by Scott Winship
I’m happy to announce that we have posted a provocative discussion piece on the Democrats’ economic agenda that will serve as the basis for our next roundtable. The piece, by Anne Kim, Adam Solomon, and Jim Kessler of Third Way, argues that Democrats are losing the middle class not just because of national security or values concerns, but because our economic agenda does not speak to their aspirations and concerns. Discussants include Elizabeth Warren, John Halpin, Jacob Hacker, and our own Ruy Teixeira and Bill Galston.
Look for a second roundtable later in the month on the Democrats’ electoral weakness on national security. Hope you find the discussion stimulating.
Justin Logan’s short but provocative article in The American Prospect, “Mind the Gap,” merits a read by Democrats searching for a credible Iraq policy that can produce victories in November and ’08. The subtitle succinctly captures the gist of his argument: “Democratic voters have unambiguously repudiated the Bush doctrine. The same can’t be said for Democratic foreign policy elites.” Logan makes a compelling case that the party’s hawkish opinion leaders defending long range occupation of Iraq have lost touch with an increasingly war-weary rank and file. There is ample evidence in recent opinion polls to back Logan’s claim, and he offers the following:
A recent CNN/New York Times poll showed 61 percent of Americans want to cut and run, with just 34 percent now supporting a “stay and die” policy.
As Logan says, “…sometimes it’s better to back away from the blackjack table instead of taking out a second mortgage to double down after a losing run.”
The first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was marked by an all-out PR offensive by the Bush Administration to hype its limp relief efforts in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The Bush blitz, which deployed First Lady Laura Bush bragging about the restoration of a few libraries, as well as a host of GOP spin doctors, was calculated to offset media coverage revealing the continuing mess on the Gulf and the weak federal response. It seems doubtful that the media campaign will have much of an effect. But the stakes are high, particularly if the issue affects the outcome of the November elections.
So far there are no polls asking respondents how the Katrina relief response will affect their votes in November’s congressional elections. But today’s WaPo features Chris Cillizza’s article “Parsing the Polls: Hurrican Katrina,” discussing how Bush’s approval ratings have been adversely impacted by public perceptions of the federal Katrina relief effort. The polls Cillizza mulls over, taken just before the Bush media blitz, are bad news for the Administration, and Democrats hope public disapproval will extend to the GOP-lead, do-nothing congress. Regarding the polls, Cillizza notes:
Consider the poll conducted Aug. 24-25 by Princeton Survey Research for Newsweek. Asked whether Bush had followed through on his promise to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, 32 percent of the 1,002 adults surveyed said he had, 51 percent said he had not…Independents clearly thought Bush had not kept his promise (26/60).
Those results were confirmed in a number of other surveys taken earlier this month. In a CBS News/New York Times poll, 41 percent of voters approved of “the way George W. Bush is responding to the needs of people affected by Hurricane Katrina,” while 51 percent disapproved. A CNN poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation showed even more negative numbers: Just 34 percent of the sample approved of “the way George W. Bush has handled the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina,” while 64 percent disapproved.
There is little doubt that the latest numbers continue a trend that began in the spring of 2005 and accelerated in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, when Bush’s disapproval numbers spiked to historic highs. For the most part, he has not recovered.
Cillizza quotes DSCC Chairman Senator Chuck Schumer’s contention that Bush’s inept Katrina response was a defining moment in the eyes of the public:
“It’s like the Wizard of Oz. “It showed the man behind the screen.”
Clearly, Democrats have a lot to gain by reminding voters that Bush is the leader of his party, and by forcing GOP candidates to defend his ineptitude and indifference. Cillizza concludes:
While they may have passively disapproved of the chief executive prior to Katrina, they became ardent opponents following the disaster and the administration’s handling of it. And, remember that in midterm elections only the most passionate (or most angry) of voters tend to turn out — a factor that could lead to major Democratic gains this November.
Another question being pondered in southern states in particular is what affect hundreds of thousands of Katrina evacuees — 250 thousand in Texas and 40 thousand in Georgia alone — will have in their new congressional district elections and state-wide races. If a healthy majority of them are as angry as media interviews indicate, they may provide margins of Democratic victory in key state and local races.
Chris Bowers debuts the “MyDD House Forecast 2006,” likely to be an obligatory stop for political pundits and strategists during the next two months. Bowers evaluates 60 of the most competitive House races in terms of the most recent polls, partisan voting trends, campaign cash, 2004 district election results and DCCC ad buys. He provides mini-commentaries on the campaigns in each district and offers his first projection, which should brigthen Democratic spirits:
I currently project Democrats to take 15-25 seats, which would give them a narrow majority of between 218-228 seats.
Bowers worries that he may be a smidge optimistic about a few races, but his projections are credibly calibrated by the up-to-date evidence he cites. Nobody works harder at mining and assaying political data than Bowers, and this should prove to be a vital resource for politicos looking toward November. His PDF data is tiny, even on a 19 inch screen, but is more readable in print.
A writer with the handle “Mr. Populist” has an insightful post at Daily Kos on the Clinton-Kerry ‘Count Every Vote Act,” and its provision restoring voting rights to convicted felons — as well as the GOP spin machine’s efforts to discredit it. This is one of the better articles yet written on the topic of felon disenfranchisement, and it sheds fresh light on moral and practical concerns related to the issue.
by Scott Winship
The comments to my post on the uninformed bloc were so interesting that I decided to dig into the data myself and address a couple of the questions and points raised by commenters. This is sort of the model I’ve always wanted for The Daily Strategist – an interactive one between you all and me. In the analyses below, I defined the uninformed bloc as those adults who “only now and then” or “hardly at all” follow government or public affairs (about one-third of the population). I used the American National Election Study (just like Bennett).
1. How likely are members of the uninformed bloc to vote? Appletini raised the point that if the uninformed don’t vote, then a lot of the fears I expressed go away, and Mark Paul and Mike N. also wondered what their voting rate was. The ANES shows that 61 percent of the uninformed said they vote, and another 17 percent said they were registered. These numbers are too high because of the well-known tendency of some respondents to say they voted in order not to look bad to the interviewer. But it seems highly likely that a majority voted in 2004. Still, among other adults, 84 percent said they voted and fully 95 percent said they were registered. So the voting rates of the uninformed bloc are much lower than for other adults.
Another way of expressing these patterns is to note that the uninformed bloc represents about one in four voters and 56 percent of nonvoters. Based on the apathy of the uninformed bloc, it does seem like mobilizing nonvoters is likely to be quite difficult, as “A political scientist” suggests.
2. Who did the uninformed vote for? Chris Glaze provides some cross-tabular evidence from the ANES and shows that the uninformed voted for Kerry. I found that when the uninformed are defined based on whether or not they know the Republicans are more conservative than Democrats (as Chris did), two thirds voted for Kerry. Presumably some of these people are disaffected Democrats who held their nose and voted for Kerry. When I defined the uninformed based on how closely they followed government, they split their vote evenly between Kerry and Bush (as did other adults). That means that the uninformed bloc is not the same as the “authoritarian bloc”, as John Clavis speculates, or the bloc of voters that still supports Bush, as DrBB half-seriously suggests as a possibility. It also implies that Rovian campaign tactics may not be as successful at winning these voters as one might have thought, or at least is no more effective than among informed voters.
The uninformed bloc made up one in four Bush voters as well as one in four Kerry voters.
3. How consistent are the uninformed over time? Given that the uninformed were less consistent in their positions across issues than other people, I wondered whether they were also less consistent over time. The ANES asked a few questions both before and after the election, so we can get some purchase on the answer. Thirteen percent of the uninformed said they were liberal in one survey but conservative in the other. But that was no different from the percentage of other adults. Nor were the uninformed more likely than other voters to rate Bush or Kerry warmly in one survey but coldly in the other. Finally, only eight percent of the uninformed said that they preferred diplomacy to military threats in one survey but contradicted themselves in the other, compared with 18 percent of other adults. Apparently, the views of the uninformed are just as consistent over time as the views of the informed.
Obviously this isn’t the last word on these questions. I’m planning to try a couple of other definitions and to tackle the views of the uninformed later this week. But in closing, I also wanted to warn that while it is easy to ridicule or denigrate what I have called the uninformed bloc, doing so is certainly counter-productive to building a Democratic majority. Most of us online are lucky enough to have the time and/or money to be somewhat obsessively political. Lots of us are childless, in school, or retired. Not everyone can spend enough time to inform themselves on political questions even if they want to. Just seemed worth mentioning….
by Scott Winship
I guess Josh gets, uh, a few more hits than I do. We’re glad to have you here, and I hope you’ll take a look at the two issues we have published thus far: our premiere issue featuring an all-star cast of strategists and their thoughts on building a Democratic majority, and our July issue which featured a roundtable discussion around Jonathan Krasno’s idea that redistricting isn’t a major cause of growing political polarization. Dig in….
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
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.
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.