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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

Trump Will Betray His White Working-Class Base

What Democrats should keep in mind, however, is that whichever way he goes he is very likely going to betray his white working-class base — the people who put him into office — sooner or later. The “later” part is the most certain. Donald Trump does not have the power to bring back the Industrial Era economy he has so avidly embraced. He will not be able to reopen the coal mines, rebuild the manufacturing sector, or repeal the international economic trends that would exist with or without NAFTA or TPP. And for that matter, he has little ability to reverse the demographic and cultural trends most of his voters dislike.
–Ed Kilgore

The Optimistic Leftist

The Optimistic Leftist

“…The case he makes cogent and persuasive. If you’re anywhere on the left side of the political spectrum, you’re feeling pretty glum these days. Well, read this book.”
 —Michael Tomasky
E. J. Dionne Jr

E.J. Dionne Speaks Out

Donald Trump cast himself as the champion of a besieged American working class and a defender of its interests. His early decisions tell us something very different: This could be the most anti-worker, anti-union crowd to run our government since the Gilded Age.
–E.J. Dionne Jr.

The Optimistic Leftist

Ruy Teixeira’s, “The Optimistic Leftist”

“…a powerful, provocative and persuasive case that progressives are in a better position than they realize to make our world better.”
—E.J. Dionne

The Daily Strategist

April 26, 2017

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.


BlogiStan (Greenberg)

by Scott Winship
I’ve been meaning to plug a number of pieces by organizations that one of my bosses (Stan Greenberg) heads up. First, those who are sick of me intimating that Democrats ought to moderate their positions should definitely check out “How Democrats Can Use Polling to Win Elections,” by Amy Gershkoff of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. Amy argues that Democratic pollsters and polling audiences need to ape Republicans not on issue positions, but in the way they design and use polls.
Amy offers three recommendations:
Collect data on issue importance and then analyze the voting patterns of the electorate by issues rather than by demographics. No more, “Married blue-collar Catholic men vote for X.” Instead, consider how people for whom, say, Iraq is the most important issue allocate their votes. This approach filters out data on issue preferences that are only weakly held and focuses on the issues that really affect voting.
When attempting to woo Independents, emphasize only issues that are of critical importance to them. It turns out that these issues are more likely to be terrorism and red-button values issues rather than health care and jobs. Similarly, when trying to increase Democratic turnout, campaigns should also focus on their critical issues.
Focus on issues that are extremely important to lots of people (rather than just somewhat important) and where the Democratic position is the most popular. Attempt to increase the salience of these issues among voters for whom the issue is only somewhat important (e.g., Iraq in 2004).
This accords with my distrust of lots of demographic segmentation analyses. A pollster might find that married women favor pulling out of Iraq by a 60 to 40 margin and then recommend that Democrats emphasize a pull-out so that they can improve their performance among married women. But it may be that many of those pro-pull-out voters were going to vote Democratic anyway, and so if one really wanted to improve one’s performance among married women, one should emphasize staying the course (to woo some of the anti-pull-out women. That would only make sense if a stay-the-course position didn’t actually lose voters who otherwise would have supported the candidate, but without knowing anything about how many and who finds Iraq extremely important, it’s not obvious which strategy to take.
The second Greenberg-related piece is a Democracy Corps memo [pdf] written with James Carville, “Getting Heard: Points of Engagement for a Change Election.” Greenberg and Carville argue that to maximize chances of winning back control of Congress, Democrats need to advance “ideas and critiques that are newsworthy”, promote an agenda that portrays them as “agents of change”, and elevate the importance of economic issues in the campaign. In terms of specifics, they advocate linking Congressional pay raises to minimum wage increases, making consideration of hot-button values issues contingent on passing legislation to reduce economic insecurity, pushing for Congressional oversight of Iraq spending, and repealing corporate tax breaks. They also suggest a college tuition tax credit, changing energy policy to focus on alternative fuels, and allowing Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies.
The call for repealing corporate tax cuts is a bit incongruent with their finding that the biggest fear voters have of Democrats is that they will raise taxes. On the other hand, Greenberg and Carville do call for middle-class tax cuts (the college tuition tax credit), and the proposed Iraq oversight would likely promote reduced spending.
Finally, Democracy Corps has also released an analysis of public polling, by Karl Agne, that provides nearly 50 pages of polling questions from various organizations on all of the hot political topics of the day. The basic conclusions are that things haven’t changed much for a few months and that that’s good new for Democrats, given how lousy things look for Bush and the GOP. Polling junkies go nuts. (Incidentally, you can google the Democracy Corps website to find these comprehensive summaries going back several years. Definitely a valuable resource if you’re interested in a particular topic that isn’t currently in the news or if you are looking for trend data.)
Time for more coffee. Did you know that Starbucks has the most caffeinated coffee on the market? Did you know that you can order a “short” coffee, latte, or cappuccino even though that option’s not mentioned anywhere by Starbucks? Can you guess where I do most of my blogging?


GOP Strategy Memo Urges Focus on Iraq, Security Issues

In his article in today’s LA TimesGOP Leaders Are Hoping to Turn the War Into a Winner,” Peter Wallsten reports on a new Republican Party strategy memo urging party leaders to stress Bush’s leadership on Iraq and other national security concerns as the best way to turn out their base. As Wallsten explains:

The memo suggested that Republicans could motivate their base in the upcoming elections by talking about foreign threats and national security issues, including Iraq and the potential nuclear threat from Iran, and by drawing contrasts with Democrats in those areas. It said “a huge 87% of the base expresses extremely strong feelings” about national security issues….The memo showed that the strategists hoped to stick to their post-2000 playbook of galvanizing the base using national security and other hot-button issues, asserting that 95% of base voters are either “almost certain” or “very likely” to vote this year.

However, as Wallsten notes, A recent LA Times/Bloomberg poll indicated that 49% of respondents “strongly disapproved” of Bush’s Iraq policy. And according to a new Washington Post ABC News poll reported by Peter Baker and Claudia Deane:

Among voters across the board, 38 percent say they are more likely to oppose candidates who support Bush on Iraq compared with 23 percent who are more likely to support them.

The WaPo poll reports that 52 percent of respondents favor the Democratic congressional candidate in their district, with 39 percent for the Republican and respondents now “trust” Democrats to do a better job fighting against terrorism than Republicans by a margin of 46 percent to 38 percent. The poll indicates Dems have “a big advantage among independents,” according to Deane and Baker.
And the base referred to in the GOP strategy memo may be more fractured than its authors acknowledge. As WaPo columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. recently observed:

Between now and November, conservative leaders will dutifully try to rally the troops to stave off a Democratic victory. But their hearts won’t be in the fight.

If Dionne is right, Dems may be celebrating a political trifecta in November — winning majorities of the House, Senate and governorships.


No End of Ideology: A Partial Response and Addendum

by Scott Winship
I wasn’t going to take the time to respond to the criticism of my piece in the American Prospect from last week, but then two prominent bloggers questioned my honesty and the quality of my work, which I can’t abide. This response is intended to be a defense of my motives and research. The American Prospect will soon publish has published a companion response piece to substantive criticisms levied at my essay by commentators affiliated with the magazine. I urge you to read both responses if you are interested in this debate.
I do want to emphasize from the outset that the arguments I have made and make below are mine and not the views of The Democratic Strategist. The Strategist takes no stand on this or any other issue, being dedicated to empiricism and to engaging all factions of the Democratic Party in order to build an enduring majority. As managing editor, one of my jobs is to solicit contributions from a diverse pool of political professionals, astute observers, academics, and activists. As blogger, I am responsible for providing my own perspective on the events and issues of the day. As it turns out, I have spent far more time on the issue of the netroots than I ever intended, and I hope that with these responses I can move on to other important topics.
First, I need to make two exculpatory clarifications by way of defending myself. The first is that I was not responsible for the “slug” used to promote my piece (“Netroots members insist that they’re non-ideological pragmatists. They’re wrong.”). While I don’t disagree with the point it conveys, the way it was expressed is more antagonistic than I would have begun my piece. The title that the Prospect’s editors gave to my friend Mark Schmitt’s piece – “Putting Down Netroots” – also had the unfortunate effect of making me look hostile to the netroots. I don’t fault the American Prospect for this – the provocative words the editors used likely brought more readers to my piece, and they need to attract eyeballs themselves.
I tried as best I could to make my piece as dispassionate as possible while still making the points I intended to argue. I hope that whatever the reader thinks of my piece, he or she will agree that it is written in a respectful tone. Indeed, nowhere do I indicate that I think liberalism is bad, and truth be told, I have quite liberal views myself (see this introductory post to my blog).
All of this is a preface to denying Chris Bowers’s assertion that I “clearly [take] sides with” the view that the netroots are “amateurish ideologues whose across-the-board liberalism will drive the party off a cliff.” In hindsight, it’s regrettable that after laying out the two opposing views among the most vocal participants in the Lieberman debate, I preface my analysis with “Who’s right?” which implies that I must choose one or the other side. To clarify, I do take the views that the netroots are almost uniformly liberal, that this liberalism affects their politics, and that it may have implications for the Democratic Party’s electoral success. On the other hand, nothing in my piece argues the netroots are “amateurish”, and I acknowledge in the final paragraph of my piece that even if I am right about the netroots’ ideological predisposition and the role it plays in their decisions, it may not be problematic for the party.
The second clarification is that I would like to have addressed more points than I did in the piece, but I was already well over the word limit I had been given. Space limitations were the reason I did not discuss Chris’s survey, and as will become clear, I don’t believe my omission of any mention of it makes my case “flimsy”. I strongly object to any insinuation that I omitted mention of it out of dishonesty.
On that note, while I have enjoyed my email discussions with Chris and while I admire the value he places on bringing data to netroots discussions, I am unpersuaded that his BlogPac survey of MoveOn.org members is the “best” data available. (Incidentally, I previously had explained this opinion and defended my reasons for using the Pew survey here and here.) Chris is right that my initial objection was to the low response rate in his survey, which may not be low by the standards of internal campaign polls but is very low indeed by the standards of academic research. Chris dismisses the risk low response rates pose to the validity of his results, calling my concern “preposterous”, but low response rates are generally a very big problem.
By way of example, let’s say one had wanted to conduct a survey of the views of Democratic voters in 2004. But to do so, one conducted a survey of delegates at the Democratic National Convention – a very small and unique group of Democratic voters. From this survey, one would have concluded [pdf] that only 12 percent of Democratic voters believed the federal government was too involved in private life. In actuality, the figure was 45 percent. The problem is that convention delegates do not represent Democratic voters as a whole.
When the decision to participate in a survey or not is up to the individual, if only a small number of them agree to participate, then there’s every reason to worry that those people are unrepresentative in the same way as DNC delegates are unrepresentative of Democratic voters. Indeed, this is almost surely the biggest problem with presidential exit polls – the people who agree to stop and take the survey are different from those who do not (in particular, they are more Democratic).
The problem of sample self-selection is potentially worsened in Chris’s case because he has – not inappropriately – been a strong advocate of the view that perceptions of the netroots are inaccurate. If the MoveOn.org members who received a request to participate in the survey were informed that the survey was sponsored by BlogPac or involved Chris, I would worry that this would disproportionately attract those who share Chris’s desire to prove the MSM wrong about netroots demographics and politics. The result would be a very select group of respondents that didn’t represent MoveOn.org members as a whole.
The Pew survey I used in my piece has a response rate twice that of Chris’s, but even so, it falls well short of academic standards too. I previously defended the Pew survey on the grounds that the researchers had conducted checks to see how biased their select sample might be. I have since learned that Chris’s survey involved similar checks, and so my concerns are somewhat alleviated. Nevertheless, for Chris to argue that in principle low response rates couldn’t bias his results is just all kinds of wrong.
My bigger concern about Chris’s results, though, is that he defined the “netroots” in a peculiar way. Chris and I disagree, but my own starting point was that the netroots consist of political blog participants. That is also Markos Moulitsas’s view, as indicated by the quote I included in my piece. Chris disagrees and would extend the definition to include, for instance, anyone who ever signed a MoveOn.org petition or donated money to a campaign online. (He expressed this view to me via email.) The problem is that this definition doesn’t pass the mom-and-dad test. My parents have been quite active with their local MoveOn.org chapter, but until I started writing about them a few weeks ago, they had no idea what the netroots were and only read blogs if I pointed them toward one.
If one agrees with Markos and me that one needs to participate in political blogs to be in the netroots, then Chris’s working definition makes it impossible to interpret his results as representing the netroots. According to the figures on his “50-State Strategy” chart here, those who “regularly” read “blogs such as Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, or MyDD” amount to just 19 percent of his sample. Nearly 4 in 10 said they never read blogs.
I should say that even if I did not disagree with Chris, I don’t have access to his data, so I have to make do with what is available. Chris clearly has information on blog participation in his survey, so it would be easy for him to re-run his results looking only at that sub-group. Do I know that his results would confirm mine? No, but I’d be more inclined to take them seriously. Heck, if he wants to give me the data, I’ll look at the results and summarize them myself, whether they support or contradict my conclusions. I have no dog in this fight.
That said, beyond Chris’s data and sample, I do dispute a few of his other conclusions. (From here on out, I will take the above data and sample issues as unproblematic.) Consider first his chart showing that 73 percent agree that the party should run inspirational candidates who communicate clearly, while 24 percent agree that it should run candidates who are liberal across the board. I’ll first note that the fact that one-quarter of the netroots – by Chris’s definition – is unambiguously ideological is not to be dismissed lightly. Furthermore, if we compare the percent who strongly agree with each position – and the netroots are nothing if not strong-minded – the split is not 73/24 but 32/18. Restricting the definition of “netroots” to blog participants would surely produce a result showing that a larger share is unambiguously ideological.
Another problem with Chris’s interpretation eludes the basic issue at hand. What is inspirational to the netroots is likely going to elicit their liberalism or populism (see Governor Schweitzer). While it may be, as Chris’s poll finds, that in the abstract the netroots prefer inspiration to (uniformly) liberal positions, in practice they are not likely to find inspirational candidates who do not share the bulk of their views. If netroots members assume that these liberal positions or populist attitudes will inspire other voters, as I claim a substantial share does, then this assumption may affect the fate of the party.
Who should the party run in conservative and swing districts? One in five of Chris’s respondents asserts it should run liberals no matter what the chances of winning. The rest say they would tolerate a moderate if “a liberal or progressive candidate may have little chance of winning.” Put this way, the fundamental problem is again eluded. The issue is when and where a liberal has little chance of winning. And one point that I make in my piece is that two-thirds of the netroots seems to believe either that voters are more liberal than they are or that a candidate’s ideology doesn’t matter. Finally, I’ll again note that the breakdown among those who strongly agree that the party should run moderates in moderate areas is not 78/19, but 36/12.
Regarding Chris’s emphasis on the diverse Democrats supported by the netroots, I’ll first note that of the six most favorably-rated politicians in his data, none voted for the Iraq resolution (either because they voted against it or because they were not in Congress at the time of the vote). Furthermore I think the two most relevant findings are that Russ Feingold leads all potential presidential candidates except Al Gore and Barack Obama – both of whom claim they are not considering running – in the number of people giving them a “very favorable” rating (and Jack Murtha and Barbara Boxer out-poll him), and that less than four in ten of the people in Chris’s sample gave very favorable ratings to any candidate save Gore and Obama.
Before putting Chris’s criticisms aside, I have to emphasize that his post ironically demonstrates one of the central points of my essay: that the ideology of the netroots – masked as pragmatism – serves to stifle critiques from moderates. Chris worries that if (when?) Lieberman loses, my piece will be used to bolster negative views of the netroots. Put aside the fact that I claim nothing about the netroots other than that they are liberal and ideological; my piece begins with the sentence, “Tuesday’s Connecticut primary race between Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont is not about the netroots.” (emphasis in original)
To be clear: It’s not that I don’t care whether my piece is misused by ideologues on the center or right; it’s that I care more whether the ideology of the netroots will hurt the party. The netroots can’t rule out on principle critiques from the center because they “reinforce Republican talking points.” To do so is to use partisanship as an excuse for opposing an ideological critique that runs counter to their liberalism.
To Stirling Newberry’s charge that “people like [me]” are ideological, I can only say, “Guilty!” Note that nowhere in my piece do I say being ideological is inherently bad – I just raise the issue of whether a particular ideology is helpful or hurtful to the party. The only relevant question about my own ideology is whether it supersedes my objectivity, and if Newberry wants to argue it does, then bring…it…on…
It seems that Newberry needs a guide to rhetoric, which I’m happy to provide here. The belief that his TPMCafe photo is pretentious, for instance, would be an opinion. The major arguments in my essay would be supported factual claims, even if we might disagree about the extent to which they are adequately supported. The bulk of Newberry’s blog post consists of opinion and unsupported factual claims. For example, he writes that I assume that moderates aren’t ideological. This is a factual claim about me, but unsupported by anything I wrote in my piece. About moderates, he writes,

They are more willing [than the netroots] to engage in violence to defend their interests and world view, they are more hostile to outsiders and they are more rigid in their thinking. They have an ideology which they use to force fit everything into a very small view of the world.

For Newberry and the similarly confused: this is a mix of unsupported factual claims and opinion. The claim about violence is also – opinion coming – bizarre.
Newberry has the right to call me “sloppy”, but he could not have picked a more offensive epithet to throw at me. Hopefully it’s clear from this defense and my companion response that he wouldn’t know sloppy if it gave him a wet kiss.
Moderates care about the party as much as liberals do and in fact share most of their views. The question of whose strategic assessment of the electorate is more correct is an empirical one that all of us ought to be working to get to the bottom of. That was the intent of my piece, and it is the intent of everything that I write in this blog. Aside from the side-splitting humor.