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March 31, 2006

Exurbia: The Democrats' Next Frontier

Yesterday, the New Politics Institute released my report, The Next Frontier: A New Study of Exurbia. In all due modesty, I recommend it to you. Here's the summary of key findings, but I do think you'll find the whole report instructive.

Is exurbia really solid GOP territory—so dominated by conservative white voters that the Democrats have no chance of competing successfully there? This report takes a careful look at the data and concludes that view is incorrect. On the contrary, the most important part of exurbia—America’s emerging suburbs—is definitely accessible to Democrats. Here are some of the key findings of the report:

· Exurbia can be usefully divided into two parts—borderline rural “true exurbs” and borderline suburban “emerging suburbs”. Today’s true exurbs contain only 2 percent of the nation’s population. Emerging suburbs on the other hand contain 13 percent of the nation’s population and, on average, are growing faster than any other type of county in the US, including true exurbs.

· Emerging suburbs are rapidly becoming more diverse. Between 1990 and 2000, emerging suburbs went from 85 percent white down to 79 percent white, meaning that the minority percentage of these areas rose at a rate of about six-tenths of a percent per year in the 1990's.

· Between 1990 and 2000, the white population of emerging suburbs grew solidly, by about 21 percent over the decade. But the black population of these counties grew by 50 percent and the Hispanic and Asian populations exploded, growing by 117 percent and 111 percent, respectively. Overall, the minority population grew by 89 percent, substantially faster than minority growth in any other county category.

· About 58 percent of emerging suburban residents and 69 percent of true exurban residents are white working class–that is, are whites without a four year college degree. Only 23 percent and 16 percent, respectively, in these areas are college-educated whites.

· In terms of occupation, overwhelming numbers of emerging suburban and exurban workers do not hold professional or managerial jobs–65 percent and 71 percent, respectively. In both types of areas, there are more construction and production workers than professionals and way more sales and office workers than managers.

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

· The Bush-Kerry split in emerging suburban counties was less lop-sided (56-43) and represented only a 5 point gain in margin over 2000, when the Bush-Gore split was 52-44. (In 1996, the Dole-Clinton split was only 45-44.) But since these emerging suburban counties are much larger than true exurban counties, they contributed 26 percent of Bush’s net vote gains between 2000 and 2004, dwarfing the true exurban contribution.

· Of the 100 fastest-growing counties, 44 are emerging suburbs. These very fast-growing emerging suburbs account for almost two-thirds of the contribution to Bush’s net vote gains made by the 100 fastest-growing counties as a whole. Thus, the political impact of the 100 fastest-growing counties in the US is primarily due to the fast-growing emerging suburban counties that are included within the group.

· Emerging suburban counties are not equally accessible to the Democrats all over the country. By and large, the “bluer” the state, the better Democrats do in emerging suburbs and the “redder” the state, the worse they do. Kerry lost emerging suburban counties in solid blue states by only 51-48. In purple leaning blue states and purple leaning red states, he did just a bit worse in these counties, losing 53-46, while Clinton in ‘96 actually managed to carry the emerging suburbs in both these groups of states. In pure purple states Kerry actually beat Bush by a point in the emerging suburbs, 50-49. And even in red vulnerable states, Kerry was still within a 58-41 margin in these counties, while Clinton in ‘96 lost them by only 4 points.

· Public opinion data indicate that emerging suburban voters are tax-sensitive and concerned about government waste, but not ideologically anti-government. Similarly, while they tend to be religious and family-oriented and hold some conservative social views, they are socially moderate in comparison to rural residents. They are also not anti-business, but do hold populist attitudes toward corporate abuse and people who game the system. And these voters worry more about concrete issues like public education than they do about whether politicians have the “correct” stance on various values issues.

· Smart Democratic campaigns that offer solid solutions to the everyday problems of exurbia, particularly in the emerging suburbs, present a relatively moderate stance on social issues and seem culturally comfortable with the exurban way of life can have every expectation of performing well among these voters. Conversely, if the GOP continues to pursue an ideologically anti-government agenda that compromises government services, while pandering to the far right on social issues, they can have every expectation of shrinking margins among these voters.

· Competing and winning in exurbia also means that Democratic field operations will have to venture into areas where they feel less comfortable and where finding Democratic votes takes a bit more effort. To succeed in these areas, they will have to develop new models of voter mobilization that go beyond traditional precinct-based methods and reach out to the newer voters and others who lean their way, but who are dispersed throughout their communities, rather than conveniently concentrated within specific precincts.

March 30, 2006

2006 Election Outlook: The Macro and the Micro

by Ruy Teixeira

Broadly speaking, there are two approaches to looking at the outlook for this year’s Congressional elections. One is the “macro” approach, where one looks at a variety of national indicators to gauge the mood of the electorate and how that’s likely to affect the incumbent and challenging parties. The other approach is the “micro” approach, which assesses how each individual House and Senate race is likely to turn out, and aggregates up from that level to assess the likely gains and losses of the two parties.

The two methods tend to tell different stories and that is particularly true this year. First, let’s look at the macro story. According to these indicators, the GOP is in terrible shape and likely to get swamped by the Democrats in the election. Indeed, by these indicators, as Charlie Cook recently pointed out, the GOP is at least as bad off as the Democrats were at this point in the 1994 election cycle.

Right Direction/Wrong Track

In spring of 1994, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal (NBC/WSJ) poll has this critical indicator of the public mood at 47 percent wrong track/33 percent right direction. Today, the same poll has this indicator at 62 percent wrong track/26 percent right direction.

Generic Congressional Contest

In the most recent Gallup poll, the Democrats had a 16 point lead among registered voters (55-39) in the generic congressional contest, their largest lead on this question since 1982. The Democrats’ average lead in all public polls since the beginning of March is 13 points. Even assuming the generic question overestimates Democratic support by 5 points (the average difference between Gallup’s final poll among registered voters and the actual election result), that still gives the Democrats an average lead of 8 points.

The Democrats are also running large leads among independents in the generic Congressional ballot–generally in the 14-22 point range. As far back as I can get data (1982), the Democrats have never had a lead among independents larger than 4 points in an actual election, 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, if it holds, are huge.

Generic congressional data also tend to show substantial shifts away from the GOP among base Republican and swing voters. As recently summarized by Democracy Corps:

The most important shifts are taking place among the world of Republican loyalists, which will have big strategic consequences. It is reflected in the most recent Democracy Corps poll where defection of 2004 Bush voters to the Democrats is twice the level of defection of Kerry voters to the Republicans. Only 31 percent of voters in blue counties (those carried by Kerry) are voting Republican for Congress, but 41 percent of red county voters are supporting the Democratic candidate. The combined data set shows major shifts in the Deep South and rural areas (even before the most recent controversies), blue-collar white men, and the best educated married men with high incomes....

The other big shifts are taking place across the contested groups that form the swing blocs in the electorate. That is bringing big Democratic gains among older (over 50) non-college voters, the vulnerable women, practicing Catholics and the best-educated men. It is as if the entire center of the electorate shifted....

The Democracy Corps quote mentioned the south. Yes, the south. Consider these data from a poll of 4,000 voters in AL, FL, LA, GA, MS, NC, SC, TN and VA, conducted by Insider Advantage for Hasting Wyman's Southern Political Report. In this poll, Bush has a net negative approval rating in these states (45 percent approval/50 percent disapproval) and Democrats are preferred over the GOP to control Congress by 44-43,

According to Insider Advantage CEO Matt Towery:

This is disastrous for the Republican Party. Even with legislative and congressional districts in most Southern states being drawn favorably for the GOP, there is a potential for a Republican meltdown at the polls in the mid-term elections this November. ... When we broke the numbers down, we found the general trend that the larger of the state we surveyed, the more support for a Democratic Congress there was.

Most remarkably, FL's preference for a Dem-controlled Congress was almost 10 points. Wow.

Presidential Job Approval

Again, comparing NBC/WSJ data, Clinton’s approval rating at this time in 1994 was 55 percent approval/36 percent disapproval. Even at the time of the election, it was still 46 percent/46 percent. Bush’s current rating in the same poll is 37 percent approval/58 percent disapproval–net negative by 21 points.

Congressional Job Approval

The most recent Gallup poll has Congress’ job approval at just 27 percent, the worst Gallup has measured in more than a decade. Right before the 1994 election, Congress’ job approval stood at 23 percent. This indicator is not just bad for the incumbent GOP in general, but there are reasons to believe this is a key indicator of potentially large seat swings. As the Gallup report on these data notes:

During recent midterm election years, low congressional approval ratings have been associated with greater shifts in the partisan composition of the U.S. House of Representatives. In the five elections since 1974 in which Congress' approval rating was below 40%, the average net change in U.S. House seats from one party to the other was 29. In the three midterm elections in which congressional approval ratings were above 40%, the average change was five seats....

The fact that both congressional and presidential approval ratings are low does not bode well for the Republican Party. The current situation is similar to the political environment in 1978 and 1994, when Democrats controlled both the legislative and executive branches -- which were both unpopular. Those elections resulted in net losses for the Democratic Party of 11 and 53 seats, respectively.

Forecasting

Another way of relating mood indicators to seat swing comes from forecasting models of the popular Congressional vote and its relation to seat gain and loss. A recent model developed by Alan Abramowitz predicts that, if Bush’s approval stays in -20 net negative territory through the election, the GOP will only get 47.9 percent of the popular vote. Because the predicted relationship between the popular vote split and the House seat split is closer than one might think, Abramowitz finds that such a popular vote share could translate into only 199 GOP-held seats, for a net loss of 33 seats. Of course, there are many caveats here and it is possible that the popular vote-House seat distribution relationship has been changing too rapidly to be accurately captured by models. But it does provide another way of illustrating the very good macro environment for the Democrats.

Enthusiasm

There now appears to be an enthusiasm gap among voters in the Democrats’ favor. In the latest NBC/WSJ poll, they asked voters to rate their interest in voting from 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest. The result: 53 percent of Democrats rated themselves a “10" but only 43 percent of Republicans. Similarly, 53 percent of those who expressed a preference for a Democrat-controlled Congress rated themselves a 10, but only 38 percent of those who preferred a Republican-controlled Congress.

Turning to the micro story, we find things not looking so rosy for the Democrats. As summarized by Charlie Cook (and it is hard to find a micro-analysis that diverges strongly from his):

Despite national political trends indicating that the GOP is in serious trouble, a race-by-race "micro" analysis suggests that Democrats cannot easily seize control of the House or the Senate this fall.

In the Senate, Democrats need a net gain of six seats. Republicans are truly fortunate to have only one senator retiring, Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. Although Democratic Rep.Harold Ford is a talented candidate, he will have his work cut out for him against the winner of a competitive three-way August GOP primary for Frist's seat. The South has become a GOP stronghold. In 2004, Democrats went 0 for 5 in attempting to hold open Senate seats in that region.

Democrats need to win in Tennessee and knock off five GOP incumbents. Only five look truly vulnerable: Conrad Burns of Montana, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Jim Talent of Missouri.....

In the House, where Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats, only about three dozen are truly in play today. So far, 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats have announced their retirements. Ten of those Republicans serve in safe GOP districts, where Democrats stand little chance of winning.

Meanwhile, despite their herculean efforts, Democratic recruiters have enticed few first-tier challengers into running this year. Instead, the party has an abundance of second- and third-tier candidates who could never prevail on their own and would need a hurricane-force wind at their backs to cross the finish line first. (Democrats last had a strong political wind propelling them in 1982 -- and before that in 1974.) So, as with the Senate, Democrats need to win every truly competitive House race.

A hurricane does seem likely to hit the GOP this November. But the micro analysis shows that structural barriers in the House and Senate are protecting the Republican majorities like seawalls, and would likely withstand the surge from a Category 1, 2, or 3 storm. They probably couldn't withstand a Category 4 or 5, though.

In 1994, the last wave election, Democrats were protected by many of the same barriers, particularly in the House. The tsunami that slammed into their party had looked perhaps 10 stories tall, not enough for the GOP to shift the necessary 40 seats. But the wave ended up being 15 stories high, and Republicans picked up 52 seats (plus two party switchers).

In four out of five elections, the micro analysis proves accurate. But in about one out of five, it doesn't. Will this year be one of those exceptions?

To make this year one of those exceptions, clearly the macro situation has to become very closely connected to the micro. That is, individual races have to allow, to the maximum extent possible, for the expression of macro sentiments that are leaning so heavily against the incumbent party.

That means, of course, an election that is heavily nationalized. There are some signs that this is already happening. For example, the latest NBC/WSJ poll shows that, by 37-20, voters are seeing their vote as a signal of opposition to, not support for, Bush. That compares to 31-19 the other way in October of 2002. That suggests that views about Bush are nationalizing the election in the Democrats’ favor.

Moreover, by 44-40, voters now say that their representative’s position on national issues will be more important than their representative’s performance in taking care of district problems. That compares to 35 percent national/51 percent district in October of 1994, a “wave” election that was significantly nationalized by the GOP. By this indicator, the Democrats are well on their way–and then some–to a nationalized election.

Iraq

In this election, there is also one issue in particular that has a chance to drive further nationalization of the election, almost by itself: Iraq. I have covered in detail the ever-worsening public sentiments on Iraq. But there is no indication we have hit bottom yet. Indeed, it is possible we are on the verge of a qualitative negative shift in public attitudes toward the war and the administration responsible for it. A March 27 New York Times story, “In an Election Year, a Shift in Public Opinion on the War“ reported:

Interviews with voters, elected officials and candidates around the country suggest a deepening and hardening opposition to the war. Historians and analysts said this might mark a turning point in public perception.

"I'm less optimistic because I see the fatalities every day," said Angela Kirby, 32, a lawyer from St. Louis who initially supported the war. "And the longer it goes on, the less optimistic I am."

Here in New Mexico, Dollie Shoun, 67, said she had gone from being an ardent supporter of the war and the president to a fierce critic of both.

"There has been too many deaths, and it is time for them to come back home," Ms. Shoun said. Speaking of Mr. Bush, she added: "I was very much for him, but I don't trust him at this point in time."

Polls have found that support for the war and expectations about its outcome have reached their lowest level since the invasion. A Pew Research Center poll this week found that 66 percent of respondents said the United States was losing ground in preventing a civil war in Iraq, a jump of 18 percent since January.....

Richard B. Wirthlin, who was the pollster for President Ronald Reagan, says he sees the beginning of a decisive turn in public opinion against the war. "It is hard for me to imagine any set of circumstances that would lead to an enhancement of the public support that we have seen," he said. "It is more likely to go down, and the question is how far and how fast."

Widen the Playing Field

A nationalized election has to have the candidates and money to contest every possible election and therefore catch the wave to the maximum extent possible. It is getting a bit late on the candidate recruitment front, but it is never too late for money. As Cook points out, if the wave is high enough, even second and their tier candidates have a decent chance to win. But they still need money.

As I have argued before, the investment of adequate money in these marginal races is a far wiser use of resources than throwing more and more money at the most obviously competitive races. As lucidly explained by political scientists Donald Green and Jonathan Krasno:

Because of diminishing returns, we know that a large investment in an expensive race will bring few votes, while a small investment in a cheaper race may bring many. Parties shy away from the latter on the grounds that hopeless candidates are hopeless causes. But the math says different. Suppose that we could increase the odds of twenty candidates from 5 to 10 percent for the same cost of helping two candidates with 45 percent chances get to 50 percent. By helping the twenty hapless candidates, we would increase the expected number of victories from 20 x 0.05 = 1 to 20 x 0.10 = 2. By helping the well-heeled candidates, we would increase the expected number of victories from 2 x .45 = 0.90 to 2 x .50 = 1. The first investment portfolio has an expected return of 1 additional victory, while the second one is just one-tenth of an additional victory.

That is a fairly realistic scenario. Seventy challengers in 2004 spent between $100,000 to $500,000, and 19 of them won at least 40 percent of the vote. Boosting their spending by as little as $50,000 or $100,000 would have a discernable effect on their chances, while increasing expenditures by $500,000 in an expensive race would likely have little effect. Parties ignore long shots because viewed individually no single candidate has a particularly good chance of winning. But as a group, long shots are ripe with possibility because of their numbers and because their low spending gives parties a chance to influence their chances. Targeting overlooks many potential winners....

The bottom line is that targeting does not help parties win elections. Instead, it impels them into high-spending races where the value of their contributions is minimal. The narrow group of targeted contests excludes many other elections where they have a distinct, albeit distant, chance of winning. By focusing so sharply on top-tier races, the parties effectively narrow the playing field in congressional elections, limiting their potential gains...

Where’s the Beef?

Finally, there is the ideas issue. Democrats have been consistently running deficits to the Republicans on which party has clear ideas–both in general and on specific issues like Iraq–and on which party knows what they stand for.

In only the most recent manifestation of this pattern, the new Time magazine poll finds just 36 percent saying “Democrats have a clear set of policies for the country”, compared to 56 percent who don’t. Republicans fare better with a 43 percent clear policies/50 percent not clear policies.

Does this matter? Certainly one can go far in terms of nationalizing the election simply by concentrating on the sins of the other side and, in particular, on Bush himself and the need to change course from his direction for the country. This case is argued, with supporting documentation, in the latest Democracy Corps memo, “Defining the 2006 Election”.

And this is an off-year election, less conducive than a presidential contest for laying out an elaborate set of ideas about what Democrats stand for. Moreover, the persistent Republican taunting of the Democrats for having no ideas suggests an interest on the GOP’s part in shifting the conversation away from their considerable problems and onto (hopefully complicated and vulnerable) ideas that Democrats put forward.

But it’s hard to avoid the sense that voters still would like to know what Democrats stand for and that, if Democrats could convey a few clear and simple things they stood for, that would help nationalize the election further to their benefit. “Together, we can do better” doesn’t really do that job.

The DCorps memo does recommend a short set of policy themes that are somewhat more specific than the ringing call to do better:

Block any pay raise for Congress until the incomes of average workers begin to rise.

Replace Bush’s prescription drug plan with a simple one that controls costs.

Raise the minimum wage to $7 an hour.

Repeal the new tax loophole that encourages companies to move operations overseas.

Implement all the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission on homeland
security and inspect 100 percent of containers coming into America.

Repeal the cuts in all student loan programs and increase tax breaks for college costs.

Create tax incentives to expand the development of wind, solar, and biofuel technologies.

These are indeed worthy ideas and they do appear to test well. But they’ve got a bit of a laundry list feel and it’s not clear they would go that far toward crystallizing an image of what the Democratic party stands for in voters’ minds. There’s also nothing about Iraq, which seems an odd omission in light of the centrality of that issue.

This suggests Democrats may need to throw a few big ideas into the mix at this point to clarify what they stand for and further nationalize the election in their favor. One idea should a responsible but definite exit strategy and timetable for ending the Iraq war. Another might be moving toward universal health care.

Sure, big ideas like these, even pitched at a fairly high level of generality, might give the other side something to shoot at. But it would also give the voters some of the answers they’re looking for about what the Democrats stand for. At this point, I’d say the Democrats should err on the side of giving the voters what they want.

March 25, 2006

New Books Illuminate Dem's Path to Victory

Armchair and real world Dem strategists are directed to the April issue of the Washington Monthly, where Decembrist Mark Schmitt has a review article "Backseat Strategists: Do the Democratic Party's harshest internal critics finally have a plan for building a political majority?" Schmitt discusses four books: Take It Back by James Carville and Paul Begala; Foxes in the Henhouse by Steve Jarding and Dave 'Mudcat' Saunders; Hostile Takeover David Sirota; and Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots and the Rise of People-Powered Politics by Jerome (My DD) Armstrong and Markos (Daily Kos) Moulitsas Zuniga.

Schmitt is most enamored with Crashing the Gate, but provides perceptive commentary on all four of the books. It's not a long article, but it is highly reccomended as an introduction to the current thinking of some of the Dems' brighter strategists.

March 24, 2006

2006 Campaign Watch

by Ruy Teixeira

Data continue to pour in, suggesting just how unfavorable the political environment has become for the GOP in this election year. Here are the high points:

1. In the latest Pew Research Center poll, Bush’s approval rating is down to 33 percent, his lowest ever in a public poll, which includes ratings of just 73 percent among Republicans and 26 percent among independents.

The report provides a fascinating table showing just how much ground Bush has lost among various GOP base groups since January, 2005. This in includes approval declines of 16 points among conservative Republicans, 18 points among white evangelicals and 21 points among white men. In short, a Karl Rove nightmare.

2. The same poll shows just how profoundly Bush’s personal standing has eroded with the public. At this point, only 44 percent view Bush as a strong leader, 43 percent think he’s able to get things done, 42 percent think he cares about people like them, 40 percent think he’s trustworthy, 38 percent think he’s well-informed and 35 percent think he’s a good manager.

You’d almost think they didn’t like the guy.

Pew also does a one word description exercise on Bush which is quite interesting. One word descriptions now run 48 percent negative/28 percent positive, compared to 52 percent positive/27 percent negative in May, 2003.

Since February, 2005, when the most common one word description of Bush was “honest” (38 percent) and “incompetent” was only at 14 percent, these description have switched positions–incompetent is now at 29 percent–the most common description--and honest is at 14 percent. Other negative descriptions of Bush have also increased substantially–“idiot” (up to 21 percent) and “liar” (up to 17 percent).

Like I say, you’d almost think they didn’t like the guy.

3. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal (NBC/WSJ) poll indicates that Bush is likely to be a considerable liability to the GOP this November, that the election is becoming nationalized and that there is likely to be an enthusiasm gap that disadvantages the GOP.

On the liability issue, the poll shows that, by 37-20, voters are seeing their vote as a signal of opposition to, not support for, Bush. That compares to 31-19 the other way in October of 2002.

On the nationalization issue, by 44-40, voters now say that their representative’s position on national issues will be more important than their representative’s performance in taking care of district problems. That compares to 35 percent national/51 percent district in October of 1994, an election that was supposedly successfully nationalized by the GOP.

On the enthusiasm gap issue, here’s Charlie Cook on the NBC/WSJ results:

When Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff interviewed 893 registered voters in their March 10-13 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, they asked voters how interested they were in this November's midterm election on a scale of one to 10, with one representing not at all interested and 10 being very interested.

The result: 53 percent of Democrats chose 10, compared to only 43 percent of Republicans. And only 34 percent of independents were 10s. Only 7 percent of Democrats, and the same percentage of Republicans, chose 9, so that doesn't close the gap much.

To look at the same situation from a slightly different angle, of those who said they preferred to see Democrats in control of Congress after the November elections, 53 percent chose 10, but of those that wanted to see Republicans in control, only 38 percent chose 10.

Nobody knows what will transpire between now and November and how much intensity each party's voters will have, but as of now, Democrats have a pronounced intensity advantage and enough of one to probably outweigh the GOP organizational edge.

Given the other data reviewed above, that enthusiasm gap sounds like it’s probably got legs.

March 23, 2006

The Economy, Five Years On

by Ruy Teixeira

Bush has had more than five years to convince the public that he knows what he’s doing on the economy and that his policies really are working. So far, no sale, despite some recent, fairly positive macroeconomic news. Here’s the latest Gallup data on public views of the economy:

Americans continue to resist giving the nation's economy positive ratings, regardless of what so-called "hard" economic indicators may show. Only about a third of Americans rate the current economy as excellent or good and 6 out of 10 say the economy is getting worse, not better. In general, these ratings are slightly worse than earlier this year, although still not as negative as they were early last fall after Hurricane Katrina and the rapid run-up in the price of gasoline.

As the report notes, Republicans, more than ever, all left “all alone” in having positive views of the economy. In the latest data, only 20 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of independents feel the economy is in good or excellent shape, compared to 60 percent of Republicans. Similarly, just 15 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of independents feel the economy is getting better, compared to 54 percent of Republicans.

More evidence for the “Indycrat” phenomenon, where independents and Democrats (Indycrats) see eye to eye on the policies and priorities of the Bush administration--which they find very wanting indeed--while Republicans are off seemingly on a different planet.

March 22, 2006

The Iraq War, Three Years On

by Ruy Teixeira

The Iraq war began on March 20, 2003 so this Monday was the three year anniversary of the war. A number of polling organizations have taken advantage of this milestone to conduct extensive polling on the public’s current views of the war.

The largest such effort was by WorldPublicOpinion.org, a project of the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA). Here are some of their key findings, as summarized at the beginning of their report, Americans on Iraq: Three Years On:

By a two-to-one margin, Americans now say that the Iraq war was a war of choice, not a war of necessity—i.e., it was not necessary for the defense of the US—and that the war was not the best use of US resources. For the first time, a majority now believes that Iraq did not have a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program, though the public is still divided on whether Iraq supported al-Qaeda. Such beliefs are highly correlated with support for the war. A large bipartisan majority says that if Iraq did not have WMD or did not support al-Qaeda, the US should not have gone to war. Majorities in both parties perceive the Bush administration as continuing to say that Iraq did have WMD or a major WMD program and provided substantial support to al-Qaeda.

A large majority of Americans want to begin drawing down US troops in Iraq, although only one in four favors a quick pullout. Two out of three perceive that the situation in Iraq is getting worse, and a clear majority expresses low confidence that the US intervention will succeed. A majority is not convinced that a US withdrawal would make the situation in Iraq worse than it is. Support for drawing down US troops does not appear to be related to the growing number of US troop fatalities. The strongest factor appears to be the perception that the presence of US troops provokes more attacks, followed by the lack of confidence that the operation will ultimately succeed.

A large bipartisan majority of Americans oppose permanent US military bases in Iraq and believe that most Iraqis are opposed as well, but a modest majority believes that the US nonetheless plans to have permanent bases. A large majority thinks that the US should be willing to accept a new Iraqi government setting a timeline for the withdrawal of US troops, and thinks that most Iraqis want such a timeline, but an overwhelming majority thinks that the US would refuse to agree to such a timeline.

There’s more in the report. I urge you to take a look at it.

Gallup has also conducted a great deal of recent polling on Iraq and has issued a report, Three Years of War Have Eroded Public Support, comparing their most recent data to past data they have collected. Among their findings:

The poll shows that 60% of Americans today say the war is not worth it, while in March 2003, just after the invasion of Iraq began, only 29% said it was not worth it to go to war.

At the time, 69% of Americans said the United States would "certainly" win; today just 22% have that level of confidence. Also, at the time the war was launched, just 4% of the public thought it either unlikely the United States would win, or certain it would not win; today 41% are that pessimistic.

By 73% to 24%, Americans said the war was morally justified when it began; today the public is divided, with 47% saying it is morally justified and 50% saying it is not.

Part of the Bush administration's justification for going to war was that such an undertaking would be part of the wider war on terrorism. Americans were divided on this issue in January 2003, with 50% agreeing and 48% disagreeing with the Bush administration. By August 2003, the public agreed by a larger margin, 57% to 41%. Today Americans reject the link between the war in Iraq and the wider war on terrorism by 53% to 44%.

Shortly before the war began, 51% of Americans thought the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein targeted a leader who had personally been involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, while 41% disagreed. Today, by 54% to 39%, Americans say the Iraqi leader was not personally involved in the attacks.

When no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, a May/June 2003 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll showed most Americans rejected the charge that the Bush administration deliberately misled the public about the matter, by 67% to 31%. Today, a slight majority, 51% to 46%, believes the Bush administration did deliberately mislead the public.

All very interesting. But perhaps the most interesting finding is this. Gallup asked a question that gave respondents four different options for dealing with the war in Iraq: “withdraw all troops from Iraq immediately, withdraw all troops by March 2007 -- that is, in 12 months' time, withdraw troops, but take as many years to do this as are needed to turn control over to the Iraqis, or send more troops to Iraq?” The response is a clear majority (54 percent) for withdrawing all troops within a year, with 19 percent wanting immediate withdrawal and another 35 percent favoring withdrawal by March, 2007.

That seems pretty clear. And how about this other fact provided by Gallup. In early August, 1970, Gallup asked the same question about the Vietnam War, giving respondents the same four options and found 48 percent wanted to either leave immed1ately (23 percent) or within a year (25 percent). In other words, there is stronger sentiment now for leaving Iraq within a year than there was about leaving Vietnam within a year in 1970, after the killings at Kent State and at practically the height of antiwar movement.

Now that’s impressive.

One final note: Bush’s approval rating on Iraq has now dipped below 30 percent for the first time in a major public poll. In the latest Newsweek poll, his approval rating on Iraq is 29 per cent, with 65 percent disapproval. Based on the rest of the data reviewed here, I’d say we’re likely to see more sub-30 Bush approval ratings on Iraq in the future.

Will the Real Swingers Please Stand Up?

By Alan Abramowitz

Mark Penn, in his March 21 Washington Post op-ed, is correct that swing voters continue to play an important role in U.S. elections but he greatly exaggerates the size of the independent vote and the volatility of the electorate. While the percentage of independent identifiers has increased since the 1950s, fully three-fourths of these independents lean toward one party or the other according to the 2004 American National Election Study and "leaning independents" vote overwhelmingly for the party that they lean toward. Only 7 percent of 2004 voters were "pure independents" with no party preference whatsoever.

Moreover, contrary to Penn's claim that ticket-splitting is on the rise, ticket-splitting has actually been declining in the U.S. since the 1970s. According to NES data, in 2004 only 16.6% of voters split their presidential and congressional vote compared with 26.9% during the 1970s and 25.4% during the 1980s. And partisan voting has been increasing over time. In 1952, 76.6% of presidential votes were cast by partisans for their own party's candidate; in 2004, a record 85.9% of presidential votes were cast by partisans for their own party's candidate.

Finally, Penn's claim of massive swings in candidate preferences during the 2004 presidential campaign is extremely dubious. The swings that he reports between individual Gallup Polls largely reflect random error and the effects of Gallup’s notorious likely voter screen. Computing the average level of support for Bush and Kerry across all major polls during the fall campaign shows that support for the major party candidates was actually extremely stable.

March 21, 2006

Did the Bin Laden Tape Tip the Election to Bush?

By David Gopoian

Shortly after the election, John Kerry attributed his loss to the effects of the bin Laden tape released the Friday preceding the election. In interviews since, he has consistently contended the pivotal impact of that tape on the election’s outcome. More recently, in excerpts trumpeting Bill Sammons’ new book, Strategery, George Bush is also said to have attributed his election to the bin Laden tape. For one of the few times in recent years, Kerry and Bush appear to have reached a consensus.

Is there any empirical evidence to support these contentions? Some of the best data available comes from the Election Day survey conducted by Democracy Corps. The analysis that follows is my own independent interpretation of that data. The relevant sample is relatively small (n=470 voters) because only a split panel of the total sample was asked the central question about their reaction to the release of the bin Laden tape.

Do the data support the perceptions of the major presidential candidates that the bin Laden tape tipped the election to Bush? There is one easy and short response (Bush’s preference?) and one lengthier and more nuanced response (Kerry’s preference?).

The quick answer is that if either candidate benefited from the bid Laden tape, that candidate was Bush and not Kerry. How much Bush benefited and whether it decided the outcome of the election is less certain.

Of the 470 voters who responded to the question about the bin Laden tape, the vast majority had indicated that their candidate preferences had already been determined long before the final weekend of the campaign. Taking the most generous possible definition of voters susceptible to last-weekend events, the data suggest only 17% were likely to have been influenced by an event such as the bin Laden tape.

That generous definition includes voters who indicated they were uncertain of their vote intentions until the final two weeks of the campaign, and voters who indicated that they had seriously considered voting for the candidate they did not ultimately choose at some point in the campaign. This reduced the weighted N of susceptible voters to 80 of the 470 interviewed in the split sample.

Among those 80 voters, 50% of whom voted on Election Day for Bush and 50% for Kerry, nearly two-thirds (64%) told interviewers the bin-Laden tape had no effect on their presidential preference. One-third indicated the event had made them more likely to vote for Bush and 4% indicated it had made them more likely to vote for Kerry. At face value, the data clearly show that among voters influenced by the release of bin Laden tape, nearly all of the impact was in a pro-Bush direction.

On this point, there is little contention. If either candidate was advantaged by the release of the tape, it was the incumbent who had failed to capture Osama, dead or alive, 1,124 days after September 11, 2001. To borrow a refrain from a Vonnegut novel, so it goes.

Nonetheless, given my generous definition of susceptible voters and given the data showing that the bin-Laden tape had no effect on two-thirds of voters, the third that was motivated to consider Bush more favorably accounted for 6% of the entire electorate.

Granted, a movement of 6% of the vote to Bush based on the bin Laden tape could well have tipped the election to Bush. But we must also factor in this bit of data: more than one-third of those who said the release of the tape made them more likely to vote for Bush nonetheless did not take that final step of voting for Bush. Thirty-six percent of them actually ended up voting for Kerry. So, now there remain 4% of all voters who may have been persuaded to have voted for Bush because of the bin Laden tape.

To attribute this relatively massive shift of 4 percentage points in one weekend to one event alone, one would have to conclude that this subset of voters had an otherwise balanced ledger of pro-Bush and pro-Kerry sentiments and that the bin Laden tape literally transformed an otherwise even landscape of perceived candidate merits into an overnight avalanche that crushed Kerry.

But here is what the survey data tell us about that final 4% who might have experienced such an epiphany. Their perspectives about five other campaign events showed a similar proclivity to view all phenomena through Bush-friendly lenses. These included tendencies to see not only Kerry’s reference to Cheney’s lesbian daughter in the third debate, but also stories about Bush’s National Guard service, Christopher Reeve’s appeal to vote for Kerry as a champion of stem cell research, and the pre-election assault on Fallujah by insurgents that resulted in massive US Marine fatalities, as events that made them more likely to prefer Bush. Tellingly, the mean thermometer score for Bush from this subset of voters was 81, compared to 51 for Kerry.

My conclusion is that these voters may well have been reinforced by the release of the bin Laden tape to have followed through with their predetermined intent to vote for Bush. But based on the data in hand, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario that would have thwarted that intent. They were persuaded by the bin Laden tape exclusively in about the same way that a chirp by the mouse persuades the hawk that the rodent in sight might represent a good meal.

March 18, 2006

Dem Activists, Politicos Must Work Together to Stop GOP

Amid the oceans of ink on the Feingold censure proposal dust-up, WaPo columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. nails the heart of the dilemma facing Dems in creating a unified strategy. As Dionne says in his most recent column:

Democrats, unlike Republicans, have yet to develop a healthy relationship between activists willing to test and expand the conventional limits on political debate and the politicians who have to calculate what works in creating an electoral majority.

For two decades, Republicans have used their idealists, their ideologues and their loudmouths to push the boundaries of discussion to the right. In the best of all worlds, Feingold's strong stand would redefine what's "moderate" and make clear that those challenging the legality of the wiretapping are neither extreme nor soft on terrorism.

That would demand coordination, trust and, yes, calculation involving both the vote-counting politicians and the guardians of principle among the activists. Republicans have mastered this art. Democrats haven't.

And then the nut question that requires a thoughtful answer from from all Dems who prefer winning to endless factional disputes:

Turning a minority into a majority requires both passion and discipline. Bringing the two together requires effective leadership. Does anybody out there know how to play this game?

Dionne is right. Surely there is some way that reasonable Dems can debate this issue and other questions of strategy and timing in a way that doesn't fracture their shared oppostion to GOP domination. We're not asking for a kumbaya love-in between Dem elected/party officials on the one hand and blogosphere/grassroots activists on the other. But it's time for a mutual recognition that the circular firing squad has not served Dems well in the past, and better coordination on matters of timing and strategy would add some much-needed tensile strength to the greater Democratic coalition.

Doesn't seem like a lot to ask.

March 17, 2006

Rockies Bellwether Turning Purple

by EDM Staff

The Christian Science Monitor's Josh Burek has a spirit-lifter for Dems seeking inroads in the Mountain West. In "Once-Republican Rockies Now A Battleground," Burek argues that swing state Colorado is trending purple:

The state's transformation from Rocky Mountain redoubt for conservative values to a proving ground for progressive policies is yielding more competitive elections here - and offering Democrats across the country a model for resurgence.

Burek quotes Denver-based pollster Floyd Ciruli: "We're probably the No. 1 battleground in the country." Democrats, Ciruli says, "are anxious to replicate what's going on out here."

Burek cites a "flurry of victories" for Dems in Colorado:

In 2004, despite a major voter- registration advantage for Republicans, and the popularity of President Bush, voters added two Democrats - brothers John and Ken Salazar - to its congressional delegation. That same fall, voters famous, or infamous, for parsimony approved $4.7 billion in transit funding, siding with Denver's Democratic mayor instead of the state's Republican governor. Democrats have been piling on victories ever since...And this fall, Democrats have strong prospects to win back the governor's chair.

One key reason for the political tilt to the Dems is a large influx of independent voters, who refuse to jerk their knees in support of every ill-considered GOP policy. About one-third of the Colorado electorate is new since 1992, according to Burek. As Mark Cavanaugh, a policy analyst for the centrist Bighorn Center explains in the article, "The state is full of informed, unaffiliated voters...not driven by bumper-sticker-like messages."

Burek believes Colorado is not alone in the Mountain West, and offers Dems a hopeful prognosis:

It's a tipping point that spans the Continental Divide. In 1999, every state in the region - Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona - had a Republican governor. By the end of 2006, only Utah and Idaho may have one.

If he's right, Colorado and a couple of other states in the region could be seriously blue by '08.

March 16, 2006

The UN: Good Idea, Bad Execution

by Ruy Teixeira

The public doesn’t appear to be too fond of the UN these days. In a recent Gallup poll, just 30 percent of the public said the UN was doing a good job “trying to solve the problems it has to face”. That’s a 6 point decline since last year and the second-worst rating ever for the institution.

On the other hand, there’s no evidence the public is giving up on the idea of the UN. In fact, while the UN’s job rating was declining in the last year, the public’s view of the role the UN should play was actually strengthening, as the proportion saying the UN should play a “leading role”, where all countries are required to follow UN policies, rose 5 percent (to 26 percent).

Another 42 percent say the UN should play a major role in setting global policy, for a total of 68 percent who want the UN to play a substantial role. Only 28 percent believe the UN should be relegated to a minor role as a forum for inter-country communication.

By these data, the public can be rated a strong supporter of the UN’s potential role in world affairs, but a strong critic of its current role. Perhaps future polling will tell us more about the origins of this disjuncture in public opinion.

March 15, 2006

Views of Bush and the Iraq War Hit New Lows

by Ruy Teixeira

In the latest Gallup and CBS News polls, views of Bush and of the Iraq war–now three years old–have hit some startling new lows.

As the USA Today story on the Gallup poll points out:

The latest results show only 36% of those polled saying they "approve" of the way Bush is handling his job. Bush's previous low was 37%, set last November.

Sixty percent of those polled said they "disapprove" of Bush's performance. That matches an all-time worst rating hit last November and again two weeks ago.

Democrats have their biggest advantage since 1992 when poll respondents are asked if they favor Democratic or Republican congressional candidates. The spread: Democrats over Republicans 55% — 39%, a 16-percentage-point gap.

There’s more in the poll, but let’s dwell on these approval results for a moment. First, when added to other recent poll results, they indicate that Bush’s approval rating has been dropping unusually fast for the last several results. Here is the analysis of political scientist Charles Franklin, as posted on his website, Political Arithmetik (emphasis added):

President Bush's approval rating fell to 36% in the Gallup poll conducted 3/10-12/06. This was a new low for the President in Gallup's polling. Disapproval remained unchanged at 60%, with 4% undecided. The addition of the new Gallup data drives my estimated support (the blue line in the figure) to 36.9%, also a new low for President Bush.

Since January 1, 2006 the President's approval rating has fallen at a rate of 1% every 12.5 days, the most rapid sustained rate of decline in his presidency. Over the entire year of 2005, a particularly bad year for the President, approval declined at a rate of 1% every 29.3 days.

Second, Bush’s falling approval rating appears to be mostly driven by falling ratings among independents and Republicans. Compared to a year ago in the Gallup poll, his rating has fallen only 3 points among Democrats (from 16 percent to 13 percent), but 16 points among GOP identifiers (from 91 percent to 75 percent) and an amazing 23 points among independents (from 46 percent to 23 percent).

Finally, as Gallup and other polls have shown, two-thirds or more of Bush’s disapproval is now strong disapproval and those strong disapprovers generally outnumber strong approvers by more than 2:1. In other words, he has far more strong enemies than strong friends in today’s electorate. Political scientist Alan Abramowitz has usefully summarized the considerable electoral implications of this development:

An analysis of National Election Study data on voting patterns in midterm elections between 1982 (when the NES began asking a presidential approval question) and 2004 indicates that voters with strong opinions of the president's performance are more likely to base their House vote on their opinion of the president than voters with only weak opinions. Moreover, voters with strong negative opinions are by far the most likely to base their House vote on their opinion of the president.

Across these six midterm elections, the average percentage of each group whose House vote was consistent with its opinion of the president's job performance was as follows:

Strongly approve 72%
Weakly approve 49%
Weakly disapprove 70%
Strongly disapprove 85%

With 44% of the public now strongly disapproving of George Bush's performance, these results provide further reason to expect substantial Democratic gains in the 2006 midterm elections.

Other results worth noting from the new Gallup poll:

1. A majority (51 percent) now term Bush a “weak president” rather than a strong one (47 percent).

2. The Democrats in Congress now have a 15 lead over the Republicans on who can do the best job of dealing with the economy (53-38). The Democrats also have an 8 point lead on who can do the best job of dealing with the situation in Iraq (48-40) and only a 4 point deficit on dealing with terrorism (in 2003, they had a massive 26 points deficit on this issue).

3. Here’s an interesting one: Gallup gave respondents five choices for what Bush’s presidency would be most remembered for: Iraq, efforts against terrorism, Hurricane Katrina response, Supreme Court appointments and tax cuts. An overwhelming 64 chose Iraq–just 18 percent chose efforts against terrorism. The rest chose Katrina (10 percent), Court appointments (5 percent) and tax cuts (a mere 2 percent).

4. On Iraq, 57 percent now say sending troops to Iraq was a “mistake”, 60 percent say things are going badly there, 67 percent don’t think Bush a clear plan for handling the situation and 51 percent think the Bush administration misled the public about whether Iraq had WMD.

The new CBS News poll also has a great deal about Iraq, some of which makes the Gallup findings look comparatively mild. For example, 54 percent now think Iraq will never become a stable democracy. Moreover, just 28 percent think that, if Iraq does manage to become a stable democracy, the US will be more safe from terrorism.

As for what is going on there right now, an astounding 71 percent think Iraq is currently experiencing a civil was, with another 13 percent saying that civil war is likely to break out in the near future. And 66 percent think that when Bush talks about how things are going for the US in Iraq, he makes things sound better than they really are.

In addition, by 54-41, the public now says the US should have stayed out of Iraq and, by 70-25–the most lop-sided result ever–the public says the results of the Iraq war have not been worth the associated costs.

Other findings of note from the poll:

1. Bush’s overall approval rating is still at 34 percent, tied for his worst ever in this poll. His rating on Iraq is 31 percent and his rating on foreign policy is just 30 percent, down 9 points since this January. And his rating on the economy is 35 percent. Only on the campaign against terrorism does he crack the forties, with a 45 percent rating, against 47 percent disapproval.

It’s interesting to note how negative independents are at this point: in every area except terrorism, independents rate Bush not in the thirties but in the twenties, ranging from 24 to 28 percent. That’s a truly toxic place to be with the center of the American electorate.

2. Despite a somewhat higher proportion of the public rating the economy as “good”, those saying the economy is getting worse (39 percent) still far outnumber those saying the economy is getting better (13 percent). In fact, this disproportion is actually worse than it was two months ago.

These findings are so bad it’s tempting to say Bush can’t possibly sink any lower. But with this administration I’ve learned: never say never!

Dems Need to Get Wise to Chameleon McCain

by Pete Ross

Dems who bought into the meme that, well John McCain is too moderate to get the GOP presidential nomination should check out Paul Krugman's recent NYT article "The Right's Man." Krugman demolishes this myth in short order with such nuggets as:

...At a time of huge budget deficits and an expensive war, when the case against tax cuts for the rich is even stronger - Mr. McCain is happy to shower benefits on the most fortunate. He recently voted to extend tax cuts on dividends and capital gains, an action that will worsen the budget deficit while mainly benefiting people with very high incomes.

and:

When it comes to foreign policy, Mr. McCain was never moderate. During the 2000 campaign he called for a policy of "rogue state rollback," anticipating the "Bush doctrine" of pre-emptive war unveiled two years later. Mr. McCain called for a systematic effort to overthrow nasty regimes even if they posed no imminent threat to the United States; he singled out Iraq, Libya and North Korea. Mr. McCain's aggressive views on foreign policy, and his expressed willingness, almost eagerness, to commit U.S. ground forces overseas, explain why he, not George W. Bush, was the favored candidate of neoconservative pundits such as William Kristol of The Weekly Standard.

or:

He isn't a straight talker. His flip-flopping on tax cuts, his call to send troops we don't have to Iraq and his endorsement of the South Dakota anti-abortion legislation even while claiming that he would find a way around that legislation's central provision show that he's a politician as slippery and evasive as, well, George W. Bush.

McCain is particularly adept at getting 'mainstream' journalists to describe him as a moderate, and he has a unique knack for appealing for bipartisanship in dulcet tones. I know several otherwise intelligent people who have been seduced by McCain's style into ignoring his conservative record -- to the right of 97 out of 100 U.S. Senators, according to one study cited by Krugman.

As the most mediagenic of Republican candidates, at least with respect to political moderates, McCain merits some extra scrutiny. There's more in Krugman's piece, and reality-based moderates --- and Dems who want to better understand one of their shrewdest adversaries --- are strongly urged to read the entire article.

March 10, 2006

Strong Disapproval Matters

By Alan Abramowitz

An analysis of National Election Study data on voting patterns in midterm elections between 1982 (when the NES began asking a presidential approval question) and 2004 indicates that voters with strong opinions of the president's performance are more likely to base their House vote on their opinion of the president than voters with only weak opinions. Moreover, voters with strong negative opinions are by far the most likely to base their House vote on their opinion of the president.

Across these six midterm elections, the average percentage of each group whose House vote was consistent with its opinion of the president's job performance was as follows:

Strongly approve 72%
Weakly approve 49%
Weakly disapprove 70%
Strongly disapprove 85%

With 44% of the public now strongly disapproving of George Bush's performance, these results provide further reason to expect substantial Democratic gains in the 2006 midterm elections.

March 9, 2006

Further Thoughts on the Most Recent Gallup Poll

By Alan Abramowitz

1. A substantial majority of Americans now believe Bush to be incapable of managing the government, which is one of the core responsibilities of any president.

2. Bush's approval has fallen to 59 percent among conservatives--the lowest level of his presidency. This is another sign that the base is beginning to erode.

3. The percentage of Americans who strongly disapprove of Bush (44%)is the highest of his presidency. Strong disapprovers outnumber strong approvers by more than two to one. This has important implications for the midterm election because voters with the strongest views on Bush are the most likely to vote and the most likely to vote based on their opinion of the president.

Pessimism Deepens on Iraq

by Ruy Teixeira

In the latest Gallup poll, 55 percent think the US made a mistake sending troops to Iraq, 65 percent want to withdraw some or all troops–a new high–and, for the first time, a majority (52 percent) think we will not “win” in Iraq. And an overwhelming 75 percent believe it is likely there will be a major civil war in Iraq in the next year (or that there already is one).

Similarly, in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll:

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq will lead to civil war, and half say the United States should begin withdrawing its forces from that violence-torn country, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey found that 80 percent believe that recent sectarian violence makes civil war in Iraq likely, and more than a third say such a conflict is "very likely" to occur. These expectations extend beyond party lines: More than seven in 10 Republicans and eight in 10 Democrats and political independents say they believe such a conflict is coming....

The survey highlights how support for the war in Iraq dissolved since the first months after the U.S. invasion. At the end of 2003, nearly six in 10 -- 59 percent -- said the conflict was worth the cost; today, 42 percent share that view. In the past nine months, the proportion in Post-ABC polls who say the United States should begin withdrawing its troops has increased from 38 percent to a 52 percent majority....

The poll found that 56 percent think the United States is not making significant progress toward restoring civil order in Iraq, while 43 percent think that stability is being reestablished -- a 17-point drop in optimism since December and the most pessimistic reading on this question since it was first asked in June 2004.

Donald Rumsfeld may deny that a civil war is unfolding in Iraq. But it would appear that the public–as usual–is way ahead of him.

March 8, 2006

The Great Bail-Out

by Ruy Teixeira

Bush’s approval rating is now consistently back in the ‘30s and the Democrats have been running strong double-digit leads in the generic Congressional ballot. These trends are being driven by what we might call “the great bail-out”, as not only are swing and independent voters moving sharply away from the GOP, but also a serious chunk of core GOP support. The latter development is truly frightening to Republican operatives and strategists who are only too aware of how dependent their election victories in the last several political cycles have been on rock-solid core support. Take that away and it’s a long way to the bottom.

Here are some data that illustrate the great bail-out.

1. In the latest Quinnipiac poll, Bush’s approval rating is an anemic 36 percent, with just 75 percent support among Republicans. And in the new LA Times poll, his approval rating is 38 percent, with 77 percent approval among Republicans. The sub-80 approval rating among Republicans could be here to stay.

2. These two polls also illustrate how far south Bush’s strong suit–his handling of the war on terror–has gone. In the Quinnipiac poll, his approval rating on “handling terrorism” was 42 percent, with 52 percent disapproval; in the LA Times poll, his rating on “handling the war on terrorism” was 44 percent with 54 percent disapproval. Amazing. Two ratings on his absolute best issue that are both net negative by 10 points. Truly we are now living a new political world.

3. In the latest Gallup poll, the Democrats are running a 14 point lead (53-39) among registered voters on the generic Congressional ballot question. The The Gallup report on the poll summarizes significance of this gaudy lead:

Gallup's recent trends on this "generic ballot" question -- from October 2005 through early February 2006 -- found a smaller six- to seven-point lead for the Democrats. However, the current 14-point Democratic lead is similar to a 12-point Democratic lead recorded last August. It is also among the highest seen since the Republicans came into power more than a decade ago.

This is not the first election since the Republican Party won majority control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994 that the Democrats have held a double-digit lead on this important indicator of electoral strength, but it is fairly rare. Throughout much of 1996 and in a couple of polls in 1998, the Democrats enjoyed a 10- to 13-point lead. However, the norm has been for the Republicans to trail the Democrats by only about five points among all registered voters.....

One reason why Democratic candidates may be doing so well in the current poll is that they enjoy a 22-point lead over Republican candidates among independent voters: 51% to 29%. Secondly, Republican voters are not as supportive of their own party's candidate as Democrats are of theirs. More than 9 in 10 Democrats (93%) say they favor the Democratic candidate for Congress in their district; 88% of Republicans are backing the Republican candidate.

4. Just how thoroughly has the public lost faith in Bush’s economic stewardship? In the LA Times poll, just 19 percent say the country’s economy is better off because of Bush’s economic policies than it was five years ago when he became president. That compares to 52 percent who believe his policies have made the economy worse and 26 percent who believe his policies haven’t had much effect. Even among Republicans, only 33 percent can bring themselves to say his economic policies have actually improved the economy.

5. And then there’s the incompetence thing. As Alan Abramowitz pointed out in a Sunday Washington Post article on Bush’s tanking approval ratings:

The problem for President Bush is a growing perception that he simply isn't competent....

The predecessor whom Bush has begun to resemble isn't, as many liberal Democrats seem to believe, Richard Nixon. It's Jimmy Carter. Carter's political demise began when the American people, including many Democrats, started to perceive him as in over his head in the Oval Office. That's what may be happening now to Bush.

Competence is not a partisan issue.....[T]he way the port takeover was handled reinforced a growing impression among the public that nobody is really in charge in the Bush White House. How could the president not even have been consulted on an issue directly involving national security, Bush's strong suit in the minds of most Americans and especially most Republicans?

How indeed? And to underscore Abramowitz’ analysis, the Gallup poll cited above reports that only 40 percent now agree that Bush “can manage the government effectively, compared to 59 percent who disagree. Just the middle of last year, Bush was actually net positive on this measure, 53-45.

6. Finally, a very interesting new Democracy Corps analysis, “Cracks in the Two Americas: Republican Loyalists and Swing Blocs Move Toward the Democrats”, details the copious bleeding in the Bush coalition:

The most important shifts are taking place among the world of Republican loyalists, which will have big strategic consequences.1 It is reflected in the most recent Democracy Corps poll where defection of 2004 Bush voters to the Democrats is twice the level of defection of Kerry voters to the Republicans. Only 31 percent of voters in blue counties (those carried by Kerry) are voting Republican for Congress, but 41 percent of red county voters are supporting the Democratic candidate. The combined data set shows major shifts in the Deep South and rural areas (even before the most recent controversies), blue-collar white men, and the best educated married men with high incomes....

The other big shifts are taking place across the contested groups that form the swing blocs in the electorate. That is bringing big Democratic gains among older (over 50) non-college voters, the vulnerable women, practicing Catholics and the best-educated men. It is as if the entire center of the electorate shifted. This is why independents are breaking so heavily for the Democrats in each of our polls.

The great bail-out continues. And unless it moves back the other way, the electoral consequences for the GOP could be severe.

Dems 'Message Problems' GOP Spin

E. J. Dionne, Jr.'s March 7 WaPo column "The Democrats' Real Problem" puts some needed perspective on all the hand-ringing about the Democrats' supposed lack of a coherent message:

The stories about the Democrats are by no means flatly false -- Democrats don't yet have a fully worked-out alternative program -- but they are based on a false premise, and they underestimate what I'll call the positive power of negative thinking.

The false premise is that oppositions win midterm elections by offering a clear program, such as the Republicans' 1994 Contract With America. I've been testing this idea with such architects of the 1994 "Republican revolution" as former representative Vin Weber and Tony Blankley, who was Newt Gingrich's top communications adviser and now edits the Washington Times editorial page.

Both said the main contribution of the contract was to give inexperienced Republican candidates something to say once the political tide started moving the GOP's way. But both insisted that it was disaffection with Bill Clinton, not the contract, that created the Republicans' opportunity -- something Bob Dole said at the time.

Dionne offers Dems a reality check worth considering:

The Democrats' real problem is that they have failed to show how their critique of the Republican status quo is the essential first step toward the alternative program they will owe the voters in the presidential year of 2008...the shortcoming of Democratic leaders is not that they don't have a program but that they have not yet convinced opinion makers that fighting bad policies is actually constructive -- and that, between presidential elections, keeping matters from getting worse is sometimes the most positive alternative on offer.

Dems will do fine in '06 and '08, if we make it clear that the Democratic Party stands for competence and honesty in government, peace, human rights and economic progress for working people --- in stark contrast to the GOP's deepening Iraq quagmire and lengthening record of corruption and incompetence.

March 5, 2006

Bush's Sinking Approval Driven by Image of Incompetence

EDM contributor Alan Abramowitz has a must-read op-ed in the Sunday WaPo, "What's Behind Those Poll Numbers?" Abramowitz argues that Bush's tanking approval numbers can be attributed to "a growing perception that he simply isn't competent." Abramowitz argues further that,

Competence is not a partisan issue. Last week's polls found that somewhere between 34 and 40 percent of Americans approved of Bush's job performance. That is discouraging enough. But for Bush and his political advisers what may be more disturbing is the fact that his approval rating among Republicans had fallen to 72 percent, 10 to 15 percentage points lower than the president's previous level of support from his party's voters. It's a sign that even supporters are beginning to question Bush's effectiveness.

Abramowitz cites the Administration's history of bungled crises-management, including the Harriet Miers disaster and other examples of poor leadership, especially the Ports deal, which he sees as a major turn for the worse:

While escalating violence in Iraq, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame and Hurricane Katrina damaged the president's standing among Democrats and independents, his support from his fellow Republicans remained largely intact -- until the ports deal was announced.

..., the takeover is just plain unpopular -- with Republicans and independents as well as Democrats. According to last week's CBS News poll, 58 percent of Republicans along with 71 percent of independents and 78 percent of Democrats oppose the takeover.

Even more significantly, the way the port takeover was handled reinforced a growing impression among the public that nobody is really in charge in the Bush White House. How could the president not even have been consulted on an issue directly involving national security, Bush's strong suit in the minds of most Americans and especially most Republicans?

Abramowitz believes Bush's image of incompetence could be contagious for GOP congressional candidates in the November elections:

Unlike the president, congressional Republicans have to face the voters this November. Even though most represent safe Republican districts, only six Senate seats and 16 House seats would have to change hands to give Democrats control of Congress, and there is growing concern among Republicans that they could lose their grip on both chambers if the midterm election turns into a referendum on a president with approval ratings in the thirties or worse.

Abramowitz makes a compelling case that competence could be the pivotal issue in upcoming elections, and his article is highly recommended to Democratic strategists at all levels.

March 3, 2006

How Low Can He Go?

by Ruy Teixeira

Pretty low! The latest CBS News poll has some startling findings on the public’s view of Bush and the Bush administration, as one fiasco after another (the latest wave of violence in Iraq, the firestorm of protest against the ports for Arab Emirates deal) rocks the Bush presidency.

From the summary of the poll on the CBS News website:

The latest CBS News poll finds President Bush's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 34 percent, while pessimism about the Iraq war has risen to a new high.

Americans are also overwhelmingly opposed to the Bush-backed deal giving a Dubai-owned company operational control over six major U.S. ports. Seven in 10 Americans, including 58 percent of Republicans, say they're opposed to the agreement...

For the first time in this poll, most Americans say the president does not care much about people like themselves. Fifty-one percent now think he doesn't care, compared to 47 percent last fall.

Just 30 percent approve of how Mr. Bush is handling the Iraq war, another all-time low.

By two to one, the poll finds Americans think U.S. efforts to bring stability to Iraq are going badly – the worst assessment yet of progress in Iraq.

Even on fighting terrorism, which has long been a strong suit for Mr. Bush, his ratings dropped lower than ever. Half of Americans say they disapprove of how he's handling the war on terror, while 43 percent approve.

That’s a lot of all-time lows!

Here are a few other findings from the poll worth citing:

1. On his unusually low job approval, that appears to driven by an unusually low approval rating among GOP identifiers–72 percent. If Bush’s rating among GOP identifiers doesn’t snap back up toward the 80 mark or higher, we could see more approval ratings in the range of this latest CBS News poll....or even lower.

2. Bush’s approval rating on the economy is only 32 percent, with 60 percent disapproval–apparently, Americans still haven’t gotten the “good news” on the economy. And his rating on handling the energy situation is only 27 percent, also with 60 percent disapproval.

3. Just 29 percent now think the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American life and costs of attacking Iraq, compared to 63 percent who think it wasn’t. In a bit of good news for the Bush administration, this result is only tied for the most negative result ever on this question.

4. Could all this bad news be rubbing off on the conservative brand? Well, in this poll, self-identified conservatives are down to 27 percent of the public, a mere 7 points away from the 20 percent who are self-identified liberals.

But is this CBS News poll an “outlier” as they say, and therefore not to be taken seriously? Here’s the verdict from the incomparable Charles Franklin, who writes on his invaluable site, Political Arithmetik:

Among the recent polls, the CBS News poll is the lowest and is likely to be given special scrutiny. The effect of this poll on my trend estimates is about 1%-- including this latest poll would lower my trend estimate to 39% support, while excluding it makes the estimate 40%, a modest effect.

However, the CBS poll and the Cook/RT Strategies polls are also the two taken since the Dubai port issue came on the scene. Cook's approval rating for polling taken 2/23-26/06 is 40%, down sharply from Cook's 47% in late January (1/22-25). The CBS rating is down from 42% taken at almost the same time (1/20-25) as the Cook data. So while there is a gap between the two polls on the current level, both argue for a drop of 7-8% in approval since the State of the Union Address....

The results [of an outlier test] show that while the latest CBS News poll is well below the trend, it is by no means a statistical outlier. It is inside the 95% confidence interval, though only slightly. Moreover, as the graph makes obvious, there have been a large number of polls further away from the trend than this one. My conclusion is that the low approval rating of 34% is not exceptionally low, and given the average CBS "house effect" does not seem out of line with past polls....

So what is [causing the drop in approval in the CBS News poll]? A drop in support across all party groups, but especially among Republicans. In January, approval among Republicans was 83%. In February it dropped to 72%, a shocking 11% decline among the president's base. Among Independents support fell from 34% to 29% and among Democrats from 14% to 9%, in both cases less than half the percentage point decline as among Republicans. This also compares to support among Republicans which had remained above 90% into early 2005.....

....While the CBS poll is generally a couple of percentage points less favorable than the overall trend, the drop of 8% here, and the 7% decline in the Cook poll should send alarms ringing in the White House and in Republican Congressional circles. After a fairly good November and December, the Bush presidency appears once more to be slipping into the kind of poll numbers that suck all political capital out of negotiations with Congress, and that set the stage for especially difficult congressional and gubernatorial races in the fall.

There you have it. Class dismissed ‘til next week and the latest batch of polls.

March 1, 2006

Unmarried America: Demographics and Attitudes

by Ruy Teixeira

I strongly recommend a close look at a recent set of materials issued by Women’s Voices, Women Vote. These materials include the results of a survey of unmarried adults conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (GQR), an extensive chartpack based on the survey findings and other research by GQR and, last, but not least, an 83 page report “The State of Unmarried America” by GQR.

The findings confirm that unmarrieds, particularly women, are a strong group for progressives, and that unmarrieds as a group are growing steadily as a proportion of the population. But there are serious challenges in terms of mobilization and tailoring a progressive message appropriate for these voters’ concerns–all of which is covered in the GQR/WVWV materials.

On the demographics of the unmarried population (from the report):

Over the past half century, family structure changed dramatically and the number of unmarried Americans increased considerably. During the 1950’s, approximately 80 percent of Americans lived in households headed by married couples; now that number is just less than half. iv By 2008, more than half will be headed by an unmarried person. As more people remain or become unmarried (e.g., divorce), families are starting to look different. According to a recent study, 24 percent of households in the country are in “traditional” or “nuclear” families (defined as two parents with children) and 16 percent of households are in non-traditional families (defined as a child and a male or female head of household, with no spouse present). In 1950, only 9 percent of children were growing up in one-parent homes, while by 2000 this number had increased to 26 percent.

Today, there is a majority of unmarried heads of household in 17 states and 139 congressional districts across the country. This demographic transformation is occurring very rapidly. As recently as 1990, only one state had a non-married majority head of household, and, in 2000, there were only 11 states with non-married household
majorities.

There are 10 million more unmarried women than unmarried men (56 percent female compared to 44 percent male), primarily because women live longer than men. Twenty-four percent of voting-age Americans are unmarried women, compared to 19 percent who are unmarried men.

For the past half century, unmarried women have been growing steadily as a share of the population. In 1965, only 15 percent of all Americans were unmarried women, compared to 24 percent now. Nearly half (46 percent) of all women are unmarried.

On the attitudes of the unmarried population (note how unmarried men, while not as change-oriented and progressive as unmarried women, are still remarkably progressive for a subgroup of men):

1. Unmarried women are 18 percent right direction/74 percent wrong track, while unmarried men are 35/57.

2. Among unmarried women, 71 percent say the war in Iraq was not worth the cost in US lives and dollars; among unmarried men, 68 percent feel the same way.

3. Unmarried women and men also differ little on whether the government should do more to help the needy, even if it means going deeper into debt–62 percent of unmarried women and 59 percent of unmarried men endorse this viewpoint, as opposed to the alternative that the government can’t afford to do much more to help the needy.

4. On whether the role of the government should be to promote the principle of self-reliance or the principle of a strong community and opportunity, both unmarried women (64-30) and men, albeit narrowly (51-44), come down on the side of a strong community and opportunity.

5. On Bush job approval, just 31 percent of women and 38 percent of men approve of his job performance.

6. Including leaners, unmarried men are 54 percent Democratic and 35 percent Republican, while unmarried women are 62 percent Democratic and 27 percent Republican.