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December 29, 2005

Dems Target Seven States to Win Senate Majority

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has decided to focus on winning races in seven states to regain a majority in the U.S. Senate, according to New York Senator Chuck Schumer, chair of the DSCC. The Associated Press reports that the targeted Senate races will be in Arizona, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Missouri, Montana and Tennessee. Dems currently enjoy a better than 2-1 fund-raising advantage, with $22 million in their campaign war chest, according to the AP.

The article also offers insight into Schumer's strategy for individual campaigns, noting:

In part to counteract charges that Democrats are disconnected from average Americans, Schumer has for years boosted his political strength by constant public appearances throughout New York state.

Every year, he has visited each of the 62 counties, talking up local issues or touting some new piece of federal funding. In 2004, that effort paid off with Schumer winning all but one county.

It is a strategy he is preaching to 2006 candidates.

Schumer is also trying to pare his party's message down to a few straightforward ideas.

"Mostly, it's the meat and potato issues: Save Social Security. Fix prescription drugs. Energy independence," he said.

The targeting decision may create some buzz among Democratic strategists, some of whom have made compelling arguments against focusing on a few races to the detriment of others. See, for example, Ruy Teixeira's article making the case against narrow targeting of House of Reps seats, "Do the Math: Expanding the Playing Field in 2006 Is Actually A Very, Very Smart Idea."

The GOP currently holds a 55-44 lead over Dems in the Senate, with one Independent voting Democratic. In 2006, 5 open Senate seats will be contested, with 14 Democratic senators seeking re-election and 14 incumbent Republicans seeking re-election. The Cook Political Report rates five races for Senate seats as tossups, with four of the seats currently held by Republicans.

December 28, 2005

Vets Boost Dems '06 Chances

by Pete Ross

Swing State Project has an interesting article on the bumper crop of Dem candidates, who are veterans of the armed forces and a soon-to-be-launched PAC, "Band of Brothers" designed to give them some leverage. Swing State's David NYC notes that vets bring some built-in advantages to a campaign, including:

Veterans' views on matters of war and national security are often accorded greater respect in the public sphere (whether fairly or unfairly). These issues are going to matter a whole hell of a lot in 2006, and we need candidates willing to engage - not avoid - this debate.

The media typically adores veterans, especially the straight-talking kind. (Think Hackett & McCain.) Moreover, our lazy media has bought into the GOP's smear of the Dems as "weak on security" wholesale. It doesn't matter how sophisticated our think-tank-produced plans on foreign policy are - the media just doesn't care. But if you've worn a dogtag around your neck or have had ribbons pinned to your chest - now that is something the media can understand.

The American people love our armed forces. The military always ranks at the very top when pollsters ask people how much confidence they have in various public institutions.

Strength in numbers: It's a lot easier to Swift Boat a lone vet in isolation. While I put nothing past today's GOP, it's much harder to slander your opponents when you're talking about dozens and dozens of men and women across the country. And these guys, I can assure you, will fight back when attacked.

All good points. Candidates should be careful, however, about overplaying the vet card, as Kerry may have done at the '04 convention, and Bush certainly did on the aircraft carrier. Vet status works best in combination with a little humility. Make it known, but as much as possible, let others praise the candidate for her/his service. GOP Senator McCain seems to work this technique effectively.

Band of Brothers already has a new website, featuring a list of Democratic vets running for office. Presumably, the group will also support women candidates. The PAC will provide money, expertise and training to vets running as Democratic candidates and is now accepting contributions.

December 23, 2005

Gopoian and Whitehead Reply to Bartels

By David Gopoian and Ralph Whitehead, Jr.

We have checked our data and stand by the findings we reported. Our sample consists of whites who voted and have family incomes under $35,000. Whatever discrepancies appear between Bartels's descriptions and ours must reside in unknown differences between his coding of the data set and ours.

We'd also note that Bartels has leapt to a conclusion as to what we regard as the electoral-strategy implication of our attempt to flesh out the demographic characteristics of his 'white-working class.' To be fair to him, our original post failed to offer an explicit statement of the implication as we see it. By failing to do so, perhaps we were inviting him to get it wrong. So here goes:

We don't think that the Democratic Party can become a majority party unless it improves its share of the votes cast by (among others) people who fit this profile:

• White

• Ages 25 through 62

• Attached to the work force, or sharing a household with someone who is attached to the work force

• Noncollege

• Nonunion, and living in a nonunion household

These voters are a significant presence in near-miss states like Nevada, Iowa, Ohio, and New Mexico, as well as in slipping-away states like Florida, Missouri, Louisiana, and West Virginia.

In order to do better with these voters, we would argue, the Democratic Prty doesn't necessarily have to give ground on social issues. But it does has to offer them a much more sweeping and aggressive economic agenda. This agenda must respond to the cumulative crises that beset those who hold a strong stake in the world of work, and aren't necessarily well-equipped to be able to protect it, let alone enhance it. As it happens, however, the content of this agenda is unlikely to appeal strongly to two groups of people who don't fit the profile but are among Bartels's white people with household incomes of less than $35K -- and, more to our point, are already drawn to the Democrats in ways that the profiled voters are not:

• Those who are old enough to be eligible for Medicare and Social Security.

• Young college graduates, who currently have low incomes (because they've recently entered the world of work), but have relatively good economic prospects. This is partly because they are college graduates, and are therefore on the upside of the college gap in earnings. And it is partly because their status as college graduates makes it highly likely that they are the children of college graduates, who are also on the upside of the college gap, and thus likely to have money to provide to their adult children. These young people certainly feel a stake in the world of work, but are relatively well-equipped to protect it, and even enhance it. Also, since many of them are socially liberal, the social liberalism stressed by Bartels will presumably keep them in the Democratic fold.

The voters who do fit the profile are likely to feel a need for national health insurance, unlike the people who are 62 and older and unlike those among the young college grads who currently feel bulletproof. They also have a stake in salvaging the social contract -- de facto lifetime employment, a pension, health care coverage -- or establishing a full-fledged successor to it. They have a stake in strengthening (or modernizing) the safety net: As pension coverage continues to vanish, more and more workers will have to rely on Social Security as their sole pension. (Thus, the objective economic need will be for larger Social Security checks.) Unemployment insurance was designed to tide people over during bona fide layoffs, rather than euphemized firings, and between jobs, rather than between occupations. It needs to be modernized. And the safety net will have to be extended to include long term care. (Unless the profiled voters are all able to follow the advice of a recent lead editorial in The New York Times and rely on "serious financial planning on an individual basis.") The voters who fit this profile also need to experience a sustained increase in their real earnings -- something it has been hard for them to do in recent years, and something that might well get even harder for them to do in the future.

We hate to leap beyond the evidence to impute a view to Bartels, since he has leapt beyond the evidence to impute a view to us.. But we hope he isn't implying that the Democratic Party can become the majority party merely by sticking with a low-protein economic agenda. The crucial question for Democratic electoral strategists is not: To what degree are the voting decisions of noncollege voters driven by economic concerns, as opposed to (or as well as) social concerns? Rather, it is: To what degree are Democratic issue positions clearly and strongly responsive to these economic concerns?

Also, in suggesting 'households who are in the middle of the income distribution' as a definition of 'the middle class,' he offers what seems at first glance to be an admirably simple and sensible idea. However, if we accept this definition of 'the middle class,' we are implying that a nation like Haiti OR Bangla Desh, if it has a bulge in the middle of its income distribution, has a large middle class. But this implication might be misleading. Closer to home, of course, the question is: Are the median earnings of a working-age household, some $48K, enough to enable it these days to afford a 'middle class' standard of living? Particularly if many of the people who are close to the middle of the income distribution -- such as those in the profile, and millions of otherwise similar Hispanic households and African-American households-- now have to use a growing share of this sum to plug the growing holes that have been created by the demise of the social contract, the obsolescence of the safety net, and persistently flat pay?

December 22, 2005

A Reply to Gopoian and Whitehead

Several months ago, Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Princeton, wrote a very interesting paper, "What's the Matter with What's the Matter with Kansas" critiquing Thomas Frank's book and its view of white working class politics. On this website, David Gopoian and Ralph Whitehead, in turn, published a short critique of Bartels' analysis, questioning his definition of the white working class and the political conclusions he drew from his analysis.

In the interests of furthering discussion of this very important issue, I provide below a recent comment (originally on the Crooked Timber website) by Bartels on Gopoian's and Whitehead's analysis.

I was surprised by Gopoian and Whitehead’s demographic profile of whites in the bottom third of the income distribution, so I checked the NES data. All I can say is that their tabulations don’t look like mine. They claim that only 35% of low-income whites (in 2004, I assume) were actually working, while 43% were retired or disabled. I have 49% working (with another 6% temporarily laid off or unemployed) and 35% retired or disabled. (Weighting the data as I did in my paper reduces both those percentages slightly, while increasing the percentage of homemakers and students.) Whatever group they are looking at, it is not the group of low-income whites characterized as “working class” in my paper.

More generally, if social scientists have a “prevailing definition” of the term “working class” I missed the memo. Apparently the people we’re talking about did, too. Among whites in the bottom third of the income distribution in 2004, 55% called themselves “working class”; among Gopoian and Whitehead’s whites without college degrees, only 48% did. Further restricting the definition to people with “incomes that surround the median household income for the nation” makes me even more curious why we don’t just use a well-established term that would seem to fit these people comfortably: “middle class.”

Of course, analysts can use whatever labels they want as long as they are clear about their definitions. My focus on low-income whites was inspired primarily by Frank’s reference on the first page of his book to Democrats as “the party of workers, of the poor, of the weak and the victimized,” and by his subsequent insistence on considering class “in the material, economic sense, not in the tastes-and-values way our punditry defines class.” It also fits nicely with my own broader interest in the politics of economic inequality. It is very easy to think of significant government policies that distribute costs and benefits on the basis of income, but much harder to think of instances in which “who gets what” depends on whether they happen to have a college degree.

Finally, a brief comment on the broader debate in which Gopoian and Whitehead’s analysis is situated. It is certainly true that the Democratic Party has lost support among whites without college degrees. (As with Democratic fortunes more generally, most of that decline is directly attributable to the demise of the artificially Democratic Solid South of the Jim Crow era. But let’s ignore that elephant in the room – along with the growing proportion of the electorate that happens not to be white.) What should we conclude from that trend? Many observers seem to leap to the conclusion that the party needs to reconnect with “traditional values.” Whites without college degrees are, indeed, more conservative than better-educated whites are on social issues like abortion and gender roles. But they also attach much less weight to those issues in their voting behavior. In 2004, the statistical connection between social issue preferences and presidential votes was more than twice as strong among college-educated whites as among those without college degrees. (In contrast, the connection between economic issue preferences and presidential votes was equally strong among both groups.) If anyone has a magic formula for appealing to less-educated socially conservative whites while retaining the loyalty of better-educated – and apparently more attentive – socially liberal whites, I’m all for it. But in the real world of hard political trade-offs, it is by no means obvious that moving to the right on social issues would be a net vote winner for Democrats.

For those interested in this debate, you may also want to read Frank's lengthy reply to Bartels, just posted on Frank's website.

Economics and Public Opinion on Immigration

by Ruy Teixeira

I covered general public opinion on immigration a while ago. Since then, a number of new polls have looked at the immigration issue and provide some fresh data, particularly on the intersection of economic concerns and immigration.

1. In the late November Time poll, 64 percent said illegal immigrants hurt the US economy, compared to 26 percent who say they help the economy.

2. In the same poll, 74 percent said they US is not doing enough to keep illegal immigrants from crossing over in the US.

3. In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 53 percent say immigration hurts more than it help the US, compared to 37 percent who say it helps more than hurts.

4. Over half (51 percent) endorse the view that “Immigration detracts from our character and weakens the United States because it puts too many burdens on government services, causes language barriers, and creates housing problems”, while only 37 percent say that “Immigration adds to our character and strengthens the United States because it brings diversity, new workers, and new creative talent to this country.”

5. Around three-quarters of the public endorses Bush’s proposal to tighten America’s borders with Mexico by increasing the number of borders security agents and his proposal to increase fines against companies that hire illegal immigrants (thought that doesn’t seem to have affected his approval ratings on the issue–see below).

6. In Gallup’s December 9-11 poll, 60 percent say illegal immigrants mostly hurt the economy by driving down wages for many Americans, compared to 32 percent who say they mostly help the economy by providing low cost labor. That’s consistent with the Time poll result cited above. But, intriguingly, Gallup asked the same question with the same wording, except with the substitution of legal immigrants for illegal immigrants. The result: 52 percent mostly hurt/42 percent mostly help, indicating that, while illegal immigrants continue to be viewed more negatively, legal immigrants are now also seen, at least in an economic sense, as part of the problem.

7. Gallup also asked Bush’s approval rating on immigration in two different ways: for handing illegal immigration and for handling legal immigration. Bush’s job rating on illegal immigration was predictably low (26 percent), but his rating on handling legal immigration was not much different (28 percent).

Immigration has yet to spike as an issue, but these data suggest that the public is very dissatisfied with current policy approaches to immigration, especially from an economic standpoint. Progressives should be ready with an alternative sooner, rather than later, if they hope to benefit from that spike.

December 21, 2005

Seniors, the Prescription Drug Benefit and the 2006 Election

by Ruy Teixeira

More polling data are accumulating on the new Medicare prescription drug benefit and they continue to indicate that the new benefit is likely to be a political liability for the GOP in 2006.

Consider these data from the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll:

1. Overall, just 20 percent say they know “a great deal” (6 percent) or “a fair amount” (14 percent) about the Medicare prescription benefit and only 19 percent say they are favorable to the new benefit, compared to 25 percent who are unfavorable and 55 percent who “don’t know enough about it to have an opinion”. Seniors are more likely to say they are knowledgeable about the benefit, but they are also more likely to say they are unfavorable (40 percent, compared to 23 percent favorable).

2. By an overwhelming 73 percent to 15 percent, seniors agree that the new drug benefit is “too complicated and confusing”.

3. By 51-27, seniors say it’s a good plan for seniors who don’t have drug coverage, but, by 67-14, they don’t believe the “plan will be helpful to me personally”.

These results suggest that the drug benefit is probably pushing seniors farther away from the GOP than they were already, which could have big electoral implications. That argument is explicitly by John Harwood in a Wall Street Journal article based on the new poll:

...In a period of broad-ranging public discontent, that among senior citizens stands out as most worrisome for Republicans aiming to keep control of the House and Senate in the fall.

"They're a pretty cranked up bunch and they've got to be handled with enormous care by incumbents," says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who helps conduct the Journal/NBC survey. So far, adds his Democratic counterpart Peter Hart, "the Bush administration has done more to alienate them than to gain their support."

The results can be seen in Americans' attitudes toward Congress 11 months before Election Day 2006. By a 65%-19% margin, Americans age 65 and above disapprove of the performance of Congress; those under 65 are also negative but less lopsidedly, 58%-27%. Moreover, senior citizens say by 47%-37% that they want Democrats rather than Republicans to win control of Capitol Hill. Those under 65 prefer a Democratic victory by a narrower 45%-39% margin.

That disparity, like some other political differences between older and younger Americans, is relatively slight. But it has big implications for the 2006 campaign for two reasons.

One is that older voters, having given Mr. Bush slightly greater support than younger voters in his narrow 2004 re-election victory, have now become the most critical of his job performance. In the Journal/NBC poll, for instance, Americans under 65 disapprove of Mr. Bush's job performance by a margin of 16 percentage points, while those 65 and above disapprove by a margin of 20 percentage points.

The second is that older voters play an outsize role in midterm contests, because they traditionally turn out at higher rates while many young voters tune out campaigns not featuring a presidential contest. Voters older than 60 made up 24% of those voting in 2004, but a larger 28% in the 1998 midterm contest, the last such campaign for which exit-poll data are available.

Actually, I have the national exit poll data from 2002, which were finally cleaned up and allowed limited release. These data indicate that the proportion of voters 60 and over in 2002 was 27 percent, a figure very close to the 1998 figure. So, not only are 2006 seniors likely to be a relatively poor age group from the GOP (as opposed to 2004, when they were the best), they are also likely, based on recent history, to be a relatively high proportion of 2006 voters, compared to 2004.

December 19, 2005

Partisan Benchmarks and Political Performance in the 2004 Presidential Election

By David Gopoian

Evaluations of campaign performance should be tied to meaningful benchmarks. A classic measure of political expectations is one based on the partisan composition of specific populations. The attainment of 51% of the vote may be evaluated differently, for example, if earned in a jurisdiction that typically supports one's own party in contrast to a jurisdiction that typically does not.

In this post, I compare Kerry's share of the two-party vote in the 50 states, plus DC, to a measure of the expected Democratic vote in each. The expected vote measure is derived from an analysis of the voting behavior of national populations across five previous presidential elections. Estimates of the likelihood of a Democratic vote for specific categories of partisan identifiers are then applied to the state-level exit samples of voters in each state.

The first column of numbers shows the Expected Democratic Vote for each state. This percentage represents a partisan benchmark for Democratic candidates - the percentage he should get given the partisan makeup of a state's electorate.

An interpretation might flow as follows: given the sample of voters who actually voted in Massachusetts in 2004, the typical Democratic candidate should have expected to have gotten 62.9% of the vote. Kerry's actual vote of 62.5% in the exit poll indicates that Kerry came very close to matching how a Democratic candidate should have performed in his home state.

Examining the 19 states that Kerry won, plus DC, it is apparent that his actual vote percentages were within one rounded percentage point of the expected Democratic vote in all but 6 of them. The exceptions were DC, Vermont, and Illinois where he ran above expectations and Hawaii, Rhode Island, and New Jersey where he ran below expectations. In the remaining 14 states, Kerry ran about as well as should have been expected of the Democratic nominee..

The problem, of course, is that these 20 states left Kerry 19 electoral votes shy of the White House. There were seven other states a Democrat should have won based on partisan inclinations of voters. These included West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Missouri, Iowa, and Louisiana. Granted, in many Southern and Border States, partisan attachments do not necessarily carry much clout for the evaluation of political figures associated with the national Democratic Party.

However, a case could be made that the partisan benchmarks for these states are not unrealistic. In the 2004 election, West Virginia elected a Democratic Governor with 65% of the vote; Arkansas re-elected Senator Lincoln; Kentucky gave its Democratic Senate challenger 49% of the vote. Missouri had just elected a dead Democrat over a live Republican to the Senate four years earlier. And Gore won both Iowa and New Mexico in 2000.

In fact, there are 12 states where the expected Democratic vote ranged from 49% to 51% -- the very definition of swing states. Kerry won only two of them - - New Hampshire and Wisconsin. He lost four others where he finished within one rounded percentage point of meeting expectations for a Democratic candidate (Iowa, Florida, Ohio, and Nevada).

Three of the remaining six swing states were southern states where Kerry ran at least 6 points behind expectations for a Democratic candidate (North Carolina (-6), Louisiana (-8), and Kentucky (-11). He also ran below expectations in Montana by 8 points. The last two, potentially winnable swing states were lost without a battle - Virginia, where Kerry ran 3 points worse than expected and Missouri, where he ran 4 points below expectations.

I'll leave it to readers to draw inferences about the past campaign and about future ones as well. In the graph below, blue is used to highlight pro-Democratic inclinations or performance, pink to illustrate pro-Republican tendencies or performance, and yellow to show differences that did not deviate markedly from partisan expectations. The Kerry Vote column is based on weighted exit poll data, not official election returns.

DLC Urges Dems to Fight for Center

by EDM Staff

Supported by recent public opinion polls, a growing chorus of Democratic leaders is calling for an accelerated timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq. But the centrist Democratic Leadership Council's president Al From and pollster Mark Penn have warned Dem leaders that a hasty withdrawall from Iraq could be a "trap," according to a report in the Sunday WaPo. As John Harris and Chris Cillizza note in their article,

While a poll taken by Penn for the DLC showed voters opposing the Iraq war 54 to 44 percent, they warned that "Democratic leaders could be playing with political dynamite if they call for an immediate pullout of American troops...

From and Penn said the most defensible ground for Democrats is a middle path: rejecting deadlines for troop withdrawal but endorsing "clear benchmarks" to measure progress and hold Bush accountable for the results.

Penn and From argue that it is important for Dems to consider public opinion about Iraq in light of Americans' views about the Democratic Party in general.

In Penn's survey, 13 percent of voters said they would favor a "liberal Democrat" for president, and 43 percent of independent voters said they regard the party as "too liberal." Forty-two percent of these unaligned voters also said they perceive the party as becoming more liberal.

While the problems of Bush and Republicans have "opened the door" for Democrats, Penn and From wrote, to take advantage of this "Democrats need to capture the vital center and bring an abrupt halt to what voters see as the party's drift to the left."

Other poll analysts have argued that it's not so much that the Democratic Party has drifted to the left on the issue of withdrawall from Iraq, but a very real shift of the "vital center" of public opinion. (See, for example, Ruy Teixeira's Dec. 15 post.) Either way, the stakes are huge, and Dems must get it right to win the center in '06 and '08.

December 17, 2005

New DCorps Poll Shows Dems Lead House, Senate Races

A Democracy Corps Poll conducted by Greeberg Quinlan Rosner from 12/8-12 brings good news for Dems 11 months before the 2006 congressional elections. The poll found that 50 percent of likely voters said they would vote for the Democratic candidate for Senate in their state if the election were held today, with 42 percent saying they would vote for the Republican. In the House races, 49 percent of LV's said they would vote for the Democratic candidate, with 41 percent for the Republican. The poll also found that 60 percent of respondents agreed that "things have gotten pretty seriously on the wrong track" and 53 percent disapproved of the way Bush is "handling his job as President."

December 15, 2005

Iraq the Vote?

by Ruy Teixeira

In the last few weeks, Bush’s overall approval rating appears to have improved by several points. But that’s not because the public’s views on the Iraq situation have changed much and certainly not because they’re convinced Bush has the foggiest idea of what to do about that situation. Consider these data from the latest CBS News/New York Times Poll.

1. Do people think Bush has clearly explained what the U.S.’s goals are in Iraq? No, by 61-35, they don’t think he has.

2. Do they think Bush has a clear plan for victory in Iraq? No, by 68-25, they don’t think so.

3. Do they think Bush has a clear plan for getting American troops out of Iraq? No, by 70-25, they don’t think so.

4. And do they believe Bush has clearly explained how long US military forces will have to remain in Iraq? No, by an overwhelmingly 81-15, they don’t believe he has.

5. When asked what the US should do in Iraq right now, 60 percent want either to decrease the number of troops in Iraq (32 percent) or remove them all (28 percent).

6. When asked a very straightforward question–no qualifiers or positive and negative arguments-- about whether “the United States should or should not set a time-table for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq”, 58 percent agree and just 39 percent disagree.

So what do many Democratic leaders do in this situation, which would appear to call for a clear plan (in contrast to Bush) for getting out of Iraq, including specific plans and a timetable for troop withdrawal? Wring their hands, worry about appearing “weak”, attack one another for being “irresponsible” and resolutely refuse to unite around the very kind of clear plan the public is so obviously looking for.

Weird. As E.J. Dionne put it in his December 13 column:

Democrats are so obsessed with not looking "weak" on defense that they end up making themselves look weak, period, by the way they respond to Republican attacks on their alleged weakness. Oh my gosh, many Democrats say, we can't associate ourselves with the likes of Howard Dean or Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader who recently called for a troop withdrawal within six months. Let's knife them before Karl Rove gets around to knifing us. Talk about a recipe for retreat and defeat.

Indeed. If Democrats hope to “Iraq the vote” in the 2006 elections, a clear position on the issue will help a great deal more than the dithering and back-stabbing they’ve been indulging in lately. Otherwise, voters are likely to conclude that, while Bush doesn’t appear to know what he’s doing, neither do the Democrats. And that truly is a recipe for defeat.

December 14, 2005

Progressive Target: Emerging Suburbs

by Ruy Teixeira

In the aftermath of the 2004 elections, many argued that the exurban vote was central to Bush’s victory. But, as I pointed out at the time, such analyses typically shoehorned far more of the country into the exurbs than could possibly be justified by standard geographic criteria. Exurbs, properly understood, are fringe counties of metropolitan areas that border on being rural. They are not another name for any fast-growing county outside of a metro area’s urban core.

Recent county codes developed by Robert Lang and his colleagues at Virginia Tech’s Metropolitan Institute allow for a clear, geographically sound demonstration of the limited political importance of true exurbs. Analysis based on these codes also reveals that counties in another category–emerging suburbs–were much more important to Bush’s victory and are much more contestable by the Democrats.

The Metropolitan Institute (MI) codes break down the 417 counties in the top 50 metro areas in the US (where over half the total population lives) into five categories: core; inner suburbs; mature suburbs; emerging suburbs; and exurbs. Exurban counties are described as:

...the most far flung [metropolitan] counties with the lowest—essentially rural—population densities. Large-scale suburbanization is just about to take hold in these places, as they offer even better bargains, and more land (but longer commutes) than emerging counties. Exurban counties are included in metropolitan areas by the census because they share a functional relationship with neighboring counties via commuting. But by appearance, these places are barely touched by urbanization.

These exurban counties voted 62-37 for Bush over Kerry, a lop-sided result, to be sure, and a 10 point gain in GOP margin over 2000. But these counties only contributed 9 percent of Bush’s net vote gains between 2000 and 2004, mostly due to their relatively modest population sizes.

The emerging suburban counties were more consequential, though the actual numbers of exurban and emerging suburban counties are roughly equal in the MI typology. They are described as:

....the new “it” county of today. They are mostly the fastest growing counties in the region, and are often found in even slow growing regions such as St. Louis (e.g., St Charles County, MO) and Cincinnati (e.g., Boone County, KY). Emerging suburbs are almost wholly products of the past two decades and are booming with both people and the beginnings of commerce (although they remain mostly commuter zones). Emerging suburbs are both upscale and downscale and may feature everything from McMansions to trailer parks. Residents in emerging suburbs typically see these places as bargains compared to mature suburbs. That is true for households that buy a McMansion over an older and smaller tract home in a mature suburb, or a first-time homebuyer that “drives to qualify” by finding a modest attached dwelling at the edge of the region.

The Bush-Kerry split here was less lop-sided (56-43) and represented only a 5 point gain in margin over 2000. But since these emerging suburban counties are much larger than exurban counties, they contributed 26 percent of Bush’s net vote gains between 2000 and 2004, dwarfing the exurban contribution.

Besides the relatively smaller GOP margin in these counties in 2004, note that the GOP margin in these counties in 2000 was only 52-44 and in 1996 a mere 45-44. It’s clear that emerging suburban counties are not only far more important to Bush’s coalition than exurban counties, but also far more contestable by the Democrats, a political reality that should trouble the GOP.

Indeed, it already is. In the MI typology, Loudoun and Prince William counties in Virginia, where Democrat Timothy Kaine did so well against Republican Jerry Kilgore, are classified as emerging suburban counties, while Kilgore won easily in Fauquier and Stafford counties, which are classified as exurban. But since Loudoun and Prince William are so much more populous than Fauquier and Stafford, Kaine’s victory in the former counties counted for a great deal more than Kilgore’s victories in the latter counties.

Another way of thinking about the GOP’s emerging suburbs problem is provided by Ross Douthat’s and Reihan Salam’s article on Sam’s Club Republicans in The Weekly Standard. In this very interesting article, Douthat and Salam–Republicans and conservatives, themselves–remind the GOP that today their party is:

....an increasingly working-class party, dependent for its power on supermajorities of the white working class vote, and a party whose constituents are surprisingly comfortable with bad-but-popular liberal ideas like raising the minimum wage, expanding clumsy environmental regulations, or hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement. To borrow a phrase from Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Republicans are now "the party of Sam's Club, not just the country club."

They define the white working class, as I do, as whites who lack a four year college degree. And who lives in emerging suburbs? As a close read of the MI description of emerging suburbs suggests, these areas, while they do have substantial communities of affluent McMansion dwellers, also are full of voters, overwhelmingly white, of much more modest means living in much more modest circumstances. Indeed, my analysis of Census data indicates that these emerging suburbs are 79 percent white nonhispanic and 74 percent non-college educated among those 25 and older.

So, forget the exurbs. The battle for the Sam’s Club Republicans has begun and the emerging suburbs, not the exurbs, will be front and center in that battle. Judging from the most recent elections and polling data, progressives have a real shot at these voters, while Republicans will be fighting just to contain their losses.

December 10, 2005

Mainstream Media Shuns Impeachment Poll Results

by EDM Staff

If a major opinion poll showed a majority of Americans favored impeaching President Bush if he lied about his reasons for going to war in Iraq, natch it would get broad press coverage, right?

Wrong, according to Jamison Foser's expose of mainstream media's pro-Republican bias over at Media Matters. His article, "Media Continues to Ignore Impeachment Polling" argues that Bush pretty much got a free ride from ostensibly non-partisan major media, which ignored the Zogby Poll result noted above. In the Zogby poll, 53 percent of respondents agreed that Bush should be impeached if he lied about his reasons for leading America to war in Iraq. Foser does cite a short 'honor roll' of media that did report the story:

Only five news reports available on Nexis mention the latest Zogby poll: the Froomkin [WaPo] column, an Investor's Business Daily editorial, a column in the University of Massachusetts student newspaper, a "Potpourri" feature in West Virginia's Charleston Gazette, and a column in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Froomkin's November 7th WaPo column also cited an Ipsos-Public Affairs Poll showing 50 percent of respondents in agreement with the need to impeach. Foser reports that other WaPo writers lamely defended the paper's decision not to do a poll on the impeachment question, even though the Post and other papers nearly drowned their readers in ink about former President Clinton's impeachment prospects.

There's more, and Foser makes a slam dunk case that Bush benefits significantly from lapdog media in this story and others at Media Matters.

December 8, 2005

Is Bush on the Comeback Trail?

By Alan Abramowitz

In a news story today, the Times reports that "after months of political erosion, President Bush's approval rating improved markedly in the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll." Well, not really. Bush's approval rating increased from 35 percent in the Times' October poll to 40 percent in the current poll. The 35 percent approval rating in the October poll was somewhat below the average for all published polls during that time period while the 40 percent rating is close to the average of all polls conducted in the past month. Given the margin of sampling error of both polls (+/- 3 percent), there is a strong likelihood that President Bush's approval rating has not changed at all.

Why Can’t the Public Lose Its Economic Pessimism?

by Ruy Teixeira

Why indeed? According to the president, things are really quite jolly with the economy. He recently cited:

....job gains, falling gasoline prices, rising consumer confidence, increasing business investment, relatively low unemployment and a strong housing market as evidence that the overall economy "is in good shape."

"Our economic horizon is as bright as it's been in a long time," he said.

And it is true that the most recent jobs report (215,000 additional jobs in November) and the most recent quarterly GDP growth rate (4.3 percent in the third quarter of this year) are pretty good figures. So why aren’t those pesky voters singing Hosannas to the brilliant economic policies of the Bush administration? Why are they instead still rating the economy in the latest Gallup poll as only fair or poor (63 percent) and still taking the pessimistic view that the economy is getting worse (58 percent), rather than better (36 percent)?

It’s possible that they’ve just been duped by the media. Or that they’ve transferred their discontent with the Iraq debacle onto the economy. But I prefer a different, simpler explanation: things just aren’t that good for the average American.

That’s Paul Krugman’s point in his excellent December 5 column:

[T]he main explanation for economic discontent is that it's hard to convince people that the economy is booming when they themselves have yet to see any benefits from the supposed boom. Over the last few years G.D.P. growth has been reasonably good, and corporate profits have soared. But that growth has failed to trickle down to most Americans.....

.....Even after adjusting for inflation, profits have risen more than 50 percent since the last quarter of 2001. But real wage and salary income is up less than 7 percent.

There are some wealthy Americans who derive a large share of their income from dividends and capital gains on stocks, and therefore benefit more or less directly from soaring profits. But these people constitute a small minority. For everyone else the sluggish growth in wages is the real story. And much of the wage and salary growth that did take place happened at the high end, in the form of rising payments to executives and other elite employees. Average hourly earnings of nonsupervisory workers, adjusted for inflation, are lower now than when the recovery began.

So there you have it. Americans don't feel good about the economy because it hasn't been good for them. Never mind the G.D.P. numbers: most people are falling behind.

And if that’s true–and I think it is–Bush’s insistence on a bright economic horizon is likely to strike most Americans as simply out of touch, thereby adding to, not mitigating, his current political problems.

December 7, 2005

Will Predicting Victory in Iraq Rally the Public Behind Bush?

by Ruy Teixeira

On November 30, Bush gave a speech at the Naval Academy in which, according to the Washington Post:

He used the word victory 15 times.....; "Plan for Victory" signs crowded the podium he spoke on; and the word heavily peppered the accompanying 35-page National Security Council document titled, "Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."

Apparently, it’s no accident that Bush’s public relations strategy is so victory-centric. The Post article goes on to say:

[The document’s] relentless focus on the theme of victory strongly reflected a new voice in the administration: Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who joined the N.S.C. staff as a special adviser in June and has closely studied public opinion on the war.

Despite the president's oft-stated aversion to polls, Dr. Feaver was recruited after he and Duke colleagues presented the administration with an analysis of polls about the Iraq war in 2003 and 2004. They concluded that Americans would support a war with mounting casualties on one condition: that they believed it would ultimately succeed.

How plausible is all this? Unlikely, not to say delusional, if not “Feaver-ish”, as public opinion expert John Mueller waggishly observed in the same Post article. Consider these data from the latest Qunnipiac University poll:

1. By 54-41, voters say the war with Iraq was the wrong thing for the US to do, not the right thing.

2. Forty percent of the public supports immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Another 4 percent support withdrawal within six months and another 10 percent within a year. So 54 percent support withdrawing troops within a year, compared to 39 percent who support staying longer or setting no timetable. Note that sentiment for immediate withdrawal includes 55 percent of Hispanics and 61 percent of independents.

3. By 49-46, voters believe the Bush administration intentionally misled the public in making the case for the Iraq war.

4. By 51-47, voters now believe Bush does not have strong leadership qualities and, by 50-45, they now believe that Bush is not honest and trustworthy.

The likelihood that views this negative will be turned around by stridently insisting the US will somehow achieve victory in Iraq seems slight indeed. As Jonathan Rauch remarked in a Sunday article in the Washington Post:

[T]he evolving structure of public opinion about Iraq is making the current war effort there unsustainable....What emerges [from the public opinion data] is not fleeting disenchantment, but a coherent and hard-nosed critique of Bush's strategy. The administration's fundamental problem is not that the public is discouraged by U.S. casualties, or that news from Iraq has been bad, or that the president needs to give better speeches. The problem is that many Americans see no stakes in Iraq sufficient to justify the military effort and diplomatic cost.

In other words, the public has concluded that the war is a bad idea and was a mistake to begin with (as the Qunnipiac University poll cited above and many other polls have found). And, politically, that is very, very consequential. But don’t take my word for it. Here are the words of the good Dr. Feaver and a colleague in their paper, "Iraq the Vote: Retrospective and Prospective Foreign Policy Judgments, Candidate Choice, and Casualty Tolerance."

We show that prospective judgments of the likelihood of success in Iraq and retrospective judgments of whether the war in Iraq was right are significant determinants of both vote choice and casualty tolerance. The prospective judgment of success is key in predicting casualty tolerance, while retrospective judgment of whether the war was right takes precedence in determining vote choice.(emphasis added).

In plain English, that means that, leaving aside the question of supporting the ongoing war effort, if people conclude the war was wrong and a bad idea to begin with, they want to vote against the party behind the war. What are people concluding right now? That the war was wrong and a bad idea. Therefore, according to their own public opinion guru, the idea that the Bush administration and the GOP can pull their political chestnuts out of the fire by insisting on the imminence of victory in Iraq is just plain wrong. The political corner has already been turned–and it’s been turned against Bush and his party. No amount of victory-happy rhetoric, now or in the future, is likely to reverse that dynamic.

December 5, 2005

Dems On Track to Win Majority of Governorships

by EDM Staff

There's no denying Dems face an uphill struggle in winning back majorities in the U.S. House and Senate. But it now appears quite likely that Dems will win a majority of governorships in November. Even Republicans are admitting as much, according to Dan Balz's and Chris Cillizza's WaPo article "Republican Crystal Ball: Rain on Governors' Parade":

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney assumed the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association last week, and immediately confronted a troublesome landscape for 2006. As Romney put it during a break at the RGA gathering at La Costa resort, "The math is not in our favor this time."

There will be 36 gubernatorial races next year, 22 in states held by Republicans and 14 by Democrats. Seven of the eight states where the incumbent isn't seeking reelection are held by the GOP -- and that could grow to eight if Romney decides to forgo a second-term bid in favor of running for president in 2008.

Romney and other GOP analysts see their party, which currently holds 28 of 50 governorships, losing from 3 to 6 governors next November. They may be optimistic, considering Dem landslides in Virginia and New Jersey gov races last month. Even better, Dem Gov candidates are running strong in larger states, including NY, FL, CA and OH.

Republicans at the La Costa meeting expressed optimism about winning the governorships of Michigan and Illinois from Dems. But Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm holds a "solid, double-digit lead" lead over GOP opponents in the latest Epic/MRI poll, according to Political State Report. Dem Governor Rod Blagojevich leads all GOP challengers in Illinois by at least 9 percent, according to Taegan Goddard's Political Wire.

All politics may be local, but GOP strategists are worried about the collateral effects of President Bush's tanking popularity. Mike Finnegan's L.A. Times article on the GOP meeting quotes GOP strategist Mike Murphy, who thinks voters may express their anger at Bush by voting against his Republican allies.

"You've got to have your own identity, and be really good, and really loud, or you could be a part of that," Murphy told the governors, adding: "Federally, it could be really bad."
Republicans are also concerned about the toxic fallout from GOP scandals spreading to gubernatorial races. Ironically, the GOP Gov's meeting was held in the congressional district of Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the Rancho Santa Fe Republican who resigned in disgrace after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes.

December 2, 2005

Stronger Unions Boost Dem Prospects

by Pete Ross

Despite internal struggles within the American labor movement and the decades-long decline in union membership, there are signs that unions may be poised for a new era of growth. Even in red states unions are making headway. For example, Anders Schneiderman, online campaign manager for the Service Employees International Union reports that 5,000 Houston janitors in the private sector "who clean more than 60 percent of Houston's office space," have signed up with the union in less than a year --- "one of the largest successful organizing efforts by private sector workers in Texas history." In addition, prospects for adding 20,000 more Texas workers to S.E.I.U. rolls in the coming months are bright

However, unions in general face a daunting challenge in projecting a better image nation-wide. A Harris Poll conducted 8/9-16, for example indicates that a hefty majority of U.S. adults entertain a negative overall view of "the job being done by labor unions." But when asked to focus on the question of whether unions deliver better wages and working conditions for their members, 75 percent of adults agree, a slight uptick over the 72 percent who agreed in a 1993 Harris poll. 50 percent of respondents also agreed that unions work for legislation that benefits all workers, compared with 42 percent in 1993 and 51 percent said unions give members their money's worth, compared to 42 percent in 1993. And 61 percent of union households believed union dues are a good investment, a double digit increase over the 50 percent who thought so in 1993.

These figures are encouraging, although they should be better. There's more unions can do to project a better overall image, such as launching national cable TV and radio networks. Or how about a Ken Burns-style major documentary on organized labor's contributions to improving worklife and living standards in America, or a public service ad campaign featuring celebrities with street cred, or free workshops to train biz page reporters to do a better job of covering labor issues?

A more vigorous union movement is good news for Dems. Organized workers are more likely to vote for, contribute money and volunteer to help Dem candidates. If other unions can match S.E.I.U.'s fighting spirit in the years ahead, it could transform the political landscape.

December 1, 2005

The Bush Administration: Liars Who Can’t Run the Economy

by Ruy Teixeira

The public has clearly concluded that something is very, very wrong with the way the Bush administration approaches the truth. In a recent Harris poll, by exactly 2:1 (64 to 32 percent), the public says the Bush administration “generally mislead[s] the public on current issues to achieve its own end”, rather than “provides accurate information regarding current issues”. And that’s 73-25–almost 3:1!--among political independents.

And the public’s really losing patience with how the economy is going nowhere fast. In the latest ARG poll, Bush gets a stunningly low 31 percent approval rating on handling the economy, with 62 percent disapproval. (Can Bush’s first sub-30 approval rating on the economy be far away?) And an amazing 61 percent believe the economy will be worse a year from now than it is today, compared to just 17 percent who think it will be better.

Liars who can’t run the economy. And Republicans wonder why they’re in such political trouble these days! Based on data like this, the only real wonder is why their trouble isn’t even worse