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January 27, 2006

Dems Mull Future in 'Get This Party Started'

MyDD is running a forum centered on the ideas in a new book of interest to EDM readers, Get This Party Started: How Progressives Can Fight Back and Win, an anthology edited by Matthew R. Kerbel and featuring essays by Anna Greenberg, E. J. Dionne, George Lakoff, Howard Dean, John Podesta, Amy Sullivan and EDM contributor Alan I. Abramowitz, among others. This week features MyDD's Chris Bowers on "Blogging for Political Change" and next Thursday, (Feb. 2) Abramowitz, the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University and author of Voice of the People: Elections and Voting in the United States, will discuss his essay "Explaining Bush's Victory in 2004 (It's Terrorism, Stupid)."

January 26, 2006

Party Identification Shifts Toward Democrats

by Ruy Teixeira

I’ve expressed a lot of skepticism in the past that short-run swings–sometimes quite large-- in party identification (ID) between polls are necessarily indicators of change in underlying public sentiment. As I, Alan Abramowitz and others have argued, there are good reasons to suspect sampling bias in some of these swings and a good case to be made for “dynamic party ID weighting” to smooth out these swings and give a more reasonable sense of underlying political change (see this article by Abramowitz for a clear statement of our position).

But changes in party ID measured by survey data aggregated over fairly lengthy time periods are a different matter. Here one can be fairly certain that the measured changes in party ID reflect meaningful changes in underlying political attitudes. In this spirt, one can peruse with interest a recent Gallup report on party ID shifts in 2005. The news bodes well for Democrats in 2006 and poorly for the incumbent GOP. Here are the basic findings:

1. In the Gallup data, the Democrats had a 4.5 point lead in party ID (including leaners) in 2005. That’s up from a 2.7 point lead in 2004 and .1 and .4 point deficits, respectively, in 2003 and 2002. So the trend lines pretty clear.

2. The report also breaks down the data by state, showing that the Democrats now lead in party ID in 29 states. That’s up from 22 states in 2004 and just 17 and 16, respectively, in 2003 and 2002.

3. The state also indicate that the Democrats now have a party ID lead in virtually every state that is generally put in the contested column in American politics: Oregon (15); New Hampshire (14); West Virginia (13); Nevada (12); Michigan (12); Maine (12); Washington (12); Arkansas (11); Minnesota (11); Missouri (8); New Mexico (8); Ohio (7); Iowa (6); Louisiana (6); Wisconsin (4); Pennsylvania (4); Colorado (3); and Florida (1).

As further food for thought, here are the same states, with Bush’s current approval rating in those states, as measured by the latest SurveyUSA polls: Oregon (38); New Hampshire (44); West Virginia (46); Nevada (39); Michigan (37); Maine (37); Washington (35); Arkansas (38); Minnesota (39); Missouri (41); New Mexico (42); Ohio (38); Iowa (43); Louisiana (48); Wisconsin (44); Pennsylvania (39); Colorado (43); and Florida (42). Hmmm.....

January 25, 2006

Values to the Left of Me, Values to the Right of Me, and Nary a Strategy in Sight

by Ruy Teixeira

Sometimes I think there are more values than voters out there. At least one might be forgiven this thought, given all the head-scratching about values taking place in progressive circles and the many, many nominees for the values progressives should be stressing–right now!–in their efforts to build a majority coalition.

I’ve always felt quite ambivalent about this values obsession. On the one hand, I can only applaud the general concept that values should be taken seriously as the prism through which voters view policies and politics. Just thinking about issues and how well different ones poll is certainly an inadequate way to formulate political strategy.

On the other, discussions about values tend to become awfully squishy awfully fast. Instead of the suspect assertion that simply talking about the right issue(s) will take progressives from Hell to hallelujah, values-talk tends toward the equally suspect assumption that simply talking about the right value(s)–linkage to actual, feasible politics unspecified--will lead progressives to the promised land. Well, I don’t believe that either and neither should you.

Let me illustrate my concerns by discussing one recent offering in this ongoing values discussion, Garance Franke-Ruta’s article, “Remapping the Culture Debate”, in the latest issue of The American Prospect. Franke-Ruta’s article starts by discussing the values work of Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, well-known in progressive circles for their essay, “The Death of Environmentalism”. Nordhaus and Shellenberger, now principals in American Environics, the American branch of the Canadian market research firm, Environics Research, have been pushing a values scheme based entirely on their analysis of an Environics in-home consumer survey that has been conducted since 1992.

Their presentations of their work to various progressive organizations and politicians have met with a generally favorable reception and Franke-Ruta’s views on their work are no exception. She portrays their analysis as pathbreaking empirical work that will (or at least should) completely recast the way progressives look at politics.

I am not so sure. Begin with the fact that their data are drawn from only one survey series–their own–and no attempt has been made so far to compare their findings to those from other series. This does not inspire confidence. Take, for example, two of the few actual data points that are mentioned in Franke-Ruta’s article:

Between 1992 and 2004, for example, the percentage of people who said they agree that “the father of the family must be the master in his own house” increased ten points, from 42 to 52 percent, in the 2,500-person Environics survey. The percentage agreeing that “men are naturally superior to women” increased from 30 percent to 40 percent.

Could be, but check out this finding from the premier American academic political science survey, the National Election Study (NES). The NES asked respondents to place themselves on a 7 point scale relative to the following statements: “Some people feel that women should have an equal role with men in running business, industry and government. Others feel that women's place is in the home.”, where 1 is the strongest support for the women’s equal role and 7 is the strongest support for women’s place being in the home. In 1992, 51 percent selected 1, the strongest support for women’s equal role; in 2004, 57 percent selected 1. So support for women’s equal role appears to be strengthening in the NES. Indeed, in the 2004 survey, a total of 78 percent of respondents picked 1, 2 or 3 on the 7 point scale, indicating they felt closer to the equal role statement that to the women’s place in the home statement.

But at the same time we’re supposed to believe that 40 percent now believe men are superior to women and that 52 percent believe the father should be the master of the house–increases of ten points in each case over the same period covered by the NES data? I guess we could reconcile the data from the two surveys by positing a trend toward believing women are equal but dumb and subservient. But pardon me if I’m a little skeptical–a skepticism that’s reinforced by trend data from the General Social Survey, the premier academic sociology survey, showing fewer, not more, people believing that women should take care of the home and leave running the country to men and fewer, not more, people believing that men are better suited for politics than women.

This illustrates the perils of relying on one survey for one’s data about Americans’ values–or anything else for that matter. Especially when that one survey is a consumer market research survey designed not for political research, but for very different purposes.

So why are observers like Franke-Ruta and others so captivated by the Nordhaus/Shellenberger analysis, when it relies on only one data source--a data source, moreover, whose superiority over other sources is simply an assertion lacking any supporting evidence? Several reasons:

1. The very fact that it is a consumer marketing survey actually adds to the survey’s cachet. We now realize values are important, the thinking runs, and who’s been paying attention to values all these years? Why corporations and market researchers, of course, so they (or their data) might already have the answers we’re so frantically looking.

2. Since the Environics survey tracks over a 100 different values, there’s a ton of value trends to look at and everyone can find at least one trend (or several) that confirms their suspicions, based on pop culture/reading/hunches/whatever, about where the country is really going. In effect, the Nordhaus/Shellenberger presentation of these data functions as a sort of Rorschach test for progressives interested in values, where people see in the data what they wanted to believe to begin with.

This is especially the case since they cluster- and factor-analyze their data to death, showing in various “maps” how all these values relate to underlying value dimensions (survival vs. fulfillment; authority vs. individuality) both overall and for a multiplicity of different values-defined “constituencies of opportunity” for progressives. The result is many complex grids–some of them for groups whose sample size cannot be more than 25 or so in their data–with dozens of multicolored values sprinkled in different patterns on each grid.

Well, if you can’t find something you agree with or find significant with this much to choose from, you’re just not looking hard enough! And my sense is people do just that, hence the recent popularity of their analysis

But the question must be asked: what, exactly, are we getting out of this analysis that we couldn’t get elsewhere? Here’s an example from Franke-Ruta’s article:

By focusing on “bridge values,” [Nordhaus and Shellenberger] say, progressives can reach out to constituents of opportunity who share certain fundamental beliefs, even if the targeted parties don’t necessarily share progressives’ every last goal.

In other words, when reaching out to swing voters, emphasize beliefs swing voters and your base have in common, rather than beliefs they don’t. Now, if one was going to choose to talk about values instead of, or in addition, to issues in one’s political work, I can’t imagine you’d take any other approach. So I’m not sure we need a zillion color-coded values maps to make that case.

But perhaps Franke-Ruta was entranced by the specific bridge values Nordhaus and Shellenberger advocate using? I can find no evidence of this in her article, comparing its content to either this public Nordhaus/Shellenberger document or what I generally know of their work. Indeed, the best insight of the article–which I really do recommend, despite her excessive enthusiasm for Nordhaus/Shellenberfer–is this, which bears little, if any, relation that I can see to their analysis:

The growing conflation of the economic and the cultural in the minds of voters has been a cause of great perplexity for thinkers who have long seen the two realms as distinct, and the cultural realm as the secondary concern of unserious men who don’t know where their self-interest lies. Thomas Frank, in his 2005 What’s the Matter with Kansas?, sketched a portrait of lower- and middle-income voters who, socially at odds with a liberal elite they accuse of moral dissipation, have forged an alliance with a conservative fiscal elite whose economic policies, paradoxically, do little to support their worldview or shore up families. Yet the broader social reality suggests that the focus of these middle-income voters on cultural traditionalism is not entirely separate from their economic aspirations. Social solidarity and even simple familial stability have become part of the package of private privileges available to the well-to-do. Behavioral surveys consistently show that, regardless of their political leanings, the better-off and better-educated live more traditional personal lives: They are more likely to marry, far less likely to divorce, less likely to have children outside of marriage, and more likely to remarry when they do divorce than their less accomplished peers. In addition, their kids are more likely to be academically successful and go to college, repeating the cycle.

The new Puritanism and cultural conservatism Frank described can also been seen as symptoms of how, in today’s society, traditional values have become aspirational. Lower-income individuals simply live in a much more disrupted society, with higher divorce rates, more single moms, more abortions, and more interpersonal and interfamily strife, than do the middle- and upper-middle class people they want to be like. It should come as no surprise that the politics of reaction is strongest where there is most to react to. People in states like Massachusetts, for example, which has very high per capita incomes and the lowest divorce rate in the country, are relatively unconcerned about gay marriage, while those in Southern states with much higher poverty, divorce, and single-parenthood rates feel the family to be threatened because family life is, in fact, much less stable in their communities. In such environments, where there are few paths to social solidarity and a great deal of social disruption, the church frequently steps into the breach, further exacerbating the fight.

American voters have taken shelter under the various wings of conservative traditionalism because there has been no one on the Democratic side in recent years to defend traditional, sensible middle-class values against the onslaught of the new nihilistic, macho, libertarian lawlessness unleashed by an economy that pits every man against his fellows. Yet in private conversations, progressives recognize that there is a need to do something about broad social changes that they, too, find objectionable....

I think this is remarkably astute and potentially points progressives in a very fruitful direction. And if it took the Nordhaus/Shellenberger Rorschach test to get her thinking along these lines, that is certainly a point in their favor. However, if we wish to be really guided by values research in formulating political strategy, we will have to go beyond the Rorschach test stage and engage critically with the widest possible range of data. If values are truly important–and I think they are–we just can’t afford any other approach.

January 24, 2006

Dems Should Learn from Their State Labs

My DD's Scott Shields has a post following up on Justin Blum's Sunday WaPo article about 'blue states" leading the charge in creative energy reforms. Yes, we know, it's hard enough to keep up with national politics, let alone what's going on in the individual states we don't call home. Yet, the point is well-taken that the states are laboratories for innovative policy, and if a new legislative reform meets with impressive success, it should be publicized and replicated.

Shields faults the WaPo piece for its narrow definition of "blue" states as those voting for John Kerry in '04. He argues that states with Dem Governors and/or legislative majorities ought to be included for a fuller picture, and serves up Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer's plan for coal liquefaction as exhibit "A".

Shields points out that blue states are also pioneering creative ethics reforms. No surprise there. How could it be otherwise? Yet it does merit a special reminder for Dems looking for fresh policy alternatives amid mounting GOP scandals. To this we could also add social reforms, such as the Maryland state legislature's recent measure, passed over the GOP governor's veto, to require Wal-Mart to spend a higher portion of the state's budget on health security for its workers.

The oft-repeated cliche that "the Democratic party is devoid of ideas" has been nicely refuted by Shields and Blum, and Dem candidates and campaign staffs should master their points. As Shields concludes:

Not only do the national Democrats have a small mountain of policy proposals sitting on the shelf, waiting for Democratic majorities in Congress to pass it, but Democrats in the states are actually getting things done. If anyone wants to know what Democratic control in Washington would look like, look to the states.

This challenge takes on heightened importance, considering that Dem prospects for winning a majority of state governorships in November are exceptionally bright. (See our December 5 th post) Dems may well be on the cusp of an historic opportunity to reverse years of GOP gerrymandering and turn the states into shining demonstration projects that can shape national policy.

January 23, 2006

Polls: Dems Poised for Modest Gains in '06

Nine months out, Democrats are in position to win modest gains in the U.S. Senate, but could do better in races for seats in the U.S House of Representatives, according to recent opinion polls. If the Senate elections were held today, Dems would have a net pick up of one seat, five short of the number needed to win a majority in the Senate, according to a Wall Street Journal/Zogby Interactive poll of 17 "battleground states" released January 19th. Zogby concludes of Dems' Senate chances:

They could knock off Ohio Republican Mike DeWine, a two-term incumbent moderate who has angered his home-state base by going against President Bush on judicial nominees, and Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum, a staunch conservative who is running a tough race for re-election this year against the son of a very well-known Democratic icon. Familial politics works in the favor of the GOP in New Jersey, however, as Republican Tom Kean, Jr. the son of a popular governor there, polls well against his Democratic opponents, including Bob Menendez, who was recently appointed to fill the senate seat vacated by Jon Corzine, who resigned after winning the race for governor in November.

Democrats are leading in the Senate races in Minnesota and Maryland, while Republicans appear ready to hold onto their seat in Tennessee.

However, Asked which party's candidates they prefereered for U.S. Senate races, respondents in a poll of LV's by Democracy Corps conducted 1/4-8, favored Dems by a 14 point margin.

Zogby didn't address races in the House of Reps. But the DCorps poll suggests that Dems could win the 15 seats needed to gain a majority in the House. Asked which party they would vote for in their congressional district, respondents favored Democrats by a margin of 50-40 percent. Other polls taken in January by Harris, Hotline, Gallup and AP show leads for Dems of 9, 7, 7 and 13 percent respectively.

January 20, 2006

Dems Should Project Clarity, Unity On Government Spying

by Pete Ross

Dem candidates up for election in November already have plenty of knotty issues to chew on. Not to add to that burden, but a new Salon.com post "Fear of Spying" by Walter Shapiro merits their attention. Subtitled "Democratic strategists say opposing Bush on NSA spying makes the party look weak. Of course, that's what they said about Iraq," Shapiro's article makes the case that the party is not well served by indulging its ostrich reflex on this issue.

He quotes a Democratic party official, who noted ""The whole thing plays to the Republican caricature of Democrats -- that we're weak on defense and weak on security." He notes the trepidations of unnamed democratic strategists, "obsessed with similar fears that left-wing overreaction to the wiretapping issue would allow George W. Bush and the congressional Republicans to wiggle off the hook on other vulnerabilities."

Shapiro cites a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press indicating that the public is evenly divided on the issue, with 48 percent agreeing that it was "generally right" to monitor those suspected of terrorist ties "without court permission," and 47 percent saying it was "generally wrong."

Osama bin Laden's recent threat of terrorist violence in the U.S. won't help leaders voicing concerns about government surveillance much. Yet, in his MLK Day speech, broadcast on C-SPAN, Al Gore made a strong impression as a champion of civil liberties, opposing unbridled government spying on Americans as a serious threat to freedom. Shapiro notes further,

the Democrats' positioning on the eavesdropping issue invites comparisons to their fetal crouch in the run-up to the Iraqi War. A majority of Senate Democrats voted for Bush's go-to-war resolution -- including John Kerry, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton -- at least partly because the pollsters insisted that it was the only politically safe position, a ludicrous and self-destructive notion in hindsight.

The article quotes Clinton and Gore advisor Elaine Kamarck's observation that by ignoring the issue, Dems will

leave the critique open to the far left. And that will exacerbate two problems the Democrats have: one, that they look too far out of the mainstream, and the other, that they don't believe in anything...a political party that is always the namby-pamby 'me too' party is a party that isn't going to get anyplace.

Hearings on illegal eavesdropping are scheduled to begin Feb. 6 in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Shapiro worries that Dem supporters may be seduced by "the frail hope that the Republicans will self-destruct" and won't get that "politics sooner or later becomes a test of character and not merely a paint-by-numbers exercise in low-risk electioneering."

The hunch here is that Kamarck and Shapiro may be right, and Dem candidates and strategists should get a copy of Gore's speech (available here), which did a good job of addressing mainstream concerns about government spying. Dems can differ about how much the issue should be emphasized with various constituencies, but a clear, unified position can only help.

January 19, 2006

Growing Democratic Issue Advantage

by Ruy Teixeira

Last week, I noted how an intense anti-incumbent mood seems to be brewing, unlike anything we’ve seen since 1994. This week, I draw your attention to some very interesting data released by the Pew Research Center which suggest that the Democrats are gaining an issue advantage of unusual magnitude that might feed that anti-incumbent mood.

In the Pew survey, they first asked respondents what they thought the most important national problem was, followed by a query about which party could best handle that problem. The result was a 41-27 advantage for the Democrats on handling the most important national problem. That 14 point gap is the largest measured by either Pew or Gallup since this question was first asked in 1987. By way of comparison, the GOP had an 11 point advantage on this measure in March, 2002 and a 3 point advantage in July, 1994.

These data can be broken down by the type of national problem cited by respondents. Democrats had strong advantages in every area but one (security/terrorism): the economy (+21); social/domestic (+22); Iraq (+19); and foreign policy (+30). This compares to last January, when Republicans were actually favored overall and on social/domestic issues (by a point) and Democrats only led by 5 points on Iraq and 17 points on foreign policy. Even on security/terrorism, while the GOP still leads by 18 points today, that’s down from an overwhelming 39 point margin at the beginning of last year.

More evidence that we are headed for a very interesting election that could see some big changes.

January 18, 2006

Will the Real White Working Class Please Stand Up (Again)?

by Ruy Teixeira

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. David Gopoian and Ralph Whitehead, in turn, published a short critique of Bartel's analysis questioning his definition of the white working class and the political conclusions he drew from his analysis.

Since then, Frank himself has replied to Bartels at length, Bartels has replied to Gopoian and Whitehead and Gopoian and Whitehead have replied to Bartels’ reply. Now Matt Yglesias has helpfully summarized this controversy in an article in the latest American Prospect.

This is a very complicated and important debate and I don’t intend to rehearse its many aspects here. (For those who are gluttons for punishment, I am currently writing a paper with Alan Abramowitz that will go into the entire controversy in detail.) But I did want to comment a bit on some basic definitional issues that are raised by Yglesias’ article. Yglesias fairly points out some of the problems with the education-based definition of the white working class (those lacking a four year college degree) used by myself and others. He seems particularly perturbed that this definition makes the white working class pretty large and that many of its members have OK incomes, rather than being poor.

I don’t see either of these things as being real liabilities. Looked at politically, the Democrats’ problems with white voters are also pretty large and have never been concentrated among the poorest whites. So the education-based definition matches up pretty well. For that matter, so would an occupation-based definition. Given adequate data (most political surveys, including the exit polls, don’t have enough detail), if you looked at whites with non-professional, non-managerial occupations, that too would produce a pretty large group (similar in size to the non-college-educated group), many of whom would have OK incomes.

I don’t see why we should worry about this. After all, it was one of the great achievements of postwar US capitalism that it became possible to have a middle class life with a working class job and/or credentials. Why define down the white working class to be the white poor? Especially when it produces anomalies that, in my view, far outweigh those you get with an education or occupation based definition. They include at least the following:

1. Bartels defines the white working class as those whites who fall in the bottom third of the income distribution. Note that this is in the bottom third of the overall income distribution, so we are not talking about the bottom third of white voters, but rather a substantially smaller group. According to Bartels’ own data, over the 1984-2004 time period, whites in the lower third of the income distribution amounted to about 23 percent of white voters.

2. As Gopoian and Whitehead point out, most of the white working class (almost two-thirds), under the Bartels’ definition, isn’t working (perhaps we should call the “white non-working class”?). There is some dispute about the exact magnitude of the non-working figure, but, no matter whose figures you use, actual workers are a minority (in contrast to the middle and upper thirds of the income distribution for whites, who Bartels tosses out of the working class, where around three-quarters are actually working).

3. Most damaging of all, in my view, defining the white working class as, in essence, the white poor throws out of the white working class the very kind of workers who traditionally are most associated with that group. Using Bartels’ definition, for example–while one must make inferences from inadequate historical data–it appears highly unlikely that the typical autoworker, steelworker, construction worker, mechanic, etc. back in the late ‘40s and ‘50s could have qualified for Bartels’ white working class. They just weren’t poor enough.

And today? Not too different. Consider these data from the Economic Policy Institute–the average unionized blue collar job in the US in 2003 paid $22.74 an hour (presumably the average wage of whites in these jobs was somewhat higher). That’s way too high to qualify for the Bartels white working class–and that’s leaving out any possible income from a spouse.

To me, this just doesn’t make any sense. So let’s think of the white poor as, well, the white poor and not confuse them with the white working class, a genuine and vexing political problem for the Democrats. I’ll close with these hair-raising data from the 2004 exit poll:

Among non-college-educated whites with $30,000–$50,000 in household income, Bush beat Kerry by twenty-four points (62 percent to 38 percent); among college-educated whites at the same income level, Kerry actually managed a 49 percent to 49 percent tie. And among non-college-educated whites with $50,000–$75,000 in household income, Bush beat Kerry by a shocking forty-one points (70 percent to 29 percent), while leading by only five points (52 percent to 47 percent) among college-educated whites at the same income level.

In other words, the more these non-poor voters looked like members of the white working class (by my definition), the less likely they were to vote for Kerry in the 2004 election. That’s a problem—a big problem—that no defining down of the white working class is going to take away.

January 17, 2006

How Should Dems Frame GOP Scandals?

by EDM Staff

Writing in The American Prospect Online Edition, Greg Sargeant has an interesting discusssion about how Dems should frame their critique of GOP corruption. In his article, "Democratic Alchemy," Sargent outlines the current strategy:

The short-term strategy appears to be twofold: Argue in unison that the GOP is the party of corruption, while aggressively countering GOP efforts to cast the scandal as bipartisan by hammering away at Abramoff’s exclusively Republican donations and spotlighting the GOP-built K Street Project machine.

Seems like a workable strategy in the short run. But Sargent sees a larger opportunity here, which Dems must seize to convert popular disgust into votes for Dem candidates, long-term:

A few polls suggest this early strategy is yielding short-term results. But it nonetheless begs a big question: Can Dems really expect this argument to translate into the lasting gains they’re hoping for? Or should they be trying to formulate a strategy that goes beyond merely tarring the GOP as the corrupt party and looks for ways of weaving the mushrooming scandal into larger arguments about the Republican Party’s most conspicuous domestic failings?

Sargent quotes Karl Agne, a senior advisor at Democracy Corps on how Dems can synergize concerns about corruption with discontent about health care and energy policy:

Dems have got to make this a change election, and two of the issues where the public is desperately looking for new ideas is on energy and health care...Pointing to the lobbying scandals becomes more potent if it's put in a larger context of Republican fealty to special interests in energy and health care, which makes it impossible for the GOP to bring about real reform on their most pressing problems

The GOP scandals also offer a clear opportunity to remind working class voters that the Republican Party is wholly dedicated to priviledge for elites --- "a larger argument about class in America" in contrast to "Clintonian incrementalism" focusing on small issues. As Sargent explains,

Such an argument might go beyond tying today’s corruption to the GOP’s favoritism towards health care and energy interests, and describe the scandals more broadly as being part of a larger corrupt alliance between the GOP and wealthy individuals and big corporations across the board.

Other Dem strategists warn that such a class-based approach may be rigged for failure. Sargent quotes Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution:

If Democrats pointed to the scandals as a consequence of the GOP’s efforts to align itself with big business, the corruption argument might connect up with ordinary people more. But as Dems have developed constituencies among professionals, a fair number of them high-income, they’re less and less comfortable with anti-business broadsides. Plus, Clinton’s policy successes are still seen as embodying the kind of economic responsibility and moderation that enable Dems to win. So they might be better off tying Republican corruption and incompetence to their alliance with specific sectors – energy and health -- where individuals feel burned, rather than to a larger anti-business argument.

An important debate --- and how it is resolved in the months ahead could determine the outcome of the congressional elections in November.

January 14, 2006

Maybe People Don’t Think the Economy Is So Great Because It Isn’t So Great

by Ruy Teixeira

Last week, I pointed out that, while views of the economy had improved somewhat toward the end of last year, that didn’t mean the public now thought the economy was in good shape. They merely thought it was less bad than before.

And this week we have a new poll from Ipsos-AP that indicates views of the economy may be declining once again. From the Ipsos report on the poll:

Despite strong job numbers for December, Americans’ confidence in the economic state of the country declined in January, according to the most recent results of the RBC CASH (Consumer Attitudes and Spending by Household) Index. This was primarily due to low expectations in economic performance over the next six months and increasing fears about job security.

This stubborn failure of the public to get happy about fairly solid GDP and job growth has occasioned much head-scratching among the commentariat and, of course, among GOP operatives who smell a press plot to discredit Bush’s alleged economic achievements.

But there is a much, much simpler explanation for the available data: people don’t think the economy is so great because it isn’t so great. The indispensable Economic Policy Institute has produced a crisp one-page summary supporting this viewpoint. Here are some choice excerpts:

Profits are up, but the wages and the incomes of average Americans are down.

--Inflation-adjusted hourly and weekly wages are still below where they were at the start of the recovery in November 2001. Yet, productivity—the growth of the economic pie—is up by 13.5%....

--Consequently, median household income (inflation-adjusted) has fallen five years in a row and was 4% lower in 2004 than in 1999, falling from $46,129 to $44,389.

More and more people are deeper and deeper in debt.

--The indebtedness of U.S. households, after adjusting for inflation, has risen 35.7% over the last four years.

--The level of debt as a percent of after-tax income is the highest ever measured in our history. Mortgage and consumer debt is now 115% of after-tax income, twice the level of 30 years ago....

--The personal savings rate is negative for the first time since WWII....

Rising health care costs are eroding families' already declining income.

--Households are spending more on health care. Family health costs rose 43-45% for married couples with children, single mothers, and young singles from 2000 to 2003.

--Employers are cutting back on health insurance. Last year, the percent of people with employer-provided health insurance fell for the fourth year in a row. Nearly 3.7 million fewer people had employer-provided insurance in 2004 than in 2000. Taking population growth into account, 11 million more people would have had employer-provided health insurance in 2004 if the coverage rate had remained at the 2000 level.

There you have it. The public’s not so crazy after all. Commentators and GOP operatives take note.

January 13, 2006

Public Opinion on Raising the Minimum Wage

by Ruy Teixeira

Public opinion on many policy issues can be very complicated; there are nuances to the nuances, so to speak. Raising the minimum wage, however, is not one of those issues. Public support for raising the minimum wage has been, is, and likely will continue to be very, very high. People just think it’s the right thing to do and decades of attempts by conservatives to convince the public otherwise have been an abject failure.

Consider these recently-released Gallup results. The last time Gallup asked a question about whether Congress should raise the minimum wage, in November of last year, a supermajority of 83 percent said they supported such a move, compared to a minuscule 14 percent who said they opposed it. The same Gallup report notes that, for the last two decades, public support for raising the minimum wage has consistently exceeded 75 percent.

Moreover, support for raising the minimum wage is remarkably high across partisan affiliations. In the November poll mentioned above, not only did 93 percent of Democrats favor a boost in the minimum wage, so did 80 percent of independents and even 73 percent of Republicans.

The public’s view couldn’t be clearer. Now it’s up to Congress.

January 12, 2006

Hispanics Bailing Out on GOP

by Ruy Teixeira

The last poll of Hispanics I reviewed, in late June of last year, indicated that Hispanics were moving away from the GOP rapidly, after Republicans’ relatively good performance with this group in the 2004 election. That DCorps poll is now fairly old, so a new survey of Hispanics is certainly in order to assess whether this move away from the GOP is continuing.

The Latino Coalition, a conservative group close to the GOP, has now provided just that: a new nationwide poll of Hispanics which, as it happens, confirms the trend away from the GOP shown in the June poll. Indeed, this poll shows the GOP in even worse shape among Hispanic voters than was suggested by that earlier poll. And, given who conducted it, you certainly couldn’t accuse this new poll of Democratic bias. Indeed, Latino Coalition Hispanic polls in the past have typically produced results substantially more favorable to the GOP than contemporaneous results of DCorps and other national polls of Hispanics. So it’s a real eye-opener to get these very, very unfavorable results from this particular organization at this point in time.

Let’s start with the generic Congressional contest. This poll finds Democrats with a stunning 61-21 lead over the GOP among Hispanic registered voters, which translates into a 50 point lead (75-25) among those who express a preference. The analogous figure among those who expressed a preference in the June DCorps poll was “only” 36 points. By way of comparison to the last two off-year elections, 2002 and 1998, Democrats carried the Congressional vote by 24 and 26 points, respectively.

The new poll also finds Democrats with a 35 point lead (58-23) in party identification among voters. Also among voters, Democrats have huge leads over Republicans as the party better able to handle a wide variety of issues: being in touch with the Hispanic community (+41); providing affordable health care (+40); improving the economy (+31 points); improving education (+30); and representing your views on immigration (+29). The one exception to this pattern is on “keeping America safe and fighting terrorism”, where the parties are dead-even (and even here, the report notes, this tie is a sharp decline from Bush’s 14 point lead over Kerry on this issue before the 2004 election).

All this means there’s very little keeping Hispanics tied to the GOP. And a great deal that’s pushing them away. The result could be a very substantial swing back toward the Democrats in 2006.

January 11, 2006

Forecast for Incumbents: Bad to Very Bad

by Ruy Teixeira

There are lots of good reasons why the incumbent party–the GOP–may succeed in retaining control of Congress this year, despite the unfavorable political climate. These reasons are well-summarized by Charlie Cook in his January 6 National Overview of the political situation on his website. Cook provides all the details about open seats, incumbent strength and numbers of seats currently deemed competitive. The math these details imply is indeed helpful to the Republicans and I will not rehearse it here.

What it means, though, is that the GOP is unlikely to get dislodged unless an intense anti-incumbent mood moves a significant number of races from the noncompetitive to competitive category. Could that happen? Possibly. Because one thing that does seem to be developing is just such an intense anti-incumbent mood unlike anything seen in American politics since–you guessed it–1994.

As the USA today story on the latest Gallup poll observes:

Views of whether most members of Congress and the respondents' own representatives deserve re-election have sunk to levels not seen since 1994, when Democrats lost control of both houses....

Attitudes toward the Republican congressional leadership have soured. By 50%-40%, those surveyed say the policies proposed by Republican leaders in Congress would move the country in the wrong direction. That's by far the worst showing since the GOP took control more than a decade ago....

For the first time since 1994, a plurality of Americans say most members of Congress don't deserve re-election. The 42% who say most members do deserve re-election is the same as in the first USA TODAY survey of 1994.

Typically, voters feel more favorably about their own representatives than they do most members of Congress. That's still true — 60% say their representative deserve re-election — but that figure is the lowest since 1994, and almost the same as in the first poll taken that tumultuous year.

A recent Hotline analysis underscored the danger level for incumbents by looking at another set of indicators: Congressional and presidential approval. Going back to 1990, they found a strong relationship between levels of approval, especially Congressional, in January/February of the election year and Congressional results for the incumbent party in that November’s election. Again, only 1994 (31 percent approval/61 percent disapproval) has Congressional approval numbers as low as we are now seeing (31/58)–indeed none of the other years are even close. But there is one way in which this year does look different from 1994–only it’s worse for the incumbent party. In early 1994, Clinton’s approval rating was averaging about 54 percent–today Bush is averaging only around 42 percent.

So, if an anti-incumbent mood is what’s needed for big change, we’ve got it. And with the Abramoff scandal just taking off, it is likely that anti-incumbent mood will only strengthen in the coming months

January 10, 2006

New Poll Confirms Confusion About Alito's Views

by EDM Staff

A new Washington Post/ABC News Poll conducted 1/5-8 and released shortly after our post below affirms the conclusion that support of the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito is largely based on misunderstanding of his views and record. While 53 percent of respondents supported confirmation of Alito's nomination, with 27 percent opposed, 38 percent of those polled said they believed he would leave Roe v. Wade "as it is." Further, 68 percent of those supporting his confirmation said they believed he would "keep abortion law as it is."

Here's a clue for those who think Alito will uphold Roe v. Wade. Alito wrote in his application for a job in the Reagan Administration Justice Department:

"[I]t has been an honor and source of personal satisfaction for me to serve in the office of the Solicitor General during President Reagan’s administration and to help advance legal positions in which I personally believe very strongly. I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued in the Supreme Court . . . that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion."

So far, Alito has not been candid and forthcoming about his views on abortion rights and other issues. In the WaPo/ABC News Poll, 60 percent said they planned to follow the hearings. This will be the Dems' best shot at holding Alito accountable for his views and record.

January 9, 2006

Polls Show Many Not Up to Speed on Alito

by Pete Ross

As the Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings on the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court, public opinion polls indicate that Dems opposed to Alito have an uphill struggle. According to the most recent Harris Poll, conducted 12/8-14:

Almost equal thirds of all adults believe Judge Alito should be confirmed (34%), should not be confirmed (31%) or are not sure (34%). However, a majority of Republicans (65% vs. 9%) favor his confirmation, while a plurality of Democrats (48% vs. 14%) oppose it. Independents are split (34% for confirmation; 38% against).

The Harris poll reveals that the most formidable hurdle to defeating the Alito nomination may be ignorance about his views:

Opposition to the confirmation of Judge Alito would probably grow substantially if most people believed he would vote to make abortion illegal. A 69 to 31 percent majority of the public say they would oppose his confirmation if they thought he would vote to make abortion illegal. Majorities of Democrats (86%) and Independents (74%) feel this way. However, a majority of Republicans (56% vs. 44%) would support his confirmation if they believed he would vote to make abortion illegal.

The potential impact of abortion on Republican attitudes toward Judge Alito is particularly interesting. The 56 percent majority of Republicans who would support his confirmation if they believed he would vote to make abortion illegal is less than the 65 percent who now support his confirmation.

Other polls taken during the same period show stronger support for the Alito nomination. In an ABC News/Washington Post Poll conducted 12/15-18, 54 percent of respondents supported confirmation of Alito, with 28 percent opposed. But 61 percent said, if Alito is confirmed, they want him to uphold Roe v. Wade --- which is highly unlikely, given his stated views on abortion rights.

When a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll conducted 12/13-14 asked respondents "If you were voting on Samuel Alito's nomination, would you vote to confirm him or not?", 35 percent said they would vote for him and 27 percent said they would not. And a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted 12/9-11 found 49 percent in favor of Alito's confirmation, with 29 percent not in favor.

There are other compelling reasons, aside from abortion rights, for Dems to strongly oppose the Alito nomination, including his dismal record and archaic views on environmental protection, worker rights and individual liberties. Given the current ideological balance on the court, this is clearly the most important nomination in many years.

There is no guarantee that a better informed public would automatically translate into a Senate majority against his confirmation. But if Dems launch a strong public education campaign, backed up by an energetic "call your senator" effort, polls suggest Alito can be stopped.

January 6, 2006

Americans Feeling Better (But Not Good) about the Economy

by Ruy Teixeira

There’s no doubt Americans are feeling better about the economy these days, probably driven as much by recently falling gas prices as anything else. But “better” doesn’t mean “good”. Consider these data from recent Gallup polls:

1. While 39 percent now term economic conditions excellent or good–the most since May of 2005–61 percent still term conditions only fair or poor.

2. Similarly, 37 percent now say economic conditions are getting better which is, again, the most positive reading since May. But that’s 19 points below the 56 percent who still think conditions are getting worse.

3. Two-fifths now say it’s a good time to find a quality job–this time, the best showing since June of last year. But 56 percent still say it’s a bad time to find such a job.

Also note the comparison to the last part of the Clinton years–when the economy was doing much, much better than it is today or has at any time in the Bush years. In the 1998-2000 period, 60-74 percent of the public routinely termed economic conditions excellent or good and 50-69 percent typically reported that conditions were getting better, running 12-46 points ahead of those saying conditions were getting worse.

My, how times have changed. And not for the better

January 4, 2006

Whither the Center in 2006?

by Ruy Teixeira

A lot happened in 2005 to shift the political landscape against Bush and the GOP, a fact that has been partially obscured by a modest rise in Bush’s poll ratings right at the end of the year (for an excellent analysis of the magnitude of this bump, see this post by political scientist Charles Franklin on his website, Political Arithmetik).

CBS News has nicely summarized much of the evidence for this shift in a year-end polling review on their website. Here are some relevant excerpts:

President Bush experienced a loss of public confidence on many key fronts in 2005, according to an analysis of the polling conducted by CBS News throughout the year. He began the year (and his second term in office) with lower job approval ratings than other modern two-term presidents did, and his approval rating continued to drop during the year.

Several policy issues no doubt contributed to this drop. The war in Iraq was volunteered by Americans who disapproved of Bush as the main reason they did so. But there was also the attempted Social Security overhaul and the Bush Administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina -- areas in which the public expressed doubts about the President’s leadership and proposals.

Bush’s 49% approval rating in January 2005 was lower than Nixon’s 51% in January 1973, and much lower than Clinton’s 60%, Reagan’s 62%, and Eisenhower’s 74% at that point in their presidencies.

But that 49% approval rating was the highest rating the President received in all of 2005. By April, a majority of the public disapproved of the job he was doing. Bush finished the year with a 40% approval rating in December, an improvement from his low point in late October, when only 35% approved.

The President also began the year with mediocre ratings on handling foreign policy, the economy, and the situation in Iraq. He received his most positive evaluation on handling the war on terrorism, which had historically been his strongest area.

In January, just two in five Americans approved of President Bush’s handling of foreign policy, the economy and Iraq. And like his overall approval rating, those numbers continued to drop as the year progressed. By December, 36% approved of his handling of foreign policy and the war in Iraq, and 38% approved of his handling of the economy. Not even half approved of his handling of the war on terrorism -- down from 56% at the start of the year......

By December, 28% wanted all troops out of Iraq immediately, and another three in 10 wanted troop levels decreased. 58% said they wanted a time-table for troop withdrawal -- something the President said he would not do.

Polls conducted late in the year showed that most Americans felt the President did not have a clear plan for victory in Iraq or for getting troops out, and most were uneasy about his handling of the war.

A September CBS News Poll showed that President Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina met with disapproval -- only 38% approved, while 58% disapproved.

Many felt that the President had acted too slowly in responding to the disaster that followed the storm.

There was more fallout for the President as a result of the disaster. In that September poll, just 48% of Americans thought the President had strong qualities of leadership – the lowest number ever for the President in this poll. (In the weeks after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, 83% of Americans said the President had strong qualities of leadership.) Later in September, 53% thought the President was a strong leader.

Moreover, just 32% expressed “a lot” of confidence in the President’s ability to handle a crisis. This was a sharp change from four years ago when, in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, 66% expressed “a lot” of confidence in Bush’s ability to handle a crisis.

Many Americans were skeptical that the Social Security system was in the “crisis” the Administration claimed, and 56% felt Americans were being told it was in a crisis so political leaders could make the changes they wanted to the program.

There was little enthusiasm for the President’s proposal to change the current system. Skepticism about the Bush plan remained even while many Americans (especially those under 30) doubted whether the Social Security system would provide them with retirement benefits.

Throughout the year, the public was divided as to whether allowing personal investment accounts was a good idea -- but 70% were against such accounts if it meant their benefits would be cut.

Americans’ unease with the President’s plan to add individual investment accounts to Social Security continued during the early part of the year. By July, the President was receiving mostly negative assessments of his handling of the issue.

I realize this is a lengthy quote, but the whole piece is dead-on and I could easily have quoted more. I urge you to read the entire article.

So that’s our context as we move into 2006. Will this shift in the political landscape against the GOP result in a serious upheaval in this year’s congressional elections? E.J. Dionne captures the way this might happen in his January 3 column, where he points out that “[C]onservatives can't win elections on their own. They need moderate votes, and significant support outside the old Confederacy. Bush's carefully cultivated image as a strong, trustworthy leader in the war on terrorism brought around enough middle-of-the road voters to create the Republican monolith that is now our national government.” And, Dionne goes on to say, that alliance with the political center has been blown up by Terri Schiavo, Social Security and, especially, the war on Iraq which has “struck at the heart of Bush’s appeal to the center”.

Exactly. It’s all about the center and if Bush and the GOP can’t improve their performance there, there will indeed be a real upheaval this November. Think for a moment about how badly the GOP has been faring among independents in recent polls. The most gaudy reading was in the November Newsweek poll, where Democrats led by 26 points among independents in the generic congressional contest. But December readings haven’t been much better for the GOP among these centrist voters.

In an early December CBS News poll, Democrats led among independents by 14 points among independents. In a DLC poll conducted around the same time, Democrats led among independents by 20 points. And in the NPR poll conducted in mid-December, Democrats led by 17 points among this group.

Now check out Democrat leads among independents in actual congressional (off-year) elections, as captured by exit polls. As far back as I can get data (1982), the Democrats have never had a lead among independents larger than 4 points, a level they managed to achieve in both 1986 and 1990. Indeed, since 1990, they’ve lost independents in every congressional election: by 14 points in 1994; by 4 points in 1998; and by 2 points in 2002. So, even leaving questions of relative partisan turnout aside (and I suspect the Democrats will do better, not worse, in this respect in 2006), the implications of a strong Democratic lead among independents in this year’s election are huge. It could be a whole new political ballgame.....and maybe a whole new Congress. Stay tuned.