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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategist

The Uninformed Bloc

by Scott Winship
I know what you’re thinking. I’ve failed to keep the faith. I’ve made a mockery of the “daily” in “Daily Strategist”. I’ve been out lollygagging, making the rounds of the D.C. cocktail circuit. But lemme explain. There was a much needed trip to Boston (shout out to T.L., J.H., and C.W. — um, holla atcha boy?) and Maine. Not “summer home” Maine either – my blue-collar, limited-internet-access hometown (shout out Lawrence Bulldogs). And there’s this magazine that I’m supposed to be running. And do we have some great stuff planned for the next few months. That’s not a question, I mean we do have some great stuff planned.
But for now, let me just draw your attention to a piece by Stephen Earl Bennett in a fairly new publication called Public Opinion Pros [subscr.]. POP is an online magazine aimed at disseminating public opinion research. It published the essay by Amy Gershkoff that I summarized way back when. Following my own particular obsessions, I was drawn to the Bennett article, which examines the extent of political knowledge among voters.
The whole point of polling is to obtain an accurate picture of the state of public opinion and preferences, but if voters are generally uninformed, then we might hesitate to craft public policies around those preferences. Furthermore, uninformed voters might be vulnerable to deceptive framing of policy debates, such that their preferences may be quite malleable, which of course renders polling data problematic as a guide to strategy. The textbook example illustrating both points is the majoritarian belief that Saddam Hussein had a hand in the 9/11 attacks, which greatly facilitated the Administration’s goal of invading Iraq and overthrowing Hussein.
So, to put it in provocative terms, how ignorant is the electorate? Bennett found that nearly one-third of adults were unaware that the Republican Party is more conservative than the Democratic Party. And lest the reader think that this is an expression of cynicism rather than a lack of knowledge, Bennett found that whether or not respondents knew there were major differences between the two parties was associated with the amount of knowledge they had of major politicians and the parties but not with their levels of governmental trust.
Only one in ten adults knew who Denny Hastert is. Out of eight similar questions about politicians and the two parties, the average adult got just 4.5 right. One-third of adults said they follow politics “hardly at all” or “only now and then”.
Bennett uses a Gallup question asking which party controls the House and Senate to argue that political knowledge has only slightly declined since the mid-1940s. But it has become more associated with age – through the 1970s, young people were just as well informed as older Americans, but today’s twenty-somethings know less than their elders about politics and government. Bennett attributes this change to the decline in newspaper readership and in the influence of political parties.
Finally, in an intriguing finding, Bennett shows that consistency in positions taken across issue areas increases as political knowledge increases. Those who have little knowledge tend to have unconventional combinations of issue positions. If it is also the case that those with little political knowledge are less consistent in their positions on individual issues over time than other people are, then the result might be a sizeable constituency for demagoguery and misdirection. Bennett’s results imply that that bloc would be as large as one-third of the population. It seems important to separate these people out, to the extent possible, when analyzing characteristics of the electorate by, say, party or ideology. And it would be nice to know more about the positions they take on issues and the candidates they support. A Daily Strategist project for another day….
UPCATEGORY: Democratic Strategist

Building Unions Key to Strong Democratic Party

Which comes first, a strong Democratic party or strong unions? It is a chicken-and-egg argument of no mean consequence, arousing fierce passions on both sides and occupying the heart of organized labor’s recent split. Our August 12th post cheered the cooperation of both factions of the union movement in mobilizing resources for the November elections. Well and good for the short run and for the Democrats’ hopes to win majorities in both houses of congress in November.
But the long-term strategy of allocating more resources to build strong unions and less to politics merits a fair hearing and some serious consideration by all Democrats. A good place to begin is Kelly Candaele’s piece in today’s Los Angeles Times “Unions Should Organize, Not Politicize: More collective bargaining, not government action, is what workers need most.” Candaele, a former employee of the Los Angeles County AFL-CIO makes several good points:

The American labor movement is using political power to make up for its own failure to organize new unions. It’s unclear whether this trend is a sign of weakness or strength.
…While recognizing the power and importance of the state, the most successful and dynamic unions have also had a healthy independent ethos. Despite its flaws and current weakness, the best bet for providing the protection and decency that working people need is still a revitalized labor movement.
Some labor leaders argue that the Gompers approach simply doesn’t work in today’s hostile environment, and that improving conditions through politics is the only alternative. There is some truth to this. After all, where would the elderly be without Medicare and Social Security? But if there is a future for organized labor in the private sector, workers have to build power from the bottom up. Government can be helpful, but unions also have to save themselves.

Strong progressive parties in other nations are undergirded by a much higher level of union membership. For the long-range health of the Democratic Party, American progressives outside the union movement should begin to direct more attention to making it true in the U.S.

Making the Democratic Case in Bellwether PA

Harold Meyerson shows political beat reporters how it’s done in his WaPo op-ed “A Democrat for Main Street.” Meyerson’s article sheds fresh light on the complex politics of bellwether Pennsylvania and its marquee Senate race, and should be of keen interest to Democrats. Here’s a teaser, but read it all:

Politically, north-central Pennsylvania is one of the most venerable Republican terrains in the land, and it’s grown more Republican in recent decades with the closing of unionized steel and textile mills. James Carville once famously observed that Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between.
…With Northeastern and Middle Atlantic states clearly moving in a more Democratic direction, Santorum — whose voting record and social philosophy are more suited to an Alabama Republican — heads the list of Republican senators whom the Democrats think they can defeat this year. But there are enough places like Mifflin County in Pennsylvania to make it a real fight, which is why the Democrats have rallied to the socially conservative, economically progressive Casey. Early on, the Senate Democratic leadership (Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer) and the state’s Democratic governor, Ed Rendell (a onetime Casey opponent), made it clear that Casey was their guy.

Meyerson points out that the candidacy of a Green Party “Naderistic nihilist” has cut Democrat Casey’s once-formidable lead to 6 points in the polls. Meyerson also notes that the same bloggers who backed Lamont in Connecticut are supporting conservative Casey, laying bare the GOP big lie that the netroots are extremists. All in all, an informative primer on PA senate politics.

Dems Challenged to Strenghten Party for Long Haul

In today’s WaPo, columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s “A Gap in Their Armor” is a meditation on the importance of party that should be read by all Democrats. We’ll quote briefly here and urge progressives to read the whole piece.

…Dean and Emanuel are both struggling against the same overlapping realities: Democrats have chronically underinvested in building state parties. Wealthy donors who bankrolled grass-roots organizing in the 2004 presidential campaign have largely gone to the sidelines this year. And Republican-oriented interest groups are, on the whole, better financed and disciplined than their Democratic counterparts.
…There is a lesson here about campaign finance reform and those who pretend that Democrats can rely on a handful of wealthy donors when crunch time comes. There is also a lesson about how a political party needs to see itself — and be seen by those who support it — as a long-term operation, not simply as a label of convenience at election time.

There’s more In Dionne’s challenge, and taking it seriously could strengthen Democrats in ’08 — and beyond.

Dems Seize National Security Issue

In today’s New York Times, Carl Hulse reports on the Democrats’ efforts to more effectively leverage the issue of national security for the fall elections. Hulse notes in his article “Democrats See Security as Key Issue for Fall“:

…Democrats say the administration’s initial support of a business deal that would have allowed a Dubai company to assume control of parts of some seaport terminals was a turning point in the public’s view of Mr. Bush’s credibility on national security. As a result, they say they are advising candidates to respond quickly and with force to Republican attacks.

Hulse points out that recent polls no longer give the GOP any significant advantage on the issue of terrorism and that the 9-11 Commission leaders say the Iraq war drains resources needed to protect Americans at home. He quotes Senate Minorty Leader Harry Reid on the GOP’s less than impressive track record:

During the 2002 and 2004 elections, Republicans tried to sow fear in the American public by claiming that they were the only ones who could keep America safe. This from the same crowd that has driven Iraq to the brink of disaster, left Osama Bin Laden on the loose to attack again and continues to ignore our security needs at home.”

With the anniversaries of 9-11 and Katrina fast approaching, Dems have a unique opportunity to put the GOP on the defensive. And they are already on it, Hulse says:

A video Monday on the Web site of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee showed footage of Osama bin Laden, referred to an increase in terror attacks, highlighted illegal immigration and pointed out the nuclear aspirations of Iran and North Korea.
“Feel safer?” it concludes…

The answer to that question, more than any other, will likely determine the outcome of the November elections.

Harris Poll: Women Lead Dem Surge

Democrats enjoy a 15 point edge among adults asked to chose parties if the congressional election were held today in a just-released poll conducted 8/4-7 by Harris Interactive.

If the election were held today, 30 percent say they would vote for the Republican candidate while 45 percent would vote for the Democratic candidate—similar to last month, when 31 percent said they would vote Republican and 44 percent would vote Democratic.

Dems owe much, but not all, of their edge to women, according to the poll:

While women favor the Democratic candidate by a wide margin of 22 percentage points (50% for the Democratic candidate vs. 28% for the Republican), men favor the Democratic candidate, but by a smaller margin of seven percentage points (40% for the Democrat candidate vs. 33% for the Republican).

The poll also found surprising strength for Democrats among conservatives, with nearly one-third (32 percent) saying they would vote for the Democratic candidiate in their distric, compared to 50 percent for the Republican. Conversely, “liberals are holding more true to their core,” with 68% of them saying they would vote for the Democratic candidate, compared to five percent for the Republican. Just over half of ‘moderates’ (52 percent) chose the Democratic candidate while 24 percent picked the Republican.
The poll also give Dems an edge in party loyalty, with 87 percent Democrats saying they would vote Democratic, conparted to and 81 percent of Republicans staying with their party. With respect to Independents, 37 percent supported the Democratic candidate, with 25 percent for the Republican.
With respect to issue priorities, the poll indicated that,

…Concern over the war in Iraq tops the list of concerns, as 29 percent say it is one of the two most important issues the government needs to address. This is followed by healthcare (13%) and the economy (12%). Remaining high on the list is gas and oil prices, with 11 percent saying it is one of the most important issues, while five percent are saying energy is one of the most important issues to address. Immigration continues to drop as a concern – last month 13 percent believed it was one of the most important issues and this month only nine percent say that.

Labor Unites for November Elections

Republicans hoping recent divisions in the labor movement will help save their hides in November are likely to be sorely disappointed, according to an article by Christian Science Monitor reporter Amanda Paulson. In her article “Ignoring Split, Labor Makes Election Push,” Paulson notes:

The AFL-CIO is dedicating the most it ever has for a nonpresidential election – $40 million – for political mobilization this fall. It has zeroed in on 21 key states to focus on and will be active in more than 200 Senate, House, gubernatorial, and state legislative races.

And it’s not just the amount of money and resources. There is a real commitment to cooperation and coordination between the two major divisions, explains Paulson:

The AFL-CIO and the Change to Win federation have set up a national labor coordinating committee for political activities. They’ve agreed to merge member lists, work together on phone banks, walks, and leaflet distribution, and help state and local groups work closely on key elections.

The cooperative spirit between the two factions should allay some Democratic concerns about Change to Win’s emphasis on organizing before politics. As Change to Win’s political campaign director Colleen Brady said “It’s still a labor family. On the ground, we will work together where it makes sense.”
After a long decline in membership, unions have begun to grow again. The continuing commitment to progressive politics as a unifying theme for American labor can only bode well for Democrats.

New AP-IPSOS Poll: Dems Got Serious Game

The new AP-IPSOS poll is out, and Donna Cassata’s wrap-up of the results indicates that Democrats are gaining momentum in their quest to win back control of congress. For openers:

the president’s approval rating has dropped to 33 percent, matching his low in May…More sobering for the GOP are the number of voters who backed Bush in 2004 who are ready to vote Democratic in the fall’s congressional elections — 19 percent. These one-time Bush voters are more likely to be female, self-described moderates, low- to middle-income and from the Northeast and Midwest.

The red is starting to fade even in the south, says Cassata:

His [Bush’s] handling of nearly every issue, from the Iraq war to foreign policy, contributed to the president’s decline around the nation, even in the Republican-friendly South….in the South, Bush’s approval ratings dropped from 43 percent last month to 34 percent as the GOP advantage with Southern women disappeared.

It gets better. According to Cassata, the poll, conducted 8/7-9, indicates:

…fewer than 100 days before the Nov. 7 election, the AP-Ipsos poll suggested the midterms are clearly turning into a national referendum on Bush.
The number of voters who say their congressional vote this fall will be in part to express opposition to the president jumped from 20 percent last month to 29 percent, driven by double-digit increases among males, minorities, moderate and conservative Democrats and Northeasterners.

And the kicker:

…On the generic question of whether voters would back the Democrat or Republican, 55 percent of registered voters chose the Democrat and 37 percent chose the Republican, a slight increase for Democrats from last month.
…”The signs now point to the most likely outcome of Democrats gaining control of the House,” said Robert Erikson, a Columbia University political science professor.

The GOP fear-mongers are working overtime to gain political advantage following the terrorist plot foiled by British intelligence and trash Dems as ‘enemies of moderation’ in the wake of Lieberman’s defeat. With numbers like these, they have a very tough sell.

Crashing the Gate Reviewed

by Scott Winship
On this day in which the subject of the netroots is dominating the news cycle, I thought I’d review Jerome Armstrong’s and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga’s Crashing the Gate, which I finally finished. And you netrooters may be pleasantly surprised.
Crashing the Gate is essentially a guide to the New Politics. For those who are not deeply embedded in the netroots culture, the book is the best single source of information on the new political players, the institutions-in-making, and the philosophy of the New Politics, which includes the netroots but also renegade unions like the Service Employees Industrial Union, think tanks such as NDN, and progressive venture capitalists like Andy and Deborah Rappaport. Armstrong and Moulitsas clearly have a big-picture understanding of how these pieces are connected, and their description is informed by interviews with participants all over the country.
One might have thought that bloggers, whose posts typically range from a few words to a couple thousand words, would have difficulty translating their thoughts to a format requiring 200 pages. But Crashing the Gate is a very enjoyable and quick read. The only deficiencies I saw involved the beginning and ends of the book. The introduction isn’t worth the time of those who follow political news regularly, beginning with a conventional overview of the conservative coalition before switching gears to set up the rest of the book’s critique of the Democratic Party and its affiliated institutions. The concluding chapter, which lays out the New Politics agenda now that they are “inside the gates”, feels incomplete.
But in between is a trenchant – if sometimes overly cynical and one-sided – appraisal of the Democratic establishment. The chapters of the book take on: single-interest advocacy groups whose short-sightedness leads them to sometimes back Republicans or refuse to support Democrats, D.C. consultants who face no accountability and have not evolved over time to embrace new realities, foundations and institutional donors who shy away from building a Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy, the Democratic Leadership Council and establishment figures who worked to undermine Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, and Party congressional committees for abandoning red-state candidates and pressuring candidates into hiring ineffective consultants and pollsters.
Much of the middle of the book is devoted to contrasting how Democrats have campaigned and developed over time to Republican approaches. The chapter on consultants shows how far ahead the GOP is when it comes to targeting voters using sophisticated databases, relying on new media for advertising, creating memorable ads that strike an emotional chord, and even the hiring and payment of consultants. The chapter on infrastructure provides both an overview of Republican institutions and a revealing look at how Democrats are trying to copy them.
Armstrong and Moulitsas recount the rise of the netroots, from the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill that shifted power away from the establishment, to the Dean insurgency, and through the 2005 contest for the Democratic National Committee chairmanship and beyond. And the final chapter is a concise summary of “what the netroots wants”.
Crashing the Gate isn’t without problems. Most obviously, it essentially blames the poor electoral performance of Democrats on everything except for their policies and agenda. In Armstrong’s and Moulitsas’s world, public opinion matters little. Think tanks are needed to come up with attractive ideas, and a message machine is necessary to promote them, but it is as if they believe there are simply good ideas out there and the Republicans have just been better at extracting and promulgating them. And the emphasis on tactics and campaign strategy also relegates ideas to a secondary concern.
Armstrong and Moulitsas are also unnecessarily critical of the motives of establishment figures in places. In their telling, no one in the establishment can just be incompetent or ineffective, they must be corrupt or lazy. The consultants and pollsters come in for particularly harsh treatment, even if some of it – for some of those tarred – may be justified. Indeed, the prevailing attitude is that once inside the gates, the establishment must be overthrown entirely. A separatist strain surfaces here and there throughout the book, with intimations that one of the things the netroots wants is to build an entirely parallel set of institutions.
Whether this set of institutions would become the party, supplant it, or counterproductively sit alongside it is a vital question, perhaps one we should all keep asking as the netroots continue to assert themselves as a power center. If the netroots really aren’t ideological, then the party can’t help but benefit from the more effective strategies, tactics, and institutions of the New Politics. But if it is ideological, then party institutions may end up fragmented and divided. The netroots have crashed the gate – it remains to be seen what they will do from here.

Lamont Victory: Where He Got the Votes

There is no shortage of post-mortems on Lamont’s Connecticut victory in today’s blogs and rags, addressing his win from every conceivable issue-angle. For a high-profile contest, however, the reporting on who voted for each candidate has been somewhat sketchy. Connecticut papers do offer a few clues. An editorial by the Hartford Courant, which endorsed Lieberman, noted:

…the unprecedented rush of registered unaffiliated voters and new voters to the Democratic Party in Connecticut in recent weeks is a phenomenon that should keep Karl Rove awake at night.

The Courant reported that more than 40 percent of eligbile voters turned out, 15 percent more than the last Connecticut Democratic primary, a 1994 contest for the gubernatorial nomination. Writing in The Connecticut Post Peter Urban and Michael P. Mayko note that 28,886 voters were “newly registered or switched from unaffiliated since May 1.”
Mark Pazniokas of The Hartford Courant offers this assessment:

Lamont rolled up lopsided margins in the Farmington Valley, Litchfield County, the lower Connecticut River Valley and scattered suburbs around the state. He won Hartford and Lieberman’s hometown of New Haven, which first elected Lieberman to the state Senate in 1970.
Lieberman dominated in the New Haven suburbs, the struggling rural towns of eastern Connecticut and old mill towns of the Naugatuck Valley, home of conservative Reagan Democrats and the place he chose to begin his campaign bus tour 10 days ago. He also took Bridgeport.

Mystery Pollsterl Mark Blumenthal has a few insights in his “Connecticut Epilogue,” including:

The geographic turnout patterns are also relevant. Charles Franklin has already posted an amazingly thorough (and graphical) turnout analysis of the turnout showing that Lieberman did better in the larger towns and cities, while Lamont did better in less urban areas. He also confirms the so-called “Volvo/donut” turnout pattern suggested yesterday by Hotline On-Call, that turnout was higher in the smaller towns where Lamont had an advantage, lower in the larger towns where Lieberman did better (see also Hotline’s follow-up analysis this morning).

Looking toward the future, As an Independent, Lieberman hopes to win voters from Connecticut’s 453,715 Republican and 929,005 unaffiliated registered voters. But if he takes the higher road of affirming Democratic party unity, Lamont should hold the seat for the Democrats.