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September 29, 2006

There They Go Again: The Gallup Likely Voter Screen and the 2006 Midterm Elections

by Alan Abramowitz, Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science, Emory University

It’s déjà vu all over again. The 2006 midterm elections are only seven weeks away and the Gallup Poll likely voter screen is back to its old tricks. Last week Gallup released its first poll of the 2006 campaign using its likely voter screen and the results showed that Democrats and Republicans were tied on the generic ballot question. That’s the question that asks respondents whether they would vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate for the House of Representatives in their district if they election were being held today. The question doesn’t provide respondents with the names of the candidates—hence the term “generic ballot.” Nevertheless the generic ballot question has proven to be a fairly good predictor of the results of congressional elections once the sample is pared down to those likely to vote. But that’s not easy to do, especially more than seven weeks before Election Day.

At first glance, it might appear surprising that the new Gallup Poll found a tie on the generic ballot. After all, one week earlier another Gallup Poll produced a 12 point Democratic advantage on this question, similar to that found in most other national polls in recent weeks. But, as Charles Franklin and Mark Blumenthal recently explained, the shift from a 12 point Democratic lead to a tie wasn’t really as dramatic as it seemed. It was almost entirely a result of the introduction of the likely voter screen. Among all registered voters, the new Gallup Poll found a 9 point Democratic lead on the generic ballot.

Almost all polling organizations use some sort of likely voter screen to measure voting intentions shortly before an election. This is especially critical in a midterm election in which, historically, only about 40 percent of eligible voters go to the polls. However, the Gallup likely voter screen is more complicated than most—it involves a series of seven questions including one that measures current political interest. As a result, while it appears to work quite well in the last day or two before an election, it can produce highly volatile results when applied several weeks before an election. During the 2000 election campaign, for example, Gallup’s presidential preference results sometimes gyrated wildly over the course of only a few days—on October 4th, Gallup showed an 11 point lead for Al Gore. Three days later, on October 7th, they showed an 8 point lead for George Bush. However, much of this apparent volatility was caused by the likely voter screen rather than actual shifts in candidate preference among voters.

Some of the volatility in Gallup’s results in 2000 may have been caused by their use of a tracking poll with a 3-day rolling sample. Tracking polls tend to be more volatile than standard polls because they allow less time for callbacks. During the 2004 campaign, however, Gallup’s likely voter screen sometimes produced large swings in candidate support over relatively short time periods. For example, between October 10th and October 16th, Gallup reported a shift from a 2 point Kerry lead to an 8 point Bush lead. In contrast, the CBS/New York Times Poll found a 1 point Bush lead on October 11th and a 1 point Bush lead on October 17th and a Time Magazine Poll found a 1 point Bush lead on October 7th and a tie on October 15th.

Why does Gallup’s likely voter screen produce greater volatility in candidate support than likely voter screens used by other polls? The answer is not clear but a reasonable guess would be that it has to do with the use of a question asking about a respondent’s current level of political interest. Political interest may vary considerably depending on what types of news stories are making the headlines. When the President delivers a major address to the nation for example, supporters of his party are likely to be more interested in news about the speech than supporters of the opposing party. In the final days before an election, interest in the campaign and knowledge about where one’s polling place is located are probably good predictors of voter turnout. Seven weeks before an election, however, these questions may not predict turnout very well.

The 9 point gap between registered and likely voters in Gallup’s recent generic ballot results appears overly large by historical standards. Don’t be surprised to see the gap close by the end of the campaign. In the meantime, however, don’t be surprised to see big fluctuations in the results of Gallup’s generic ballot question among likely voters.

September 28, 2006

For the Long Haul: Invest in Dem Youth

It's hard to get focused on long-range political goals so close to elections. But there is a good article noted in the 'hump day' wrap-up below that political strategists should grab and save. Search far and wide -- you won't find a better analysis of the need for a greater investment in Democratic youth leadership development than Iara Peng's Alternet article "How Progressives Can Win in the Long Run." Peng's challenge:

For nearly 30 years, ultraconservatives have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in young people and built an infrastructure that initiates young people into the radical right movement through campus activism, leadership training and career development. Their investments have paid off. The radical right wing now controls the executive and legislative branches of government, and it's only one seat away from complete dominance of the Supreme Court.

If progressives want to achieve the same sort of political success that the radical right has enjoyed for the past two decades, we're going to have to do more than focus on the next round of elections and pay lip service to engaging young people. We must make a serious, long-term investment in our next generation of progressive leaders.

Yes, Dems have their own youth leadership training programs. But can they match this?

For decades, right-wing organizations including the Leadership Institute, Federalist Society, Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation have spearheaded a massive effort to bring young people into their movement. Last year alone, the Right invested $48 million in 11 youth-focused organizations aimed at increasing the number of ideologically friendly campus papers, fostering networks of students on campuses, shifting the way that students self-identify in terms of political ideology, providing skills and strategies training, and promoting right-wing values.

Students are cultivated by the right-wing campaign against college courses that conflict with their agenda. For example, they have accused more than 100 professors of making "anti-American" statements. They attend courses with titles like "How to Stop Liberals in Their Tracks." They have internships, fellowships and jobs waiting for them when they graduate. They learn how to run campaigns and how to run for office.

...Right-wing groups spend more than ten times as much on long-term political leadership development than we do, and financial trends over the past four years show that progressive leadership development organizations are actually, on average, experiencing a decline in revenue.

And the pay-off has been impressive. As a result,

A powerful network of young ultraconservatives fills state capitols, the halls of Congress, the executive branch and the courts. It is supported by community leaders, skilled organizers, academics and media personalities that help dominate the debate. The leaders in whom the right has invested in are familiar names. In 1970, a man named Karl Rove was head of the National College Republicans. In 1981, Grover Norquist took the reins. And in 1983, it was Ralph Reed.

Peng offers some credible corrective measures, and there are some good comments responding to her challenge. Clip her article, read it and consider making a contribution for the long haul.

Polling of Key Districts

by Scott Winship

Check out this very cool interactive website summarizing key House races, courtesy of Constituent Dynamics and RT Strategies. Good polling of House races are hard to find. I'm hoping to find out how many more rounds of polling they plan to do.

September 27, 2006

Hump Day Recommended Reading

Six weeks before election day political strategy articles are multiplying like guppies. Greenberg Quinlan Rosner addresses an important and frequently overlooked topic of interest to Dems -- increasing the turnout of unmarried women voters (Executive Summary here and PDF Memo here)...Alternet has a pair of political strategy must-reads: George Lakoff's "12 Traps That Keep Progressives from Winning" and Iara Peng's "How Progressives Can Win in the Long Run," a precription for correcting the left's comparatively weak efforts for youth leadership development...Chris Bowers has a very encouraging wrap-up of House races at MyDD showing 40 seats "in serious play"...NYT's Adam Nagourney reports on the escalating use of nasty attack ads in congressional campaigns, while Janet Hook focuses on GOP attack ads in the L.A. Times...WaPo's Amit R. Paley reports on two polls -- one by the U.S. State Department -- that show a large majority of Iraqis want U.S. forces to leave pronto...Harold Meyerson's WaPo op-ed shreds the "moderate Republican" myth...In These Times contributing editor Hans Johnson reports on the rapidly rising tide of GOP politicos switching to the Democratic party...As the focus sharpens on congressional races, don't forget that there are many important ballot initiatives across the nation. Swing State Project references 194 ballot propositions in 32 states (Summary here) and R. Neal takes a look at some of them in his Facing South article "Ballot Initiatives around the South."...Arthur I. Blaustein's Mother Jones call-to-arms "Campaign 2006: The Issues, the Stakes, the Prospects" provides a shot of political adrenalin for progressives.

September 26, 2006

The Forecast Today

by Scott Winship

I've spent a bit of time reading some polls today with an eye toward saying something brilliant about the likely results of the elections. I have to say that I'm inclined to agree with Ezra Klein that national polls on congressional approval tell us very little.

Ezra notes that congressional approval rates were in the low 50s in 1990, when the (majority) Democrats picked up seats, 56% in 1994 when they lost a ton of seats, and 64% when they -- as the minority party -- won seats. I'd add that according to the NYT/CBS poll [pdf] Ezra examines, the share saying their own Representative deserves re-election is down from 1998 and 2002 to its 1994 level, but it was also as low in 1990 when the (majority) Democratic Party picked up seats.

One survey question that is intriguing, however, asks which candidate for one's congressional district a person would vote for if the election were held today. According to the table on p. 13 of the pdf, the tally on this question in the final poll before the election correctly predicts the party that picks up seats in the '94, '98, and '02 elections. By that rule of thumb, the Democrats look in good shape -- they lead 50-35 in the most recent poll, which is the biggest lead found in the NYT/CBS poll between 1994 and today.

However, the table also shows that there are sizeable swings in the last month before elections. One would have predicted that the Dems would pick up seats in '94 based on the September and October polls and that they would pick up seats in '02 based on the early October poll. That means that, well, anything can happen in the next month.

Still, things look pretty good from 30,000 feet. It's true that the percent saying that the economy or jobs is the most important issue has declined steadily since 2003, from one-third of Americans in October of that year to 11% today. Furthermore, the percent of Americans saying terrorism is the most important issue is at 14%, the highest level since prior to mid-2003. And a number of issues on which Democrats are advantaged are irrelevent: just 3-4% of Americans say health care is the most important issue, 1-2% say politicians and government, 1-2% say the environment, and 3% say the heating oil/gas crisis – down from 14% in May.

However, throughout 2006, 22-23 percent of Americans have said that Iraq or "war" is the most important problem, and the Democrats are favored on this issue. The elections are going to be about the unpopularity of Iraq and the salience of the terrorist threat. Control of the House will hinge exclusively on which party wins this battle, and Republicans look awfully weak. But again, anything can happen....

Leaked Iraq Report Hobbles GOP Strategy

The Republican strategy of characterizing Democratic candidates as "soft on terrorism" just suffered a damaging if not lethal blow in the form of a leaked "National Intelligence Estimate." The report reflects "U.S. intelligence community's first formal evaluation of global trends in terrorism since the April 2003 invasion of Iraq," according to Washington Post reporters Michael Abramowitz and Jonathan Weissman. The authors say "the report concludes that the Iraq war has fueled the growth of Islamic extremism and terror groups."

In his article "No Silent Majority for Bush," WaPo columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. notes further:

...News over the weekend of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq is especially troublesome for Republican electoral chances. By finding that the war in Iraq has encouraged global terrorism and spawned a new generation of Islamic radicals, the report by 16 government intelligence services undercuts the administration's central argument that the Iraq war has made the United States safer.

Nor is there any way to dismiss the assessment as partisan, left-wing or unpatriotic. That high-level government officials have offered their own criticisms of the war's impact makes it difficult for Republicans to force the argument into a classic "he said-she said" framework in which facts can be set aside and the claims of critics dismissed as political.

Meanwhile a new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted 9/22-24, indicates that 59 percent of Americans oppose the Iraq war and 55 percent of likely voters said they would vote for a Democrat if the election were held now, compared to 42 percent for a republican.

There will be a lot more said and written about the leaked report over the next seven weeks. But it's clear that the "soft on terrorism" label the GOP has tried to pin on Dems so frequently now has "backfire" written all over it.

September 25, 2006

Fair Trade Gives Dems Mid-Terms Edge

In nation-wide polls ranking the political priorities of voters, foreign trade rarely scores very high. Indeed the issue is often submerged in voter concerns about "the economy."

But trade is a major issue this year in key congressional and state-wide elections, reports Molly Hennessy-Fiske in today's L.A. Times. Hennessy-Fiske focuses on Democratic convert Jack Davis's campaign to unseat Republican Thomas M. Reynolds from his western NY district as a marquee campaign with trade as a pivotal issue, and she provides an interesting run-down of how the issue is playing out at the state and district level:

With wages stagnating for many Americans, trade has become a significant campaign factor this fall in parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia and other states. In Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina, where manufacturers continue to shutter plants and cut jobs, free trade has become a major issue of campaigns.

In Michigan, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who is seeking reelection, recently ran a TV ad highlighting her effort to create a "trade prosecutor" to investigate unfair foreign competition.

In Ohio, Republican Sen. Mike DeWine and his Democratic challenger, Rep. Sherrod Brown, have repeatedly sparred over trade, with Brown calling for "fair-trade" policies that hold foreign companies to U.S. workplace standards.

In North Carolina, Republican Rep. Robin Hayes, a textile heir, is under attack from his opponent, a former textile worker, for supporting the Central American Free Trade Agreement last year. Hayes cast the deciding vote

Trade is an issue that clearly has GOP candidates dodging and equivocating, particularly with working-class voters. Democratic candidates who successfully articulate strong "fair trade" arguments in districts hit hard by job losses to foreign trade may have the edge that leads to victory on November 7.

September 21, 2006

NYT/CBS Poll: Dems Ahead 15 Percent in Mid-Term Races

With 47 days to go before the mid-term election, Democrats have a 15 point lead over Republicans among registered voters in a generic vote for congressional representatives, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted 9/15-19. As Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder explain in their NYT poll summary:

In the poll, 50 percent said they would support a Democrat in the fall Congressional elections, compared with 35 percent who said they would support a Republican....In one striking finding, 77 percent of respondents — including 65 percent of Republicans — said most members of Congress had not done a good enough job to deserve re-election and that it was time to give a new people a chance. That is the highest number of voters saying it is “time for new people” since the fall of 1994.

But Elder and Nagourney warn that Dems should temper their expectations because of several factors:

But the poll found that Democrats continued to struggle to offer a strong case for turning government control over to them; only 38 percent said the Democrats had a clear plan for how they would run the country, compared with 45 percent who said the Republicans had offered a clear plan...Democrats face substantial institutional obstacles in trying to repeat what Republicans accomplished in 1994, including a Republican financial advantage and the fact that far fewer seats are in play...Most analysts judge only about 40 House seats to be in play at the moment, compared with over 100 seats in play at this point 12 years ago, in large part because redistricting has created more safe seats for both parties.

Still, Democrats can be encouraged by the fact that 43 percent of respondents said they were "more enthusiastic" about voting on November 7. In addition, Dems have narrowed the GOP advantage on addressing terrorism to 5 percent, according to the poll.

September 19, 2006

Dems Gaining in Swing States

For an insightful analysis of current congressional campaigns in key swing states, read "Mood Indigo: A Democratic Revival" by John B. Judis in the New Republic Online. Judis, NR senior editor, author and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has recently returned from swing states Colorado and Ohio, where he interviewed voters and candidates. His report has a lot for Dems to be encouraged about, including:

...this year, Democrats could unseat as many as five House Republicans in Ohio and win a Senate seat and the governor's mansion. In Colorado, Democrats are very likely to win the governorship and both state legislatures, and to take as many as three House seats from the Republicans. And, in both states, it's not just a sudden and fleeting reaction to Bush, but the resumption of a movement among upscale suburban voters and working-class Reagan Democrats. America may not turn blue this year, but it looks as if it is definitely becoming purple.

Judis says there are two general types of districts that are morphing Democratic:

The first is suburbs of older manufacturing regions in the East, Midwest, and West that have shifted to producing high-tech information services. These areas are heavily populated by professionals--from scientists and software programmers to teachers and nurses--who began voting Democratic in the late '80s and early '90s in response to the GOP's embrace of the religious right and adoption of a deregulatory, anti-New Deal business agenda. Democratic support in these areas was particularly high among women voters and voters with a postgraduate education.

...The second kind of district where Democrats have a chance of unseating Republicans is white, working-class, and located in or near a mid-sized city like South Bend or Louisville. Voters in these districts tend to be less affluent, less educated, and more socially conservative.

Judis has a lot more interesting detail and analysis about this trend and the political dynamics of the campaigns -- particularly the role of women voters. His article is highly reccommended for everyone interested in Democratic political strategy.

September 18, 2006

Vote Theft, Poll Screw-ups Cut Dem Wins

In a better world, political strategists wouldn’t have to factor voter suppression, polling shenanigans and glitches into their planning. All votes would be accurately counted and the polls would run smoothly. Doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for, in a great democracy.

In 21st century America, however, ignoring voter theft and polling screw-ups in formulating strategy is a prescription for defeat in too many localities. Writing in the September/October issue of Mother Jones, Sasha Abramsky explains it thusly in “Just Try Voting Here: 11 of America's worst places to cast a ballot (or try): Machines that count backward, slice-and-dice districts, felon baiting, phone jamming, and plenty of dirty tricks”:

We used to think the voting system was something like the traffic laws -- a set of rules clear to everyone, enforced everywhere, with penalties for transgressions; we used to think, in other words, that we had a national election system. How wrong a notion this was has become painfully apparent since 2000: As it turns out, except for a rudimentary federal framework (which determines the voting age, channels money to states and counties, and enforces protections for minorities and the disabled), U.S. elections are shaped by a dizzying mélange of inconsistently enforced laws, conflicting court rulings, local traditions, various technology choices, and partisan trickery.

Abramsky then describes vote rip-offs and polling screw-ups in some of the ‘worst places’ for voters, including Atlanta; Beaufort, N. C. ; Fort Worth, TX; Philadelphia, PA; Franklin and Cuyahogo counties in Ohio; Travis County, TX; the Mississippi Delta; Charleston, S.C. and Waller County, TX . He also spotlights major statewide problems in Florida, New Hampshire and Ohio.

It’s a sobering litany of compromised voting rights, particularly for voters living in those localities – and for Democrats in general, who are the undercounted in every instance. Reforms to correct vote suppression ought to be a high priority for Dems who want to level the playing field.

Does Emotion Trump Reason in Voter Choice?

Shankar Vedantam's "In Politics, Aim for the Heart, Not the Head" in today's WaPo explores a provocative idea for political strategists. Although his proposition is tethered to a 71 year-old experiment in which voters responded twice as positively to a raw, emotional appeal over a rational one, the idea deserves some consideration. Vedantam puts it this way:

Given the enormous proliferation of policy questions today, surfing the emotional wave nowadays may be even more important than it was in 1935. George E. Marcus, president of the International Society of Political Psychology, said modern research confirms that unless political ads evoke emotional responses, they don't have much effect. Voters, he explained, need to be emotionally primed in some way before they will pay attention.

The research is of importance to politicians for obvious reasons -- and partly explains the enduring attraction of negative advertising -- but it is also important to voters, because it suggests that the reason candidates seem appealing often has little to do with their ideas. Political campaigns are won and lost at a more emotional and subtle level.

An interesting idea which warrants more long-range exploration. In terms of short-range strategy, Vedantam offers the following:

What works much better, because it influences people at an emotional and subtle level, is to get people to focus on a different issue -- the one where the candidate is the strongest.

"The agenda-setting effect is what we are talking about," said Nicholas A. Valentino, a political psychologist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. "The ability of a candidate not to tell people how to feel about an issue, but which issue they should focus on -- that is the struggle of most modern campaign managers."

"Campaigns have been much more successful at shifting people's attentions to different issues rather than shifting people's positions," he added.

Is Vedantam on to something here? Or is this another way of saying people often vote their gut feelings? Either way, the idea merits further study.

September 15, 2006

Academic Studies Point to Democratic Wins

Over at The Atlantic Online, ace political writer Jack Beatty has an article with a title we like -- "The "S" Word Spells Trouble for the GOP: If history is any guide, the Republicans will lose the House this year and the presidency in 2008." Beatty chews on a few theories of winning elections, and offers some appealing (for Dems) observations:

American politics knows no more certain a predicative metric than that increasing unemployment or rising prices in an election year defeat the incumbent party. The phenomenon is called "economic retrospective voting." In the long sweep of political history, it appears that, more perhaps than any other factor, the answer to Ronald Reagan’s question in his first debate with Jimmy Carter in 1980—"Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" — decides elections.

Sounds good. And citing an earlier landmark study of voting behavior, Beatty observes:

In "off-years," when there were no presidential elections, falling real incomes predicted defeat for the incumbent party in statewide races for the U.S. House. For example, a 10 percent decrease in per capita income translated into a loss of 40 House seats.

...In short, either falling real incomes or rising unemployment strongly predicts defeat for the incumbent—that is, the president’s party in off-year elections. If the experts quoted in the Times are right, real personal incomes, which have fallen since 2001, will fall this year—that’s what inflation means. If, to moderate inflation, the Fed raises interest rates to slow the economy, then unemployment will rise. Both are likely to rise together, if Gordon is right, between now and 2008. Thus, if history is any guide, economic retrospective voting should cost the Republicans the House this year and the presidency in 2008

Yep, that's a lot of "ifs." But Beatty also points out that:

Correlations between the economy and the presidential vote are weaker than between the economy and the congressional vote...The economy—understood as personal incomes going up or down and unemployment going up or down—is the classic "valence-issue" in politics. "Instead of ‘position’ issues, where one party favors policy X and the other party favors policy Y…'valence' issues chiefly hinge on perceived government management: my party can manage the economy or the war, for example, better than your party has been doing," David R. Mayhew, a Yale political scientist, explains in Electoral Realignments (2002). "The more one examines American electoral history, the more it seems to tilt toward valence-issue as opposed to position-issue junctures." In his 1963 paper introducing the term, Donald E. Stokes defined "valence-issues" as "those that merely involve the linking of the parties with some condition that is positively or negatively valued by the electorate."

Based on the above, his conclusion makes sense:

If this excursion into political science has any relevance for Democratic electioneering, it may be this: downplay "position-issues"; they leave you open to attack. Instead link the Republicans to "conditions negatively valued by the electorate"—incompetent management of the government and falling real incomes or rising unemployment or both. Make the 2006 and 2008 elections referenda on a record of miserable failure.

Dry, yes. But considering that no such academic studies predicting GOP victories based on historical trends and current indicators are in evidence, Democrats should be be at least cautiously optimistic.

New Pew Report on Economic Security

by Scott Winship

So, my intent with this post was to emphasize that I really was playing devil's advocate in my last post on the middle class. I received an email from the Pew Research Center with the following plug:

Americans See Less Progress on Their Ladder of Life In the past four years, some of the edge has come off good old American optimism. As economists and politicians debate whether there is less mobility in the United States now than in the past, a new Pew Social Trends survey finds that many among the public are seeing less progress in their own lives.

I thought that I'd highlight this study [pdf] and thereby provide counter-evidence against my devil's advocacy. Well, you're just going to have to believe me that I'm agnostic on the question of middle-class insecurity because it turns out that my read of this study is that things ain't that bad.

The report begins by noting that the number of Americans saying that they'd be better off in 5 years declined from 61 percent in 2002 to 49 percent today -- less than half the population. Sounds kind of ominous on first glance. But only 12 percent think that the in 5 years they will be worse off. It turns out that 74 percent think they will be at least as well off as they currently are (14% don't know). And while the report doesn't give the information necessary to say for sure, I'm willing to bet that the 2006 figure isn't statistically different from the figures Pew found for the years 1964 to 1979. Much of this period was actually economically a pretty lousy era, but the second half of the 1960s were robust years.

Similarly, while the number of people saying that they are better off today than 5 years ago has declined, it stands at 48 percent, versus 21 percent saying they are worse off. That's no worse than from 1976 to 1996, which again includes good years and bad years.

Next is the finding that the average rating for how respondents will be doing in 5 years is down from 1999. True enough, but it is still 15% higher than the average for how they say they are currently doing, and nearly 30 percent higher than the average for how they say they did 5 years ago. And the 5-years-from-now figure is no worse than any year between 1964 and 1997.

Young people are even more optimistic about the future, with those 18-49 much significantly more optimistic than older adults. That could be due to the fact that people earn more as they age. However, blacks and Latinos are more optimistic than whites. Optimism declines as family income increases, but 48 percent of those with less than $30,000 in income are optimistic, compared with 14 percent who think they'll do worse in 5 years.

Americans are more optimistic than their counterparts in nearly every European country.

Finally, the report indicates that Americans' predicted rating of how they'll be doing in 5 years is always higher than how Americans 5 years later rate the present. Aha!! The poor naifs are simply mistaken in their optimism! Maybe a bit, but Americans in 2006 ranked the present higher than respondents in any year from 1964 to 1996 did, so compared with the past, they feel they're actually doing better than people in those years.

The patterns shown in the report tend to confirm that people who are more disadvantaged tend to be more likely to think they were better off in the past and that they'll be better off in the future, but that's what we'd expect if most of these folks are currently at their low point economically. They probably were better off in the past and will be better off in the future.

Oh, one more finding: Republicans and conservatives are more optimistic than Democrats and liberals....

September 14, 2006

GOP Primary Turnout in Rhode Island not so Impressive

by Alan Abramowitz

Republican Party leaders are claiming a lot of credit for their GOTV effort in Rhode Island on Tuesday and boasting that they're going to apply the same techniques in every competitive House and Senate contest this fall. Leaving aside the question of whether it would be possible to duplicate this sort of all-out effort in 40+ House districts and 8-10 states, how impressive was the turnout in the Rhode Island Republican primary? Impressive for a Rhode Island Republican primary, but really not all that impressive. It's not just that more votes were cast for Democratic nominee Sheldon Whitehouse than for both Republicans combined even though Whitehouse faced only nominal opposition. GOP turnout in the hotly contested Rhode Island Senate primary was actually less impressive than Democratic turnout in the hotly contested Maryland Senate primary. When we calculate the votes cast in each primary as a percentage of the votes cast for the party's 2004 presidential nominee we find that the Republican turnout in Rhode Island (64,000 votes) was 37.9 percent of the vote for George Bush in Rhode Island in 2004 (169,000 votes) while the Democratic turnout in Maryland (513,000 votes) was 38.5 percent of the vote for John Kerry in Maryland in 2004 (1,334,000 votes). So perhaps Democratic party leaders should be bragging about their great GOTV effort in Maryland and about how they're going to duplicate it in every competitive House and Senate contest this fall.

Primaries Message: Ground Game, Poll Monitoring Critical

Democrats wondering how to tweak campaign strategies in the wake of Tuesday's primaries are directed to Chris Cillizza's and Jim VandeHei's WaPo article "In R.I., a Model for Voter Turnout: Employing Senate Primary Strategy May Give GOP an Edge." Read the entire article, but give this excerpt some extra thought:

The turnout campaign that Republican operatives used to help pull Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee to victory in the Rhode Island primary was a potent demonstration of how money and manpower can transform a race even in an unfavorable political environment -- and a preview of the strategy that national party officials say they plan to replicate in the most competitive House and Senate races over the next 55 days.

In the past two national elections, in 2002 and 2004, Republicans outperformed Democrats in bringing their backers to the polls, but many Democrats and independent analysts have suggested that the competition may be different this year, in part because of slumping morale among GOP activists. But Chafee's performance -- combined with reports of late-starting organization and internal bickering on the Democratic side -- suggest that the Republican advantage on turnout may remain intact even as many other trends are favoring the opposition.

The Republican National Committee, convinced that Chafee is the party's only chance of keeping a seat in a Democratic-leaning state, spent $400,000 to ship 86 out-of-state volunteers and several paid staff members to Rhode Island. They targeted not just Republicans but also independent voters during the final days of the campaign, following a blueprint developed months ago by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Chafee campaign.

..."Their turnout operation is exquisite," a senior Democratic strategist said. "We are not going to match them."

Gulp. And then there's this:

Recent history underscores the importance of superior voter-mobilization plans. In 2004, Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) thought that if he received 190,000 votes it would be impossible for former congressman John Thune (R) to beat him. Daschle won 193,340 votes; Thune got 197,848. In Ohio -- the central battleground in the race between Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) -- Democrats met all of their projected vote totals but came up more than 100,000 short.

VandeHei and Cillizza provide a lot of very interesting detail about the GOP's strategy and tactics in R.I.. Read it all. Twice.

Also check out Ron Brownstein's more encouraging L.A. Times wrap-up of the primaries, probably the best yet published on the topic. Not to pile on with the hand-wringing, but Brownstein adds:

In a memo obtained by The Times, RNC officials said they used their "microtargeting" technology, which tries to deduce voter sympathies in part by tracking their consumer preferences, to direct a massive get-out-the-vote effort for Chafee. The RNC said its turnout program made 198,921 contacts with voters in the campaign's final 11 days, helping to propel a record turnout nearly 40% larger than the previous high in a Republican primary.

That large influx to the polls "means there was a bunch of independents who flooded into that primary and they are the ones who saved Chafee," said Darrell West, a political scientist at Brown University in Rhode Island. "It suggests that this general election is going to be very competitive."

And if the GOP turnout machine wasn't enough to worry about, Dems need to take a hard look at the failures of election day machinery, particularly the Maryland mess. For more on this, check out Richard Wolf's disturbing USAToday piece "Election Watchers Predict Glitches" and hope -- nay, pray -- that Dems are on the case.

September 12, 2006

Can Southern Women Win Back South for Dems?

Democratic strategists should read Chris Kromm's Facing South post "Are Women Key to Democratic Chances in the South?" discussing the gender gap as a wedge for Dems to regain some clout in the region. As Kromm notes in evaluating a recent Associated Press story on the topic "War Turns Southern Women Away from GOP":

...the AP piece makes the classic mistake of equating "Southern women" with "white women." Last year, Texas became the country's fourth "majority minority" state, and over 40% of the populations of Georgia and Mississippi aren't white. Women of color, who will soon be half the population of these states, have never been strong supporters of Bush or the Republican Party.

That being said, the AP rightly observes that a defection of white Southern women from the GOP could be a key factor -- maybe the leading factor -- in determining the outcome of the mid-term elections, and that foreign policy is a leading cause of their disappointment

As Shannon McCaffrey writes in the The Associated Press article:

"In 2004, you saw an utter collapse of the gender gap in the South," said Karen Kaufmann, a professor of government at the University of Maryland who has studied women's voting patterns. White Southern women liked Bush because "he spoke their religion and he spoke their values."

...Republicans on the ballot this November have reason to worry. A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that three out of five Southern women surveyed said they planned to vote for a Democrat in the midterm elections. With control of the Senate and House in the balance, such a seismic shift could have dire consequences for the GOP.

Kromm points out that the gender gap has been "most volatile" in the south, and he quotes from Dr. Karen Kaufman's study in the Journal of the American Political Science Association:

Although the gender gap between White Southern men and women was a full 11 percentage points in 2000, it fell to only 5 points in 2004. Even more striking, the presidential vote gap in the South hit its lowest point in 40 years. Compared to White Southern men, Southern women chose Bill Clinton over Bob Dole by a 17-point margin in 1996 and preferred AlGore to George W. Bush by 9 percentage points in 2000. In 2004, however, Southern women favored Bush by a 2-point margin over Southern men. The collapse of the Southern gender gap was not mirrored else where. Outside of the South, the male-female divide in the vote actually increased slightly from a 9-point difference in 2000 to a 10-point difference in 2004.

The "write off the south" strategy favored by some Democratic strategists may soon be outdated, if it isn't already. Clearly, demographic trends in southern states favor the Democrats and they have much to gain by a stronger commitment to turning out people of color -- especially women -- in southern elections.

September 11, 2006

GOP Bets Big On Negative Attack Ads

Republican campaigns are expected to set a new standard for negative attack ads in the weeks ahead, according to Jim VandeHei and Chris Cillizza's Sunday WaPo article "In a Pivotal Year, GOP Plans to Get Personal: Millions to Go to Digging Up Dirt on Democrats." According to the authors,

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which this year dispatched a half-dozen operatives to comb through tax, court and other records looking for damaging information on Democratic candidates, plans to spend more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget on what officials described as negative ads.

The hope is that a vigorous effort to "define" opponents, in the parlance of GOP operatives, can help Republicans shift the midterm debate away from Iraq and limit losses this fall.

Some ads are already running, and Cilliza and VandeHei cite examples, including an attack on a Democratic House candidate's medical practice for suing 80 patients for non-payment of bills and Ohio Democratic Senate candidate Sherrod Brown's votes on border protection and illegal immigration.

How dirty will it get? Expect the worst, suggests MyDD's Matt Stoller, who comments on the track record of RNC oppo research director Terry Nelson:

In 2002, he was deputy Chief of Staff at the RNC, where he became wrapped up in Tom Delay's TRMPAC money laundering scandal as a key point of contact between the RNC and Delay's Texas PAC. He also testified in the trial of convicted GOP operative James Tobin for illegal phone jamming in New Hampshire, because he was Tobin's supervisor when Tobin illegally spammed Democratic phone banks on election day.

None of this comes as much of a surprise. But Democratic campaign strategists should prepare their candidates for the most intense negative ad campaigns ever and to respond aggressively. Reading the aforementioned articles is a good start.

September 8, 2006

New Democracy Corps Survey on Nat. Security

New Democracy Corps Survey on Nat. Security
by Scott Winship

Democracy Corps -- part of boss Stan Greenberg's vast polling empire -- released a strategy memo yesterday based on a new national security survey they conducted last month. You'll be hearing more about this survey this fall, but for now you can check out the memo and some top-line survey findings.

The Republicans are basically in no better shape now than they were on Memorial Day. In the aggregate, Democrats hold a narrow lead when respondents are asked which of the named candidates they will vote for in Congressional elections. Over 6 in 10 likely voters think the country is headed in the wrong direction, basically unchanged from recent months (the steady increase since 9/11 having plateaued). Fifty-five percent of likely voters disapprove of Bush's performance. The number who approve -- 41 percent -- is smaller than the number who strongly disapprove (45 percent). In the fifty most-competitive districts, the number who strongly disapprove rose from 36 percent to 47 percent. In these districts, Democrats' aggregate lead is growing and has reached a majority of likely voters.

The GOP has tried to use gay marriage and immigration as issues to fire up their base and flip swing voters, but "illegal immigration" comes in 7th on a list of most important issues, and "moral values" comes in 9th. Iraq and terrorism are basically tied for most important. Want to guess which of these the Administration will try to exploit this fall?

Many Democratic critiques of the Bush Administration's Iraq policies resonate with the public, including charges of mismanagement of the war, the assertion that it has no plan moving forward, and the accusation that Iraq has taken away from the effectiveness of the war on terrorism.

But there are a few reasons for worry. Half of the Democracy Corps sample was asked whether they felt warm or cool toward "the Republican Congress" and half about "the Congress". While just 26 percent were warm toward "the Congress", 38 percent were warm toward "the Republican Congress". This is the opposite of what we'd expect to see if voters were mainly fed up with the GOP. And corruption ranked dead last among ten issues when respondents were asked which were most important to their vote.

Furthermore, the number of voters indicating that terrorism was one of their top two concerns jumped 9 percentage points since the spring. And even though their advantage has declined, Republicans are still trusted more on this fundamental issue, 48 to 33 percent. The DCorps memo emphasizes that Democrats narrow these gaps after respondents are given security questions that contrast the Democratic and Republican messages, especially among Independents and in swing districts. But even then Republicans lead Democrats on terrorism and national security (nationally and among Independents) or are tied with them (in swing districts). Democrats are given the edge in terms of who would do a better job in Iraq only by a two-point margin (not statistically different from a tie).

The memo recommends an emphasis on changing the course in Iraq, implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, working toward energy independence, rebuilding international ties, and demanding accountability for Republicans failure to prioritize keeping America safe.

I think that if the election were held today, I'd feel pretty good about our chances. But I do worry that the Administration can create political traps -- such as the one in the making regarding the move of al Qaida leaders to Guantanamo and the Administration's demand for military tribunals. I also worry that the real-world competition between Democratic and Republican messages is poorly captured by the poll-testing of head-to-head position statements. The Democrats' position on Iraq matches the public, but the public doesn't give either party the edge on future plans there, and it trusts the GOP more on terrorism. Haven't I seen this movie before? I don't remember that it has a happy ending. Hope the sequel is better....

Clear 'Identity' Key to Dems' Success

Gadflyer Paul Waldman has an op-ed in the Boston Globe "Elections aren't about issues," arguing the primacy of identity as the key to future Democratic victories. As Waldman explains in the nut graph:

If there's one thing Republicans have understood and Democrats haven't, it is that politics is not about issues. Politics is about identity. The candidates and parties that win are not those aligning their positions most precisely with a majority of the electorate. The winners are those who form a positive image in the public mind of who they are (and a negative image of who their opponents are). Issues are a vehicle to create that identity, one that combines with symbolism and narrative to shape what the public thinks about when they think about Democrats and Republicans.

Waldman, author of Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success, makes a compelling case in clear, blunt language and his insights about strengthening Democratic campaigns deserve more attention.

September 7, 2006

Ideology, Foreign Policy, and Yellow Submarines

by Scott Winship

Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to....review a paper by one Paul T. McCartney. (Hey Jude, I never claimed to be the Daily Humorist.)

For real though. Let's talk about a paper presented at last weekend's annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. Not just any ol' paper, but Sir Paul's "Partisan Worldviews and Foreign Policy in Post-Cold War Era." The paper tackles the question of whether there really is such a thing as an ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy. That is, can it be said in the post-Cold War period that Democrats and Republicans consistently prioritize different values that lead them to embrace different foreign policies? Is there something about the Administration's foreign policy that is "conservative", or does it simply reflect the particular views of the Administration itself? Is Democratic electoral weakness on foreign policy due to framing or past decisions by Democratic leaders, or is it a consequence of the Party's basic ideology in foreign affairs? Different answers to these questions imply different political strategies.

McCartney's review of the more general "culture war" literature and literatures oriented toward national security positions leads him to identify two worldviews that govern foreign policy preferences. The Inclusive Pluralist worldview is analogous to George Lakoff's Nuturant Parent worldview; both emphasize cooperation and empathy and reject blind authoritarianism and moral absolutism. Lakoff's Strict Father worldview mirrors McCartney's Nationalist-Darwinist worldview. In both cases, the emphasis is on strength, competition, self-interest, submission to authority, and respect for tradition.

McCartney took all of the Key Votes related to foreign policy -- as chosen by Congressional Quarterly editors -- between 1989 and 2004 and coded them to indicate which position was Inclusive Pluralist and which was Nationalist-Darwinist. He then examined how the votes mapped onto legislators' parties. Each year, between 60 and 92 percent of Democrats voted the IP position, while just 8 to 64 percent of Republicans did. The gap between Democratic and Republican legislators ranged from 9 to 64 percentage points, with the average across years being 37 points.

There was one exception to these results -- in 2001 Republicans were actually more likely than Democrats to vote the IP position. That's because in the wake of 9/11, most Democrats voted for N-D policies (i.e., related to the Patriot Act) while Republicans were more likely to vote the IP position on Fast-Track Trade Authority (i.e., pro-free trade). McCartney classifies the pro-free trade position as IP because it indicates support for a cooperative arrangement that benefits poor countries. In this case, the domestic Nurturant Parent/Strict Father worldviews conflict with and win out over the foreign policy IP/N-D worldviews. The same is true for one immigration vote in 1998.

I would go a step further than McCartney and argue that there are three fundamental value dimensions underlying the domestic and foreign policy worldviews (and therefore all policy preferences): altruism vs. self-interest (How much do I care about others versus myself?), idealism vs. realism (How practical is it for me to pursue these priorities?), and classical liberalism vs. traditionalism (Is it legitimate for me to pursue these priorities?). Inclusive Pluralism and economic liberalism at home combine altruism and idealism, while cultural liberalism rests on classical liberalism. The foreign policy preferences of establishment Republicans as well as economic conservatism can be seen as reflecting self-interest and realism. Nationalist conservatives like Pat Buchanan add a dose of traditionalism. Cultural conservatives value traditionalism above all. Domestic neoconservatives of the '60s and '70s can be viewed as altruistic realists who wanted to believe in social programs but could not. They eventually also embraced traditionalism. Finally, the foreign policy neoconservatives of recent decades blend self-interest and idealism.

Analyses like McCartney's help explain why Democrats have electoral problems related to their cultural liberalism and their national security views. Fairly or not, the Party is perceived to put too much of a priority on the rights and interests of other nations rather than advocating a strong self-interested foreign policy. And their stance on key "values issues" challenges the traditionalism of many voters. Because of the basic values underlying each party's worldview and the policies the parties have supported over time, voters have become sorted into two camps, one of which embodies both traditionalism and self-interest and one of which values classical liberalism and altruism.

One final thought -- like cultural polarization, foreign-policy polarization is a recent phenomenon. The '60s marked the arrival of the culturally-loaded controversies that would reshape the parties in subsequent decades as well as the breakdown of Cold War liberalism as a unifying foreign policy doctrine. Vietnam activated the altruistism, idealism, and anti-authoritarianism of young liberals and changed American politics. It is interesting to ponder what might have been if early war protestors had been more traditional or if anti-authoritarian youth had entered politics without the backdrop of the war. Perhaps we'd be looking at a gap in only one policy area rather than two.

September 6, 2006

Immigration Still Huge Issue in Many Districts

Democrats should not be lulled into anything less than full attention to the issue of immigration in mid-term campaigns by reports that Congress will not be addressing the issue before the election. So says Carl Hulse in his New York Times piece "In Bellwether District, G.O.P. Runs on Immigration." Hulse spotlights CO-7, encompassing Aurora, Colorado, where the immigration issue is particularly hot, but says:

And while Congress is unlikely to enact major immigration legislation before November, inaction does not make the issue any less potent in campaigning. In fact, many Republicans, on the defensive here and around the country over the war in Iraq, say they are finding that a hard-line immigration stance resonates not just with conservatives, who have been disheartened on other fronts this year, but also with a wide swath of voters in districts where control of the House could be decided.

Hulse provides no opinion polling data to indicate constituent sentiment in the district or nation-wide. However, the most recent polls by Newsweek/Princeton Survey Research, Fox News/Opinion Dynamics and the L.A. Times/Bloomberg give the Democrats a slight edge in public confidence on immigration. Yet Hulse sees many GOP candidates emphasizing a hard line, in contrast to the Administration's position:

“Immigration is an issue that is really popping, “ said Dan Allen, a Republican strategist. “It is an issue that independents are paying attention to as well. It gets us talking about security and law and order.”

Leading Republicans, leery of a compromise on immigration, are encouraging their candidates to keep the focus on border control, as in legislation passed by the House, rather than accept a broader bill that would also clear a path for many illegal immigrants to gain legal status. The latter approach, approved by the Senate with overwhelming Democratic support and backed by the White House, makes illegal immigration one of the issues on which Republicans face a tough choice of standing by President Bush or taking their own path.

“The American people want a good illegal-immigration-reform bill,” said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House majority leader, “not a watered-down, pro-amnesty bill.”

None of which is to say that Dems can't gain advantage with Hispanic voters in particular, or even voters in general, by taking a more conciliatory position. We can be sure only, that the issue will be raised by GOP candidates going forward to November 7.

September 4, 2006

Campaign '06 Wrap-Ups Everywhere

Labor Day has morphed into more of an occasion for publishing wrap-ups about mid-term congressional campaigns than assessing the prospects for American workers. In this spirit, The Grey Lady leads with "G.O.P. Seen to Be in Peril of Losing House" by Robin Toner and Kate Zernike. The authors provide a host of insightful quotes from both parties, proving that the arts of spin and denial are still in practice. But Dems will be encouraged by this admission:

“It’s the most difficult off-year cycle for the Republicans since 1982,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and former chief of staff to the Republican National Committee. “Environmentally, it’s about as good from the Democratic perspective as they could hope to have.”

The Sunday WaPo featured a long article by Dan Balz and David Broder with the happy (for Dems) title "More GOP Districts Counted as Vulnerable: Number Doubled Over the Summer." Broder and Balz also present spin from both sides, but offer their assessment that "everything points today to Democratic gains across the board on Nov. 7."

Republicans won't find much encouragement in Janet Hook's long L.A. Times article "GOP's Hold on House Shakier," either. Subtitled "As Labor Day gets the campaign in full swing, Democrats are counting on voters unhappy with one-party rule and Bush's leadership," Hook gives fair vent to leaders of both parties, but points out that:

But many analysts predict any throw-the-bums-out tide will take a greater toll on Republicans. Tim Storey, election analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures, sees warning signs for the GOP in the results of 53 special elections for state legislative seats. In 13 cases, incumbents were dumped; all but two were Republicans.

And Slate's new feature "Election Scorecard: Where the midterm elections stand today," written by polling experts Mark Blumenthal (Mystery Pollster) and Charles Franklin (PolitcalArithmetik), offers this cautious assessment for Senate races:

In recent weeks, Democratic candidates have gained slightly in Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, while Republicans have picked up a few points in Missouri and New Jersey. Most of the states we are tracking, however, have no meaningful change. Since the net shifts at the state level have been largely offsetting our overall momentum shift, all of the races begin in the "no advantage" position, with no visible national trend helping either party.

With respect to House of Reps races, Democrats have done well in recent "generic ballot" polls. But Blumenthal and Franklin point out that:

While the generic House ballot has been a reasonable indicator of which party is faring better, it is a very imperfect predictor of both the total national congressional vote and, perhaps more importantly, how that vote translates into seats.

Franklin and Blumenthal are collaborating on a new website Pollster.com, which will be a regular stop for poll-watchers of all stripes.

On a more optimistic note, Reuters' John Whitesides provides the following quote in his Sunday wrap-up "Democrats on a roll in battle for U.S. Congress":

"I don't think the question any longer is can Democrats win control of Congress, it's can Republicans do anything to stop it?" said Amy Walter, House analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report newsletter. "All the factors and issues are pushing so strongly against Republicans."

Mid-term mania notwithstanding, it is Labor Day, so check in with The Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuval, whose "Lessons for Labor Day" provides incisive commentary on the disconnect between the aspirations of working people and the poltiicians who purport to represent them.

September 3, 2006

NYT Article Peeks at GOP Nov. 7 Strategy

The Sunday New York Times has a good one for the oppo research file, "Rove’s Word Is No Longer G.O.P. Gospel" by Adam Nagourney and Jim Rutenberg. The authors claim of Karl Rove's diminished influence in his party is of less interest than the clues they provide in dilineating the GOP's strategy for the weeks ahead. As Rutenberg and Nagourney explain:

Mr. Rove — with Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, and Ms. [White House political director Sarah]Taylor, both of whom have assumed a higher profile than in past years — has settled on a narrow strategy to try to minimize Congressional losses while tending to Mr. Bush’s political strength. The White House will reprise the two T’s of its successful campaign strategy since 2002: terrorism and turnout.

They have determined that control of Congress is likely to be settled in as few as six states and have decided to focus most of the party’s resources there, said Republican officials who did not want to be identified discussing internal deliberations. Those states will likely include Connecticut, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, though officials said the battle lines could shift in coming weeks...Mr. Mehlman, whom Mr. Rove assigned to master get-out-the-vote techniques years ago, has handed custom compact discs with lists of voters, along with information on their voting and consumer habits, to every state Republican chairman.

The article suggests that Rove is less focused on the GOP House campaigns, which are being directed by Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds of New York. And there is less national coordination of the GOP gubernatorial campaigns, say the authors:

The White House is largely turning away from the 36 governors’ races, although Mr. Rove and Mr. Bush will continue to help Republican candidates for governor raise money, party officials said. The decision has broad significance because building a foundation of Republican governors had been a main part of Mr. Rove’s goal of creating a long-lasting Republican majority.

But the article warns that Democrats should anticipate an even larger GOP turnout effort:

The Republican National Committee expects to spend over $60 million, which would be a record, for the midterm elections. Officials say half of that would pay for get-out-the-vote operations in the targeted states....In states where Mr. Bush’s presence could be problematic, like Pennsylvania and Connecticut, the turnout operations give Mr. Rove a way to provide below-the-radar help.

Indications are the GOP "Terrorism and Turnout" strategy will face significant obstacles, including the Republican rank-and-file's growing disenchantment with the Administration's Iraq quagmire, as well as better-funded and organized Democratic campaigns than were the case in the last mid-terms. And if Dems can match or better the GOP's turnout effort, November 7 should be a very good day for the donkey.

September 1, 2006

Wall St. Journal: Dems Gaining on National Security

The Wall St. Journal caps a particularly bad week for Republicans with a page one article in today's issue by Jackie Calmes, "Republican Advantage on Issue Of National Security Erodes." It's a fairly thorough wrap-up of recent developments on the topic, with very little that offers comfort to the GOP. Calmes sets the stage thusly:

The public's patience has frayed as the Iraq war grows bloodier in its fourth year, eroding confidence in Mr. Bush's stewardship of national security. Mismanagement of the response to Hurricane Katrina contributed. Democrats, having ceded the security issue to Republicans in the past, now are on the offensive. They're attacking the administration's competence at home and abroad and fielding candidates with military experience.

Democrats are also pressing an argument opposite to the president's: that Iraq isn't central to the broader war on terror but distracts from it, and breeds more terrorists. How voters ultimately decide on that issue is "one of the most important dynamics of this election," says Republican pollster David Winston.

Calmes cites recent polls giving the Dems a three-point advantage on which party can most effectively deal with Iraq, a 27-point gain for Dems in less than two years, as well as a nine-point lead in handling foreign affairs. Calmes notes that the Republicans still have a 24 point advantage on "insuring a strong national defense," but that too is way down.

The article points out that Republicans have more money, as usual, but they are "spending millions to defend seats they thought would be safe, leaving them strapped for helping their challengers running against Democratic incumbents." In addiiton to Iraq, other issues driving the trend favoring Democrats include corruption, economic insecurity, soaring gas prices, record federal spending and an "anti-incumbent mood."

The GOP has identified several specific national security issues, which they believe still give them an advantage, according to Calmes. In the nine weeks remaining before the election, Republican strategists will seek congressional debate and votes on strengthening federal surveillance and prosecutory powers, detainment of suspected terrorists and electronic eavesdropping without warrants. But it will be difficult for Republicans to gain ground in light of current trends, as Calmes explains:

Most simply put, time has worn the public's patience on Iraq -- and with it the Republicans' edge on security issues. With Democrats noting that the war soon will exceed the length of U.S. involvement in World War II, and with Iraq on the verge of sectarian civil war, the unpopularity of the war has become the year's central issue. Not since March 2004 has a Journal/NBC poll shown that a majority believed the Iraq invasion was worth the cost and casualties. Now polls consistently show a majority thinking the war was a mistake. Majorities favor troop reductions, though not immediate withdrawal. Two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Mr. Bush's handling of foreign policy, and of Iraq specifically.

Even the GOP "cut and run" critique has been undermined by a growing chorus of Republicans withdrawing their support of the Administration's Iraq policies and Calmes quotes key conservatives expressing doubts about continuing US occupation of Iraq.

Despite the Democrats internal disagreements on national security issues, it appears that Dems may well have the edge on on this all-important issue on November 7. And when the nation's leading conservative newspaper acknowledges this trend, that is good news indeed.