« September 2005 | Main | November 2005 »

October 30, 2005

WSJ/Harris Poll: Majority Now Feel Iraq War Was Wrong

by EDM Staff

For the first time, a majority of Americans now say that "military action in Iraq was the wrong thing to do," according to a new interactive Harris Poll. The poll found that 53 percent of Americans feel military action in Iraq was wrong, with 34 percent saying it was the right thing to do.

In addition, the Wall St. Journal reported that:

Sixty-one percent of Americans say they aren't confident U.S. policies in Iraq will be successful, slightly higher than 59% who lacked confidence in September. Additionally, only 19% of Americans surveyed believe the situation for U.S. troops in Iraq is improving, while 44% believe it is getting worse.

The poll also found that 66 percent of respondents gave a negative rating of "the job President Bush has done in handling the issue of Iraq over the last several months." The poll was conducted 10/11-17, before the milestone of 2,000 American soldiers killed in Iraq was reached last week.

October 29, 2005

Youth Tilt Progressive

by Ruy Teixeira

I have written often about the progressive leanings of young adults, particularly those aged 18 to 24. The latest Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (GQR)/Polimetrix Youth Monitor poll provides fresh evidence of these leanings.

1. Just 27 percent of those aged 18 to 24 years old approve of Bush’s job performance and 61 percent disapprove.

2. Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of this age group believe the war in Iraq was not worth the cost of U.S. lives and dollars, compared to 27 percent who believe it was. And, by 55 percent to 45 percent, they believe the war in Iraq is not part of the war against terrorism.

3. By 58 percent to 41 percent, youth have a basically negative view of cutting taxes, believing that “cutting taxes reduces funding for important services like schools and health care and mostly benefit the rich” rather than “cutting taxes helps improve the economy and allows people to keep more of what they earn.”

4. By 59 percent to 41 percent, youth support abortion rights, believing abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

5. In terms of standard political identification questions, youth give Democrats a twenty-point edge in party identification (49 percent to 29 percent) and are actually substantially more likely to say there are liberal (38 percent) than to say they are conservative (20 percent).

While carefully designed, the GQR/Polimetrix survey was conducted over the internet and, for that reason, should be treated with some caution. On the other hand, the survey findings on youth are broadly consistent with those from standard telephone polls in 2005 suggesting that, while one could argue about the exact level of the progressive tilt among today’s youth, the existence of that tilt is not debatable. Politicians take note.

October 27, 2005

Will the Real White Working Class Please Stand Up?

By David Gopoian and Ralph Whitehead, Jr.

One of the puzzles that faces Democratic electoral strategists is what to make of white working-class voters. Many Democrats believe that it is in the objective economic self-interest of white working-class voters to give a majority of their presidential votes to the Democratic ticket. In the last two elections, however, it does not appear that white working-class voters have done this--over even come close to doing so.

Now, for those who follow the discussion of the voting behavior of the white working class, a recent paper by Larry Bartels of Princeton University, "What's the Matter with What's the Matter with Kansas", offers good news and bad news. The good news: "Has the white working class abandoned the Democratic Party," asks Bartels. "No. White voters in the bottom third of the income distribution have actually become more reliably Democratic in presidential elections..."

The bad news: Bartels's definition of the white working class--white voters whose incomes put them in the lower-third of the household income distribution--is quite different from the prevailing definition of the white working class.

In a broad version of the prevailing definition, the white working class consists of white voters whose education has stopped short of a four-year college degree. (A narrower definition might focus on the voters within this segment who are ages 30 to 60, work in blue-collar and pink-collar and lower-white-collar jobs in the service sector and what's left of the manufacturing sector, and have household incomes that surround the median household income for the nation, $44,000.) In 2004, voters who fit the broader definition--noncollege whites-- favored George W. Bush by a margin of 23 points in the NEP national exit poll.

The Bartels paper doesn't include a demographic profile of the voters who fit his definition of the white working class. But if you turn to the NES, the same survey he uses for the data in his paper, you can determine some of the demographic features of the Bartels group. And they don't bear a strong resemblance to the demography of the prevailing definition. For one thing, the median household income for his group is $21,000, less than half as high as the median household income in the prevailing definition. And the income figure is lower largely because only one-third (35%) of the Bartels voters were actively doing paid work. Also, of those who were working nearly half were under the age of 30. This leaves only 19 percent of the voters in Bartels' group who were at least 30 years old and also actively on the job. The plurality of voters in Bartels' definition were retired (35%) or permanently disabled (8%). An additional 4% were unemployed or laid-off.

Bartels' paper does underscore a couple of important conditions: For many Americans, retirement means economic hardship. And a lot of workers who are under the age of 30 are likely to be slogging through the lower reaches of the earnings scale. More to the point, he is surely correct in implying a notable truth about these voters, the close-to-the-edge elders and the still-struggling 20-somethings: namely, it is in the objective economic self-interest of these voters to support the Democratic ticket -- and they actually do support it. But his findings don't necessarily solve the puzzle of what Democrats ought to make of "white working class" voters as the term is generally understood.

Indeed, in the same 2004 NES data set that Bartels used for his analysis, the white working class, using the white noncollege definition, comprised nearly half of the voting electorate, had median household incomes of $47,500, and provided Kerry with only 40% of their votes, compared to about 59% for all other voters in the NES sample.

The Democrats' troubles with white working-class voters are further substantiated by state-level exit polls. Kerry failed to gain a plurality of noncollege white voters in any of the 22 states where data for respondents' education levels were obtained. By contrast, Kerry did win a majority of votes from white college-educated voters in 8 of those states and topped 48% among these voters in 4 other states. For all of the comfort that Bartels' analysis provides regarding surprisingly strong Democratic performance among the least affluent white voters, there is still plenty of justified anxiety about how to reach the forgotten majority of white working-class voters.

Economic Pessimism Shows No Signs of Lifting

by Ruy Teixeira

Economic pessimism has reached rather extraordinary levels in the last couple of months. And that pessimism shows no signs of lifting. Here are the latest data from Gallup on the public’s view of the economy:

Americans . . remain pessimistic about the direction in which the economy is headed—just 24% say it is getting better and 68% say it is getting worse. Those numbers are slightly more negative than they were in late August (63% said the economy was getting worse before Hurricane Katrina).

The last time Gallup measured ratings this negative was just before the start of the Iraq war in March 2003, when 67% viewed the economy as getting worse.

Pessimism is also evident in the public's expectations about different aspects of the economy.

Seventy-five percent expect inflation to increase in the next six months.

A majority, 52%, believes unemployment will increase during that time.

Seventy-eight percent expect interest rates to increase in the next six months.

More believe the stock market will go down (33%) than go up (29%). Thirty percent expect no change in the stock market. This is the first time since July 2002 that more Americans have been pessimistic rather than optimistic about the stock market.

About as many expect “economic growth” to decrease (37%) as predict it will increase (36%). This is the first time since Gallup began tracking this measure in October 2001 that there haven't been significantly more optimists than pessimists on growth.

Additionally, 62% of Americans believe it is a “bad time to find a quality job,” while 35% believe it is a good time. Those numbers have been fairly steady this year.

[D]uring the boom years of 1998 to 2000, [as] measured in joint surveys by the University of Connecticut and Rutgers University, Americans [were] much more positive about jobs. In those surveys, 69% to 78% of those who were employed or who were unemployed and looking for work, said it was a good time to find a job.

Ah, those were the good old days! One can only assume that the public is starting to remember those days with considerable nostalgia.

October 26, 2005

Change Constituency Continues to Grow

by Ruy Teixeira

SurveyUSA recently released a set of fifty statewide surveys that show just how large the constituency for change is becoming. In each state, these surveys asked “In general, do you think the country is headed in the right direction or wrong direction?” When combined and weighted by population, these surveys indicate that, nationwide, just 29 percent of adults think the country is going in the right direction and 66 percent think it is going in the wrong direction. But it is the state-by-state results that provide the really interesting findings. As the SurveyUSA report notes:

In not a single state do 50 percent of adults think the country is headed in the right direction.

In only five states (Utah, Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming and Nebraska) do 40 percent of adults think the country is headed in the right direction.

In twenty-five states, fewer than 30 percent of adults think the country is headed in the right direction.

There is also not one state where there is a net positive (right direction minus wrong direction) result on this question. And in every state that was even remotely contested in the 2004 election, there is now a strong net negative result on the question, indicating a big constituency for change. These include Colorado (61 percent wrong direction, –25 net result), New Mexico, (61 percent wrong direction, –27 net result), Arizona (63 percent wrong direction, –31 net result), Nevada (64 percent wrong direction, –31 net result), Florida (63 percent wrong direction, –31 net result), Virginia (65 percent wrong direction, –34 net result), New Hampshire (66 percent wrong direction, –37 net result), Washington (66 percent wrong direction, –38 net result), Minnesota (67 percent wrong direction, –38 net result), Missouri (67 percent wrong direction, –38 net result), Ohio (69 percent wrong direction, –41 net result), Wisconsin (69 percent wrong direction, –41 net result), Oregon (68 percent wrong direction, –42 net result), Pennsylvania (69 percent wrong direction, –43 net result), West Virginia (69 percent wrong direction, –43 net result), Iowa (70 percent wrong direction, –44 net result), and Michigan (74 percent wrong direction, –51 net result).

That’s a lot of people wanting a lot of change. How can these change figures be so high? A good part of the reason, as I discussed last week, is the sudden appetite for change among groups that used to be staunch supporters of the administration. The SurveyUSA report provides these changes in net result among men in various states on the right direction/wrong direction question since July of this year.

Wyoming From +12 to –12 (24-point swing) Idaho From +12 to –11 (23-point swing) Hawaii From +3 to –16 (19-point swing) Nebraska From +3 to –8 (11-point swing) Utah From +5 to –5 (10-point swing) North Dakota From Net Zero to –10 (10-point swing) Oklahoma From +1 to –9 (10-point swing) Louisiana From +1 to –24 (25-point swing)

And here are changes in net result among conservatives in various states:

Maine From +18 to –25 (43-point swing) Massachusetts From +18 to –13 (31-point swing) West Virginia From +14 to –16 (30-point swing) Iowa From +20 to –9 (29-point swing) Michigan From +16 to –7 (23-point swing) New York From +7 to –15 (22-point swing) Vermont From +9 to –11 (20-point swing) Pennsylvania From +11 to –8 (19-point swing)

Sharp-eyed consumers of poll data might wonder if these very negative results could be traced in some way to the slightly different question wording used by SurveyUSA (right direction/wrong direction) as compared to the standard direction of the country wording (right direction/wrong track). This is doubtful. Recall that the overall national number from these SurveyUSA polls is 29 percent right direction/66 percent wrong direction. That’s very close to two other recent polls that asked this question in its traditional right direction/wrong track format: NBC News/Wall Street Journal (29 percent right direction/59 percent wrong tracks; and Hotline/Diageo (26 percent right direction/60 percent wrong track).

So it doesn’t much matter how exactly you ask the question: the answer is firm and unambiguous—the public thinks we’re headed in the wrong direction and is looking for change. And it is particularly looking for change in the states that were in the balance in 2004. That could make for a very interesting election in 2006.

October 22, 2005

Health Care Poll: Americans Want Change

by EDM Staff

A just-released Harris Interactive Poll should strongly encourage Democratic candidates to support a broad range of health care reforms. The poll, conducted 9/6-12, measured attitudes of Americans of different faiths on a dozen health and health care-related issues, and found scant support for conservative or status quo health care policies, except among 'born-again Christians' and evangelicals. According to the poll:

Medicare (health insurance for the elderly and disabled). Fully 96 percent of adults support Medicare, including 92 percent or more of all religious categories.

Birth control/contraception is supported by 93 percent of all adults, including 90 percent of Catholics and 88 percent of born-again Christians, the "very religious" and Evangelicals.

Condom use to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is supported by 92 percent of adults, including 93 percent of Catholics, 82 percent of born-again Christians, 83 percent of the "very religious" and 81 percent of Evangelicals.

Medicaid (health insurance for people with very low incomes) is supported by 91 percent of all adults, including 88 percent of all religious categories.

Sex education in high schools is supported by 87 percent of the public, but only by 76 percent of born-again Christians, 77 percent of the "very religious" and 72 percent of Evangelicals.

Funding of international HIV prevention and treatment programs is supported by 87 percent of the public, including not less than 82 percent of all religious categories.

Universal health insurance is favored by 75 percent of all adults, including 63 percent or more of all religious groups.

Embryonic stem cell research is favored by 70 percent of all adults, including 70 percent of Catholics. However, it is supported by only 45 percent of born-again Christians, 38 percent of Evangelicals and 51 percent of the "very religious."

Funding of international birth control programs is supported by 70 percent of the public, including 66 percent of Catholics, but only 53 percent of born-again Christians and 48 percent of Evangelicals.

Withdrawal of life support systems/food for those in a vegetative state is supported by 68 percent of the public, but by only 47 percent of born-again Christians and 45 percent of Evangelicals.

Abortion rights (which were not defined) are supported by 63 percent of the public, including 56 percent of Catholics, but by only 30 percent of born-again Christians, 39 percent of the "very religious" and 28 percent of Evangelicals.

Abstinence from sex before marriage is supported by 63 percent of the public, but by fully 85 percent of born-again Christians, 85 percent of the "very religious" and 91 percent of Evangelicals.

Interestingly, the views of Catholics were not significantly dissimilar from other groups:

...the attitudes of Catholics are generally very similar to those of all adults and, on some issues, very unlike the official position of the Pope and the Church. For example, overwhelming majorities of Catholics favor contraception (90%), condom use to prevent HIV and STD infections (93%), the funding of international birth control programs (66%), embryonic stem cell research (70%) and the withdrawal of life support for those in a vegetative state (68%). A majority (56%) also supports abortion rights.

The poll did not measure the opinions of Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists. And the report was unclear as to whether "universal health insurance" was defined for respondents as covering all illnesses and all expenses. Taken together with recent polls discussed in EDM posts by Ruy Teixeira on September 10th and 16th, it is clear that Democratic candidates have little to lose by supporting bold health care reforms --- and a lot to win.

October 21, 2005

The Progressive Majority and Perot Voters

by Ruy Teixeira

The Pew Research Center and other recent polls indicate the clear potential for a progressive majority in this country. But the key word here is “potential”. As the Democracy Corps’ memo on their latest poll points out, progressives, despite the widespread rejection of Bush’s policies and the strong interest in change have still not been able to pump up their political support into a solid majority. In other words, there is a majority against Bush’s policies, but still not a majority for progressives and progressive policies.

The answer, the DCorps memo argues, lies in adopting a stance that is “reformist, populist and nationalist, armed with new ideas for renewing the country”. And the target group can usefully be thought of as Perot voters–the kind of voters who voted for Ross Perot in 1992, but then drifted into the Republican coalition thereafter, rather than into the progressive camp. These are the sort of voters who today are massively dissatisfied with Bush and his policies, but still can’t quite align their desire for change with support for progressives.

To help bring this group into focus, I offer the following analysis of Perot voters from my book, America’s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters:

...[T]wo-thirds of Perot's supporters were drawn from the ranks of the forgotten majority. They came from the new white working class, had low to moderate incomes, and, compared to the celebrated Reagan Democrats of the 1980’s, tended to be somewhat younger and less concentrated in the Rust Belt and South. As journalist John Judis has pointed out, they were the next generation of Reagan Democrats. And without these forgotten majority voters, there would have been no Perot phenomenon.

A second characteristic of Perot voters was their rapidly deteriorating economic position. Analysis of several different data sourcesi reveals that, while both Clinton and Perot voters came from groups that experienced wage losses in the 1980's and early 1990's, Perot voters' losses were uniformly larger. This was partly because Perot voters were so heavily drawn from the ranks of the forgotten majority and because forgotten majority Perot voters actually did worse economically than their counterparts who voted for Bush or Clinton. For example, forgotten majority Perot voters lost 10 percent in real wages between 1979 and 1992, including over 2 percent in wage losses that took place in the year immediately prior to the 1992 election. In both periods, this is larger than the wage losses sustained by similar Clinton or Bush voters.

A third characteristic of Perot voters — hardly surprising in light of the economic trends just cited — was their gloomy outlook on the economy and its future path. In the 1992 exit poll, some 70 percent of Perot voters said they thought the economy was in longterm decline, rather than a temporary downturn (at the time, this pessimism was shared by Clinton voters). And in terms of prospects for the future generation, Perot voters were easily the gloomiest. Some 50 percent said they thought life for the next generation would be worse, compared to 40 percent for Clinton voters and 28 percent for Bush voters. This pattern was confirmed by later polls. A Los Angeles Times poll conducted in June of 1993 showed 67 percent of Perot supporters expecting the next generation of Americans to have a worse standard of living than today's, compared to 55 percent of Republican supporters and 39 percent of Clinton supporters.

A fourth characteristic of Perot voters was their economic nationalism. The 1992 exit poll showed that Perot voters, by a 55 to 40 percent margin, believed that trade lost more jobs than it gained, a view they shared with Clinton voters. Later polling, especially around the NAFTA agreement, confirmed this economic nationalism — indeed it suggested that it had strengthened, since Perot voters/supporters were easily the most adamant opposition to the free trade agreement
The final key characteristic of the Perot voters was the one most widely-cited in the press and political discussion: their relative conservatism both on values issues and the role of government. But a close reading of their responses to exit poll and other surveys suggests that Perot voters were hardly conservative ideologues on either the sanctity of traditional values or the wonders of the market once freed from government constraints. Instead, their "conservatism" was largely driven by a sense that middle class values were no longer being rewarded and that, in a very practical sense, the government was not doing its job and was therefore a waste of tax money (as opposed to not having a job to do, as free market ideologues would contend).

Thus, while Perot voters tended to agree with Bush voters on the desirability of a government that provides less in services but taxes less (72 and 79 percent support, respectively) and were most likely to cite the budget deficit as a voting issue, their views on the utility of government activism tended to be midway between those of Bush and Clinton voters. Asked if government neglect of domestic problems (as opposed to a values breakdown) could be held responsible for social problems in the country, for example, 50 percent of Perot voters blamed government neglect, compared to 25 percent of Bush voters and 70 percent of Clinton voters. Similarly, 50 percent of Perot voters agreed that government should do more to solve national problems, a view held by 36 percent of Bush voters and 73 percent of Clinton voters.

On hot-button social issues, Perot voters looked very much like Clinton supporters. For example, Perot voters' support for abortion rights was comparable to that of Clinton voters. In addition, a majority of both Perot and Clinton voters endorsed a "hands off" posture for government in promoting values. This suggests a libertarian bent to Perot voters' views on cultural values: they weren’t just skeptical of the government intervening in the economy and society but also in private lives as well.

But on issues related to core American values — particularly the sense that those who cleave to those values and work hard are not being rewarded properly — Perot voters and Bush voters were of the same mind. For example, in a 1993 poll, 76 percent of Perot voters and 75 percent of Bush voters (compared to 59 percent of Clinton voters) agreed that "it's the middle class, not the poor, who really get a raw deal today?."....

This analysis helps clarify both the opportunities and challenges progressives have in building a majority at the current time. These voters, one can fairly assume, are ready for change....but are progressives ready for them? We shall see

October 20, 2005

Bush's Net Job Approval Tumbles in State Polls

by EDM Staff

President Bush's net job approval fell to minus 21 in October, down from minus 16 in September, according to 50 separate but concurrent SurveyUSA statewide polls conducted 10/14-16. The President had a positive net job approval rating in just 7 states (UT, ID, WY, AK, NB, OK and ND), and a negative rating in 41 states --- including 21 "red" states he won in 2004.

When all of the state polls are combined and proportionately averaged, 59 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Bush is doing, while 38 percent approve. SurveyUSA reports that Bush's net job approval fell by double digits in TX, SC, MS, TN, MI, IL and NC.

October 19, 2005

Public Resoundingly Rejects Bush and His Policies

by Ruy Teixeira

Things have not been going so well for George W. Bush lately. For example, every poll of the general public in October has his approval rating under 40 percent. Of all these polls, the latest Pew Research poll has the most useful data for understanding why Bush and the GOP have entered such perilous political territory. These data show that the public has, pretty much across the board, come to resoundingly negative judgements on Bush’s policies, decisions and approaches to governing. These judgements leave the Bush administration and GOP with little to no political capital to spend and no obvious way of recouping that capital absent sudden–and improbable--U-turns on the economy, Iraq, etc.

Consider these data from the Pew poll:

1. A plurality (41-26) now believes Bush will, in the long run, be an unsuccessful, rather than successful, president.

2. A plurality (41-21) now believes Bush has made “politics and the way government works in Washington” worse, not better.

3. When asked about Bush’s policies and decisions in 11 specific areas, the public only has a plurality positive judgement in one area (America’s national security), where 47 percent believe his policies have made things better and 30 percent believe they’ve made things worse. After that, Bush’s best area is “morality in America”, where just 25 percent believe he’s made things better, compared to 35 percent who believe he’s made things worse. That’s followed by public education (24 percent better/32 percent worse), the tax system (22/40), America’s relation with its allies (22/47), America’s economy (19/57), race relations (16/29), health care in America (16/43), the Social Security system (12/40), the gap between rich and poor (8/57) and the federal budget deficit (6/66).

4. Not surprisingly, given these harsh judgements, the public overwhelmingly says that they want the next president to offer “different policies and programs” than those of the Bush administration (69 percent), rather than similar policies and programs (25 percent).

5. Also not surprisingly, these negative views have hurt the image of the Republican party relative to the Democratic party. The public favors the Democrats over the Republicans on “concerned with the needs and interests of the disadvantaged” (+39), “concerned with the needs of people like me” (+22), “can bring about the kinds of changes the country needs” (+16), “governs in an honest and ethical way” (+10) and “able to manage the federal government well” (+6). The Republicans get the nod over the Democrats in only two areas and these are more liabilities than assets. By 37 points, the public says the GOP is the party “concerned with the needs and interests of business and other powerful groups” and by 38 points they say the Republicans are the party “concerned with the needs and interests of business”.

In addition, the poll provides ample documentation of the “Indycrat” phenomenom I wrote about last week–that is, the close alignment of independents’ and Democrats’ views and the great distance of both from the views of GOP identifiers. As just a few examples of many, on whether Bush has made politics and government in Washington better, independents are only 9 points away from Democrats, but 40 points away from Republicans; on whether Bush will have a successful presidency, independents are 13 points away from Democrats, but 43 points away from Republicans; and on whether a new president should offer different policies than those of the Bush administration, independents are a modest 15 points from Democrats’ views, but a whopping 63 points from Republicans’ views. Increasingly, it’s looking like one big political party–the Indycrats–against a beleaguered GOP minority.

The poll also finds some rather astonishing evidence of fading support among one of the GOP’s key demographics: white men. In this poll, just 44 percent of this group approves of Bush’s job performance, by 41-35, they think Bush will have an unsuccessful presidency and by an amazing 67-27, they want the next administration to have different policies than the Bush administration.

And this is the same group that voted 61-38 to give Bush a second term! Perhaps there’s a bit of buyer’s remorse setting in.....

October 17, 2005

Dem Theme for '06: GOP's 'Culture of Corruption and Incompetence'

Janet Hook's "Storm Clouds Hanging Over Republicans" in today's LA Times reveals more GOP-nail biting overt the effect of their corruption problems in next year's congressional elections. Hook quotes several Republican insiders:

"This vague issue of corruption hanging over Republicans is not good, because it is the one thing on which Democrats don't have to have an alternative policy . . .I don't want that cloud over us going into [next year's] elections...Of all the things hanging out there, the one that Republicans are most concerned about is Abramoff, because nobody knows where it's going to lead" - former Rep. Vin Weber

"You have Frist, DeLay, the Plame case, and you have Democrats with a theme: the culture of corruption and incompetence. [Republicans] are concerned that next year could be a bad year." - a GOP lobbyist who requested anonymity

"This is not the environment we want to have come next year" - Republican pollster David Winston

Hook and others have reported that the tarnishing of the GOP's image has helped to ignite a prairie fire of appealing Dem 'outsider' candidates for congress. But Republicans have always been particularly good at floating distractions from their internal problems and from some of their less popular policies. For an insightful discussion about the GOP's 'wicked genius' for evasive action, see Christopher Hayes' "No Right Turn ; If Americans haven't gotten more conservative, why is the GOP in charge?" in the current issue of the Washington Monthly.

Bottom line is that the GOP's ethics problems offer fresh hope to Dem challengers in the months ahead. But it doesn't relieve Dem candidates of their obligation to provide credible alternatives.

October 14, 2005

Has the Public Turned Away from Internationalism? (Part Two)

by Ruy Teixeira

Last week, I examined public opinion on America's role in the world to see whether the move toward unilateralism in American foreign policy could be traced to shifts in public opinion. The verdict was: no, not really.

But perhaps that examination was looking in the wrong place for the relevant change. Maybe the real shift has been in the realm of the economic, as the public has shifted from a pro-free trade to anti-free trade stance. There is little evidence of this either. We lack a consistent time series, but in 1953, Gallup found a 54-33 majority favoring a policy of free trade. Almost half a century later, in 2000, the Pew Research Center found a 64-27 majority in favor of the idea that free trade with other countries is good for the United States.

If anything, support for free trade, at least in principle, may be increasing, not decreasing. When posed as a question of whether tariffs across countries should be eliminated to bring the costs of goods down for everybody or are necessary to protect manufacturing jobs, Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (CCFR) surveys recorded a steady drop from 1978, when 57 percent thought tariffs could be justified in that way, to 49 percent in 1998.

Finally, in the 2004 CCFR survey, 64 percent described the process of globalization as mostly good for the US, compared to just 31 percent who said it was mostly bad. And in the same poll, the public said, by a 73-22 margin, that international trade is good for "consumers like you", by a 65-29 margin that it was good for "your own standard of living, by a 59-37 margin that it was good for American companies and by a 57-39 margin that it was good for the US economy.

Nor do Americans wish to stop or even slow down the process of globalization. Surveys invariably find large majorities favoring the continuation of the globalization process and little support for opting out of that process.

Again, it is hard to know for sure, but these data do not suggest there has been a substantial decline in public support for the principle of free trade in recent decades-certainly not enough to be a significant factor in the decline of internationalism. And it is possible that there has been no decline at all in pro-free trade sentiment and that change has actually been in the opposite direction.

On to other factors, then. What about salience? It is possible that support for internationalism has remained about the same, but the salience of internationalism to the average American has declined, perhaps drastically. This is the argument of James Lindsay in his 2000 Foreign Affairs article, "The New Apathy: How an Uninterested American Public Is Reshaping Foreign Policy". While Americans' views continue to support multilateralism, international institutions like the UN, etc., these views matter much less to them than they once did, so politicians feel free to ignore these views when they form policy. They know they won't be punished by an American public in the grip of an "apathetic internationalism".

This is a more promising line of analysis. It is true, for example, that Americans' tendency to describe some foreign policy problem as the nation's most important problem has declined over time. Political scientist Mark Smith has found that, from 1950-1972, an economic problem was the dominant problem mentioned by the public just 5 percent of the time, while from 1973 onward, an economic problem was the dominant problem 65 percent of the time. Consistent with this shift, the number naming a foreign policy issue as the most important problem declined from 10-20 percent or even more of the public to 2-3 percent in the late 1990's.

But there has been a resurgence, naturally, of the tendency to name a foreign policy problem since 9/11, so this point seems less sharp than it once was. On the other hand, since internationalism's problems accumulated over decades, perhaps a long-term decline -even if now partly reversed--in the apparent salience of foreign policy to the public did play a role in eroding internationalism.

Lindsay also argues that Americans follow foreign affairs less closely than they once did, contributing to the decline in foreign policy salience. This seems a more difficult case to make. The first CCFR survey in 1974 found 50 percent saying they were "very interested" in following news about the relations of the US with other countries and the last one, in 2004, found 53 percent expressing that level of interest (after a spike to 62 percent in 2002, the first survey after 9/11).

But if attentiveness to foreign affairs has not declined, perhaps the aspects of foreign affairs that most engage the public have changed. A clue is provided by Smith's data on the extraordinary post-1973 surge in importance of economic issues to the public. And it does appear that these concerns have spilled over into foreign affairs. Since 1974, concern about jobs has been very high in the CCFR survey and, in the 2004 survey, 78 percent thought "protecting the jobs of American workers was a "very important" goal of US foreign policy. This was higher than for any other goal, including combating international terrorism. This apparent rise in the importance of economic foreign policy goals in the eyes of the public may have contributed to the erosion of internationalism, at least in its classic post-World War II form.

This discussion suggests some ways in which shifts in the composition and intensity of public sentiment about foreign affairs may have contributed to the decline of internationalism. But it is worth asking the question at this point: how much does the public really influence foreign policy anyway? If there is little connection there, then, logically, even if there have been significant shifts in the structure of public opinion on foreign affairs, these shifts could not have played much of a role in the demise of internationalism.

Some evidence for a lack of connection between the public and foreign policy is provided in a 2005 American Political Science Review article by Lawrence Jacobs and Benjamin Page. Jacobs and Page examine data from CCFR surveys of the public and of policymakers, labor leaders, business leaders and foreign policy experts between 1974 and 2002 and find that it is primarily business leaders and, secondarily, experts that exert influence over the preferences of policymakers, not the public.

The Jacobs and Page work is hardly definitive. It covers a limited period and leaves open the possibility that public sentiment may set the overall agenda for foreign policy within which business and experts exert the most direct influence. But it should add to our doubts that changes in the structure of public opinion on foreign affairs have had much to do with the fading of post-World War II internationalism and the rise of Bush-era unilateralism.

For the latter trend, we probably need look no further than the current occupant of the White House and his allies in the Congress. The public, however, can justifiably plead innocent.

October 13, 2005

Should We Call Them "Indycrats"?

by Ruy Teixeira

It is commonplace to call attention to the polarized nature of partisan views on Bush's administration and policies. Republicans approve; Democrats don't and the gulfs between them are immense by historical standards.

The latest CBS New poll confirms this yawning gulf between Democrats and Republicans. But it shows something else that is actually far more significant: the views of political independents are now almost as far away from Republicans as Democrats are. In fact, the two groups-independents and Democrats-have converged so strongly in their political views that we could almost lump them together as one group, "Indycrats", whose views are starkly different from those of GOP identifiers.

Consider these data from the CBS News poll:

1. Bush's overall approval rating is 79 percent among Republicans and 14 percent among Democrats-a gap of 65 points. But his rating is also just 29 percent among independents, producing a very sizable gap of 50 points relative to GOP identifiers. Put another way, independents are 50 points away from Republicans, but just 15 points away from Democrats.

2. Only 20 percent of independents believe the country is going in the right direction, a mere 12 points more than the comparable figure among Democrats-but 37 points less than the figure among Republicans.

3. Twenty-six percent of independents approve of Bush's handling of the economy (66 percent disapprove), 14 points more than the number of Democrats who approve-but 44 points less than the number among Republicans.

4. Twenty-six percent of independents approve of Bush's handling of the Iraq situation-15 points more than Democrats; 43 points less than Republicans.

5. On handling the campaign against terrorism, 38 percent of independents approve of the job Bush is doing. That's 11 points more than Democrats, but 45 points less than Republicans.

6. How about whether Bush has "the same priorities for country as you have"? Sixty-nine percent of Republicans agree, but just 11 percent of Democrats and 25 percent of independents.

7. Was removing Saddam Hussein from power worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq? Only 30 percent of independents and 15 percent of Democrats say yes, compared to 70 percent among Republicans.

8. And what should the US do now? Just 24 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of independents believe we should "stay in Iraq as long as it takes to make sure Iraq is a stable democracy" (the administration position), compared to 61 percent of Republicans.

You get the idea. Independents and Democrats-"Indycrats"-see eye to eye on the policies and priorities of the Bush administration-which they find very wanting indeed--while Republicans are off seemingly on a different planet.

This helps clarify an important aspect of today's political polarization. It's not that there are two roughly equal groups in the public that are at loggerheads with one another. Or that the Democrats and Republicans are light years from one another, while the political center stands in a crossfire, equidistant from both extremes. Instead, what we have is one large group, Indycrats (two-thirds of the public), on one side and a much smaller group, Republicans (one-third of the public), on the other.

That's polarization, all right, but polarization that pits a big center-left majority against a small right wing minority (inverting the claims of many after the 2004 election that the US had become a center-right nation). And it's polarization that raises a vexing question: why can't this big majority-the Indycrats-get more of what they want? Why do the policies and priorities of the country seem skewed toward the minority, not the majority?

That's a huge question and certainly part of the answer lies in GOP manipulation of cultural issues and the war on terror to promote their narrow agenda. But that's by all means not the whole story of how the public and public policy got so divorced from one another. The other part of the story is about a GOP leadership increasingly responsive to its own base and increasingly clever about circumventing the popular will to promote that base's agenda. For that story, I refer you to the important new book, Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson.

In the meantime, we shall see how long the Bush administration is able to keep the Indycrats at bay. Given the way the Bush administration is currently unraveling, even all the clever tricks described in Hacker's and Pierson's book may not be enough to save them this time.

October 12, 2005

Another View of Frank's 'Kansas'

by EDM Staff

Philip Klinkner has a post over at Polysigh discussing Larry M. Bartels's critique of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas, one of the most influential books about social class and partisan politics of recent years. Bartels's paper, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in September challenges a number of Frank's core arguments. For example, from the abstract of Bartels's paper:

Has the white working class abandoned the Democratic Party? No. White voters in the bottom third of the income distribution have actually become more reliably Democratic in presidential elections over the past half-century, while middle- and upper-income white voters have trended Republican. Low-income whites have become less Democratic in their partisan identifications, but at a slower rate than more affluent whites – and that trend is entirely confined to the South, where Democratic identification was artificially inflated by the one-party system of the Jim Crow era.

Has the white working class become more conservative? No. The average views of low-income whites have remained virtually unchanged over the past 30 years. (A pro-choice shift on abortion in the 1970s and ‘80s has been partially reversed since the early 1990s.) Their positions relative to more affluent white voters – generally less liberal on social issues and less conservative on economic issues – have also remained virtually unchanged.

Do working class “moral values” trump economics? No. Social issues (including abortion) are less strongly related to party identification and presidential votes than economic issues are, and that is even more true for whites in the bottom third of the income distribution than for more affluent whites. Moreover, while social issue preferences have become more strongly related to presidential votes among middle- and high-income whites, there is no evidence of a corresponding trend among low-income whites.

Klinkner adds a critique of his own, demonstrating that Kansas has long been a GOP stronghold. Bartels's and Klinkner's analyses provide an interesting take on an important book, and should generate some buzz in Dem strategy circles.

October 11, 2005

Dems Should Reframe Response to Katrina

by Pete Ross

The American Prospect online edition is running an insightful article, "Framing Katrina" by George Lakoff and John Halpin. Subtitled "Hurricane Katrina revealed the failure of conservative philosophy; liberals need to stand up for their approach to governing," the article compares the conservative and liberal 'frames' around Katrina-related issues and concludes that Dems are drifting out of focus, while the GOP spin is being being sharpened.

The bungled Katrina relief effort laid bare the Administration's racism and indifference toward poor people, as well as cronyism and incompetence. But Halpin and Lakoff make a persuasive argument that Dems have thus far failed to give due emphasis to their most powerful critique:

...the biggest threat to America’s future and security is the complete dominance of government by a conservative ideology incapable of understanding and addressing our greatest needs.

Instead, the authors say Dems have fashioned a "buckshot" response that will soon scatter to the winds and be forgotten, while the Republicans are busy narrowing their sights for lazer-like precision. While it may seem unlikely that the GOP can turn such a blatant mega-failure to its advantage, Lakoff and Halpin point out that the GOP echo chamber is quite effective at twisting liabilities into assets.

The authors place a lot of value in bashing conservatism as 'unamerican,' but this particular meme may not do much to win hearts and minds of political moderates for Dems in '06. Too many potential Democratic voters consider themselves 'conservative' in some respects, but are nonetheless open to progressive policies. The Republicans refusal to fund the $3 billion that would have shored up the Ponchartrain levees to withstand a category 5 hurricane will cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars by the time all the bills are paid. No doubt many self-identified conservatives would say that's less a failure of conservative philosophy, than a supreme example of stupid economics and warped priorities.

Lakoff and Halpin do better in outlining a more positive Democratic response:

What should progressives say?

The tragedy of Katrina was a matter of values and principles. The heart of progressive values is straightforward and clear: empathy (caring about and for people), responsibility (acting responsibly on that empathy), and fairness (providing opportunities for all and a level playing field from which to start). These values translate into a simple proposition: The common wealth of all Americans should be used for the common good and betterment of all Americans. In short, promoting the common good so that we can all benefit -- and focusing on the public interest rather than narrow individual gain -- is the central role of government. These are not just progressive values. They are America’s values.

A compelling message, and fleshed out a little more and tweaked for individual campaigns, it can resonate with voters ---- not only liberals, but across the political spectrum.

October 10, 2005

Dem Hopes Rise Amid Limp GOP '06 Campaign

by EDM Staff

Ezra Klein has a post in TAPPED on the recent NRCC memo to the House GOP conference, trumpeting unbridled bravado about their ability to retain their congressional majorities in next year's elections. Natch, the memo lists all of the Republicans assets, such as cash, incumbency and limited playing field. The memo was undoubtedly a response to recent comments by twitchy Republicans expressing concern about Bush's approval ratings, the Iraq quagmire and the strong possibility of perp walks by GOP leaders in the months ahead. For a more realistic assessment, check out Charles Babington and Chris Cillizza's piece in today's WaPo, "For GOP, Election Anxiety Mounts." Among other factors, the authors cite:

...Republican operatives, including some who work closely with the White House, privately point to what they regard as a lackluster performance by Sen. Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the group that heads fundraising and candidate recruitment for GOP senators.

But some strategists more sympathetic to Dole point the finger right back. With an unpopular war in Iraq, ethical controversies shadowing top Republicans in the House and Senate, and President Bush suffering the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, the waters look less inviting to politicians deciding whether to plunge into an election bid. Additionally, some Capitol Hill operatives complain that preoccupied senior White House officials have been less engaged in candidate recruitment than they were for the 2002 and 2004 elections

Cillizza and Babington provide some interesting thumbnail sketches of GOP candidate recruitment problems in various states. They could have also cited recent polls asking respondents which party they would vote for in their congressional districts if the election were held today. Polling Report has the results of polls taken during the last month that show Dem leads on this question at 5,8,9, 8 and 12 percent in polls by Newsweek, Fox News, Democracy Corps, The Winston Group and Pew Research Center respectively.

October 7, 2005

Has the Public Turned Away from Internationalism?

by Ruy Teixeira

Given the unilateralist actions of the current administration, one might ask whether these actions are, at least in part, driven by changes in public opinion. Has the public turned away from internationalism, as the global system has become more difficult for America to manage--and more dangerous, as shown by the 9/11 terrorist attacks?

The answer to that question appears to: no. One question that has been asked since 1947 taps whether Americans are basically internationalist or isolationist: “Do you think it will be best for the future of the country if we take an active part in world affairs or if we stay out of world affairs?”. In the late 1940's, this question was asked three times by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) with an average of 69 percent saying the country should play an active part in world affairs. In the 2002 and 2004, this question was asked by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (CCFR) and the average proportion saying the US should play an active role in the world was......69 percent.

So, no change whatsoever between these endpoints. Of course, there has been some fluctuation in these sentiments in between the endpoints. The internationalist view appears to have been somewhat stronger in the period from the mid-1950's to the mid-1960's. And there was a weakening of this view after the end of the Vietnam war, bottoming out in the early 1980's and then strengthening later in that decade and into the 1990's. And now, with the post-9/11 measurements, we are back to where we started.

That’s just a general internationalist view, however. What of commitment to international institutions like the UN? This is a bit more difficult to assess, given the complete lack of relevant questions that have been asked throughout the post-World War II era. However, data from a range of survey questions across different time periods suggest that general support for the UN, and belief in its importance, has remained stable, even if perception of the UN’s efficacy has probably declined.

The extent to which the public continues to be invested in the UN and its potential role can be illustrated by a couple of questions from the 2004 CCFR survey. By 66-29, the public agreed that the US should be willing to make decisions within the UN, even if that means that the US may sometimes not be able to follow its first choice of course of action. And, by 74-20, the public favored having a standing UN peacekeeping force selected, trained and commanded by the UN.

Other questions from that CCFR survey show support for a wide range of international treaties and institutions beyond the UN: 87 percent for the nuclear test ban treaty; 80 percent for the land mine use treaty; 76 percent for the International Criminal Court; and 71 percent for the Kyoto global warming accord.

What about support for multilateral action, more generally? In a 2003 Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) poll, 76 percent thought the US should try to solve international problems together with other countries, rather than go it alone or ignore them. And in the 2004 CCFR poll, 73 percent thought the most important lesson of the September 11th attacks was that the US needed to work more closely with other countries to fight terrorism, not that the US needed to act on its own more to fight terrorism.

These results suggest little change in public support for internationalism. Thus, the turn away from internationalism in US foreign policy cannot be blamed on shifting attitudes of the public. On the contrary, it would appear, as in some many other policy areas, that the public’s preferences are simply being ignored.

October 6, 2005

Economic Pessimism Update

by Ruy Teixeira

Last week, I reviewed recent data showing the deep pessimism of the public about the economy. One piece of evidence I touched on was the August report on the University of Michigan’s Survey of Consumers–which was quite negative--and the projected September result for that survey, which was expected to be even worse.
The September report for the Michigan Survey of Consumers is now out and it is indeed worse than the August report. Just how negative it is is well-summarized by the lead from the September report:

Consumer confidence plunged in September to its lowest level in more than a dozen years. “High gas prices had a devastating impact on consumers’ budgets and caused consumers to expect a worsening financial situation during the year ahead,” according to Richard Curtin, the Director of the University of Michigan’s Surveys of Consumers. Over the past fifty years, such steep and widespread declines in confidence have typically triggered recessions. “Among the prior declines that sparked recessions, the most comparable situation was in August of 1990, when consumer confidence fell from the about the same level, by about the same amount, and prompted by the same steep increases in gas prices,” noted Curtin. The key issue is whether the rise in Federal spending due to Katrina and Rita will be sufficient to offset the decline in consumer spending. “While the economy may not be technically falling into recession, the data indicate that consumer spending will weaken in the months ahead,” said Curtin.

The Index of Consumer Sentiment was 76.9 in the September 2005 survey, down from 89.1 in August and 96.5 in July. The one month decline of 12.2 points equaled the largest monthly decline recorded since 1978; the combined August and September decline was the largest two month decline on record, falling a total of 19.6 Index-points. The Index of Consumer Expectations, a closely watched component of the Index of Leading Economic Indicators, fell to 63.3 in September, down from 76.9 in August and 85.5 in July. The one-month decline was the second largest and the two-month decline was the largest in the survey’s history.

Food for thought. We shall see if some of the rather dire possibilities raised by survey director Curtin start manifesting themselves this fall.

October 5, 2005

Who’s Too Close to Whom?

by Ruy Teixeira

The latest Newsweek poll has some interesting results on which political parties are viewed as too close to which interest groups. The poll tested reactions to six groups: big business; labor unions; oil companies; the legal profession; rich people; and minority interest groups. Interestingly, while the public overwhelmingly believes that the Republican party is “too close” to big business (73 percent), oil companies (70 percent) and rich people (68 percent), there are no similarly lop-sided sentiments about the Democratic party. The highest number the Democrats get is for labor unions, where 52 percent see the Democrats as being too close, followed by 48 percent who feel the same way about the Democrats and minority groups. Finally, and counter-intuitively, the survey shows identical judgements on whether the Democrats and Republicans are too close to the legal profession. For each party, the public is exactly split, 43-43, on whether that party is too close to the legal profession.

A couple of other intriguing results from the poll are worth flagging. When asked whether they see Bush more as a good manager who focuses on what's important and delegates well or as a bad manager who doesn't know enough about what's going on around him and below him, the public opts for the bad manager characterization, 49-43. And when asked whether the Department of Homeland Security has made Americans safer, a 49-45 plurality says the Department has not made Americans safer.

October 1, 2005

Follow the Bouncing Gallup Poll

By Alan Abramowitz

According to the new Gallup Poll, in the past 10 days, George Bush's approval rating rose from 40 percent to 45 percent while his disapproval rating fell from 58 percent to 50 percent. That's a shift from a net approval rating of -18 percent to a net approval rating of -5 percent, a pretty big change. Gallup attributes Bush's improved poll numbers to favorable public reaction to his response to Hurricane Rita. Perhaps.

But a simpler explanation might be that the new Gallup sample is more Republican and less Democratic than the previous one. Between the Sept. 16-18 Gallup Poll and the Sept. 26-28 Gallup Poll, the proportion of Republican identifiers (including leaners) increased from 38 percent to 43 percent while the proportion of Democratic identifiers decreased from 53 percent to 47 percent. So in just 10 days a net Democratic advantage of 15 points shrank to a net Democratic advantage of just 4 points.

Given the strong relationship between party identification and presidential approval, it is likely that the entire difference between President Bush's approval rating in these two polls was due to the difference in the partisan composition of the two samples.