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February 27, 2006

Latest SurveyUSA Poll Shows Dem Gains Likely in Senate Races

By Alan Abramowitz

Even though only 15 Republican Senate seats are up in 2006 compared with 18 Democratic seats, the latest Surveyusa approval ratings of all 100 U.S. senators provide reason for optimism for Democrats. Six GOP incumbents whose seats are up this year received approval ratings below 50% including Conrad Burns of Montana (42%), Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania (43%), Mike DeWine of Ohio (43%), John Kyl of Arizona (47%), Jim Talent of Missouri (48%), and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (49%). All except Kyl appear likely to face serious, well-funded Democratic challengers in the fall. Recent polls show Santorum and Talent trailing their likely Democratic challengers and Burns, DeWine, and Chafee locked in close contests. In contrast, only two Democratic incumbents whose seats are up this year received approval ratings below 50%. Bill Nelson's approval rating was 49% in the latest poll of Florida voters, but his disapproval rating was a relatively low 34% and he has consistently led his likely GOP challenger, former FL Secretary of State Katherine Harris, by a comfortable margin in recent polls. Debbie Stabenow's approval rating was also 49% but her disapproval rating was only 39% and she, too, has been leading her potential Republican challengers by wide margins in recent polls. Democrats need to gain six seats to take control of the Senate. With at least five vulnerable GOP incumbents and a promising open seat contest in Tennessee where Republican majority leader Bill Frist is retiring, a pickup of six seats is not out of the question. At a minimum, Democrats are likely to gain several seats in the upper chamber and be well positioned to regain control in 2008 when a larger group of Republican seats will be up.

Dems May Pick Up 6 Governorships

Democratic candidates are firming up their chances to win a majority of governorships in November, reports Dan Balz in the Washington Post. Balz quotes Democratic Governors Association Chairman and Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson:

...we could go from 22 Democratic governors to 27 or 28 after the '06 elections...The real reform and the real action in the Democratic Party is with governorships. It's a good omen for strengthening the Democratic Party for '08

Balz also provides a short, but informative survey of the politics of the Governors' races 8 months out, and offers this interesting observation:

The gubernatorial landscape tramples conventional notions of an America rigidly divided into red and blue. In the 19 Bush-won states with contests, Democrats hold seven of the governorships. In the 17 states won by Sen. John F. Kerry (D) with gubernatorial elections this year, Republicans hold 10 of the governorships.

Some of the most popular and politically secure Democratic governors facing reelection this year preside over states won by Bush in 2004. They include Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry and Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal. The same is true for many Republican governors in states won by Kerry, among them Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle and Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas.

SurveyUSA reports a slight edge for Dems in current approval ratings for the 50 governors --- an average 54 percent for the 22 Democratic governors, compared to 52 percent for the 28 Republican governors.

With 36 governorships at stake, the November election may have a pivotal impact on the '08 presidential races by giving the Dems "tangible organizational advantages," explains Balz. Governors have leverage in the redistricting process, as well as staff support and publicity resources unavailable to other candidates. As Robert Tanner observes in his recent Associated Press article on upcoming Governor's races:

...there's no question that governors have an impact on national politics. Four of the last five presidents had previous experience running a state, and governors can help presidential campaigns by marshaling big organizations and getting out the vote.

February 26, 2006

Katrina Evacuees May Tip Some Races

by EDM Staff

Apropos of the post below, Dems need to insure that as many Katrina evacuees as possible are registered to vote in time for the November elections. No doubt some evacuees are reluctant to register in new states where they now live for a number of reasons, such as uncertainty about their residence in the near future. But there are a significant number of votes at stake here. For example, FEMA estimates that there are 34,575 evacuee households now residing in Georgia -- and growing quite rapidly. It's not hard to envision 50,000 or so potentially eligible voters associated with these households, a significant number for any state. Nor is it too much of a stretch assume that many, if not most of them are angry about the Administration's weak leadership on their behalf.

No doubt there will be GOP shenanigans aplenty in the months ahead to prevent these potential voters from getting registered, and the states have a range of different residency and registration requirements (see this link for a state by state comparison). Hopefully, Democratic party leaders in affected southern states are already planning strategies to get as many of these potential voters as possible registered. Not a few important races, including the governorship of Georgia, could depend on it.

February 24, 2006

Katrina Recovery: Dems' Wedge for Southern Votes

by Pete Ross

If we Dems ever want to see southern states colored blue on morning after election maps, the time to raise some serious hell about the botched Katrina "recovery" is now.

Consider the new Associated Press poll conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs 2/13-16 (toplines here) on Katrina recovery: For openers, Americans would prefer that Katrina recovery be "a higher priority for government spending" than the war in Iraq by a margin of 64 to 31 percent. Asked "How confident are you that the money appropriated for recovery from Katrina is being spent wisely," 37 percent responded "not too confident" and another 29 percent chose "not confident at all."

Talk about national security, only 15 percent of respondents said they were "very confident" about the government's ability to handle major disasters in the future, with 28 percent "not too confident" and 24 percent "not at all confident." And talk about 'Portgate' as a national security issue, consider that the Port of South Louisiana (New Orleans) handles more tonnage than New York City -- only 3 ports in the world handle more.

A reporter friend, himself a lifelong southerner, who recently visited the Gulf rim, was stunned by the number of "destitute people" he saw who were still struggling to survive along the highways of southern Mississippi and Louisiana. The people who live on the Gulf Coast and those who have evacuated are pissed in a huge way, and they will most assuredly take their discontent to the polls, wherever they are, on election day. What we don't want is them -- and other southerners -- saying they have not been impressed with the Democrats' response to the Administration's disasterous handling of the recovery effort. It would serve the DCCC and DNC well to crank up the volume on this issue to the point where it is crystal clear which party is ready to provide energetic leadership to restore and revitalize Gulf communities.

February 23, 2006

No Improvement in Sight for GOP

by Ruy Teixeira

Last week, I commented on the remarkably poor political outlook for the Republicans as we move into the 2006 campaign season. This week brings a slew of new polling data confirming that assessment and showing how, in one area after another, nothing seems to be breaking the GOP’s way.

1. In the latest Time/SRBI poll, Bush has the lowest overall approval rating (40 percent) ever measured by this poll. He also is tied for his lowest rating on the economy (38 percent) and has his lowest ratings ever on Iraq (36 percent) and on the war on terrorism (46 percent).

2. A new Gallup report on public views of the Iraq war finds:

....some of the more pessimistic views Gallup has measured since the war began. A majority of Americans continue to say the war was a mistake and say that they oppose the war. Fewer than one in three Americans say the United States is winning, the lowest percentage Gallup has measured on that question to date.

The Feb. 9-12 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll finds 55% of Americans saying the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, while 42% disagree. On only one other occasion -- last September following Hurricane Katrina -- did more Americans, 59%, say the war was a mistake.

3. So the Iraq problem is getting worse, not better, for the GOP. What about the economy? There is also a new Gallup report about Americans’ views on the economy. As the report summarizes the situation:

President Bush has been touting the progress in the U.S. economy this week, and the new head of the Federal Reserve, Benjamin Bernanke, gave generally positive views on economic conditions in the country in his testimony on Capitol Hill. The Dow Jones average has been above 11,000; in January, housing starts were more robust than expected; and reports on retail spending were also more positive than expected.

Despite the positive nature of these so-called "hard" economic indicators, however, the attitudes of the average American consumer toward the economy remain relatively dour. Majorities of Americans rate economic conditions at the moment as "only fair" or "poor," say economic conditions in the United States are getting worse, and say now is a bad time to be looking for a quality job.

4. So not much help there. How about that new prescription drug plan? It now seems highly probable that plan will hurt, not help, GOP electoral chances. On top of a spate of news stories indicating this (see, for example, this front page article, “Drug Plan's Start May Imperil G.O.P.'s Grip on Older Voters”, in the February 19 New York Times), the Kaiser Family Foundation has released their latest Health Poll Report Survey showing just 28 percent of seniors favorable to the drug plan, compared to 50 percent unfavorable. And a recent Gallup survey found an even more lop-sidedly negative view among seniors, with 58 percent saying the new benefit isn’t working and only 20 percent saying it is.

5. Another indicator of GOP woes can be gleaned by looking at Bush’s approval ratings in states with important Senate races. Based on the latest SurveyUSA findings, Bush breaks 50 percent in only one of those states (Montana), where he is at exactly 50 percent. From there, it’s all downhill: Tennessee (46 percent); Arizona (45 percent); West Virginia (45 percent); Virginia (45 percent); Florida (42 percent); Nevada (41 percent); Minnesota (40 percent); Missouri (39 percent); New Jersey (37 percent); Ohio (37 percent); Pennsylvania (36 percent); Maryland (35 percent); Michigan (34 percent); and Rhode Island at a stunningly low (25 percent).

6. Turning to House races, the generic Congressional contest continues to show Democrats with a healthy lead in almost all polls. While that does not mean that much this far out, Gallup has provided some interesting subgroup analysis from their latest results among registered voters (RVs). In a poll where Democrats lead by 7 points among all RVs, their lead is 17 points among independents, 13 points among seniors (that prescription drug plan again, no doubt) and a whopping 29 points among young voters (18-29).

7. But lest progressives get too carried away reading these figures, here’s another Gallup data point to ponder. Just 26 percent of the public believes the GOP has a clear plan for solving the nation’s problems....which sounds good, until you look at the next result which indicates an even smaller number (23 percent) believe Democrats have a clear plan for solving the nation’s problems.

Based on that number, it seems the Democrats would be ill-advised to just coast into November, presuming to win big simply on the basis of GOP woes. They still need something clear and cogent to say. And, no, “We can do better” is probably not it.

February 22, 2006

Understanding Suburban Politics

by Ruy Teixeira

In December, I wrote about “emerging suburbs” and the ways in which they differ from true exurbs, both geographically and politically. I pointed out that:

The Bush-Kerry split [in emerging suburbs]....was less lop-sided (56-43) [than in true exurbs] 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.

The MI typology upon which I based my analysis was developed by Virginia Tech’s Metropolitan Institute and, I am happy to report, they have now issued an excellent report, “The New Metro Politics: Interpreting Recent Presidential Elections Using a County-Based Regional Typology”, co-authored by Robert Lang and Thomas Sanchez, that explicates their methodology and provides a wealth of fascinating political data based on their typology. In so doing, they provide us with a very useful framework for understanding contemporary suburban politics as a whole, a subject of vital importance for today’s progressives.

The MI typology breaks 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. As the MI report notes, in the typology

....counties are classified on the degree to which they are “urban.” In this descriptive definition, the more urban counties are slower growing, have higher population densities, feature greater “urbanized” populations, and maintain smaller proportions of non-Hispanic white residents. While these four variables do not substitute for a complete multivariate-derived typology, research has shown that they are the key determinants of socio-spatial differences between counties.

Here are some of the key findings, but I strongly urge you to read the entire report. Note how these excerpts highlight the importance of mature suburbs which, along with the emerging suburbs whose importance I have previously flagged, constitute the real battleground of suburban politics. Democrats need to drive up their margins in mature suburbs, which lean in their direction, while vigorously contesting emerging suburbs, which lead toward the GOP. If Democrats can master that two part formula, it’s not a stretch to say they will dominate the suburbs and the country as a whole.

...In total, 150 million people (or over half the US population) lived in the 417 top 50 metropolitan counties as of 2000. The biggest share, or nearly 49 million people, resided in the 66 mature suburban counties. The 41 inner suburban counties followed with almost 40 million residents. The exurbs captured the largest number of counties at 147—beating the emerging suburbs by one county—but had by far the smallest population at just over 5.6 million....

Population densities follow a step-like variation across county categories. The core county density reaches over 9,000 people per square mile—a density that can both easily support rail transit and reflects a high share of multifamily housing. With over 2,000 people per square mile, inner suburbs, while much less dense are clearly more urban than even mature suburbs, and exceed the density of emerging suburbs by almost a magnitude in scale. Interestingly, even the relatively low-density emerging suburbs are several times more intensely settled than the exurbs.

County population growth rates clearly show that the biggest gains come in less densely settled suburbs. Emerging suburbs lead the way with a nearly 30 percent growth in the 1990s. Exurbs are also booming, but have a considerably slower rate of development and,
more importantly, a far smaller absolute gain than the emerging suburbs. The exurbs also register more modest absolute gains than the much bigger mature suburbs. In fact, in absolute terms, the mature suburbs, while adding just 11.6 percent more residents in the 1990s, managed to outpace all other county categories in the number of actual people added.

That the mature suburbs are adding more residents than emerging suburbs is an important point that is often lost in the discussion about places that are gaining political strength. The focus tends to be exclusively on rates of growth rather than absolute change (see Brownstein 2005). Note also that due to their demographic composition, which includes more households with adults only compared to exurbs and emerging suburbs, the growing voting strength of mature suburbs is even greater than its population gains on their own would suggest...

The 2004 Bush and 2005 Kaine campaigns point to a new metro politics that reflects the changing metropolis. It is likely that new density-based political strategies will factor into the 2006 midterm election, and especially the 2008 presidential race. Democrats have a special stake in the new metro politics given that they have so far mostly not understood these opportunities. The metropolitan political battle line is not neatly split between city and suburbs, but instead now mostly lies in the transition areas between mature and emerging suburbs....

February 21, 2006

Dems Need Higher Profile on Energy Reform

by Pete Ross

When President Bush said the U.S. was "addicted to oil" in his state of the union address, many thought it was just a cheap applause line with no follow-up. But yesterday Bush visited a leading producer of hybrid car batteries and energy-saving technology for buildings to preach the gospel of energy independence. (see this article in today's WaPo for a wrap-up) Later in the day, he visited a solar energy plant in Michigan and today he speaks at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory -- clear signals that his party intends to improve its standing with voters who are concerned about rising gas and heating oil prices, our dependency on mideast oil and environmental pollution.

Environmentalists can't be blamed for scoffing at the notion of Bush as champion of energy independence, given Bush's and Cheney's long history as errand boys for big oil. But Democrats should not dismiss the possibility that Bush's p.r. initiatives may have the desired effect, which is to persuade enough voters that the G.O.P is becomming more supportive of energy independence in order to reduce Democratic victories in the November elections.

A look at recent polls goes a long way to explaining Bush's new-found concern about energy independence. For example, a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted 2/1-5, indicates that 55 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of energy policy, with 30 percent approving. Asked if America is "addicted to oil," 85 percent of the respondents agreed and 86 percent supported tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars, truck and SUV's. The poll also indicated that 68 percent of Americans want a greater investment in developing mass rail and bus transit systems.

Because Bush and the Republicans have refused to support stricter CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards or a significant investment in mass transit development, Dems are in good position to call the GOP's bluff. Most Democrats have a solid record of support of these two reforms and this difference should be strongly highlighted in every congressional campaign.

In the months ahead, Democratic candidates should emphasize how the Administration and Republican congressional majority have blocked CAFE reforms and mass transit investment at every opportunity. With this commitment, Bush's p.r. intitiative will backfire and Dems will gain a sharper edge in November.

February 19, 2006

GOP Losing Support Over Prescription Drug Mess

The Democrats are making gains among senior citizens as a result of confusion and rising discontent over the new prescription drug rules, reports Robin Toner in "Drug Plan's Start May Imperil G.O.P.'s Grip on Older Voters" in The New York Times.

Discontent over prescription drug polices could have a decisive effect in races in which senior voters are critical, such as the U.S. Senate contest in Pennsylvania. In House races, Toner says "Among the fewer than three dozen House districts considered competitive, the over-60 vote will be critical in states like Florida and New Mexico."

As Ruy Teixeira explained in his December 21 piece "Seniors, the Prescription Drug Benefit and the 2006 Election," voters age 60 and older have become highly critical of the job performance of both the President and congress --- and these voters turn out at even higher rates in midterm elections.

Toner quotes GOP pollster Glen Bolger's observation that confusion over the drug benefit has "taken the key swing vote that's been trending the Republicans' way and put it at risk for the next election."

A range of problems are driving senior concerns about the new plan, according to Toner:

...including low-income people who fell between the cracks in the transition; the difficulties reported by many pharmacists in determining eligibility; and the general struggle of millions of retirees faced with a choice among 40 or more private drug plans, with different rules, lists of covered drugs and premiums."

Toner cites a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll, indicating that "retirees were almost twice as likely to say they viewed the benefit unfavorably (45 percent) as favorably (23 percent)" and a recent New York Times/CBS News Poll showing that "most did not expect the law to lower drug costs over the next few years." In addition, a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll reveals that only 20 percent of seniors believe the new plan is working.

Smart Dems have taken a common sense approach to addressing the issue. Toner quotes Florida State Senator Ron Klein, who is running for congress against Rep. Clay Shaw:

"These Medicare prescription drug costs, on top of the other issues, are weighing pretty heavily on people with fixed incomes...Let's start thinking about the consumer side, instead of figuring out how to prop up the pharmaceutical and insurance industries."

Toner notes that Democrats are pushing reforms to improve the benefit, including extending the sign-up deadline, empowering Medicare to negotiate prices directly with drug companies and more vigorously regulating private drug plans. Dems will publicize their reforms at a series of nearly 100 forums that will be held across the U.S. in the coming months

February 17, 2006

GOP Losing Grip on Senate?

Most pundits seem to agree that the GOP will retain control of the U.S. Senate after the November elections. But the latest SurveyUSA roundup of approval ratings for all U.S. Senators suggests the GOP hammerlock may be loosening. When the 100 Senators' are ranked according to their most recent approval ratings, 13 of the 16 Senators with approval ratings below 50 percent are Republicans. Granted, not all of the 13 are up for re-election this year, but the approval rankings may indicate that change is afoot.

February 16, 2006

More on Women Voters

by Ruy Teixeira

Last week, I offered some very general thoughts on women voters and the progressive coalition. For a data-rich analysis of this issue that usefully breaks the women’s vote into a number of different subgroups and carefully considers the challenges progressives have reaching voters in these various subgroups, I strongly recommend Anna Greenberg’s piece, “Moving Beyond the Gender Gap” in the new book, Get This Party Started, edited by Matthew Kerbel. Her piece is available in abridged form on the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner website. Here’s some of what she has to say:

...[W]hite married women with kids have a range of concerns that are perfectly appropriate for progressives and Democrats to address. Reaching them requires reframing the cultural debate and expanding it to include a host of issues that concern their ability to raise children in a safe and healthy environment. Rather than accept the Right’s narrow definition of values (i.e., abortion, gay marriage), progressives should acknowledge the challenges parents face dealing with their kids’ sexuality and peer pressure around drugs and alcohol in an environment overrun with sex and violence on television, the Internet, and video games. Democrats and progressives should begin to talk about these concerns in simple language and should not shy away from taking progressive positions that are consistent with what moms’ value. Moms are pragmatic and want their children to be raised with the right kind of values that will allow them to make responsible choices about their behavior. They want their kids to be faithful, be responsible, and understand the “Golden Rule,” and they worry that their kids will be sexually active too soon or will be exposed to alcohol and drugs. These concerns are neither inherently liberal nor conservative; many progressives share them and would be wise to engage in a discussion of these values. In this context, progressives can trumpet positions on social issues that are more in step with these voters’ concerns than positions taken by the Republican Party. The vast majority of moms support sex education in public schools and access to birth control, which the Bush administration and its allies oppose through their advocacy of “abstinence only” education. Moms support stem cell research and worry about the impact of pollution on their children’s health and safety, areas where the GOP has staked out entirely different ground.

Democrats and progressives, therefore, have an opportunity to reframe the cultural debate by emphasizing the ways that they care about families rather than by fighting defensive battles that box them into the “antifamily” corner. We do not have to retreat from supporting values we hold most dearly—like protecting a woman’s right to choose or only supporting “traditional” marriage—because, as John Kenneth White argues in this volume, cultural arguments need not have a left-right dimension or be policy specific. Democrats will be successful with women voters if they cast progressive responses to cultural issues in the same commonsense language moms use when they express concerns about their children. Even better, progressives do have policy positions consistent with these concerns.

And there’s more–much more!–of comparable insight in the article I urge you to read and digest the entire piece.

February 15, 2006

2006 Outlook

by Ruy Teixeira

After showing some mild improvement for Bush and the GOP at the end of last year, the polls have faded again for the incumbent party and are suggesting they are in for a very rough election season. Consider the following recent data:

1. Bush’s approval rating may be headed back into the ‘30s. In the latest Gallup poll –which tends to run on the high side of public polls–his approval rating is back down at 39 percent, the first time Gallup’s rating has dipped below 40 since last November.

2. In the same poll, by 55-42, the public says the Iraq war was a mistake–the highest “mistake” reading since mid-September of last year and the second-highest ever. Also, 56 percent now describe themselves as opponents of the Iraq war, compared to only 40 percent who say they are supporters. Just 31 percent say the US is winning the Iraq war, the lowest reading ever.

3. The political center is bailing out on the GOP. In the latest Pew Research Center poll, independents give the Democrats a gaudy 19 point lead (51-32) in the generic Congressional ballot. The comparison to the same point in the 2002 election cycle is instructive. According to the Pew Research Center report:

Four years ago, in the early stages of the 2002 midterm, independents were divided evenly over whether to vote Republican (42%) or Democratic (39%). The 19-point advantage Democrats hold among independents represents a sizable shift in voting intentions. By comparison, both Democrats and Republicans are just as loyal to their own congressional candidates today as they were in February 2002.

And independents massively disapprove of how Bush is handling the country. In a recent Gallup analysis of approval ratings across a range of issues, Bush cracked the mid-30s among independents on only one issue (terrorism) and even there his rating was only 48 percent. Following that was his overall approval rating at 35 percent, the economy at 31 percent, foreign affairs at 28 percent, Iraq also at 28 percent, energy policy at 23 percent and healthcare policy at 22 percent.

4. Not surprisingly, given the data just cited, Bush is a serious negative factor this year for GOP’ers running for election or re-election. As the Pew report points out:

Bush's net impact on the 2006 race so far is the opposite of what it was four years ago. In the late stages of the 2002 congressional campaign, 30% of voters said they thought of their congressional vote as a vote for George W. Bush, while 20% said they were voting against the president. Today, these figures are reversed ­ 31% say their midterm vote is a vote against Bush, while 18% are motivated by their support for the president.

5. The Pew data also confirm the lopsided issue advantage the Democrats have going into the 2006 election cycle. They have advantages on: the environment (+32); health care (+22); energy problems (+13); reforming government (+13); deficit reduction (+12); taxes (+11); education (+11), the economy (+11); immigration (+4); and Iraq (+3). Their only disadvantages are on crime (-7) and terrorism (-16). Note that the latter disadvantage is almost exactly half the size of the Democratic disadvantage on this issue at the same point in the 2002 election cycle.

6. Another factor weighing down GOP prospects for 2006 is the developing fiasco of the Medicare prescription drug plan, which was rolled out at the beginning of this year. Many analysts across the political spectrum predicted that the plan was so complicated and shot through with problems that it was bound to (a) work poorly as policy; and (b) be roundly disliked by the very constituency–seniors–it was supposed to serve.

That appears to be happening. A just-released Democracy Corps report on public reaction to the new plan summarizes the situation as follows:

When President Bush signed the Medicare prescription drug plan into law at a ceremony in December of 2003, thousands of supporters and dozens of Republican congressmen cheered as the President stated that the new legislation was “the greatest advance in health care coverage for America’s seniors since the founding of Medicare.” The fanfare surrounding the bill signing was a clear indication that the president and his Republican allies believed the bill would serve as a major electoral asset to the party by helping to win over older voters and neutralize the long-held Democratic advantage on health care.

Just over two years later, Republicans’ initial hopes for the program now seem hopelessly naïve, as opposition to the prescription drug plan makes it a greater asset for Democrats in 2006 than for Republicans. Although the plan is already unpopular, Democrats now have the opportunity to raise opposition to the drug benefit to new heights and use the plan as a powerful symbol of Republican corruption and irresponsibility. Coupled with attacks over budget cuts to Medicare, an assault on the prescription drug program could cause serious damage to the GOP, especially among seniors.

As voters have learned more about the prescription drug plan over the past two months, opposition has steadily increased, with now just a quarter of the electorate viewing the plan positively, while the percentage perceiving it negatively is almost double (46 percent),
Among older voters, there is now a surging and intense opposition:

--Among pre-retirees (50-64 years old), opposition to the plan has risen sharply from 38 percent this fall to 51 percent now, with less than a quarter holding a favorable impression of it.
--Among seniors (65 years and older) – the voters that the program was
designed to help – the hostility is just as strong, with these voters rejecting it by a 28-point margin.
--Even more notable than the overall opposition is its intensity. Among both seniors and voters over 50, a third view the plan very negatively, more than three times the number of voters who view it very positively.

In congressional swing districts, the news for Republicans is not any better. The plan is viewed negatively by an 18-point margin and strong opponents outnumber strong supporters by Reception of the plan has been so poor that the President, previously the plan’s major proponent, did not even mention it in his State of the Union Address. One can hardly fault him for this however, as the program that he and Republicans had hoped would be instrumental in winning over swing voters is now rejected soundly by a majority of independents and Democrats alike. Even Republican voters are not sold on the plan, as they are evenly divided in their views.

The best laid plans of mice and men.....

February 11, 2006

Once Again on the Value Change Question

By Scott Winship

Garance Franke-Ruta has posted a response to Ruy's and my critiques of the American Environics data presented in her recent piece in the American Prospect. We challenged the American Environics findings that Americans were becoming less egalitarian on gender issues and less civically engaged. The most important argument she makes is that by relying on the National Election Study, we are primarily looking at voters, while American Environics surveys voters and nonvoters alike. To be fair to Franke-Ruta, this is the explanation given by American Environics rather than her own. But their excuse is really embarrassingly easy to knock down.

If it wasn't obvious from our earlier posts, both Ruy and I tabulated results for all adults rather than just voters. The NES is a nationally representative sample of American households, restricted to adults. It is true - as Ruy has consistently noted for years - that the NES tends to exaggerate how many people vote (and how many vote for the winner), but that is a problem of response bias rather than a problem with the underlying design of the survey. Some people don't want to admit to not voting. But that does not change the fact that comparing the NES aggregate results to the American Environics aggregate results is a valid, apples-to-apples comparison. So we could stop right there and render American Environics's critique moot.

But let's not. American Environics claims that voters and nonvoters have markedly different levels and trends in their data. To check this claim, I re-ran the NES figures separately for voters and nonvoters. The fact that the NES overstates voting means that comparing "voters" to "nonvoters" in the NES will understate differences between the two groups, but if both groups show similar trends and levels and differ from the American Environics data, the response bias is irrelevant to this controversy.

The following tables compare the American Environics figures (for all adults) to the NES figures for all adults, voters, and nonvoters. As Franke-Ruta notes (and as we noted ourselves) the questions are not exactly comparable but get at the same underlying dimensions and should show similar trends. Note that we subtract American Environics's gender figures from the article from 100 so that they represent gender egalitarianism rather than inegalitarianism.

To summarize, the NES indicates:

* More gender egalitarianism (on an admittedly different question) than the American Environics research for both voters and nonvoters
* Increases in gender egalitarianism since 1992 among both voters and nonvoters (as opposed to the decline American Environics claims)
* More civic engagement (on an admittedly different question - though not much different) than American Environics finds for all adults, for voters, and (in 2004) for nonvoters.
* Only a small, statistically insignificant change in civic engagement since 1992 (as opposed to the huge decline claimed by American Environics).

American Environics could claim that the NES also suffers from response bias on the gender egalitarianism and civic engagement questions, though that's not the actual criticism they initially made. It is also the case that their own data could be subject to various biases. The fact that they have 12 years of experience with their survey while the NES has been conducted for 56 years points toward the likely superiority of the NES data.

More to the point, if response bias is constant across time, then the trends in the NES will be unaffected, and the trends in the NES are dramatically different than those in the American Environics data. Unless American Environics has a story about why response bias would have increased in 2004 relative to 1992 - and increased a lot - this explanation doesn't have legs. (Remember too that, looking back to 1984, the NES indicates that just 67 percent of adults were civically engaged by our definition. Are we really to believe that increasing response bias explains the big increase in civic engagement the NES shows between 1984 and 1992 too?)

And since we generally show the same discrepancies between the American Environics data and NES voters and nonvoters, any response bias would have to be independent of the response bias that causes some nonvoters to say they are voters.

For all these reasons, the basic critique of the American Environics data still stands, as does the need to cast the data net widely when seeking to understand value change. Relying on the Environics data alone is clearly not a wise approach.

Dems Sharpen Edge in House Races

by EDM Staff

My DD's Chris Bowers concludes his 4-parter on Democratic prospects for winning the 15 seats needed for a House majority on an optimistic note:

While I believe the thirty districts I have already mentioned are indeed the best chances Democrats have for pickups, there are of course other districts that could fall our way given a new extraordinary event, such as a major scandal, an unexpected retirement, or a particularly strong campaign. There also still remains the outside possibility of a major national landslide, especially given our good very good "macro" situation. We have good recruitment, while Republicans are not. This will allow Democrats to stretch Republican defenses much thinner than they did in 2002 or 2004 even if our national poll lead shrinks. Democrats are also doing well in terms of money, both at the individual candidate level and in terms of the DCCC closing the cash on hand gap with the NRCC. Democrats also hold the generic advantage in 2006, which will help keep their poll numbers high.

If there is a landslide or "an extraordinary event," Bowers sees another 25 House seats that could go Democratic. Bowers' 4-parter is the best horse-race wrap-up so far, and outclasses anything in print. Readers comments on individual races published with his series are perceptive as well.

Mark Gersh and New Donkey Ed Kilgore add some insights into upcoming House races in their Blueprint Magazine piece "Target Rich: Democrats Have a Slew of Vulnerable House Republicans in Their Sights for the 2006 Midterm Elections." WaPo's Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza have a recent article "Handfull of Races May Tip Control of Congress" estimating 25-40 openly competitive house races, but also noting that "in 2004 just 32 congressional districts were won with less than 55 percent fo the vote."

The list of 65+ vulnerable GOP-held districts compiled from the aforementioned articles is encouraging. But it might be even more helpful to know which issues are most important in these districts.

February 9, 2006

The Values They Are A-Changin' (Except When They're Not)

By Scott Winship

Ruy’s previous posts on the American Environics data in Garance Franke-Ruta’s article, “Remapping the Culture Debate” have made a strong case that Democratic leaders ought to be wary of basing strategy on the firm’s research. Ruy noted a large discrepancy between the firm’s data indicating a turn toward traditional gender roles and authoritarian gender relations on the one hand and the trend in the National Election Study (NES) showing increasing gender egalitarianism on the other.

Could this be a fluke of some sort and not reflective of a problem with Shellenberger and Nordhaus’s data? It could be, but it is also possible to compare NES figures to the other American Environics figures cited in the Franke-Ruta piece. And the results do not inspire confidence in the latter.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus claim that between 1992 and 2004 the share of people who discuss "local problems" with people they know dropped from 66 percent to 39 percent. That's a huge decline and indicates a worrisomely low level of civic participation. But the NES shows that in 1992 81 percent of adults discussed politics with family or friends that year. By 2004 this figure had plummeted to....80 percent. That small a change is indistinguishable from random bouncing around. On the other hand, in 1984, only 67 percent of adults discussed politics with family or friends. So we are actually becoming more civically engaged.

I am not familiar with American Environics or their work, but from the article, it seems like they want to generalize to the American population as a whole. For whatever reason, it looks like that’s not appropriate.

Single, Working and Highly-Educated Women and the Progressive Coalition

by Ruy Teixeira

As part of my ongoing series on the components or building blocks of the progressive coalition, I offer the following assessment of where progressives stand with single, working and highly-educated women voters.

As is well-known, progressives typically do better among women than men. But women voters are a vast group and the true areas of strength for progressives are among three subgroups: single, working and highly-educated women. In the 2004 election, Kerry carried single women by 62-37, college-educated women by 54-45 (including 60-38 among those with a postgraduate education) and working women by 51-48.

All of these margins, however, were smaller than they were in 2000, particularly in the case of working women, where Kerry’s margin among working women was no better than his margin among women as a whole. This was primarily attributable to his poor performance among married working women, part of the Democrats’ general problem with married women voters in that election. Single working women, however, remained a very strong progressive constituency, with Democrats dominating by a 65-35 margin.

While the balance of women relative to men is changing little, of course, trends within the female population are quite favorable to progressives. Single women are now almost half–46 percent–of adult women, up from 38 percent in 1970. Single, working women–as we’ve seen, an unusually strong and reliable progressive constituency--have grown from 19 percent of the adult, female population in 1970 to 29 percent today. And college-educated women have grown from just 8 percent of the 25-and-older, female population in 1970 to 24 percent today.

Clearly, these groups of women will be a critical part of a progressive majority coalition; equally clearly, the weakest link here are married working women who performed so poorly for the Democrats in 2004. The reasons are probably similar to those that held down Democratic margins among Hispanics (see last week’s analysis of the minority vote): national security and moral concerns that moved many of these women toward the GOP more than economic, health care and education concerns moved them toward the Democrats. In fact, among many of these women it apparently wasn’t much of a contest: among married working women, 54 percent said they trusted Bush to handle the economy, compared to 40 percent who said they trusted Kerry. And on handling terrorism, 63 percent said they trusted Bush, compared to 37 percent who said they trusted Kerry. No wonder the Democrats had such difficulty with this group.

February 8, 2006

Time to Get Back to Health Care Reform

by Ruy Teixeira

Health care costs are the number one economic worry in most polls. Health care is the number one domestic issue in most polls. And the public thinks that Bush and the GOP are doing an outstandingly bad job in addressing the issue.

How bad? In the latest Pew Research Center poll, just 28 percent approve of Bush’s handling of “health care policy”, with 57 percent disapproval. That’s the lowest job rating Pew has ever recorded on this issue, including in 1990 for Bush’s father. In the latest Gallup poll, Bush’s rating on health care policy is 31 percent with 60 percent disapproval. And in the latest LA Times poll, his rating on “the cost and availability of health care” is 27 percent, with 64 percent disapproval, including 47 percent who strongly disapprove. Among independents and moderates, his ratings are even lower (21 percent and 20 percent, respectively).

And in the LA Times poll, the Democrats in Congress have an amazing 28 point lead (53-25) over Bush on who could do a better job handling health care issues.

But is the public interested in just tinkering around the edges or do they want big change? In the latest CBS News/New York Times survey, 90 percent say we need to either implement fundamental changes in the health care system (56 percent) or completely rebuild the system (34 percent). Just 8 percent think only minor changes are needed.

How about the federal government taking a leading role? In the same poll, by 2:1 (62-31), the public says it’s the responsibility of the federal government to “guarantee health care for all”.

So what are progressives waiting for–a written invitation from the voters? I think it’s about time for progressives to put serious, large-scale health care reform back at the top of their domestic agenda and push it hard. Felicitously enough, the recent release of an excellent health care poll by Americans for Health Care and the Center for American Progress helps show progressives why to do that and how to do that.

Here are some excerpts from the executive summary accompanying the poll, which I urge you to read in full:

Americans are intensely dissatisfied and are hungry for change – not incremental or symbolic change but fundamental policy changes that challenge long-held assumptions and focus on outcomes rather than process and politics. No domestic issue stirs these passions more than health care. Health care costs are seen as the primary threat facing our country’s economy, but more importantly, by a margin of nearly 2-to-1, they are identified as the number one threat facing the economic well-being of individual Americans. With American families feeling increasingly helpless in the face of skyrocketing costs and stagnant wages, they are desperate for real reform.

Given this starting point, it is still startling that 86 percent of Americans say they support ‘reforming our current health care system to provide affordable health care for all Americans.’ We would point out that this language secures significantly higher initial support than we have historically seen for the more common phrase ‘universal health care.’ Support for the proposition is broad, including at least 80 percent of those in virtually every demographic group and every region of the country; even 76 percent of Republicans agree. The language used is critical to securing this broad support, with two key reassurances included:

'Reforming our current health care system’ – this is not a big-government takeover of the health care system

'Provide affordable health care for all Americans’ – this is about affordable health care, not a free government handout, and government working with private interests to reduce costs and ensure all Americans have access to that essential piece of economic security, in
turn making them more likely to save for retirement or education or to buy a home.

While this broad level of support is unprecedented in our research, strong support for some form of ‘universal coverage’ has been present for more than a decade, and voters have consistently indicated a strong preference for progressive policies and proposals on virtually all issues related to health care. So why have progressives failed to translate these advantages into meaningful reforms to the health care system?

Commendably, this poll was designed to directly confront exactly this issue and here is what they found:

Previous research has consistently found that doubts about efforts to extend health coverage to all Americans revolve around two primary fears – big government and higher taxes. When both of these concerns are introduced separately – in an attempt to provide the most difficult test possible – 49 percent of Americans remain solidly in support of reforming our health care system to provide affordable care for all Americans, with 37 percent withdrawing their initial support based on one or both of these concerns. This is a significant drop, which underscores the difficulty of overcoming deep-seated reservations on these issues. But the fact that nearly half of Americans remain solid in their support despite these concerns is testament to not just the profound public dissatisfaction with our current health care system but the strong popular support for extending coverage to all Americans. After hearing arguments from both sides of this debate, overall support remains at 84 percent, with the number who remain steadfast in their support even if it requires higher taxes and a much larger government role rising to a majority (52 percent).

Since the defeat of the Clinton health care plan in 1994, the health care debate in Washington has been diminished into a series of minor skirmishes over important, but relatively small, changes within the current system that have done nothing to change the underlying dynamic. But the health care debate in America remains focused on two essential issues – first, the growing gap between health care costs and the ability of most Americans to meet those costs and second, the fundamental unfairness of a system that denies the basic security of needed medical care to nearly 46 million Americans while delivering record profits for insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Americans are eager for a health care debate that goes straight to the heart of the problem.

I think that’s about right and I also agree with their assessment of the politics of this issue in the current climate:

The strategic importance of this issue for progressives cannot be overstated. With presidential and congressional job approval numbers near record lows, Americans want leaders who are willing to reject the broken status quo and offer bold new solutions to the core challenges facing our country. Health care is identified as the primary threat facing both our country’s economy and the economic well-being of individual Americans. And real health care reform, that expands affordable health coverage Americans, resonates with a majority of Americans, including those that do not self-identify as progressives.

I’ll just add this one data point to reinforce that conclusion. Remember those white working class voters who gave Bush another term in the White House? Well, 84 percent of them support the kind of health care reform explored in this poll.

If nothing else does, that one fact should have progressive politicians lining up to put their name on serious health care reform proposals.

February 6, 2006

Another Take on Values and Values Change

by Ruy Teixeira

A couple of weeks ago, I did a post on Garance Franke-Ruta's article, “Remapping the Culture Debate”, in the latest issue of The American Prospect. In that post, I criticized her article for over-reliance on the values work of Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, well-known in progressive circles for their essay, “The Death of Environmentalism”. Nordhaus and Shellenberger are principals in American Environics, the American branch of the Canadian market research firm, Environics Research, and have been pushing a values scheme based entirely on their analysis of an Environics in-home consumer survey that has been conducted since 1992.

In my post, I raised some specific questions about American Environics data cited in her article. But my broader point was that, while it is potentially useful for progressives to look at values-based research produced by consumer research firms, in doing so we must engage critically with the widest possible range of these analyses. That is the only way we'll gain the full advantage of what this type of research has to offer.

This view has been underscored for me by comments I have received from a very respected consumer researcher, J. Walker Smith, President of the MONITOR division of Yankelovich. Yankelovich, of course, has a long history tracking and analyzing American values and consumer behavior going back to its founding by survey research legend Daniel Yankelovich.

Smith was intrigued by what I had to say about the Nordhaus/Shellenberger analysis in my post and set out to find out more about the theory and data behind their analysis. To do this, he turned to a new book, American Backlash: The Untold Story of Social Change in the United States, by Michael Adams, founder of Canadian firm Environics Research which, as mentioned above, is the parent firm of American Environics. Of course, it would have been preferable to read Nordhaus/Shellenberger's book or detailed report, but neither are out yet.

Still, the similarities between the Nordhaus/Shellenberger analysis, insofar as one can nail it down at this point, and what Adams has to say in his book seem strong. For example, this summary of Nordhaus/Shellenberger's views from the Franke-Ruta article seems very similar to Adams' views as expressed in his book:

Looking at the data from 1992 to 2004, Shellenberger and Nordhaus found a country whose citizens are increasingly authoritarian while at the same time feeling evermore adrift, isolated, and nihilistic. They found a society at once more libertine and more puritanical than in the past, a society where solidarity among citizens was deteriorating, and, most worrisomely to them, a progressive clock that seemed to be unwinding backward on broad questions of social equity. 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. Meanwhile, the fraction that said they discussed local problems with people they knew plummeted from 66 percent to 39 percent. Survey respondents were also increasingly accepting of the value that “violence is a normal part of life” -- and that figure had doubled even before the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks.

And, if you look at this public Nordhaus/Shellenberger document, it is clear that the connections between research conducted by Adams and his firm and research conducted by Nordhaus/Shellenberger and their firm are very close indeed.

Therefore, it is reasonable to view Smith's comments on Adams, which I reproduce below, as providing insight into some of the pitfalls and weaknesses of Nordhaus/Shellenberger's analysis. I do not necessarily endorse everything Smith has to say. But I do think it deserves to be taken very, very seriously and should be a spur to us all to cast the analytical net widely when venturing into consumer research territory.

Adams argues that America is becoming more thrill-seeking, more Darwinistic and more materialistic, mostly because of young people. Okay, now this is a topic on which we have lots of data and opinions -- none of which would lead us to draw these conclusions, at least not in these ways.

In fact, our data point to the exact opposite. There's an overview of this in Chapter 3 of [my book], Coming to Concurrence. Thrill-seeking -- yes, more interest in extremity of all sorts, but only with safety nets. Darwinism -- sort of, but we call it Self-Invention and see if operating differently. Materialism -- no, there is a decided shift beyond materialism which is not about renouncing materialism but about adding intangibles -- people want more of all sorts, more stuff and more intangibles, but especially more intangibles. And when you compare young people today to young people in the past, there are decided shifts toward things like non-materialism, idealism and spirituality. In short, I think these guys are just flat out wrong....

His take on American society and politics since the 50s reads like history as told by Entertainment Tonight. His discussion of socialism, idealism and hedonism is just too adolescent to believe. I can just see Dan Yankelovich rolling his eyes over this -- Dan's assessment of the sixties and seventies is the one I subscribe to...[Adams' analysis is]...so bad it casts a pall on everything else.

Not that everything else would be okay on its own. The first big issue is how seriously to take these trends. He repeatedly commits a Trends 101 error. He interprets shifts in minority percentages as indicative of total society shifts. He keeps confessing to this and justifying in some mumbo jumbo about relative numbers (which is just a flat out cover up for something he knows is problematic).

For example, the percentage agreeing that "Violence is a part of life. It's no big deal" goes from 10% to 20% from 1992 to 2004 takes careful interpretation. It does not mean that American society is more approving of violence now. 80% still don't approve. It does mean that a bigger minority now accepts violence, so the proper analysis is to profile acceptors in 1992 and contrast them to those in 2004 -- from this, decide what it means. In particular, figure out where the extra 10% came from! That's what's interesting here -- who made this attitudinal shift. Nothing like that in this book. But he over-interprets shifts in minority opinions repeatedly.

When you're talking about social trends, it helps to cite examples -- products, ads that worked, ads that didn't work, social phenomena, Web sites, media headlines, celebrities, etc. Things that have popped up that illustrate the trend. None of that here.

I think there's none of it because if you really tried to flesh out his main ideas, you wouldn't see that being the case. I'll give you two examples. He says spirituality, formal or informal, is declining. (I'm ignoring his data point for now -- which stuns me because we have a very similar question showing the exact opposite.) But you'd never know this with the boom in all things spiritual these days. Let's even suppose that mega-churches get too much press relative to their total attendance, you've still got a whole consumer marketplace full of gurus, self-help, simplicity, tranquility, etc. that belies this conclusion.

Similarly, he says that acceptance of violence is up while confessing in the same breath that crime in down. He attributes this to "acceptance" of violence not to commission of violence. He says it's evidence of an increasing Darwinist view. Okay, maybe so, but show me some examples. His only evidence is general -- society is becoming more ruthless and cutthroat. But this isn't evidence unless you begin with the assumption that this is true.

His whole way of approaching issues is unimaginative. Best example is his concept of community. He says on p. 73 that the word itself has been so over-used as to become meaningless. So, he's sticking with a traditional definition and not all of these new-fangled communities like geographic, ethnic, online, professional, hobby, sports, etc. Which means that he is totally missing the new ways in which connection and community are being expressed, and thus the paradox of lifestyle-based communities....

He does a good job in the Introduction illustrating the value of a values-based approach to studying social shifts. But his analysis fails to reflect this way of thinking. He fails to make the bigger connections that could establish a broader context and make a bigger point. Put Darwinism together with technology, pluralism and distrust and you have Self-Invention, a very different idea than ruthlessness for the sake of immediate pleasure and disassociative selfishness....

..[I]f I were a Republican political operative I would put on my happy mask and hand out a copy of this book to every Democrat I met and tell them it is the most incisive analysis of American society I've ever read. That would ensure a Republican empire well into the next century.

There is one other thing that....I think is...a huge mistake. The analysis on the rise of materialism is just plain wrong. It is absolutely true that America is on a buying binge since the mid-80s that nothing has slowed much less stopped. But there's more to it than that.

In recent years, many observers have documented a decided paradox in American society of growing spending coupled with declining fulfillment (not a loss of interest in fulfillment as Adams suggests but less fulfillment). In fact, the survey and medical data on ennui and despair are -- not to be funny -- downright depressing. It's true that you can't buy happiness. But we do keep buying.

And why wouldn't we? Stuff may not make us happy but it sure is nice to have and keeping us with the Joneses is not a matter of status so much anymore as a matter of access to essentials like crime-free neighborhoods and proximity to good medical care and good schools for the kids. (If I'm sounding like Robert Reich or Robert Frank here it's because I think their analyses of this phenomenon are dead on point.)

And good stuff these days is cheap -- decades of....declining costs of technology, accelerating product innovation cycles, outsourcing of manufacturing and services. It all adds up to brand name goods at Wal-Mart and Costco. Plus, relative housing costs are down due to cheap, innovative (risky) mortgages. Add in cheap credit. We've got more money to spend and no apparent reason to save it.

On this, Adams is right. But does that mean materialism is taking over. No. In fact, material things have lost status, Adams data claims notwithstanding. Mainly, they've lost status because they aren't as exclusive as they used to be. And even if you can't afford them, you're surrounded by them in the media so the cultural experience of exposure to luxury is ubiquitous.

Even more, people are now saying that they have lots of material things and they're still not happy, so they want to go beyond material things to add non-material things. Not to give up material things and replace them with non-material things, but to have both at once. The old idea that materialism is incompatible with non-materialism just isn't true anymore. Look at Real Simple magazine -- Zen in a luxury setting. Non-materialism is not about a Walden Pond experience. Non-materialism, in fact, is the new luxury, not traditional materials luxuries. I can lease a BMW if I can't buy it outright but I can't afford to take any time off for myself. So to say that materialism is up is really not to say anything at all -- it completely and totally misses the point.

What's scarce are the intangibles. And thus intangibles are on the rise. Adams says fulfillment and spirituality are going down. Not in our data. But generationally they appear to be down, as Adams notes, only because baby boomers were an oddity in these particular social values -- boomers obsessed over these things (we have data on this, too). Young people today aren't worse -- they're actually at the norm. It was boomers who were abnormal. Even so, this doesn't mean that intangibles aren't growing in importance.

(Adams also ignores this generational effect when it comes to community. He mentions Putnam but fails to make note of Putnam's single most important conclusion -- the decline of community is generational, boomers in particular. So, the open question is whether the next generation can be re-engaged with community. I say yes, but only if you are willing to redefine your definition of community, which Adams is not.)

Intangibles are things like experiences, emotions (over functionality), design and aesthetics, service, authenticity, etc. Now, I mention this because I think Adams also misses the point on hedonism and thrill-seeking. What's going up these days is interest in experiences. But this interest is rising in a marketplace of so-called luxury parity. Everything at a luxury level of performance. So, how to stand out when everything is the same as everything else, and everything is the same at the highest possible level of quality? The answer -- go to an extreme. It's the only direction in which to go. And that's the exact and precise direction that pop culture (TV, music, sports, even some fashion) has taken. So the rise in thrill-seeking and extremity isn't really a sign of anything other than a normal adolescent interest in doing something new and the only thing left to do that's new is something more extreme than before. This is simply intensified by the general marketplace shift to experiences. I could go on and on about experiences as the marketplace of tomorrow (for all products -- look at the Whirlpool/Kitchen-Aid Insperiences thing in Atlanta). Again, Adams ignores this entirely and it is a huge dynamic in the marketplace and is the context within which his trends of hedonism and thrill-seeking have to be assessed. He basically misses the real story.

...I'm totally amazed how he can get it so totally wrong. His data don't appear to be bad. The few actual questions he includes remind me very much of MONITOR questions. And we have to wind our way through the exact kinds of data oddities showing up in his data. But for him to come to such totally opposite conclusions is just stunning to me. While our ideas differ in some ways from other firms/people doing consumer trends work, I've never ever seen anybody who just gets it totally wrong.

There you have it. Smith may not be right about everthing he says here, but when someone of his stature raises these kinds of questions, it behooves us to take them seriously.

February 3, 2006

Kerry Campaign Performance in Swing States

By David Gopoian

Political performance should be evaluated against a benchmark of realistic expectations. As in a previous post, I use expected partisanship as such a benchmark to evaluate Kerry's performance relative to expectations for a Democratic candidate in a given jurisdiction.

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 geographic regions within state-level exit samples designated by the designers of the 2004 exit surveys.

The geographic designations created by Edison Mitofsky were done for sampling purposes primarily and often do not correspond to the most ideal geo-political boundaries for the purposes of political analysis. Findings may nonetheless prove instructive. Altogether, there were 202 geographic regions for the 50 states plus DC in the state-level exit polls.

The expected outcomes in these 202 regions were evenly split by partisan tendency, with 103 (51%) leaning Democratic and 99 (49%) leaning Republican. In southern and border states, 27 of 62 regions (44%) leaned Democratic. In northern states, 76 of 140 regions (54%) leaned Democratic.

Kerry received a majority of the two-party vote in 85 of the 103 regions that leaned Democratic (or 83% of them). Of the 27 regions in southern and border states that leaned Democratic, Kerry received the majority of the two-party vote in only 9 (or 30% of them). In northern states, where 76 regions leaned Democratic, Kerry actually exceeded that number, carrying 77 regions.

In a nutshell, Kerry was expected to win 51% of all regions nationally, and won in only 42%. In northern states, the Democratic nominee should have carried 54% of all regions, and Kerry captured 55%. In southern and border states, the typical Democrat should have won 30% of the regions. There, Kerry received the majority of the two-party vote in just 13% of them.

Of course in many of these regions, there was no visible Kerry campaign effort. Even such pivotal states as Colorado and Missouri were vacated early by the Democratic nominee. With the exception of Florida, the same may be said for every southern state. So the really intriguing data are those for the contested swing states.

Most of these findings may seem unsurprising, as they should given the stability of partisan tendencies across time. Perhaps the best showing of the Kerry campaign was in the Republican-leaning Philly suburbs, which proved essential to carrying Pennsylvania. In general, Kerry did better than expected in urban centers, pivotal to winning such states as Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Even in the uncontested states of Missouri and Colorado, Kerry held his own in urban centers. The Florida data suggest that the Kerry campaign succeeded in the Miami media market, but fell flat in Tampa Bay.

Some Notes on Central Ohio

Central Ohio, a largely rural, very white, very born-again expanse that covered parts of 5 Congressional Districts, each represented by a GOP House member (balanced only by Democratic-leaning Columbus), was the critical region that cost Kerry the state and the election.

In Central Ohio, Kerry gathered only 41% of the vote, three percentage points shy of expectations for the Democratic candidate. This is where Kerry lost the state and the presidential election. So it makes sense to focus a bit on Central Ohio.

Not surprisingly, vanilla is the flavor that best defines Central Ohio. More than 90% were white, and three-fifths were white Protestants. Approximately 40% were rural residents. But nearly half (45%) of the region's voters were college graduates and their household median income approached $60,000.

The best-fitting model of the presidential vote for the Central Ohio region includes just two predictor variables: party identification and overall Bush approval ratings. Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 45% to 28%. Conservative Republicans outnumbered liberal Democrats by a ratio of three to one. Overall, 60% approved of Bush's performance in office.

Attitude measurement has never been a forte of exit surveys, but the limited data available do indicate that voters' perceptions of the candidates best able to handle the economy and terrorism and voters' outlooks regarding Iraq correlated strongly with both Bush approval and party identification. So, too, did the major social marker and pivotal demographic in the life of Central Ohio.

At the end of the day, the key demographic that explained most of what may be observed about Central Ohio simmered down to religiosity. More than one-third of the region's voters claimed born-again status, including 41% of all women and 28% of the men. This gender breakdown explains one of the major ironies of the vote preferences of central Ohioans - a reverse gender gap.

Among men, Kerry ran about one percentage point better than expected, and gained 45% of their votes, but among women Kerry ran eight percentage points below expectations and finished with only 37% of their votes. Kerry's percentage of the vote from men who were less religious was two and one-half times what he received from born-again men; his percentage among less religious women was four times as great as the share of the vote he obtained from born-again women in the region.

Collectively, from voters who were not born-again, Kerry ran even with expectations, and took a slight majority of the vote (51%). From the 35% who were born-again, however, Kerry ran thirteen percentage points below expectations and took only 17% of the vote.

In Central Ohio, as in the nation as a whole, the social issues agenda of the Republican Party did not define the motivations of most voters. But more importantly than anywhere else in 2004, the moralistic agenda of the GOP generated the margin in Central Ohio that provided Bush with four more years.

February 2, 2006

The Minority Vote and the Progressive Coalition

by Ruy Teixeira

As part of what I plan to make an ongoing series on the components or building blocks of the progressive coalition, I offer the following assessment of the current state and likely future development of the minority vote, with a special focus on controversies about the Hispanic vote.

The minority vote is probably the single strongest element of the progressive coalition. In John Kerry’s losing 2004 effort, he still carried the minority vote by 71 percent to 27 percent. In that election, minorites were, according to the exit polls, 23 percent of the overall vote. However, the Current Population Survey (CPS) Voter Supplement data tell a somewhat different story, putting the minority vote at around 21 percent of the electorate. The CPS figure seems more realistic, which would still indicate that the minority vote will grow to around a quarter of presidential voters by the end of the decade. That compares to around 15 percent of voters in the early 1990's when Bill Clinton was first elected.

Clearly, maintaining these high levels of support among minorities is crucial to progressives’ future prospects. Indeed, given the increasing weight of these voters in the electorate, it would be highly desirable to move their overall support back up to the 75 percent enjoyed by Al Gore in the 2000 election. To get a sense of the contours of this challenge, we need to break down the minority vote into its three major components: blacks; Hispanics and Asians.

Black voters. Black voters, of course, are the most reliable progressive constituency. In the 2004 election, Kerry had an 88 percent to 11 percent margin among blacks, down only slightly from the 90 percent to 9 percent margin for Gore in 2000. In fact, except for 2000 and Mondale’s 1984 campaign, Kerry’s margin among blacks is the highest obtained by a Democratic candidate since the exit polls started in 1976.

In the last several elections, blacks have been about 10-11 percent of voters. Population growth trends indicate that the black percentage of the overall population will change little in the next ten years, so we should not expect the black percentage of voters to change much either.

Hispanic voters. Hispanic voters, while strong for progressives, are not nearly as strong as blacks, and have famously been more volatile in their support. In the 2004 election, it was initially reported that they gave Bush 44 percent of their vote. However, that initial exit poll figure is now widely acknowledged to have been flawed and the generally accepted estimate is that Kerry carried Hispanics by a 58-40 margin. Still, that represents a significant improvement of 5 points in Bush’s support among Hispanics over 2000 and a substantial compression of the Democratic margin among this group.

There has been much debate about the causes of this shift. Probably the best treatment of the issue was done by political scientists Marisa Abrajano, Michael Alvarez and Jonathan Nagler, whose thorough analysis of 2004 exit poll data indicates that the national security and moral values pull toward the GOP outweighed the economy, health care and education pull toward the Democrats for an unusually large proportion of Hispanic voters. This can be illustrated by the fact that Bush had a 13 point advantage among Hispanics on being trusted to handle terrorism, while Kerry’s advantage among Hispanics on being trusted to handle the economy was a more modest 5 points.

There has been even more debate about the significance of Bush’s 40 percent showing among Hispanics. Abrajano, Alvarez and Nagler find no evidence that a specific cultural issue like abortion is realigning Hispanics nor do they find evidence for the “economic advancement” hypothesis–that as Hispanics, particularly second and third generation Hispanics, are becoming richer as a group, this is moving them toward the GOP.

It is also worth noting that, if you properly compare the two Bush elections of 2000 and 2004 to the two Reagan elections of 1980 and 1984, the average level of Hispanic support for the Democrats in the Bush elections has actually been slightly higher than in the Reagan elections. And in the next election following Reagan’s relatively good performances among Hispanics—1988—the Hispanic presidential vote moved sharply Democratic, to 69–30.

The potential for such a surge is well-illustrated by the most recent national poll of Hispanics, conducted by the Latino Coalition, a conservative group close to the GOP. In this poll, Democrats have a stunning 61 percent to 21 percent lead over the GOP among Hispanic registered voters, which translates into a 50-point lead (75 percent to 25 percent) among those who express a preference. By way of comparison to the last two off-year elections, 2002 and 1998, Democrats carried the Congressional vote among Hispanics by 24 and 26 points, respectively.

The new poll also finds Democrats with a 35-point lead (58 percent to 23 percent) 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 points); providing affordable health care (+40); improving the economy (+31); 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, this tie is a sharp decline from Bush’s 13- 14 point lead over Kerry on this issue before and during the 2004 election.

Demographic trends underscore the importance for progressives of taking advantage of Hispanics’ current leanings. As is well-known, the Hispanic population is growing rapidly, both in terms of absolute numbers and as a share of the US population. Before 1980, the Census did not even record Hispanic origin when it surveyed the country’s residents. Today, Hispanics have surpassed blacks as the nation’s largest minority group and the latest Census estimates (July, 2003) indicate that there are 40 million Hispanics in the US, 13 percent of the nation’s population.

This rapid increase in demographic importance will continue for decades. Census projections indicate, in fact, that by about mid-century Hispanics will be one-quarter of the US population (at which point or shortly thereafter, the US will become a majority-minority nation).

But it’s important to stress that the population strength of Hispanics is not matched by its voting strength, due to the large proportion of Hispanics who aren’t citizens and therefore can’t vote or are simply too young to vote. For example, of the 5.7 million Hispanics added to the US population between 2000 and 2004, 1.7 million were under 18 and 1.9 million were noncitizens. As a result of these factors, only 39 percent of Hispanics overall are eligible to vote, compared to 76 percent of nonhispanic whites and 65 percent of blacks. (For more detail, see this excellent report by the Pew Hispanic Center.)

Still, the proportion of Hispanics among the voting electorate has grown steadily and will continue to grow. Only 2 percent of voters in early 1990's, they are now somewhere in the 6-8 percent range (far more in certain states, of course) and within ten years may be approaching blacks as a proportion of actual voters.

Asian voters. Asians over the last 15 years or so have become a fairly solid progressive constituency. In the 2004 election, they supported Kerry over Bush by 56-44, similar to the margin they gave Gore over Bush (55-41) in 2000. And in the last Congressional election, when much of the electorate was going in the opposite direction, Asians actually increased their support dramatically for House Democrats going from 56-44 percent Democratic in 1998 to 66-34 in 2002.

If you look at rate of growth, Asians are also America’s fastest-growing minority group–faster even than Hispanics (59.4 percent to 57.9 percent in the ‘90s). Right now they are 4-5 percent of the population and about 2 percent of voters. Both figures will increase in the next ten years, due to this group’s fast rate of growth, but because they start from a much smaller base than Hispanics, their impact on the population and voting pool will be far more limited.

February 1, 2006

A Failed Presidency

by Ruy Teixeira

Is Bush’s State of the Union (SOTU) address on Tuesday likely to boost his approval ratings and his political fortunes? Not likely. As a very useful Gallup report on post-SOTU polling points out, presidents do not usually get a significant ratings boost from SOTU speeches. In fact, in 12 out of 24 cases going back to 1978, presidential approval actually went down, compared to 10 cases where it went up and 2 cases where it remained the same. Moreover, in only four cases did presidential approval go up four points or more, which would indicate a statistically significant bump.

As for Bush’s specific record, in three out four SOTU addresses, his post-speech rating changed insignificantly three times (twice negatively and once positively) and in the fourth case (2005) went up six points–a change the report argues was probably attributable to the holding of the first post-Saddam Iraqi elections right after the speech–and then quickly went back down to its pre-speech level.

These data are from post-speech polls among the general public. Gallup rightly warns against putting too much stock in post-speech reaction polls conducted among debate-watchers, since debate-watchers tend to be heavily skewed by partisanship toward the president’s party. For example, last year’s debate-watchers were 52 percent Republican, 25 percent Democratic and 22 percent independent. With audiences like that, a president is pretty much guaranteed to get a friendly reception, but it doesn’t really mean anything.

So Bush is likely to be stuck with what he’s got. And what he’s got is pretty darn awful. As a spate of extensive pre-SOTU polls have made very clear, his presidency is on life support. In fact, the words “a failed presidency” would not be unwarranted, at this point, in describing what Bush has managed to attain. But don’t just take my word for it–listen to what the public has to say.

1. In the latest Gallup poll, a majority (52 percent) now describe the Bush presidency as a failure. Contrast this to ratings of Clinton, who, from September, 1996 onward, never had less than 64 percent describing his presidency as a success and was usually at 70 percent and above.

2. Remember that classic question of presidential debates, are you better off today than you were [insert number] years ago? In the same poll, Gallup asked whether “things have gotten better or worse in this country in the last five years”. By 64-28, the public said that things have gotten worse, including a 70-21 margin among independents.

3. In the new LA Times poll, by 2:1 (62-31), the public says that the country is not better off because of Bush’s policies and needs to move in a new direction (67-25 among independents and 71-21 among moderates).

4. In the same poll, by 60-32, the public says Bush has not fulfilled his promise to “restore honesty and integrity to the White House”.

5. In the new Washington Post/ABC News poll, the Democrats in Congress are favored by 16 points (51-35) over Bush on the direction for the country, Democrats are favored over Republicans by 16 points (51-35) on having better ideas and Democrats are favored over the Republicans by 14 points (51-37) on which party can best handle the main problems facing the nation in the next few years. The latter measure is the first time since 1992 that the Democrats have broken 50 percent on this measure and had a lead over the Republicans of this magnitude.

6. In the same poll, an astonishing 50 percent–half the country!–strongly disapproves of Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq.

7. In the new CBS News/New York Times poll, just 22 percent believe the economy will be better by end of Bush’s second term in office than it is today, only 11 percent believe seniors will be paying less for prescription drugs than they are today, a mere 9 percent believe the health care system will be better and an incurably optimistic 6 percent think the deficit will be smaller than it is today.

And there’s more–oh so much more!–but I just don’t have time to rehearse it all here. I ‘ll just leave you with one question. Can you say “failed presidency”? I think you can!