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September 30, 2005

Katrina and Iraq

by Ruy Teixeira

Katrina definitely has had a role in deepening economic pessimism among the public. But it’s also had a role sharpening up public dissatisfaction with the situation in Iraq. A new Democracy Corps memo, based on focus groups with swing voters in Pennsylvania and Iowa, makes the following very interesting observations about the relationship between Iraq and Katrina:

The events surrounding Katrina highlighted two themes for voters. One of them – the realization that we have millions of Americans living in poverty, children without basic nutrition or medical care, elderly who face a monthly choice between food, heat, and medicine, and uninsured families one setback away from financial disaster – was present in conversations on Iraq before Katrina, but the suffering of Katrina’s victims and the long road ahead for the hundreds of thousands displaced by the storm really brought it into focus. Now, voters believe we must take care of those at home first, and if that means reducing funding or troop levels in Iraq, so be it. There is still little appetite for an immediate withdrawal, particularly among the men, but strong support across all groups to shift resources from saving the rest of the world to taking care of America’s increasingly urgent needs.

The second Iraq-related theme was really brought to light by Katrina and was not a part of most Americans’ beliefs before this tragedy. In the wake of the miserable performance of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA, as well as state and local officials, they now see that America is not any safer or more prepared for a major disaster than it was before 9/11.

A number of recent public polls have vividly demonstrated this interest in shifting resources away from the Iraq conflict. In the September 7-8 Time/SRBI poll, 61 percent said they wanted to cut Iraq spending to pay for rebuilding the Gulf Coast, far more than expressed interest in any other payment option. In the September 9-12 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, when respondents were offered five options for financing the costs of post-Katrina rebuilding, reducing Iraq war spending (45 percent) was considerably more popular than the other options: repealing next year’s income tax cuts (27 percent); keeping the estate tax in place (15 percent), cutting federal spending in other areas like education (8 percent) and raising income taxes (7 percent). In the September 16-18 Ipsos-AP poll, 42 percent said that cutting spending on Iraq was the best way to pay for the Katrina relief effort, compared to 29 percent who wanted to delay or cancel additional tax cuts, 14 percent who wanted to add to the federal debt and gradually pay it back and 11 percent who wanted to cut spending for other domestic programs like education and health care. And finally, in the September 16-18 Gallup poll, when offered four options for paying for Katrina-related problems, 54 percent chose cutting spending for the war in Iraq, compared to 17 who chose raising taxes, 15 percent who chose increasing the federal budget deficit and 6 percent who chose cutting spending on domestic programs.

Those are the public’s priorities. We’ll see how much, if at all, they match up with what the current administration does.

September 29, 2005

R.I.P. 'Contract with America'

Decembrist Mark Schmitt has a post scolding the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for its "monumentally stupid" unearthing of the long-dead 'Contract with America.' Schmitt says:

Eleven years is a long time. Yes, to Washington Dems the Contract with America is still a living, breathing monster. Many of us lost our jobs because of it. (I didn't, but I would have been in line for a very cool job if Democrats had retained the Senate.) But does the Contract have any meaning for ordinary people after 11 years, three presidential elections, an impeachment, Sept. 11, a war, etc.? I'm open to hearing about poll numbers that indicate otherwise, but I suspect the answer is no.

Schmitt takes the DCCC to task for embracing a custom-tailored GOP "frame" and notes further:

The whole breach-of-contract argument is internal and process-oriented. It's an insiders' argument to insiders. What does it have to do with war, economic security, global challenges, hurricanes and floods, etc. Yes, reform is a key theme and Democrats must embrace it, but not in a bloodless good-government way. It's got to be integrally connected to the things people care about in life, and in the non-political aspects of their life.

And then, the nut graph:

If Democrats expect to capitalize on the emerging scandals, indictments, chaos, and the President's unpopularity to nationalize a congressional election for the first time since 1994, they have to find one or two clear points, substantive points, that are our own and that would matter: universal health care, preparedness for future crises, economic security, bring the war in Iraq to an end -- something serious that people can grab onto. Talking about someone else's 11-year-old Contract is no substitute.

The bottom line is that the Republicans are doing a wonderful job of destroying themselves, and we don't have to go back more than a decade to highlight their failures. What's missing is a projection of the Democratic Party as the credible alternative. The sooner the DCCC meets that challenge head on and full-strength, the better our chances in November '06.

September 28, 2005

Economic Pessimism Grips the Public

by Ruy Teixeira

It really is quite extraordinary how pessimistic the public has become about the economy. All this year, the public has been in a sour mood about the economy, as month after month of the economic recovery (now almost four years old) has failed to generate the robust growth people have been looking for. Instead they've been getting stagnant wages, persistent unemployment and high gas prices. And now Katrina, which has put additional burdens on the economy, increased the federal budget deficit and solidified people’s sense that the economic problems just mentioned are unlikely to be solved anytime soon.

Consider the consumer confidence data. In August, the University of Michigan’s Survey of Consumers found that:

Consumer confidence fell sharply....due to the surge in gasoline prices. "Consumers have found it increasingly difficult to cope with the recent surge in gasoline prices as their required budget cutbacks escalated each time they filled their gas tank," according to Richard Curtin, the Director of the University of Michigan’s Surveys of Consumers. The unusually large August decline was widespread among all demographic groups and across all regions of the country. "Consumers anticipated higher inflation, higher interest rates, higher unemployment and a slower pace of economic growth during the year ahead," Curtin said. Although consumers did not anticipate a recession during the year ahead, they were more likely to expect an economic downturn sometime during the next five years.

The Index of Consumer Sentiment was 89.1 in the August 2005 survey, down from 96.5 in July and 95.9 in August of 2004. Only ten monthly surveys since 1978 recorded a larger one-month decline.

That’s bad, but this month it’s likely to get worse. According to a Bloomberg News article previewing this month’s consumer confidence releases:

The University of Michigan's index of consumer sentiment is projected to drop to 78, the lowest since March 2003, from 89.1 in August, a report [on September 30] is projected to show.

Another major consumer confidence index is put out by the Conference Board. They have already released their September data, which show consumer confidence sharply declining from 105.5 in August to 86.6 in September. And the Washington Post/ABC News consumer confidence measure, which is issued weekly, has been declining throughout September.

Other data on the public’s view of the economy underscore the pessimism indicated by the consumer confidence data. The most recent Pew Research Center report observes:

More Americans hold a pessimistic outlook on the nation's economic prospects than at any time during Bush's presidency.

By two-to-one (37%-18%), more believe the economy will be in worse shape a year from now than believe things will improve. In August 2004, just 9% said they expected the economy to worsen over the succeeding 12 months. That number doubled to 18% in January, and has doubled again (to 37%).

In the most recent ARG poll, 60 percent disapprove of Bush’s handling of the economy and 53 percent believe the national economy is getting worse. A mere 11 percent say it is getting better. Looking forward, 53 percent say the economy will be worse in a year, compared to 29 percent who say it will be better. And, for the first time this year, a plurality (45-41) now say the national economy is in a recession.

The poll also finds just 8 percent saying their household financial situation is getting better, compared to 29 percent who say it is getting worse (62 percent say it is staying the same). Similarly, only 15 percent think their household financial situation will be better in a year, while 30 percent think it will be worse.

Finally, Gallup has released a number of recent reports illustrating the depth and extent of current economic pessimism. In Gallup data from late July, 67 percent of the public said it is now harder for them to get ahead financially than it used to be. And in Gallup data from mid-September, 66 percent now say the economy is getting worse, compared to only 25 percent who say it is getting better. In addition, 69 percent describe current economic conditions as being only fair or poor and prospective views on inflation and unemployment are becoming more decidedly more negative:

One of the concerns about the economic impact of Katrina has been inflation. Not only have gas prices spiked, but there has been speculation that the price of many other goods and services may increase as well. Americans seem mindful of this possibility. The new poll finds that 76% believe inflation will go up over the next six months, including 33% who say it will go up a lot. That's the highest expectation of an increase in inflation that Gallup has measured since this tracking trend began in October 2001 (although in May of this year, 74% said inflation would go up).

There has also been an increase in views that unemployment will increase in the next six months, from 44% who said it would go up a little or a lot in August to 52% this month. This change may well be a direct result of Americans' views that the hurricane put people living in the Gulf Coast out of work, at least temporarily.

Gallup also collects data on investors’ attitudes toward the economy. These too are headed south at a rapid clip:

...Investor optimism plunged in September from its already low levels in response to Katrina, according to the UBS/Gallup Index of Investor Optimism. Post-Katrina investor pessimism suggests that holiday sales expectations, although less optimistic than in previous years, may still be too high. Rita probably means there will be additional downward revisions in holiday sales expectations in the not-too-distant future.

Overall investor optimism has decreased significantly in September, going from 61 in August to its current reading of 34. This is its lowest level of the year, and as low as it has been since March 2003.

The Personal Dimension is at 48 -- down from 54 in August and also at its lowest level of 2005. The Economic Dimension is at -14 -- down from 7 in August, suggesting that investors as a whole have gone from neutral to pessimistic about the future direction of the U.S. economy.

This turn toward pessimism has primarily been driven by average investors, who have turned quite sour on the economic situation. Indeed, two-thirds of average investors report that they have cut back spending because of rising gas prices, which are overwhelmingly viewed–both by investors and the general public--as representing a permanent change, rather than a temporary fluctuation.

There is little in these data to suggest that this economic pessimism will lift anytime soon. If it doesn’t, the implications could be profound. As William Scheider pointed out in his most recent column, “Pervasive Economic Pessimism”:

When the economy turns bad, the federal budget deficit becomes an issue. That's exactly what happened in 1992....The risk is that high gasoline prices and low economic confidence will throw the economy into a tailspin. When that happens, people start looking for something to blame. What will they find? The deficit, the war in Iraq, and the Bush administration's ties to the oil industry.

Indeed. We shall see what happens.

September 27, 2005

Needed: More Dem Scrutiny of Redistricting Campaigns

by EDM staff

Nancy Vogel has a good wrap-up of several proposals to redistrict congressional elections around the country in the L.A. Times. Her article "Several States May Revisit Redistricting" also presents a summary of arguments for and against 'bipartisan' redistricting, focused primarilly on California, where voters will decide on Prop 77, which would put redistricting in the hands of three retired judges. The stakes are high, and Dems need to pay closer attention to these redistricting campaigns, any one of which could alter national politics in short order. Vogel quotes Nathaniel Persily, a redistricting expert who is a professor of law and political science at the University of Pennsylvania on the impact:

"To some extent, the power to draw lines is more important than the power of voting...The redistricting process is often more determinative of who wins elections than the voting in elections itself."

While the Schwarzenegger-led California proposal is a fairly transparent political power grab, other equally-partisan initiatives have been more cleverly shrouded in bipartisan wrapping paper. At present Prop 77 is opposed by a 46 percent of voters, with 32 percent supporting it, according to a September Field poll cited by Vogel. Recent redistricting initiatives implemented in Texas and Georgia benefitted the GOP, as would Prop 77. But redistricting reforms proposed in Florida and Ohio are being supported by leading Democrats.

Pro-redistricting campaigns are underway in 12 states. At present 12 states prohibit lawmakers from drawing legislative boundaries and six states ban lawmakers from drawing congressional district boundaries.

Democrats should stay focused on winning hearts and minds in all congressional districts, but there is also a compelling need to defeat those redistricting proposals designed to undercut their strength in key states.

September 26, 2005

Targeting House Seats Dems Can Win in '06

by EDM Staff

Superribbie has an interesting article "74 House Races to Target (ranked)", cross posted at My DD and Daily Kos. The article crunches some numbers, plugs in some insider analysis and comes up with a credible list of 74 seats in the House of Representatives Democrats can be optimistic about winning in November, '06. The 74 seats include both vulnerable Republicans and open seats Dems can win, with the House district and name of the incumbent. Even better, Superribbie has links to 7 regions, which include detailed discusssions of key races in individual states, a useful bookmark for Dems interested in following specific '06 House races. Readers' comments also include some perceptive insights on '06 battles. It's encouraging that Dems have a shot at 74 seats, since winning just 15 would enable them to regain control of the House. (For a discussion on expanding the playing field to 100 seats, see also Ruy Teixeira's September 7 EDM post).

September 23, 2005

Public Opinion on Public Education

by Ruy Teixeira

Every year, Phi Delta Kappa collaborates with Gallup to do a survey of the public’s attitudes toward the public schools. The content varies from year to year, though there are a number of questions that have been asked for several or even many years. This year’s poll contains a number of interesting findings that are worth flagging.

1. In an open-ended question, lack of financial support for the public schools is cited by the most respondents (20 percent) as the biggest problem facing public schools in their community. That’s been true every year since 2000. Prior to that, use of drugs or lack of discipline tended to top the list.

2. As always, people rate the public school their oldest child attends the best (69 percent A or B), the public schools in their community the second highest (57 percent A or B among public school parents; 48 percent among all adults), and the schools in the nation as a whole the worst (26 percent A or B among public school parents; 24 percent among all adults).

3. A slight increase over 2004 finds 68 percent of the public saying that reform of the existing public schools is the way to go to improve public education and just 23 percent saying the focus should be finding an alternative to the current system.

4. In terms of vouchers, the poll finds 57 percent opposing “allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense,” compared to 38 percent who favor such an approach. That’s consistent with the results of many recent state referenda where vouchers have been soundly defeated and with the results of Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa polls since 1998 when support for vouchers peaked at 44 percent. While a comeback for vouchers in terms of public support cannot be ruled out, right now they’re looking like a pretty weak part of the conservative agenda.

5. On charter schools, the public declares themselves in favor of the general concept (49 percent to 41 percent, up from 49 percent to 42 percent opposition in 2001), but insists overwhelmingly (80 percent to 14 percent) that such schools should be accountable to states in the same way public schools are.

6. While a substantial group (36 percent) feel there is too much emphasis on achievement testing in the public schools in their community, most (57 percent) feel there is either about the right amount (40 percent) or not enough (17 percent). In addition, by an overwhelming 67 percent to 28 percent margin, they favor expanding No Child Left Behind (NCLB) testing in high school to grades 9, 10, and 11.

7. The public is closely divided, however, on whether standardized tests should be used as a measurement of teacher quality (52 percent to 44 percent in favor) or principal quality (50 percent to 46 percent). And, by 58 percent to 33 percent, they worry that the current emphasis on testing will result in teachers “teaching to the tests,” which they believe, by 54 percent to 39 percent, is a “bad thing.”

8. Looking specifically at NCLB, while reported level of knowledge of the act is going up, 59 percent still say that they know very little or nothing at all about it. Reflecting this lack of knowledge, 45 percent say that they don’t know enough to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the act. Those that believe they know enough to have an opinion split about 50-50 between favorable and unfavorable views of NCLB.

9. The public dissents from or, at best, is split on a number of different provisions of NCLB described to them in this poll. By 68 percent to 29 percent, they don’t think that a singles statewide test provides a fair picture of whether a school needs improvement. By 80 percent to 17 percent, they don’t think that testing devoted to English and math only can provide a fair picture of whether a school in their community needs improvement. By 79 percent to 16 percent, if NCLB designated their child’s school as in need of improvement, they would prefer that additional efforts be made to help their child achieve in that school, rather than transfer their child to another school not so designated. By 68 percent to 28 percent, they don’t think students enrolled in special education should be held to the same academic standards as other students in a school. By 62 percent to 34 percent, they don’t think the standardized test scores of special education students should be included with the test scores of other students in determining whether a school needs improvement. By 85 percent to 13 percent, they believe a school’s performance is better assessed by looking at the improvement students have made during the course of the year, rather than by the percentage of students passing a year-end test. Finally, by 63 percent to 32 percent, they say that the amount of testing improvement required for a school should vary depending on where a school’s achievement levels start out, rather than being uniform across schools.

The public is closely-divided (48 percent to 44 percent against) on whether test scores should be reported separately by race and ethnicity, disability status, English-speaking ability and poverty level for schools in their community. And they are split, 47 percent for/48 percent against, on whether, if special education students are the only group in school whose test scores need improvement, the entire school should be designated as needing improvement.

To sum it up: reform, yes; charter schools, yes; vouchers, no; testing, yes, but with more flexibility. That’s the message from this Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll, a message broadly consistent with public opinion data collected on education by other surveys.

September 22, 2005

Hurricane Politics Challenges Dems to Recast Strategy

by EDM staff

Democrats have an unprecedented opportunity to dominate the political debate as a result of weaknesses in GOP policy revealed by Hurricane Katrina, according to a pair of articles appearing in TomPaine.com and American Prospect Online. But to have a favorable impact in upcomming elections, credible solutions offered by Dems must come in the context of a more thougthful long-range strategy. As Michael Tomasky asks in his American Prospect article "A Perfect Storm":

Is Hurricane Katrina a transformative political moment? Is this finally the time when Americans appraise the failure of the Bush administration -- that is, the failure of modern conservatism -- and say, “Enough”? Can liberals seize the opportunity those failures represent to make a case for a different society, in which repeated warnings about the dangers facing a great city aren't mocked with budget cuts, in which citizens don’t go days without water and food -- a society in which mutual and shared obligations are taken seriously?

TomPaine.com's Patrick Doherty adds in "To Rebuild and Restructure":

As Democrats begin to recognize that the devastation from and the response to Hurricane Katrina has exposed the insidious failings in the conservative project, they must do more than revive the post-1964 debate between the left and the right on the role of government and how best to stimulate the economy.

The reason is simple. Setting aside the bungled emergency planning and response, the major issues at play in the Gulf Coast reconstruction are local manifestations of national problems. To rebuild the Gulf Coast and do nothing to address national-level root causes will only ensure that the goodwill flowing into the region will be twisted by forces more powerful than today's outpouring of national sympathy.

Doherty goes on to discuss the challenges Dems face with respect to Ecosystem depletion, suburban sprawl and federal deficits, and he concludes:

today the debate must be about a new economic engine that is sustainable in every dimension: environmental, fiscal and social. Let the conservatives defend the old economy. It's time for progressives to lead

Well and succinctly said. Tomasky echoes the point in his longer piece:

There may never again be a chance quite like this to draw a crystal-clear line from the A of conservative ideology to the B of the administration’s Katrina failures to the C of the broader lessons about American society. The right, we can be sure, will fight to ensure that its syllogism -- the A of bloated bureaucracy to the B of government failure to the C of replacing government action with private relief -- is the one that takes hold of the public consciousness. Now is the time to make the kinds of arguments Democrats haven’t made for a generation.

Tomasky and Doherty's articles provide a good beginning in the search for a more effective Democratic strategy in post-Katrina America.

September 21, 2005

Time to Change Course in Iraq?

by Ruy Teixeira

For understandable reasons, survey results on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath have received the most attention in the recent wave of public poll releases. But it is striking what these polls also tell us about the public’s views on Iraq. To put it in a nutshell, the public is running out of patience with the Iraq conflict and is now actively looking for a way to end U.S. involvement in that conflict.

Consider these results from several recent polls.

In the latest Pew Research Center poll, sentiment that the United States should set a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq has spiked upwards, from a closely divided 49 percent to 45 percent split in July to a 57 percent to 37 percent pro-timetable result today. And 39 percent—the highest ever—think that Iraq will turn out to be “another Vietnam.”

While the public may increasingly know what it wants vis a vis Iraq, they do not believe they are getting it from their nation’s leaders. By 63 percent to 30 percent, they say that Bush does not have a “clear plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion.” But they have no more confidence in the Democratic leaders in Congress: by 71 percent to 18 percent, they say the Democrats don’t have a “clear alternative for how to deal with the situation in Iraq.”

In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, just 37 percent approve of the job Bush is doing on Iraq, compared to 58 percent who disapprove. Even more impressive, the number approving of Bush’s handling on the war of terrorism is now down to 43 percent, with 51 percent disapproving—the worst result I think I’ve ever seen for a Bush approval rating in this area.

In this poll, only 37 percent are willing to say that “removing Saddam Hussein from power was . . . worth the number of U.S. military casualties and the financial cost of the war,” compared to 51 percent who say that removing Hussein wasn’t worth these costs—easily the most negative result yet on this question. And, by a solid 55 percent to 36 percent margin, the public endorses reducing troop levels in Iraq “since elections have been held,” rather than maintaining troop levels in Iraq “to help secure peace and stability.”

In the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, 36 percent approve of Bush’s handling of Iraq and 59 percent disapprove. And 75 percent believe he lacks a clear plan for “getting American troops out of Iraq.”

In addition, by 50 percent to 44 percent, the public now believes that the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, rather than that the United States did the right thing by taking military action. And, by a commanding 59 percent to 36 percent margin, they say that the United States should either decrease (27 percent) or remove all (32 percent) U.S. troops, rather than maintain U.S. troop levels (26 percent) or increase them (10 percent).

The poll also has a very interesting result that shows how much things have changed since February of this year. At that time, by 55 percent to 40 percent, people said that the U.S. troops should stay in Iraq “as long as it takes” to make sure Iraq is stable, rather than remove U.S. troops as soon as possible, even if Iraq wasn’t stabilized. Today, that sentiment has reversed. By 52 percent to 42 percent, the public wants to remove U.S. troops as soon as possible, rather than keep them there until Iraq stabilizes.

Two other results indicate just how jaundiced the public view of Iraq is becoming. By 49 percent to 43 percent, they say that they are “not proud” of what the United States is doing in Iraq. And a mere 30 percent are now willing to say that the Iraq war has made the U.S. more safe from terrorism.

Finally, the latest Gallup poll, which was conducted somewhat later (September 16–18) than the other polls cited above, has Bush’s approval rating on Iraq at a stunningly low 32 percent, with 67 percent disapproval. Moreover, 59 percent now say that the United States “made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq”—by far, the highest number so far—compared to just 39 percent who say that we didn’t. And 63 percent now declare themselves in favor withdrawing some or all troops from Iraq, rather than keeping or increasing the current level (34 percent).

It’s getting increasingly obvious what the public wants—that “clear plan” for Iraq they haven’t as yet seen from their political leaders. Now might be a good time for those leaders to reconsider their reticence and supply it

September 17, 2005

Dem '06 Prospects Brighten

by EDM staff

Has Bush's bungled handling of Katrina relief and record increases in gas prices undermined the GOP's chances in next year's congressional elections? According to the latest Pew Research Center poll, conducted 9/8-11, 52 percent of Americans now say they would vote for the Democratic candidate for congress in their district, while 40 percent say they would vote for the Republican. A Newsweek Poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International 9/8-9 found that 50 percent of respondents said they would vote for the Democratic candidate in their district, while 38 percent said they would vote for the Republican.

This is a significant increase in favor of Democrats from the most recent results reported by a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll. The Fox poll, conducted 8/30-31, the day after Katrina's landfall, found that 38 percent of respondents wanted Democrats to win next year's congressional elections, compared to 35 percent for the Republicans.

The Pew poll also showed that Democrats have double digit leads over Republicans among Independents in terms of which party can best handle a range of current issues. Dems had a 38 percent advantage on health care, a 37 percent lead on environmental issues, 15 percent on social security, 11 percent on both the economy and handling disasters and a 14 percent advantage on Iraq policy. If congressional elections were held today, 55 percent of Independents said they would vote Democratic, compared with 27 percent for Republicans.

September 16, 2005

Public Opinion on Universal Health Care

by Ruy Teixeira

Last week, in the context of discussing public opinion on health care costs, I offered a few brief observations about public opinion on universal health care. Here’s a more extensive treatment of public opinion on universal health care–both what we know and what we don’t know, based on available data.

What We Know

1. Rising health care costs, not health coverage, is people’s chief health care concern. For example, in a June, 2005 Kaiser Family Foundation survey, the top worry was “having to pay more for your health care or health insurance” (45 percent said they were very worried), followed by “not being able to pay medical costs when you are elderly” (42 percent), “your income not keeping up with rising prices” (40 percent), not being able to afford the health care you think you need (34 percent), losing your health insurance (30 percent) and not being able to change jobs because you’re afraid of losing your health insurance (18 percent)

2. The public wants the government to play a leading role in providing health care for all. For example, in an October, 2003 Washington Post/ABC poll, by almost a two-to-one margin (62 percent to 33 percent), Americans said that they preferred a universal system that would provide coverage to everyone under a government program, as opposed to the current employer-based system. Similarly, in Kaiser polls from 1992 to 2000, a large majority of the public agreed that the federal government should guarantee medical care for people who don’t have health insurance. In a slightly different question asked more recently by Kaiser in June 2003, more than seven in ten adults (72 percent) agreed that the government should guarantee health insurance for all citizens, even if it means repealing most of the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush, while less than one-quarter (24 percent) disagreed with this statement. Finally, the last time Gallup asked whether the federal government should make sure all Americans have health coverage, they agreed that was a federal government responsibility by 62-35 (November, 2002).

3. American overwhelmingly agree that access to health care should be a right. In 2000 just as in 1993, eight in ten agreed that health care should be provided equally to everyone, and over half agreed “strongly” or “completely”. In addition, in 2004, about three-quarters (76%) agreed strongly or somewhat that access health care should be a right.

4. The public says it is willing to pay more in taxes to provide every American with health care coverage. In August, 2003, Pew found Americans favoring, by 67-26, the US government guaranteeing “health insurance for all citizens”, even if that meant repealing most of “recent tax cuts”. And the majority was scarcely diminished (67-29) by referring not to repealing tax cuts but more directly to “raising taxes”. Similarly, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner/Public Opinion Strategies (GQR/POS) found, in January, 2004, a 69-28 majority saying they would be willing to pay more per year in federal taxes to assure every American citizen received health care coverage.

4. But support for universal coverage drops significantly if such a program would mean limitations on access to medical care. For example, while 62 percent in the October, 2003 WP/ABC poll said they wanted universal health care system run by the government, rather than the current system, that support dropped to 35 percent if that limited choice of doctors and to 38 percent if that meant longer waits for nonemergency treatment.

5. Moreover, willingness to pay more in taxes for universal coverage is a “soft” commitment. For example, when phrased as whether the respondent would be “willing to pay more–either in higher insurance premiums or higher taxes--in order to increase the number of insured Americans”, 51 percent say they would not, compared to 45 percent who say they would. And, in the GQR/POS survey, when asked how much they’d be willing to pay in additional taxes to assure universal coverage for American citizens, 40 percent would not name a dollar figure at all and 16 percent named a figure under $100.

6. The public is also not completely clear on whether the federal government actually has to lead the way on universal coverage. When asked specifically about responsibility for covering the uninsured, four in ten people (43 percent) do say that the federal government should have the most responsibility for providing health insurance coverage to the uninsured, but two in ten (20 percent) say that state governments should be most responsible, and about one in ten (11 percent) say that employers should be most responsible. Another two in ten (18 percent) think that the responsibility belongs to none of these or to another group. (June 2003 Kaiser poll)

7. And the public is not sure whether the government should make a major or a limited effort to provide health insurance to the uninsured. The last time this question was asked by Kaiser in May 2003, 42 percent said that there should be a major effort, 37 percent said there should be a limited effort, and 13 percent said that things should be kept the way they are.

8. The public generally wants to build on, rather than eliminate, the current employer-based private health insurance system. In a January, 2000 Kaiser poll, they preferred building on the current system to switching to a system of individual responsibility (54-39) and in a November, 2003 Kaiser poll, they preferred keeping the current system to replacing it with a government-run system (57-38).

9. In that context, the public supports a wide variety of options for expanding health insurance to cover more Americans. In a June, 2005 Kaiser poll, the public said they favored tax deductions or credits for businesses (88 percent); expanding state government programs like Medicaid (80 percent); expanding Medicare to cover people ages 55-64 (74 percent); tax credits for uninsured individuals (73 percent); and requiring business to offer employees health insurance (70 percent). In a December, 2003 Harvard School of Public Health/Robert Wood Johnson/ICR poll, 80 percent supported expanding Medicaid/SCHIP; 76 percent supported employers being required to offer a health plan; and 71 percent supported a tax credit plan. Trailing these options, but still garnering majority support, were a universal Medicare plan (55 percent) and an individual coverage mandate plan (54 percent). Finally, the 2004 GQR/POS poll found 74 percent favoring guaranteed health care coverage for all American children under 18 and 62 percent favoring catastrophic health insurance coverage for all Americans. (Note: one of the only options that didn’t garner majority support in these polls was a single or national health plan financed by tax payers that would provide insurance for all Americans (37-47 percent)).

What We Don’t Know

So, it appears that public is very open to a government-supported system of universal coverage, but not sure about how (and how fast) to get there and what kind of system it really wants. This is a challenging environment for advocates of universal coverage. To be effective, they will need to resolve a number of unanswered questions about public responsiveness to a universal coverage message.

1. Does the public see a connection between universal coverage and containing health care costs? If so, what kind and how can that connection be strengthened? If not, what can be done to create that connection?

2. The public says it favors a government role in guaranteeing health insurance coverage for all. But how does the public envision that role? And what does the public really hear when terms like “universal coverage” and “guaranteed health insurance” are used? Do advocates know what kind of terminology would actually work the best when talking about these goals with the public?

3. If the public believes access health care is a “right”, is that the best way to talk about the goal of universal coverage? If not, what is the best way to connect to Americans’ values in and around the health care issue?

4. We need to know much more about the sensitivity of the American public to the costs involved in extending health insurance coverage. How seriously should we take the surface commitment to pay more in taxes? How would the issue have to be framed to make that surface commitment into a more durable one? How important might the issue of containing health care costs be to getting the public to accept the costs of universal coverage?

5. How can advocates avoid the restricted choice counterattack that will inevitably be raised to any universal coverage plan? Should consumer choice be a central element of any universal coverage plan? If so, what is the best way to frame that?

6. The public appears to support the general goal of universal coverage but seems shaky on the scale of the effort need to meet that goal. What is the best and most effective way of making clear the scale of effort needed to actually attain universal coverage?

7. The public appears to support a wide range of possible ways to increase coverage, but it is unclear which, if any, of these approaches the public identifies as particularly effective. Can the public be led to identify progress toward universal coverage with a few key reforms that would stand out from the rest? If so, which ones and how should advocates talk about them?

September 14, 2005

End of the Bush Era?

by Ruy Teixeira

Last week, I concluded my discussion of the early polling results on the impact of Hurricane Katrina with:

As Harry Truman put it: “The buck stops here.” Bush may not personally subscribe to that view, but, in this case, I think the public’s going to insist.

Well, they’re insisting. Here are some results from the last week of public polling that clearly indicate serious erosion in Bush’s political standing from the Katrina disaster.

Bush’s approval ratings. Not one, but two, polls now have his overall approval below the 40 percent mark: Ipsos-AP (39 percent, with 59 percent disapproval) and Newsweek (38 percent, with 55 percent disapproval).

Other polls report approval ratings that are exactly at 40 percent or only slightly above: Pew Research Center (40 percent in two different polls, September 6-7 and September 8-12); Zogby (41 percent); CBS News, Time/SRBI and Washington Post/ABC News (all at 42 percent). (Note that in the ABC poll, the 57 percent who disapprove of Bush’s job performance includes 45 percent who strongly disapprove, an amazing finding.)

The Newsweek poll also reports the following approval ratings in specific areas: 35 percent, with 60 percent disapproval, on the economy; 36 percent, with 60 percent disapproval, on Iraq; and 28 percent, with 60 percent disapproval, on energy policy. (Do I detect a pattern?)

On problems caused by Hurricane Katrina, Bush gets a 37 percent rating, with 57 percent disapproval. This is similar to ratings in the CBS News poll (38 percent, down from 54 percent on August 30-31) and Pew poll (also 38 percent).

And even on terrorism and homeland security, Bush receives just a 46 percent rating, with 48 percent disapproval. That is, even in his area of greatest strength, the war on terror, Bush is now receiving net negative approval ratings.

Showing that this result is no fluke, the Time/SRBI poll gives him the same rating–46 percent approval/48 percent disapproval–on handling the war on terrorism. That poll also finds Bush with a net negative rating on “providing leadership in times of crisis” (48 percent approval/49 percent disapproval). Clearly, the public just doesn’t think of Bush in the same way it used to.

Bush’s character ratings. This shift in the perception of Bush is illustrated most vividly by recent results on Bush’s character. In the Newsweek poll, there is now a 49-47 split on whether Bush does or does not have “strong leadership qualities”, down from a 63-34 spread in late October of last year. In addition, there is now a 49-46 split on whether Bush is “intelligent and well-informed”, down from 59-37 last October, and a 46-51 split against Bush on whether can be trusted to “make the right decisions during an international crisis”, down from a 54-42 judgement in his favor last October. In addition, just 50 percent now say he is “honest and ethical”, 45 percent say he can be trusted to “make the right decisions during a domestic crisis” and 42 percent think he “cares about people like you”.

The poll also contains the following startling finding: The public is now much more likely to think that history will judge Bush a below average president (42 percent) than to think history will see him as above average (19 percent). Wow. Remember when Republicans were talking about putting Bush on Mount Rushmore? I don’t think that’s on anymore.

Other polls have similar findings on the sharp decline in perception of Bush’s character. In the CBS News poll, 48 percent now say Bush has “strong qualities of leadership”, compared to 49 percent who say he does not. That compares to a whopping 64-34 judgement in Bush’s favor a year ago. Similarly, in the WP/ABC poll, there is now a 50-50 split on whether Bush is a strong leader, down from 62-37 in his favor in May of 2004 and a 49-49 split on whether Bush can be trusted in a crisis, down from 60-39 in May, 2004. Finally, just 38 percent now say Bush does “understand the problems of people like you”, compared to 61 percent who say he doesn’t.

So: the public now has a negative view of Bush’s job performance overall and in every area, including handling the war on terror, and has lost faith in Bush’s special qualities as a leader. What’s left? Not much. The bond between Bush and the American people has clearly been broken, perhaps irrevocably. An administration that was once defined in the public eye with competence and patriotism is now associated with cronyism and incompetence of the worst sort.

That’s quite a change. In fact, it’s the end of an era. As E.J. Dionne succinctly put it in his September 13 column:

The Bush Era is over. The sooner politicians in both parties realize that, the better for them -- and the country.

Recent months, and especially the past two weeks, have brought home to a steadily growing majority of Americans the truth that President Bush's government doesn't work. His policies are failing, his approach to leadership is detached and self-indulgent, his way of politics has produced a divided, angry and dysfunctional public square. We dare not go on like this.....

The breaking of the Bush spell opens the way for leaders of both parties to declare their independence from the recent past. It gives forces outside the White House the opportunity to shape a more appropriate national agenda -- for competence and innovation in rebuilding the Katrina region and for new approaches to the problems created over the past 4 1/2 years.


September 13, 2005

Pew Poll: Feds Flunk Katrina Relief

by Pete Ross

According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 61 percent of Americans rate the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina as "only fair/poor," while 37 percent rate the feds' response as "excellent/good." The poll, conducted 9/8-11, found similar ratings for the response of state and local governments (60 and 34 percent respectively). No surprise in the "fair/poor" ratings, but it would be interesting to know what in blazes anyone thought was "excellent" about the feds' response.

Amid charges that racial discrimination played a major role in the Administration's late and limp response, the poll also found that:

whites and blacks have identical views about the state and local response, but blacks are much more negative than whites about how the federal government has dealt with the hurricane's impact.

Asked if the federal government should help rebuild New Orleans, 51 percent of respondents agreed that the feds "should help pay," while 41 percent said it is "too risky to rebuild." The poll also found that Americans are evenly divided on whether the "US has enough forces to fight effectively in Iraq and respond to domestic crises," with 47 percent agreeing that we can do both and 48 percent disagreeing.

September 10, 2005

Public Opinion on Health Care Costs

by Ruy Teixeira

To the extent one can rank people’s personal economic worries, rising health care costs are frequently at the top of the list. For example, in a June 2005 Lake Snell Perry Mermin survey, 27 percent picked rising health care costs, 18 percent wages not keeping up with costs, 14 percent a secure retirement, 12 percent higher taxes and 9 percent rising gas prices as their chief economic worry. Just 5 percent picked losing their job.

A somewhat similar pattern can be observed in a June, 2005 Kaiser Family Foundation survey. That poll asked people how worried they were about a wide range of problems. The top worry was “having to pay more for your health care or health insurance” (45 percent said they were very worried), followed by “not being able to pay medical costs when you are elderly” (42 percent) and “your income not keeping up with rising prices” (40 percent). In contrast, only 24 percent were very worried about not being able to pay their rent or mortgage, 19 percent about losing their savings in the stock market and 17 percent about losing their job.

Obviously, rising health care costs is a very important problem indeed in the eyes of the public. Therefore, it would be good to know more about how exactly rising health care costs are affecting Americans’ lives today. In this regard, a just-released Kaiser Family Foundation survey specifically on the issue of health care costs provides much valuable information. Here are some key findings from the survey.

Two-thirds (66%) of insured adults say their health insurance premiums have gone up over the past five years, including 38% who say these premiums have gone up “a lot”. About one-quarter (24%) say premiums have stayed the same, while just 5% say they’ve gone down.

Around half of insured adults say their co-payments for provider visits (52%) and health insurance deductibles (49%) have risen over the past 5 years. About four in ten say co-payments (40%) and deductibles (42%) have stayed the same, and few say these costs have gone down (5% co-payments, 3% deductibles have gone down).

More than a third (35%) of the public says high profits made by drug companies and insurance companies are the MOST important reason behind rising health care costs. The next most commonly cited reasons are the number of malpractice lawsuits (19%) and the amount of greed and waste that occurs in the health care system (14%).

Nearly one-quarter (23%) Americans have had problems paying medical bills in the past year.

More than six in ten (61%) adults who report problems paying medical bills are covered by health insurance). Among adults who had problems paying medical bills –majorities report that the bills were for basic care such as doctor bills (85%), lab fees (62%) and prescription drugs (56%).

More than one in five (21%) Americans currently has an overdue medical bill, and almost two in ten (19%) report experiencing serious financial consequences in the past 5 years due to medical bills.

Almost two in ten (18%) Americans say health care costs are their biggest monthly expense excluding rent or mortgage payments. More than three in ten (32%) name transportation, and nearly one-quarter each say food or clothing (24%) or utilities (23%) are their biggest expense excluding rent or mortgage costs.

Nearly three in ten (28%) adults report a time in the past year when they did not have enough money to pay for medical or health care, and 62% of these adults are insured. This share has been stable since the mid-1980’s, but is considerably higher than in 1976 when 15% said there was a time they didn’t have enough money to pay for care.

Nearly three in ten (29%) adults report that they or someone in their household skipped medical treatment, cut pills, or did not fill a prescription in the past year because of the cost.

One way to control health care costs, of course, is in the context of a system that would provide universal health insurance coverage to Americans. Would Americans support government action to create such a system? They say they would, though there are nuances to that support which suggest mobilizing the public to move in that direction remains tricky.

Start with the basic fact that the public definitely wants the government to play a leading role in providing health care for all. For example, in an October, 2003 WP/ABC poll, by almost a 2-1 margin (62 percent to 33 percent), Americans said they preferred a universal system that would provide coverage to everyone under a government program, as opposed to the current employer-based system. Similarly, in Kaiser polls from 1992 to 2000, a large majority of the public agreed that the federal government should guarantee medical care for people who don’t have health insurance. Finally, in a slightly different question asked more recently by Kaiser in June 2003, more than seven in ten adults (72%) agreed that the government should guarantee health insurance for all citizens, even if it means repealing most of the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush, while less than one-quarter (24%) disagreed with this statement.

Note, however, that support for universal coverage drops significantly if such a program would mean a limited choice of doctors or longer waits for nonemergency treatment.

Note also that, when asked specifically about responsibility for covering the uninsured, there is not unanimous support for the federal government to lead the way. Four in ten people (43%) think that the federal government should have the most responsibility for providing health insurance coverage to the uninsured, compared with two in ten (20%) who say state governments should be most responsible, and about one in ten (11%) who say employers should be most responsible. Another two in ten (18%) think the responsibility belongs to none of these or to another group. (June, 2003 Kaiser poll)

In a more recent Kaiser poll (June, 2005), when presented with a variety of options for expanding health insurance to cover more Americans, the public did express a high level of support for nearly every option (ranging from 70% to 88%). (The only option that didn’t garner majority support is a national health plan financed by tax payers-that would provide insurance for all Americans (37%)). However, when asked to select the single best option, no one option attracted widespread support.

Finally, the public is also divided over whether the government should make a major or a limited effort to provide health insurance to the uninsured. The last time this question was asked by Kaiser in May, 2003, 42 percent said there should be a major effort, 37 percent a limited effort and 13 percent said things should be kept the way they are.

So, it appears that public is very open to a government-supported system of universal coverage, but not sure about how to get there and what kind of system it really wants. We shall see if the push of rising health care costs starts to focus the public mind more so that it has been so far.

September 7, 2005

Do the Math: Why Expanding the Playing Field in 2006 Is Actually a Very, Very Smart Idea

by Ruy Teixeira

Ron Brownstein had an excellent article in the Los Angeles Times the other day on an idea near and dear to the hearts of many Democratic activists: expanding the Congressional playing field in 2006 so that as many as 100 seats are contested, instead of the handful of "targeted" seats that typically get all the funding and support from the Democratic campaign apparatus.

It's a strategy I happen to agree with. If pursued, I believe it would substantially improve the Democrats' chances of retaking the House in 2006, particularly in a year when Republican incumbents are going to be hard-pressed to find much positive to run on.

But, as Brownstein points out in the article, many influential Democrats don't agree with this assessment, particularly, of course, those intimately associated with the conventional targeting approach:

But the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee], and many leading Democratic strategists, say that funding a wider circle of challengers in heavily Republican areas would divert money better spent on districts more closely balanced between the parties....

Diverting money to long-shot contests is "what the Republicans would want to see," [Mark] Gersh [head of the National Committee for an Effective Congress and a longtime strategist for Democrats] said. "This kind of craziness would exactly play into Republican hands."

This attitude is too bad, because the fact is that it is expanding the playing field, not traditional targeting, that has the strongest mathematics behind it. Deeming the former strategy "crazy" just demonstrates a fundamental failure to do the math carefully, relying instead on the sloppy assumptions of the conventional wisdom.

The logic and basic math behind expanding the playing field is lucidly explained in a forthcoming article by political scientists Jonathan Krasno of Binghampton and Donald Green of Yale. Here are some excerpts from their essay that summarize the case against targeting and for contesting a wide range of seats:

....[P]arty campaign committees generally take charge in identifying the hottest races. They interview candidates, evaluate their chances of victory, and establish funding priorities. Their allies among interest groups and private donors follow their lead, opening their wallets for contenders in targeted races while rebuffing less likely candidates. The results of this targeting process are evident in FEC reports. In 2004, 33 challengers spent over $2 million while nearly 200 spent less than $100,000.

The logic behind targeting is hard to argue with. Funders try to put their money where they assume it will matter most, in close races where a slight shove in either direction might mean the difference between victory and defeat. Smart bettors, they avoid long shots, reasoning that their faint hopes of winning do not warrant an investment. A few thousand more dollars may mean everything to a candidate teetering on the edge of 50 percent of the vote, but little to one struggling to get to 40 percent. Viewed in this light, targeting makes perfect sense.

Or does it? It is easy to see why targeting has been bad for the public since it leaves so few congressional elections contested. In 2004 just 30 House elections were decided by 10 percentage points or less, a remarkably small number. The more relevant question is whether targeting has served parties’ interests. Has it helped them make the most of the resources and win elections? In this essay, we argue that targeting – the parties’ narrow focus on a small number of highly competitive races – has been at best counterproductive and at worst disastrous for them....

....[I]t is hard to peg the exact point at which the returns from campaign spending become so negligible as to be worthless. Still, it is safe to say for the vast majority of candidates that the impact of expenditures beyond $1 million is heavily attenuated. What that means is simple: spending past $1 million gains far fewer votes (and maybe none at all) than does earlier spending.

Targeted races are inevitably among the most expensive in country with both sides going all out to help their candidate across the finish line. Diminishing marginal returns mean that the effect of their help is severely limited. Put another way, campaign spending is like moving a boulder up a hill. The higher the dollar altitude, the steeper the path becomes and the less the boulder moves with the same force. By concentrating on races where the paths are steepest, the parties (who are pushing against one another anyway) move very few voters....

Because of diminishing returns, we know that a large investment in an expensive race will bring few votes, while a small investment in a cheaper race may bring many. Parties shy away from the latter on the grounds that hopeless candidates are hopeless causes. But the math says different. Suppose that we could increase the odds of twenty candidates from 5 to 10 percent for the same cost of helping two candidates with 45 percent chances get to 50 percent. By helping the twenty hapless candidates, we would increase the expected number of victories from 20 x 0.05 = 1 to 20 x 0.10 = 2. By helping the well-heeled candidates, we would increase the expected number of victories from 2 x .45 = 0.90 to 2 x .50 = 1. The first investment portfolio has an expected return of 1 additional victory, while the second one is just one-tenth of an additional victory.

That is a fairly realistic scenario. Seventy challengers in 2004 spent between $100,000 to $500,000, and 19 of them won at least 40 percent of the vote. Boosting their spending by as little as $50,000 or $100,000 would have a discernable effect on their chances, while increasing expenditures by $500,000 in an expensive race would likely have little effect. Parties ignore long shots because viewed individually no single candidate has a particularly good chance of winning. But as a group, long shots are ripe with possibility because of their numbers and because their low spending gives parties a chance to influence their chances. Targeting overlooks many potential winners....

The bottom line is that targeting does not help parties win elections. Instead, it impels them into high-spending races where the value of their contributions is minimal. The narrow group of targeted contests excludes many other elections where they have a distinct, albeit distant, chance of winning. By focusing so sharply on top-tier races, the parties effectively narrow the playing field in congressional elections, limiting their potential gains. And, all of their actions are predicated on their ability to predict which races will be close well before the election, an inherently dubious endeavor....

...Parties need to remember that for them congressional elections are an aggregate enterprise. Candidates think of themselves, but parties cannot afford to become too caught up in any single race. Their goals are aggregate and their strategy is national – maximizing their gains demands a disciplined and rational investment strategy that is truly national in its scope.

And that rational, national strategy is to expand the playing field to 100 seats in 2006. If the Democrats want to maximize their chances of retaking the House in 2006, that's exactly what they should do.

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

by Ruy Teixeira

The remarkably poor and ineffective response of the Bush administration to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, particularly the New Orleans flood, seems likely to make a bad political situation for Bush substantially worse.

Consider Charlie Cook’s summation of where Bush was at politically before the Katrina disaster:

From the beginning of Bush's first term through mid-June of this year, in only two out of 170 Gallup national surveys did his disapproval ratings reach 50 percent or higher. Since mid-June, eight out of 10 Gallup polls have put his disapproval rating above 50 percent. And virtually every major national poll shows his job-approval ratings this summer at their lowest level yet. News from Iraq has been worsening, and the war, along with rising gasoline prices, had driven Bush's approval ratings far below where those of every modern two-term president, save Richard Nixon, were at this point in their fifth year in office.

With violence in Iraq expected to only get worse in the period leading up to the October referendum on that country's new constitution, U.S. public opinion seems about ready to stampede away from Bush and the war......

One might add to this summation a few of the more gaudy data points from two recent polls that underscore Cook’s viewpoint.

1. In the latest CBS News poll, Bush’s overall approval rating is 41 percent, and his ratings on the economy and Iraq are 37 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

More than three-fifths (62 percent) of the public says higher prices for gasoline affect them personally “a lot” and 63 percent believe that the price of gas is something a president can do a lot about.

On Iraq, 61 percent say the war hasn’t been worth the costs, 55 percent want to decrease or remove all US troops and just 16 percent believe the Iraq was has decreased the threat of terrorism against the US. And, by about 2:1 (57-29), people say Bush makes things in Iraq sound better than they are, rather than providing an accurate picture.

2. In the latest Gallup poll, Bush receives the lowest approval ratings of his presidency for handling terrorism (53 percent), the economy (38 percent) and health care (32 percent) and ties his low on Iraq (40 percent).

On gas prices, his rating is a stunningly low 20 percent, with 76 percent disapproval. About 7 in 10 report suffering some financial hardship from rising gas prices and most expect gas prices to continue to rise in the coming year.

On Iraq, 53 percent now say sending troops to Iraq was a mistake, 53 percent want to withdraw some or all troops, 69 percent believe it’s unlikely that peace and internal security will be established within a year (56 percent don’t believe that’s even likely in “the long run”) and 82 percent believe US military casualties will continue at the current rate or higher for the next year.

Cook initially thought, given how dire Bush’s situation was becoming, that the Katrina disaster might actually help Bush in the short run by diverting attention away from these problems, particularly Iraq. But he’s changed his mind. As he puts it:

Natural disasters and other tragedies offer both opportunities and risks for our elected leaders. They offer the opportunity to demonstrate leadership, decisiveness, compassion and competence -- all during a period of maximum visibility. The risk is that if a leader fails to rise to the occasion, a national spotlight illuminates the failure for all to see -- and judge.

President Bush masterfully demonstrated leadership qualities after 9/11. (His reaction to last year's Florida hurricanes and his efforts to help their victims were also impressive.) Americans were not just satisfied with the response of their government to the tragedy of 9/11, they were proud of it. But this Wednesday, Thursday and even Friday, as I write, I doubt many Americans who have followed the government's response to Katrina are proud.

Exactly. Failing the test of leadership in real time and in plain view seems likely to only add to Bush’s troubles. Consider how the public has reacted so far to Bush’s handling of the situation–they started out slightly positive (54 percent approval in the last two days of the CBS News poll, August 30-31), but his rating declined to 46 percent in a September 2 Washington Post/ABC News poll and has now sunk to 38 percent, with 54-55 percent disapproval, in the September 4-5 tracking polls conducted by SurveyUSA.

And, of course, people are overwhelmingly convinced that the federal government should have been better prepared, done more to help, been better organized and so on.

As Harry Truman put it: “The buck stops here”. Bush may not personally subscribe to that view, but, in this case, I think the public’s going to insist.

September 6, 2005

It’s a Nation of Unhappy Campers

by Ruy Teixeira

The whole country seems to be in a pretty surly mood. Here’s the lead to the Washington Post story on their latest poll:

Rising gas prices and ongoing bloodshed in Iraq continue to take their toll on President Bush, whose standing with the public has sunk to an all-time low, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey found Bush's job approval rating at 45 percent, down seven points since January and the lowest ever recorded for the president in Post-ABC surveys. Fifty-three percent disapproved of the job Bush is doing.

And here’s the lead to Gallup’s story on Bush’s approval rating in their August 22-25 poll:

A new Gallup Poll reflects further erosion in President George W. Bush's job approval rating, continuing the slow but steady decline evident throughout the year so far. The poll -- conducted Aug. 22-25 -- puts Bush's job approval rating at 40% and his disapproval rating at 56%. Both are the most negative ratings of the Bush administration. Bush's previous low point in approval was 44% (July 25-28, 2005) and his previous high point in disapproval was 53% (June 24-26, 2005).

But that’s not all! Check out the lead to Gallup’s story about their latest economic opinion data:

As oil prices soar past $70 a barrel in response to the potential damage created by Hurricane Katrina, there are widespread predictions of another surge in gas prices at the pump, and a slowdown in the U.S. economy. While the coming "soft-patch" in the economy will most likely be attributed to Katrina, the reality is that consumers' expectations for the economy were already tumbling in response to increasing gas prices prior to the storm hitting southern Louisiana on Monday (Aug. 30).

In a new Gallup Poll (Aug. 22-25), taken about a week before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, two in three consumers say the economy is getting worse while only 28% say it is getting better. This suggests that the modest declines reported by both the University of Michigan on Friday (Aug. 26) and the Conference Board on Monday (Aug. 30) were significantly out-of-date even as they were announced. Of course, Katrina ,and the storm's aftermath, are likely to significantly exacerbate consumers' already plummeting expectations.

In this latest poll, 63% of consumers say current economic conditions in the country as a whole are "getting worse." This is the highest level of negative economic expectations recorded by Gallup since just before the beginning of the war in Iraq (March 3-5, 2003) when the percentage of consumers saying economic conditions were getting worse reached 67%.

It could be a mighty difficult autumn for the Bush administration. Stay tuned.

September 3, 2005

Labor Day, 2005: Workers Are Unhappy Campers

by Ruy Teixeira

Hart Research recently conducted a nationwide poll of workers for the AFL-CIO which has just been released. The poll indicates that, despite upbeat talk coming out of the administration, American workers are quite unhappy with the economy and the general direction of the country.

Here are the key findings from the poll:

1. In four different areas, workers think the country is off on the wrong track: health care (68 percent wrong track/24 percent right direction); retirement security (65/24); the war in Iraq (56/34); and the quality and availability of jobs (49/42).

2. Looking ahead five years, 43 percent say they are “more hopeful and confident” than “worried and concerned” (54 percent) about achieving their financial goals. That contrasts with 60 percent confident/34 percent worried in July, 2001 and a peak of 70/25 in June, 1999.

3. More than half of workers (53 percent) say their income is falling behind the cost of living, compared to 35 percent who say it’s staying even and 11 percent who believe their income is rising faster than the cost of living. That 53 percent figure is highest Hart Research has found on this question, going back to 1996.

4. Just 40 percent say they are very or somewhat confident they will be able to retire with financial security, compared to 59 percent who are just somewhat or not that confident.

5. Workers overwhelmingly believe (69 percent) that the jobs being created today in the US economy are “mainly lower-paying jobs without benefits”, rather than “mainly good-paying full-time jobs that provide benefits” (17 percent). Moreover, by 63-31, they believe that, even with a college degree, it’s difficult to find good jobs and financial security in today’s economy, rather than that, given a college degree and hard work, a good job and financial security will follow.

5. From a list of six problems facing working people, workers are most likely to select the cost of health care and jobs going overseas, followed by rising gas prices. The lowest ranked item was work schedules interfering with family responsibilities.

6. Half or more of workers worried very or somewhat often about the following problems: the price of gasoline (80 percent, including 62 percent very worried), the rising cost of health care (68), princes rising faster than your income (64), American companies moving jobs to other countries (60), too many jobs lacking health insurance and retirement benefits (52) and not being able to afford health care (50).

7. The poll asked workers to rate employers on different aspects of handling their workers. Employers were rated poorly in quite a few important areas: providing regular cost-of-living raises to employees (70 percent falling somewhat or very far short); sharing profits with employees when the company does well (67); providing adequate and secure retirement benefits (65); showing concern for employees, not just the bottom line (65); being loyal to long-term employees (64); providing permanent jobs that offer good benefits and job security (62); paying a fair share of employees’ health care costs (57); and adopting policies that help working parents (55).

8. Workers overwhelmingly oppose Bush’s proposals for changing Social Security (58-28). That compares to a 42-42 split last January (among non-retired voters).

9. On the health care system, 68 percent of workers say they are dissatisfied with the system, compared to just 30 percent who are satisfied. That’s even less satisfied than workers were back in early 1994, before the defeat of the Clinton health plan. And 72 percent now say they favor a government guarantee of health insurance for every American. That’s even more favorable than workers were back in 1999, the last time Hart Research asked this question. Finally, by 63-27, workers believe it’s wrong for large companies not to provide health care coverage for their employees, because that drives up everyone else’s costs, rather than “companies cannot afford to provide health care coverage to employees, because they have to keep costs down to remain competitive in a global economy”.

10. In terms of solutions, workers express a great deal of interest in the following steps that Congress and the president might take to address workers’ problems: strengthen employees’ rights to their pay/retirement benefits when a company declares bankruptcy (86 percent say this should be a top or high priority); provide incentives for companies to keep jobs in America (85); preventing American companies from leaving the country to avoid paying taxes (74); establishing a national health care system (73); giving regular employees the retirement plan breaks received by management (73); eliminating tax breaks for very high CEO compensation (72); strengthen laws requiring equal pay for women (70); eliminating CEO golden parachutes (68); require employers to basic health insurance and pay most of the premiums (67); raising the minimum wage to $7.25 (65); expanding support for child care and after-school (65); and make it harder to replace full-time jobs with part-time jobs with lower wages/benefits (65).

Quite a list. Presumably, Bush, Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert are taking careful notes.

11. How about joining a union? This poll did not cover the issue, but an earlier Hart Research poll did. In a February poll, also for the AFL-CIO, they found the following:

The February survey includes a long-term trend question developed by the Gallup organization that asks whether respondents approve or disapprove of unions. Two-thirds (64%) of Americans voice approval of unions and just 21% disapprove (results among workers are identical to those among the general public). This is among the highest approval ratings and is the lowest disapproval score for unions since 1965.

As with general support for unions, interest in union representation on the job has increased in recent years. Among all non-managerial workers, 53% now say that they definitely or probably would vote in favor of union representation in their workplace, with 38% who would vote no. By comparison, in 2003, we find an even division in the vote on union representation: 47% vote yes and 47% vote no. This result and a similar response in a 2002 AFL-CIO survey (50% yes) mark a very substantial improvement over the previous decade. In both 1993 and 1996, the “yes” vote stood at just 39% among nonunion workers, while a majority indicated that they would vote no. From 1997 to 2001, support rose slightly to about 43% yes, but opposition still stood above 50%. Now support for union representation equals or exceeds opposition—a substantial change from sentiment in the early 1990s.

It’s worth noting that the Hart findings diverge dramatically from a June Zogby poll, conducted for the militantly anti-union Public Service Research Foundation. That poll found workers saying they would vote against unions 56-35. This seems hard to square with the Hart result of 53-38 for unions. Even if we assume that Zogby also included managers in their survey, which might be true (it’s hard to tell for sure from looking at their report), the analogous figure for all non-union workers from Hart would still be 49-43 for unions.

Curiouser and curiouser. It seems highly unlikely that the differing survey dates could possibly make that much difference. Perhaps question wording can account for the difference. So far, however, Zogby has not released the exact question wording, so we can’t tell. Until he does, I’d be inclined to trust the Hart result, which is based on a solid question with some history behind it.

Gallup itself asked some questions about unions in August (though not a question about whether workers would vote to join unions). They didn’t find as high an approval score for unions (58 percent), but did find, for the first time since they started asking the question in 1999, a plurality (38-30) saying they wanted unions to have more, rather than less, influence in the country. They also found, however, a spike in the perception that unions will be weaker in the future than they are today (up to 53 percent from 41 percent in 2004). Just 19 percent thought unions will be stronger in the future. No doubt this perception that unions are more an institution of the past than the future is among the several problems that unions currently face in turning interest in union representation into actual union members.

September 2, 2005

Weighting by Party ID: Why to Do It and How to Do It

by Ruy Teixeira

Alan Abramowitz has waded, once again, into the party-weighting controversy with an excellent intervention, “Just Weight!: The Case for Dynamic Party Identification Weighting”, published in the Cook Political Report. In the article, Abramowitz looks at 2005 Gallup poll data (be sure to check out the charts in his article) and finds the following:

Between January 1 and August 7, 2005, the Gallup Poll conducted 24 separate national surveys in which respondents were questioned about their party identification....

...Across all 24 polls, there was an average Democratic advantage of 3 percentage points. This was identical to the average for all Gallup Polls conducted during 2004, indicating that there has been little or no change in the underlying party loyalties of the American electorate. Among these 24 polls, however, the party identification differential ranged from an 11 point Republican advantage on February 4-6 to a 14 point Democratic advantage on June 29-30, a 25 point swing. In some cases, moreover, there were dramatic shifts within just a few days. Between February 4-6 and February 7-10, an 11 point Republican advantage became a 6 point Democratic advantage. similarly, between March 18-20 and March 21-23, a 5 point Republican advantage became an 8 point Democratic advantage.

Hardly believable, eh? And here’s why it matters:

Because party identification is strongly related to political attitudes such as presidential approval, large swings in the proportions of Democrats and Republicans between surveys can produce large swings in estimates of these other attitudes. For example, between February 4-6 and February 7-10 there was a swing from an 11 point Republican advantage to a 6 point Democratic advantage in party identification. At the same time, President Bush’s approval rating fell from 57 percent to 49 percent. Similarly, between March 18-20 and March 21-23, there was a swing from a 5 point Republican advantage to an 8 point Democratic advantage in party identification and President Bush’s approval rating fell from 52 percent to 45 percent. Rather than reflecting any real change in the public’s evaluation of the President’s job performance, these shifts were probably caused by random variation in the partisan composition of the Gallup sample. Such random variation becomes even more problematic before a presidential election because it can affect estimates of voting intentions which, like presidential approval, are strongly related to party identification.

But what to do about this? Is there a way to fix the problem that still allows party ID to change some over time in response to changing political conditions (as it surely does)? Indeed there is: dynamic party ID weighting, a solution flogged by Abramowitz, myself, Charlie Cook and others. Here’s Abramowitz’ description:

A potential solution to the problem of excessive variation in the partisan composition of individual samples is to estimate the underlying proportions of Democrats and Republicans in the electorate by combing the results of surveys conducted over several weeks. This estimate can then be used to weight the proportions of Democrats and Republicans in each sample. By combining several surveys, random variation due to sampling error can be greatly reduced.

[For example, with a] 10-poll moving average....instead of estimating the proportions of Democrats and Republicans in the electorate based on individual samples of approximately 1000 respondents, we are estimating the proportions of Democrats and Republicans based on combined samples of approximately 10,000 respondents.

[This produces results].... much more consistent with the findings of political science research on the nature of party identification in the American electorate: party identification is a stable orientation that changes slowly in response to changes in the political environment. Over the past several months, for a variety of reasons, that political environment has become more favorable for Democrats and it appears that between April and July of 2005 there was a modest increase in the proportion of Democratic identifiers relative to the proportion of Republican identifiers. Because extraneous noise caused by sampling error has been largely removed, this trend is much more evident [with dynamic party ID weighting]....Overall, these results provide strong support for the use of dynamic party identification weighting in public opinion polling.

I agree. You may agree, too. But we don’t take the polls. Gallup and the various other survey organizations do. Let ‘em know what you think.

September 1, 2005

Dems Must Lead Katrina Relief

One of the more painful lessons in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is the terrible price of political neglect of America’s deteriorating infrastructure. Sidney Blumenthal’s article “No One Can Say They Didn’t See It Coming” in Salon puts it this way:

In 2001, FEMA warned that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in the U.S. But the Bush administration cut New Orleans flood control funding by 44 percent to pay for the Iraq war…In 2004, the Bush administration cut funding requested by the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for holding back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent. Additional cuts at the beginning of this year (for a total reduction in funding of 44.2 percent since 2001) forced the New Orleans district of the Corps to impose a hiring freeze.

Republicans have rarely provided adequate support for needed public works projects in the U.S., such as strengthening the levees in New Orleans, preferring, for example, to squander taxpayer dollars on dubious Halliburton projects in Iraq. As long-time advocates of public works projects, Democrats have an edge in providing the leadership needed to get New Orleans and other Gulf communities up and running, and we need to amplify the call for critical infrastructure repair as a national priority.

In a related piece, TPM Café quotes a June 8, 2004 article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune by Sheila Grissett:

The challenge now, said emergency management chiefs Walter Maestri in Jefferson Parish and Terry Tullier in New Orleans, is for southeast Louisiana somehow to persuade those who control federal spending that protection from major storms and flooding are matters of homeland security.

"It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay," Maestri said. "Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

Yes we know. Now is not the time for political bickering, and Americans need to pull together to support the relief effort in New Orleans and the Gulf communities. But now is the time to recalibrate federal spending priorities, and Dems must lead the way.