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April 30, 2006

Dem Leaders Push to Make '06 Year of the Donkey

If Adam Nagourney's Sunday NYT profile of Dem campaign bulldogs Sen Chuck Schumer and Rep. Rahm Emanuel ("Democratic Hard Chargers Try to Return Party to Power") is on target, Dems are in excellent shape for the November elections.

Nagourney's vivid portrait depicts Schumer, who heads up the Dems' effort to win back the Senate, and DCCC Chairman Emanuel as highly energetic, aggressive and determined to win. He calls them "fast-talking, hard-charging, wisecracking" and "loud, garrulous urban brawlers" offering a "blur of endlessly quotable attack lines, opportunistic legislative proposals, relentless fund-raising and big-shoulder tactics."

But how effective are Schumer and Emanuel, compared to their GOP counterparts? As Nagourney notes:

Mr. Schumer and Mr. Emanuel are models of calculated excess, offering an often startling contrast with their Republican counterparts. Those would be Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, whose tepid fund-raising and low profile have stirred discontent in her party, and Representative Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, who is facing a tough challenge to his own seat — orchestrated, of course, by the no-holds-barred gentleman from Chicago.

and further:

In one sign of how these men have sent waves of worry through Republican circles, Mr. Schumer's committee reported in March that it had $32.1 million in the bank, compared with just $16.5 million in the Republican Senate account. Mr. Emanuel's committee had $23 million, almost the same as the $24.4 million by the Republican Congressional committee.

There's more in Nagourney's article to be encouraged about, including the assessment that with 6 months to go, the Democratic congressional campaign is in the best shape in 12 years. Democrats are in even stronger position to win a majority of the governorships in November. With any luck, '06 may well be the year of the Donkey.

April 28, 2006

The Politics of Definition + Crashing the Gate = The Winning Formula?

By Ruy Teixeira

(Note: this is a cross-post from the TPM Cafe Coffee House blog)

What are the two biggest things wrong with the Democratic party today? Sure, there are a lot of candidates, but I suspect the two that would top most lists are:

1. Voters and the party itself don't have a clear idea of what it stands for.

2. The party doesn't know how fight--it's slow, unimaginative and ultimately ineffective at responding to political challenges.

Could it be, though, that we're actually starting to make progress?--that we now have reasonable approaches to righting these wrongs and therefore something close to a winning formula? I actually think so.

On the first problem, as described by David Brooks in Thursday's New York Times, there is a school of thought emerging on the progressive/Democratic side that directly addresses the need for Democrats to define themselves clearly. Here's Brooks' take on Michael Tomasky's American Prospect article, Party in Search of a Notion, and my paper with John Halpin, The Politics of Definition: The Real Third Way (posted in four parts on the Prospect website, Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV)

 

Tomasky.... argues that it is time Democrats cohered around a big idea — not diversity, and not individual rights, but the idea of the common good. The Democrats' central themes, Tomasky advises, should be that we're all in this together; we are all part of a larger national project; we all need to make some shared sacrifices and look beyond our narrow self-interest. Tomasky is hoping for a candidate who will ignore the demands of the single-issue groups and argue that all Americans have a stake in reducing economic fragmentation and social division.

Coincidentally, two other liberal writers, John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira, have just finished a long study that comes out in exactly the same place. Surveying mountains of polling data, they conclude that the Democrats' chief problem is that people don't think they stand for anything. Halpin and Teixeira argue that the message voters respond to best is the notion of shared sacrifice for the common good. After years of individualism from right and left, they observe, people are ready for an appeal to citizenship.

Halpin and I further argue that the politics of definition we propose can be usefully differentiated from the two approaches that generally dominate progressive strategy today, the politics of mobilization and the politics of inoculation. We believe that both of these approachers are inadequate to the challenges facing progressives and that only a politics of definition can successfully appeal to both the base and centrist voters the progressive coalition needs. (I refer you to our paper for motivation and copious data about why we believe this is so.)

But I freely acknowledge that our paper has lttle to say about problem #2: the weakness and ineffectiveness of the Democratic party as a fighting political organization. That is where Jerome Armstrong's and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga's excellent little book, Crashing the Gate, comes in (if you haven't read it yet, read it!) Armstrong and Moulitsas provide a compelling argument about why and how the Democratic party must change its losing ways, from the bone-headed politics of many single-issue organizations to the corrupt consultant culture that rewards failure to the threadbare and poorly-paid progressive infrastructure to the dinosaur-like insistence of relying on network TV in the new media universe. And above all, they argue that Democrats need a 50 state, from the ground-up, contest-Republicans-everywhere organization and culture if they hope to succeed.

I can only say "amen". And combined with the common-good based politics of definition sketched above, I really do believe it adds up to a winning formula. Of course, a winning formula still has to be executed. But it's a good start and a clear improvement on where progressives were, say, just a couple of years ago.

April 27, 2006

The Politics of Definition, Part III

By Ruy Teixeira

Part III of The Politics of Definition, my new paper with John Halpin, has now been posted on The American Prospect website. Part I was posted last Thursday and Part II this Monday. The concluding Part IV, which discusses how a politics of definition might be articulated, will be posted on Friday.

Part III, the current installment, takes aim at the two approaches that generally dominate progressive strategy today, the politics of mobilization and the politics of inoculation, and shows how each is inadequate to the challenges facing progressives. Only a politics of definition, we argue, can successfully appeal to both the base and centrist voters the progressive coalition needs.

Here are some excerpts from part III, but please take a look at the entire discussion--I do think you'll find it provocative and useful.

The portrait of the progressive coalition’s strengths and weaknesses laid out in parts I and II is enlightening. The progressive coalition clearly has tremendous potential strength -- in many ways, it is a sleeping giant, containing as it does so many large and rising political forces. These groups, even though progressives have recently been underperforming among them, are potent enough to have kept progressives knocking on the door of a governing majority and competitive in a remarkably large swath of the nation.

Progressives’ weaknesses, on the other hand, tend to be among groups whose weight in the electorate is stable or declining. Conservatives and the GOP have built their current majority on creating ever-wider leads among these groups, compensating for their diminishing size. But even these very wide leads have only yielded the slimmest of majorities, leaving them vulnerable in most of the nation outside the Deep South and the most thinly-populated mountain states.

Progressives can therefore turn the GOP’s slim majority into a solid and growing progressive majority by doing two things: (1) remedying their underachievement among strong constituencies like Hispanics and single women; and (2) simply reducing -- not eliminating -- their wide deficits among weak constituencies like the white working class....

...[T]he data review....indicates there is little contradiction between the twin tasks. What is dampening enthusiasm for progressives among core constituencies is, by and large, what is driving voters away from progressives among weak constituencies: a sense that progressives don’t know what they stand for, lack core principles, and have no clear ideas for solving the nation’s problems. Therefore, articulating a “politics of definition” is potentially a way for progressives to accomplish both tasks and move forward toward a governing majority.

Of course, this is a controversial assertion. Progressives are far from united that a politics of definition -- or anything even close to it -- is the road forward. Indeed, at this point, progressives are more likely to embrace strategies that, for the sake of parsimony, we categorize as falling into two camps: the politics of mobilization and the politics of inoculation. While both offer important insights and recommendations that should not be ignored, neither in totality offers what the politics of definition does: a viable strategic framework for developing a clear identity among the electorate that can appeal to both the base and more centrist voters.

The politics of mobilization can be summarized roughly as follows:

* Rally the progressive troops and maximize base turnout;

* Grow the base by finding nonvoters and drop-off progressives rather than appealing to the center;

* Take a no-holds-barred approach to the opposition that is highly critical and contrastive; and

* Fight for every progressive priority equally.

On the plus side, the politics of mobilization addresses a clear need to strengthen and respond to those core supporters who provide the blood and sweat of progressive politics. The progressive base is clearly fed up with politics as usual -- particularly as the other side pursues a strategy of straight conservative mobilization. The perception of Democrats among their own faithful is weak and needs to be solidified if we are to maintain high numbers and strong turnout among core supporters.

Similarly, the no-holds-barred approach to politics has been essential to keeping conservatives off balance and bringing to light the numerous transgressions, scandals, incompetent acts, and ideological chicanery of the GOP majority....

However, as others before us have noted correctly, the politics of mobilization suffers from a severe numbers gap. Despite what activists may believe, only one-fifth of voters classify themselves as “liberal” -- a pattern that has been relatively unchanged since the late 1960s. As Galston and Kamarck argue in The Politics of Polarization, “[I]n an electorate where conservatives outnumber liberals three to two and where ideology so closely predicts voting behavior, Democrats cannot win the game of ‘base’ ball, except in those rare circumstances in which conservatives are discouraged and demobilized.”

We need to look no further than the past two presidential elections to see the limits of a strategy of mobilization. In 2000, Al Gore received the highest vote count in Democratic history, winning the popular vote but not the Electoral College (putting aside the Florida recount and the Supreme Court intervention). By 2004, John Kerry in turn received the largest vote count for a Democratic candidate in history, yet managed to fall short of President Bush by nearly 3 million votes....

As another example, depending on which data source one uses, 21 percent to 23 percent of voters in 2004 were minorities, up from 19 percent in 2000. So Democrats were reasonably successful in getting minorities to the polls. But exit poll data indicate that Hispanics supported Kerry (58-to-40 percent) at lower levels than they did Al Gore in 2000 (62-to-35 percent).

And even more consequential for the election, the exit polls showed that Bush widened his margin among white voters to 17 points (58-to-41 percent), up from a 12-point margin (54-to-42 percent) in 2000. Weakened support among Hispanics and, especially, a bigger deficit among whites (still 77-to-79 percent of voters) was more than enough to cancel out the effect of more minority voters going to the polls....

Progressives must be cognizant of staying principled while defining what “progressive” means in ways that can bring support from the left to the center. Leading with our chin on every issue and policy is not the way to build a stable governing majority in a country that is four-fifths moderate to conservative and concerned primarily with big problems like health care and jobs.

The second major strategic approach advocated today is one we label the politics of inoculation. The basic parameters of this approach are as follows:

* Appeal primarily to the median voter;

* Downplay or repudiate liberal policies;

* Create distance from the progressive base;

* Anticipate criticism and move to shore up perceived weaknesses, primarily on social, cultural, and national security issues; and

* Push a clear centrist agenda focused on fewer governmental and more market/individual solutions to problems; fiscal discipline; “common sense” cultural positions; and a Truman-like national security posture that puts the war against terrorism at the core of the progressive project.

The advantages of this approach are fairly obvious. Starting with Anthony Downs, political scientists and strategists have for decades taken the median voter theorem as axiomatic. In a two-party, winner-take-all system with one dimensional ideological distribution, candidates looking to win will converge on voters at the median of the voter distribution. Finding ways to win those at the center of the ideological bell curve then is essential to building majority support.

Appealing to the center requires a level-headed understanding of your strengths and weaknesses among these audiences. The politics of inoculation rightly recognizes that voters in the center tend to be culturally traditional, concerned about terrorism and national security, and skeptical of ideologues of all stripes....

The politics of inoculation suffers from three serious failures, however, that limit its usefulness in the current political context. First, proponents of this approach are far too caught up in combating the progressive base and fail to recognize the importance of a strong and active core of voters in carrying out political change....

Second, the politics of inoculation elevates issues like national security to the top of the progressive agenda but then offers solutions that make progressives indistinguishable from the other side. Thus, the strategic recommendations coming out of this camp end up reinforcing our core vulnerability as a party and movement with no known identity, conviction, or vision.

For example, Galston and Kamarck implore progressives to “stop hiding behind domestic policy and honestly confront the biggest issue of our time: national security and especially the use of military force.” 4 This is neither an unreasonable nor misguided request. However, after calling for a strong internationalist positioning that accepts the premise that U.S. military force can be used for good in the world -- a sensible and historically consistent position for progressives to hold -- the authors then proceed to chastise critics of the Iraq War as failing to “be coherent on this issue in a time of war.” But how coherent are they, themselves, when it comes to the front-rank issue of Iraq? The authors offer no clear recommendation on how to address this ongoing debacle, leaving one to conclude that they believe the right position on Iraq is to embrace the war in some capacity....

Third, even with the governing successes of Bill Clinton, the political track record and long-term political impact of this approach has been poor to abysmal. The politics of inoculation has arguably been the guiding mantra of Democratic politics for the last 15 years, yet progressives today find themselves in a worse position nationally than they were in 1989, the time of Galston and Kamarck’s important piece, The Politics of Evasion.

You can chalk this up to bad candidates, the failure to embrace Clintonism, 9/11, or a masterful right-wing noise machine, but it is clear that the politics of inoculation has played a substantial role in the failure of progressives and Democrats to present a common set of beliefs that are responsive to the needs and desires of average voters today. More of the same is not the solution. The politics of inoculation had its uses and its day in the sun. But that day is past.

April 25, 2006

The Politics of Definition, Part II

By Ruy Teixeira

Part II of The Politics of Definition, my new paper with John Halpin, has now been posted on The American Prospect website. Part I was posted last Thursday; Part III will arrive on Wednesday; and the concluding Part IV will be posted on Friday.

Part II discusses in considerable detail the weaknesses progressives need to overcome in order to forge a majority coalition. Here is a the first part of the discussion, which focuses on progressive weakness among the white working class.

The key weakness of the progressive coalition can be summarized easily: very weak support among white working class voters (defined here as whites without a four-year college degree). These voters, who are overwhelmingly of moderate to low income and, by definition, of modest credentials, should see their aspirations linked tightly to the political fate of the progressive movement. But they don’t.

Data from the last two presidential elections vividly demonstrate this problem and underscore its significance for progressives. In 2000, Al Gore lost white working-class voters by 17 percentage points; in 2004, John Kerry lost them by 23 points, a swing of 6 points against the Democrats. In contrast, Gore lost college-educated whites by 9 points and Kerry lost them by 10 points -- not much change.

Therefore, white working-class voters were responsible for almost all of George W. Bush’s increased margin among whites as a whole in the 2004 election (which went from 12 to 17 points). And Bush’s increased margin among whites was primarily responsible for his re-election.

Almost all of the white working-class movement toward Bush was among women rather than men. Bush won white working-class men by almost identical margins in the two elections (by 29 points in 2000 and by 30 points in 2004). But he substantially widened his margin among white working-class women, going from a 7-point edge in 2000 to an 18-point lead in 2004. That 11-point swing against the Democrats among white working-class women was arguably the most important single fact about the 2004 election.

The basic reasons for this stunningly poor Democratic performance among the white working class can also be easily summarized. Among white working-class voters, 66 percent said they trusted Bush to handle terrorism, compared to just 35 percent who said the same about Kerry. That's very bad, but perhaps not all that surprising. What is more surprising is this: 55 percent of these voters said they trusted Bush to handle the economy, and only 39 percent said the same about Kerry.

It's also interesting to note that there wasn't much of a difference in these sentiments between men and women in the white working class: 55 percent of white working-class women said they trusted Bush to handle the economy and 40 percent said they trusted Kerry, while 56 percent of white working-class men said they trusted Bush on the economy and 37 percent said they trusted Kerry.

That helps explain the big shift among white working-class women described above. Not only were these women alarmed about terrorism -- which pushed them toward the GOP -- but they were also, in contrast to previous elections, no more likely to find the Democratic economic message compelling than their male counterparts. In neither area --the economy or terrorism -- did the Democratic program speak clearly to these voters’ concerns and earn their trust.

It is also important to stress that Democrats did especially badly among white working-class voters who weren’t poor, but rather had moderate incomes and some hold on a middle-class lifestyle. Among working class whites with $30,000 to $50,000 in household income, Bush beat Kerry by 24 points (62 percent to 38 percent). And, among working-class whites with $50,000 to $75,000 in household income, Bush beat Kerry by a shocking 41 points (70 percent to 29 percent). Clearly, these voters do not see progressives as representing their aspirations for a prosperous, stable, middle-class life.

Progressives’ difficulties here are underscored by the large size of this group. According to the 2004 Current Population Survey (CPS) Voter Supplement data, white working-class voters are a larger portion of the electorate than indicated by the exit polls -- 52 percent, rather than 43 percent. Based on educational attainment trends and population trends by race, a reasonable guess is that the size of the white working class in another 10 years, even though it is shrinking, will still be around 46 percent to 47 percent -- a very large group among which to be doing very poorly. In fact, a progressive majority coalition is simply not possible if that poor performance continues, despite the many ways in which demographic change and growth favor progressives, including the increasing proportion of single women within the white working-class population.

But is it really feasible for progressives to significantly improve their performance among white working-class voters? That would appear to depend on the extent to which they can they can clarify their views and principles to these voters and begin earning their trust again. Right now, the Democrats are 23 points down to the Republicans among these voters on knowing what they stand for. Narrowing that gap is key to improving performance among this critical group.

And there is a lot of room for that improved performance. Keep in mind that Bill Clinton actually carried white working-class voters in both his successful presidential campaigns (by a single percentage point in both instances).

But Democrats need not replicate that performance. If Democrats can simply keep the Republican margin among white working-class voters to the low double digits (say 11 to 12 points), and maintain their margins from 2004 among college-educated whites and among minority groups (note that we assume no improvement from 2004 in the Democratic performance among Hispanics, though we strongly believe that is likely to happen), our estimates indicate that the Democrats would win the popular vote in the next presidential election by 3 points. That would be an exact reversal of the 2004 popular vote, which Bush won by around 3 points.

And if the Democrats can keep the Republican margin among working-class whites to single digits? Then it should be possible to start building a solid majority coalition for progressives in very short order.

Other sections of Part II discuss white Catholics, white married women, white evangelicals, "red" states and regions, and emerging suburbs, true exurbs and rural areas. I think you'll find the material illuminating and, believe it or not, encouraging, because it does suggest that a politics of definition could make substantial inroads among these groups.

April 24, 2006

The Politics of Definition

By Ruy Teixeira

I am in the process of publishing a lengthy paper, The Politics of Definition, co-written with John Halpin, on The American Prospect website. It will be posted in four parts. Part I was posted last Thursday, Part II will be posted this Monday, followed by Part III on Wednesday and Part IV on Friday. Here is Michael Tomasky's editor's note about the series:

Earlier this year, John Halpin of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Ruy Teixeira of CAP and the Century Foundation (and co-author of The Emerging Democratic Majority) undertook research on the state of the Democratic Party and progressive politics in America. Their chief concern: To get to the bottom of the question of why so many Americans don’t have a firm sense of what progressives and the Democratic Party stand for today.

The result of their efforts is this paper, The Politics of Definition: The Real Third Way. The paper can be read in part as a 2006 answer to The Politics of Evasion, the landmark 1989 study by William Galston and Elaine Kamarck, which described a more centrist politics and helped lay the groundwork for Bill Clinton’s ascendancy (and which they updated last year in The Politics of Polarization). Today, Halpin and Teixeira take a different view, and this work represents the authors’ definitive attempt to burrow into the available data and, from them, reach conclusions about what progressives and Democrats need to do to address what they call the “identity gap.” Without giving away the ending, I’ll just say here that their conclusions are similar to my own in my essay Party in Search of a Notion, from the May issue of the Prospect; Halpin and I discovered, quite accidentally at a conference in late March, that we’d been thinking along similar lines.

TAP Online is excited to publish the 18,000-word paper, which will appear exclusively on our site in four parts over the next few days. Part I gives a general description of the political situation today and describes voting blocs that represent progressive and Democratic strengths. Part II, which will be posted next Monday, will examine progressive and Democratic weaknesses. Part III will appear next Wednesday and will discuss the limits of mobilization and of inoculation. Part IV will appear next Friday and describe the way forward.

Longtime readers of DR will, I think, recognize many of the approaches/themes I have harped on, perhaps obsessively, over the last several years, from the insistence on reasoning from data to the concept that the choice between base mobilization and reaching swing voters is a false one to the belief that Democrats must commit themselves to clear, plausible solutions on big issues like Iraq and health care. I hope you'll check out the entire series on the TAP website and contribute to what we hope will be an ongoing discussion about how to implement a "politics of definition".

April 21, 2006

The Reemergence of the Gender Gap

by Ruy Teixeira

In the 2004 election, men favored George Bush by 55–44, while women favored Kerry by just 51-48, a notably modest gender gap by recent standards. This led some observers to speculate that the gender gap may be on its way out, as “security moms” and other GOP-leaning women cut into the Democrats’ advantage among women.

But recent data suggest that the gender gap is returning with a vengeance. For example, consider these data from the latest LA Times poll:

• Nearly two out of three men say the economy is doing well, 53% of women say it is doing badly.

• A small majority of men approve of the way the president is handling the war on terrorism, but three out of five women disapprove.

• Male voters are divided over who they would vote for if the congressional election were held today, but 57% of women voters would vote for a Democratic in their congressional district.

• Male voters are virtually split as to who they want to control Congress, but 56% of women voters want Democrats to control both chambers.

• Women think Democrats come closer to representing their views (50% to 32% for the GOP), while men think Republicans do, although by a smaller margin (45% to 37%).

• About a third of men believe the congressional GOP’ers have more honesty and integrity than the Democrats in Congress; the reverse is true of women.

• Nearly half of women think the Democrats will keep American prosperous for years to come, while men are divided over this issue (each party at 36%).

• Men by more than two to one think the Republican party is best to handle the war on terrorism, while this time, women are divided.

• Women by 11 points think the Democrats over the Republicans can do a better job of handling the situation in Iraq, while men give this issue to the Republicans by 16 points.

If the November 2004 election were being held today, and knowing what you know today, who would you vote for? The voters surveyed would give Mass. Senator John Kerry the edge over the incumbent, George W. Bush by 10 points (49% to 39%). Once again we see a large gender gap. Male voters were divided, while women voters gave Kerry a 20 point advantage (53% to 33%). Eleven percent who said they voted for Bush in 2004, would vote for Kerry, while just 3% of Kerry voters would switch to Bush.

The Democrats must be thinking: better late than never! It will be interesting to see if the exit polls this November confirm this reemergence of the gender gap.

April 20, 2006

Recoloring the Political Map

by Ruy Teixeira

Richard Morin had a very interesting op-ed in the April 17 Washington Post, “Pink is the New Red”. Morin’s basic point is that way most Americans think about America’s political map is rapidly becoming out-of-date. He observes:

States that were once reliably red are turning pink. Some are no longer red but a sort of powder blue. In fact, a solid majority of residents in states that President Bush carried in 2004 now disapprove of the job he is doing as president. Views of the GOP have also soured in those Republican red states.

According to the latest Post-ABC News poll, Bush's overall job approval rating now averages 43 percent in the states where he beat Democratic nominee John Kerry two years ago, while 57 percent disapprove of his performance.

Bush is even marginally unpopular, at least on average, in states where he beat Kerry with relative ease. The poll data suggest that in states where the president's victory margin was greater than five percentage points, his average job approval currently stands at 47 percent. Red? Hardly. A watery pink at best.

And in states where the president's victory margin was five percentage points or less, a clear majority of residents now disapprove of his performance. Color them light blue.

More ominously for Republicans, their party also has lost standing with the public. Residents of states Bush won in 2004 say they trust the Democrats (48 percent) more than the Republicans (42 percent) to deal with the country's biggest problems....

...[T]hese findings underscore the fact that Bush's fall from public grace isn't just occurring in states that were colored blue after the last presidential election. And they once again prove that change is inevitable in politics and that last year's received wisdom has a way of becoming this year's political myth.

More evidence on the need to recolor the political map is provided by looking at the latest 50 state presidential approval data from SurveyUSA. I applied these data to the following breakdown of states, based on 1992-2004 election results. The SurveyUSA results indicate that, just as Morin suggests, reds are becoming pinker, purples are becoming bluer and blues are becoming deeper blue.

1. Solid blue Democratic base states: The Democrats have carried these states in the last four presidential elections and the average Democratic margin has been over five points in the last two elections (CA, CT, DE, HI, IL, ME, MD, MA NJ, NY, RI, VT, WA plus DC, for a total of 183 EVs).

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 29 percent.

2. Purple leaning blue states: The Democrats have carried these states in the last four presidential elections and the average Democratic margin has been under five points in the last two elections (MI, MN, OR, PA, WI, for a total of 65 EVs). According to 2005 Gallup data, Democrats have party ID advantages in all of these states: 4 points each in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, 11 points in Minnesota, 12 points in Michigan and 15 points in Oregon.

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 35 percent.

3. Pure purple states: These states have split their support between the two parties in the last two elections (IA, NH and NM, for a total of 16 EVs). Democrats have party ID advantages in each of these states: 6 points in Iowa, 14 points in New Hampshire and 8 points in New Mexico.

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 35 percent

4. Purple leaning red states: These states have been carried at least once by the Democrats in the last four elections and have been carried by the GOP in the last two elections by an average of 5 points or less (FL, MO, NV and OH, for a total of 63 EVs. Democrats also enjoy party ID advantages in all of these states: a point in Florida, 8 points in Missouri, 12 points in Nevada and 7 points in Ohio.

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 35 percent

5. Red vulnerable states: These states have been carried at least once by the Democrats in the last four elections and the average GOP margin in the last two elections has been between 5 and 10 points (AZ, AR, CO, TN, WV, for a total of 41 EVs). Here Democrats have a 5 point party ID deficit in Arizona, are dead-even in Tennessee and lead by 11 points in Arkansas, 3 points in Colorado and 13 points in West Virginia.

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 40 percent

6. Solid red GOP base states: These states have been carried by the Republicans in the last four presidential elections or have been carried by the GOP by an average of 10 points or more in 2000 and 2004 (AL, AK, GA, ID, IN, KS, KY, LA, MS, MT, NE, NC, ND, OK, SC, SD, TX, UT, VA, WY for a total of 170 EVs).

Average Bush approval rating (unweighted): 45 percent

April 19, 2006

Updating the 2006 Election Outlook

by Ruy Teixeira

At the end of last month, I published a lengthy piece on “2006 Election Outlook: The Macro and the Micro”. Here are some updates to that piece.

1. In that piece, I pointed out that low Congressional job approval is generally considered a very unfavorable indicator for the incumbent party in midterm elections and, moreover, is generally associated with relatively large seat swings. The latest Gallup numbers make the situation seem even more dire for the incumbent party:

Public approval of the job Congress is doing has dipped to its lowest level of 2006, and is now the worst Gallup has recorded since the closing days of the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994.

According to an April 10-13, 2006, Gallup Poll, 23% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, while 70% disapprove. The current approval score is slightly below the 25%-27% range seen since January.

The current 23% approval rating for Congress is a near-record low for the institution. Gallup's trend for this question, which started in 1974, shows lower approval scores on only three other occasions: October 1994 (21%), March 1992 (18%), and June 1979 (19%).

2. In the earlier piece, I noted that there appears to be an enthusiasm gap in favor of the Democrats as we head toward this year’s election. A supporting analysis along these lines was provided by an April 17 Washington Post article, “Anger at Bush May Hurt GOP at Polls”, which summarized some key indicators of this enthusiasm gap and what it could portend:

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll showed 47 percent of voters "strongly" disapprove of Bush's job performance, vs. 20 percent who said they "strongly approve."

In the recent past, this perennial truism of politics -- emotion equals turnout -- has worked more to the Republican advantage. Several weeks before the 2002 midterm elections, Bush had 42 percent of voters strongly approving of him, compared with 18 percent in strong opposition. Democrats were stunned on election night when Republicans defied historical patterns and made gains in the House and Senate. The president's party usually loses seats during the first midterm elections after he takes office....

Whether anti-Bush sentiments portend a political tidal wave in November is much debated, but Democrats hope they are hearing early echoes of 1974 and 1994. There was massive turnover of congressional seats in those midterm elections, as fired-up voters first punished Republicans for Watergate, and later turned on Democrats because of President Bill Clinton's failed health-care initiative and because of anger over House ethics abuses.

The intense opposition to Bush is larger than any faced by Clinton. For all the polarization the 42nd president inspired, Clinton's strong disapproval never got above 37 percent in Post-ABC polls during his presidency.

Democratic pollster Geoff Garin said GOP House candidates have reason to worry. His surveys find that 82 percent of Americans who say they voted for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 plan to vote for a Democrat for the House this year. But only 65 percent who voted for Bush say they will vote for a Republican House nominee, Garin said. The remaining 35 percent say they are open to voting for a Democrat or staying home.

"We get a large chunk of Bush voters who are not motivated to go out and vote for Republicans this fall," Garin said. "That puts a lot of red districts into play."

A recent Gallup analysis provides some very direct data on this enthusiasm gap. Gallup asked voters whether they were more enthusiastic than usual or less enthusiastic than usual about voting this year. They found that 48 percent of Democratic partisans, compared to just 33 percent of Republican partisans, said they were more enthusiastic than usual, a gap of 15 points in the Democrats’ favor. Going back to 1994, Gallup has never observed a gap of this magnitude in the Democrats’ favor–in fact, the only other time the gap has favored the Democrats at all was earlier this year. Otherwise, the Republicans have typically had the advantage or at worst been tied with the Democrats. But this year is very, very different.

3. In the earlier piece, I remarked how strongly independents are leaning Democratic and how much they resemble Democrats in their attitudes toward the Bush administration (the “Indycrat” phenomenon). Here are the latest Gallup data on how independents rate Bush’s job performance in various areas, followed by their (positive) distance from Democrats’ ratings and their (negative) distance from Republicans’ ratings. Note how the magnitude of independents’ distance from Republicans is so much larger than their distance from Democrats.
Overall: 26, +15, -48
Iraq: 22, +15, -51
Economy: 32, +20, -45
Terrorism: 41, +21, -39
Energy: 21, +12, -38
Health care: 21, +9, -37
Immigration: 23, +6, -25

April 18, 2006

'06 Dems Must Run on More Than 'Competence'

by Pete Ross

David Sirota's In These Times article (April 14) makes a tight case that Democratic candidates who run on "competence" without an ideological anchor are courting defeat. Likening the Dems' 'competence' strategy to Seinfelt's "show about nothing," Sirota says:

Sadly, it is not a strategy based on ideological differences that puts a boot to conservatives’ neck when their hypocrisy trips them up and they fall down. Thus, while Democrats celebrate the resignations of people like Reps. Tom DeLay (Texas) and Duke Cunningham (Calif.), the GOP simultaneously celebrates because they can now counter the Democrats’ “competence” argument by pointing out that their party has sloughed off the incompetents. In short, the Republican Party and the right’s ideological agenda march forward, largely unscathed.

In making such a limited critique, Democrats tacitly validate conservatives’ ideological goals and further reinforce the public feeling that Democrats have no convictions of their own. For example, despite the GOP scandals and the political opportunities they present, Democrats refuse to push serious reforms like public financing of elections and instead push half-measures and focus on Republican missteps.

It's not a new concern. Sirota quotes L.A. Times columnist Ron Brownstein: “Democratic leaders are drifting toward a midterm message that indicts Bush more on grounds of competence (on issues such as Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and prescription drugs) than ideology.”

Sirota is right about those Dems who run only on their opposition's incompetence. And he is surely right about too many Dems talking about the Iraq war as fundamentally a management problem, rather than a moral, economic and strategic disaster. But it may be overstating the case to say that most Dems are running on competence alone. Many Dems are also emphasizing GOP corruption and some are running on actual policy reforms.

Sirota sees the "competence' strategy as a collateral effect of the growing corporate influence on the Democratic Party leadership.

National Democratic leaders will say they are forced to use the “competence” argument because it is the one big theme that unifies their ideologically diverse congressional membership. But that hides the not-so-secret fact that very powerful, very vocal, and very ideological forces within the Democratic Party support many of the conservative goals that a “competence” strategy inherently validates.

There is nothing wrong with citing the Republicans' incompetence and corruption as major campaign themes. But Sirota is right that, to be credible, Dems also have to embrace a coherent ideology all their own, one which takes a clear stand in support of working people instead of corporate power.

April 17, 2006

Framing Immigration Issues -- On TV

Michael Sean Winters takes a crack at brainstorming some potential TV ads Dems could run to get a grip on immigration issues and expose GOP demagoguery at the same time. Winters' New Republic Online piece "Democrats Immigration Opportunity: Defining Moment" suggests using baseball and other celebs to address the moral dimensions of the issue head-on:

Swing voters are probably not impressed by Bill Richardson, the Hispanic governor of New Mexico. They are impressed by Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols is from the Dominican Republic, he is a perennial all-star, and he is a born-again Christian. The spot would begin with him reading from the Book of Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 34: "The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." Pujols could then put down the Bible, look into the camera, and say, "I believe Americans are a God-fearing people, but these Minutemen seem to have forgotten their Bibles."

The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are filled with such texts. I picture Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, who is Dominican American, reading the story of the Good Samaritan. Or Colombian-born singer Shakira reciting the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew: "For I was hungry and you gave me to eat, thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. ... Whatever you have done for these the least of my brethren, you have done for me."

Or these:

another could take place in front of the Statue of Liberty...Liberals should not be afraid to insist that it is their position on immigration that is the truly patriotic one.

...Democrats could produce a spot with a ten-year-old girl in the kitchen helping her grandmother bake cookies. The girl might say, "Those Republicans call immigrants nasty names. In our family, we call immigrants Grandma and Grandpa." Ads that go for the emotional jugular tend to attract free media attention, and therefore do not require expensive media buys to be effective.

The discussion thread following Winter's article reveals some legitimate concerns about his moral confrontation approach. But credit Winters with proposing some creative 'framing' ideas for Dems. And making use of television to expose Republican pandering and xenophobia is a jolly good idea. Dems should also run ads that advocate some solutions to guest worker-related and other concerns.

But it's hard to argue with Winters' conclusion:

Last month, the Dubai Port story came and went with no real long-term benefit to the Democrats. They failed to turn the narrow issue of port management into the broader issue of Republican failure to provide adequate port security, an issue with legs, as well as an issue on which Democrats could benefit from being seen as the tough guys. The demographics of the Latino population explosion make support for immigrants smart politics as well as humane policy. If only the Dems will jump on the wave.

Painfully true about the missed opportunity regarding port security. Winters' article and the accompanying discussion thread provide a good beginning for readers who want to seize the opportunity presented by immigration issues.

April 14, 2006

How 'Northeast Strategy' Can Benefit Dems

My DD's Chris Bowers concludes his three-parter "Building a Real House Majority" with a strong case for "the northeast strategy." As Bowers explains it:

The "Northeast strategy," as I propose it, entails looking at potential 2006 Democratic pickups in the House, and weighting their order of value based upon the degree of difficulty in holding the seat once we take it...Now, I am not writing about this strategy to in any way diminish my personal commitment to the fifty-state strategy. I still believe 100% in competing everywhere, in challenging Republicans everywhere, and on staying away from selective targeting of races and states as much as possible. I feel, instead, that this is another strategic layer to an overall theory of retaking the House...Specifically, I am advocating for the full-scale targeting of every Republican held seat with a partisan voting index of +1.5% Democratic or more in every election. While I believe that every Republican in Congress should face a democratic challenger with at least $40K to run a campaign, I also believe that every Republican in a district with a Democratic PVI of 1.5 or more should face a challenger with at least $400K and a strong, complimentary grassroots / netroots operation. This should be the target for every election cycle.

Bowers discusses specifics in key districts and makes a strong case for using his numerical guidelines in developing a flexible Democratic resource-allocation strategy for winning back the House. While most of the states meeting his p.v.i. guidelines are in the northeast at this time, there are some districts in other regions that meet the criteria. All in all, it seems a reasonable approach, provided exceptions can be made for strong Dem candidates in other districts that may fall short of the +1.5 standard.

April 13, 2006

The Incredible Shrinking National Security Gap

by Ruy Teixeira

While it is way too soon to say the Democrats are out of the woods on this one (see, for example, the results of the latest CBS News poll, which still show the Democrats with considerable ground to make up in several national security-related areas), it is nevertheless striking just how much the GOP’s formerly crushing advantage on national security and handling terrorism has been shrinking.

Exhibit A in this regard is the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. In this poll, Democrats actually have a one point advantage over the GOP (46-45) on handling the “U.S. campaign against terrorism”—a stunning improvement over the 36-point deficit Democrats faced in December 2002 (61-25 percent).

Another example of this trend is the most recent Ipsos-AP poll, where the Democrats are in a tie with Republicans (41-41) on “Who do you trust to do a better job of protecting the country” (41-41). Finally, consider this very interesting question asked by Garin-Hart-Yang Research for the DSCC:

Suppose for a moment that you were deciding your vote for Congress SOLELY on the question of who you trusted more to protect America's national security and have the right policies for combating terrorism. If this were the ONLY issue you were considering, would you be more likely to vote for a Democrat or a Republican?

The result: 41 percent said they’d vote for the Democrat and only 39 percent for the Republican. Somehow I don’t think this would have been the response a year or two ago.

If the GOP loses the national security card, what do they have left? What indeed. As GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio recently said, referencing the Ipsos-AP results: “These numbers are scary. We've lost every advantage we've ever had. The good news is Democrats don't have much of a plan. The bad news is they may not need one."

And what if Democrats did actually have a compelling plan on, say, national security? Fabrizio does not address this possibility, but presumably that would mean even bigger trouble for his party. Stay tuned: the saga of the incredible shrinking national security gap may not be over yet.

April 12, 2006

Oh, Those Liberal College Students!

by Ruy Teixeira

Some people assert that college students these days are conservative–others that they’re liberal. Who’s right? Well, the best way to find out is to ask the college students themselves. Fortunately, that’s just what Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP) has been doing since April, 2000, so we actually have some real live data to look at, including their just-released Spring, 2006 survey, which was conducted in the second half of March.

According to the survey, 57 percent say they are liberal or lean liberal, compared to 31 percent who are conservative or lean conservative.

Guess that answers that question. The survey also finds that students give Democrats an 8 point lead on party ID, though a plurality say they are independent or “unaffiliated”. Comparing the independents with the Democrats, however, suggests that the “Indycrat” phenomenon I have identified nationally, where independents and Democrats are quite close to one another and far away from Republicans, also applies to students. For example, when you break down Democrats and independents by IOP’s political typology–which classifies students as either traditional liberals, religious centrists, secular centrists or traditional conservatives–Democrats are 59 percent traditional liberals, 24 percent religious centrists, 9 percent secular centrists and 7 percent traditional conservatives, while independents are 50 percent traditional liberals, 21 percent religious centrists, 16 percent secular centrists and 13 percent traditional conservatives.

Pretty similar. Contrast that to the breakdown among GOP identifiers who are 34 percent traditional conservatives, 30 percent religious centrists, 20 percent secular centrists and 16 percent traditional liberals.

Other findings noted in the survey release include:

College students continue to support a more multilateral U.S. foreign affairs stance and are conflicted over unilateral action to prevent nuclear weapons development, including in Iran. Nearly three out of four college students (72%) believe the United States should let other countries and the United Nations take the lead in solving international crises and conflicts, nearly identical to Spring 2005 IOP poll findings (74%). Students also struggle over the U.S. role in the development of nuclear weapons. More students say they are unsure (37%) over whether the United States should stop the development of nuclear weapons in other countries, even if it requires unilateral military action, than those who either agree (33%) or disagree (31%). An identical number (37%) are equally unsure when asked specifically about the U.S. intervening in Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

More than seven in ten students believe the United States should withdraw some or all U.S. troops from Iraq. Sixty percent (60%) of college students believe the United States should begin to withdraw troops from Iraq, a twenty point increase from six months ago (40% - Fall 2005 IOP poll). However, only twelve percent (12%) of college students now believe the United States should withdraw all troops from Iraq - a ten point drop from Fall 2005 IOP polling (22%).....

President Bush’s approval rating still dropping, as students continue to feel the country is on the wrong track. Only one-third (33%) of college students say they approve of the job George W. Bush is doing as President, down eight points from this past fall. Following recent trends, students also continue to feel the country is on the “wrong track” rather than headed in the right direction. Fifty-eight percent (58% - an identical number to the fall 2005 IOP poll) believe the country is on the “wrong track,” while only thirty-percent (30%) believe the country is headed in the “right direction,” down five points from October 2005.

There’s much more in the survey release and full report and I urge you to check them out. These analyses can also be fruitfully read in conjunction with a couple of other recent reports on the overall age group that contains these students: Anna Greenberg’s study, OMG: How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era, conducted for Reboot; and Magid Associates’ study, “The Politics of the Millennial Generation”, conducted for the New Politics Institute (see especially the section on “transition millennials”, who are 18-22). Both studies confirm that the broader age group that contains the college students studied by IOP is quite progressive in almost every way, as well as documenting this age group’s complicated attitudes toward religion, morality, civic life and the political process (also a theme of the IOP analysis).

Of course, there's no guarantee IOP’s college students and Gen Y adults in general will stay as progressive as they are now--change is possible (but much less likely after the age of 30 which is not so far away for the leading edge of this generation).

But they're off to a good start! Their current progressive views can only make those on the center-left smile. And the conservative Establishment in Washington scowl.

April 11, 2006

Protecting Dem House Seats

Most Democratic speculation about which '06 U.S. House races to target for optimal resource allocation tends to focus on GOP-held seats we can win. But that's only part of the strategy for creating a majority to retake the House. Dems also need to protect their most vulnerable House members. Swing State's DavidNYC offers a thoughtful contribution to this discussion, "House 2006: Where Their Targets Are," and includes a nifty chart featuring 41 Dem-held seats in districts that went for Bush in '04 which Rahm Emanuel should stick on his fridge.

Yet, even considering '06 House races from a defensive vantage point, DavidNYC sees a very weak GOP effort to win these seats and concludes:

Now, don't get me wrong here: I am absolutely, absolutely not counseling complacency, or suggesting we've got this one in the bag, or anything like that at all. We have tons of work cut out for us. Rather, I'm pointing out the simple fact that the GOP has forty-one prime targets and is only mustering a serious assault against a handful of them. This just empirically confirms something we've probably all felt to be true for a while: The GOP is very much on the defensive this year. And that gives us a lot of opportunities to expand the playing field.

We'll drink to that. But let's do encourage the DCCC to protect our most vulnerable incumbents.

April 9, 2006

No Good News for GOP in Recent Polls

By Alan Abramowitz

While there have been very few polls in the past 2-3 weeks, the two polls that have come out recently indicate that George Bush's approval rating is continuing to slide. A new Fox/OD poll shows Bush at 36% approval, 53% disapproval, tied for his lowest rating ever in that poll. And a new AP/Ipsos poll has Bush at 36% approval, 62% disapproval, a new low in that poll. The AP/Ipsos poll also gives Democrats a 16 point lead in the generic vote for the House of Representatives--the largest Democratic lead to date in that poll.

April 7, 2006

Americans Sour on Nation-Building, Oil Dependence

by Pete Ross

Foreign Affairs is featuring an eye-opening analysis of public attitudes towards 'democracy building.' The centerpiece article by Dan Yankelovich discusses two recent surveys by Public Agenda which bring bad news for neo-con interventionists:

As for the goal of spreading democracy to other countries, only 20 percent of respondents identified it as "very important" -- the lowest support noted for any goal asked about in the survey. Even among Republicans, only three out of ten favored pursuing it strongly. In fact, most of the erosion in confidence in the policy of spreading democracy abroad has occurred among Republicans, especially the more religious wing of the party. People who frequently attend religious services have been among the most ardent supporters of the government's policies, but one of the recent survey's most striking findings is that although these people continue to maintain a high level of trust in the president and his administration, their support for the government's Iraq policy and for the policy of exporting democracy has cooled.

And, apropos of yesterday's post, Yankelovich sees energy independence as a rapidly rising priority of Americans:

No change is more striking than that relating to the public's opinion of U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Americans have grown much more worried that problems abroad may affect the price of oil. The proportion of those who said they "worry a lot" about this occurring has increased from 42 percent to 55 percent. Nearly nine out of ten Americans asked were worried about the problem -- putting oil dependence at the top of our 18-issue "worry scale." Virtually all Americans surveyed (90 percent) said they see the United States' lack of energy independence as jeopardizing the country's security, 88 percent said they believe that problems abroad could endanger the United States' supply of oil and so raise prices for U.S. consumers, and 85 percent said they believe that the U.S. government would be capable of doing something about the problem if it tried. This last belief may be the reason that only 20 percent of those surveyed gave the government an A or a B on this issue; three-quarters assigned the government's performance a C, a D, or an F.

We may be witnessing the initial rumblings of a political earthquake. As Yankelovich notes:

The oil-dependency issue now meets all the criteria for having reached the tipping point: an overwhelming majority expresses concern about the issue, the intensity of the public's unease has reached significant levels, and the public believes the government is capable of addressing the issue far more effectively than it has until now. Should the price of gasoline drop over the coming months, this issue may temporarily lose some of its political weight. But with supplies of oil tight and geopolitical tensions high, public pressure is likely to grow.

Yankelovich also discusses public attitudes about the Iraq war, outsourcing and illegal immigration --- and the Administration will find scant comfort in these trends, either. The entire article is recommended to Dems who want to get a better handle on recent public opinion trends on key foreign policy issues.

April 6, 2006

It's the Gas, Stupid?

Just for fun, check out Professor Pollkatz's chart depicting the relationship of Bush's approval ratings to gas prices. It's not two snakes doing a precision cha cha, but they do appear to be dancing to the same beat. The chart may appear a little blurry on some monitors, but it prints out quite nicely, landscape-wise.

April 5, 2006

What Does the Public Want on Immigration?

by Ruy Teixeira

Normally, there’s a modest stream of public opinion data on the immigration issue, much of it confusing. Now, suddenly, there’s a great deal of data on this issue.....and it’s still confusing.

Time to try to sort it out. Here are some basic findings on the issue that may help in interpreting the current political debate.

1. The public believes immigration is a serious problem and levels of concern appear to be growing. For example, in the most recent Time poll, 68 percent said illegal immigration was a very or extremely serious problem and, in a just-released Pew poll on immigration, 74 percent termed immigration a very big or moderately big problem, up from 69 percent in 2002.

In the same Pew poll, 52 percent now say that “immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care” (up from 38 percent in 2000), compared to 41 percent who say “immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents” (down from 50 percent in 2000).

Note, however, that while sentiment has been turning negative on the burden/strengthen question since 2000, levels of negative sentiment today are about whether they were in 1997 and are still a bit lower than they were in the 1994-1996 period.

Note also that positive sentiment about the characteristics of Asian and, particularly, Latino immigrants has been increasing over the last decade or so and, that today, according to a Pew analysis, positive sentiment about immigrants is strongest in precisely those areas where they are the most common.

Finally, the public overwhelmingly sees illegal, not legal, immigration as the more serious problem–by 60 percent to 4 percent in the Pew poll. And in a Kaiser Family Foundation survey in August, 2004, 42 percent said legal immigrants are good for the country, while only 23 percent said they are harmful. But they expressed negative attitudes about illegal immigrants by a margin of 54 percent to 18 percent.

2. The public generally believes that immigrants don’t displace American citizens from jobs. In a very typical result, the Pew poll found 65 percent saying immigrants take jobs Americans don’t want, rather than take jobs away from American citizens (24 percent).

3. On the other hand, the public does believe immigration depresses wages. In a December, 2005 Gallup poll, by margins of 52-42 for legal immigrants and 60-32 for illegal immigrants, the public thought immigrants mostly hurt the economy by driving down wages for other workers rather than mostly helped the economy by providing low cost labor.

4. The public overwhelmingly wants tougher action to keep illegal immigrants out of the country. In the Time poll cited above, 82 percent of the public says the US isn’t doing enough to keep illegal immigrants from crossing into the country. That’s very consistent with other results from recent polls. And, in the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 71 percent said they they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who favored tighter controls on illegal immigration.

5. But there is little enthusiasm for an enforcement approach that focuses exclusively on illegal immigrants themselves and removing them from the country, especially when posed against alternatives. In the Pew poll, only 27 percent said illegal immigrants already here should be required to return home, compared to 32 percent who said they should be allowed to stay permanently and 32 percent who said they should be granted temporary worker status. And, in the same poll, 49 percent said the best way to reduce illegal immigration from Mexico was to penalize employers, compared to 33 percent who chose increasing border patrols and 9 percent who favored building more fences.

6. The public is open to a guest worker program for illegal immigrants and to making it easier for them to obtain citizenship, but only if certain strict conditions are met. For example, if you just ask, with no further specifications, whether we should make it easier for illegal immigrants to become legal workers, as Quinnipiac University recently did, you get a negative response, 54 percent against/41 percent for. And you get an even more negative response on whether we should make it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens, 62 percent against/32 percent for.

But that initial reaction turns around, if it sounds like helping illegal immigrants to get legal worker status or to become citizens isn’t a free lunch for those who broke the law. In the Time magazine poll, they described making it easier for illegal immigrants to become legal workers as “Allowing illegal immigrants already working in the United States to register as guest workers for a fixed period of time, so the government could keep track of them”. That gets a 79-18 positive response.

Similarly, the Time poll framed making it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens as “Allowing illegal immigrants now in this country to earn U.S. citizenship if they learn to speak English, have a job and pay taxes". That’s supported by the public by a very wide 78-21 margin.

Another example, also from the Time poll, posed the legal worker issue this way: “Two different approaches have been suggested to deal with illegal immigrants. Please tell me which comes closest to your views. (1) Make illegal immigration a crime and not allow anyone who entered the country illegally to work or stay in the United States under any circumstances. OR, (2) Allow illegal immigrants to get temporary work visas so the government can track them and allow them to earn permanent residence after six years if they learn English, pay a fine, pay any back taxes, and have no criminal record.". That produces a 72-25 majority for the second option.

To sum up, the public favors a tough, but not punitive, approach to the problem of containing illegal immigration and is willing to consider fairly generous approaches to the illegal immigrants already here, provided they feel expectations for these immigrants are high and that they will play by the rules. “Tough, but fair” is a reasonable summary of their position.

We shall see whether either political party is able to harness the “tough, but fair” public to their agenda on the very contentious immigration issue.