by Scott Winship
Last data dump for a little while, so hope you enjoy. Actually, this one is probably the most interesting one I’ve done from my perspective. Avid readers will remember that yesterday’s post ended with the teaser argument that the netroots is more ideological than partisan. Today I’ll see whether this conclusion holds up under a closer look at the netroots’ positions. Remember, I’m using Dean supporters who were active in the primary campaign and regularly used blogs for news to proxy “the netroots”. The data is publicly available from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
To quote the bard Perry Farrell, Here We Go…..
The portrait the Pew data paints of the netroots is one of strong political frustration. The Pew survey asked respondents, “How good a job is the Democratic Party doing these days in standing up for its traditional positions on such things as protecting the interests of minorities, helping the poor and needy, and representing working people?” Half of the netroots members said it was doing only a fair job, and another 28 percent said a poor job. When asked how well the Party was doing defending “progressive/liberal positions”, 41 percent said fair and 43 percent said poor. Over half said they wanted the U.S. to have a third party.
Getting at the question of pragmatism versus idealism, while 39 percent of the netroots said that the most important reason – other than the issues – for supporting Dean was that he was willing to take unpopular positions, just 7 percent cited his electability. That’s a pretty remarkable contrast. It’s true that half the netroots said that the most important reason for supporting Dean was that he would change the direction of the Democratic Party, and these respondents likely thought this was entirely consistent with Dean being electable. But given the option of picking electability explicitly, they instead chose a response that is ambiguous in that regard. The implication is that changing the direction of the Party is actually more important that short-term electability for the netroots, a conclusion that accords with the importance of taking unpopular stands among them.
Fully 70 percent of the netroots said they wanted the Party to become more liberal, while the number who wanted it to become more centrist was no different than the number wanting the Party to “die off and be replaced”. Their policy positions reinforce the view of the netroots as strongly liberal. Fully 88 percent support immigration rather than feeling threatened by it, whereas Americans and Democrats specifically are split on the question. (All the figures for Americans and Democrats are from other 2004 Pew studies that are publicly available.) Nearly all members of the netroots accept homosexuality, compared with half of Americans and 60 percent of Democrats. Nine in ten respect conscientious objection to fighting in a war. This compares with six in ten Democrats and less than half of Americans. And while minorities of Americans and Democrats said free trade agreements were bad for Americans, two-thirds of the netroots thought so.
So the netroots is strongly liberal and frustrated with the Democratic Party for not representing them. The clear interpretation to this point is that the netroots believes that they are representative of the country and so Democratic candidates and officials should be promoting their policy preferences. If they were to do so – by this logic – they would win. Instead, professional Democrats are timid and transparently calculating.
Essentially all members of the netroots agreed at least somewhat that Howard Dean was the only candidate in the primaries who spoke for them. Dean’s governorship was more moderate than the preferences of the netroots, but he emphasized progressive themes in his campaign – particularly opposition to the Iraq war – and he strongly defended these themes. Indeed, 90 percent of the netroots said he was the only primary candidate who stood up to President Bush.
On the other hand, over four in five members of the netroots thought that most Democratic leaders voted for the Iraq resolution because they were afraid to stand up to the President rather than because they supported it. If one believes that one’s views are in step with those of the public and that the leadership of one’s party is rejecting those positions on the basis of a crass – and misguided! – pragmatism, then it is no wonder that one would look to an outsider who stridently defends not only one’s positions, but one’s diagnosis of the party’s problems.
Despite the fact that he dropped out of the race early on in the primary calendar, half the netroots voted for Dean in the primary election. When those who didn’t vote but would have voted for Dean are added, the total rises to 63 percent. Among those who did vote for Dean, the most popular second choice was John Edwards (31 percent), followed by…Dennis Kucinich (21 percent). The number preferring Carol Mosley Braun was not statistically different than the number preferring John Kerry or Wes Clark. Again, the interpretation most consistent with the evidence is that pragmatism is devalued because having progressive views is a greater signal of electability to the netroots than pragmatic positioning that isn’t even consistent with public preferences.
Also supporting this conclusion is the fact that 57 percent of the netroots said Hillary Clinton should not run in 2008, 60 percent said Kerry shouldn’t, and 63 percent said Gore shouldn’t. To the netroots, these are the most prominent symbols of crass Democratic pragmatism today, though Gore’s reputation has been rehabilitated notably since late 2004. On the other hand, 82 percent said Dean should run and 68 percent said Edwards should, reflecting their perceived lack of positioning and their more vocal embrace of liberalism (as reflected, for instance, in Edwards’s populist “Two Americas” critique).
One final factoid reinforcing the interpretation I have put forth here. The most common reasons the netroots gave as to why Bush won in 2004 were that Bush scared voters on security issues and that he misrepresented Kerry’s positions. Nevertheless, 41 percent said one reason Kerry lost was because his positions were too conservative, compared with 16 percent who said it was because his positions were too liberal. For a substantial segment of the netroots, there is no tension between one’s views and those of the public, and so centrist impulses are doubly disastrous.