washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Democrats Need to Be the Party of and for Working People—of All Races

And they can’t retake Congress unless they win over more white workers.
by Robert Griffin, John Halpin & Ruy Teixeira

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Matt Morrison

Rebuilding a Progressive Majority by Winning Back White Working-Class Moderates

From the findings of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s outreach program to non-union working people.
by Matt Morrison

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The Daily Strategist

October 20, 2017

Brand and Product

In today’s Washington Post, E.J. Dionne puts his finger on a phenomenon that’s beginning to trouble many Democrats: the significant gap between public perceptions of the Democratic Party, and of actual Democrats, specifically the Democratic-controlled Congress and the leading presidential candidates.
Using a June 8-11 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Dionne notes a 42-35 favorable/unfavorable ratio for the Democratic Party (the GOP weighs in at 28-49), as contrasted with a 23-64 job approval ratio for Congress, roughly equal to Bush’s 29-66 rating. Meanwhile, the same poll shows Democrats with a 52-31 advantage in a “generic” presidential ballot, while head-to-head surveys on actual candidates show a close race, at least when well-known GOP candidates like Giuiliani and McCain are tested against the leading Deomcrats.
Dionne’s basic analysis is that Democrats won in 2006 by putting together a coalition of “base” voters focused on ending the war in Iraq, and swing voters with a broader range of concerns about “getting things done.” Both categories, he suggests, are increasingly disappointed in Congress’ record so far. That doesn’t explain the relative weakness, as compared to the generic numbers, of Democratic presidential candidates, but it does make for an interesting interpretation of the Democratic Party “brand” and its subsidiary “products.”
If you step back for a moment, it’s important to remember that poor approval ratings for Congress are hardly a new thing; the real aberration was the brief moment earlier this year when the positive assessments inched up into the high thirties. Surveys specifically rating Democrats in Congress show a slightly more positive picture; the last ABC/Washington Post poll at the end of May gave them a 44-49 job approval ratio, down from 54-44 in April. Totally aside from specific issues before Congress, it’s reasonable to expect some deterioration as Democratic control of Congress began to sink into the public consciousness, given an environment where the right track/wrong track ratio has plunged to 19-68 (to cite the NBC/WSJ survey).
We’re likely to see a clearer partisan shakedown in terms of assessments of Congress by this fall, if, as anticipated, Bush starts vetoing appropriations bills, and congressional Democrats find new ways to dramatize their efforts to end the Iraq war.
On the presidential front, the gap between “brand” and “product” is partially just a function of the fact that the “well-known” Republicans who are running well in trial heats happen to be those with the strongest appeal to independent voters; that will almost certainly continue to change as the nomination process goes forward, with GOP candidates visibly chewing conservative red meat in every speech and debate. (As my friend Will Marshall has acutely observed, Republicans in their current authoritarian mode seem determined to move from being the “daddy party” to the “abusive daddy party.”) And I personally would bet big money, if I had it, that neither John McCain (whose support is clearly collapsing) nor Rudy Giuliani (who’s been slipping of late) is going to be the Republican nominee. Trial heats involving Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, as they become better known, will be the ones to watch.
In any event, a strong “brand” with relatively weak “products” is preferable to the reverse proposition. A lot was written, and appropriately so, during the long winter of Democratic discontent earlier this decade, about the inability of Democrats to convert “generic” ballot strength into electoral victories. But “generic” advantages mean the door is wide open to gains if you are smart enough to walk through it. And in the long run, that pays off more often than not. Just ask the Coca-Cola people if they’d trade a dip in the warm and fuzzies generated by their treasured brand for a quick upsurge in sales for one of their fruit-flavored Diet Coke offerings.


DCorps ‘Battleground’ Survey Sees Huge Dem Opportunity

DCorps has just released “On the Offensive: First Survey of the 2008 Battleground Districts,” and the findings envision an “immense opportunity” for Democratic congressional candidates to win more seats in 2008. The survey, which included a large interview sample of 1,600 respondents, covered 70 “in-play” congressional districts “half Democratic and half Republican,” and found:

Democratic congressional candidates in this named ballot hold an average 9-point lead in these districts that actually supported the Republican candidate by 1 point in 2006 and President Bush by 8 points in 2004. This means the center of the battlefield has shifted as much since 2006 as it did in the lead up to it.

Even more striking, Dem incumbents are ahead by 20 points, 56-36 percent, and the strength extends to districts held by freshmen elected in ’06, and to rural-small town and exurban areas, as well as to more traditional Democratic constituencies.
The survey also found that “Iraq is central to the changing battlefield,” and the public wants congressional Dems to provide leadership “that will force the President to change policies and reduce the number of troops in Iraq.” The survey includes other interesting findings about voters beliefs and priorities regarding health insurance for children, energy independence, student loans, stem cell research and immigration.


The One Certain Thing

We’ll be hearing all week about the minutiae of the U.S. Senate’s reconsideration of the so-called “grand bargain” on immigration reform: the amendments, the parliamentary maneuvers, the behind-the-scenes lobbying of Bush, Reid, Kennedy, Lott and others, to drag a couple of Republican votes across the line without losing prior supporters.


Dem-Controlled State Legs Lead in Health Care

Business Week‘s Catherine Arnst reports on a new Commonwealth Fund survey comparing and rating health care services in the 50 states. Her overall conclusions are less than encouraging as evidenced by her article’s subtitle “A state-by-state study shows who has the best and worst grades on 32 health indicators, and even the best are none too good.”
However, a look at the state legislatures of the top ten rated states should offer a measure of encouragement for Democrats hoping to benefit by the public clamor for better health care. In the ten highest-ranking states, HA; IA; NH; VT; ME; RI; CT; MA; WI; and SD, Democrats have majority control of 17 of 20 state legislatures. Of the top 8 ranking states, Republicans have majority control in none of the 16 state houses. (Data on party control of state legs here)
Bragging rights are limited by the fact that the Dems also have majorities of a healthy share of the state houses of the bottom ten ranking states. But the fact that Dems have majorities in 85 percent of the state houses of top-performing states is nonetheless impressive — and should be of interest to voters who care about health care reform.


How the GOP Leverages the Net

Political bloggers of all stripes, and Dem oppo researchers in particular, have an interesting post to read over at the Politico. The post, “Excerpts from the NRSC Campaign Internet Guide” includes a wealth of tips for campaigns interested in leveraging the internet, both strategic and technical. For example:

Shadow TV/TVEyes/Critical Mention. These services can be purchased by campaigns to monitor television programs 24 hours a day. If you subscribe to this service your campaign can request a specific clip as well as a transcript via email. Some of these clips can be used in web ads or nposted directly to your site through YouTube (See Copyrightsection below for more deatil) However these clips must be purchased and can be expensive.

and

Rapid Response to Attacks: If candidates are more or less continuously monitored via blog search engines, with the use of websites, such as technorati.com, blogs can often be used as “am early warning system to help discern if an opponent’s attacks are gaining traction….”

or

To achieve successful blog outreach, we recommend the following: Develop a national and local blog outreach plan. The primary focus of the campaign’s national efforts should be the top five conservative political blogs: Instapundit, Michelle Malkin, Captain’s Quarters, Powerline and Hugh Hewitt.

There’s quite a bit more of interest to Dem bloggers and campaigns. This one may not be up too long. Might be a good idea to print it out.


Political Strategy Links Illuminate, Amuse

Are conservatives or progressives a majority in America? You won’t find a stronger case for the progressive majority, on the internet at least, than Media Matters‘ footnote and link rich “The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America is a Myth.”
Ezra Klein, usually skeptical about advice books for Dems, has a plug for Drew Westen’s forthcoming book, The Political Brain, an excerpt of which is posted at The American Prospect. Klein likes the way Westen’s book focuses on “how voters experience politics, and how Democrats all too often speak on another plane entirely.”
The “amuse” part of this article’s headline comes from Michael Falcone’s “A Gamer’s Guide to Redstricting” at The New York Times. Falcone links to a way cool new interactive game which “simulates many of the challenges involved in the redistricting process, from drawing district maps to winning the support of state and party leadership.” You can play “The Redistricting Game” right here.


Poll Report on Congressional Approval Distorts Reality

Charles at Political Arithmetik shows how poll reporting can distort political reality in his post on the latest LA Times/Bloomberg poll on approval/disapproval of congress. He explains that the LA Times headline “Approval of Congress Lowest in a Decade” overstates the case by tracking only one pollster, a fairly common practice in MSM poll reporting. To get a full picture, he points out, all polls should be tracked.
In this case the headline gives the false impression that congressional Democrats, as the majority, are in trouble. And some writers have even anchored their reporting on this and other misconceptions based on “trends” reflected by just one pollster. Charles explains:

My problem with this story is a common one. What it says is exactly true, but it ignores all polling not conducted by the LATimes and Bloomberg. This IS the lowest LA Times Poll reading of Congressional approval in a decade.
But what is not reported is that since January 2006, 42 of 146 national polls have found approval below 27%. That is 29% of the recent polls, so a congressional approval rating of 27% is by no means unique in the last decade. (If we include 27% approval then 56 of the last 146 have been this low or lower– 38% of polls in the last year and a half.)

Charles does his own analysis of a much broader selection of polls and finds that the current congress is about 4 points higher in net approval than the low points of the 2006 (GOP majority) congress. This is not to say that congressional Dems don’t have to worry about the public’s view of their performance — there has been a decline in approval since January, as the author notes. But Dems should keep in mind that trend reporting that ignores all but one pollster provides a muddled reflection of political reality.


Rural Voters Give Dems Edge

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner’s e-alert brings this good news about Dem inroads into one of the GOP’s more supportive constituencies:

Rural voters deliver a narrow plurality to a generic Democratic candidate for President: 46 – 43 percent. In contrast, President Bush won the rural vote in 2004 by 19 points. At the Congressional level, voters prefer Democrats in named trial heats 46 – 44 percent.

For more details, see this just-released bipartisan poll of LVs.


Dems Gaining in Senate Races, Party Preference

Thanks to MissLaura at Kos for flagging Senate 2008 Guru’s link-rich roundup of upcoming Senate races. The Guru takes issue with the CQPolitics description of a handful of races as “safe” for the GOP and provides interesting snapshots of current Senate races. Guru also cites an AP/IPSOS poll conducted 6/4-6, showing Americans “lean” toward Dems by a margin of 54-36 percent.


Are Theocons Pushing Voters to Dems?

Ross Douthat’s article, “Crisis of Faith” in The Atlantic Monthly discusses the phenomenon of rising secularism in the U.S., while Europe is becoming increasingly enmeshed in religious controversy. In one graph Douthat notes:

Liberals have spent much of the past six years straining to cut into the GOP’s advantage among religious voters. But when the Democrats finally shattered the Republican majority in the 2006 midterms, it was their consolidation of the secular vote that helped put them over the top. Despite all their efforts to close the God gap, the Democrats managed barely any gains among frequent churchgoers last November—but their share of the vote among Americans who never attend church at all leaped to 67 percent, from 55 percent in 2002.

Douthat reports on a general secularization trend in the U.S., that fewer Americans are attending church every week. He notes a recent Pew Research Center survey indicating that 20 percent of young people say they have no religious affiliation — nearly double the percentage of the 1980’s (Summary Here). It makes sense that many of them would be turned off by the growing influence of theocons in the GOP.