

April 18, 2005

What Do American Voters Really Think About National Security and Foreign Policy Issues?

While much survey data has been gathered in the months since the election on Americans' attitudes towards specific foreign policy events (e.g., the election in Iraq) or controversies (should the US take action against Iran?), these data are scattered among numerous public polls, each of which tyically has only a short series of questions on foreign policy or national security issues. It has therefore been difficult to get a comprehensive picture of where Americans' views currently stand on these issues, since one has only uncoordinated bits and pieces of data to work with.

The newly-launched Security and Peace Institute (a joint project of The Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress) has provided a useful corrective to this situation by releasing a survey conducted for them by the Marttila Communications Group, with an extensive accompanying report. This lengthy survey has a large sample size (1600 voters) which was split-sampled through most of the survey so that an exceptionally wide range of questions and alternative wordings could be tested.

The survey's key findings (summarized below) indicate that, while Republicans retain a substantial lead as the party best able to deal with national security issues, voters' broad foreign policy and security goals should provide a very significant opening for Democrats in the years ahead.

1. The two main international concerns of the American people are preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, particularly to terrorists or hostile regimes, and the destruction of the al Qaeda terrorist network.

2. President Bush receives mixed ratings for his overall performance conducting the War on Terror. Americans are generally supportive of his efforts to dismantle Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and express confidence in the administration’s ability to protect the United States from future terrorist attacks.

3. Americans reject the strategy of preemption. They overwhelmingly prefer cooperation with other countries, even if it involves short-term compromises of U.S. national interests.

4. Americans remain divided about the Iraq war. While narrow pluralities believe the war was a mistake, was not worth the costs, and has made them less safe from terrorism, a narrow majority hold that removing Saddam Hussein was necessary to win the fight against terror. Nonetheless, Americans believe that bringing U.S. troops home is a far higher priority than building a stable and democratic Iraq.

5. As a result of the Iraq war, a majority of Americans are now more reluctant to support the use of U.S. troops. However, there are several specific circumstances under which a majority do support the U.S. use of troops, including disrupting an attack planned by a foreign country or terrorists, to support NATO or UN peacekeeping, and to halt genocide.

6. Large majorities of Americans believe that America’s international reputation has deteriorated since President Bush took office. Most believe that the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq badly eroded U.S. credibility and that this loss of status is a serious concern.

7. Voters strongly support U.S. action to protect human rights abroad, prevent genocide, and check the spread of AIDS. They generally agree that the United States has a moral role to play in world affairs.

8. Solid majorities of Americans believe that the United States should be active in world affairs and continue to play an active role in the UN.

9. Americans have a clear perspective about which countries pose the greatest threat to U.S. national security and to world peace—North Korea, Iraq, and Iran. China also draws some concern. They consider the Middle East and Far East the most important regions for U.S. strategic interests.

10. Americans consider spreading democracy a marginal U.S. priority, even in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the United States has been militarily engaged.

11. In spite of the war on terror, large majorities of Americans believe that a clash of civilizations between the United States and Islam is not inevitable, that future U.S. military conflict with Islamic nations is avoidable, and that Muslims in America and around the world do not support al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, or the practice of terrorism.

12. Republicans enjoy significantly higher ratings on the key issue of national security; Democrats are seen as better able to repair America’s relations abroad.

Underscoring the potential for Democrats and progressives, data in the survey and report indicate that independent voters tend to be particularly critical of the Bush administration and particularly interested in alternative approaches to American foreign policy. For example, while Bush has a narrowly positive approval rating on handling the war on terror (51/46) among all voters, he has a net negative rating (47/48) among independents. And, while voters overall believe by 19 points (59-40) that the Bush administration haas been successful in dismantling Bin Laden's terror network, among independents that margin falls to just 5 points (52-47).

In terms of general approaches to foreign policy, voters overall oppose the preemption strategy by 58-34, a margin the widens to 64-30 among independents. Similarly, voters as a whole believe, by 63-31, that the US should cooperate with other countries as often as we can, even if that means we have to compromise our interests on occasion, but among independents it's an even more lop-sided 70-26 majority. And, by 56-38, voters overall say that America's long-term interest is to remain lose to traditional European allies, even at the cost of compromise, with independents providing almost 2:1 support (63-32) for this proposition.

Independents are also more likely to believe US made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq (59-39, compared to 52-46 overall) and that the war with Iraq has not been worth the costs (56-40, compared to 50-46 overall).

In short, these survey data give every reason to suppose Democrats and progressives can compete effectively with Bush and the GOP on the terrain of foreign policy and national security. It would be an act of political malpractice to ignore this opporunity and cede these areas to the GOP.

Go West, Young Dem

In todays' LA Times, Mark Z. Barabak's "Democrats Push for a New Frontier" provides encouragement to Dems looking west for gains in in '06 and '08. Notes Barabak:

Democrats have reason for hope. In the Pacific West, California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii continue to lean their way in presidential politics. In addition to the party's strong 2004 showing in the Colorado Legislature, Democrats elected a governor in Montana and took control of the House and Senate in Helena, the first time they won either chamber in a decade.

The party also now has governors in Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. Overall, Democrats gained 31 legislative seats across the West in 2004, but the party continued to lose ground in the South.

At the presidential level, the West accounted for six of the 10 states where Democratic nominee John F. Kerry topped Al Gore's 2000 performance.

New Mexico and Nevada — which President Bush carried by less than 1 percentage point and 2.6 percentage points, respectively — had two of the four tightest contests in November.

"Given the closeness of the presidential vote in New Mexico, Nevada and even Colorado" — where Kerry won 47% of the vote — "we don't need to make great inroads," said Paul Harstad, a Democratic strategist in Boulder who has done extensive polling throughout the West. "We need to make incremental inroads."

Echoing predictions from The Emerging Democratic Majority, Barabak says demographic trends offer even more encouragement:

Another reason for Democrats' optimism is the rapid growth of the Latino population throughout the West.

Census figures show that from 2000 to 2003, the most recent year surveyed, Arizona's Latino population grew by more than 250,000; Colorado and Nevada gained roughly 100,000 Latino residents apiece; and New Mexico's Latino population increased by about 45,000.

Democrats look to California, where the increased Latino vote helped fuel a surge in party support over the last decade, and believe they can replicate that success elsewhere across the region.

But Dem candidates must get up to speed on the all important nuances of image-crafting for western voters.

Democrats need to talk in a "Western voice" that resonates with voters and lays to rest old stereotypes, said Pat Williams, a Montana congressman for 18 years until retiring in 1997.

Williams, a fellow at the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, a policy center at the University of Montana, said when it came to environmental issues, he "seldom mentioned the word 'wilderness' because that denoted the national government setting aside huge pieces of a state. Instead, I always talked about clean places to fish, hunt and camp."

Gov. Schweitzer is blunter still. Seated in the governor's modest office in Helena, he is the very image of Western informality in bluejeans and a loosely fitted bolo tie.

"Don't dress like a lawyer," he counsels his fellow Democrats. "Don't talk like a lawyer. And be prepared to go out and meet people and answer their questions straight. Don't wiggle around and sort of be with them and sort of be against them…. I think most people don't spend the time to figure what all the issues are all about. They want to know you have a heart and a backbone."

Interesting insights, and with a more substantial investment in Dem candidates, it appears that the Party can look forward to significant gains in western states as early as '06.

April 17, 2005

The Jewish Vote in 2004

According to the 2004 national NEP exit poll, Bush captured 25 percent of the Jewish vote in last November's election, compared to 74 percent for Kerry. That appeared to be a substantial improvement over Bush's performance in 2000, when the VNS exit poll credited him with only 19 percent of the Jewish vote, compared to 79 percent for Gore.

A new report, "The Jewish Vote in 2004: An Analysis", by The Solomon Project suggests Bush made considerably less progress with the Jewish vote than the figures quoted above indicate. The report points out that:

The National Election Pool (NEP) commissioned Edison/Mitofsky to conduct the 2004 exit poll. They interviewed 77,006 voters as they walked out of a polling station or (if the voter mailed his/her ballot) over the telephone. Almost 14,000 of these voters (268 of whom were Jewish) were part of the NEP’s “national survey;” the other voters were given a state-specific questionnaire. Most of the respondents were asked their religion, and 2% (weighted, 3%) indicated that they were Jewish, for a total of 1,511 Jewish respondents.

Due to the small size of the Jewish population compared to the rest of the electorate, NEP had difficulty achieving a correct distribution of Jewish voters throughout the nation. In the “national survey” alone, the Jewish respondents hail from only 21 of the 51 states (including the District of Columbia). As an example of disproportionate representation, Florida Jews made up 16% of this weighted sample, whereas the American Jewish Committee reported that 11% of American Jews live in the Sunshine State. New Jersey Jews, who constituted 4% of the national survey, are underrepresented compared to AJC’s estimate that 8% of American Jews reside in New Jersey.

If you use all of the Jewish respondents to the exit polls, not just those given the national questionnaire, and weight the respondents by their state's contribution to the national vote (as has been done with the Hispanic vote to produce a more reliable estimate of that group's 2004 vote), you get a different figure for the Jewish vote in 2004: 77 percent Kerry, 22 percent Bush.

That's a substantially less impressive improvement over Bush's performance in 2000. As the report notes:

When viewing only the two major parties, the two-party American Jewish vote was Kerry 78%, Bush 22%. Between 1996 and 2004, the Democratic two-party Jewish vote as compared to the national vote has been remarkably stable – 28% more Democratic than the national average in 1996, 30% more Democratic in 2000, and 29% more Democratic in 2004.

The report cites a host of other data reinforcing the conclusion that Bush's and the GOP's progress among Jewish voters has, by and large, been negligible. I recommend it to all those interested in separating fact from fiction about the contemporary Jewish vote in American politics.

Seven Potentially Vulnerable GOP Incumbents

By Alan Abramowitz

Democrats need to gain 15 seats in the House in 2006 to regain control. That's not a large number by historical standards. In fact it's close to the postwar average for seat losses by the president's party in midterm elections. The problem is there are fewer and fewer marginal districts in the House and the cost of running a competitive campaign for a House seat keeps increasing. So Democrats will need to carefully target the most promising seats currently held by the GOP. An analysis of the performance of House GOP incumbents in the 2004 election suggests some candidates. I identified seven current incumbents who did considerably worse than expected based on the partisan composition of their districts and the amount of money spent by their challengers. These seven could be vulnerable if Democrats put up strong, well-financed challengers in 2006. There are some juicy targets here so an energetic and skillful challenger should be able to raise enough money to put these seats in play.

1. David Dreier--CA 6. Dreier has been a long-time fixture in the House and a key player on intelligence issues, but his performance in 2004 suggests that he could be vulnerable to a strong Democratic challenger in 2006. Despite outspending his Democratic challenger by a better than 20 to 1 margin, Dreier won only 55.8 percent of the major party vote in a district than leans Republican but appears to be trending Democratic.

2. Marilyn Musgrave--CO 4. Everyone knows about Bob Beauprez in the 7th district, but don't forget Musgrave. Despite the strongly Republican make-up of the district, this right-wing ideologue won only 53.3 percent of the major party vote in 2006. Musgrave's Democratic challenger spent a respectable $869,000 but was outspent by a nearly 4 to 1 margin. Democrats have been gaining ground in Colorado and a well financed challenger could give Musgrave a run for her money in 2006.

3. Katherine Harris--FL 13. Need I say more. Despite outspending her Democratic challenger by a 6 to 1 margin in 2004, Harris won only 55.3 percent of the major party vote in this Republican-leaning district. What Democrat wouldn't want to go down in history as the candidate who knocked off Katherine Harris? And what Democrat inside or outside of Florida wouldn't be willing to contribute to that candidate?

4. Henry Hyde--IL 6. If Hyde decides to run for another term, he could be vulnerable to a well-financed challenger. This long-time GOP stalwart and former House impeachment manager won an unimpressive 55.5 percent of the major party vote in 2006 despite outspending his Democratic challenger by a 3 to 1 margin. Illinois has been trending Democratic and a strong challenger could put this seat in play.

5. Chris Chocola--IN 2. No surprise here. Chocola got 54.9 percent of the major party vote in this marginally Republican district despite outspending his Democratic challenger by a better than 2 to 1 margin. Chocola is another right-wing ideologue who could be vulnerable to a well-financed challenger in 2006.

6. Robin Hayes--NC 8. Hayes has failed to improve his margins since his first election in 1998. In 2004, he won only 54.5 percent of the vote in this marginally Republican district despite outspending his Democratic challenger by an almost 8 to 1 margin.

7. Jim Gerlach--PA 8. No surprise here either. Gerlach's 2004 challenger was the only one in this group who was not underfinanced, spending more than 1.9 million dollars. Even so, Democrats should take another crack at Gerlach. Gerlach won by a narrow 51-49 margin in 2004 and Al Gore carried the district in 2000.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are undoubtedly other potentially vulnerable GOP incumbents and Democrats will need to target open seats as well as vulnerable incumbents if they are to have any chance to regain control of the House in 2006. But targeting these seven seats would be a good place to start.

April 15, 2005

Buying Blue Can Be Tricky

EDM received a couple of comments about the "Buying Blue, Boycotting Red" post below, and both writers make excellent points. One is that union membership should be a consideration. The other is that what a company does, especially its role in partisan politics, should also be a criterion in buying blue. For example, the News Corp company listed as a "blue buy" is part of the Fox Network and red-listed UPS has unionized drivers. To this we might add a company's environmental and diversity track records should be factors to look at for consumers who want to "buy blue." No doubt the folks at buyblue.org have wrestled with these and other factors. Indeed, it would be a good idea for them to provide links to such lists. (Oddly enough, however, aflcio.org does not provide a list of currently unionized companies). The more such filters are applied, however, the shorter the buy blue list becomes. But buyblue.org nonetheless provides a great service for Dems as it is --- to make good choices as consumers, we need to know which companies' top executives lavish cash on the GOP.

April 14, 2005

Buying Blue, Boycotting Red Companies

True blue Dems have a great resource over at buyblue.org, which is loaded with information about which companies are supporting Democrats and Republicans. Check out, for example, "The Top Ten Bluest and Reddest Corporations." Here's their ranking list of companies, based on "amounts given by their C-level executives in 2003-2004" in both dollars and percentage terms:

Ten Bluest Corporations

Time Warner, $1,713,621, 77% Blue
Viacom, $892,513, 78% Blue
News Corp, $689,549, 61% *
Walt Disney, $606,504, 70% Blue
IBM, $397,936, 68% Blue
Cablevision, $326,842, 68% Blue
Torchmark Insurance Cos., $314,441, 88% Blue
Sony Corp. of America, $287,535, 69% Blue
Working Assets, $234,255, 100% Blue
Costco, $224,803, 99% Blue

Ten Reddest Corporations

United Parcel Service, $2,361,922, 71%
SBC Communications, $2,028,031, 67% Red
Merrill Lynch, $1,900,326, 72%, Red
Pfizer, $1,465,317, 67% Red
MBNA Corp., $1,453,497, 73% Red
Union Pacific, $1,428,663, 79% Red
Southern Co., $1,041,025, 80% Red
Wachovia Corp, $998,997, 75% Red
Clear Channel Communications, $764,318, 67% Red
General Electric, $747,386, 67% Red

There are other ways of ranking companies according to their financial support for both parties (See April 11th post "Calling All Dems: Stop Funding GOP Causes" below.) The beauty of selective patronage and boycotts is that it is a way that rank and file Dems can get involved in supporting their party on a daily basis and their success does not depend in any way on politicians. Reducing a company's profits by even 1 percent can start stockholders howling for reform.

April 13, 2005

Challenge to Dems: Make 'Freedom' a Stronger Party Value

Many progressives have lamented the conservative expropriation of faith and patriotism as the exclusive property of the GOP. Democrats, it is rightly argued, must reclaim these powerful themes as central tenets of the party's philosophy. Writing in the Washington Monthly, William A. Galston argues in his article "Taking Liberty: Liberals Ignore and Conservatives Misunderstand America's Guiding Value: Freedom," that Dems must also include "the evocative term, 'freedom' as a cornerstone of their philosophy in new and more creative ways. As Galston, a former deputy assistant for domestic policy for President Clinton and author of The Practice of Liberal Pluralism, points out:

The extraordinary value Americans place on individual liberty is what most distinguishes our culture, and the political party seen by voters as the most willing to defend and expand liberty is the one that usually wins elections. Conservatives have learned this lesson; too many liberals have forgotten it. And as long as liberals fool themselves into believing that appeals to income distribution tables can take the place of policies that promote freedom, they will lose.

Citing President Bush's 2nd inaugural speech as a successful effort to link his administration with the value of 'freedom,' Galston challenges Dems to do some serious thinking about the importance of freedom as a Democratic party value and ask the right questions:

The questions before us are, what is the meaning of freedom in the 21st century, and what are the means needed to make it effective in our lives? Those of us who oppose the conservative answer cannot succeed by changing the question. We can only succeed by giving a better answer.

Galston challenges Dems to confront head-on the conservative myth that the function of government is to reduce freedom:

Instead of dodging the issue, an effective center-left strategy should begin with a critique of the fundamental conservative conception of freedom because that conception is fatally flawed. Experience gives us no reason to conclude that government is the only, or always the gravest, threat to freedom; clerical institutions and concentrations of unchecked economic power have often vied for that dubious honor...At the heart of the conservative misunderstanding of liberty is the presumption that government and individual freedom are fundamentally at odds. At the heart of any liberal counteroffensive must be a subtler but more truthful proposition: Public power can advance freedom as well as thwart it.

Galston argues persuasively that "liberals must return to their historic mission of modernizing and promoting freedom." He says Dems should emphasize that reforms such as universal health care and a greater investment in educational opportunity expand the scope of freedom from want and fear for greater numbers of Americans. Galston may be on shakier ground, however, in suggesting Dems can make political hay by calling for sacrifice in the form of tax hikes, as did FDR in war time. (Remember Walter Mondale's "He won't tell you. I just did" defense of the need to increase taxes in his debate with Ronald Reagan.)

Galston's article concludes with a call for a "new patriotism," rooted in American values and experience:

Too often, liberals whose hopes have been thwarted by the historic individualism of our culture have pined for an alternative culture more akin to French statism or Scandinavian social democracy. Too often, liberals have reacted to exaggerated claims of American exceptionalism by rejecting the idea outright. These responses are patently self-defeating. We must begin from where we are. We must go with—not against—the American grain. As FDR did three quarters of a century ago, we must mobilize and sustain a popular majority with the freedom agenda our times require. We must love not another country's dream, but our own—the American Dream—and we must work to make it real for every American who reaches for it.

The theme of freedom, like patriotism and faith, need not be the exclusive property of the GOP, if Dems will accept Galston's challenge and make it their own.

Dems Must Rework Gun Control Policy to Win in '08

Dems who want to get up to speed on the politics of gun control must read Sasha Abramsky's "Democrat Killer?" in The Nation. Abramsky makes a compelling case that a one-size-fits-all pro-gun control policy is a huge loser for Dems in the west and south:

Nationally, as the Democrats do the Electoral College math and realize the rising importance of the mountain and desert West to their presidential hopes, more and more are making this realpolitik calculation. If the South is now virtually unwinnable for national Democratic candidates, the party can craft a new Electoral College majority only if it can figure out how to make significant inroads into this region, into beautiful Open Road states like Nevada and New Mexico that, in 2004, went mildly Republican in the presidential election, while notching up significant victories or maintaining power for local and state Democratic Party politicians. And crafting a new stance on guns seems to a growing number of Democrats to be just the way to do that.

A more carefully-calibrated approach to gun control, says Abramsky, could reap new victories for Democratic candidates:

Rethinking guns is not only less morally toxic and less politically costly than any effort to recalibrate the party's position on abortion or gay rights but could yield far greater political gains...It would take only a few thousand such voters to change their votes in New Mexico and Nevada for a Democratic presidential candidate to win both those states; and while Colorado and Montana are harder nuts to crack, they are certainly on the party's radar. Win three of these four states, or win two of them plus Iowa, and the Democrats have an Electoral College majority again.

Abramsky concedes that there are tough moral and political concerns to balance in reformulating the Dems' gun control polices. But Dems must not lose sight of the central issue. As Abramsky asks,

After all, what's the point in staking the moral and intellectual high ground on gun control, as I believe gun-control proponents have done, if in doing so you lose the larger war for political power and the ability to enact all the other aspects of your program?

A good question --- and one which Democrats must address to win back control of the White House and congress.

April 12, 2005

Do Elitist Attitudes Toward Religion Undermine Democratic Prospects?

The current issue of The Boston Review has a series of articles "The Believers," which shed light on the evolving relationship of religion and politics in America. Two of the articles in particular merit a read by Dems concerned about developing a strategy that addresses moral and religious issues in a more effective way. "Taking Faith Seriously: Contempt for religion costs Democrats more than votes" by Mike Gecan argues that Democrats who disparage or ignore religious faith make the party appear elitist to many. As Gecan notes,

the contempt of the progressive elite for ordinary people—for their faiths, their speech patterns, their clothes, their hobbies, their hopes, and their aspirations—has driven scores of millions of Americans out of the Democratic Party and into either the Republican Party or a no man’s land between the two. The willingness of many Republicans to simply show respect for the habits and interests of these mixed and moderate Americans has paid growing political dividends. The Republicans have understood that communicating respect is more important than offering programs or incentives. The Democrats have failed to realize that multiplying programs or policies designed to meet people’s needs is doomed to fail unless and until those people sense a fundamental level of recognition of who they are, not just what they need.

In "Losing Faith: The Democrats called, but they didn’t call back," Ari Lipman describes an incident revealing a clueless disrespect for local religious leaders at the Democratic convention. Lipman concludes,

We transform our private religious values into public action at the ballot box. As the Democrats are now discovering, parties ignore this fact at their peril. Engaging religious Americans does not necessarily mean altering the fundamental values and platform of the Democratic Party...Democrats need more than a pious new vocabulary. Party leaders must drop their thinly veiled scorn for religious Americans and seek to engage them sincerely around common interests, both in houses of worship and on convention floors.

Althought the perceptions Gecan and Lipman discuss may be worse than the reality among most Democrats and their leaders, it is no less destructive to Democrats' hopes for the upcomming elections. Both writers seem to be saying that respect is at least as important as policy in winning the support of religious voters.

April 11, 2005

One More Economic Problem: Consumer Credit Worries

A new Gallup report highlights another reason why there is such dissatisfaction with the economy and why Bush's economic approval ratings are in the tank. According to the report, "Consumer Credit Worries Suggest Spending Decline":

....Right now, Gallup's economic data suggest that a collapse of consumer spending is a much higher probability than many economists within and outside of the Fed seem willing to acknowledge.

Consumers' optimism about their personal credit situations fell sharply in April, declining 18 points to 82 from the baseline of 100 established in March. The decline was most pronounced in the Future Situation Index, which declined 13 points -- from 59 to 46. Compared to March, consumers showed less confidence in their ability to continue to make their monthly payments, less optimism that they will be able to borrow in the future if they need to do so, and a reduced likelihood that they will be able to pay down their debt.

Consumers' assessments of their current credit situations also declined, as the Present Situation Index declined by 5 points -- from 41 in March to 36 in April.

Consumer economic expectations also remain highly negative:

According to a new Gallup Poll, conducted April 4-7, only 35% of consumers say current economic conditions in the country as a whole are "getting better," compared with 56% who say they are "getting worse." This difference of –21 percentage points is nearly as large as the –26 points recorded at the end of March. More importantly, it is twice the difference of –9 percentage points recorded in Gallup's March 7-10 poll, in which 41% said economic conditions were getting better and 50% said they were getting worse. Gallup's late March and early April poll results show that consumer expectations about the economy's future direction are the most negative they have been since the Iraq war began, in March 2003.

The Gallup report sums up the bleak outlook among the public as follows:

Gallup's attitudinal economic measures show consumer confidence tumbling as consumers have experienced record prices at the gas pump, increasing interest rates, stagnant wages, and slower-than-expected job growth. Investor optimism has also declined recently. And now, it appears consumers are becoming much less positive about their personal credit situations.

To this point, consumers have continued to spend even as their overall confidence in the economy's direction has declined. They have been able to do this in part by adding to their debt. In this context, consumers' growing concerns about their ability to make their future monthly payments, and borrow if the need arises, create a new threat to consumer spending. If consumers decide to slow their credit use, consumer spending on items other than food and energy may decline significantly in the months ahead.

Recently, a number of major retailers reported lower profits and slower-than-expected sales in March. One of their explanations to Wall Street was to blame their troubles on bad weather. In sharp contrast, Gallup's economic data suggest that the real cause may be a major decline in consumers' perceptions of their own personal credit situations.

No wonder Bush is getting such lousy economic approval ratings! The typical American consumer is very worried indeed about their economic situation and Bush's cheerful talk about an economy that's "strong and getting stronger" is sounding more and more out of touch with the reality of their lives.

Calling All Dems: Stop Funding GOP Causes

Arguably, the most under-utilized resource rank and file Democrats have at their disposal is consumer spending choice. Worse, most of us inadvertantly give money to the GOP every day by supporting corporations that fund Republican candidates, while contributing very little, if anything at all, to Democrats. Grab a burger at Wendy's, for example, and you have made a contribution to their PAC, which gives 93 percent of it's dough to the GOP. (Click here for a longer list of companies that give more than 90 percent of their PAC money to Republicans.}

But who has time to keep up with the political spending patterns of Fortune 500 companies? The Center for American Progress, that's who. The CAP's American Progress Action Fund has launched a campaign to "Tell Corporate America to Drop the Hammer," targeting five corporations that have contributed to Tom ("The Hammer") DeLay's defense fund. They are: American Airlines ($5K); Bacardi ($3K); Nissan ($5K); R. J. Reynolds ($17K) and Verizon ($5K).

At the link above, CAP has a nifty "send them a message form" which takes about 30 seconds of your time to express your disapproval to the five companies.

April 9, 2005

Mr. Unpopularity (Continued)

Yesterday, I summarized the key results from the new Hotline/Westhill Partners poll. But that's not all the bad news for Bush. Not by a long shot.

Let's take a quick look at the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Among the poll's main findings:

1. On the standard right direction/wrong track question, the poll finds only 34 percent saying right direction and 51 percent saying wrong track. That's the worst reading in this poll for Bush's entire administration, with the lone exception of last May.

2. Bush's overall approval rating is 48 percent approve/46 percent disapprove, his worst showing since his re-election last November. His economic approval rating is ow 41/53, down from 46/50 in February and tied with last May for the worst rating of his administration. And his foreign policy rating is now 42/50, the absolute worst showing of his administration.

3. On governance issues, by 63-30, the public says Democrats in Congress provide a balance so Republicans don't go too far, rather than work in a bipartisan way to pass Bush's legislative priorities. By 50-40, the public says the Senate should maintain, not eliminate,the filibuster. And, by 54-35, the public says the federal government should be less active, not more active, on social and moral issues facing the country.

4. On tax cuts, 54 percent now now say that federal tax cuts have not been worth it, because they have increased the deficit and caused cuts in goverment programs, compared to just 38 percent who say the tax cuts have been worth it, because they strengthened the economy and allowed Americans to keep more of their own money.

5. On Social Security, the public now thinks, by 55-35, that it's "a bad idea to change the Social Security system to allow workers to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market", the most negative sounding yet in this poll. And, as before, those who think it's a bad idea are mostly not open to changing their minds on this issue, while those who think it's a good idea are open to changing their mind by more than 2:1.

In addition, the poll asked:

Please tell me which of the following approaches to dealing with Social Security you would prefer––(A) making some adjustments but leaving the Social Security system basically as is and running the risk that the system will fall short of money as more people retire and become eligible for benefits, OR (B) changing the Social Security system by allowing people to invest some of their Social Security taxes in private accounts--like I-R-A's or 401k's--and running the risk that some people will lose money in their private accounts due to drops in the stock market?

and found a 48-40 plurality in favor of leaving the Social Security system basically as is.

6. The poll also found that Bush's policies are starting to split the Republican base. As John Harwood's article in the Wall Street Journal put it:

Almost three months into President Bush's second term, a raft of economic and social issues -- Social Security, immigration, gay marriage and the recent national debate over Terri Schiavo -- is splintering the Republican base.

After winning re-election on the strength of support from nine in 10 Republican voters, the president is seeing significant chunks of that base balk at major initiatives, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows. One-third of Republicans say Democrats in Congress should prevent Mr. Bush and party leaders from "going too far in pushing their agenda," and 41% oppose eliminating filibusters against Mr. Bush's judicial nominees -- the "nuclear option" that Senate Republican leaders are considering.

The Schiavo case has opened another rift. Though Mr. Bush and Republican congressional leaders acted to maximize the opportunity for reinserting Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube, 39% of Republicans said removing the tube was "the right thing to do," while 48% said it was wrong. About 18% of Republicans say they lost respect for Mr. Bush on the issue and 41% lost respect for Congress....

On his centerpiece initiative of Social Security, for instance, 32% of Republicans call it "a bad idea" to let workers invest payroll taxes in the stock markets.

Despite Mr. Bush's cross-country tour to sell his plan, that proportion has held steady since January, while resistance among Democrats and senior citizens has driven overall opposition to 55% from the 50% recorded on the eve of his second inauguration....

On judicial nominations -- a cause of contention between the White House and Democratic leaders -- resistance among rank-and-file Republicans is even higher. Four in 10 say the option of filibusters should be preserved.

On Mr. Bush's proposal to grant legal status to some illegal immigrants already in the U.S., Republicans are opposed by 50%-48% -- almost matching the 54%-42% opposition among Democrats. About 55% of independents oppose Mr. Bush's plan, while 38% favor it.

Nearly two-thirds of Republicans say Congress shouldn't pass legislation affecting families in cases such as Ms. Schiavo's, though some Republicans on Capitol Hill aim to do just that. By 50%-37%, Republicans say the federal government should be "less active" on social and moral issues; on gay marriage Republicans split evenly, with 48% saying Congress should pass legislation and 47% saying it shouldn't.

The latest Ipsos/AP poll underscores Bush's current poor standing. Right direction/wrong track is at a very unimpressive 38/56 and Bush's overall approval rating is down to 44 percent approve/54 percent disapprove, the worst ever in this poll. And his economic approval rating is down to 42/54, also his worst ever.

His other approval ratings in this poll are equally unimpressive. His rating on Social Security is 36/58 (his worst ever), his rating on handling domestic issues is 38/58 (also his worst ever), his rating on Iraq is 43/56 and even his rating on "foreign policy issues and the war on terrorism" is now below 50 percent (at 49/49).

Not so good! Bush is now confronted with a country where Democrats hate him, independents are severely critical and even Republicans are starting to split over many of his policies. Sounds like an opening for the Democrats.

In future posts, I will take up how Democrats might make the most of this opportunity.

April 8, 2005

Mr. Unpopularity

Wow! Three new polls are unanimous: Bush and his agenda continue to slide in popularity in all kinds of ways.

Start with the new Hotline/Westhill Partners poll. The basic message of this poll is aptly summarized by the lead paragraph of the report on the poll:

As President Bush approaches the 100-day mark of his second term, the latest Westhill Partners/Hotline poll asked voters to assess the administration’s performance to date. With growing uncertainty about the economy, the administration’s ongoing efforts to sell its Social Security reform plan to the public, and the continuing war in Iraq, President Bush is experiencing declining support – especially among Independent voters – on key domestic and foreign policy issues. On almost all broad metrics -- including overall approval, right/wrong track of country, and the economy – Bush’s numbers trend in a negative direction.

In other words, we are a nation of rather unhappy campers. Let's look at some of the specific findings from the poll.

1. Right direction/wrong track is at just 30 percent right direction/56 percent wrong track (28/58 among independents), which is substantially down from 38/50 in the March Hotline poll.

2. Bush's approval ratings are also all down from March. Overall, he is at 46 percent approval/51 percent disapproval (42/54 among independents), down from 52/46 last month. His economic approval rating is 39/56 (36/60 among independents), down from 43/54 last month. His rating on Iraq is now 41/54 and his rating on Social Security has actually dipped below 30 percent (29/58).

And when asked specifically about the job Bush has done in the first 100 days of his second, term, only 38 percent say excellent or good, while 58 percent say only fair or poor (30/69 among independents).

3. Has Bush been a uniter or divider? Voters know what they think about this one. By 53-33, they say he's been a divider not a uniter.

4. On Social Security, besides his abysmal approval rating on the issue, the poll finds that "given President Bush's position on Social Security" , if the presidential election were held today, 54 percent of voters say they not be likely to vote for Bush, compared to 41 percent who say they would be likely to vote for him. Too bad for the Democrats that Bush didn't push his privatization plan for Social Security before the election.

5. On Iraq, by 69-24, voters think it's important for the Bush administration to have a clear plan for withdrawing US troops from Iraq and, by 59-29, they think the Bush administration doesn't have one.

6. On governance issues, the Democratic party beats either Bush or the Republican party on who "governs with the interests of individual Americans in mind", "will restore the country's reputation globally" and "will adopt more progressive solutions to national issues". But both the Republican party and Bush beat the Democrats on "governs with the interests of businesses and corporations in mind".

Sounds about right.

In addition, by 55-29 (61-22 among independents), voters say Democrats should "provide a balance" to make sure Bush and the Republicans don't go too far with their agenda, rather than "work in a bipartisan way" with Republicans to help pass Bush's legislative priorities and avoid gridlock.

Finally, by 48-30, voters disapprove of taking away the Senate filibuster and approve, 48-35, of Democrats responding to a takeaway of the filibuster by a drastic slowdown in conducting Senate business.

More on Mr. Unpopularity tomorrow....

New Poll: GOP Interferes in Americans' Private Lives

Republicans are always carrying on about how "we have to get government out of our lives." But a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll just reported indicates that the public views the GOP as more meddlesome in Americans' private lives than the Democrats --- and by a healthy margin. Asked "When it comes to moral values, do you think the Republican Party is trying to use the federal government to interfere with the private lives of most Americans, or not?" 55 percent responded affirmatively, compared to 40 percent who felt that way when asked the same question about the Democrats.

April 7, 2005

Can You Say "Dead"? I Think You Can!

The latest Gallup poll, conducted April 1-2, puts another nail in the coffin of Bush's Social Security privatization effort.

Gallup asked about Bush's plan in two different ways. Here's the good idea/bad idea version:

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?

The public's verdict: 61 percent bad idea/33 percent good idea, which is even more negative than the last time this question was asked on March 18-20 when it was 59 bad/33 good.

And here's the favor proposal/oppose proposal version:

As you may know, a proposal has been made that would allow workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes in the stock market or in bonds, while the rest of those taxes would remain in the Social Security system. Do you favor or oppose this proposal?

This also receives a very negative response: 56 percent opposed/39 percent in favor. Note that this is quite a bit more negative than the previous time (March 18-20) Gallup asked this question when the verdict was close to split (45 favor/47 oppose).

The shift on the second version of the question and the convergence in negativity between the two versions of the question suggest that the public is becoming less sensitive to question wording when asked about Bush's proposal. They've made up their minds what they think about his proposal (they flat-out don't like it) and any reasonable question wording is going to elicit that strongly negative verdict.

So where does that leave us? Let me turn things over to Max Baucus, Democratic Sentaor from Montana, who Bush once fantasized might be a Democratic vote for privatization:

Frankly, my personal view [is], privatization is dead. It's not going to be enacted. It's not going to be enacted because it is so flawed and it is so wrong, and the American people sense that, they feel it, they know it.

You go, Max!

The rest of the Gallup poll is full of yet more bad news for Bush, reflecting the way things have generally been going for him lately. His overall approval rating is 48 percent, with 48 percent disapproval, his second worst approval rating since the election (after last Gallup poll's 45 percent). His approval rating on the economy is now 41 percent approval/55 percent disapproval, down substantially from 48/49 in late February. His ratings on Iraq (43/54) and terrorism (57/40) are also down from their late February measurements, though less than the economic rating.

Speaking of Iraq, this poll finds a 53-45 majority saying it was not worth going to war in Iraq. Even more significant, for the first time a majority (50-48) says the Bush administration deliberately misled the public about whether Iraq had WMD.

Bringing up the rear on Bush's approval ratings are, unsurprisingly, Bush's ratings on Social Security (now 35/57) and on handling the Terri Schiavo case (34/53).

And speaking of the Schiavo case, it now seems clear some serious damage has been to the GOP's image by the intrusive and ideological way they handled it. As a USA Today story on the new Gallup poll points out:

By 55%-40%, respondents say Republicans, traditionally the party of limited government, are "trying to use the federal government to interfere with the private lives of most Americans" on moral values.

By 53%-40%, they say Democrats, who sharply expanded government since the Depression, aren't trying to interfere on moral issues....

By more than 2-to-1, 39%-18%, Americans say the "religious right" has too much influence in the Bush administration. That's a change from when the question was asked in CBS News/New York Times polls taken from 2001 to 2003. Then, approximately equal numbers said conservative Christians had too much and too little influence.

Final note: all this bad news, including the veritable death-knell for Bush's privatization plan, comes courtesy of a Gallup sample that, as Steve Soto points out, is +4 Republican on party ID, a distribution inconsistent with almost all other recent polls, which have been showing a Democratic edge. So perhaps these results, bad as they are for Bush, may actually be understating his difficulties a bit.

April 6, 2005

Meyerson: Bring White Working Class Back Home

In the current issue of Dissent, Harold Meyerson has a must-read article for Dems, "Beyond the Consensus: Democrats Agree on How to Play Defense, But What Are They Fighting For?" Meyerson offers a lucid assessment of the current state of the Democratic Party, its propects and what can be done to create a majority anchored in Democratic principles:

One point on which all Democrats agree is that the party needs a red-state strategy. In olden days, the DLC might have made this argument, to the strenuous opposition of social liberals. These days, labor has embraced a proposal from the Teamsters that the movement should focus its organizing in battleground and red states....

Consensus reigns. We are all Democrats; we are all cultural moderates...Though the killer issue in last November's election, we know, wasn't really moral values; it was national security. And we need to be for that, too.

Will that get us back into the majority? For the really disquieting thing about the exit polling was that it showed that the number of self-identified Republicans equaled the number of self-identified Democrats. It's particularly instructive, and depressing, to look at the turnout figures in the non-battleground states, where neither party was buying the airwaves or flooding the mailboxes or walking the precincts to get out their vote. In battleground states, Kerry pulled down 3.6 percent more votes than Al Gore had four years before, and Bush exceeded his 2000 totals by 4.4 percent. But in non-battleground states, where voters were left to their own devices, Kerry increased his total over Gore by just 1.5 percent, while Bush boosted his total by 3.9 percent. In Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, where no major offices were on the ballot, turnout hit an all-time high. That's the white working class, flocking to George Bush.

And did they ever flock! Kerry lost white, working-class voters-a group that constituted roughly half of the 2004 electorate-by 23 percent, six points worse than Gore had done in 2000. The shift away from the Democrats came chiefly among white, working-class women, who voted nine points more for Bush this time than they had four years ago. To a considerable degree, that's a function of their trust in Bush on matters of national security: 66 percent of white, working-class voters said they trusted Bush to handle terrorism, compared to just 39 percent who trusted Kerry. (These numbers come from Democratic poll analyst Ruy Teixeira, who has been rummaging around in the raw data from the exit polling.)

But it's a secondary result that should really give the Democrats pause: 55 percent of these voters trusted Bush to handle the economy, compared to just 39 percent who trusted Kerry. The economy? Bush? They trust the man on whose watch the nation lost three million manufacturing jobs in four years, whose recovery has seen the lowest increases in wages and salaries of any recovery since before the Great Depression? That Bush? And among precisely the voters-the white working class-who've lost the most economically during his presidency.

Perhaps this collapse of confidence in Democratic economics isn't as bad as it seems. After all, once Kerry lost these working-class voters' trust on national security, his trustworthiness on other topics likely plummeted as well. In addition, the Bush people were certainly more successful depicting Kerry as a cultural plutocrat (not that hard a job, really) than Kerry was in depicting Bush as the economic plutocrat's favorite president. Kerry was always more comfortable talking about America's proper role in the world than he was discussing America's economy, and Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg faults Kerry's campaign for failing to focus on the economy during the homestretch....

Politically, the declining strength of unions has hurt the Democrats most within the white working class. Over the past forty years, white union members have tended to vote Democratic at a rate roughly 20 percent higher than their non-union counterparts. But with the rate of private-sector union membership now down to an abysmal 7.9 percent, the voting habits of working-class whites have shifted markedly rightward.

In addition to his sobering observations, Meyerson asks some tough questions and has a lot more to say about how Democrats can challenge corporate abuse of working people. Highly reccommended for Dems interested in building a stronger party.

April 5, 2005

Higher Gas Prices Hit Middle Class

Bush's approval rating on the economy has been slipping lately and the latest Gallup poll has more evidence on one key reason for that: higher gas prices are hitting the middle class and they don't like it.

According to the new poll:

Almost 6 in 10 say the higher prices are causing a hardship, including 15% who say the hardship is "serious." More than a third of Americans have cut back on spending because of the higher prices, and about half have cut back significantly on the amount of driving they do. Lower-income Americans feel especially hard hit.

The poll, conducted April 1-2, finds that 58% of Americans have experienced hardship, the first time in the past six years that a majority has expressed this view.

Overall, 48 percent of the public has cut back on driving, due to higher gas prices, and 38 percent have cut back on household spending. By income group, these figures are 71 percent cut back on driving/68 percent cut back on household spending among those with less than $20,000 in household income, 54 percent/52 percent among those with $20,000-$30,000 income, 55/40 among those with $30,000-$50,000 and 42/29 among those with $50,000-$75,000. So the pinch from higher gas prices is now being felt at income levels well into the middle class. That's a change and not a welcome one for those in the Bush administration.

New Foreign Policy Blog

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the new foreign policy blog, Democracy Arsenal, sponsored by the new Security and Peace Institute, a joint project of The Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress. It's well worth regular visits and, for openers, you might want to check out this very interesting "ten-step program to get Democrats back on the map" on foreign policy by Heather Hulbert.

April 4, 2005

GOP 'Big Tent' Collapsing?

With Republicans controlling the three branches of government and recently winning key votes in congress on the bankruptcy bill and ANWR oil exploration, it would seem there is not a lot for Democrats to be optimistic about. But some previously dim pricks of light are starting to flicker more brightly at the end of the tunnel. As yesterday's post below indicates, recent polls show President Bush's approval numbers tanking significantly and the public is clearly unimpressed with the Administration's 'leadership' on issues, including Social Security, economic policy and GOP meddling in the Terry Schiavo tragedy. In addition, it appears that some serious rifts are appearing among the GOP rank and file. Adam Nagourney provides an interesting wrap-up of the Republicans' internal troubles in his Sunday New York Times article "Squabbles Under the Big Tent":

Conservative commentators and blogs are even warning that Republican divisions could turn into turmoil once President Bush begins his fade from power. "The American right is splintering," the sometimes-conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan wrote in a column for The Sunday Times of London headlined, "Bush's Triumph Conceals the Great Conservative Crack-Up."

Nagourney also provides a typology of GOP subgroups, which Democratic strategists may find of use as a guide for peeling off potential Republican voters:

Gone are the days when the Republican Party could easily (if simplistically) be divided into social conservatives versus fiscal conservatives. There are libertarian Republicans, Christian conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans, Wall Street Republicans, balanced-budget Republicans, tax-cutting Republicans, cut-the-size-of-government Republicans, neoconservative Republicans supporting global intervention and isolationist Republicans who would like to stay at home.

Dems can also find some encouragement about GOP splintering in "Earthly Evangelist," Deborah Solomon's New York Times Magazine interview with Richard Cizik, head of the 30 million member National Association of Evangelists. Asked about his group's influence on the future of GOP environmental policy, Cizik responded,

Look, the big corporate interests have an undue say in party policy. And into this reality come the evangelical Christians. And when confronted with making a choice, this administration will compromise. Because about 40 percent of the Republican Party is represented by evangelicals. They wouldn't want the two major constituencies of the Republican Party at war with each other

Widening rifts in the GOP (see also March 30 post below) may well provide a margin of victory for Democrats in next year's congressional elections and beyond, especially for Democratic candidates who make a clear and measured pitch for the votes of Republicans moderates and supporters of environmental reforms.

April 3, 2005

Three Strikes and You're Out?

It's early days in Bush's second term but it is amazing how poorly things are going for him in several important areas.

1. Social Security. The more Bush has pushed his privatization proposal, the less the public seems to like the proposal and the more it seems to dislike Bush's whole approach to the Social Security issue. Indeed, subgroups of the public that actually support Bush's plan are now few and far between. According to a recent memo by Celinda Lake, Daniel Gotoff and Erica Prosser, based on a March "Battleground" poll:

[W]hile voters believe that some level of change needs to be made to protect Social Security, a majority opposes private accounts—no matter how they are described. When asked about the privatization of Social Security 60 percent of voters say they oppose the plan with less than one-third saying they support the plan (32 percent support and 9 percent are unsure). Even when the administration’s preferred terminology is used (‘Personal Retirement Accounts’), a majority of voters (53 percent) still opposes the plan. Just 37 percent support it and 10 percent are unsure.

Consensus is broad. Voters across the country are opposed to privatizing Social Security. Regionally, this includes majorities of voters in the Northeast (72 percent), Midwest (70 percent), Central Plains (52 percent), the West (67 percent), and even in the Republican stronghold of the South (52 percent). In states that Kerry won in 2004 by over 55 percent an overwhelming majority oppose privatization (77 percent). This is also true in the battleground states (62 percent)1. In fact, even in the states that Bush won by 55 percent or more a plurality of voters opposes privatization (46 percent to 41 percent).

Opposition to privatization is stronger among women (64 percent oppose), however a majority of men (54 percent) opposes it as well. Contrary to conventional wisdom, majorities of all age groups also oppose the plan, including notably younger voters. Seniors are the most strongly opposed (61 percent of those 65 and older), followed by pre-retirement voters (59 percent of those 45-64), those 35 to 44 (56 percent oppose), and the youngest voters (57 percent of those 18 to 34 oppose the plan). A majority of voters across races is also opposed to the plan, with minority voters being the most opposed. Fully 79 percent of African Americans and 71 percent of Hispanics oppose privatization, compared to 56 percent of white voters. Also a whopping 73 percent of unmarried women oppose privatization. There is a noticeable marriage gap, both a majority of married (54 percent) and unmarried (72 percent) voters oppose
privatization.

Not surprisingly, Republicans are one of the few groups of voters that support the President’s plan (63 percent support, 23 percent oppose). But the plan is a clear loser among independents (66 percent oppose) and Democrats (92 percent oppose)....

Majority opposition to privatization also holds constant across education levels, religion, and community type (urban, suburban, and rural voters). This issue may have the ability to create a wedge in the Republicans coalition. Born-again evangelicals oppose privatization 55 percent to 37 percent in favor and split on the Presidents’ plan (42 percent oppose, 47 percent in favor). Among white evangelical Christians 39 percent oppose the President’s plan and 49 percent oppose privatization. In other work we have done, we have found born-again Christians disproportionately dependent on Social Security for their retirement.

2. Terri Schiavo case. Bush intervened in the case in a high-profile way to prevent Terri Schiavo's feeding tube from being removed. The public strongly rejected what he was trying to do (prevent Schiavo's feeding tube from being removed) and how he was trying to do it (using the power of the federal government to change the disposition of the case). For a clear summary of the unambiguous public opinion record on this issue, see this Gallup report, "The Terri Schiavo Case in Review".

3. The economy. The most recent jobs report is anemic (110,000 jobs created in March, the weakest report in eight months), concern about gas prices is spiking and consumers are more pessimistic about the direction of the economy than at any time since just prior to the beginning of the Iraq war. And, as this report from the Economic Policy Institute shows, declining real wages are now the norm for the economy.

So far, not so good. A recent Gallup report pointed out that Bush's 45 percent approval rating in their last poll was by far the worst recorded March approval rating for a president after his re-election year. If Bush keeps striking out like this, there's every reason to believe it could sink still lower.

April 1, 2005

ISO White Catholics

White Catholics are a true swing voter group. They perfectly fit the crisp definition offered awhile ago by Gary Langer, ABC News polling director, in that their support can actually swing between Democratic and Republican candidates across different elections and that their weight in the electorate is large enough to make a change in their support politically important.

Here are the margins among white Catholic voters in the last five presidential elections:

1988: +14R
1992: +5D
1996: +7D
2000: +7R
2004: +13R

So they most certainly swing. And they are most certainly a large enough group (21 percent of voters in the 2004 election) for those swings to make a real difference. Thus, not only would it be precedented for white Catholics to swing back to the Democrats in the next election, but we can be sure such a swing would have genuine electoral significance. It would also, in all likelihood, be an indicator of more general success in reaching contestable voters, since many of the Democrats' problems with white Catholics are similar to their problems with other contestable voters.

This is by way of introducing a treasure trove of data on white Catholics that has recently been released by Democracy Corps. In their memo, "Reclaiming the White Catholic Vote", based on a late February survey of white Catholics, they provide the following useful framework for thinking about the white Catholic vote:

...White Catholics have not gone Republican. They are divided evenly on almost every important policy question and political indicator, and indeed, on their basic world views. They are split 50-50 on whether the country is headed in the right or wrong direction, on their vote for Congress, on whether we need more or less regulation, whether we need more community or more self-sufficiency, whether abortion should be legal or not and on whether the Catholic church should be more modern or traditional. They are divided evenly between those who attend church every week and those who are less observant. And finally, they are evenly divided between those with a college degree and those without – closely related to the distinct worldviews that leave white Catholics so evenly divided.

Indeed, white Catholic voters are considerably more Democratic than other white voters and more moderate on a whole range of issues, including tolerance on homosexuality and openness to stem cell research. They remain more Democratic in their identification than in their voting: Bush’s 13-point margin over Kerry among white Catholics was 10 points higher than the Republican advantage in partisanship – leaving a large bloc of voters available to the Democrats.

Indeed, that gap creates the main target audience for the Democrats: the Democratic defectors, the 10 percent of white Catholics who identify with the Democrats but did not vote for Kerry; and the post-Clinton defectors, the 14 percent who voted for Bill Clinton in 1996 but not for Kerry.

Some of the most interesting findings from the survey and analysis are displayed in a very nice accompanying color chartpack. They include:

1. Democrats have solid advantages among white Catholics on associations like "for the middle class" (+14 for the Democrats) and "putting the public interest first" (+13). But the Republicans have 22-23 point advantages on "can be trusted to keep America safe" and "respecting religious faith". And the GOP has a 33 point advantage among this group on "know what they stand for".

2. The top reason cited by white Catholics on why Kerry lost the 2004 election was "not clear on what he stood for" (48 percent selected this reason as one of the two top reasons Kerry lost, twice as many as selected "permissive on issues like abortion and gay marriage" as one of the reasons).

3. The top moral concern cited by white Catholics was "people not being personally responsible".

4. White catholics are actually much more tolerant of homosexuality as a way of life than white voters as a whole; on the other hand, they are more conservative on the abortion issue.

5. White catholics are more convinced than white voters as a whole that "America's security depends on building strong ties with other nations".

6. White catholics appear to view Democratic candidates for Congress more favorably if they are described as having traditionalist but tolerant positions on social issues--for example, not legalizing gay marriage, but supporting civil unions and against amending the constitution or trying to reduce the number of abortions, while keeping a woman's right to choose (the old Clinton "safe, legal and rare" position). White catholics also view Democratic candidates favorably who are described as favoring support for stem cell research.

7. The two approaches that net the biggest advantage for a hypothetical Democratic congressional candidate are fighting for the middle class and building a stronger national defense by increasing funding for our military and counter-terrorism programs.

These and other findings lead to the following set of recommendations in the DCorps memo, which strike me as eminently reasonable:

Highlight the Democrats as the middle class party, focused on work and personal responsibility. That remains a strong advantage for the Democrats and a very positive element of a prospective profile. There is very strong support for a Democratic candidate who rolls back tax cuts for the wealthy and deplores excessive CEO salaries, while underscoring advocacy for the middle class. Democratic defectors, in particular, are just as skeptical of corporations and supportive on economic issues.

Democrats need to reassure broadly on values. “Personal responsibility” is the most important value overall and for many of the Democratic defectors and a very important element in the Democrats being a middle-class party. Catholic voters, when they think of moral values, are looking for honesty and integrity, the Golden rule, and a commitment to family.

Catholic voters have emerged more pro- life, which is a factor in the recent losses and one of the blockages for Democrats, at least in the Midwest. But they are very responsive to a broad initiative to reduce unwanted pregnancies and the number of abortions.

Critically, white Catholics should not be caricatured as traditional social conservatives, as among the Evangelical churches. They are fairly tolerant of America’s social diversity, including homosexuality. They are open to pro-choice Democrats who emphasize fewer abortions. And they firmly align with progressive developments and science, like stem cell research, even when opposed by the Church.

The dislodged Democrats are also distinctive on security issues and much less opposed to the Iraq war. White Catholics respond very positively to a Democrat who is strong on defense and the war on terrorism.

Easier to say than to do, of course. But an excellent place to start, nonetheless.