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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Month: August 2013

Misleading Public Opinion Polls

The following article, by Keith Humphries, is cross-posted from Washington Monthly’s Ten Miles Square This is a simple and clear introduction to a complex problem. It provides a very useful note of caution for Democrats in interpreting and using opinion data.
There are many ways, either through error or chicanery, that a poll can misrepresent public opinion on some issue. For example, the chosen sample can be unrepresentative, the questions can be poorly worded, or, as in this classic demonstration from Yes, Minister, respondents can be lead by the nose to give a certain answer.

Yet none of those problems is as serious as the one that afflicts almost every poll: The presumption that those polled care a whit about the issue in question. Whoever commissioned the poll of course considers it important, but that is no guarantee that respondents have ever thought about it before they were polled, or will act on their opinions in any way afterwards.
Advocacy organizations exploit this aspect of polls relentlessly. If the Antarctic Alliance polls 1000 people and asks “Would you like it if there were a law that protected penguins?”, probably 80% of people will say yes because it’s hard to hate on penguins: They are always well-dressed, they waddle in a cute way and many people are still feeling bad for them because of that egg they lost in that movie where they marched all that way in the cold — what was it called? — anyway, man that was sad, so yeah, happy to tell a pollster that we should protect those furry little guys.
Anarctic Alliance will then argue that Congress should pass the Protect the Penguins Act immediately because their new poll shows that 80% of Americans “want penguins to be protected”. But if you asked those same poll respondents if they’d be willing to donate even $10 to help the law pass, most of them would say no. And if you asked them if they would vote for the Congressional Representative on the basis of how s/he responded to the Protect the Penguins Act, most of them would say no. And if you asked them the open ended question “What are the 10 biggest challenges Congress should be addressing now?”, probably none of them would put penguin protection on their list.
To give a darker variant of this problem, gun control laws generally poll well yet don’t pass. How can we not pass something that we “support”? Easily, if the people who say they support it are not willing to do much to see it pass and the people who are against it are willing to do a lot. Polls usually miss this sort of nuance because they don’t assess how much people care about what they are being polled about.
The few polls that somewhat surmount this problem are those that assess the voting intentions only among people who intend to vote, and, those that try to assess how intensely people feel about the opinions they express (e.g., With a follow-up question of “would you be willing to have your taxes rise to make this happen?”).
The only way I can see to consistently avoid the problem of assuming respondents actually care about the issue of interest as much as do poll commissioners is to expand the usual response format of “Yes, no, or don’t know” to include the option “Don’t care”. But I doubt pollsters would ever do this because it would put them out of business to tell their clients that most people simply don’t give a fig.
[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Teixeira: The Politics Behind Obama’s New Jobs Plan

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, is cross-posted from Think Progress :
In the President’s last weekly address (August 3), he offered the following deal to Republicans, which he termed a “grand bargain for the middle class:” simplify the tax code in exchange for new job spending. While there are substantive reasons for this move away from the president’s previous focus on a deficit “Grand Bargain” — falling deficits and slow growth — there’s also a political rationale: the Democrats need a new argument on jobs for the 2014 midterm.
A recent Pew poll outlines the basic problem. The Democrats face a tough mid-term election in 2014 and that poll shows Obama hemorrhaging support among white working class voters — his approval rating among this group is down to a truly abysmal 26 percent. This is the same group that powered historic Republican gains in 2010, so signs of big slippage among these voters have to worry Democrats at this point.
What do white working class voters want? Above all, they are looking for material improvements in their lives, improvements that are not possible without strong economic growth and the jobs, tight labor markets and rising incomes such growth would bring. In a low growth environment, these voters will remain exceptionally pessimistic and inclined to blame Democrats and government for their lack of upward mobility. Conversely, with higher growth, these voters will be far more sympathetic to what Democratic candidates have to offer.
As a bonus, improved economic performance would probably go a long way toward helping motivate core groups in the Obama coalition — minorities, youth, single women — to show up at the polls. So Obama’s new grand bargain is both the right thing to do in policy terms and excellent politics to boot. Even if Republicans do not cooperate in the short run, as seems probable, there is much to be gained by fighting for what a key constituency really wants and forcing your opponents to put themselves on the opposite side.
In the long run, the goal of reaching a high growth economy is central to the current Democratic political project of consolidating and expanding the Obama coalition. A very simple equation captures what’s at stake here:

Demographics + Growth = Dominance

Democrats have the demographics part of the formula already. The growth part, on the other hand, remains lacking, suggesting that Democrats would be wise to continue pursuing something like Obama’s jobs proposal for as long as it takes to be successful.

Why Seniors Are Turning Against The GOP

The following article is by Erica Seifert of Democracy Corps:
There’s something going on with seniors: It is now strikingly clear that they have turned sharply against the GOP. This is apparent in seniors’ party affiliation and vote intention, in their views on the Republican Party and its leaders, and in their surprising positions on jobs, health care, retirement security, investment economics, and the other big issues that will likely define the 2014 midterm elections.
We first noticed a shift among seniors early in the summer of 2011, as Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare became widely known (and despised) among those at or nearing retirement. Since then, the Republican Party has come to be defined by much more than its desire to dismantle Medicare. To voters from the center right to the far left, the GOP is now defined by resistance, intolerance, intransigence, and economics that would make even the Robber Barons blush. We have seen other voters pull back from the GOP, but among no group has this shift been as sharp as it is among senior citizens:

–In 2010, seniors voted for Republicans by a 21 point margin (38 percent to 59 percent). Among seniors likely to vote in 2014, the Republican candidate leads by just 5 points (41 percent to 46 percent.)
–When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives at the beginning of 2011, 43 percent of seniors gave the Republican Party a favorable rating. Last month, just 28 percent of seniors rated the GOP favorably. This is not an equal-opportunity rejection of parties or government — over the same period, the Democratic Party’s favorable rating among seniors has increased 3 points, from 37 percent favorable to 40 percent favorable.
–When the Republican congress took office in early 2011, 45 percent of seniors approved of their job performance. That number has dropped to just 22 percent — with 71 percent disapproving.
–Seniors are now much less likely to identify with the Republican Party. On Election Day in 2010, the Republican Party enjoyed a net 10 point party identification advantage among seniors (29 percent identified as Democrats, 39 percent as Republicans). As of last month, Democrats now had a net 6 point advantage in party identification among seniors (39 percent to 33 percent).
–More than half (55 percent) of seniors say the Republican Party is too extreme, half (52 percent) say it is out of touch, and half (52 percent) say the GOP is dividing the country. Just 10 percent of seniors believe that the Republican Party does not put special interests ahead of ordinary voters.
–On almost every issue we tested — including gay rights, aid to the poor, immigration, and gun control — more than half of seniors believe that the Republican Party is too extreme.

What do seniors care about now? Our Democracy Corps July National Survey found that:

–89 percent of seniors want to protect Medicare benefits and premiums.
–87 percent of seniors want to raise pay for working women.
–79 percent of seniors think we need to expand scholarships for working adults.
–77 percent of seniors want to expand access to high-quality and affordable childcare for working parents.
–74 percent of seniors want to cut subsidies to big oil companies, agribusinesses, and multinational corporations in order to invest in education, infrastructure, and technology.
–66 percent of seniors want to expand state health insurance exchanges under Obamacare.

All of these issues will be critical to the national debate as the 2014 election nears. The more seniors hear from Republicans on these and other issues, the more we can expect the GOP’s advantage among this important group to decline. And we can count on one thing in 2014: Seniors will vote

DCorps Memo: Engaging Confidently on Health Care Reform

The following article is cross-posted from a DCorps E-blast:
Republicans will run on health care reform in 2014 and 2016, so get used to it. But do not believe that it will give them a better chance of securing their seats or the best shot at putting competitive Democratic seats in danger. Democrats in the most rural and the strongest Romney seats will have to be inventive as usual, but Democrats have a lot to say on health care: fix it, don’t repeal it, don’t put the insurance companies back in charge and take your hands off Medicare.
Health care is just not a wedge issue that threatens to change these races very much – as we saw in the 2012 elections where Republicans played out this strategy. This is basically a 50-50 issue in the battleground districts and the country, and it remains a 50-50 issue after voters have heard all of their toughest attacks, including one on the role of the IRS in the new system. These attacks have power, and it is important to engage on the issue. But there is no reason to think the debate changes the dynamic in these competitive House seats: we actually show Democrat members gaining on handling health care reform in their own seats.
Why is it that the popularity of the Republican Congress keeps going down as the Republicans vote now 40 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, despite that the law is not popular with the public? We suspect because the House Republicans are associated with gridlock, extreme partisanship, and intense anti-Obama sentiment; because voters have other serious priorities and their steadfast focus on health care alone says Republicans are not focused on them and their issues; because Democrats are more trusted than Republicans on health care; and most important because voters do not want to repeal the law. The more voters hear “repeal,” the less they are interested in voting Republican.
We know Republican base voters feel intensely about health care reform, but voters rank “government takeover of the health care system” pretty low as a concern about Democrats in Congress.
These results suggest Democrats should engage the issue with some confidence — they can undermine the Republican attacks and indeed gain an advantage by educating the public on the reforms. Read the full memo at Democracy Corps.

Perplexing Politics of Post Purchase

So what are the political ramifications, if any, of Jeff Bezos’s purchase of he Washington Post? Dave Weigel addresses the question directly in his Slate.com post, “Jeff Bezos, Inscrutable Libertarian Democrat“:

.. Bezos’s investments in political and ideological causes are eclipsed many times over by that of the Kochs, or the Scaifes, or the Soros, etc. But he’s earned a reputation as a libertarian with a targeted style of giving. He’s donated to the Reason Foundation, which publishes the first magazine that hired me, Reason. He gave $100,000 to the campaign to beat an income tax in his own Washington state — and he won.
Sure, his candidate giving record is more mixed. In 1998, he gave $2000 to Sen. Patrick Leahy’s smooth re-election bid. In 2000, he spread $1000 to Rep. John Conyers, $1000 to Sen. Spencer Abraham, and $1000 to Washington Sen. Slade Gorton — one Democrat, two Republicans. Right after Gorton was felled by Sen. Maria Cantwell, he gave $2000 to the Democrat. He gave $4200 more to Cantwell as she put together her 2006 re-election, and he’s given to both of Sen. Patty Murray’s campaigns since he made his fortune: $2000 in 2003, $4800 in 2010. That’s $15,000 over a decade, a fraction of what he gave in order to stop an income tax.
What explains the Democratic tilt? Bezos doesn’t give many interviews about his politics, but turn your eyes to the donation he gave to the successful 2012 campaign to legalize gay marriage in Washington. Bezos and his wife gave $2.5 million. Nothing we know about Bezos suggests that he differs much from the coastal/Acela policy consensus — which is to say he doesn’t differ much from the editorial board of the paper he owns now.
But he’s not used to owning a media corporation with a strong union culture, like the guild at the Post. That’s the first clash I’m interested in.

At The Nation, however, John Nichols thinks the Bezos buy is more of a yawner, at least compared to other recent developments concerning media and politics. As he writes in his post, “Big Media Story Isn’t Bezos and the Post, It’s the RNC Threatening CNN, NBC“:

Partnerships between the networks and the major political parties are a far greater concern than the ownership of newspapers by new generations of rich people. By cutting deals with the parties to host “exclusive” primary debates, and by accepting the parameters established by the two major parties for fall debates, the networks defer to the political establishment in the worst of ways.
It’s time for the networks, wealthy and powerful entities that they are, to declare independence from the major parties. If they want to partner with the League of Women Voters, which remains honorably committed to fairness and openness, that’s great. If they want to work with groups such as Common Cause, or state-based good government organizations and, yes, newspapers, that’s terrific.
But the network partnerships with the parties reinforce the worst status quo instincts–in our media and our politics. Americans should be interested in who owns newspapers, but they should be indignant about an arrangement that has television news operations negotiating with, partnering with and being threatened by political parties.

Me, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that you can buy one of the most influential newspapers on the planet for a paltry $250 mill — less than the cost of a single B-1B bomber.

Michelle Nunn Competitive in Early Polling for Senate Race in GA

From Jim Galloway’s ‘Political Insider’ post, “New poll: Michelle Nunn matches GOP field in U.S. Senate race” at the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

Michelle Nunn begins her Democratic race for U.S. Senate polling ahead of, or tied with, the entire Republican field – but does especially well against U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens, according to Public Policy Polling….
The all-important top lines:
Nunn, 41 percent; Broun, 36 percent; Not sure, 23 percent.
Nunn, 41 percent; U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, 41 percent; Not sure, 18 percent.
Nunn, 42 percent; The Rev. Derrick Grayson, 36 percent; Not sure, 22 percent.
Nunn, 40 percent; Former secretary of state Karen Handel, 38 percent; Not sure, 22 percent.
Nunn, 40 percent; U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, 38 percent; Not sure, 21 percent.
Nunn, 40 percent; Businessman David Perdue, 40 percent; Not sure, 21 percent.
Nunn, 42 percent; Businessman Eugene Yu, 35 percent; Not sure, 24 percent.
…A couple things are likely to be turning heads in the Michelle Nunn camp:
— Her father, former U.S. senator Sam Nunn, is still rated favorable by 56 percent of those surveyed. White voters rated him higher, at 62 percent.
— In each of the above hypothetical match-ups, Michelle Nunn peeled away between 8 and 12 percent of those voters who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.
Both of those are crucial points in a Georgia electorate that has been increasingly split by race over the past six voting cycles.
Another thought: In a Nunn/Handel match-up – two female statewide candidates running against each other would be a Georgia first – Nunn pulls better among women, 46 to 32 percent.

Those who want to contribute to Nunn’s campaign — and a Democratic pick-up, which could prevent a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate — can do so right here.

Privatization’s Sorry Track Record Merits More Coverage

In his Nation of Change article “8 Ways Privatization has failed America,” Paul Buchheit unwinds a compelling argument that Republican-driven initiatives to gut the public sector have backfired badly. Buchheit, author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities,” assesses the track record of privatization and deregulation with respect to: health; water; internet, television and telephone; transportation; banking; prisons; education; and consumer protection.
Regarding privatization of water, for example, Bucheit explains:

…A 2009 analysis of water and sewer utilities by Food and Water Watch found that private companies charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services…Numerous examples of water privatization abuses or failures have been documented in California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, Texas, Massachusetts, Rhode Island — just about anywhere it’s been tried. Meanwhile, corporations have been making outrageous profits on a commodity that should be almost free.

The experience with privatizing transportation has been equally unimpressive:

…With privatization comes automatic rate increases. Chicago surrendered its parking meters for 75 years and almost immediately faced a doubling of parking rates. California’s experiments with roadway privatization resulted in cost overruns, public outrage, and a bankruptcy; equally disastrous was the state’s foray into electric power privatization. In Pennsylvania, an analysis of school busing by the Keystone Research Center concluded that “Contracting out substantially increases state spending on transportation services.”

Deregulation also delivers little of benefit to consumers, as Buchheit writes:

Deregulation not only deprives Americans of protection, but it also endangers us with the persistent threat of corporate misconduct. As late as 2004 Monsanto had insisted that Agent Orange “is not the cause of serious long-term health effects.” Dow Chemical, the co-manufacturer of Agent Orange, blamed the government. Halliburton pleaded guilty to destroying evidence after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. Cleanups cost much more than the fines imposed on offending companies, as government costs can run into the billions, or even tens of billions, of dollars.

None of this is to say that the private sector is inherently a bad thing. Instead, Buchheit is arguing persuasively that most major initiatives to dismantle a public sector entity or deregulate industries for the benefit of profit-driven enterprise have resulted in inferior services, higher costs and sometimes reduced safety for the people who were supposed to be helped.
Overall, the private sector in the U.S. does a good job of making needed stuff and offering myriad choices for purchasing houses, cars and consumer goods and services. But some needed products and services, particularly those related to health, safety and public welfare — which, after all, are more important than private profit for a few investors — should remain in the public sector.
Buchheit could also have added that privatization more often than not results in job losses. Indeed, reducing wages is often the reason behind privatization.
Buchheit’s case won’t change the minds of many Republicans, especially knee-jerk government-bashers. But Democrats, especially blue dogs and those whose economic philosophy bends toward the conservative end of the political spectrum, should read Buchheit’s article before supporting any privatization or deregulation initiatives.

Krugman: GOP Hucksters Can’t Bring Base Back to Reality

From Paul Krugman’s column, “Republicans Against Reality“:

For a long time the Republican establishment got its way by playing a con game with the party’s base. Voters would be mobilized as soldiers in an ideological crusade, fired up by warnings that liberals were going to turn the country over to gay married terrorists, not to mention taking your hard-earned dollars and giving them to Those People. Then, once the election was over, the establishment would get on with its real priorities — deregulation and lower taxes on the wealthy.
At this point, however, the establishment has lost control. Meanwhile, base voters actually believe the stories they were told — for example, that the government is spending vast sums on things that are a complete waste or at any rate don’t do anything for people like them. (Don’t let the government get its hands on Medicare!) And the party establishment can’t get the base to accept fiscal or political reality without, in effect, admitting to those base voters that they were lied to.

It was always a stretch to believe that those who hate government pathologically could govern well. And now that the inmates have seized control of the asylum, increasing numbers of sane voters are realizing that the only cure for this particular form of lunacy is to defeat it at the polls.