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November 30, 2005

Moving Toward Isolationism or Back to Normal?

by Ruy Teixeira

Is the US public moving toward isolationism? Last week, I cited the John Mueller article on “The Iraq Syndrome” that suggested a trend among the public toward isolationism was likely in reaction to the Iraq debacle. Partial confirmation of this trend is provided by data from a new Pew Research Center/Council on Foreign Relations study, “American’s Place in the World, 2005". I say partial confirmation for two reasons: (1) There are counter-trends that suggest the public mood cannot easily by typecast as simply isolationist; and (2) The move away from internationalism, such as it is, is mostly relative to the post-September 11, 2001 surge in internationalism. Therefore, the public is mostly returning to the status quo ante–the post Vietnam era of qualified internationalism--rather than true isolationism.

Here are illustrative findings from the study, based on an October survey of the general public and September-October surveys of opinion leaders in eight fields: news media; foreign affairs; security; state/local government; academic/think tank; religion; scientists/engineers; and military.

1. In perhaps the most disturbing finding of the general survey, 42 percent of the public agreed with the statement, “The U.S. should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own”. That’s up 8 points from an August, 2004 Pew survey, which, in turn, was up 4 points from December, 2002, when just 30 percent agreed with the statement. And that 42 percent in this year’s survey is way higher than the low of 18 percent when Gallup first asked this question in 1964.

Note, however, that this 42 percent figure is only modestly higher than figures recorded in the 1993-2001 (pre-September 11) period, when agreement with this statement averaged 38 percent, including a 41 percent reading in 1995. There was also a 41 percent reading in a 1976 Gallup survey.

As for the 18 percent Gallup figure from the 1964 survey, that particular year was just about at the peak of internationalist sentiment in the US, not matched before or since. In other words, not only was mid-60s internationalist sentiment substantially higher than in the post-Vietnam era, including today, it was also markedly higher than in the era that preceded it, the 1950s and late 1940s. So, a comparison between today and the mid-1960s certainly indicates that the US public is less internationalist than it was at its peak–but it is a stretch to use such a comparison as an indicator of isolationism.

2. Another finding moves somewhat in the opposite direction. There was a slight increase in the last year in the number agreeing with the multilateralist sentiment that “In deciding on its foreign policies, the U.S. should take into account the views of its major allies” (from 76 to 79 percent). That puts this particular figure right back where it was before September 11, 2001.

3. Another item, “We should not think so much in international terms but concentrate
more on our own national problems and building up our strength and prosperity here at home”, shows an uptick from 69 to 71 percent in the last year and is now 6 points higher than in 2002. But 71 percent is about where this view was in the late 1990's and actually significantly lower than figures recorded in the early 1990's (78-79 percent).

4. The survey finds just 32 percent agreeing with the sentiment “Since the U.S. is the most powerful nation in the world, we should go our own way in international matters, not worrying too much about whether other countries agree with us or not”. This is 7 points higher than the level of agreement in 2002 but identical with sentiment right before September 11, 2001 and a bit lower than 1993-95 levels.

5. Data on the UN are somewhat contradictory. On the one hand, favorability toward the UN has nosedived, so it is now 29 points lower than it was just prior to September 11, 2001. And sentiment that the “The United States should cooperate fully with the United Nations” is now at just 54 percent, down 13 points from just before 9/11 and 6 points since 2002 (though this is still substantially higher than the previous low of 46 percent in 1976). But views on whether “strengthening the UN” should be a top priority (40 percent) are just about the same as they were before 9/11 and quite a bit higher than they were in 1997 (30 percent).

6. And as for whether the US should be the “single world leader”, play a shared leadership role or not play any leadership role, 12 percent think we should be the single world leader, 74 percent think leadership should be shared and only 10 percent don’t think we should play any leadership role. That’s basically unchanged since before 9/11.

So: moving toward isolationism or returning to normal? I’ll take returning to normal, with a side of multilateralism.

November 28, 2005

Republicans Vs. Democrats on the Issues

by Ruy Teixeira

As Bush’s image continues to erode, as evidenced by his sliding approval ratings and sharp increase in negative personal evaluations, his party’s image is also not doing so well. Exhibit “A” is the very wide range of issues on which the public now prefers Democrats over Republicans, mostly by double digit margins.

Here are data from the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on which party the public thinks would do a better job on various issues: protecting the environment (+39 points in favor of the Democrats); dealing with gas prices (+28); dealing with health care (+26); dealing with Social Security (+22); reducing the federal deficit (+19); dealing with education (+19); dealing with energy policy (+16); dealing with the economy (+14); controlling government spending (+12); dealing with taxes (+10); protecting America’s interests on trade issues (+10); dealing with foreign policy (+9); dealing with abortion (+8); dealing with immigration; promoting ethics in government (+5); and dealing with Iraq (+3).

On four of these issues–taxes, foreign policy, Iraq and protecting America’s interests on trade issues–this is the very first time the Democrats have run an advantage on that issue in the NBC News poll. On many others, the Democrats’ advantages are at or near the top of those ever recorded by the poll.

The October 19-23 Democracy Corps poll takes a slightly different approach to testing Democrats against Republicans, asking respondents which party they associate more with a series of positive terms. Again, Democrats are preferred over Republicans on a wide range of these terms: for people, rather than big general interests (+31); for the middle class (+27); cares about people (+26); putting the public interest first (+24); reform and change (+18); on your side (+11); improving America (+11); new ideas for addressing the country’s problems (+11); opportunity (+8); for families (+7); America respected in the world (+7); trustworthy (+6); shares your values (+5); and think long-term, not just short-term (+2). On one other characteristic–creating prosperity–the parties are tied.

These are certainly impressive lists. Add to this the gaudy generic Congressional contest margins Democrats have been running in many recent polls (in the recent Newsweek poll, the Democrats were up by an amazing 17 points, including a nearly 2:1 margin among independents) and the situation would appear to be very dire for the GOP.

However, there are a number of mitigating factors that make big GOP losses in 2006 far from certain.

1. The Republicans have lost ground on all issues but do retain some advantages that must be reckoned with. In the NBC News poll, for example, the GOP is still ahead on ensuring a strong national defense (+21), promoting strong moral values (+17) and dealing with the war on terrorism (+9). (The magnitude of the latter lead must be troubling for Republicans however-- before the 2002 election, their lead on the terrorism issue was literally four times as large and Bush’s approval rating on the issue was 67 percent, not the 39 percent he’s getting today.)

2. The Republicans also retain some important leads on party associations like know what they stand for (+14) and security and keeping people safe (+13). The Republican lead on the former characteristic is underscored by a NBC News finding that only 11 percent think the Democrats have a “very clear message and vision for the future”, 7 points less than believe that about the Republicans and 45 percent believe the Democrats don’t have a clear message and vision for the future, 9 points more than think that about the Republicans.

3. Generic Congressional contest leads that are not very predictive, if predictive at all, this far out from an election. After all, the Democrats were actually ahead of the Republicans by 7 points in the generic Congressional contest in November, 1993, one year before the very, very good Republican year of 1994.

4. There are structural reasons why Democrats may have difficulties translating their substantial issue advantages and Republicans’ political woes into big gains in November, 2006, ranging from the concentration of Democratic votes in House districts that are lopsidedly Democratic (a problem that has been exacerbated by GOP-led redistricting efforts) to a well-oiled GOP political apparatus with an extensive bag of tricks designed to insulate the party from the consequences of its unpopular policies. All these advantages are usefully summarized by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson in their New York Times magazine piece last Sunday (which should whet your appetite for reading their excellent new book, Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy.)

5. Finally, while Democrats have gained a number of substantial advantages, some important ones are still quite small and may hold them back from generating the support they need to overcome the considerable obstacles just mentioned. For example, their advantage on Iraq in the NBC News poll was only 3 points. And on a number of key characteristic in the DCorps poll, their advantages were still quite modest: opportunity (8 points), for families (7 points), shares your values (5 points) and creating prosperity (tie).

Then there are the party favorability and thermometer ratings which continue to show only slight Democratic advantages, indicating the Democrats’ overall image has not improved to match their considerable gains in issue areas.

In short, voters are still much surer of what they don’t like (Republican policies and Bush’s job as president) than of what they might like (Democratic policies and leadership). It’s up to Democrats to clarify that situation, starting with, finally, convincing the American public they know what they stand for.

November 23, 2005

The Iraq Situation Isn’t As Bad As It Seems for the Bush Administration: It’s Worse

by Ruy Teixeira

Here is a brief review of the public’s current views on the Iraq situation.

1. The public overwhelmingly disapproves of the job Bush is doing handling the Iraq situation. His approval rating is now in the low 30's in most polls, with well over 60 percent disapproving. In fact, one poll (Newsweek) had his rating was at exactly 30 percent, indicating that we may soon see Bush’s first sub-30 approval rating on Iraq.

2. In the latest Gallup poll, 54 percent say the US made a mistake sending troops to Iraq. This is the same as Gallup’s previous reading on the question and exactly at the average of Gallup polls taken since early August. In other words, majoritarian sentiment that the Iraq war was a mistake has stabilized.

3. In the same poll, sentiment that “all in all” it wasn’t worth going to war in Iraq hit a new high of 60 percent, compared to just 38 percent who felt the war was worth it.

4. The poll also offered respondents four options for dealing with the Iraq situation: withdraw all troops now, withdraw all troops within 12 months, withdraw troops but take as long as needed to turn control over to the Iraqis or send more troops. The majority (52 percent) wants to either withdraw now (19 percent) or within 12 months (33 percent). The latest Harris poll shows an even larger majority (63 percent) in favor of bringing most troops home within a year, based on a question that reads: “Do you favor keeping a large number of U.S. troops in Iraq until there is a stable government there OR bringing most of our troops home in the next year?”

Of course, questions on troop withdrawal are very sensitive to question wording, including number being withdrawn (some vs all), conditions necessary to trigger withdrawal, projected length of stay and magnitude of continued troop presence, so one must be cautious in interpreting the results cited above. However, all questions, no matter how worded, show strong growth in the number calling for troop withdrawal or a decrease in US troops, so the trend is not in doubt, even if the exact magnitude of withdrawal sentiment can be debated.

5. The public has become ever more convinced that the Bush administration actively and consciously lied to the American people in order to promote the Iraq war. In the Newsweek poll, 52 percent thought that Cheney “deliberately misused or manipulated pre-war intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities”, compared to just 33 percent who thought he did not. And in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, the number believing Bush “deliberately misled people to make the case for war with Iraq” has reached 57 percent, with only 35 percent dissenting.

Figures like these help explain how Bush’s ratings on personal characteristics have tanked across the board. In the Gallup poll, by 52-46, the public doesn’t think “honest and trustworthy” applies to Bush; by 55-43, they don’t think “can manage the government effectively” applies to Bush and, by 55-43, they don’t believe “shares your values” applies to him either.

Well, all this is bad, bad, bad for the Bush administration. But the worse news for them is this: based on how public opinion has evolved during this war and historical patterns during other wars, there is very little the Bush administration can do to stem the current decline in public support. That’s the message of John Mueller’s excellent, lucid piece, “The Iraq Syndrome” in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. Mueller is perhaps the pre-eminent academic expert on war and American public opinion and the entire article is worth a careful read, but here are some key excerpts from the piece:

The most striking thing about the comparison among the three wars [Korea, Vietnam and Iraq] is how much more quickly support has eroded in the case of Iraq. By early 2005, when combat deaths were around 1,500, the percentage of respondents who considered the Iraq war a mistake -- over half -- was about the same as the percentage who considered the war in Vietnam a mistake at the time of the 1968 Tet offensive, when nearly 20,000 soldiers had already died.

This lower tolerance for casualties is largely due to the fact that the American public places far less value on the stakes in Iraq than it did on those in Korea and Vietnam. The main threats Iraq was thought to present to the United States when troops went in -- weapons of mass destruction and support for international terrorism -- have been, to say the least, discounted. With those justifications gone, the Iraq war is left as something of a humanitarian venture, and, as Francis Fukuyama has put it, a request to spend "several hundred billion dollars and several thousand American lives in order to bring democracy to ... Iraq" would "have been laughed out of court."....

Growing opposition to the war effort....has little to do with whether or not there is an active antiwar movement at home. There has not been much of one in the case of the Iraq war, nor was there one during the war in Korea. Nonetheless, support for those ventures eroded as it did during the Vietnam War, when antiwar protest was frequent and visible.....

Moreover, support for the war declines whether or not war opponents are able to come up with specific policy alternatives. Dwight Eisenhower never seemed to have much of a plan for getting out of the Korean War -- although he did say that, if elected, he would visit the place -- but discontent with the war still worked well for him in the 1952 election; Richard Nixon's proposals for fixing the Vietnam mess were distinctly unspecific, although he did from time to time mutter that he had a "secret plan." Wars hurt the war-initiating political party not because the opposition comes up with a coherent clashing vision -- George McGovern tried that, with little success, against Nixon in 1972 -- but because discontent over the war translates into vague distrust of the capacities of the people running the country.

Mueller believes reaction to this war will inevitably produce a sort of “Iraq syndrome” where the public seeks to avoid any possibly Iraq-like foreign entanglements. While it is possible that such a syndrome could lead to an unhealthy withdrawal from international engagement, Mueller summarizes some other aspects of an Iraq syndrome that could be quite salubrious:

Among the casualties of the Iraq syndrome could be the Bush doctrine, unilateralism, preemption, preventive war, and indispensable-nationhood. Indeed, these once-fashionable (and sometimes self-infatuated) concepts are already picking up a patina of quaintness. Specifically, there will likely be growing skepticism about various key notions: that the United States should take unilateral military action to correct situations or overthrow regimes it considers reprehensible but that present no immediate threat to it, that it can and should forcibly bring democracy to other nations not now so blessed, that it has the duty to rid the world of evil, that having by far the largest defense budget in the world is necessary and broadly beneficial, that international cooperation is of only very limited value, and that Europeans and other well-meaning foreigners are naive and decadent wimps. The United States may also become more inclined to seek international cooperation, sometimes even showing signs of humility.

We shall see–though such developments seem unlikely under the current administration’s watch.

November 21, 2005

In Defense of John Kerry

By David Gopoian

As George W Bush’s approval ratings sink deeply in late 2005, Democrats can conveniently dismiss what we never fully accepted in 2004 – that Bush was as popular an incumbent among Republican followers in the last campaign as Ronald Reagan was at his zenith in 1984.

One consequence of this oversight is the now fashionable assumption among Democratic elites, bloggers and web-deprived alike, that any Democrat other than John Kerry could have defeated Bush handily in 2004. I am taking this occasion to dissent from that perspective.

There are any number of simple empirical arguments that may be made in defense of the presidential candidacy of John Kerry. Among them are these:

• He took a Party totally demoralized by 9-11 and Bush’s foreign policy dominance and came within one state of dethroning the incumbent war-time president.

• In that state of Ohio – with a Democratic Party organization in name only - he ran the best Democratic campaign in four election cycles, since Clinton carried the state in 1996. No Democratic candidate since 1996 got as much as the 48.7% Kerry gathered. The last statewide Ohio Democrat who carried the state was John Glenn in 1992.

• Unlike Gore in 2000, Kerry left no doubt by any objective, and most subjective, criteria about who won the 3 debates with Bush.

• According to candidate trait data from the 2004 American national Election Study data, Kerry matched Clinton’s 1992 performance on each attribute measured among Democratic identifiers (cares about people like me, provides strong leadership, knowledgeable). In short, Kerry appealed effectively to the Democratic base.

• Contrary to the conventional wisdom, my multivariate analysis of the 2004 election indicates that a sizeable chunk of Kerry voters voted for him precisely because they admired Kerry’s personal traits, not despite them. Controlling for all other voter predispositions, Kerry’s persona, no matter what the pundits suggest, was a plus – not a minus.

Having made those simple points, I wish to address one more complex argument in this space – the notion that any number of other Democrats would have defeated Bush handily in 2004. In the 2004 ANES study, the only direct candidate preference measure available is the item asking how respondents voted for president.

However, political scientists have long recognized “thermometer scores” as accurate proxies of vote intent. Fortunately, the study includes thermometer scores collected from respondents for numerous political figures. These scores ranged from 0 degrees to 100 degrees, where 100 represented extremely warm feelings toward the political figure and 0 represented extremely cold feelings. A mid-point score of 50 represented neutral feelings.

In general, stated candidate preferences correlate very strongly with differences observed between candidates’ thermometer scores. Voters typically vote for the candidate with
the higher relative thermometer score. For example, if Candidate A gets a thermometer score of 70 from a voter and candidate B gets a score of 50, there is an extremely strong likelihood that Candidate A will receive that voter’s vote.

This point may be illustrated using data for Kerry and Bush in 2004. Among voters who gave a higher thermometer score to Kerry than to Bush, Kerry received 96% of their votes; likewise, Bush received the votes of 94% of the respondents who gave him a higher thermometer score than Kerry.

Use of thermometers is required to make my points because the survey did not directly ask respondents how they would have voted if some candidate other than Kerry were the Democratic nominee. By applying thermometer score differences as a proxy for candidate choice, comparisons between Kerry and other Democrats may be made.

In 2004, for the weighted sample of 787 respondents who did vote for president, 49% gave Bush higher thermometer scores, 46% gave Kerry higher thermometer scores, and 5% gave identical thermometer scores to each candidate. [Note: that 5% split their actual votes 57%-43% in favor of Bush.] These findings illustrate that thermometer score comparisons do provide an accurate prediction of vote intentions. Overall, thermometer scores provided correct vote predictions for 93% of all respondents in 2004, including the 5% with no Kerry-Bush thermometer score differences.

Thermometer Score Comparison # 1

Bush Rated Higher Than Kerry: 49%
Both Rated the Same: 5%
Kerry Rated Higher Than Bush: 46%

To make the case that some other Democrat could have easily defeated George Bush, the data would have to show an advantage in thermometer score comparisons versus Bush for that Democrat. In other words, the 49%-46% advantage that Bush enjoyed in thermometer score comparisons to Kerry would have to shift at least a few points to demonstrate a Democratic advantage that eluded Kerry.

No eligible Democrat emerges from the 2004 data base with that kind of magic. The two we may compare are Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. Hillary stands as the odds-on favorite for the 2008 nomination and Edwards remains a viable contender. Let’s examine their numbers circa 2004.

A comparison of Bush’s thermometer scores with Hillary’s shows very little movement and virtually no change in Bush’s advantage. There is a shift of roughly one-half percentage point away from Bush in the aggregate. Overall, Bush gets higher scores from 48%, Hillary Clinton from 46%, and 5% rate both identically. The overall rounded percentage point difference nets a one percentage point gain for Hillary relative to Kerry.

Thermometer Score Comparison # 2:

Bush Rated Higher Than Hillary: 48%
Both Rated the Same: 5%
Hillary Rated Higher Than Bush: 46%

Details show that 43% preferred both Democrats over Bush and 44% preferred Bush over both Democrats. An additional 1% remained tied in both scenarios.

In short, about 12% of voters’ preferences would have shifted if Hillary, rather than Kerry, were the Democratic nominee. But as Comparison #2 demonstrates, the net effects of such movements would have been minimal. Here are the reasons why.

Among those neutral in a Kerry-Bush match-up (5% of all voters), 80% would have taken sides in a Bush-Hillary contest. But they would have divided evenly – 2% from neutrality to a preference for Hillary and 2% switching from neutrality to a preference for Bush.

Among those with a Kerry preference in a Kerry-Bush comparison, 7% would have shifted to a Bush preference in a Hillary-Bush match-up. And 10% of those with a Bush preference in a Kerry-Bush match-up would have shifted to a pro-Hillary position in a Hillary-Bush contest. The ultimate effects of all these shifts in sentiment would have generated a net gain of one percentage point for Hillary Clinton versus Bush compared to Kerry’s status versus Bush.

Edwards would have fared worse than Kerry. Only 42% rated Edwards higher than Bush, 53% rated Bush higher than Edwards, and 5% rated each candidate identically. Again, 88% would not have been affected at all, but the shifts that would have occurred demonstrate that Kerry held a stronger position than Edwards against Bush.

Thermometer Score Comparison # 3:

Bush Rated Higher Than Edwards: 53%
Both Rated the Same: 5%
Edwards Rated Higher Than Bush: 42%

There was only one Democrat who would have given his party the upper hand against Bush and that was the one live Democrat constitutionally prohibited from entering that fray. Bill Clinton could have flipped the table. He received higher scores than Bush from 49% while Bush got higher ratings from 46%.

Thermometer Score Comparison # 4:

Bush Rated Higher Than Bill Clinton: 46%
Both Rated the Same: 5%
Bill Clinton Rated Higher Than Bush: 49%

Again, most voters (87%) would not have been moved across party columns whether Kerry or Bill Clinton were the Democratic nominee. For the remaining 13%, mobility would have been active in both directions in a Bill Clinton-Bush contest compared to a Kerry-Bush contest. But President Clinton would have had most of it flowing in his direction, resulting in a net gain of about 6 percentage points relative to a Kerry-Bush match-up.

Rather than demonstrating that Kerry’s candidacy was a dud, these findings illustrate the limited potential personal impact of any Democratic nominee in 2004. Even the best Democratic campaigner of our time, Bill Clinton, would have moved the electorate only minutely from the division of the vote observed in 2004.

The unmentioned element in each of these assessments was the unwavering loyalty to George W Bush from the Republican base circa 2004. Bush’s average thermometer score among Republican identifiers was the highest recorded from a partisan following– besting Ronald Reagan’s status among Republican voters at the height of his popularity in 1984.

November 19, 2005

Don’t Like It, Don’t Understand It, Don’t Plan to Use It: Seniors on the New Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit

by Ruy Teixeira

On Sunday, the New York Times has a front-page story on the reception of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, “Confusion Is Rife about Drug Plan as Sign-Up Nears.” Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Brian D. Caswell, a former president of the Kansas Pharmacists Association, said he spent two to three hours a day explaining the Medicare drug benefit to customers at his store in rural Baxter Springs. He encouraged them to take a look at the new program.

But Mr. Caswell said: “The program is so poorly designed and is creating so much confusion that it’s having a negative effect on most beneficiaries. It’s making people cynical about the whole process—the new program, the government's help.”

Robert W. Nyquist, a pharmacist in Lindsborg, Kan., said customers had told him: “This is just beyond me. I can’t decipher which drug plan is cheapest. . . .”

Even after attending the seminar [on the new benefit], Raymond L. Middlesworth, 70, a retired truck driver from Urbana, said he was baffled.

“I’ve tried reading the Medicare book about the drug plan,” Mr. Middlesworth said, “but I couldn’t make sense of it. This is the biggest mess that Medicare has ever put us through.”

Survey data documenting this confusion are provided by a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll of seniors. Here are some of the survey’s key findings.

1. Views of seniors on the new benefit remain negative (31 percent favorable/37 percent unfavorable).

2. Just 36 percent of seniors say they have enough information about the new benefit to understand how it would impact them personally.

3. A mere 20 percent currently say they plan to enroll in the benefit plan.

4. Among those who do not currently plan to enroll for benefits, the most common “major reason” why they are not planning to enroll is having a preexisting plan to pay for prescription drugs (60 percent), followed by “I don’t know enough about it” (46 percent) and “I don’t think it would save me money” (45 percent).

5. Only 19 percent believe the new benefit will be “very helpful” to them personally and another 20 percent believe it will “somewhat helpful.”

6. As for the wide choice of prescription drug plans available to most seniors (typically around forty), this is mostly viewed as a liability, with almost three-quarters (73 percent) saying that such a wide range of choices make it confusing and difficult to pick the best plan.

As Paul Krugman put it in a recent column, “[P]oliticians who don’t believe in a positive role for government shouldn’t be allowed to design new government programs.” I think there are a lot of seniors out there who would agree with that assessment.

November 18, 2005

Will the Real Exurban Voters Please Stand Up?

by Ruy Teixeira

Will the real exurban voters please stand up? Well, maybe they have! In the 2005 Virginia gubernatorial race, Republican Jerry Kilgore, after running a bruising, culture wars-driven campaign against Democrat Timothy Kaine, lost the quintessential exurban county of Loudoun—the fastest-growing county in the entire nation since 2000—to Kaine by 3,400 votes, 51 percent to 46 percent. In contrast, John Kerry lost this county in 2004 by 13,000 votes, 56 percent to 44 percent. And even Mark Warner, Kaine’s Democratic predecessor, lost Loudoun by 53 percent to 46 percent in his successful 2001 gubernatorial bid. (For much more on the fascinating geographical pattern of the Virginia vote, I urge you to consult an excellent new report, "The 2005 Governor’s Race: A Geographic Analysis of the 'Four Virginias'”, by geographers Robert Lang and Dawn Dhavale of Virginia Tech's Metropolitan Institute.)

This is really quite a remarkable result. Recall that in 2002, conservative commentator David Brooks surveyed the landscape after a smashing election victory for the GOP and penned an influential New York Times op-ed, “For Democrats, Time to Meet the Exurban Voter.” In that article, he argued that the rise of America’s exurbs contributed mightily to the GOP’s success in that election and would continue to do so in the future, putting the Democrats on the demographic ropes, so to speak. Bush’s strong showing in those same exurbs in 2004 seemed to validate Brooks’ thesis. As he put it in his 2002 op-ed: “[Exurban voters] swung this election, and when it comes to how they see the world, what scares and inspires them, the Republicans, so far, just seem to get it.”

Now it appears maybe the GOP doesn’t get it. As I put it in my New York Times op-ed piece this Monday, “The Battle for the Exurbs”:

[F]ar from “getting” exurban voters on a deeply psychological level, Republicans have misinterpreted their past success in these areas as evidence that these voters endorsed and wanted an anti-government, socially conservative agenda. But that was never a warranted assumption, either then or now.

In reality, exurban voters are tax-sensitive and concerned about government waste, but not ideologically anti-government. They tend to be religious and family-oriented, but socially moderate in comparison to rural residents. They are not anti-business, but they do hold populist attitudes toward corporate abuse and people who game the system. And they worry as much or more about public education as they do about moral values.

That’s the real exurban voter. No wonder Jerry Kilgore couldn’t connect. He ran a campaign on cultural wedge issues like the death penalty and illegal immigration when exurban and most other Virginia voters were looking for solutions on education, transportation and health care.

Fresh poll data supporting this interpretation comes from a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner/Communities for Quality Education poll conducted in Loudoun County on election day and the day after. As summarized in the Washington Post:

Forty percent of those polled ranked “transportation and roads” as either their first or second priority when it came to picking a gubernatorial candidate; 38 percent said education. Asked which candidate would do a better job handling those issues, Kaine held a 23 percentage point advantage over state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) on education and a 16 percentage point edge on transportation. Interestingly, the death penalty and illegal immigration—two of Kilgore’s top talking points—were ranked as the most important voting issues by just 3 percent and 13 percent, respectively, of people questioned.

There is also evidence that exurban voters across the country want a serious change of course from that offered by Bush and the GOP, which has implications, of course, for the next election in 2006. Here are some data from combined Democracy Corps surveys over the September-November period.

1. Fifty-seven percent of exurban voters think the country is off on the wrong track, compared to just 37 percent who think it is going in the right direction.

2. By 60 percent to 37 percent, exurban voters think the economy is going in the wrong direction.

3. By 55 percent to 39 percent, these voters think the country should go in a significantly different direction, rather than continue in Bush’s direction.

4. By 54 percent to 45 percent, exurban voters think the Iraq war has not been worth the cost.

5. Finally, the Republicans only have a narrow 4-point lead among exurban voters in the generic Congressional contest; that compares to a 23-point margin for Bush in the 2004 election among these voters.

Not a pretty picture for the GOP. Maybe it’s time they really “got” the exurban voter.

November 15, 2005

Dems Surge Ahead in Recent Polls

by EDM Staff

Having been duly cautioned against unbridled optimism about the upcomming congressional elections (see post below), let's have a peek at recent opinion polls suggesting a rosier prospect for Dems. Pollingreport.com has a wrap-up of a dozen surveys dating back to September 5th on the question of which party's candidates respondents favor in their House of Reps district. The polls mix up likely voters and registered voters, and the questions asked by the polls are a little different. But all 12 polls cited show the dems ahead in the races for House seats, with leads ranging from 5 to 17 points --- and an average lead of 9.5 percent.

For a little icing on the cake, check out the latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, in which respondents were asked "Do you think the country would be better off if the Republicans controlled Congress, or if the Democrats controlled Congress?" Respondents favored Dem candidates 46 percent to 34 percent.

November 13, 2005

Dems Sobering Up for '06 House Races

by EDM Staff

New York Times reporter Robin Toner has some strong black coffee for Dems still buzzed on the sweet wine of last Tuesday's election results. In her post-mortem "An Opening for Democrats, However Slim," Toner offers some sobering numbers outlining the challenge we face next November in winning a net pick-up of 15 seats needed for a House of Reps majority:

In the last three Congressional elections, the incumbent re-election rate has hovered from 96 to 98 percent, among the highest since World War II. In 2004, only seven incumbents were defeated in the general election, four of them Texas Democrats pushed into new districts engineered by Republicans.

...political analysts can identify only two or three dozen House seats that are, at the moment, competitive. Gaining 15 seats out of that small a group would be like threading a needle. In contrast, 15 months before the 1994 election, the Cook Political Report, an independent handicapper of House races, rated 89 seats as competitive - based on fund-raising, the strength of the incumbent and the challenger, and the political demographics of the district.

...by many measures, the Republicans had more targets of opportunity a decade ago than Democrats do today. In 1992, 56 Democrats won with 55 percent of the vote or less, an indicator of their vulnerability in 1994, according to Cook. Only 19 Republicans won with 55 percent or less in 2004.

Or consider this: 103 Congressional districts in 1992 voted for one party's candidate for president and another party's candidate for the House, a marker of a potential swing district. In 2004, there were only 59 such districts...

But perhaps the most striking advantage the Republicans had in 1994 was the number of Democratic retirements: there were 52 open seats that year, 31 of them that had been held by Democrats, according to Cook. So far in this cycle, Republicans have 13 open seats, Democrats 7. Open seats are much easier for the other party to capture.

Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, noted that even in the toughest, throw-the-bums-out political season, like 1982 or 1994, only about 10 percent of incumbents are defeated.

Yet, as Toner notes, Dems have some promising advantages that could translate into upset victories, such as growing GOP ethics problems. Republicans will also be more wedded to failed Iraq policy, high gas prices and bungled hurricane relief 11 months from now. In addition, Linda Feldman's article "Election '05 Gives Democrats Hope" in The Christian Science Monitor spotlights Tim Kaine's Virginia win as an indication that Dems may be able to turn growing public concerns about fiscal responsibility to their advantage. Feldman quotes Bob Holsworth, a political scientist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond on the powerful precedent set for Dems by former Governor Warner:

What Mark Warner helped to do is transform the political culture of a red state and make it far more amenable to Democratic perspectives. Clearly, in Virginia and in the South, Democrats have found it successful to run as the fiscally responsible party. Given all the current spending by the Bush administration, there's an opportunity for that message to resonate nationally.

Despite the daunting numbers cited by Toner, University of California redistricting expert Bruce Caine points out in her article, "The annals of redistricting are replete with stories of parties that thought they drew themselves into safety but got blown away." And U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sees as many as 50 competitive House races. With good candidates, credible alternative policies and hard work, a net pick-up of 15 of those House seats should be possible.

November 11, 2005

It’s Definitely a Pro-Choice, Pro–Roe v. Wade Country

by Ruy Teixeira

Lest we harbor any doubt about that, as debate on the Alito Supreme Court nomination heats up, consider these data.

1. In a SurveyUSA fifty-state poll, 56 percent nationwide described themselves as pro-choice, compared to 38 percent who said they were pro-life. Only thirteen states were pro-life; the rest were pro-choice and include Pennsylvania (+7), Michigan (+13), Montana (+11), Ohio (+10), Iowa (+15), Arizona (+17), Minnesota (+17), New Mexico (+17), Wisconsin (+18), Florida (+22), Colorado (+27), Oregon (+29) and Nevada (+32).

2. In a recent Gallup poll, the public, by 53 percent to 37 percent, said the Senate should not confirm Alito if it was likely he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

3. The Pew poll cited above asked two slightly versions of a question on whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned. The replies averaged 61 percent to 29 percent against overturning Roe v. Wade.

4. In Washington Post/ABC News poll cited above, 64 percent said that, if a case testing Roe v. Wade came before the Supreme Court, the Court should vote to uphold it, compared to just 31 percent who believe the Court should vote to overturn it.

Pretty clear data. We’ll see if the message gets through

November 10, 2005

Is This the End of Bushism?

by Ruy Teixeira

Of course, Bushism could be defined in a number of different ways, but on one key definition it clearly is coming to an end. If we define Bushism as the political project of building a majority coalition, despite a commitment to unpopular policies, based on a superior cultural, national security, and leadership image among voters, that project is now failing. This is the unambiguous message of the latest round of public polls.

Here is what is happening to the main underpinnings of Bushism.

Bush himself. In the not-so-recent past, it was argued that Bush himself would never become really unpopular because of his image as a strong leader and the unshakable support of his base. That argument can now be discarded.

Recent public polls all have Bush’s approval rating below 40 percent and we now have our first public poll (CBS News) where approval has fallen to the 35 percent level and our first poll (Washington Post/ABC News) where disapproval has reached the 60 percent level, with strong disapproval nearly reaching 50 percent. These polls tend to show Bush’s approval rating among GOP identifiers below 80 percent—a level that many thought he would never fall below. And his job approval among independents now hovers around 30 percent. According to the new Pew Research Center poll, his job approval among this group has dropped an amazing eighteen points since the beginning of this year.

In the CBS News poll, Bush’s approval rating among moderates is also just 30 percent. And even conservatives only give him a 54 percent rating. The Pew Research Center report also notes that moderates and liberals among Republicans (37 percent of GOP identifiers) have declined dramatically in their support for Bush since July, reaching levels as low as 60 percent approval.

The full dimensions of this collapse can be better appreciated through some historical comparisons. At this point in Bill Clinton’s second term, he had an approval rating of 57 percent. At the analogous point in Reagan’s second term, he had a 65 percent rating. And at the same point in Eisenhower’s second term, he had a 58 percent rating. Of recent two term presidents, only Nixon had a lower rating at this point (27 percent). And, as Pew data from its recent poll show, the only thing keeping Bush from reaching truly Nixonian levels is that, despite declining Republican support, his current level (77 percent) is still substantially higher than Nixon enjoyed at the analogous point in his second term (56 percent). But his ratings among Democrats and independents are now essentially identical with those Nixon was receiving in November, 1973.

Leadership. Bush, the strong leader. This image has been absolutely central to Bushism as the administration ignored, over and over again, the views of the majority of the American public. People may not have agreed with Bush’s policies, but their high respect for him as a leader led many to overlook that fact.

No more. He can’t even crack 50 percent now in assessments of his leadership qualities. For example, in the Washington Post/ABC News poll, only 47 percent say he can be characterized as a strong leader. Similarly, in the CBS News poll, a mere 49 percent are willing to say Bush has “strong qualities of leadership.” And in a mid-October Gallup poll, just 49 percent agree that Bush has “the personality and leadership qualities a president should have.” All these numbers represent big declines since 2004.

And without confidence in Bush’s leadership qualities, what is the public likely to focus on now when they think of Bush? Perhaps that they don’t believe he shares their values (a 58 percent to 40 percent judgement in the Washington Post/ABC News poll). Or that he doesn’t understand the problems of people like them (a 66 percent to 34 percent judgment in the same poll). Or the poor job they feel he’s doing in virtually every policy area. Bushism can’t survive in such an environment.

Honesty. Bush’s image as an honest, straightforward guy has also been central to Bushism. Again, people may not have agreed with him, but they thought he’d level with them, which they respected.

That’s now gone by the board. In the Washington Post/ABC News poll, a strong 58 percent to 40 percent majority says Bush cannot be described as “honest and trustworthy.” Just 32 percent of the public give Bush’s handling of ethics in government a positive rating and, by 43 percent to 17 percent, they say the overall level of ethics in government has fallen, rather than risen, while Bush has been president. And, by 55 percent to 44 percent, the public now believes that the Bush administration intentionally misled the public in making its case for war with Iraq, rather than telling the public what it believed to be true at the time. That exactly reverses the result from the same question from March of this year.

In the Pew poll, the public, by twenty points (56 percent to 36 percent), says that Bush has not lived up to his promise to restore integrity to the White House. That includes a 63 percent to 29 percent negative judgment among independents, a 58 percent to 36 percent judgment among white Catholics, and even a 49 percent to 44 percent judgment among white Protestants. And, for the first time, a plurality of the public (43 percent to 41 percent) is willing to say that the United States and Britain outright lied when they claimed Iraq had WMD.

The war on terror. Speaking of Iraq, Iraq was supposed to the central front of the war on terror. But the public has never been convinced and negative views on the Iraq war continue to deepen. In the Washington Post/ABC News poll, the number saying the war was not worth fighting, given its costs and benefits, has now reached 60 percent for the first time. And nearly three-quarters (73 percent) say there have been an unacceptable number of U.S. military casualties in the Iraq conflict.

And, perhaps fatally for Bushism, the public can no longer divorce its distaste for the Iraq adventure from its feelings about the overall war on terror. Once Bush could count on continued public support for his handling of the war on terror as the one thing that could buoy his administration when everything else was failing. No longer.

In the CBS poll, his rating on handling the campaign against terrorism is now only 47 percent, with 46 percent disapproving. And in the Washington Post/ABC News poll, it is actually net negative for the first time (48 percent approve/51 percent disapprove).

Reflecting these sentiments, the same poll shows the Republicans losing to the Democrats (37 percent to 48 percent) as the party best able to Iraq situation and having no advantage at all over the Democrats (42 percent to 42 percent) on handling the campaign against terrorism, the first time this has happened. Right after the 2002 elections, the GOP led the Democrats by a whopping thirty-six points on this issue.

So, how can Bushism continue if Bush himself has become genuinely unpopular, he doesn’t have special status anymore as a leader or man of integrity and assessments of his stewardship of the war on terror, his greatest strength, are shifting into negative territory? The answer is simple: it can’t. Without that strong, positive image in the eyes of voters, the fundamental unpopularity of the policies Bushism is committed to will drag it down—and is dragging it down today.

But if Bushism is coming to an end, what will replace it? That’s a story for next week—so stay tuned!

November 9, 2005

Some Lessons from '05 Elections

by Pete Ross

The Donkey romped yesterday, and the results suggest some lessons for political strategists:

1. Dems can win in the South.

Virginia has two Republican Senators, but it is officially purple, having now elected two consecutive Democratic Governors. Tim Kaine's win is all the more impressive, considering Virginia's large evangelical community. It may have helped that he spoke sincerely about his faith (Catholic), and perhaps southern Dem candidates ought to study his balanced handling of religion as a possible template.

2. Tip was right...sort of

O'Neill's dictum "All politics is local" held up nicely, as meddlesome W discovered. However Bush's support for loser Kilgore in Virginia indicates that national leaders interfering in local races can have a negative impact. In St. Paul, Democratic Mayor Randy Kelly, a Bush supporter also went down.

3. Don't even mention your opponent's family.

Republican Forrester's disgusting attempt to use Corzine's divorce against him backfired big time, although Corzine may have won NJ anyway.

4. Arrogance doesn't sell.

Arnold's powerplay to reshape California politics flunked in a huge (zero for four) way. Voters also rejected reapportionment reform in Ohio, another indication that the public may prefer to leave the issue to the state Legs.

All in all, a great day for Dems, and the scope of Dem victories bodes well for '06 elections --- less than a year from today.

November 7, 2005

Dems Up Double Digits in Congressional Races

by EDM Staff

The latest ABC News/Washington Post Poll should keep the National Republican Congressional Committee spin doctors busy. The poll found that 52 percent of registered voters say they would vote for the Democrat in their congressional district if the election "were being held today," compared to 37 percent for Republican candidates. The poll, which was conducted 10/30-11/2, also reported that 55 percent of Americans said they would like to see Democrats "in control of Congress after the congressional elections a year from now," compared to 37 percent for Republicans.

In their Sunday WaPo article "Voter Anger Might Mean an Electoral Shift in '06," writers Dan Balz, Shailagh Murray and Peter Slevin ventured "many strategists say that if the public mood further darkens, Republican majorities in the House and Senate could be at risk...A Democratic takeover of either the House or Senate is not out of the question.

Reviewing the poll data, the authors see signs of a political reallighnment:

None of these results can be used to predict the future, but together they explain why many GOP strategists privately are in such an anxious mood. One claimed that this is the most sour environment for the party in power since 1994, when Democrats lost 53 House and seven Senate seats and surrendered their majority. Another said Republicans have not faced such potential backlash since 1982, when the party lost 26 House seats in the midst of a recession.

With less than a year to go before the '06 elections, Dems have good reasons to be optimistic. But the poll did offer a cautionary clue for Dems looking toward '08. Asked which party had "stronger" leaders, respondents picked the GOP with 51 percent, compared to 35 percent for Dems. Between now and the next presidential primary season, Dem candidates should work harder on projecting elements of perceived strength, such as clarity and consistency.

November 4, 2005

Public Opinion on Stem Cell Research

by Ruy Teixeira

One area where American public opinion does not appear to be very stable is the public’s view of stem cell research. Here there is clear evidence of a shift toward more support for this kind of research. The most recent evidence of this shift comes from the annual Life Sciences Survey, conducted by the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Center for Public Policy. The 2005 survey finds 58 percent in favor of “medical research that uses stem cells from human embryos”, compared to 32 percent who oppose such research. Since the 2002 survey, which registered 51-33 opposition to stem cell research, support has climbed, and opposition dropped, in every year’s survey.

The poll finds little evidence, however, of change in public attitudes toward use of cloning technology. Public support for cloning per se is 15 percent, about where it has been for the last five years. Public support for use of cloning technology if it is only applied to medical research is substantially higher–43 percent–but that figure also appears to be stable and not moving at this point toward becoming a majority view.

November 3, 2005

Public Opinion on Immigration

by Ruy Teixeira

Immigration is heating up as a political issue and, right now, Bush sports a very low 21 percent approval rating on the issue, with 53 percent disapproval, according to a recent CBS News poll. It is useful to consider how much public opinion is changing as the issue assumes more prominence. The answer is: not much; the basic structure of public opinion on immigration seems to be quite stable.

For example, in the CBS News poll, 51 percent say they want legal immigration decreased, compared to 30 percent who prefer the present level and 11 percent who think it should be increased. That’s essentially the same result that CBS obtained in July. A 2004 CBS poll found somewhat more support for immigration, a 2001 poll found somewhat less and a 1996 poll found about the same level. So, while there’s some fluctuation over time, there’s not much of a long-term trend. This is a pattern that applies to most other general questions about immigration as well.

The CBS poll also finds three-quarters saying that government is “not doing enough” to keep illegal immigrants from crossing into the US, compared to 15 percent who say the government is doing enough and 4 percent who say it is doing too much. On the other hand, the public opposes, by a wide 65-31 margin, allowing volunteer “minutemen” to patrol the border to keep out illegal immigrants.
Other useful polling results on immigration can be summarized as follows:

1. The public tends to be roughly evenly-divided about whether immigrants are mostly a burden on the country or mostly strengthen the country, though a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal (April, 2005) had it slightly negative. In that poll, 48 percent said immigrants weaken the country because they put a burden on services, as opposed to strengthen it due to their hard work (41).

2. The same poll asked whether immigrants are an economic benefit because they fill jobs Americans won’t take or were an economic threat because they take jobs away from Americans, the public was almost perfectly split (46/45).

However, CBS News has asked a question for years about whether immigrants take jobs Americans don’t want or take jobs away from current Americans. The last time they asked this, in the poll cited above, 58 percent said they take jobs Americans don’t want, compared to only 31 percent who said they take jobs away from current Americans.

That poll also found that 46 percent believe immigrants work harder than people born here, slightly more than the number who say there isn’t much difference (43 percent) and way more than the number who believe immigrants don’t work as hard as the native-born (6 percent).

3. When asked about the impact of legal and illegal immigration separately, the public tends to feel positively about the economic impact of legal immigration (42-23 helped/hurt) but negatively about illegal immigration (54-18 hurt/helped) (Kaiser, August, 2004).

4. In the same poll, by 58-35, the public believes recent immigrants send most of their money back home, rather than spending it in the US.

5. An essentially identical group (58-33) believes recent immigrants do not pay their fair share of taxes.

6. Most Americans (54 percent) believe most recent immigrants are in the country illegally.

7. Americans’ top concern about illegal immigration was the impact of that immigration on government services like health care and schools, rather than its impact on jobs.

Whatever policies the political parties choose to advocate on immigration will have to take into account this basic structure of public opinion on immigration, since it appears to be changing very little over time.

November 2, 2005

It’s the Corruption and Cronyism, Stupid

by Ruy Teixeira

Iraq. The economy. Social Security. Katrina. The Bush administration has a lot to answer for as we move into 2006. But with the indictment of Lewis “Scooter” Libby on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, the issue of corruption and cronyism in Washington presents itself as a potentially decisive addition to that mix. When the public is already looking for change (see “Change Constituency Continues to Grow” from last week), intensified ethics concerns may well be the straw the breaks the camel’s back and convinces the public that the current administration, starting with its GOP supporters in Congress, simply has to go.

Some data supporting this view are provided by two polls conducted right after the Libby indictments. Here are the key findings.

1. The new Washington Post/ABC News poll measures Bush’s job approval as 39 percent, with 58 percent disapproval, easily his worst rating yet in this poll, which tends to run high relatively high on Bush’s approval ratings. The poll also finds more than twice as many strongly disapproving (45 percent) as strongly approving (22 percent) of Bush’s job performance. In addition, the poll finds 25 percent of Republican identifiers disapproving of Bush’s job performance, a 17 point jump since the beginning of this year. If this trend continues, the assumption that Bush can’t fall much below 40 percent approval will be called into question, since that assumption is based on the claim that Bush’s support among Republicans will not fall below the 80-85 percent level.

2. The same poll finds almost two-thirds of the public (64 percent) giving Bush a negative rating (“only fair” or “poor) for his handling of ethics in government. That figure includes nearly one-third of Republicans and a whopping 71 percent of independents. Moreover, almost half of the public (46 percent) says the overall level of ethics and honesty in the federal government has declined during Bush’s presidency, compared to just 15 percent who say it has improved.

3. On the Libby indictment itself, 69 percent call it a serious charge and only 26 percent term it a technical or minor charge. And 55 percent believe that the Libby indictment indicates “broader problems with ethical wrongdoing in the Bush administration”, rather than that it is an “isolated incident” (41 percent).

4. In the new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 56 percent now say the phrase “can manage the government effectively” does not apply to Bush, compared to 43 percent who think it does. That reverses the July result on the same question, where, by 53-45, the public thought that phrase did apply to Bush.

5. By 55-42, the public now pronounces Bush’s presidency so far to have been a failure. And they are not optimistic about the future: by 55-41, they expect the last three years of Bush’s presidency to also be a failure.

6. On the Libby indictment specifically, 76 percent believe Libby either did something illegal (45 percent) or unethical (31 percent). On the other hand, in contrast to the ABC News result, 55 percent describe the Libby charges as stemming from an isolated incident, rather than indicating “low ethical standards” for the Bush administration (38 percent). This difference could stem from the somewhat tougher language of this question (“low ethical standards” vs. “broader problems with ethical wrongdoing”) and the fact that the Gallup poll does not mention that the leaked name was of an undercover CIA employee, while the ABC News poll does specify this detail.

These data indicate that ethical problems are likely to aggravate an already dicey situation for the GOP as they head toward the 2006 elections. Just how difficult that situation was even before the indictments were handed down is clearly outlined in a recent Gallup report based on pre-indictments data. That report rightly notes that Democratic leads in the generic Congressional ballot, especially this far ahead of the election, should be treated with great caution. But other more consequential indicators do suggest a difficult time for the GOP in 2006:

Besides the generic ballot, there are some stronger indications that the Republican majority in Congress may be in trouble. Chiefly, Americans' overall approval rating of Congress is, according to Gallup's Oct. 13-16 poll, just 29%. That compares with 50% approval for Congress in October 2002 and 44% in October 1998. The last time congressional approval fell below 30% was in 1994 -- the year the previously entrenched Democratic majority was ousted by a Republican tidal wave.

Also, the percentage of registered voters who believe that most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected has fallen below 50% for the first time since 1994. Today, just 46% believe most members of Congress deserve another term, while 44% disagree. While not as low as the 38% found just before the 1994 elections, the 46% today is substantially lower than the 57%-58% recorded before the past two midterm elections....

The impact Bush will have on the congressional elections is unclear, but in principle, his low approval ratings cannot help the Republican Party. If his ratings continue to dip into the low 40s, as they have for the past two months, he could be a greater liability to Republican candidates than was Bill Clinton in 1994.

This finding is underscored by a separate question asking voters what impact a candidate's relationship with Bush will have on their vote for that candidate. By a 55% to 39% margin, a majority of voters say they would be more likely to vote for a congressional candidate who opposes Bush than for a candidate who supports him. Only 6% say it would make no difference.

This is notably more negative than what Gallup found in 1994 and 1998 in reaction to Clinton. In neither case did a majority of voters say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposed Clinton.

A follow-up question, asking voters how strongly they feel about a candidate's support for Bush, reveals an even more dramatic difference in Bush's potential impact on the election. Close to half of all voters today (47%) feel very strongly about voting for a candidate who opposes Bush. Even in 1994, when Clinton's approval rating was similar to Bush's current rating, a much lower percentage (36%) expressed this level of animosity toward Clinton.

Again, all these data were collected before the Libby indictments came down. It seems fair to say that 2006 is shaping up to be a very rough year for the GOP.

November 1, 2005

Dems' Best Focus: Alito's Anti-worker Record

by Pete Ross

Nathan Newman, director of Agenda for Justice, has a good read at TPM Cafe,"Scalito on Workers Rights," alerting Dems to Judge Alito's long history of undermining laws that protect working people from abuses on the job. While there is a lot in Alito's record for Dems to be concerned about, particularly with respect to women's reproductive rights, Dems will be missing an opportunity if they don't give strong emphasis to opposing Alito because of his rubber stamping corporate arguments against worker rights. As Newman notes:

What is striking about Alito is that he is so hostile even to the basic right of workers to have a day in court, much less interpreting the law in their favor...

Newman cites cases in which Alito opposed majority decisions on worker's rights with respect to minimum wage, discrimination, pensions, public employee rights and union protection. He points out that Alito wrote "anti-worker majority decisions" on exempting employers from the Family and Medical Leave Act, "putting him to the right of William Rehnquist."

His opposition to the Family Medical Leave Act will be highly unpopular with middle class voters and should be the focus of any fight against Alito. Family Medical Leave is sacred ground for working people with children--republican, democratic, and independent. Paint the republicans as anti-family leave and you have a huge political victory.

Molly Selvin's article "Court Nominee Has Free-Market Bent: Bush's choice to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has a pro-business record" in today's LA Times also cites cases in which Alito revealed his strong anti-worker bias. Selvin quotes Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School:

Alito gives every indication that he will be a strong ally for business interests on the court...He will be swimming in the deep right of the court's pool on business questions

Newman is skeptical about Dems' rising to the challenge of making concern for worker rights the centerpiece of their oppostion to Alito. But, if the Dems are going to go all out against Alito, focusing their arguments as champions of worker rights has the greatest potential for building a broad groundswell for defeating the Alito nomination --- and for strengthening the Dems' credibility with working people in November, '06.