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May 31, 2005

Demographic Groups and Turnout in the 2004 Election

There was a general rise in turnout in the 2004 election–around 6 percentage points (the exact figure varies depending on which denominator you use for eligible voters–see the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate and Michael McDonald’s United States Elections Project for two different estimates). But which demographic groups’ turnout went up the most and which went up the least in the election?

That interesting question is typically addressed right after the election by using data from the national exit polls. Of course, since the exit polls, by definition, include only voters, there is no direct measurement of any group’s turnout in the exit poll. But it is possible to take a given group’s representation in the exit poll sample and combine that with Census information about that group’s representation among all eligible voters plus the overall number of votes cast and derive an indirect turnout estimate. When you see turnout estimates for various demographic groups shortly after the election, that’s where they come from.

But there are problems with this procedure and it is certainly not one for which the exit polls were designed. These polls are designed to give information about the political preferences and attitudes of different demographic groups–information which is available nowhere else--not to generate reliable information about the demographic composition and turnout rates of the voting pool and how they have been changing over time.

For this reason, I always like to take a careful look at the Census Voter Supplement, administered as part of the November Current Population Survey (CPS) in every election year (Presidential and off-year). The Voter Supplement collects basic information about whether respondents voted, whether they were registered and a very small number of other items (for example, what time of day did the respondent vote?). No information is collected about who the respondent voted for and what the respondents’ political attitudes and partisan preferences are.

The lack of political information means the Voter Supplement is useless for examining what any given election is about. But, its huge size—90,000 to 100,000 respondents 18 and over, combined with the rich demographic information always collected by the CPS makes it a superb source for analyzing how the demographics of the voting pool have changed over time.

The Census Bureau has now released the data from the 2004 Voter Supplement. Here are some findings of interest from these data:

1. Young voters had, by far, the strongest turnout surge of any age group. As shown in this nice chart provided by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), turnout among 18-24 year-old citizens surged 11 points, compared to only 5 points among 25-34 year olds, 4 points among 35-44 year-olds and even less among older age groups. Note that the overall turnout increase in the Voter Supplement data is just a little over 4 points, so the measured 11 point increase among 18-24 year-olds is even more impressive.

2. By race, turnout rose the most among nonhispanic white citizens (5.3 points), compared to 3.1 points among blacks, 2.1 points among Hispanics and 1.2 points among asians. These data also provide a higher estimate of the nonhispanic white proportion of voters in 2004 (79 percent vs. 77 percent in the NEP exit poll) and a lower estimate of the minority proportion of voters (21 percent vs. 23 percent).

3. The exit polls claimed that 26.1 percent of voters had a high school degree or less, 31.7 percent had some college or an associate degree and 42.1 percent had a four year college degree or more. The Voter Supplement, on the other hand, pegs the education distribution of voters at 36.6 percent with high school or less, 31 percent with some college and 32.4 percent with a four year degree or more. These are big differences.

Whose estimate is more likely to be right? In this case, it’s a pretty easy call to make. If we accepted the exit poll estimate that 42.1 percent of voters had a four year degree or more, that would imply that the turnout rate of college-educated citizens in 2004 was 101 percent.

That seems, well, just a wee bit on the high side. I suggest we all go with the Voter Supplement estimates on this one.

Dems' Chances in '06 Senate Races (Part II) or Pundits vs. 'Six-Year Itch'

Ronald Brownstein has a sobering column in today’s LA Times trashing Dem hopes for winning back control of the Senate in ’06. Brownstein crunches numbers to smithereens to prove an obvious point: The Dems face huge obstacles in winning the required 7 Senate seats, and he just doesn’t see it happening. Brownstein has some corroboration from ace political seer Charlie Cook, who periodically rates both parties’ chances in upcomming elections on his website. Cook sees Dems breaking even or losing as many as two Senate seats at this point, although his future ratings may bring better news for Dems. But we like what Cook wrote back in 1997:

That second-term, midterm election phenomenon, first dubbed the "six-year itch" by political theorist Kevin Phillips, is not a foregone conclusion, but a very strong tendency does exist for the president's party to take a bath in such years. Over the last five six-year itch elections, the party holding the White House has lost an average of 44 House seats: 47 in 1966, 48 in both 1958 and 1974, and 71 in 1938. The one such election that did not produce big losses was 1986, when Republicans lost just five House seats. In the Senate, the average loss is seven seats: four in 1966, five in 1974, six in 1938, eight in 1986 and 13 in 1958. The common denominator in each of the years that saw substantial House losses was severe economic trouble…In 1986, the exception to the rule, there were no major economic problems around the time of the election. The lesson is that such debacles are not inevitable, but that it's important to keep in mind that bad things usually happen to a president's party halfway through his second term. As a result, we will be watching for each of the factors that in past six-year itch elections have triggered disastrous results for the president's party: the economy, scandal, foreign policy crises or unique political circumstances.

Kinda like those historical overviews sometimes. For another (admittedly) optimistic take, check out our May 15 post.

May 29, 2005

TAP Articles Chart Future of Liberalism

As the Democratic Party girds for the '06 elections, a pair of articles in The American Prospect by co-editors Paul Starr and Robert Kuttner shed light on the challenges confronting contemporary liberalism and reforms needed to secure its future.

Starr's "The Liberal Project Now" urges liberals to avoid the trap of becomming "merely defensive and oppositional" and to renew "the principled commitments to liberal ideas" and "liberal innovation." He offers this challenge to Dems:

Rebuilding a Democratic majority will require a broad and inclusive politics and the acceptance of ideological diversity within the party. As the Republicans support centrists who can win in the blue states, so Democrats -- including liberals -- will have to support centrists who can win in the red states. Some say the Democrats need only the courage of their convictions to tap a deep well of progressive sentiment, but if there is a latent national majority for that kind of pure and unadulterated liberal politics, it has kept itself well hidden for a long time. The more realistic goal is a government that is responsive to liberal influence on foreign and domestic policy and committed to the constitutional principles in force since the late 1930s.

In "The Death and Life of American Liberalism," Kuttner argues that the primary reason for the right's recent success is that it is "a movement, 30 years in the making" and a "smooth machine joined by common ideology." He cites the power of the GOP's superior institutional unfrastructure, discipline and echo chamber as formidable GOP assets, in stark contrast to the Dems' "uncertain trumpet" and failure to fully grasp that "conviction beats waffling." But he finds cause for Democratic optimism in surveying the current and future political landscape:

And yet, this overpowering structural tilt conceals some surprisingly good news. Despite its immense advantages, the right barely prevailed in the last two presidential elections, even against feckless Democratic campaigns. The superior infrastructure just offset the extremism. The country remains skeptical about most Republican policies, from Social Security privatization to the assault on the courts. As John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira have documented, potentially liberal groups are demographically ascendant. There is a latent liberal majority, if liberals can once again learn to do politics.

Kuttner counsels Dems to become more vigorous champions of "the economic struggles of ordinary citizens" and argues that "a resurgent Democratic Party built on progressivism would be more worth having" than a centrist party based on moderation. He concludes with this observation:

The resurgence of liberalism and the Democratic Party, when it comes, will necessarily be grass roots as well as intellectual or professional. A new generation of think tanks and message machines can help, but in a democracy, the ultimate test is whether a program animates voters. Democratic candidates will shed their temporizing not when a linguistic expert gives them better packaging but when voters demonstrate that a muscular progressivism that addresses the plight of the common American is a winning politics.

Kuttner's and Starr's articles, along with Meyerson's piece cited below, show why The American Prospect should be a regular bookmark for Dems. TAP offers its readers a lot free of charge, but subscribers help to make a worthy investment in a more focused Democratic vision.

Dems Have Huge Stake in Labor's Turmoil

Harold Meyerson's report on "Labor's Civil War" in the June issue of American Prospect qualifies as a must-read for Dems. Meyerson, American Prospect's editor-at-large, provides the kind of insider-informed reporting on organized labor's internal rifts you won't find in any major newspaper.

Meyerson describes the growing discontent within the AFL-CIO about labor's declining membership and limp organizing effort in all but a few unions. He also discusses the heated debate about allocating budget for organizing vs. electoral politics, and the powerful effect it's outcome will have on the Democratic Party's prospects going forward.

In late April, Sweeney’s problems were compounded when four of the insurgent unions -- the SEIU, UNITE-HERE, the Teamsters, and the Laborers -- abruptly moved to dismantle the crown jewel of the federation’s operation, its political program. They informed the federation that they were withdrawing the names of their members from the AFL-CIO’s political files, the computerized list with which labor wages its national, state, and local campaigns. The action threatens to undermine the foremost voter-mobilization campaign in the Democratic Party’s universe.

Meyerson points out that, as an immediate result of current internal strife, the AFL-CIO has implemented painful and extensive staff cuts. Internal turmoil may soon produce a change in top leadership, or even the establishment of a rival federation. Meyerson poses tough questions for the labor movement:

But how does a movement devoted to servicing that 8 percent organize the other 92 percent? How does a movement rooted in the Northeast, the Midwest, and on the West Coast organize in red-state America, where it needs to boost its numbers if the Democrats are to become a competitive party at the national level?

How indeed, and the answers to these questions will have very serious consequences for the Democratic Party. Republicans are no doubt hoping that the outcome will further damage labor's economic and political clout. But, given the increasing strength of the reform movement, it is at least as likely that the resolution of the AFL-CIO's internal disputes will enhance it's capacity as a political force.

May 27, 2005

How Can the Democrats Become the Party of Change? (Continued)

4. The new Democracy Corps/Campaign for America's Future poll makes the strongest case of all the recent polls on the public appetite for change (see yesterday's post for discussion of the Gallup, Quinnipiac and CBS News polls). In this poll, right direction/wrong track is at 37/55 and, by 55-41, voters say they want the country to "go in a significantly different direction", rather than continuing in Bush's direction. The latter sentiment is even more lopsided among independents (66 percent different direction/26 percent Bush's direction), moderates (66/30) and white mainline Protestants (62/35). And even white rural voters favor a new direction by 49-46.

The figure on white mainline Protestants is worth paying particular attention to. In the 2004 election, according to the 2004 National Survey on Religion and Politics (NSRP), white mainline Protestants moved strongly toward the Democrats, increasing their support of the Democratic presidential candidate by 10 points over 2000. That change brought this group to an even split of their vote between Kerry and Bush, while four years before they had given 60 percent of their two-party to Bush. Further movement in the Democrats' direction on the part of white mainline Protestants would clearly endander the GOP's tenuous electoral majority.

On Iraq, the poll finds 57 percent of voters saying the war was not worth the cost in lives and dollars (including 52 percent who strongly endorse that sentiment) abd just 38 percent saying the war was worth those costs. On the economy, by 62-36, voters say the economy is performing poorly for the middle class, rather than doing well. And on Social Security, voters reject Bush's Social Security plan whether it is simply alluded to (56-34) or explained, including his progressive indexing proposal (58-36).

In addition, by 57-33, voters believe Congress has the wrong priorities and "isn't working on the issues that matter to me" and, by 55-40, they endorse the idea that Democrats should make sure Bush and the Republicans don't go too far in pushing their agenda, rather than work in a bipartisan fashion on Bush's legislative priorities. Voters also favor Democrats over Republicans in next year's Congressional election by 5 points (48-43), which includes leads of 23 points among independents, 29 points among moderates, 19 points among white mainline Protestants and 9 points in the battleground states.

So: an appetite for change and a clear opening for the Democrats. The problem, as the DCorps report notes, is that voters still cannot bring themselves to be very enthusiastic about the Democrats--their favorability and thermometer ratings differ little from Republicans' at this point. That's because, while voters want real and substantial change, they still don't see the Democrats as being the party of such change.

That's the problem Democrats need to solve and the sooner the better. I believe the way to tackle the problem, as I argued in "Myths of Democratic Renewal", is to identify the Democrats with good new ideas that change the way voters look at Democrats.

Let me illustrate this point by flagging another result from the DCorps poll: that the two items of a Democratic agenda that made the most voters say they would be more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate were both items in the education area (early childhood investment and affordable college). Yet Democrats currently have little to say in this area and didn't appear to benefit much from education issues in the 2004 campaign. What gives?

Center for American Progress fellow Robert Gordon, in an important cover story, "Class Struggle: What Democrats Need to Say About Education", in this week's New Republic, makes a convincing case that Democrats have not benefitted more from education issues because they have had little new and exciting to say to voters about these issues. Instead, they have repeated the same old tired refrain ("more money!"), which has just reinforced voter stereotypes about Democrats and certainly hasn't made make them look like the party of reform and change.

Here are some excerpts from Gordon's article where he makes his case, but I urge you to read the entire article:

In the only exchange on education during the 2004 presidential debates, John Kerry made one argument: "The president who talks about No Child Left Behind refused to fully fund [it] by 28 billion dollars ... he didn't put in what he promised, and that makes a difference in the lives of our children." George W. Bush responded acidly: "Only a liberal senator from Massachusetts would say that a 49 percent increase in funding for education was not enough. We've increased funds. But, more importantly, we've reformed the system."

That sums up the education debate in last year's campaign. Bush championed reform and resources. Although Bob Dole had once wanted to shut down the Department of Education, in his first term, Bush supported standards-based accountability through the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). And, though he fell short of his promises on money, Bush did approve more than $30 billion in new K-12 education funding.

While Bush and the Republicans moved to the middle, Kerry and the Democrats retreated from it....The party's top three education demands were money, money, and money. "You cannot promise to leave no child behind and then leave the money behind," Kerry often said.

While Democrats reinforced the old idea that they just want to spend, Bush appealed to a public that wants both accountability and funding....

These are vivid memories for me. I was one of Kerry's education advisers during the general election. I previously worked for--and have since advised--Edwards. The views expressed here are my own, but I bear plenty of responsibility for the developments described. Yet the attitudes of the candidates reflected the attitudes of the party. Top congressional Democrats today say nothing different.

It's stunning to see Democrats lose their edge on education. That's because, on education, Democrats don't need to explain why the United States needs vigorous government; Americans already want effective public schools. Through education, Democrats reach for their own deepest aspiration: a country where birth doesn't dictate destiny. Nothing offends Democratic ideals more than the fact that a typical poor or African American twelfth-grader reads at the same level as a typical middle-class or white eighth-grader. Nothing is a greater threat to middle-class prosperity than mediocre schools. If Democrats cannot speak powerfully to an issue that speaks so powerfully to them, they cannot expect to prevail on tougher ideological terrain.

To get the politics right, progressives need to act on a policy principle that Americans understand: Money ain't everything....

Gordon illustrates the approach progressives need to use by referring to the issue of teacher quality--an issue which consistently tops the public's list of concerns about the public schools:

The tougher challenge for progressives is not to fix NCLB, but to stop talking about it all the time--and instead offer an educational vision of their own. Bush isn't vulnerable for supporting standards; he is vulnerable for believing standards are enough. Tests measure progress but don't teach children.

Progressives should tackle a challenge all but ignored by Bush: strengthening the quality of teachers. As the Education Trust notes, good teachers are the single most important factor in good schools--affecting student achievement more than race, poverty, or parental education. Three years of good teachers can lift students' scores by 50 percentile points compared with three years of lousy teachers, according to researcher William Sanders. But, as talented women have moved on to other professions, teacher quality has declined. Education majors score below national averages on standardized tests. Most schools do little to draw or keep more talented teachers: Onerous hiring procedures discourage able candidates, while the lockstep pay scale rewards seniority and accumulated degrees, not success. Schools offer $80,000 salaries to middle-aged and mediocre gym teachers while losing bright young chemistry teachers who make only $40,000. Today, a middling performer can get a routine grant of tenure after three years, then become virtually impossible to remove for three decades. One North Carolina study showed that school superintendents would have liked to remove about one in 25 tenured teachers per year, but actually removed fewer than one in 600. Teacher quality is lowest in the poorest schools, where good teachers are needed most. Students at high-poverty schools are nearly twice as likely to be taught by teachers who lack even a minor in the relevant subject.

Strengthening teaching requires changes to the pay system and school culture that abet mediocrity. Standing alone, the usual liberal solution--across-the-board pay hikes--perpetuates the maldistribution of good teachers and reinforces the irrelevance of achievement. High-poverty schools need to attract more teachers with bonuses, and all schools need to attract better teachers with the promise of higher earnings for better results. Teachers reasonably worry about arbitrary merit bonuses, but performance pay need not be arbitrary. Sanders and others are developing methods to measure each teacher's contribution, accounting for students' starting points and their expected progress. Together with peer and principal reviews, these methods promise at least as rich a basis for evaluation as those available in other professions where performance pay is the norm.

While schools need better pay to attract good teachers, they also need better systems to remove bad ones. Today dismissal can take years, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and require proof of outrageous conduct. That is unfair to students and good teachers who want peers who work as hard as they do. Faculty deserve protection against dismissals based on politics or personal animus, but schools should extend the periods needed to get tenure and streamline procedures so dismissals are fair but fast. Finally, talented young people seeking to enter teaching should not be required to get education degrees with no proven link to classroom performance.

Although still in their infancy, reforms along these lines have shown promise. When Chattanooga's lowest-performing schools offered teachers $5,000 bonuses, free graduate-school tuition, and mortgage assistance, vacancies dropped by 90 percent. The Milken Family Foundation's Teacher Advancement Program offers bonuses up to $5,000 based on a combination of evaluations and test scores. Most schools in the program are outperforming similar schools outside it. According to a recent evaluation, Teach for America's talented novices, lacking traditional training, outperform typical teachers in math instruction and equal them in reading.

A sound national plan would put big money on the table for school districts that adopt real reforms in pay, tenure, and licensing for teachers. To see what works best, schools should be encouraged to try different--and ambitious--approaches. With federal help, a city might offer a promising new math teacher in a poor school district $60,000 instead of $40,000; after excelling in the classroom for two years, that teacher might earn $80,000. Raises averaging $20,000 for one-third of the teachers at 10 percent of schools would cost $2 billion annually in a system spending over $400 billion, but could show the way to transform teaching.

Progressive leaders should couple these reforms with a sustained call for Americans to teach in troubled schools. Twelve percent of Yale seniors applied to Teach for America this year. How many more talented Americans, young and old, would teach if their country called?

....Al Gore and John Kerry both offered agendas along these lines for teacher quality. But, after giving speeches and garnering media accolades, both candidates barely mentioned their ideas again. Nor have congressional Democrats stepped up to promote them.

That shameful reticence has to stop. Americans will only come to regard the Democrats as the party of change if they sound like they're willing to shake up the system, instead of issuing the same old call for more money. That means, while voters are ready for change, Democrats are going to have to do some changing of their own to capture that voter sentiment. We shall see if they're up to it.

May 26, 2005

How Can the Democrats Become the Party of Change?

That's question number one for the Democrats to answer, because the public is ready--indeed, eager--for change. Consider these key results from the latest round of public polls:

1. The latest Gallup poll finds Bush's overall approval rating at 46 percent and his approval ratings on the economy, Iraq and Social Security at 40, 40 and 33, respectively, all three of which are the worst he has ever received in those areas. Bush also receives his poorest evaluation ever on whether he has "the personality and leadership qualities a president should have", one of his traditional strong suits: right now, only a narrow majority (52 percent) agrees and 45 percent disagree. And on whether "you agree or disagree with George W. Bush on the issues that matter most to you", 57 percent of the public says they disagree and just 40 percent says they agree (another worst ever). Finally, the public believes, by 47-36, that the country would be better off if the Democrats, not the Republicans, controlled Congress.

2. The latest Quinnipiac University poll has Bush's overall approval rating at 44 percent (39 percent among independents), his lowest ever in this poll. And, as Bush seeks to move the judiciary to the right, the poll finds 55 percent saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases and a very strong 63-33 majority expressing support for the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing a woman's right to an abortion.

3. The latest CBS News poll has Bush's overall approval rating at 46 percent (40 percent among independents) and his approval rating on foreign policy at 40 percent (31/independents), on the economy at 38 percent (32/independents), on Iraq at 38 percent (29/independents) and on Social Security at 26 percent (24/independents). Right direction/wrong track is at 34/60 and, by 61-34, the public says Bush does not share the same priorities for the country that they have. They are even more skeptical of Congress, believing, by 68-20, that their priorities for the country are different from those of Congress.

More on "How Can the Democrats Become the Party of Change?" Tomorrow....

May 24, 2005

Dems Show Promising Strength in State Legs

Despite the greater media attention given Congressional elections, the state legislatures may provide a more useful measure of the health of the political parties nation-wide, serving as a sort of “farm” club, where future leaders are trained and prepared for statewide office, congress and even national politics. The party composition of the state legs as a whole also reflect the political divisions of the American people better than the composition of congress, because there are so many. At last count, for example, there were 3,658 Democrats serving in the state legislatures, compared to 3,656 Republicans, which shows how closely divided is the nation far more accurately than the congressional head count. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans now control both chambers of 20 state legislatures, Democrats control 19 states, plus Washington, D.C., 10 states have control split between the two parties and Nebraska has a nominally “non-partisan” (and unicameral) state legislature.

But the good news for Dems is that the trend, in the wake of the 2004 elections has turned in our favor. Dems had a net gain of 60 legislative seats in the November elections, reversing the 2002 results that gave Republicans more state legislators for the first time in a half-century. Democrats also took control of seven additional state legislatures and achieved a tie in the Iowa senate, compared to GOP winning control of four legislative chambers. In Colorado, Dems won control of both the state house and senate for the first time since 1974. In North Carolina, Dems won back control of the state House and increased their lead in the state Senate.

So under-reported were the Democratic victories that Tim Storey, a political analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the 2004 Democratic victories in state legislatures were “like a hidden election,” making a bit of a mockery of the red/blue state distinctions. And remember, the state legislatures define the political boundaries of districts that elect members of Congress.

Looking ahead to 2006, some of the ripest targets for Democratic takeovers, with current margins by party, include:

Indiana House 48D - 52R
Iowa House 49D – 51R
Iowa Senate 25 tied
Michigan House 52D –58R
Michigan Senate 16D-22R
Minnesota House 66D-68R
Nevada Senate 9D –12R
Oregon House 27D –33R
Tennessee Senate 16D – 17R
Wisconsin Senate 14D - 19R

In these chambers, divide the GOP margin by two, add one, round off to the higher number, and you have the number of seats the Dems must take from the GOP to win control of the chamber. Of course the Dems have some thin margins of majority of their own to defend in a few states. But prospective donors who want to help the Democratic Party increase future strength should consider supporting Dem candidates for office in these chambers as a good way to get more bang for the buck.

May 23, 2005

Like Ouch, Man

If Maynard G. Krebs, beatnik extraordinaire, worked down at RNC headquarters, that's what he'd likely be saying about the latest round of public polls.

Newly-released data from the latest Pew Research Center poll include the following dreadful approval ratings for Bush: 43 percent approval/50 percent disapproval overall; 42/43 on the environment; 38/46 on foreign policy; 37/56 on the Iraq situation; 35/57 on the economy; 31/49 on energy policy; and 29/56 on Social Security.

The Pew analysis of the poll notes that the biggest factors (based on a regression model) driving Bush's poor overall approval rating are the public's negative views of his handling of the economy and of the Iraq situation.

The Pew poll also includes a series of questions asking respondents whether the country is making progress, losing ground or staying about the same on a series of important issues. The worst result was on the budget deficit, where 65 percent say we're losing ground and just 6 percent think we're making progress. That's followed by Social Security finances (63/6), how the health care system is working (62/9), Medicare finances (56/5), availability of good-paying jobs (55/15), illegal immigration (52/11) and the quality of public education (50/20). On the health care system, going back to 1994, and the budget deficit, going back to 1989, these are the most negative assessments ever. And on job availability, only an early 1994 reading is more negative than the public's assessment today.

Speaking of job availability and the economy, the latest ARG poll indicates extraordinarily high levels of economic pessimism. Bush's economic approval rating in the poll, 35/57, closely matches Pew's rating (as does Bush's overall approval rating at 43/51). And just 19 percent in the poll say the national economy is getting better, compared to 59 percent who say it is getting worse. Moreover, only 21 percent expect the economy to be better in a year, compared to 51 percent who say it will be worse.

In terms of their household financial situation, a mere 9 percent report that their financial situation is getting better, while 61 percent say it is getting worse. And expectations for a year from now are only slightly more positive: 23 percent say their finances should be better, while 50 percent expect them to be worse.

The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has right direction/wrong track at 35/52 and indicates a number of ways in which Bush and his administrattion are seriously out of step with the American public (for the public's views on Congress, see this earlier post).

Just 35 percent say Bush has the same priorities for the country as they do, compared to 57 percent who say his priorities are different. By 49 to 12 percent, the public says Bush and his administration are placing too much, rather than too little, emphasis on Iraq and, by 30-27, they feel the same way about "issues related to moral values". On the other hand, they feel very strongly that too little (65 percent) rather than too much (1 percent) emphasis is being placed on jobs and the economy and express similar sentiments about health care (75/3), education (57/8) and gas prices (64/9).

Consistent with this overwhelming sense that the Bush administration is putting too little emphasis on jobs and the economy, the public finds Bush administration economic policy falling short in almost every area of the economy (the one exception is on keeping interest rates low). Bush administration policies receive their worst ratings on keeping manufacturing jobs in the country (69 percent not working well vs. 10 percent working well) followed by dealing with the price of gas (67/11), managing the federal budget (65/15), keeping white collar jobs in the country (48/23), expanding the number of new jobs (48/24), controlling inflation (43/28), improving the overall economy (39/30), encouraging retirement savings (38/32) and keeping taxes low (43/34).

The public also expresses lop-sided support for Congress holding hearings on gas prices (66 percent support/13 percent oppose) and for Congress investigating Tom DeLay's relationships with lobbyists. And the public continues to think, by a wide margin, that is a bad idea (56 percent), rather than good idea (36 percent), to change the Social Security system to allow workers to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market. Moreover, those who believe private accounts are a bad idea are quite unlikely to change their minds (62 percent say their position is firm), while those who believe these accounts are a good idea are quite open to shifting their position (62 percent say they're open to changing their minds).

Things just seem to be going from bad to worse for the Bush administration. Or, as Mr. Krebs might put it: Like ouch, man--like double ouch.

Nation Articles Mull National Security, Hillary and Dems Future

The June 6th issue of The Nation, now online, has a pair of articles of interest to Dems seeking a winning strategy in the '06 and '08 elections.

Eric Alterman's "Cowboys and Eggheads" succinctly lays bare the Dems' "conundrum" in formulating a foreign policy that resonates in a positive light to average Americans. Drawing from recent articles in The American Prospect, the Wall St. Journal and think tanks, Alterman ventures a disturbing thought:

Liberal Democrats today are faced with an unhappy paradox. The most significant factor in John Kerry's defeat was that, according to exit polls, 79 percent of voters who said terrorism or national security determined their vote chose the chickenhawk over the war hero. Though they agreed with the Democrats on most issues--and agreed, by a 49 to 45 percent margin, according to election day exit polls, that the Iraq War had made us less, not more, secure--a majority of voters still felt safer with the idea of George W. Bush minding the store. Based on the evidence, it is almost a perfectly irrational reaction to reality....making sense on foreign policy is not enough. It may actually be a net negative. As Bill Clinton famously explained, Americans prefer a President who appears "strong and wrong" to one who seems right but looks weak.

Not a lot for Dems to be optimistic about there, but Alterman, a media critic and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, does note growing discontent about U.S. policy towards Iraq, and the Administration's inability to formulate a credible policy towards Iran and North Korea as trends that may help Dems in the future.

On a more upbeat note, Greg Sargent's "Brand Hillary" provides an engaging portrait of a Democratic politician (and '08 front-runner in recent polls), who is expanding her credibility with constituencies Dems lost in '04. Sargent, a contributing editor to New York Magazine, sources her upward arc in opinion polls:

Clinton's evolving approach--call it Brand Hillary--is sincerely rooted in her not-easily-categorized worldview, but it's also a calculated response to today's political realities. In effect, she's taking her husband's small-issue centrism--its trademark combination of big but often hollow gestures toward the center, pragmatic economic populism and incremental liberal policy gains--and remaking it in her own image, updating it for post-9/11 America with an intense interest in military issues...For all the consternation on the left about Clinton, her approach depends less than her husband's did on using the left as a foil. Instead it relies on two fundamental ingredients: She projects pragmatism on economic issues, and she signals ideological flexibility on social issues. This latter tactic is not, as is often argued, about appeasing the cultural right. It's about appealing to moderates in both parties.

What makes Hillary Clinton's "centrist" approach interesting is that it is tempered by her 95 percent ADA rating (By comparison, Sargent notes that John Edwards scored a 60 in his last ADA rating). Sargent wonders if the Dems "real problem" on national security "is not just the quality of their ideas, but that moderates simply won't listen to them." Senator Clinton, as Sargent makes clear, is determined to be heard.

May 21, 2005

The Exit Polls Tell a Different Story on Church Attendance and Partisanship

By Alan Abramowitz

According to the 2004 NEP exit poll, the relationship between church attendance and partisanship is not just a white Protestant thing. Yes, the relationship between church attendance and partisanship/presidential vote is stronger among white Protestants than among white Catholics, but it's there for both. Among churchgoing white Protestants, those who attended religious services weekly or more often, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 61% to 19%. Among non-churchgoing white Protestants, those who attended religious services a few times a year or never, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by only 38% tp 34%. Among white Catholics who attended religious services weekly or more often, R's outnumbered D's by 44% to 29%. Among white Catholics who attended religious services a few times a year or never, R's outnumbered D's by only 36% to 35%. Not nearly as big a difference but still statistically significant and certainly politically significant. In terms of presidential voting, 77% of churchgoing white Protestants voted for Bush vs. 56% of non-churchgoing white Protestants. 61% of churchgoing white Catholics voted for Bush compared with 51% of non-churchgoing white Catholics. Again, the difference among Catholics is statistically significant and, more importantly, politically significant.

More generally, my analysis of the 2004 exit poll data shows that among white voters, two measures of religiosity--church attendance born again/evangelical identification--correlated more strongly with both party identification and presidential voting than any other social characteristics including age, income, gender, marital status, and even union membership.

The way Gallup presents the data also tends to underestimate the influence of religiosity on partisanship and voting behavior because including only Protestants and Catholics leaves out a large group of voters--those who describe their religion as "something else" or "none." These "something else/none" voters comprised 15% of the white electorate in 2004. Church attendance among "something else/none" white voters is much lower than among Protestants and Catholics: 85% of "something else/none" white voters reported attending religious services only a few times a year or never. Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 39% to 23% among "something else/none" white voters in 2004 and 65% voted for Kerry.

It's a White Protestant Thing, You Wouldn't Understand

What is the relationship between church attendance and party ID? The conventional wisdom is that those who attend church most frequently lean heavily Republican, while those who attend least frequently lean heavily Democratic. A new Gallup report, based on 30,000 interviews conducted during 2004, confirms this perception.

According to the report, a "macropartisanship" measure tapping the Democratic leanings of a group (defined here as the percentage of Democrats in a group divided by the percent of Democrats plus the percent of Republicans in that group) has a value of 40 among those who attend church once a week, 45 among those who attend almost every week, 54 among those who go once a month, 56 among those who seldom attend and 61 among those who never attend. That indicates a pretty strong and uncomplicated relationship between church attendance and Democratic leanings.

But among important subgroups of the population this relationship is considerably more muddled. Among blacks, for example, the relationship is considerably weaker and more erratic, going from 88 to 92 to 94 to 95 and back to 94, as you go from highest to lowest attendance. And among white Catholics the relationship is also quite weak and even more erratic, going from 49 to 47 to 46 to 57 to 54, as you move from highest to lowest levels of church attendance.

Given this, what's driving the strong relationship we see in the overall data on church attendance and partisanship? It's all about white protestants: at the highest level of church attendance, macropartisanship is 25, rising to 32, 41 , 47 and finally 52 at the lowest level of church attendance.

So when Democrats worry about the relationship between religious observance and supporting the Republican party, it appears they should focus most of that worry on white protestants. Among other groups, it doesn't seem to be that big a deal.

May 20, 2005

Progressive Leaders to Gather for 'Take Back America 2005'

The Campaign for America's Future is sponsoring a major conference, "Take Back America 2005," June 1-3 at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C. The Conference will feature a dazzling line-up of many of the nation's prominent progressive leaders, activists and spokespersons, including: Senator Dick Durbin; Senator John Edwards; Howard Dean; Arianna Huffington; Robert Borosage; Los Angeles Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa; Celinda Lake; Robert Kuttner; Thomas Frank; Jesse Jackson; George Lakoff; Katrina vanden Heuval; Jim Wallis; Kim Gandy; Tom Hayden; Donna Brazile; Wade Henderson; and many others.

The purpose, according to organizers:

The Take Back America Conference brings thousands of progressive activists, thinkers and leaders together to discuss our vision, unite our groups and train our campaign organizers. By building relationships and creating strategy, the Take Back America Conference is a catalyst for building the infrastructure we need to ensure that the voice of the progressive majority is heard.

The Conference will feature segments on:

STRATEGIES for building a progressive majority to make America better

Critical ISSUE CAMPAIGNS that will drive America's political debate

NEW IDEAS and winning message with leading progressive public scholars, political leaders and organizers

TRAINING in media, organizing and campaigning, organized by Progressive Majority


'Take Back America 2005' provides a unique opportunity to access the wisdom of some of America's best progressive thinkers and strategists. For more information click on the link above or, for all questions regarding the Take Back America Conference, including Conference registration, payment and accomodations, please contact:

Natalie P. Shear Associates, Inc. 1730 M Street NW, Suite 801 Washington, DC 20036

Phone: (202) 833-4456, ext. 104
Toll-Free: 1 (800) 833-1354 (for callers outside the D.C. area)
Email: takebackamerica@ourfuture.org

May 19, 2005

New Poll: Donkeys Take Early Lead in '06 Races

As GOP Senate leaders prepare to deploy their "nuclear option," a new Wall St. Journal/NBC News poll indicates that discontent with congress is approaching stratospheric proportions. The poll, conducted May 12-16, indicates that 65 percent of respondents agree that congress does not share their priorities, while only 17 percent of those polled say it does. As WSJ reporter John Harwood, puts it in his wrap-up of the poll's results:

While the survey contains warning signs for members of both parties, it is especially problematic for Republicans as the party in power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. The poll of 1,005 adults, conducted May 12-16, shows that the greatest erosion in congressional approval has occurred among self-described Republicans.

Harwood points out that, when asked "which party they want to control Congress after the 2006 elections, Democrats hold a 47%-40% edge -- the party's best showing since the Journal/NBC survey began asking that question in 1994."

There's much more in this poll that bodes ill for the white house and the GOP, especially with respect to the growing discontent of senior citizens, a key constituency, which Republican pollster Bill McInturff says "disproportionately turns out to vote in mid-term elections."

With a little luck -- and a lot of hard work -- 2006 could be the year of the donkey.

May 18, 2005

Hunting for EVs

Demographer William Frey recently released an interesting study for the Brookings Institution, "The Electoral College Moves to the Sunbelt", analyzing likely changes in the distribution of electoral votes (EVs) between now and 2030. Based on Census Bureau population projections, he expects the following to happen:

All else being equal, in 2030 the red-blue Electoral College vote would come to 303 to 235 (compared with 286 to 252 last November)....[T]his change is largely due to Snow Belt to Sun Belt demographic shifts.

The states that gain the most EVs in Frey's analysis are Florida (+9), Texas (+8) and Arizona (+5), all red states in the 2004 election.

Ron Brownstein's article based on the Frey study, "Democrats Covet the West, but Can't Keep Losing the South", looks at it from a regional angle and correctly observes:

In 2000 and 2004, Bush won all 11 states of the old Confederacy, plus Oklahoma and Kentucky. In those two elections it netted him 168 electoral college votes. That meant Democrats had to win about 73% of the remaining votes to secure a majority — a hurdle they found a little too high each time.

Frey projects that those 13 Southern states would cast 173 electoral college votes after 2010, and account for 186 after the 2030 census. If Republicans can still sweep the South at that point, Democrats would need to win a daunting 77% of the remaining votes to construct a majority.

Victories in the West might temporarily help Democrats offset the South's rising influence. But it doesn't seem a long-term solution.

I don't dispute this. Democrats can't afford to cede the entire south to the opposing team, especially given that its share of the nation's EVs will be increasing. That just gives them too little margin for error in the rest of the country.

But I do think it's instructive to look a little bit more closely at the Frey data and understand that, while cause for concern, the changes Frey analyzes are not quite as daunting as they might appear at first glance.

Essentially the Frey data say that the red-blue EV margin, under 2004 results, would expand from 34 to 68 over the 26 year period from 2004 to 2030 (a substantial period of time, let's not forget). But the swing of EVs needed to reverse the 2004 outcome is only about half of that in each year: from 18 today to 35 in 2030.

How daunting is a swing of 35 EVs, using the 2030 EV projections? Well, Ohio will still have 16 EVs in 2030, so combining that with New Mexico (5), Colorado (9) and Nevada (7), all within 5 points in 2004, gets you to a 2030 blue majority.

That doesn't seem so daunting.

And Florida, which the Democrats won in 1996 and, arguably, 2000 and only lost by 5 points in 2004, will have 36 EVs in 2030, so turning that one single state is enough to produce a 2030 blue majority.

And then there's Arizona, which, despite the Democrats' 10 point loss there in 2004, still seems likely to become more contestable over time due to demographic and other trends. That's 15 EVs in 2030. Turn those EVs plus Ohio's and New Mexico's and once again you've got a 2030 blue electoral majority.

So: study the Frey data carefully. There is much to learn there. But don't let it spook you. The increase in Sunbelt EVs is a trend a smart and energized Democratic party can easily overcome.

It's the "smart and energized" that's the hard part.

May 17, 2005

Dems Drunk on 'Frames'?

The New Republic's Noam Scheiber provides what may be the most thougthful critique to date of George Lakoff's influence on Democratic Party strategy. Scheiber's article, "Wooden Frame: Is George Lakoff Misleading Democrats?" nicely distills Lakoff's ideas about "the subtle art of framing...evoking metaphors that leave voters with favorable impressions of your positions." Says Scheiber:

Americans, Lakoff argued, vote their value systems. They care very little about individual issues; these things only matter to the extent that they reflect a voter's worldview. The implication was that Democrats need to pay attention to the powerful, if not always obvious, signals they send about values through their choice of rhetoric and policies. Republicans have been doing this for years.

Scheiber limns Lakoff's "Strict father" and "nurturant parent" analogs for the GOP and Dems, with swing voters embodying a combination of the two. Scheiber seems to believe that the concept has merit in helping to understand political attitudes. But, Scheiber, argues that Lakoff's advice could be "a dangerously seductive tonic --- the idea that the party can right its course merely by concocting better buzzwords." Scheiber's critique of Lakoff's ideas echoes the DLC's more conservative perspective:

Lately he [Lakoff] has begun promoting the idea that Democrats can regain their majority by embracing their more liberal impulses while emphasizing the values that underlie their positions. It is Democrats' ineptness at showcasing their values, Lakoff says, not their liberalness per se, that has hurt them in the past. This has, not surprisingly, endeared him to the party's liberal base. But, if this is the lesson Democrats take from Lakoff's work, they could be in for a long, cold exile.

Scheiber takes Lakoff to task for naive tactical advice to various Democratic candidates and policy advocates. But he gives Lakoff due credit for awakening Democrats to some important insights, such as the need to avoid getting trapped in terminology that accepts "conservative premises" or false dichotomies (e.g. saving jobs or spotted owls). Scheiber concludes in agreement with Lakoff's view that the GOP's exploitation of the Terry Schiavo tragedy was a net loss for Dems, although opinion polls indicate they both may be wrong (see EDM's March 8 post "New Poll: GOP Interferes In American's Private Lives")

All in all, Scheiber does a solid job of putting Lakoff's influential views in a centrist perspective, and the entire article should be required reading for Dems of all leanings.

May 16, 2005

New Polls Bring New Lows for Bush

The new Pew Research Center poll gives Bush his worst approval rating ever in that poll: just 43 percent, with 50 percent disapproval. And the new Time/SRBI poll has his rating at 46 percent approval/47 percent disapproval, also a low in that poll.

The Time poll has Bush's economic approval rating at 38/56, also a new low; his Iraq approval rating at 41/55, tied for his lowest ever; his Social Security rating at an abysmal 31/59; and even his rating on the war on terrorism at an unimpressive 53/42. The SRBI report on the poll points out that Bush is losing substantial ground among constituencies key to his narrow victory last November:

Central to Bush's November victory, according to the exit polls, was Bush's edge among older voters, his narrowing of the traditional Republican gender gap with female voters, and by evenly splitting the independent vote with Kerry. With Bush now barnstorming to promote his plans to revamp Social Security and with the shift away from terrorism as a dominant issue, older voters, women and independents have turned negative on Bush.

Among Americans age 65 and over, 55% now disapprove of the President's performance, with only 36% approving. Just before the November election, 51% of older registered voters approved of Bush. Greasing the skid, older Americans give Bush a very negative 25% approval – 65% disapproval on Social Security. Older voters divide evenly on Bush's handling of terrorism (46% approve – 44% disapprove).

Only 42% of women now approve of Bush, down from 51% just before the election. Males still approve of Bush's performance, 51% - 45%, down from 56% - 42% among registered voters in October. Women overwhelmingly disapprove of Bush's handling of Social Security by 34 percentage points, 27% approve – 61% disapprove. Women split almost evenly on Bush's handling of terrorism (48% approve – 47% disapprove).

Independents now disapprove of Bush by 13 points, 41% approve – 54% disapprove. Almost 3 in 5 independents give Bush negative scores on Social Security (59% disapprove), Iraq (60% disapprove), and handling the economy (60% disapprove).

The poll also shows a 59-28 margin against Republican efforts in the Senate to eliminate the use of the filibuster against Bush's judicial nominees. And, by 53-37, the public says that other states should follow California's lead in funding all types of stem cell research.

Two just-released state polls underscore the extent to which the political winds have shifted against Bush. In Minnesota, a swing state that Bush narrowly lost to Kerry in 2004, the latest Star Tribune Minnesota poll shows the following:

With a rising number of Minnesotans unhappy about the nation's direction, President Bush's job-approval rating in the state hit an all-time low of 42 percent last week, according to the latest Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.

It's the lowest job-approval rating for a president in the Minnesota Poll in more than 12 years.

The poll found Minnesotans in a sour mood about the direction of the country:

Fifty-five percent said the country has gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track, a 6 percentage point increase in four months.

Overall, the president's job-approval rating in Minnesota has declined by 9 points since January, the last time it was measured by the poll....

No president has fared so poorly in the Minnesota Poll since Bush's father received a 32 percent job-approval rating in October 1992, a month before he lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton.

A new Tribune/WGN-TV poll in Illinois, where Bush was soundly defeated by Kerry in 2004, shows him losing support even in his relatively strong areas of the state:

President Bush's handling of the economy and sagging support for the war in Iraq have caused his support to erode further in Illinois since last fall, when he won re-election but lost the state to his Democratic rival by a wide margin.

Approval of the president's overall performance--41 percent in a statewide Tribune/WGN-TV poll--has slipped even in Chicago's collar counties and Downstate, which were once more likely to back Bush. A similar poll last October showed Bush's job approval rating at 45 percent....

The president, of course, wasn't starting with a strong base of support in Illinois. The state's 5.27 million voters sided with Democrat John Kerry by a margin of more than 500,000 votes. Bush won 44.5 percent of the vote to Kerry's 54.8 percent, one of the president's poorest performances nationally.

And since the election, the poll found, his support has softened even further. And it has slumped in his erstwhile strongholds.

Before the election, a statewide survey by Market Shares Corp. indicated that 57 percent of Downstate voters approved of the president's overall job performance. In the latest survey, just 47 percent of respondents Downstate approved.

And what of Bush's strenuous efforts on behalf on his Social Security plan?

When asked about Bush's plan to let younger workers set aside some of the payroll taxes they pay for Social Security for private retirement savings accounts, 47 percent called it a bad idea, 33 percent a good idea.

Just as surveys have found nationally, younger voters are more likely to support the president's plan. Yet even among the youngest voters in Illinois, those aged 18-34, the president has failed to find majority support for his plan, with only 43 percent calling it a good idea.

My, my, sounds like there are some testy voters out there in the heartland. And, for that matter, all over the country these days. Voters were expecting something better out of Bush's second term and they're clearly not getting it. Until they do, these ratings are not likely to change and may well get worse.

May 15, 2005

Dem Goal: Net Gain of 7 Senate Seats in '06

It's a long way to November '06, and a lot can happen between now and then to make predictions look silly. But if Democrats are serious about regaining control of congress, it's time to focus energies on the strategy that can win and the work that needs to be done to make it happen.

For an expert analysis of the struggle to win control of the House of Representatives, no better place to begin than Alan Abramowitz's EDM post "Seven Potentially Vulnerable GOP Incumbents." WaPo columnist Terry Neal has a pretty good wrap-up of the challenges Dems face in winning back congress in "Political Horse Race Season Opens." Neal transposed his numbers in counting the respective Senate seats defended by the Dems and Republicans. The correct figures are 17 Senate seats being defended by Democrats and 15 being defended by the GOP, according to the Senate's webpage list. As a practical matter, Dems also must defend the Senate seat of retiring Independent Jim Jeffords, who votes with Dems.

An 18-15 Democratic disadvantage in seats to defend could spread Dem resources a little thin, and regaining control of the Senate will be a tough challenge. Yet historically, the party of the sitting President has lost an average of 6 Senate seats in off-year elections, and Dems have increasing grounds for optimism. As Neal quotes Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Phil Singer:

"I'm not going to say we're going to win back the Senate but we feel pretty confident about picking up seats," Singer said. "With [House Majority Leader Tom] DeLay's issues, and [lobbyist Jack] Abramoff, and Social Security, there's a general discontent about the way Republicans are running Congress, and we're waiting for a wave to emerge."

Republicans, who enjoy a 55-44-1 majority, are already talking up their prospects for a net gain in the '06 Senate races. For a look at the conservative take on the '06 Senate races, read John J. Miller's round-up "Springtime for Senators" in the National Review. Miller's article has some interesting inside details about 25 of the 33 Senate races. As might be expected, however, Miller is a smidge over-optimistic about GOP prospects, particularly in Rhode Island, Maryland and Ohio, where Dems will run strong.

There's no denying the GOP has a formidable advantage in 3 fewer seats to defend in '06, and a net gain of 7 seats to regain control of the Senate is an ambitious goal for Dems. But polls are tilting nicely in the Dems' favor, issues are breaking our way and the downside of one-party rule is becomming more painfully obvious every day.

May 14, 2005

Democratic Potential Among White Working Class Voters (Continued)

Yesterday, I started discussing the new Pew Research Center political typology survey and what it tells us about Democratic potential among white working class voters. Here is the continuation of the list of the most relevant data points from the survey:

4. Pro-government conservatives (PGCs) believe, by 80-13, that "government should do more to help needy Americans even it means going deeper into debt" They also believe, by 83-11, that too much power is concentrated in the hands of few large companies and, by 66-27, government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest. Finally, the PGCs believe , by 61-32, that stricter environmental regulations are worth the costs, rather than that such regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy. (Note: no data available on these questions for Disaffecteds.)

5. Both PGCs (47-46) and Disaffecteds (53-31) put a higher priority on moving stem cell research forward than on not destroying potential life in human embryos.

6. Both PGCs (71-22) and Disaffecteds (78-13) overwhelmingly endorse the idea that outsourcing is bad for the economy because of its effect on jobs, rather than good for the economy because it keeps costs down.

7. The Pew report puts a great deal of emphasis on the centrality of national security issues in determining who leans Democratic and who leans Republican. Indeed, the report asserts:

Foreign affairs assertiveness now almost completely distinguishes Republican-oriented voters from Democratic-oriented voters; this was a relatively minor factor in past typologies. In contrast, attitudes relating to religion and social issues are not nearly as important in determining party affiliation.

In light of this argument, it's interesting to note that PGCs and Disaffecteds do depart from the Republican-leaning consensus on some foreign policy issues. For example, Disaffecteds believe that the best way to ensure peace is through good diplomacy, rather than military force (49-38) and that relying too much on force creates hatred and more terrorism, rather than that military force is the best way to defeat terrorism (47-38). And PGCs think, by 50-40, that US foreign policy should account for allies' interests, even if that entails compromise, rather than follow national interests even when allies disagree.

Of course, none of this means that white working class voters in these two groups will be an easy "get" for the Democrats. The Pew report provides abundant data on various pressures pushing these voters in the GOP direction.

Nor does it mean that simply invoking some of the issues on which these groups agree with Democrats will produce an automatic harvest of white working class votes. As Ralph Whitehead points out, reaching these voters is a great deal more complicated than that.

But it does indicate a serious opening for Democratic appeals among these voters. And it is important to stress that such appeals need not eliminate the GOP advantage among white working class voters or even come close. All that is necessary is to reduce their current landslide levels of dominance among these voters to dominance that is not quite so lopsided.

Keep in mind that Bill Clinton actually carried white working class voters in both his successful presidential campaign (by a single percentage point in both instances). But Democrats need not replicate that performance. If Democrats can simply keep the Republican margin among white working class voters to the low double digits (say 11-12 points), and maintain their margins from 2004 among college-educated whites and among minority groups (note that I assume no improvement from 2004 in the Democratic peformance among Hispanics, though I strongly believe that is likely to happen), my estimates indicate that the Democrats will win the 2008 presidential election by 3 points.

And if the Democrats can keep the Republican margin among working class whites to single digits? It's lights out, GOP.

May 13, 2005

Democratic Potential Among White Working Class Voters

I've written quite a bit lately about Democratic woes among white working class voters. Clearly, Democrats can't get very far without substantially improving their performance among these voters. But there is reason for hope. Two recent reports demonstrate there is considerable potential for Democratic inroads among large segments of the white working class.

The first report is a recent cover story in Business Week on "Safety Net Nation". As the story points out:

The most predictable members of Safety Net Nation are liberals who favor activist government. The really crucial bloc, however, is made up of those who backed Bush in 2004. They still approve of his overall job performance but have soured on Wall Street and dislike the President's approach to Social Security. This faction--estimates range from 17% to 22% of the electorate--rejects both traditional liberalism and conservative laissez-faire. In an era of rampant job insecurity, when employer-provided pensions and health coverage can no longer be taken for granted, they want a middle-class security blanket that gives them protection as they build wealth.

The story terms those Bush-backers who now think he's gone off the rails on Social Security as "Safety Net swing voters". And it is apparent from data provided with the story that these swing voters are primarily working class whites (especially men). I have flagged the potential for Bush's Social Security plan to alienate Republican-leaning white working class voters (or "Sam's Club Republicans", as Reihan Salam, likes to call them) before and this is more evidence of the same.

The second report of interest is the new Pew Research Center 2005 Political Typology survey. This is a moose of a report and, while I generally don't care too much for elaborate attitudinal typologies of voters such as the one used in this report, it still contains much useful data.

For our purposes, the most interesting two groups in their typology are "Pro-Government Conservatives" (PGCs) and "Disaffecteds".

The PGCs, classified as a Republican base group, are 10 percent of voters. They are 85 percent white, 85 percent non-college-educated, 90 percent with incomes below $75,000 and 62 percent women.

The Disaffecteds, classified as a middle group (though they leaned strongly toward Bush in the last election) are also 10 percent of voters. They are 81 percent white, 89 percent non-college-educated, 87 percent with incomes below $75,000 and 57 percent men.

So both groups are clearly dominated by working class whites, though the PGCs are heavy on working class white women and the Disaffecteds on working class white men. And both of these white working class groups show considerable sympathy for Democratic approaches according to the Pew data. Here are a few of the most relevant data points:

1. PGCs favor a government guarantee of health insurance for all, even if it means raising taxes, by 63-33 and Disaffecteds favor such a guarantee by 64-26. The most economically conservative group in the GOP coalition, the "Enterprisers" (dominated by affluent, educated white men) opposes such a guarantee by 76-23.

2. PGCs favor raising the minimum wage, 94-5, and Disaffecteds favor it by 84-13.

3. PGCs, by 58-27, want Bush's tax cuts either repealed completely or repealed for the wealthy, rather than made permanent and Disaffecteds endorse the same viewpoint by 51-33. Enterprisers, on the other hand, support making the tax cuts permanent by 82-13.

More on "Democratic Potential Among White Working Class Voters" tomorrow....

May 12, 2005

White Working Class Voters and the Democratic Economic Agenda

By Ralph Whitehead, Jr.

What's surprising, amid the stream of post-election advice to Democrats, is how little of it so far has been devoted to a sustained effort to identify which segments of the beyond-our-base electorate ought to be our targets for the next time around. Our side did a brilliant job of mobilizing our base, but still fell short, because the other side did more than just mobilize its base. It also tried to pick off voters beyond its base, such as white Catholics with weak Democratic leanings, Hispanics (both Catholic and Pentecostal), steelworkers in West Virginia and Ohio and Pennsylvania, African-Americans in Ohio, Jewish voters in South Florida, and married mothers. As they say in the NFL, the Republicans played in our backfield, but we didn't play in theirs. We need an equivalent list, the better to figure out how we, too, can appeal to voters beyond our base, and should get started on the list and the figuring-out ASAP.

One group that belongs on the list is white working class voters–white voters without a four-year degree--especially those of working-age who don't live in union households. White working class voters as a whole make up around half of the electorate and, according to Ruy Teixeira’s analysis of the 2004 NEP exit poll data, they voted for Bush by a margin of 23 points. Because they favored Bush by a smaller 17 point margin in Gore's popular-vote victory of 2000, Kerry could have come very close to winning the 2004 election simply by keeping his losing margin among working class voters at Gore’s level.

If you're inclined to attribute the 2004 drubbing among white working class voters in part to the their social and cultural concerns, you're on solid ground. We ignore those concerns at our peril. At the same time, though, there has been a view that we can override those concerns (up to a point) by appealing to the white working class on the economy. What is striking in Teixeira’s analysis of the 2004 NEP data, consequently, is his finding that noncollege white voters favored Bush on the economy by a margin of 55 to 39. Our economic agenda isn't yet a magic bullet.

Consequently, it's important to develop an economic agenda that appeals strongly enough to the white working class to be able to pull some of its members into our column. In developing this agenda, I would argue, we have to swallow hard and acknowledge a couple of daunting obstacles that stand before us.

For one, the existing public policy agenda of economic liberalism -- modest increases in the minimum wage, labor law reform, improvements in education and in job training, financial aid for college students, universal health care -- is necessary to the economic security of noncollege households in general, be they white or minority. But the forms of help that it offers to the white working class aren't large enough and wouldn't flow into their hands quickly enough to persuade them to see us as an obvious slam-dunk alternative to the Republicans.

(I recently sat in as an economist briefed a candidate for statewide office in a New England state. At one point, the economist was asked: Picture a couple in their late 40s. Each has a year or two of college and, because they bought it 20 years ago, they own their own home. They figure they will have to work for at least 20 more years. But they wonder if there will be relatively good-paying jobs available to people like them over the course of the next 20 years. What can a Democrat say to them? The response of the economist, himself an earnest and conscientious liberal, was: Move out of the state. This isn't the bumper sticker that the candidate was looking for.)

For the other: For all the talk about economic populism, Democrats no longer have the ability to make a truly effectively economically populist appeal to the white working class. I'm talking about the ability to do it, not the desire to do it. There are certainly Democrats who lack the desire. But even those who have the desire nevertheless lack the ability.

In order for an appeal to economic populism to win over its audience, it must do more than attack the big guys. Rather, it must address three assertions to its audience. The first: You are the backbone of the nation's economy. The second: The big guys are making it hard for you to make a living because they are thwarting your ability to act as the backbone of the economy. The third: In your struggle with the big guys, we're on YOUR side -- and here's how we're going to help...

But even economic liberals can no longer make such an appeal. They can't do it because they won't make the first assertion, and thus won't utter the last 12 words of the second assertion. They could say these things in the past. In the agrarian days, they could go before a crowd of farmers and tell them: It is the sweat of your brow that feeds and clothes our nation. In the industrial age, they could say to factory workers: It is your muscle and your sinew that drive the wheels of our mines and mills. They could echo the words of "Solidarity Forever. "It is you who plow the prairies, build the cities, dig the mines... -- without your brain and muscle, not a single wheel can turn.” Today, though, if Democrats stand before the white working class, they can't even make a proper beginning: YOU are the backbone...

Democrats can't say it because they don't believe it. What they do believe is something quite different: We now live in the age of human capital. Noncollege workers, be they white or people of color, be they union members or otherwise, lack the crucial human capital of a four-year degree. (After all, the gap between college earnings and noncollege earnings is much larger than it used to be.) The economy is now a knowledge economy, and higher education is a crucial source of knowledge, and so how can noncollege workers be its backbone?

Think of what this implies: We could round up the directors and CEOs of every Fortune 1000 company and lock them up in jail for the rest of their lives -- but this by itself still wouldn't be enough to turn our noncollege workers into the backbone of the economy.

To go beyond our base and into the white working class, Democrats also have to be willing to go beyond a couple of our assumptions about what belongs in the liberal economic agenda.

The first step for Democrats is to acknowledge that there is a problem. This acknowledgment is aptly expressed by Harold Meyerson in the spring issue of Dissent: "We are all talking about how to inoculate ourselves on cultural and security concerns. But we are not talking about how better to exploit our advantage on the economy. To a considerable degree, that's because we've lost our advantage on the economy, and we don't know how to get it back or even what to advocate to get it back."

The next step, of course, is to get started on solving the problem.

Governor Approval Polls: Dems Outperform GOP

Daily Kos has an encouraging wrap-up of poll results evaluating the performance of Democratic Governors, vs. their GOP counterparts. Kos bases his wrap-up on SurveyUSA's just-posted list of recent approval ratings for Governors of the 50 states. Kos quotes Chris Bowers of MyDD on the Govs' respective approval/disapproval ratings:

The 22 Democratic Governors have a slightly higher approval rating than the 28 Republican Governors. The average Democratic approval rating is 49, with 39.5 disapproval. The average Republican rating is 47.9 approval, and 41.4 disapproval.

Even better, Bowers says:

Most potential Republican Presidential candidates look terrible. Bush (FL) is at 49/46, Romney (MA) is at 41/51, Barbour (MS) is at 37/55, and Pataki (NY) is at 36/56. Barbour is particularly toxic, considering how conservative Mississippi is... Even Schwarzenegger is at 40/56, and looking very vulnerable.

Bowers points out that, with the exceptions of Christine Gregoire of Washington and Oregon's Ted Kulongoski, whose approval numbers are way down, western Democratic Governors are doing particularly well, with a 59/30 average:

Freudenthal (WY) is at 67/20, Napolitano (AZ) is at 59/32, Henry (OK) is at 59/30, Schweitzer (MT) is at 58/27, Sebelius (KS) is at 54/34, and Richardson (NM) is at 54/39.

Considering that Governors have historically been the more successful presidential candidates, the polls come as especially good news as Dems look to 2008.

May 11, 2005

Political Capital? What Political Capital?

According to the latest Gallup poll, the "Public Mood Remains Dour". Here's the lead paragraph from their report on the poll.

The latest Gallup survey finds the public's mood little changed over the past several weeks. President George W. Bush's approval rating is at 50%, up two points from the last two measures. Satisfaction with the way things are going remains in the doldrums -- 39% of Americans are satisfied, 58% are dissatisfied. And Gallup's two basic economic questions show a still-gloomy public.

The data about economic gloom are quite striking:

Overall, 31% of Americans rate economic conditions as either excellent or good, and 25% rate them as poor. That 6-point positive gap is essentially unchanged from the 7-point gap in late April, but is much smaller than the 19-point gap in early March and the 24-point gap at the beginning of the year.

Similarly, the public economic outlook is more negative now than it was at the beginning of the year. Currently, 61% of Americans say the economy is getting worse, and 32% say better -- similar to the 61% worse and 31% better ratings in late April. But in early March, only 50% said the economy was getting worse, and 41% said better. And at the beginning of the year, more people expressed a positive than a negative rating -- with 48% expecting the economy to improve and just 42% expecting it to get worse.

An earlier Gallup poll also found that:

Americans are also clearly unhappy with the way President George W. Bush is handling gas prices. Just more than one in four approve of his handling of the issue, and two-thirds believe there are reasonable things he can do to lower gas prices, despite his assertions that there is little he can do. A majority of Americans find Bush to blame for the gas prices, but foreign countries that produce oil and U.S. oil companies are more likely to be blamed.

The April 29-May 1 poll finds 78% of Americans terming the gas prices they are currently paying as "unfair," and just 20% saying they are "fair."

Americans do not expect relief from the high prices anytime soon. In fact, a majority of Americans expect gas prices will continue to rise over the next six months. Thirty-three percent believe gas prices will stabilize, and just 9% predict they will go back down.

The latest Marist poll has Bush's approval rating even lower than Gallup's recent polls, at 47 percent approval/49 percent disapproval. The poll also finds his Iraq approval rating at 40/56, his economic approval rating at 40/46 and his approval rating on the war on terrorism at a mere 48/48--an all-time low--including a distinctly underwhelming 42/53 among independents.

Wow! What ever happened to all that legendary Bush political capital? Voters seem to be taking out their dissatisfaction directly on him these days, rather than cutting him endless slack.

William Schneider has a crisp answer in his latest column, "What Political Capital?":

The rule about political capital is, when you've got it, spend it, because you can't hold on to it. "I earned capital in this campaign, political capital," President Bush said two days after winning re-election, "and now I intend to spend it." And spend it is exactly what he is doing—with a bold agenda focused on Social Security, the Middle East, energy, judicial nominations, and the "culture of life."

But the president has a problem. His political capital is just about depleted. Bush had a huge supply of capital after 9/11. And he spent it—all of it—on Iraq. The 2004 presidential election, which he won with 51 percent of the vote, replenished only a little of his capital.

Look at what's happened to Bush's job-approval ratings, as of April: the Gallup Poll, 48 percent approval; The Washington Post/ABC News poll, 47 percent approval; and the CBS News, Associated Press, and American Research Group polls, all 44 percent. Bush's ratings have fallen since the beginning of the year in every poll. His average job-approval rating for April was 45 percent, the lowest on record for any president just three months into his second term.

Schneider concludes, after a discussion of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's similarly falling fortunes:

Schwarzenegger and Bush both overreached, putting forth agendas that went way beyond their mandates. They have both depleted their political capital. They're now into deficit spending.

Just so. But why should we be surprised? The GOP hasn't treated the nation's capital any differently.

Two Out of Three Oppose GOP 'Nuclear Option' in New Poll

A recently-released Washington Post/ABC News Poll reveals overwhelming public opposition to the GOP 'Nuclear Option' for confirming federal judicial nominees. The Poll, conducted on 4/24, indicated that 66 percent of respondents oppose "changing senate rules to make it easier" for Republicans to confirm Bush's judicial nominees, while only 26 percent said they supported the proposal.

Informed that the Senate confirmed 35 of President Bush's federal appeals court nominees, while Senate Democrats blocked 10 of them, 48 percent of the poll's respondents said that Democrats were right to block the nominations, while 36 percent said they were wrong.

May 9, 2005

Once Again on Party ID and Likely Voters

We've all had a chance to calm down since the polling controversies of the 2004 campaign. Where do we stand on the two biggest ones: party ID/party ID weighting and likely voter screens/models?

Party ID

The wild swings in party ID during the 2004 election campaign, particularly the huge Republican advantages that started showing up, were defended by Gallup and other pollsters as just reflecting actual changes in party ID as the campaign evolved. They took vindication from the exit poll results that showed an even distribution of party ID, rather than the 4 point Democratic advantage four years earlier.

But it doesn't follow that, if there was a shift toward parity in party ID (leaving aside the turnout issue) in the '04 campaign, that therefore the 6-10 points or more Republican advantages we were seeing at some points during the campaign were therefore real. Those still seem quite out of line, indicating levels of party ID movement among voters in short periods of the campaign that just don't seem plausible.

The idea that sample bias couldn't possibly have been a factor in some of those outlandish '04 campaign results seems especially questionable in light of the fact that the NEP exit pollsters--paid-up members of the polling establishment--now maintain that the Kerry bias in their own poll stemmed from differential willingness to be interviewed on the part of Kerry and Bush voters. This is the same dynamic--differential willingness to be interviewed by a highly politically consequential variable--that myself, Alan Abramowitz and others thought could be causing some of the skewed samples during the election campaign.

Indeed, if the NEP pollsters are right, perhaps we had the mechanism slightly wrong on the pre-election polls: intead of differential willingness to be interviewed by partisanship, it was, more simply, differential willingness to be interviewed by Bush supporters and Kerry supporters. Such a differential could easily produce the sudden partisan skews we saw in some of these samples.

On party ID weighting, if sample bias has been and is a problem and all the party ID shifts we see aren't completely driven by actual shifts in public sentiment (+ random sampling error), then there is still a case for party weighting. Weighting by the exit poll distribution is certainly a blunt instrument and I wouldn't advocate it as a matter of course. But "dynamic party ID weighting" continues to be a very defensible idea.

The idea here, associated with political analyst Charlie Cook, is that polls should weight their samples by a rolling average of their unweighted party ID numbers taken over the previous several months. This would allow the distribution of party ID to change some over time, but eliminate the effects of sudden spikes in partisan identifiers in samples such as we saw during the '04 campaign (and still see from time to time now in both partisan directions; there have been polls recently that have seemed implausibly Democratic, as well as those that have seemed implausibly Republican).

Pollsters don't want to do this? Want to maintain there's absolutely nothing wrong? Fine: just give the public the data needed to form independent judgements of their polls and conduct independent analyses (e.g., computing and applying dynamic party ID weights) if they wish to. Mark Blumenthal's series on party ID disclosures by major pollsters is instructive. There is clearly progress here, but still considerable resistance. It's still hard to find these data, even by pollsters (like Gallup) who say they are making it publicly available. If you read The Hotline, you can now get the party ID breakdown of nearly every poll. But very few people have access to The Hotline.

There is no reason why every pollster couldn't fully disclose on a webpage somewhere on a public site: party ID and demographic distributions of both weighted and unweighted samples for every poll they do and for every type of sample they have: general public, registered voters (RVs), likely voters (LVs), etc. They have the information: let it free.

Likely Voters

LV samples appeared to do better than RV samples when predicting the election results right before the election. They should have; that's what they were designed for. But it doesn't follow that therefore, say, Gallup was fully-justified in using tightly-screened LV samples, with their very volatile results, weeks and, in fact, many months before the actual election. As academic analyses and common sense suggest, political movement indicated by such LV results are typically driven by voters moving in and out of the LV samples in the weeks and months before the election, rather than actual changes in voter sentiment. But Gallup's LV results were shamelessly promoted during the '04 campaign as indicating just that: real changes in voter sentiment. That's not right and is a corruption of what LV models and samples were originally developed for--predicting the results of the election, right before the election.

It's also worth noting that elaborate, tight LV screens like Gallup's, that have the most volatility, didn't do much better than weak LV screens in predicting the actual election outcome in the days before the election (see these data collected by Mark Blumenthal, keeping in mind that the final Bush-Kerry margin was about 2.45 percentage points, not the 2.9 points indicated in his post). So there wasn't even that much of a payoff for their methodology there.

Pollsters don't want to change their methodologies? That's their prerogative, however much I may disagree with them. But they clearly should, at a minimum, publicly release their screening questions and methodologies and full results and demographic breakdowns of results from their screening questions, as well as the information called for above on the composition of the samples they produce by their pet methodologies.

In general on both the party ID and likely voter controversies: pollsters may not agree with the criticisms I and others have made, but by God there's no convincing reason why they can't release the sample data I outline above on a regular basis. Full disclosure, full disclosure, full disclosure! What are they afraid of?

Blair's Win: Lessons for Dems?

Dan Balz discusses some possible lessons for Dems in the British elections in his Sunday WaPo article "Democrats Could Profit From Blair's Labor: Prime Minister Shows Value in Hewing to Center." Balz concedes that making any comparisons between the Labor and Democratic parties' performance in national elections is fraught with problems. For starters, it's impossible to sort out how much of the average Brit's vote is for Prime Minister, since they don't vote directly for the P.M., just their local M.P. Balz does believe, however, that among other factors, a thriving economy played a central role in Blair's victory:

Under the guidance of Gordon Brown, Britain's finance minister and likely prime minister when Blair steps down, Labor has made the economy its number one priority, supporting growth policies that have provided stability and prosperity...."No one really argued that there was no improvement in public services or the economy," said David Miliband, a former domestic policy adviser to Blair who was named to a cabinet position in the new government. "People could say they wanted more, but they recognized that there was improvement."

WaPo columnist Sebastian Mallaby sees huge economic problems looming for the U.K. in the near future. But he notes further in today's column on "Blair's Magic":

Since Labor took power eight years ago, there hasn't been a single quarter in which the economy failed to expand. Inflation has stayed out of sight. Unemployment, the bane of Britain 20 years ago, has fallen below 5 percent, marginally lower than in the United States and less than half the rate in France and Germany.

By contrast, Balz argues that the Democrats have failed to make the most of their successes as stewards of the economy under Clinton or the GOP's failure to deliver economic security:

In 2000, Democrats surrendered their advantage on the economy when Al Gore decided not to make the economic record of the Clinton administration the central theme of his campaign for president. Democratic strategists believe that Bush's economic record, particularly on fiscal matters, provides an opening to make the Democrats once again the party of stability, growth and fiscal discipline. But party leaders have yet to do so.

Balz doesn't have a lot to say about the effect of the national security issue on Blair's win. Clearly, the "Bush's lapdog" critique had a very limited effect. Given the much stronger anti-war sentiment and movement in the U.K., however, it may account for the loss of Labor seats in Parliament. But Balz hit on something important in citing "the conviction Blair demonstrated in the face of rebellion in his own ranks." And, Mallaby has noted Blair's:

...willingness to espouse policies on frankly moral grounds have been a tonic for his country's cynical culture, even if his perceived dissembling on Iraq has brought the cynics out in force again recently

Anyone who has watched Tony Blair holding forth on C-SPAN's broadcast of "Question Time" in the House of Commons would likely agree that, like him or not, Blair doesn't waffle on issues, particularly Britain's involvement in Iraq. The big lesson for Dems in Britain's elections may be that certitude, rightly or wrongly, is a key to winning uncommitted voters.

May 7, 2005

DeLay's District Turning on Him?

It appears that Democratic Party campaign strategists can now add Tom DeLay's District to the list of possible wins in '06. In his article "DeLay of the Land: Home Invasion," in The New Republic, senior editor John Judis argues that changing demographics and a growing number of Republicans disenchanted with DeLay's ethics problems and his pandering to religious extremists give Democrats a solid shot at winning DeLay's house seat in '06. Judis, co-author with Ruy Teixeira of The Emerging Democratic Majority, describes the dynamics of DeLay's district:

DeLay's 22nd district, which he designed in a 2003 redistricting effort that aimed to net seven more Republican seats in Texas, has also begun to change in ways that will not benefit an outspoken Christian conservative like himself. When DeLay first won office, the district was predominately white, with a few pockets of black voters. Because the area's population has ballooned 18 percent since the 2000 census, there are no dependable figures about the district's overall composition, but both Republican and Democratic leaders agree that, without losing its high levels of wealth and education, it is becoming a "majority-minority" district, in which whites are outnumbered by other ethnic groups. Latinos and blacks moved into the district in the late '80s. And, in the '90s, middle-class Indians, Pakistanis, Vietnamese, and Chinese immigrants began to pour in. Two Hindu temples now vie for attention with the Baptist megachurches. Extrapolating from the census would put the African American population at about 10 percent, Latinos at over 20 percent, and the Asian population at close to 15 percent. The results in Fort Bend County are even more dramatic. In 1980, the area's public schools, which attract all the area's children, were 64 percent white, 16 percent black, 17 percent Latino, and 3 percent Asian. Today, they are 29 percent white, 31 percent black, 21 percent Latino, and 19 percent Asian.

Judis notes that DeLay received only 55 percent of the vote in his district in 2004 after outspending his relatively unknown Democratic opponent 5-1. The politics of demographic reallighnment in the 22nd offer hope that Delay's excesses will translate into a Democratic 22nd district: As Judis points out:

Most of the black and Latino voters are Democrats...But the Asian vote is more complex. The Indians are the most Democratic. The Pakistanis used to be Republican, but, along with other American Muslims, turned to the Democrats in the face of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment after September 11. The Vietnamese and Chinese were also initially Republicans, but have become increasingly receptive to Democratic support for civil rights.

If you put the district's disillusioned white professionals together with a majority of the Asians and large majorities of blacks and Latinos, you get a coalition that could unseat DeLay and, over the long run, perhaps, lay the basis for a Democratic resurgence in the area. This potential was evident in two races last year. In a state representative's district adjoining Fort Bend County and somewhat similar to it in ethnic composition, Vietnamese businessman Hubert Vo, running as a Democrat with the help of Tameez, pulled off an astonishing upset over eleven-term conservative Republican Talmadge Heflin, the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Vo won because he mobilized the district's Asian vote, which is about one-fifth of the electorate. Says Texas Monthly executive editor Paul Burka, "That demographic tidal wave is headed Tom DeLay's way."

Nor will DeLay, who made himself poster-boy for political meddling in private family matters during the Terry Schiavo tragedy, find much encouragement in recent polls. As Judis reports:

A poll conducted this month by SurveyUSA found that 51 percent of the district's residents disapproved of the job DeLay was doing in Washington...A Houston Chronicle poll this spring revealed that 68 percent of the 22nd district's voters disapproved of government intervention in the Schiavo case.

Winning DeLay's seat will not be easy, concedes Judis. And it will require some astute politicking to win the support of non-white voters, who are rapidly becomming a majority in the 22nd and Republicans concerned about DeLay's ethics and financial shenanigans:

Whether Democrats can defeat DeLay will depend partly on their funding a credible candidate to run against him--one who will not scare away the district's registered Republican majority. Says Leonard Scarcella, a conservative Democrat who has been mayor of Stafford since 1969: "Someone needs to park himself to the right, and take everything to the left of that. You don't have to convince anyone on the left. You have to convince voters that you can represent conservative values on religion and fiscal stability."

Political commentator and former Clinton advisor Paul Begala, who grew up in what is now DeLay's district says the slogan of DeLay's opponent should be "I'm a conservative, not a crook."

Regardless of the outcome of the race for DeLay's seat next year, the 22nd's political and demographic dynamics are emblematic of what is happening in many districts across the nation, particularly in the south and west. If Democrats will pay attention and target their investments and resources carefully, they can end GOP domination of Congress sooner, rather than later.

Once Again on the White Working Class

In my earlier post on "It's the White Working Class, Stupid", I argued that poor performance among white working class voters cost the Democrats the 2004 election. I cited the startling finding from the 2004 NEP exit poll that Democrats lost white working class voters by 23 points to buttress my case, a finding that has been widely-cited in subsequent discussions of Democrats' problems.

In that earlier post, I defined the white working class as whites without a four year college degree, a definition that Chris Bowers of MyDD has questioned in a recent post on that blog.

For the record, here is why I use an education-based definition of the white working class, as originally set forth in my book with Joel Rogers, America's Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters:

It is this Great Divide [between the college-educated and non-college-educated] that defines the new white working class. On one side of the Great Divide, lacking a four-year college degree, are the vast majority—three-quarters--of white adults, who have not fared well over the last quarter-century. On the other side, are the quarter of white adults who have a four year degree or more and for whom the last 25 years have been a time of substantial economic progress.

Of course, these non-college educated whites are “not your father’s” white working class. Instead of blue collar work, this new white working class is more likely to be doing low-level white collar and service work. And instead of working in manufacturing, the new white working class is much more likely to work in an office with a computer or at similar service sector jobs. They are also likely to have more education; perhaps some years in college, maybe even an A.A. degree and those in the workforce are much more likely to be female. But, in economic terms, they are not so different from the white working class of previous generations....

Besides the very tangible reality of the Great Divide, there are other good reasons to define the white working class in this way. Education data is almost always collected with political surveys and the educational categories used are usually commensurate across surveys. Moreover, education data are typically collected on all survey respondents, not just those who currently hold a job, so it is possible to categorize all individuals in the survey.

Occupation data, on the other hand, though tapping more directly the traditional definition of working class, are frequently not collected on political surveys. And when it is, the categories used vary wildly and typically leave out those not holding a job, or even all those not holding a full-time job.

Income data are more commonly collected on political surveys. However, the data collected is usually categorical and these categories vary substantially across surveys. And then there is the problem of inflation, which makes comparison of categorical income data from different time periods very problematic.

For these reasons, I will stick with an education-based definition of the white working class for the time being. However, it's worth asking what Democratic performance in 2004 looks like when we add income to education for a more fine-grained consideration of white working class voting, as the exit poll data do permit (occupation, as mentioned above, cannot be looked at with exit poll data).

Here is what you find: those voters who seem to correspond most closely to one's intuitive sense of the heart of the white working class--that is, white voters who have a modest income and are non-college-educated--are precisely the voters among whom Democrats did most poorly.

For example, among non-college-educated whites with $30,000-$50,000 in household income, Bush beat Kerry by 24 points (62-38); among college-educated whites at the same income level, Kerry actually managed at 49-49 tie. And among non-college-educated whites with $50,000-$75,000 in household income, Bush beat Kerry by a shocking 41 points (70-29), while leading by only 5 points (52-47) among college-educated whites at the same income level.

Conclusion: the more voters looked like hardcore members of the white working class, the less likely they were to vote for Kerry in the 2004 election. That's a problem--a big problem--that Democrats have to take quite seriously.

May 6, 2005

Agenda for Electoral Reform Merits Support

Steven Hill's TomPaine.com article "10 Steps to Better Elections: Our electoral system is in tatters. Here's what we can do to fix it," offers a 10-point agenda for electoral reform that would not only make America's elections more fair and just, but also produce more Democratic victories. Most of Hill's proposals have been suggested before, such as automatic registration, free air time for candidates, weekend voting and abolishing the electoral college. Hill, author of Fixing Elections: The Failure of America's Winner-Take-All Politics, also calls for nonpartisan administration of elections, a verified paper trail behind every ballot and a constitutional amendment guaranteeing full voting rights to every citizen (including prisoners and residents of the District of Columbia). Hill's more controversial reforms include having voters rank their choices, instead of picking one and creating multi-member districts, both of which have been successful in some localities.

It looks doubtful that any reforms requiring action by Congress could be passed before '06, given the reluctance of the Republican majorities to do anything to expand voting rights. However, some of Hill's proposals could be enacted at the state and local level, in places where where Republicans don't have the strength to stop needed reforms. For example, reforms to enfranchise felons, or at least those who have served their time and/or those who have only one felony conviction, have recently attracted some bipartisan support and could possibly be passed in some states before '06. Had such a law been in place in Florida in 2000, for example, America would have almost certainly been spared the current Bush presidency.

May 5, 2005

Has Bush Turned the Corner?

Did Bush thrill the nation with his bold proposals in last Thursday's press conference and thereby turn around his flagging political fortunes?

Not on the evidence of the two public polls that have been released since the press conference. Consider first the results of the latest Gallup poll.

1. The poll found Bush's overall approval rating unchanged from Gallup's previous poll at 48 percent approval/49 percent disapproval. His rating on Social Security was also essentially unchannged at 35/58. His rating on the economy was up slightly to 43/53 and his rating on Iraq was down slightly to 42/55.

His ratings on energy policy (34/52) and gas prices (27/67) brought up the rear.

2. On Social Security, the Gallup data show that people are still not chafing at the bit for immediate action of Social Security. A majority (52 percent) feel that major changes are necessary only within ten years (36 percent) or not at all (16 percent), rather than in the next year or two (45 percent). Moreover, only 27 percent say that Congress should pass the Social Security plan this year most Republicans support, compared to 66 percent who say Congress should either pass a Democratic plan (22 percent) or not pass a plan at all this year (46 percent).

A generic question about private accounts that neither mentions Bush nor any possible tradeoffs of such accounts--thereby tending to produce a relatively positive response--nevertheless generates 52-45 opposition, worse than the 47-45 opposition in the middle of March, near the beginning of Bush's 60 day Social Security tour.

And Bush's specific proposal for cutting benefits for the middle and upper class, but not the poor, receives 54-38 opposition, similar to the 53-38 majority that believes Bush's Social Security proposals will but cut, rather than protect, their Social Security benefits.

Finally, at end of Bush's 60 day tour, the public continues to trust the Democratic party over the Republican party on the issue of Social Security retirement benefits. A 10 point gap in favor of the Democrats has not budged over that time period.

3. On Iraq, as noted below, 57 percent now believe going to war was not worth it, compared to 41 percent who believe it was. That's the most negative response Gallup has yet received on this indicator.

4. On the filibuster issue, the public backs the the use of the filibuster in the Senate by 52-40. And they say they back the Democrats over the Republicans in the Senate by 45-36 on this issue.

The news for Bush in the new Hotline/Westhill Partners poll is, if anything, even worse.

1. Bush's overall approval rating (48/48) is up slightly, as is his rating on Social Security (all the way to 34/56!); his rating on the economy is down slightly (to 38/57) and his rating on Iraq (41/52) is essentially unchanged.

2. On Social Security, the poll asked respondents how Bush's proposed changes to Social Security made them feel about their financial security after retirement. Only 9 percent say they feel more secure than a year ago, compared to 39 percent who say they feel less secure and 28 percent who report no change.

I suppose that's not quite the reaction Bush was looking for.

3. On the economy, there is some particularly bad news for Bush and the GOP. Just 9 percent think most American families are better off financially now than they were a year ago, while half--more than five times as many--believe American families are not as well off. As for their own family, only 19 percent think their family is better off today than it was a year ago, compared to 28 percent who think their family is not as well off and about half (51 percent) who think there's been no change.

Moreover, over half (51 percent) say they will hold Bush (37 percent) or the Republicans in Congress (14 percent) responsible, rather than the Democrats (14 percent), if the economy remains shaky.

4. On the filibuster, by 53-32, voters say they disapprove of changing Senate rules to take away the filibuster and allow Bush's judicial nominees to be voted on. And, by 46-35, voters approve of the proposed Senate Democratic slowdown if the filibuster is taken away.

Turning the corner? Sounds more like running into a brick wall to me.

Support for Bush Iraq Policy Tumbles Even Further

"How Low Can He Go?", our post asked about President Bush's poll numbers on April 21st. Lower and lower, apparently, according to a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll on Bush's Iraq policy, conducted April 29th-May 1st. The percentage of Americans who disapprove of "the way George Bush is handling the situation in Iraq" increased one point over the previous CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll to 55. Those who think "it was not worth going to war in Iraq"? Now 57 percent, up 4 percent from the previous poll. How about those who think the war in Iraq is going "moderately badly or very badly"? Now 56 percent, up a whopping 11 percent over the 45 percent who chose these two options in the previous poll.

May 3, 2005

Myths of Democratic Renewal

One of the hardest things to do is to change. That's why people--and parties--frequently try to avoid it.

That's a problem because Democrats need to change to take advantage of both their long-term opportunities (as laid out in The Emerging Democratic Majority) and the considerable opening that has been provided in the short-term by Bush's and the GOP's recent political missteps. As a number of recent surveys have documented, despite these missteps, Democrats have not generated commensurate political gains and remain bedeviled by public perception that they stand for little and lack clear ideas to deal with the nation's problems.

Rather than pursue the changes necessary to address this failure, however, much of the Democratic party seems in thrall to one or another of a series of myths about how the Democrats can renew their popular appeal.

The Framing Myth. Associated with Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakoff, the framing approach assures Democrats they need not change what they say, but how they say it--how they "frame" their message. As Josh Green pointed out in his devastating Atlantic piece on Lakoff, this framing is typically a reshuffling of tired old rhetorical cliches and shows no signs of being any more politically effective than the Democrats' previous unframed appeals.

The Inoculation Myth. One reason John Kerry got the Democratic nomination was that many Democrats thought his Vietnam service would inoculate him against the charge that Democrats were not sufficiently tough to conduct the war on terror. It didn't work. But many Democrats appear to have concluded in the aftermath of the 2004 election that the solution to the party's problems is to have more and better inoculation. Let's act even tougher on national security! And let's inoculate ourselves on values! And on religion! And on culture!

This seems no more likely to work in 2005 and beyond than it did in 2004. Voters still want to know what Democrats stand for and inoculation, pretty much by definition, cannot provide that.

The Unity Myth. Another approach among Democrats is to insist that little needs to be re-thought--the key is for Democrats to unite around what they already believe. As Mark Schmitt pointed out recently, this approach confuses a desirable kind of unity (partisan unity in action) with an undesirable kind of unity (agreement on program and ideas without vigorous debate and discussion). Democrats need far more debate and discussion about ideas, not far less.

The Mobilization Myth. A hardy perennial in Democratic circles, the mobilization approach insists that Democrats' problems can be overcome by a sufficiently high level of mobilization among Democrats and Democratic-leaning groups. The fact of the matter is, however, that the Democratic coalition was pretty highly-mobilized in the 2004 election, especially in the battleground states. The fatal problem was that they couldn't convert the considerable dissatisfaction with Bush among independents and moderates into large enough margins among these groups to win the election. That's basically the same problem facing Democrats today: how to turn the "Revolt of the Middle" into solid support in the center of the electorate. Mobilization, by definition, can't solve this problem.

Sorry, Democrats, there's just no substitute for good ideas and fresh approaches. It's time to jettison these myths and buckle down to the real work of change--serious change--in what Democrats say to voters.

OK, what should those changes be? Here are some guidelines. Ed Kilgore argues that:

....[W]e need a Reform message and agenda that (a) meshes with our negative critique of GOP misrule; (b) reminds voters who's in charge in Washington; and (c) reassures voters we aren't just itching to get back into power and substitute our form of special-interest pandering and fiscal indiscipline for theirs.

....James Carville and Stan Greenberg of Democracy Corps agree with this argument, and in their latest strategy memo, lay out the evidence for it. A Democratic agenda that includes budget reform, lobbying reform, ethics reform, and tax reform, they say, could begin to connect the dots for voters skeptical of both parties and help Democrats finally get some tangible benefits from Republican misery.

Harold Meyerson observes:

....[T]he Democrats have been losing the white working class since 1968. In the eyes of many of those voters, the Democrats became the party of racial preferences, as government became the entity that taxed them in order to give money to blacks. To be sure, Bill Clinton repositioned the party by ending welfare, and won back some of that white working class. And John Kerry did nothing to indicate that he would reverse Clinton's changes.

But still-running 16 points behind Bush on the economy, among [white] working-class voters? Something-not just Kerry or national security or the values gap or even racial politics-is badly wrong.

What's disquieting about the Democratic quiet is that it signals a failure to grapple with this most crippling of conundrums. We are all talking about how to inoculate ourselves on cultural and security concerns. But we are not talking about how better to exploit our advantage on the economy. To a considerable degree, that's because we've lost our advantage on the economy, and we don't know how to get it back or even what to advocate to get it back.

And Noam Scheiber reminds us:

....[W]hat voters mean when they claim that a politician or a party lacks ideas isn't that they lack specific proposals; it's that they lack a larger, animating philosophy. John Edwards, for example, leveled a comprehensive critique of this administration--that it was shifting society's burdens from people who made their living from capital to people who made their living working--that gave individual proposals meaning. Tellingly, most of these proposals lost their resonance once the Kerry campaign appropriated them into its wonkish miasma.

How to put all this together? Tricky! It'll take some doing and some change on the part of the Democratic party. But, in the end, it'll be a hell of a lot more rewarding than better framing, more inoculation, unity at all costs and redoubling mobilization efforts. Those may be easier and more familiar paths to take--but they lead to defeat, not victory. Personally, I'm ready to win.

May 2, 2005

More on Generation Y and American Politics

By Alan Abramowitz

An analysis of data from the 2004 national exit poll confirms the broad findings of Anna Greenberg’s report concerning "Generation Y" and adds a few additional insights. Consistent with Greenberg's analysis, the exit poll data show that the American electorate is becoming progressively less white--whites made up only 66 percent of voters under the age of 25 compared with 81 percent of voters 40 and older. Younger voters were more likely to describe themselves as liberal and much less opposed to gay marriage than their elders--43 percent of 18-24 year-olds favored allowing gays to legally marry compared with 22 percent of those 40 and older.

But social issues were not the only area on which younger voters differed from their elders. Younger voters also had a more negative opinion of the Bush Administration's economic policies. By a margin of 41 percent to 30 percent, 18-24 year olds viewed the Administration's policies as bad for the economy rather than good for the economy. In contrast, among those 40 and older, 45 percent felt the Administration's policies had been good for the economy and only 32 percent felt they had been bad for the economy.

Part of the reason for this may be that younger voters were much more likely than their elders to hold an activist view of the role of government. Given a choice between "government should do more to solve problems" and "government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals," 62 percent of 18-24 year olds chose "government should do more to solve social problems." So did 54 percent of 25-29 year olds and 55 percent of 30-39 year olds, but only 43 percent of those 40 and older.

Younger voters in 2004 were much more nonwhite, much more progressive, and much more critical of the Bush Administration's policies than their elders. Based on these results, the recent claim by Karl Rove that conservatism represents the wave of the future appears to be little more than wishful thinking.

The 'Quagmire' President

The 100-day assessments of President Bush’s 2nd term are now appearing in newspapers near you, and it’s not a pretty picture. In fact, if his current streak continues, Bush may soon be dubbed “The Quagmire President,” as a result of the failure of his Iraq and Social Security initiatives and his plummeting numbers in recent opinion polls on both topics. As John F. Harris and Jim Vandehei put it in their Washington Post article, “Doubts About Mandate for Bush, GOP,”

As the president passed the 100-day mark of his second term over the weekend, the main question facing Bush and his party is whether they misread the November elections. With the president's poll numbers down, and the Republican majority ensnared in ethical controversy, things look much less like a once-a-generation realignment.

Will this translate into Democratic gains in the congressional elections next year? Possibly, say Harris and VandeHei:

History suggests the possibility of major losses next year is not beyond imagination. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll showed support for Bush's handling of Social Security at just 31 percent. That is several points lower than support for Clinton's handling of health care in the summer of 1994 -- just before the failure of what was widely perceived as an over-ambitious plan helped fuel the GOP takeover of Congress that fall.

The President’s miscalculation that a 2.5 percent margin of victory in the popular vote constitutes a mandate for trashing the New Deal’s most popular program was a blunder that even has conservatives starting to use “quagmire” in describing Bush’s predicament. As VandeHei and Harris report:

Even among many influential conservatives, there has been a growing consensus that the Bush governing theory, at least on Social Security, has been proved wrong. The conservative Weekly Standard magazine recently warned in a headline of a "Social Security Quagmire," and argued that Bush should position himself so that a defeat on the issue does not cripple other parts of his agenda or produce big Republican losses in next year's congressional elections.

And it’s not just President Bush’s leadership that the public is calling into question. The fallout from the Terry Schiavo affair, Tom DeLay’s ethical problems and the prospect of the “Nuclear Option” being used to undermine the judicial confirmation process reflect poorly on the Republicans in Congress in the eyes of the public. If the Democrats can stay united and focused on supporting policies that clearly serve the majority, ’06 could be a very good year.

May 1, 2005

Unlike W, Arnold Learns the Limits of Swagger

One of the bonds between President Bush and California Governor Schwartzenegger is an inordinate fondness for swagger and verbal bravado. This stuff can play well in campaigns if you have clever writers and and lots of anger directed at your opposition, as did Arnold when he whipped Gray Davis.

But there comes a day, when the public stops chuckling and expects to see some progress toward solving their problems. That day has clearly arrived for President Bush big time, according to numerous recent polls. Now it appears that it may be dawning for Arnold, as well.

So concludes Mark Z. Barabak in his Washington Monthly article "Is Arnold Losing It? Gov. Schwarzenegger is looking less like Reagan and more like Ventura." Barabak, a political writer for the Los Angeles Times, explains:

Schwarzenegger showed during the recall that conventional politicians in a hurry-up campaign are no match for someone of his outsized personality. But governing has proven far different. He has been forced to pare back much of his second-year reform agenda. His poll numbers are sagging, and newly emboldened Democrats are challenging the governor at every turn. Now, the question is whether Schwarzenegger can make the transition from a cartoon-like character, all swagger and bluster, into a political leader capable of using his fame and considerable charm to achieve something lasting and meaningful.

Barabak describes Schwarzenegger's political awakening:

After much bluster from both sides, the governor began yielding, shelving certain proposals and signaling that he was open to negotiations on others. He was plainly wounded when teachers, nurses, police, and firefighters—all having separate beefs with Schwarzenegger—began dogging his public appearances and mussing his public image. He fired back with TV ads and rhetoric that were alternately inflammatory and contrite...For all the governor's efforts, the obtuse matters of redistricting and worker retirement just haven't stirred Californians much. Ineptitude also played a part; the governor abruptly dropped his support for a measure overhauling the state pension system when it turned out that the ballot initiative could deny death benefits to police and firefighters. The governor capitulated after weeks of bad publicity, including complaints from the widows and orphans of public-safety officers.

Arnold's approval numbers aren't as bad as Bush's, but he may be on the way, as Barabak notes:

Worse, perhaps, for a governor so image-obsessed has been his decline in public opinion surveys, which has been almost entirely a function of Democratic and independent defections. (Like President Bush, Schwarzenegger continues to enjoy near universal support among Republicans despite his disdain for party-building.) By late February, his approval number in the statewide Field Poll was a decidedly mortal 55 percent, down 10 points in five months. More galling still, the governor's rating stood a tick below that of the rejected Davis before the bottom fell out for the beleaguered Democrat amid the 2001 California energy fiasco.

Speculation about a possible run for the Presidency has also cooled considerably, partly because passing a constitutional amendment is far more difficult than beating an unpopular incumbent. As Barabak points out:

In the whole history of the United States, just 27 of more than 10,000 proposed amendments have passed. Opinion polls have shown little public support for overhauling the Constitution; one survey of California voters showed opposition running 2-to-1, and that was back when Schwarzenegger's popularity was at 65 percent. Moreover, consider the political hurdles: A proposed constitutional amendment must win the support of two-thirds of both houses of Congress, followed by ratification by 38 states. As Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political scholar at the University of Southern California, notes, “There's not a senator who doesn't wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and see the next president of the United States. You think they're going to roll over and open the door for Arnold Schwarzenegger? I don't think so.”

Schwarzenegger does seem to be more able to learn from his mistakes than President Bush. And he has said that he has to produce to have a political future of any kind, and that will require putting a lid on the bluster and adopting a more conciliatory attitude, just like grown-ups -- a lesson which sems to be lost on the leader of his party.

Generation Y and American Politics

If you haven't already encountered it, I urge you to take a look at a new study about the values and politics of Generation Y, which may be loosely defined as those born between 1980 and 2000 (though the report really only covers only the adult members of this generation, those currently 18-25 years of age). The report, with the somewhat gimmicky title of "OMG: How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era", was written by Anna Greenberg and is based on a large-scale survey with oversamples among Jews, blacks, Asians, Hispanics and Muslims, as well as supplementary analyses of Census and other data, all conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.

Much of the report focuses on the detailed religious and civic attitudes of Gen Y adults and I won't go into those findings here--read the instructive report to get the full picture. But there are some broader findings in the report that are worth highlighting.

Generation Y is extraordinarily diverse in a race-ethnic sense. Only 61 percent of Geb Y adults are white; 15 percent are black, 4 percent are Asian and 17 percent are Hispanic.

Generation Y is more secular and less Christian. Almost a quarter (23 percent) have no religious preference or are agnostic/atheist, 4 percent are Jewish or Muslim and another 7 percent are other non-Christian; only 62 percent identify themselves with some Christian faith.

Gen Y is at the leading edge of what Chris Bowers has pointed out is an extremely fast-growing demographic: the non-Christian coalition. Between 1990 and 2001, according to CUNY's American Religious Identification Survey, non-Christians grew by 84 percent (from 20 to 37 million adults), including an astonishing increase of 106 percent (from 14 to 29 million) among seculars.

Generation Y is very liberal on social issues. A majority (53 percent) flat-out support allowing gay marriage. And 63 percent say women shoudl have the legal right to choose an abortion.

Generation Y is unusually liberal in an ideological sense. More Gen Y adults say they are liberal (31 percent) than say they are conservative (30 percent).

Generation Y leans strongly Democratic. Gen Y adults give Democrats an 11 point edge on party ID (39-28).

Of course, there's no guarantee Gen Y adults will stay as Democratic and liberal as they are now--change is possible (but much less likely after the age of 30 which is not so far away for the leading edge of this generation).

But they're off to a good start! If Gen Y is the future of American politics, their relatively diverse, secular, liberal and Democratic character can only make those on the center-left smile. And the conservative Establishment in Washington scowl.