Knew that headline would get your attention. We speak here of Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who last Thursday approved a measure to restore voting rights to an estimated 950,000 Floridian ex-felons, about 9 percent of the voting-age population of the Sunshine State. Crist’s initiative has political observers scratching their heads. How much of a political impact could it have? Salon‘s Farhad Manjoo puts it this way:
The ex-cons belong to traditionally Democratic demographics — many are African-American, and many are poor. If they’re allowed to vote, they’ll likely go to the polls at lower rates than everyone else; Uggen and Manza’s work suggests felons turn out to vote at about the half the general turnout rate in any given election. But in a state as closely divided politically as Florida, that could still make all the difference. In the past several decades, say Uggen and Manza, at least two Senate races in Florida would have gone to Democrats instead of Republicans had felons had the right to vote. Buddy McKay would have beaten Connie Mack in 1988, and Betty Castor would have beaten Mel Martinez in 2004. And, of course, the 2000 presidential election would have gone to Al Gore. Uggen and Manza’s research suggests Gore might have picked up 60,000 votes from felons……if the state’s ex-cons had been allowed to vote in 2000, George W. Bush would now be the commissioner of baseball.
Also check out Nancy Scola’s take on the topic at MyDD, “Felon Enfranchisement: Florida Vs. Rhode Island,” which puts the movement to restore voting rights to America’s ex felons in perspective.
Horse-race polls will get more interesting in September when voters pay increased attention. In evaluating the Party’s preparedness for a full-scale campaign, the Dems overall political image looks very good. Pollster.com’s Mark Blumenthal reports, for example, that a new Diageo-Hotline survey shows a generic Dem candidate leads a generic GOP candidate 47%-29% in a white house ’08 matchup.
Blumenthal’s link-rich article also provides some instructive insights about how generic candidate polls work, along with this thoughtful appraisal of their limitations:
…This far out, I believe that a generic vote question tells us mostly about the way voters perceive the national political parties. While those images apparently give the Democrats a huge early advantage – a finding that is certainly informative about the voters’ current attitudes – the ultimate nominees of each party and their campaign messages will likely reshape those images. So, for my money, the generic vote remains something of questionable value in tracking where the race will be in 18 months.
Very true about the limited predictive value, and same goes for candidate horse-race polls this far out. But any poll that gives Dems an 18 percent advantage with voters is welcome news in assessing the Party’s image, which needs to be strong if Dems want an ’08 sweep. Now it would be interesting to see polls showing which themes are resonating with those who prefer a generic Democrat and which motivate those favoring Republicans.
The first hump-day in April yields a trio of blogosphere articles of interest to political strategy-watchers. Start with the buzz about DLC Chair Harold Ford’s pitch for Democratic consensus on a half-dozen key issues at TPM Cafe, and the broad range of friendly and hostile reactions to his overture. (New Donkey Ed Kilgore fleshes out Ford’s proposal, and a progressives have at it.) The tone of discussion around Ford’s proposals gets a little strident on both sides, but, hey, that’s what Dems do.
Over at Slate, Joshua Glen has a provocative review article on Stephen Duncombe’s book ‘Dream.’ Glen’s review, entitled “Grand Theft Politics: Should Democrats look to video games for inspiration?” has this to say about the state of progressive activism:
In a new book, Dream, NYU media professor and political activist Stephen Duncombe laments that progressives have become … well, tedious. The people who built the New Deal and led the civil rights struggle are now engaging in old-fashioned, top-down political practices. These days, whether you attend a rally, sign a petition, or forward a MoveOn e-mail, it can be a disempowering experience. Duncombe is not contemptuous of the traditional anti-war demonstrations against Iraq, but, he argues, obscured within these and other well-intended political actions is “a philosophy of passive political spectatorship: they organize, we come; they talk, we listen.”
It does sometimes seem as if the day when big progressive demos were influential has come and gone, and the GOP is nowadays more imaginative with their political “spectacles.” On the other hand, there is probably more creative grassroots activism going on now than ever before through netroots projects, which have proven to be quite effective, judging by the ’06 elections.
Rob Richie and Ryan O’Donnell report on an innovative effort at electoral reform in their TomPaine.com article, “Making the Popular Vote a Winner.” The authors explain how the new initiative works:
Today most states give their electoral votes to the winner of the statewide popular vote, but they could just as easily award them to the national vote winner in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. If a group of states representing a majority of the Electoral College entered into a binding agreement to do so, then the nationwide popular vote winner would achieve an Electoral College victory every time.
…The National Popular Vote compact will go into effect only if in July of a presidential election year the number of participating states collectively have a majority of at least 270 electoral votes. At that point, the compact is triggered, with states accepting a blackout period during which they cannot withdraw from the agreement until the new president takes office. That new president is guaranteed to be the candidate who won the most votes from Americans in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
National Popular Vote has had remarkable success since going public in February 2006. California ‘s Assembly and Senate in California passed the plan in 2006, as did the Colorado Senate, Hawaii Senate and Arkansas House this year. Nationally nearly 300 state legislators representing nearly every state have sponsored the plan or pledged to do so.
…While it’s unlikely that enough states will be on board by next July to affect the 2008 election, we think it will be the last state-by-state election for president in our history. It couldn’t come any sooner. In today’s climate of partisan polarization, the current system shuts out most of the country from meaningful participation by turning naturally “purple” states into simple “red” and “blue.”
Sounds like a plan which could prevent a replay of the 2000 debacle, and that’s a good thing.
Presidential candidates, including Democrats, have historically been a little gun-shy when it comes to supporting liberalization of archaic drug laws. That may soon change, thanks to Governor Bill Richardson, who just signed into law a bill making New Mexico the 12th state to protect patients using medical marijuana from arrest. The other states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Asked by the Associated Press about the political risk involved, Richardson replied “So what if it’s risky? It’s the right thing to do…This is for medicinal purpose, for … people that are suffering. My God, let’s be reasonable.”
It’s not likely that Richardson’s presidential campaign will suffer as a result. Opinion polls taken in the 21st century indicate that between 70 and 80 percent of the public supports protecting medical marijuana users from arrest. Indeed, the interesting question is whether Richardson may win votes as a result. Federal government statistics indicate that 80 million Americans admit they have smoked marijuana, 20 million during the last year.
Yet more than 5 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana offenses during the last decade, 90 percent for simple possession. About 700,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related offenses during the last year. As former President Jimmy Carter has said “Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against the possession of marijuana in private for personal use.” In singing the legislation, Richardson may have enhanced his image as a practical problem-solver. Democratic Presidential candidates John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich have said they oppose arresting and jailing patients who use medical marijuana, as did former Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry. Kucinich supports decriminalization of marijuana smoking. Senators Obama and Clinton have no information about their positions on medical marijuana on their web pages. Former President Clinton came out in favor of decriminalization of marijuana possession in 2000, softening his previous hard line position against medical marijuana.
Democratic communications consultant John Neffinger has an interesting piece at the HuffPo on the power of communications skills to trump positions on the issues, especially with swing voters. Riffing on a recent post by Slate’s chief political correspondent John Dickerson pooh poohing the candidacy of former Senator Fred Thompson, Neffinger makes a convincing argument that Dems who think issues positions are more important than communication skills for winning elections are courting defeat. Neffinger cites three studies to back his argument and says:
…Swing voters by definition are not strongly committed to the policy views of one side or the other. For many of them, compelling language and policy positions are as important for how they shape their feelings about the candidate as they are for their own virtues. (Just to be clear, no one is disputing that sound ideas are critical to governing well. We’re just talking about getting elected.)
Is this scary? Sure. Unwelcome? Clearly. Contrary to everything we ever learned about democracy, from kindergarten through the Federalist Papers? Absolutely. And even though it can work in our favor too (e.g., Bill Clinton), it is profoundly dispiriting, to say the least, to realize how unhinged the process is from the issues that ultimately matter in governing.
But better to face that reality now, while we can still do something about it, than to place our faith in the fairy-tale version of democracy and be left grasping for excuses after we lose.
Neffinger notes the irony that the ‘party of science’ ignores studies that show how voters make their choices, while the ‘party of faith’ takes it very much into their political calculations:
Democrats feel wronged when swing voters let emotion cloud their view of reality, but our side often doesn’t grasp the reality of how swing voters make up their minds because we can’t get past our own emotional attachment to the power of ideas. We accuse swing voters of voting capriciously, irrationally, but if we were only rational ourselves, we could easily see why they do.
In fact, unlike blinkered Democrats, in some ways swing voters are acting perfectly rationally by voting with their gut (yet another irony, if you’re still counting). For voters who don’t pay close attention to issues, it’s not easy to figure out which positions are best (not least because conservative think tanks and media do an excellent job at muddying the waters of debates democrats would otherwise win). So what can a casual voter do? Go with what they know. Every day they make judgments about people they interact with, size ’em up, trust their instincts. So they use the same method to pick a candidate.
Most Democrats old enough to remember Reagan’s first campaigns will recall how he was dismissed by many Dems who said “Oh come on. He’s an actor,” or something similar. Large groups of voters screwed by Reagan again and again still voted to re-elect him, beyond all reason. Let’s not make the same mistaken assumptions about Thompson.
It’s sometimes said that the Chairman of the Federal Reserve has more power over the economy than the President. Agree or disargee, there’s an interesting discussion going on at Angry Bear, lead by ‘Cactus,’ about whether/how much the Fed Chairman influences or tries to influence election outcomes. The debate about the “political businesss cycle” has been going on for decades, and Cactus weighs the evidence, brings readers up to speed and in the latest installment notes:
…for whatever reason, in the four consecutive close elections during the Greenspan era, there were unusually large changes in the levers that the Fed controls. One might call it coincidence, or one might note that these movements seemed designed to benefit the Republican candidate…Enough people were incensed that the 2000 elections were, in effect, decided by the Supreme Court. Do we want the 2008 elections decided by Ben Bernanke?
In terms of political strategy, the salient point for Dems may be to assume that, when Republicans control the Fed and the white house, there will be a hefty cash infusion into the economy in the months leading up to an election — and plan accordingly.
Far be it from us to (gasp) encourage gambling. But Slate has just launched a fun feature of interest to political junkies, which provides:
…a comprehensive guide to all the big political prediction markets. From now until Election Day 2008, we’ll publish regular updates of the key data from Iowa Electronic Markets, Intrade.com, Newsfutures.com, and Casualobserver.net. (Casualobserver has not yet launched its 2008 political prediction market, but we will add it as soon as it goes up.) In these early days of the campaign, we are tracking four markets: 1) Democratic nominee for president, 2) Republican nominee for president, 3) presidential victor, and 4) party control of the presidency. We’ll add Senate and House races as they heat up next year.
This is not just a greed game for bread-heads. As Slate notes:
The thrill of prediction markets for political junkies is that they harness “the wisdom of crowds.” A single person’s bet on an election outcome isn’t very good, but thousands of bets, with real stakes, are more likely to predict the correct result than even the best pundit. The Iowa Electronic Markets, the big daddy of the political prediction markets, is consistently better at forecasting winners than pre-election polls.
University of Iowa Biz School scholars offer some verification for the claim here. There may be a few pollsters out there who beg to differ. Might be fun for pollsters and gamblers to make a little group wager.
Eric Kleefield has posted Karl Rove’s House of Reps top 20 “targets” and “Priority Defense” lists at TPM Cafe. We won’t list them all here, other than to offer a regional breakdown. Rove’s vulnerable Republicans include: 3 southerners; 7 northeasterners (Ohio included here); 2 midwesterners; and 5 westerners. Rove’s Dem targets include: 6 southerners; 7 northeasterners; 6 midwesterners; and only 1 westerner. Doesn’t seem to be any striking regional angle here, other than Rove sees the west as pretty shaky. On the other hand, Given Rove’s ’06 W-L record, maybe the best way for Dems to use this list is for fish-wrap.
Rove’s list was reportedly revealed in a Power Point presentation shown at the General Services Administration to promote “team building.” Yet another use of federal government resources to promote GOP political ends, as Paul Kiel notes at TPM Muckraker:
The GSA, remember, is the government’s procurement agency, in charge of almost $60 billion each year. All of this seems like a clear violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits using federal resources to aid political parties.
Is there any public trust this Administration won’t violate?
Political Wire‘s Taegan Goodard notes an encouraging Washington Times interview with Nevada GOP Senator John Ensign regarding Dems ’08 Senate prospects. As Goddard sums it up,
In a “wide-ranging” interview, Ensign “acknowledged that his party faces a steep, uphill climb in next year’s Senate elections when 21 Republican seats will be up for grabs, compared with 12 for the Democrats.”
Ensign “singled out five Republican seats that are in danger in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon and New Hampshire, compared with two vulnerable Democratic incumbents in South Dakota and Louisiana and long-shot possibilities in Iowa and Montana.”
Meanwhile, the New York Times notes the challenge the Iraq war presents to Republican senators seeking re-election in 2008, including Sen. John Sununu (R-NH), Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN).
MyDD‘s Jonathan Singer has more to say about Dems’ Senate propects here.
Also check out DavidNYC’s post at Swing State, noting that fired federal prosecutors tend to be residents of 2004 swing states.
Lowell Feld has a MyDD post “Why Turning Virginia ‘Blue’ Matters to All of Us,” which should be of interest to everyone concerned about building a stronger Democratic Party. Feld, who writes the “Raising Kaine” blog, offers a half-dozen reasons why the 2007 Virginia state legislative elections are important, including:
It matters because Virginia, with the election of Tim Kaine and Jim Webb, plus gains in the General Assembly, has moved from “solid red” to “purple,” and because we need to keep moving the state in the “blue” direction politically. Needless to say, the implications of Virginia, with its 13 electoral votes, becoming competitive once again in national politics (Virginia last went for a Democrat in 1964) would be enormous. Don’t think this is possible? Well, I’d refer once again to the fact that the last two governors – Mark Warner and Tim Kaine – have been Democrats, and the last Senate election saw Jim Webb replace George Allen. Also, I would point out that increasingly, Northern Virginia is becoming an extension of the solidly “blue” Northeast corridor. And Northern Virginia is becoming increasingly more politically powerful within Virginia as a whole. Frankly, it’s only a matter of time until the growth in NOVA turns Virginia “blue.” Our job, if we choose to accept it, is to ensure that this change occurs as rapidly as possible.
Republicans currently hold majorities in both houses of the Virginia legislature, but Dems need a net pick-up of only 4 seats in the state Senate to win a majority (Dems lag in the VA House of Delegates 50-47-3). Demographic trends and issues are both breaking the Dems way, and a little extra investment by Dem contributors could go a long way toward securing a beachhead for Dems in the south.
There’s been a lot of ink poured in the debate over whether Dem Presidential candidates should or should not skip the south, but not enough serious discussion about how to begin winning back the South, or at least a significant chunk of it. Virginia is clearly critical to any such effort. One commenter on Feld’s article (Pitin) calls Virginia “the Normandy Beach of taking back the South.”
For Dems, neglecting the state legislatures, which control redistricting, in party-building is like putting crappy retreads on a top-seed in the Indy 500. It’s time for Democratic fund-raisers and Party leaders who want win a working majority to invest in winning more seats in the state legislatures. ActBlue is now accepting contributions for the 2007 VA legislative races here.