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June 29, 2005

More Bad News For Governor Schwarzenegger

By R. Michael Alvarez

On June 22, I wrote about the June 2005 Field Poll, and how Governor Schwarzenegger’s job approval rating had fallen dramatically in that poll. There is even worse news from this particular poll for the Governor, as his political stature has sunk to new lows according to further data and analysis of this latest Field Poll released today.

First, as recently as February 2005, 56% of registered California voters said they were inclined to reelect Schwarzenegger to a second term as Governor in 2006. In the June 2005 sample, things reversed. Now, 57% of registered California voters say they are not inclined to re-elect Schwarzenegger as Governor, with 39% inclined to vote for him, and 4% with no opinion. This is a stunning reversal of political fortunes for the Governor, and is undoubtedly a reflection of voter opposition to Schwarzenegger’s plans for a special election this fall and of their anger about the lack of action in Sacramento on important issues like the state’s budget.

The change of fortune for Governor Schwarzenegger is broad-based. Perhaps not surprisingly, 83% of Democrats and 88% of Liberals say they are not inclined to support his reelection bid. But solid majorities of non-partisans and other party identifiers (61%), and ideological moderates (60%) now say they are not inclined to support Schwarzenegger’s reelection bid. Close to one quarter (23%) of Republicans, and almost a third of Conservatives (30%), admit they are not inclined to support Schwarzenegger in 2006. Women are more opposed to Schwarzenegger’s reelection than men (63% of women not inclined to support his reelection, 51% of men), and Latinos are strongly opposed as well (72% not inclined to support him).

Second, when matched against two announced Democratic candidates for Governor in 2006, Schwarzenegger currently loses these survey trial heats. Schwarzenegger now is running behind Phil Angelides, 46% to 42% (12% undecided) in this hypothetical matchup. He also runs behind Steve Westly, 44% to 40% (16% undecided). As recently as February 2005, Schwarzenegger had strong double-digit leads over both Angelides and Westly in the Field Poll.

The polling numbers that have come out this week on Governor Schwarzenegger’s job performance, the special election, and now on his potential reelection bid in 2006, are signs of significant erosion of his standing in California. Democrats, independents, and other party registrants are now unhappy about Schwarzenegger’s performance as Governor, and are disinclined to support his reelection in 2006. And there are signs of recent erosion among Republicans, which is a significant change of events in recent months. Will the erosion continue? Stay tuned to this channel …

June 28, 2005

Hispanics Poised to Move Democratic

It’s early days, but Hispanic voters, despite the (real, but typically exaggerated) GOP progress with these voters in the 2004 election, appear ready to move back toward the Democrats in 2006.

Let’s review the bidding. In 2004, Kerry carried the Hispanic vote 58-40 (using the figure from the combined NEP state exit polls, rather than the discredited national exit poll figure). Adjusting the NEP House vote data to reflect a 58-40 presidential split suggests that Democratic House candidates carried the Hispanic two-party vote by about 59-41.

So the Hispanic vote in 2004 was decisively Democratic, but less so than in recent years. For example, in 2000, Gore carried the Hispanic vote 62-35 and in 1998, 2000 and 2002, Democrats carried the Hispanic House vote by 63-37, 65-35 and 62-38, respectively.

These figures do indicate that 2004 was a good year for the GOP among Hispanic voters in comparison to the recent past. But the extent of GOP progress is sometimes exaggerated by using 1996 as a benchmark for comparison to both 2000 and 2004. This is problematic not only because Clinton’s 72-21 margin in 1996 was anomalously high, but also because Hispanics were defined differently in that year than they have been subsequently.

This difference is not widely understood and deserves some explanation. Here is the basic story: prior to 1998, the exit polls used a single race question (“Are you white, black, Hispanic/Latino.....”) to capture Hispanics, as opposed to a race question plus another question on whether the respondent is of Hispanic descent or not, which has been included on exit polls since 1998. The change in methodology allows the exit polls to capture more Hispanics, but, since those Hispanics who do not identify themselves as Hispanic in the race question tend to be more conservative than those who do identify themselves as Hispanic in that question, it makes the expanded sample of Hispanics post-1998 more conservative than the pre-1998 samples.

Got that? Therefore to compare pre-1998 Hispanic exit poll figures to post-1998 Hispanic exit poll figures is a little bit like comparing apples and oranges. A better comparison can be obtained by looking at just the Hispanics who self-identify in the race question, since that is common to all the exit polls.

With such a comparison, 1996 remains the high point, but the fall-off to 2000-04 is less severe. Indeed, the Hispanic presidential vote, defined in this way, has averaged 64-35 Democratic in these two elections, actually more strongly Democratic than in the two Reagan elections of 1980-84, when the Hispanic presidential vote averaged 61-35 Democratic.

And in the next election following Reagan’s relatively good performances among Hispanics–1988–the Hispanic presidential vote moved sharply Democratic to 69-30. Don’t be surprised if we see the same kind of trend in 2008.

Or 2006 for that matter. Consider the results of the new Democracy Corps poll of Hispanic voters. In that poll, Hispanic voters who express a preference for the 2006 Congressional elections currently give the Democrats a 68-32 edge in the two-party vote. The rest of the poll tells us why Hispanic support for the Democrats has become so lop-sided.

Hispanic voters give Republicans an average feeling thermometer (0=coldest; 100=warmest) score of 48 and Democrats an average score of 60. And 63 percent of these voters identify with or lean towards the Democratic party compared to just 31 percent who identify with or lean towards the Republicans.

Hispanic voters were also asked which party they associate more with a number of positive characteristics. In no case did the Republicans have an advantage over the Democrats, even on national security related items. Here are the characteristics with Democratic advantages in parentheses: accepting different cultures (44); addressing the concerns of the Hispanic community (41); for the middle class (39); support working families (35); cares about people (34); putting the public interest first (33); on your side (28); opportunity (26); for families (22); shares your values (18); freedom (15); prosperity (10); respecting religious faith (10); personal responsibility (8); know what they stand for (7); and can be trusted to keep America safe (4). When Republicans don’t even have an advantage on that last item, you know they’re not doing too well.

But perhaps Hispanics have more confidence in President Bush who, after all, did do relatively well among Hispanics in the 2004 election? Not by these data. Bush’s disadvantages relative to Democrats track pretty closely with his party’s disadvantages relative to Democrats, right down to “can be trusted to keep America safe”, where Hispanic voters give the Democrats a five point edge.

Doesn’t sound like Bush can be counted on to reverse his party’s currently poor image among Hispanics. And the rest of the poll suggests little in the way of issues (with the possible exception of education) that seem likely to boost the GOP.

Instead, the poll provides strong evidence of Hispanic voters’ dissatisfaction with the Iraq war and the economy and considerable interest in Democratic messages around issues like health care, economic opportunity and even stem cell research. Thus, Hispanic voters do appear poised to move Democratic in 2006, with very little pushing them toward the GOP. It’s up to Democrats to make sure this potential trend becomes a reality.

AP-Ipsos Poll: Most Oppose Reinstating Draft

As the toll for the war in Iraq worsens, it appears that the military's ability to attract new recruits is being badly damaged. In April, for example, the Army's recruiting fell short 42 percent. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has ruled out reinstating the draft for the time being. But other politicians have expressed support for the draft, including a few Democrats, such as N.Y. Rep. Charlie Rangel.

Bad idea, at least for any candidates facing a close election, according to an AP-Ipsos poll, conducted 6/20-22.

The poll found that 7 out of 10 respondents opposed reinstatement of the draft, with nearly half saying they "strongly" oppose bringing the draft back. About a quarter of the respondents supported reinstating the draft. A majority of respondents said they would discourage a son from joining the military, and two-thirds of those polled would discourage a daughter from joining.

"People simply don't want their kids to be sent off to Iraq to be shot at in a situation in which the value of the war is becoming more and more questionable," explained Dr. John Mueller, a political-science professor at Ohio State University and author of War, Presidents and Public Opinion, quoted in DiversityInc.com.

The poll found that a majority of all major demographic groups opposed reinstating the draft, although men were less likely to oppose it than women. Republicans supported the draft reinstatement proposal more than Democrats and respondents over age 50 supported it more than younger adults.

June 26, 2005

Bush Continues to Weaken

The latest ARG poll has Bush’s overall approval rating at 42 percent, joining several recent polls that have had his approval rating that low. A sub-40 approval rating from some public poll seems likely to appear fairly soon.

Some have argued, however, that a sub-40 Bush approval rating is unlikely to appear because his high support among Republican identifiers makes it difficult for his approval rating to drop much more that it already has. I don’t believe that is the case.

To begin with, thought it depends on the poll, there is still considerable room for Bush approval to fall among independents. In the latest CBS News poll, his approval rating among independents is 37 percent. Given that his approval rating in that poll was 42 percent, if his approval were to fall to around 30 percent among independents and all else remained equal,, his overall approval rating would fall to below 40 percent.

Just as important, the assumption that Bush’s approval rating among Republicans will remain steady is unwarranted. For example, if you compare his rating by party ID in the latest CBS poll to his rating by party ID in the late February CBS poll, his approval has fallen from just over 90 percent to 84 percent, a decline of 7 ponts. That’s almost as much as the analagous decline among Democrats (8 points) and actually more than the decline among independents (5 points).

You see a similar pattern in a number of other polls. Bush’s approval rating among Republicans has fallen in recent months from around 90 percent to around 85 percent. It is entirely possible it will decline further if the difficulties of the Bush administration continue to deepen. Certainly, there is no sound reason to suppose Republican identifiers will somehow be immune from overall political trends.

The ARG poll provides additional abundant evidence of Bush’s weakness, especially in the economic realm. Bush’s economic approval rating is down to 37 percent with 59 percent disapproval, his worst rating ever.in this poll. Just 22 percent think the economy is getting better and 58 percent believe it is getting worse. Only 26 percent believe the national economy will be better in a year, compared to 50 percent who believe it will be worse.

In terms of rating the national economy today, 63 percent say it is bad, very bad or terrible, compared to 35 percent who say it is excellent, very good or good. Moreover, for the first time since considerably before the 2004 election, about as many say the economy is in a recession (44 percent) as say it isn’t (45 percent).

As for household financial situation, more (52 percent) see their personal situation as bad to terrible than see it as excellent to good (46 percent). And exactly half say their personal situation is getting worse, while only 17 percent say it is getting better. Nor are people more positive about the future: looking ahead a year, essentially identical proportions expect their situation to get worse or better.

How about Iraq? Not much help there. According to a new Ipsos-AP poll, a majority of the public (53 percent) now believes that the US made a mistake going to war there in March of 2003, compared to 42 percent who think we made the right decision. And, while the public does not favor immediate withdrawal (just 37 percent say they do in the Ipsos-AP poll), a new Harris poll finds a strong 63-33 majority favoring the more modest goal of "bringing most of our troops in the next year", rather than "keeping a large number of US troops in Iraq until there is a stable government there".

More generally, a new Zogby poll finds Bush languishing in net negative job approval territory in each and every area tested by the poll: overall (44 percent positive, 56 percent negative, for a -12 net); the war on terrorism (49, -1); the war in Iraq (39, -22); taxes (36, -26); foreign policy (36, -25); jobs and the economy (35, -30); education (33, -31); environment (30, -36); and Social Security and Medicare (27, -42).

OK, Bush is tanking....but how much is that likely to hurt the GOP in 2006? That's still a long way away, but here's something to think about. The new EMILY's List report on a large-scale survey by Garin-Hart-Yang and The Feldman Group points out that working class (non-college-educated) white women (whom I have maintained was the key group that swung to Bush and the GOP in the 2004 election) now support the Democrats by 18 points in a prospective 2006 Congressional matchup. In 2004, this same group supported Bush by 18 points and House GOP candidates by 15 points.

Wow. That's a huge swing. If anything like this holds up in 2006, the Republicans are in big trouble.

June 24, 2005

Dems Poised To Take NY, CA, OH, MA Governorships

Not to pile on about the tanking of Arnold (see R. Michael Alvarez post below) and other GOP Govs, but My DD's Chris Bowers paints a very bright picture of Democratic prospects for taking the GOP-held governorships of several of the most populous States. Do visit his website and read "The Big Democratic Opportunity of 2006: Governors." Here's some teasers:

Ohio. Bob Taft has the lowest approval rating of any Governor in the nation. Mike DeWine has the lowest approval rating of any Senator up for re-election in 2006. Republicans in the state are embroiled in Coin-gate, and congressman Bob Ney is even deeper in Abramoff's pocket than DeLay. Democrats can easily gain on every level here in 2006.

California. In the largest state in the Union, Schwarzenegger is circling the drain...

New York. Right now, there does not seem to be any realistic scenario under which Spitzer will not win this race in 2006. Already, he regularly leads Pataki with more than 50% of the vote, while Pataki rots in the thirties. Incumbents can't pull out of tailspins like that....

Massachusetts. Multiple polls...have shown that Romney is in a lot of trouble in the most Democratic state in the nation.

Bowers discusses the Dems improving prospects in seven states in all, and savors the implications:

All seven of these states are ripe. Here is how sweet a sweep of these seven would be:

Right now, these are the seven largest states with Republican Governors, and combine for over 40% of the national population. Victory across the board would push Democrats in control of states worth around 400 electoral votes, rendering Republicans a small minority party when it comes to Governors.

Republican gerrymanders in Georgia, Ohio, Florida and Texas would be threatened, if not entirely done away with, come 2010. Control of elections in uber-swing states Florida and Ohio would no longer be in Republican hands.

The weakness of Republican Governors in large states presents Democrats with an opportunity to thoroughly reshape the American political landscape. We have waited some time for the Emerging Democratic majority to emerge, and these seven states represent our best chance to make it happen. This is our prize. This is our chance. We have to make it happen.

June 22, 2005

Schwarzenegger --- How Low Can He Go?

By R. Michael Alvarez

Once seemingly invincible, California Governor Schwarzenegger’s job approval ratings have plummeted to a new low, according to a Field Poll report released on June 21, 2005. The latest Field Poll found that only 37% of registered California voters approved of the job that Schwarzenegger is doing as Governor, while 53% disapproved (10% had no opinion). This is sharp contrast to Schwarzenegger’s job approval rating in Field Polls from last summer, in which about two thirds of registered voters approved of his job performance (for example, in May 2004, the Field Poll showed a 65% approval rating, with only 23% disapproving).

This recent Field Poll showed that Schwarzenegger’s job approval rating has eroded significantly among Democrats (16% of Democrats approved of Schwarzenegger’s job performance in June 2005, in contrast to a 46% approval in September 2004), and among non-partisans (35% of non-partisans approved of Schwarzenegger’s job performance in June 2005, compared to 64% in September 2004).

Of interest to observers in California, though, are signs of erosion among Republicans. In August 2004, the Field Poll pegged Schwarzenegger’s job approval among Republicans at a sky-high 90%, with 5% disapproving and 5% having no opinion. But in the just-released June 2005 Field Poll, 66% of Republicans approved of his job performance, 23% disapproved, and a relatively sizeable 11% of members of his own party said they had no opinion about Schwarzenegger’s performance as California’s governor. So in the past year, Republican approval of Schwarzenegger’s job performance has slid by 24 percentage points --- and Republican disapproval has risen by 18 percentage points.

It is also worth noting that Schwarzenegger’s job approval rating has sunk to about the point where Gray Davis was in late 2002 --- about one year before Davis was recalled from office. The September 2002 Field Poll had Davis job approval at 39%, at a point just before he was reelected for his second term, and just before the campaign to recall him from office picked up momentum.

Behind Schwarzenegger’s plummeting job approval ratings is discontent over the upcoming special election that the Governor has called, and outright opposition to two of three ballot measures he is supporting in November. In this Field Poll, 52% opposed the special election (without any mention of the cost of the election, 61% opposed it when the $45 to $80 million cost of the special election was mentioned in the survey question). As recently as February 2005, the Field Poll found that a bare majority (51%) supported the idea of a special election, when the costs were not mentioned.

According to more detailed data from this same poll (released June 22, 2005), only one of the three ballot measures supported by Schwarzenegger receives majority support from likely voters --- an initiative that seeks to increase the probationary time for public school teachers from two to five years. This measure has the support of 61% of likely voters in this Field Poll, with 32% opposed and 7% undecided.

The news is worse for the other two ballot measures being promoted by Schwarzenegger, as only about a third of likely voters currently support either of those initiatives in this current Field Poll. One of these measures would give control of the state’s redistricting process to a panel of retired judges, and this measure had the support of only 35% of likely voters in the Field Poll, with 46% opposing the measure and 19% undecided. The other measure which aims to impose state spending caps is also widely opposed by likely voters, as 42% said they would oppose this measure, 23% are undecided, and only 35% say they support it.

So barring an extraordinary turn in events, things might get worse for Schwarzenegger before they get better. California voters could see a nasty fight this summer and fall over the fall special election ballot measures, and if Schwarzenegger is on the losing side of that fight that loss could leave him in a vulnerable position as he ponders whether he will seek reelection in 2006. And the news keeps getting worse, as just this past weekend State Controller Steve Westly announced that he was throwing his hat into the ring to contest State Treasurer Phil Angelides for the Democratic nomination to challenge Schwarzenegger’s possible reelection bid next year. Westly’s announcement should guarantee a strongly contested Democratic primary campaign, as well as a steady stream of criticism of Schwarzenegger’s performance as Governor. So with eroding job approval, lack of voter support for his reform agenda, opposition to the special election he called, and Democratic mobilization to oppose his reelection in 2006, political life is likely to get quite tougher for Governor Schwarzenegger this summer and fall.

Can Bush’s First Sub-40 Approval Rating Be Far Away?

The latest round of public polls confirms the continuing, across-the-board weakening of public confidence in Bush and his administration suggested by the early June Washington Post/ABC News poll. If present trends continue, it will not be long before Bush receives his first sub-40 overall approval rating, a traditional marker of an incumbent administration in serious trouble.

Key findings from these recent polls include:

Overall Approval Rating

Bush’s overall approval rating has sunk to 42 percent in two recent polls, CBS News/New York Times and Pew Research Center. In a third, Ipsos-AP, he is down to 43 percent.

Right Direction/Wrong Track

In the CBS/NYT poll, just 33 percent think the county is going in the right direction and 61 percent think it is seriously off on the wrong track (26/64 among independents). In the Ipsos-AP poll, the analogous figures are 35 percent right direction/59 percent wrong track.

Bush’s Priorities

In the CBS/NYT poll, the public says, by a wide margin (61-35), that Bush does not have the same priorities for the country as they have.


In one of the most startling negative findings in recent polls, Gallup has detected a precipitous drop in basic support for the Iraq war. Here’s the lead from Gallup’s report on their new poll:

According to the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey, 59% of Americans oppose the war with Iraq, while just 39% favor it -- a substantial change from a March poll, when the public was evenly divided, 47% in favor and 47% opposed. This is the first time that a majority has expressed opposition to the war on this question, although these results parallel the findings from a June 6-8 Gallup Poll, which found 56% of Americans saying it was not worth going to war in Iraq, and 59% supporting at least a partial withdrawal of troops from that country.

The decline in support for the war is found among Republicans and independents, with little change among Democrats. A substantial majority of Republicans continue to support the war, but the percentage in favor (70%) is 11 percentage points lower than it was in March (81%). Among independents, support has dropped by eight points (from 40% to 32%)....

Similarly, the CBS/NYT poll now finds a majority of the public believing the US should have stayed out of Iraq to begin with (51 percent), rather than that military action was the right thing to do (45 percent). And 60 percent now think efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq are going badly, a level only reached once before, at the height of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Consistent with these sentiments, most polls now have Bush’s approval rating on Iraq at its lowest levels ever recorded. For example, the CBS/NYT poll has Bush’s Iraq approval rating at just 37 percent, with 59 percent disapproval. This includes 2:1 disapproval among independents (62/31).

Social Security

Bush’s Social Security efforts continue to tank and his proposal, if not actually dead, is certainly very close. The CBS/NYT poll reports the following:

1. Bush’s approval rating on Social Security is down to a shockingly low 25 percent, with 62 percent disapproval (20/65 among independents). Even among Republicans, he can only muster a 52 percent approval rating on this issue.

2. The public overwhelmingly says it is uneasy (66 percent), rather than confident (27 percent), about Bush’s ability to make the right decisions concerning Social Security.

3. By more than 3:1 (45-13), people say the more they’ve heard about the Bush administration’s Social Security proposals, the less, rather than more, they’ve liked them. Another 37 percent say hearing more about the proposals hasn’t changed their original opinion.

4. Two versions of Bush’s proposal (neither of which mentions Bush’s name, which tends to further depress support) are rejected as bad ideas. The first version is rejected 50-45, while the second, which adds language about “a small number of authorized investment funds” is rejected even more soundly, 56-35. Positing a cut in guaranteed benefits or large government borrowing to set up the new program sharply reduces even these anemic levels of support to 22 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

5. People basically don’t believe Bush’s proposal would do much good. In fact, they are much more likely to believe it would be harmful. Just 25 percent believe his proposal would improve the financial situation of the Social Security system, compared to 36 percent who believe it would make that situation worse. And by an overwhelming 61-30 margin, the public believes Bush’s changes to Social Security will make people worse off, not better off. That includes a 54-35 margin even among those who believe his changes will mostly affect young people.

People are also skeptical many will make profits from Social Security money invested on their own. Just 18 percent expect this to happen compared to 46 percent who expect losses to be suffered.

6. To the extent anyone will benefit from Bush’s changes, people strongly believe high income people (56 percent), rather than middle income people (21 percent) will be the primary beneficiaries.

7. People also don’t believe Bush is going to succeed in making these proposed changes. By 64-27, they believe he will fail.

8. Nor does throwing Bush’s progressive indexing of benefits idea into the mix change opinions much. By 48-43, the public rejects a description of Bush’s proposal that includes this idea. Indeed, the specific idea of having future Social Security benefits grow more slowly for those making $20,000 or over than they do now, when tested separately, generates overwhelming opposition (61-31).

The Economy

Pessimism about the economy continues to grip the American public. In the CBS/NYT poll, twice as many (36 percent) say the economy is getting worse as say it is getting better (18 percent). And a recent Gallup report finds the confidence in the stock market is continuing to sink and that views on economic growth prospects are at a two year low.

Not surprisingly, Bush’s economic approval rating continues to be strongly negative (39/56 in the CBS/NYT poll, including 31/60 among independents).

Social Issues

According to the Pew poll, at this point more of the public believes the Republicans are too conservative on social issues (38 percent), than believe the Democrats are too liberal on these issues (35 issues). (Roughly the same pattern, incidentally, obtains in the public’s views on the parties and economic issues.)

Independents are particularly likely to believe Republicans are too conservative on social issues (38 percent), rather than that the Democrats are too liberal (29 percent). More generally, on a six point ideological scale (1=very conservative; 6=very liberal), independents place themselves (3.6) twice as far away from Republicans (2.8) as from Democrats (4.0).

These numbers show that if you’re wrong enough for long enough, the public will indeed punish you. Contrary to the impression one sometimes gets from the mainstream media, neither Bush nor the alleged political geniuses who advise him have magical powers that will allow them to stave off this punishment. The only “magic” they ever had was the political support generated by 9/11 and its immediate aftermath. And that’s starting to run out.

Bush below 40? You read it here first.

June 21, 2005

Dems' Chances Undercut by Rigged System

Steven Hill has a disturbing article in Mother Jones, "Why the Democrats Will Keep Losing: Biases built in to our electoral institutions hurt the Democratic Party every time." Hill, author of Fixing Elections: The Failure of America's Winner Take All Politics, says:

...what has been completely missing from the conversation is the fact that even when the Democrats win more votes, they don't necessarily win more seats. That's true in the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, and the Electoral College. That's because there is a structural disadvantage for Democrats resulting from regional partisan demographics in red versus blue America that now are strongly embedded into our fundamental electoral institutions.

...Yet practically no one is talking about it. Even though this bias undercuts any attempts by liberals and Democrats to gain control over the government, and will continue to do so for years to come, no matter how many volunteers Democrats mobilize or how much money they raise, these sorts of structural barriers are being ignored.

Looking at the 2000 presidential election, for example, Hill notes:

Even though Al Gore won a half million more votes nationwide than George Bush in 2000, Bush beat Gore in 47 more of the 2002 congressional districts. And that's up from a previous 19-seat edge, showing that trends are tilting Republican. The winner-take-all system distorts representation and the edge clearly gives Republicans an advantage, allowing them to win more than their fair share of seats. So the current Republican margin in the House of 232 to 203 -- only 29 seats -- actually is a decent showing for the Democrats. It will be exceedingly difficult for Democrats to improve on this.

In House of Reps races, Hill says:

When the two sides are tied nationally, the Republicans end up winning about 50 more House districts than the Democrats. Like the Conservatives in Britain, who in the UK's recent elections won far fewer seats than Tony Blair's Labour Party even though Labour only had 36% of the vote and 3% more than the Conservatives, the Democrats are undercut by regional partisan demographics funneled through a winner-take-all electoral system.

It turns out that there is a fundamental anti-urban (and thus anti-Democratic) bias with single-seat districts. The urban vote is more concentrated, and so it's easier to pack Democratic voters into fewer districts. As Democratic redistricting strategist Sam Hirsch has noted, nice square districts are in effect a Republican gerrymander because they "combine a decade-old (but previously unnoticed) Republican bias" that along with a newly heightened degree of incumbent protection "has brought us one step closer to government under a United States House of Unrepresentatives."

Hill's analysis of the struggle for control of the U.S. Senate is also revealing:

The disproportionality is even worse in the United States Senate. Bush carried 31 of 50 states in 2004, showing Democrats' near impossible battle to win a majority in the malapportioned Senate where each state, regardless of population size, has two U.S. Senators.

Yet the Democrats consistently win more votes for Senate than Republicans. The current 100 senators have been elected over the past three election cycles, dating back to the year 2000. According to Professor Matthew Shugart from University of California-San Diego, in those elections, over 200 million votes were cast in races choosing each of the fifty states' two senators. The Republicans won 46.8% of the votes in these elections -- not even close to a majority. The Democrats won 48.4% of the votes, more than the Republicans -- yet the GOP currently holds a lopsided 55 to 44 majority. In 2004, over 51% of votes cast were for Democratic senatorial candidates, yet Republicans elected 19 of the 34 contested seats.

...The GOP has been over-represented in the Senate in nearly every election since 1958, primarily due to Republican success in low-population, conservative states in the West and South. Not surprisingly, the Senate is perhaps the most unrepresentative body in the world outside Britain's House of Lords, with not only Democrats under-represented but only five of 100 seats held by racial minorities and only fourteen held by women.

Hill makes a strong case in his article that, even in 2004, when the electoral college appeared to almost work toward Kerry's advantage, the GOP bias insured Bush's victory. He concludes:

So from the Democratic Party perspective, the political geography does not work. In the current climate of Red vs. Blue America, any "emerging Democratic majority" must overcome an 18th-century political system that puts urban-centered Democrats at a decided disadvantage. As I wrote above, it's like having a foot race in which one side (the Republicans) begins 10 yards in front of the other (the Democrats), election after election. It's time to level the playing field.

But has this stark reality of our political landscape made a dent in liberal or Democratic understanding of "what to do?" Hardly. Instead, moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party have been cannibalizing each other over the no-win debate about the base versus swing voters. Or else they have been fiddling to the latest fad about Lakoffian reframing.

How convenient, to think you don't have to engage in the hard work of enacting fundamental electoral reform, city by city and state-by-state, all you have to do is find better speechwriters and produce slicker TV ads and then the left can go back to its poetry nights.

It's hard to hold out much hope for the Democratic Party as long as it remains railroaded by structural biases built-in to our basic electoral institutions of which they appear to be blissfully unaware.

Hill is correct that the electoral college and the U.S. Senate are fundamentally and irreparably anti-democratic, and a strong GOP bias corrupts many House Districts. But he ignores important demographic trends breaking significantly in the Dems' favor (see Ruy Teixeira's May 18 post, "Hunting for EV's.") Meanwhile, electoral reform will have to wait until Dems regain control of the executive and legislative branches and a majority of state legislatures. With that accomplished, a full-court press for a constitutional amendment providing direct popular election of the President would be good for starters. Until then, we have no choice but to fight harder, develop stronger candidates and build party unity.

June 18, 2005

Felon Voting Rights Movement Gathers Steam

Following the example of Nebraska, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack announced on June 17th that he would restore voting rights for all convicted felons who have completed their sentences in his state. When Vilsack signs the executive order on July 4th (a nice touch), he will make 80 thousand ex-felons eligible to vote.

Disenfranchisement of felons has been used by the GOP as a powerful tool for reducing the vote of African Americans in particular, who vote close to 9-1 Democratic in presidential elections. As Kate Zernicke explains in her article in today's New York Times:

Nationally, about 4.7 million people are ineligible to vote because of felony convictions, about 500,000 of them war veterans, according to the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes alternatives to incarceration. About 1.4 million are black men.

This number represents about 13 percent of Black men, and in six states, one out of every four African American males have been disenfranchised as a result of felony convictions. In addition, convicted felons who are white often tend to be from impoverished and low-income families, another constituency which may lean Democratic.

The hope is that Vilsack's example will inspire other states to take similar corrective measures. Currently, only Maine and Vermont give felons full voting rights, while other states have a patchwork of different restrictions, notes Zernicke:

According to the Right to Vote Campaign, which works to reverse laws preventing felons from voting, 14 states automatically restore voting rights to felons after they are released from prison; four states restore rights after ex-felons complete parole; and 18 states do so after they complete their prison sentence, parole and probation.

Iowa is one of five states - the others are Kentucky, Alabama, Florida and Virginia - that deny a vote to anyone convicted of a felony or an aggravated misdemeanor...Ryan King, a research associate at the Sentencing Project, said that about one million ex-felons, including 600,000 in Florida alone, would be eligible to vote if the four states with laws similar to Iowa's granted voting rights to ex-felons

Movements to enfranchise felons who have served their time are underway across the nation, and lawsuits have been filed in behalf of them in several states. Of course there is no guarantee that, once enfranchised, ex-felons will exercize their voting rights. But Dems should take note that, given the statistics in Florida alone, it's clear that this constituency could have a potent impact in election outcomes.

June 15, 2005

Dem Senators Pull Ahead in Approval Ratings

SurveyUSA has just released a report on the approval ratings of U.S. Senators, and the news is good. Of the 25 US Senators with the highest approval ratings, 17 are Democrats, plus Independent Jim Jeffords. Stated in reverse terms, only 7 of the 25 senators with the highest approval ratings are Republicans. Ed Kilgore over at New Donkey notes further:

Barack Obama is America's most popular Senator in his own state, with a 72/21 approval/disapproval ratio. The least popular Senator is John Cornyn from Bush's home state of Texas, who registers at 40/36. Notable 2006 target Rick Santorum actually has the highest disapproval rate of any Senator, with a 45/44 ratio. Ohio's Mike DeWine continues to beg for a strong opponent in 2006, coming in at 44/43. Conrad Burns of MT is at a marginal 50/42 ratio. Supposedly vulnerable Democrat Ben Nelson is at a robust 64/26, while the other Nelson, Bill of Florida, is doing relatively well at 47/29.

Not too shabby --- and it gets better. Republicans are 8 of the 10 senators with lowest approval ratings. True, it's a little early for high-fives and it would be better, as Kilgore notes, if more of the GOP bottom-feeders were up for election in '06. But as an overall trend indicator, the SurveyUSA report offers encouragement to Dems hoping for a net gain of 7 seats needed to regain a Senate majority.

June 13, 2005

Gov Warner: Dems Need 'Aspirational, Future-oriented, Hopeful Vision'

Salon.com's Tim Grieve continues his excellent series on Dems to watch with his interview with Virginia's popular Governor Mark Warner, frequently mentioned as a presidential contender for '08. Warner, Grieve says,

...got himself elected governor of Virginia in 2001 in large part by reaching out to rural voters who were supposed to be in the Republicans' pocket. Warner sponsored a NASCAR team, used a bluegrass song as his campaign theme, and appealed directly to gun-loving hunters and sportsmen -- and it worked.

Warner would bring impressive assets to a white house race. As Grieve notes,

He's a governor, not a Washington politician; he's got money and the ability to raise more; he's got a base of supporters in the high-tech world; he's a Southerner, or at least he is one now; he's got crossover appeal because of his centrist views; and he's got time because Virginia terms out its governors after just four years.

Warner says that "perhaps the most vulnerable entity in politics today is not the liberal Democrat but the moderate Republican." But he says the Dems must "get past some of the cultural issues that just make us seem foreign." Not surprisingly, Warner sees the "write-off the south" strategy as a sure loser for Democrats:

If Democrats do not commit to being a national party, competitive everywhere in this country, we do not only our party but our country a disservice. Because even if we elect a president on a 16- or 17-state strategy, we skip two-thirds of this country, and I'm not sure we truly set the agenda.

Warner describes the Dems greatest failure in '04

There was discontent leading up to the 2004 election. Somehow, we didn't have that aspirational, future-oriented, hopeful vision of America -- we didn't lay it out. We laid -- "Here are the programs."

Grieve does get Warner to outline various policy positions. But he also draws out Warner's views about what the Democratic Party must do to win. Warner, who has established a federal political action committee, says Democrats have to focus more intently on crafting a future vision:

My starting premise is that I really think we need to change the framing of the political debate, from right vs. left, conservative vs. liberal, to future vs. past. The Democratic Party at its best has always been when it has been about the future...Democrats have to be a party that recognizes that, in a global economy, the way America is going to maintain its position in the world is by having the best educated workforce. Democrats should be the party that says America has got to lead the world not only with our military might but with our moral might as well. Democrats ought to be the party that represents innovation, investment in research.

June 10, 2005

More on the Democrats' Southern Problem

On March 28, I posted a contribution from Glen Browder, a former Democratic Congressman from Alabama and currently Eminent Scholar in American Democracy at Jacksonville State University on how the Democrats can make progress in the South. Browder has now expanded his analysis in a very useful paper that I commend to all who would like to see the GOP stranglehold on the South broken (which, as Browder argues, should include all Democrats). Below is the introducation to the paper; follow the link at the end for the full paper.

Entrenching Democratic Minority: The Democrats Are Destined To Be the Minority Party in a Rational/National Two-Party System as Long as They Forfeit the Solid South

It seems like everybody’s got a cure for the Democratic Party and its “southern problem” as our new leadership tries to chart a course through troubled times.

Few question the basic facts of this problem: (1) most whites in the South used to vote automatically for the donkey but now vote overwhelmingly for the elephant; (2) the Old Confederacy en bloc provided George W. Bush with an almost insurmountable lead over both Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004; (3) this vast, seemingly Republican region will gain Electoral College power in coming years; and finally, (4) any Democratic ideas about an emerging majority inevitably depend upon dealing successfully with the southern problem.

Unfortunately, most recommendations currently circulating among diverse sectors of Democratic society seem to be weak, narrow, self-serving fixes.

Liberals and Centrists: Finesse the South. Most often, curative types attempt to finesse the touchy southern issue with gratuitous rhetoric about aggressive outreach, bold talk about inclusion and marketing. For example, proud liberals press the party to take its historically progressive message more forcefully “to every voter, in every state, throughout America” (sometimes explicitly and at other times implicitly targeting the South for special attention without mentioning left-wing political baggage). Pragmatic centrists, citing success with a new and different brand in the past decade, push the party toward moderate voters of “mainstream America” (presumably enhancing its southern appeal without resorting to right-wing dogma). However, family discussions about the future of the Democratic Party inevitably erupt into frenzied discombobulation when someone mentions that guy in the Confederate-flagged pickup truck.

Radical Progressives: Forget the South. More radical thinkers question the continued logic of nationwide, regionally apportioned parties pandering to eclectic blocs; they claim that, in today’s setting, there is no sense trying to craft a hoary geo-national majority. These creative Democrats, armed with intellectual theory and think-tank resources, reject the politics of philosophical accommodation; instead, they imagine a differently defined, differently based, truly progressive agenda for Democratic America. Expectedly, many of them urge their party to forget the South altogether.

New Southerners: Preaching the Gospel of Southern Salvation. Also unsurprisingly, southern progressives (particularly academic and journalistic types encrusted in New South religion and unwilling to be finessed or forgotten) are jumping, once again, into the fray with old-time southern salvation for the soul of national Democracy—sanctifying liberal values with a southern accent, shepherding the region’s biracial underclass, converting errant rednecks, and anointing an enlightened southern prophet atop the national ticket.

But, despite their sincerity, these varied suggestions from proud liberals, pragmatic centrists, radical thinkers, and southern progressives strike me as inadequate potions for the real problems of southern and national politics; or perhaps to be honest about it, I just don’t like them for some reason or other. What’s missing is practical advice grounded in theoretical analysis that deals directly with the basic reasons and future prospects for our Democratic distemper.

My Advice: Crack Dixie with a Fresh, Moderate Embrace. So, here’s some very pointed advice—intended as the latter sort—for Chairman Howard Dean and my party. I believe that the Democrats are destined to be the minority party in an importantly altered environment, a new rational/national two-party system, as long as they forfeit the Solid South; so, in my opinion, the Democratic Party’s best bet for re-emergent majorityism is a revised version of an old idea, cracking this regional bloc with a new strategy embracing moderate southern voters.

I offer this personal perspective as a long-time public official in Alabama and Washington and as a longer-time academic analyst of regional and national developments. Just as pertinently, I’m a southern white Democrat who’s not interested in switching parties, launching petty recriminations, or sitting in silent stupor while things deteriorate beyond repair. What I offer is, like the other cures, pretty simple; it is not all new or original; nor do I expect Democratic bluebloods to accept my prescriptive analysis in toto. But I think it presents sound political criticism, useful theoretical insight, and some constructive guidance for my troubled party.

Click here to read the entire paper.

Should Democrats Expand the Playing Field in 2006?

On June 6, we took stock of the number of vulnerable Republican seats in 2006 and argued that Democrats did indeed have a shot at gaining enough seats to take back the House. A reader wrote in to say our argument was fine as far as it went....but it didn't go far enough! I'm inclined to agree. Here's the reader's comment:

I just wanted to pass along a brief comment on your June 6 posting on "GOP Ethics Mess...". I agree with you (and everyone else) that the various scandals swirling around DeLay and the GOP Congress helps the Dems, and that the appropriate response is to think big and try to nationalize the 2006 election (a la Gingrich in 1994). That's why your count of vulnerable Republicans (4 from the Post, 7 from Abramowitz, etc.) struck me as discordant. The point is that ethics (and other failures) makes every Rep more vulnerable, not just 10 or 20 or 30.

There's a practical reason that I'm bothering you with this sort of hair-splitting. Both parties (and their allies) have fallen into the practice of trying to identify their top tier races to focus their attention on them. They see it as a way to magnify their impact rather squander resources on longshots. There are several problems with this approach. No one is that good at forecasting, especially that far out. Diminishing marginal returns means that much of the money lavished on top races is wasted, and would certainly be better spent elsewhere. The relentless focus on the top tier means that other races are ignored, limiting the Dems' potential to win a 1994 (or 1982 or 1974) style sweep. And so on. The bottom line is simple: targeting is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My fear is that, if history is any guide, if the Dems think in terms of winning 15 seats, they'll count to 15 or maybe 25 and pour everything into those races. That puts enormous pressure on winning those contests and lets scores of other potentially vulnerable Reps off the hook. Donkey Rising isn't responsible for that sort of thinking, of course, but as one of the best blogs and certainly the most data-intensive, I wanted to bring this to your attention.

Thanks, reader! Let's hope someone out there involved in 2006 planning for the Democrats is listening.

June 9, 2005

Dim Dems Diss Dean

I like the way Gadflyer Paul Waldman put it concerning the teapot tempest swirling around Howard Dean's recent remarks:

Let's go over this again: You're a Democratic office-holder, or maybe a political consultant. A reporter comes to you and says, "Can I bring a camera into your office and get you to say some bad things about Howard Dean?" If you say yes, and go ahead with it, then there will be a story about how Democrats can't stand that terrible Howard Dean, who keeps saying mean things about Republicans. If you say no, there will be no story. The reporter will have do a story about how Bush's Social Security plan is failing, or about how his approval ratings are in the toilet, or about something, anything, else

In another post on the same topic, Waldman puts Dean's comments in context for his critics, including some Democratic leaders who should know better, and offers them a smarter alternative:

They should have said this: "If the Republican leadership doesn't want us to call them elitist, they should consider doing something for working families for a change. But until they do, we're going to keep talking about how they're hurting regular Americans." That keeps the focus where it should be.

There's nothing wrong with constructive internal criticism. But they call it internal criticism for a reason. If any real Democrat has a problem with our chairman's, or any other Democratic leader's remarks, then call his/her office and complain, rather than being duped into doing the GOP's negative spin for the media.

Addressing a similar concern in the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. said it well: "Our enemies will adequately deflate our accomplishments; we need not serve them as eager volunteers."

June 8, 2005

Bush Losing His Strong Suit

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll has some very bad news for Bush and the GOP--even by the standards of recent polls, most of which have not been kind to the president and his party. Here's the lead from ABC News polling director Gary Langer's analysis of the poll:

The corrosive effects of the war in Iraq and a growing disconnect on political priorities have pushed George W. Bush's performance ratings -- notably on terrorism -- to among the worst of his career, casting a pall over his second term and potentially over his party's prospects ahead.

For the first time, most Americans, 55 percent, say Bush has done more to divide than to unite the country. A career-high 52 percent disapprove of his job performance overall, and, in another first, a bare majority rates him unfavorably on a personal level. Most differ with him on issues ranging from the economy and Social Security to stem-cell research and nuclear power.

Iraq is a major thorn. With discontent over U.S. casualties at a new peak, a record 58 percent say the war there was not worth fighting. Nearly two-thirds think the United States has gotten bogged down in Iraq, up 11 points since March. Forty-five percent go so far as to foresee the equivalent of another Vietnam.

Fifty-two percent, the first majority to say so, think the Iraq war has failed to improve the long-term security of the United States, its fundamental rationale. As an extension -- and perhaps most hazardously in political terms -- approval of Bush's handling of terrorism, the base of his support, has lost 11 points since January to match its low, 50 percent in June 2004 when it was pressured both by the presidential campaign and the kidnapping and slaying of American Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia (emphasis added).

Lo, how the mighty have fallen! When disapproval (49 percent) is almost as high as approval (50 percent) in Bush's strongest area (the handling of terrorism), you know things are going very poorly indeed for the incumbent and his administration. Consider some other results from the poll not alluded to in the Langer excerpt above.

1. Disapproval of Bush's performance far outweighs approval on Social Security (62-34), on the economy (58-40), on Iraq (58-41) and on stem cell research (55-33).

2. The drop in Bush's approval rating on fighting terrorism has been most pronounced among political independents. In March, 63 percent of this group approved of Bush's performance in this area;. That dropped to 54 percent in April and has sunk to a mere 40 percent this month. Independents are also pushing the rise in sentiment that the Iraq war has not made America safer; today around 60 percent endorse that view.

3. By 61-37, the public believes Bush and the Republicans are not making good progress on solving the nation's problems. And, among those who believe progress is not being made, the blame is far more likely to be pinned on Bush and Republicans themselves (67 percent) than on the Democrats in Congress (13 percent).

4. On Social Security, just 27 percent support introducing private accounts within Social Security if these accounts are accompanied by a reduction in the rate of growth of guaranteed benefits. By 56-32, the public believes that such a change in Social Security would decrease, not increase, the overall retirement income most seniors receive. And, by 63-32, they believe that Bush's proposals for Social Security would not improve the long-term financial stability of the system.

5. By 5 points (46-41), the public believes Democrats can do a better job coping with the main problems facing the nation in the next few years. Prior to the 2002 Congressional elections, Republicans were consistently running ahead of the Democrats on this measure.

6. By 2:1 (65-33), the public does not believe the Bush administration has a clear plan for eventually withdrawing from Iraq.

7. As Bush's second terms began, Americans, by 55-29, expected Bush to do a better job in his second term than in his first. The last several months have dashed that sense of optimism. Now only 30 percent expect him to do better, actually less than the number (38 percent) who expect him to do worse.

8. Is Bush concentrating on things that are important to "you personally" The public, by a 58-41 margin, says no.

It's difficult to look at these and other recent data and perceive much the Bush administration currently has going for it, other than general support for the war on terror. And, as we've seen, faith that Bush knows what he's doing has now been sharply eroded even in this area.

That just doesn't leave the GOP with much to brag about to voters. No wonder so many Republicans running for re-election in 2006 are acting so nervous!

June 7, 2005

Are GOP Hopes for Gains in California Realistic?

By Alan Abramowitz

Remember back when California was one of the keys to the Republican "lock" on the White House? Back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, California was actually somewhat more Republican than the nation as a whole, partly because the Republican candidates in five of those presidential elections hailed from the Golden State. Since 1992, however, California, with the nation's largest bloc of electoral votes, has been been considerably more Democratic than the nation. In 2004, John Kerry carried the state by just under 10 percentage points--not quite a landslide, but a pretty decisive margin.

But could the Democrats' recent domination of California be coming to an end? Some Republicans, including Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman apparently think so. According to an Associated Press story posted on the CNN website today, these Republicans believe that GOP prospects in California are improving thanks to a combination of demographic changes and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's "star power."

Schwarzenegger's "star power" seems to be fading rapidly--his approval rating has fallen below 50 percent in recent state polls. And these same polls show that President Bush is even less popular in the Golden State than he is in the rest of the country. But according to the AP story, "analysts have noted several population shifts that suggest potential for Republicans to expand their reach" in California. And what are those population shifts? According to the story, "while population growth is slowing in left-leaning coastal areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco, it is accelerating in more conservative areas such as the Central Valley and the Inland Empire area east of Los Angeles."

The problem with this analysis is that these population shifts are nothing new in California. The Central Valley and the Inland Empire have been growing more rapidly than the Bay Area and Los Angeles County for decades. But this hasn't turned California's color from blue to red because these areas still make up a fairly small percentage of the state's population and much of the is a result of a growing Hispanic population. Moreover, an analysis of 2004 exit poll data for California shows that younger Californians are less white, more Hispanic, more liberal, and more likely to vote Democratic than their elders.

According to the 2004 exit poll data, only 50 percent of California voters under the age of 30 were white while 34 percent were Hispanic. In contrast, 86 percent of California voters over the age of 60 were white and only 7 percent were Hispanic. 32 percent of California voters under the age of 30 described themselves as liberal while 23 percent described themselves as conservative. In contrast, only 23 percent of Californians over the age of 60 described themselves as liberal while 32 percent described themselves as conservative. It is not surprising therefore that 60 percent of Californians under the age of 30 voted for John Kerry. This was about six points higher than Kerry's support among voters over 30.

These generational differences suggest that California's electorate is almost certain to become less white, more Hispanic, more liberal, and more Democratic in the future. It's will take a lot more than Arnold Schwarzenneger's "star power" to reverse these trends. Not even the Terminator himself would be likely to move California's 55 electoral votes out of the Democratic column in 2008.

June 6, 2005

How Big Is the White Working Class Vote?

I’ve documented how poorly Democrats have been faring with white working class voters (defined here as whites without a four year college degree). In 2004, Bush beat Kerry by 23 points among these voters, according to the NEP exit poll, up from the 17 margin Bush enjoyed among these voters in 2000. Also according the NEP exit poll, white working class voters were 43.3 percent of all voters in 2004.

That certainly sounds like Democrats have to improve their performance among these voters, and quickly, if they hope to build a majority coalition.

Last week, I presented some data from the newly-released Census voter supplement data on the age, race and education distribution of voters in 2004. Further analysis of these data to look at the specific question of white working class representation among voters in 2004 reveals that the Democrats’ white working problem isn’t as bad as suggested by the NEP data. It’s worse.

That’s because the NEP data underestimate the proportion of non-college-educated in the voting pool and, therefore, the proportion of white working class voters. The Census voter supplement data indicate that white working class voters are actually a majority (51.5 percent) of all voters, rather than the 43.3 percent indicated by the NEP exit poll.

A big challenge for the Democrats just got a little bigger.

GOP Ethics Mess Lifts Dems' House Prospects

In today's edition of the Washington Post, Mike Allen has good news for Dems hoping to win back a controlling majority in the House of Representatives. In his article, "GOP Worries Ethics Issue May Hurt Party in '06," Allen cites four GOP House members, whose deepening ethics problems have made them vulnerable targets: Robert Ney (OH); Richard Pombo (CA); Tom Feeney (FL) and Charles Taylor (FL). Add to this list the seven Republican House Members Alan Abramowitz has identified as also vulnerable in his April 17 post, plus Tom Delay (see John Judis's New Republic article on DeLay's '06 vulnerability), and it appears that Dems are rapidly closing in on the 15 seats needed to win back a House Majority.

Allen quotes GOP strategist Rick Davis, the former manager of John McCain's presidential campaign:

The combination of gridlock and ethics charges indicate that the system's busted, and the system is the majority party...The contest for us in the bi-election is to explain what we've gotten accomplished in the last two years, and right now, it's not looking so hot. The focus is on the problems, because there isn't that much happening.

Gerrymandering has made it more difficult to unseat incumbents in recent elections. Yet, ethics and corruption issues alone could give Dems new leverage in the quest to regain majority control of the House. Slowly, the outlines of a winning Democratic strategy for '06 are beginning to take form. As Christopher Hayes, noted in "Corruption --- A Proven Winner" in The Nation (flagged in EDM's April 21 post "Cookie-Jar Republicans Give Dems Edge"):

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

As noted in EDM's May 19 post, a Wall St. Journal/NBC News Poll conducted 5/12-16 indicated that 47 percent of Americans chose Democrats when asked "which party they want to control Congress after the 2006 elections," while only 40 percent chose the GOP. The latest revelations of GOP ethics problems will likely increase that margin to the Democrats' benefit.

As Abramowitz noted, 15 House seats is close to the average mid-term loss of the Party occupying the white house. Looking at the average loss of the President's party in the last five "six-year itch" elections (see May 31 post below), the number is considerably more encouraging -- 44 seats.

June 4, 2005

Democrats and the Middle Class (Continued)

Yesterday, I covered the first three basic findings from the Third Way report on Democrats and the middle class. The fourth basic finding of the report is:

With the exception of those with graduate degrees, education level does not predict voting behavior. Education level predicts income, which predicts voting behavior.

This just isn't right. In fact, if you look carefully at the data in their own report you can see that education does have an effect on level of Democratic support, even controlling for level of income. But the report's authors are intent on showing that, at any given level of education, income has an important effect on Democratic support. This is undeniably true, but they appear to believe that establishing that fact somehow proves education has no independent effect on income. Wrong. Both relationships can and do exist: income has an effect on Democratic support at any given level of education and education has an effect on Democratic support at any given level of income.

Take the white middle class, on whom the report tends to focus. In 2004, Bush beat Kerry by 33 points among non-college-educated middle class whites, but only by 3 points among college-educated (a four year degree or more) middle class whites. Moreover, between 2000 and 2004, Bush's margin among non-college-educated middle class whites increased by 15 points, while his margin among college-educated middle class whites increased by just 7 points.

Lest one think that the differences between college-educated and non-college-educated middle class whites in 2004 were all driven by postgraduate middle class whites, those middle class whites with a four year degree only were still markedly less pro-Bush (an 18 point smaller margin) than the non-college-educated.

Conclusion: yes, income matters--but so does education.

The final basic finding of the report is:

The entrance of married women into the middle class led to a dramatic increase in Republican support.

This is awkwardly phrased, making it sound like there's some sort of social trend with married women "entering" the middle class and then voting Republican. What they're really saying here--what their data show--is that married women, particularly white married women, with moderate to high incomes voted Republican in 2004, while unmarried women with those incomes still leaned Democratic (though less so, the higher the income level).

But we knew that.

Anyway, I don't want these criticisms to lead people away from the report. On the contrary, I want people to grapple with it. The authors of the report and Third Way as an organization are to be commended for making an empirically-based case for their political views, instead of simply asserting that their views are correct. We could use more, not less, of this kind of serious data analysis as the debate in and around the Democratic party continues.

And I certainly don't disagree with the thrust of the some of the final remarks in the report:

Democrats talk and legislate a great deal about issues that they believe are of concern to the middle class, such as better schools, affordable health care, and job security. This has not translated into middle class votes. Assuming these issues are truly important to middle class voters (and there is no reason to believe they are not), it could be that Democrats have a set of flawed messages that do not reach the middle class. Or, the middle class may simply believe that their schools will not be better, their health care will not be more affordable, and their jobs will not be more secure should Democrats run the Congress and control the White House.

Either way, the so-called party of the middle class has some serious work to do. Hats off to authors of this report for calling our attention to this challenge.

June 3, 2005

Democrats and the Middle Class

Third Way is an organization that describes itself as "Modernizing the Progressive Cause to Connect with Mainstream America", certainly a worthy endeavor. The founders of the organization include Jonathan Cowan, Jim Kessler, Matt Bennett, Nancy Hale and Nancy Jacobson, all serious, thoughtful Democrats. They have now entered the what's-wrong-with-the-Democrats debate with a new report "Unrequited Love: Middle Class Voters Reject Democrats at the Ballot Box", based primarily on 2004 exit poll data. The report has been circulating around Washington (though no public link is available for the report as yet) and has been written up in the Washingon Post, so it is getting a fair amount of exposure.

Here are my observations on the report, which while useful, tends to overstate its case and make some questionable claims.

The report is organized around five basic findings. The first is:

White middle income voters (who constitute three-quarters of the middle class and one-third of the entire electorate), delivered landslide margins to Republicans. The economic tipping point – the income level at which whites were more likely to vote Republican than Democrat – was $23,700, not far above the poverty level....

There is no difference in the preferences of white middle class and white wealthy class voters.....

The claim that the Democrats lost the white middle class (defined here as between $30,000 and $75,000 in family income) by a wide margin is correct. It is also correct that there was little difference between the political preferences of these voters and those of white "wealthy class" (defined here those with over $75,000 in family income) voters in this election. Bush carried both of these groups by 22-23 points.

On the other hand, this situation (white middle class and more affluent---it seems silly to call them wealthy--voters having similar voting patterns) also obtained in the 2000 election. Bush carried both groups by about 15 points in that election. So both groups moved toward Bush by similar amounts in 2004.

As for the claim that $23,700 is some kind kind of "tipping point" among white voters, I wouldn't take that too seriously. It's not in the exit polls directly, of course, which contain only income data by category. What the report's authors do is assume that, since whites below $15,000 supported Kerry and whites $15,000-$30,000 gave Bush a small margin that the tipping point is somewhere in the latter category. Maybe so, but there's little methodological justification for ginning up such a precise estimate of that tipping point and their confusing explanation for how they arrived at that precise $23,700 estimate does not inspire confidence.

The report's second basic finding is:

Contrary to other voters, blacks conferred overwhelming majorities to Democrats, regardless of income level.

No argument there. That contention is solid.

The report's third basic finding is:

A rapidly growing Hispanic middle class is leaving the Democratic Party.

The report kind of goes off the rails here. One of the reasons for this is their use of the now-discredited Hispanic sample in the national exit poll, which leads them to report that Kerry defeated Bush among the Hispanic middle class by only 10 points. If you use the more reliable Hispanic sample from the combined state exit polls, you find that low income Hispanics supported Kerry by 40 points, middle class Hispanics supported him by 17 points and affluent Hispanics by 4 points.

Leaving the Democratic party seems a bit strong. On the other hand, it is true that Hispanic middle class voters moved more toward Bush between 2000 and 2004 than other income groups and that is cause for concern. At this point, the middle class Hispanic vote drives the overall Hispanic vote and, therefore, the key to moving the Hispanic vote toward the Democrats is building up their margins among middle class Hispanics.

As for the "rapidly-growing Hispanic middle class", one should be cautious about this. While the exit polls do show a big shift toward middle and high income Hispanic voters between 1996 and 2000, they show no such shift between 2000 and 2004. In fact, they show middle class Hispanics actually declining slightly to 45 percent of Hispanic voters in 2004, from 47 percent in 2000, while high income Hispanics go up a single point, from 23 percent to 24 percent of Hispanic voters. This should perhaps not be so surprising: the real median income of Hispanic households declined by about $2,500 between 2000 and 2003 (2004 data not yet available).

More on "Democrats and the Middle Class" tomorrow.....

June 2, 2005

Zogby Poll: Americans Want Action in Darfur

A new Zogby poll, conducted 5/9-16 finds a huge majority of Americans supporting stronger U.S. action to stop genocide in Darfur in western Sudan. Unfortunately, however, as Julia Scott explains in her Salon.com article on the poll's findings:

Since terming the ongoing scorched-earth campaign against civilians in Darfur genocide several years ago, the Bush administration has done everything it can to avoid committing to substantial intervention in the region, even downplaying the number of dead.

Yet, as Scott notes, over 80 percent of respondents want the U.S. to impose a no-fly zone over Darfur to prevent further bombing of civilians. More than four out of five also want the U.S. to "use its military assets to bolster African Union troops on the ground in Darfur" and "impose tough sanctions" on the leaders responsible for the atrocities. Americans are understandibly less enthusiastic about sending ground troops at this point, as Scott explains:

Only 38 percent of respondents supported deployment of U.S. troops in Darfur...a number the ICG considered surprisingly high given a strained U.S. military and the intractable situation in Iraq. And ninety-one percent of people polled disagreed with the Bush administration's policy of non-cooperation with the International Criminal Court, which works to bring genocidaires to justice.

Thus far, however, the Administration seems unphased by the large majorities of Americans wanting U.S. action to relieve the suffering. Scott quotes John Norris, chief of staff of the Darfur Crisis Group on the poll's findings and the Administration's response:

"This level of support comes at a time when the Bush administration has never used its bully pulpit to issue much of a real call to action on Darfur...This is one of those issue areas where [they've] said there's little public support, but when you open [it] up, you see that's not the case."

If ever there was a genuine mandate for measured U.S. military and diplomatic intervention, the time is now and Darfur is the place --- and the crisis cries out for Democratic leadership to make it happen.