by Scott Winship
Check out this very cool interactive website summarizing key House races, courtesy of Constituent Dynamics and RT Strategies. Good polling of House races are hard to find. I’m hoping to find out how many more rounds of polling they plan to do.
Six weeks before election day political strategy articles are multiplying like guppies. Greenberg Quinlan Rosner addresses an important and frequently overlooked topic of interest to Dems — increasing the turnout of unmarried women voters (Executive Summary here and PDF Memo here)…Alternet has a pair of political strategy must-reads: George Lakoff’s “12 Traps That Keep Progressives from Winning” and Iara Peng’s “How Progressives Can Win in the Long Run,” a precription for correcting the left’s comparatively weak efforts for youth leadership development…Chris Bowers has a very encouraging wrap-up of House races at MyDD showing 40 seats “in serious play”…NYT’s Adam Nagourney reports on the escalating use of nasty attack ads in congressional campaigns, while Janet Hook focuses on GOP attack ads in the L.A. Times…WaPo‘s Amit R. Paley reports on two polls — one by the U.S. State Department — that show a large majority of Iraqis want U.S. forces to leave pronto…Harold Meyerson’s WaPo op-ed shreds the “moderate Republican” myth…In These Times contributing editor Hans Johnson reports on the rapidly rising tide of GOP politicos switching to the Democratic party…As the focus sharpens on congressional races, don’t forget that there are many important ballot initiatives across the nation. Swing State Project references 194 ballot propositions in 32 states (Summary here) and R. Neal takes a look at some of them in his Facing South article “Ballot Initiatives around the South.”…Arthur I. Blaustein’s Mother Jones call-to-arms “Campaign 2006: The Issues, the Stakes, the Prospects” provides a shot of political adrenalin for progressives.
by Scott Winship
I’ve spent a bit of time reading some polls today with an eye toward saying something brilliant about the likely results of the elections. I have to say that I’m inclined to agree with Ezra Klein that national polls on congressional approval tell us very little.
Ezra notes that congressional approval rates were in the low 50s in 1990, when the (majority) Democrats picked up seats, 56% in 1994 when they lost a ton of seats, and 64% when they — as the minority party — won seats. I’d add that according to the NYT/CBS poll [pdf] Ezra examines, the share saying their own Representative deserves re-election is down from 1998 and 2002 to its 1994 level, but it was also as low in 1990 when the (majority) Democratic Party picked up seats.
One survey question that is intriguing, however, asks which candidate for one’s congressional district a person would vote for if the election were held today. According to the table on p. 13 of the pdf, the tally on this question in the final poll before the election correctly predicts the party that picks up seats in the ’94, ’98, and ’02 elections. By that rule of thumb, the Democrats look in good shape — they lead 50-35 in the most recent poll, which is the biggest lead found in the NYT/CBS poll between 1994 and today.
However, the table also shows that there are sizeable swings in the last month before elections. One would have predicted that the Dems would pick up seats in ’94 based on the September and October polls and that they would pick up seats in ’02 based on the early October poll. That means that, well, anything can happen in the next month.
Still, things look pretty good from 30,000 feet. It’s true that the percent saying that the economy or jobs is the most important issue has declined steadily since 2003, from one-third of Americans in October of that year to 11% today. Furthermore, the percent of Americans saying terrorism is the most important issue is at 14%, the highest level since prior to mid-2003. And a number of issues on which Democrats are advantaged are irrelevent: just 3-4% of Americans say health care is the most important issue, 1-2% say politicians and government, 1-2% say the environment, and 3% say the heating oil/gas crisis – down from 14% in May.
However, throughout 2006, 22-23 percent of Americans have said that Iraq or “war” is the most important problem, and the Democrats are favored on this issue. The elections are going to be about the unpopularity of Iraq and the salience of the terrorist threat. Control of the House will hinge exclusively on which party wins this battle, and Republicans look awfully weak. But again, anything can happen….
The Republican strategy of characterizing Democratic candidates as “soft on terrorism” just suffered a damaging if not lethal blow in the form of a leaked “National Intelligence Estimate.” The report reflects “U.S. intelligence community’s first formal evaluation of global trends in terrorism since the April 2003 invasion of Iraq,” according to Washington Post reporters Michael Abramowitz and Jonathan Weissman. The authors say “the report concludes that the Iraq war has fueled the growth of Islamic extremism and terror groups.”
In his article “No Silent Majority for Bush,” WaPo columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. notes further:
…News over the weekend of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq is especially troublesome for Republican electoral chances. By finding that the war in Iraq has encouraged global terrorism and spawned a new generation of Islamic radicals, the report by 16 government intelligence services undercuts the administration’s central argument that the Iraq war has made the United States safer.
Nor is there any way to dismiss the assessment as partisan, left-wing or unpatriotic. That high-level government officials have offered their own criticisms of the war’s impact makes it difficult for Republicans to force the argument into a classic “he said-she said” framework in which facts can be set aside and the claims of critics dismissed as political.
Meanwhile a new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted 9/22-24, indicates that 59 percent of Americans oppose the Iraq war and 55 percent of likely voters said they would vote for a Democrat if the election were held now, compared to 42 percent for a republican.
There will be a lot more said and written about the leaked report over the next seven weeks. But it’s clear that the “soft on terrorism” label the GOP has tried to pin on Dems so frequently now has “backfire” written all over it.
In nation-wide polls ranking the political priorities of voters, foreign trade rarely scores very high. Indeed the issue is often submerged in voter concerns about “the economy.”
But trade is a major issue this year in key congressional and state-wide elections, reports Molly Hennessy-Fiske in today’s L.A. Times. Hennessy-Fiske focuses on Democratic convert Jack Davis’s campaign to unseat Republican Thomas M. Reynolds from his western NY district as a marquee campaign with trade as a pivotal issue, and she provides an interesting run-down of how the issue is playing out at the state and district level:
With wages stagnating for many Americans, trade has become a significant campaign factor this fall in parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia and other states. In Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina, where manufacturers continue to shutter plants and cut jobs, free trade has become a major issue of campaigns.
In Michigan, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who is seeking reelection, recently ran a TV ad highlighting her effort to create a “trade prosecutor” to investigate unfair foreign competition.
In Ohio, Republican Sen. Mike DeWine and his Democratic challenger, Rep. Sherrod Brown, have repeatedly sparred over trade, with Brown calling for “fair-trade” policies that hold foreign companies to U.S. workplace standards.
In North Carolina, Republican Rep. Robin Hayes, a textile heir, is under attack from his opponent, a former textile worker, for supporting the Central American Free Trade Agreement last year. Hayes cast the deciding vote
Trade is an issue that clearly has GOP candidates dodging and equivocating, particularly with working-class voters. Democratic candidates who successfully articulate strong “fair trade” arguments in districts hit hard by job losses to foreign trade may have the edge that leads to victory on November 7.
by Scott Winship
This week we closed out our Missing the Middle roundtable with a final response from Third Way. I’m also happy to report that today a new article went up on our homepage. “Authoritarianism and the American Political Divide,” by political scientists Jonathan Weiler and Marc J. Hetherington, shows that the extent to which people hold authoritarian child-rearing attitudes predicts their political preferences. Not only that, but when the perceived threat from some development — say, terrorism or gay marriage — the preferences of anti-authoritarians tend to move toward those of authoritarians. Check out this important article, and let us know what you think.
With 47 days to go before the mid-term election, Democrats have a 15 point lead over Republicans among registered voters in a generic vote for congressional representatives, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted 9/15-19. As Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder explain in their NYT poll summary:
In the poll, 50 percent said they would support a Democrat in the fall Congressional elections, compared with 35 percent who said they would support a Republican….In one striking finding, 77 percent of respondents — including 65 percent of Republicans — said most members of Congress had not done a good enough job to deserve re-election and that it was time to give a new people a chance. That is the highest number of voters saying it is “time for new people” since the fall of 1994.
But Elder and Nagourney warn that Dems should temper their expectations because of several factors:
But the poll found that Democrats continued to struggle to offer a strong case for turning government control over to them; only 38 percent said the Democrats had a clear plan for how they would run the country, compared with 45 percent who said the Republicans had offered a clear plan…Democrats face substantial institutional obstacles in trying to repeat what Republicans accomplished in 1994, including a Republican financial advantage and the fact that far fewer seats are in play…Most analysts judge only about 40 House seats to be in play at the moment, compared with over 100 seats in play at this point 12 years ago, in large part because redistricting has created more safe seats for both parties.
Still, Democrats can be encouraged by the fact that 43 percent of respondents said they were “more enthusiastic” about voting on November 7. In addition, Dems have narrowed the GOP advantage on addressing terrorism to 5 percent, according to the poll.
For an insightful analysis of current congressional campaigns in key swing states, read “Mood Indigo: A Democratic Revival” by John B. Judis in the New Republic Online. Judis, NR senior editor, author and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has recently returned from swing states Colorado and Ohio, where he interviewed voters and candidates. His report has a lot for Dems to be encouraged about, including:
…this year, Democrats could unseat as many as five House Republicans in Ohio and win a Senate seat and the governor’s mansion. In Colorado, Democrats are very likely to win the governorship and both state legislatures, and to take as many as three House seats from the Republicans. And, in both states, it’s not just a sudden and fleeting reaction to Bush, but the resumption of a movement among upscale suburban voters and working-class Reagan Democrats. America may not turn blue this year, but it looks as if it is definitely becoming purple.
Judis says there are two general types of districts that are morphing Democratic:
The first is suburbs of older manufacturing regions in the East, Midwest, and West that have shifted to producing high-tech information services. These areas are heavily populated by professionals–from scientists and software programmers to teachers and nurses–who began voting Democratic in the late ’80s and early ’90s in response to the GOP’s embrace of the religious right and adoption of a deregulatory, anti-New Deal business agenda. Democratic support in these areas was particularly high among women voters and voters with a postgraduate education.
…The second kind of district where Democrats have a chance of unseating Republicans is white, working-class, and located in or near a mid-sized city like South Bend or Louisville. Voters in these districts tend to be less affluent, less educated, and more socially conservative.
Judis has a lot more interesting detail and analysis about this trend and the political dynamics of the campaigns — particularly the role of women voters. His article is highly reccommended for everyone interested in Democratic political strategy.
In a better world, political strategists wouldn’t have to factor voter suppression, polling shenanigans and glitches into their planning. All votes would be accurately counted and the polls would run smoothly. Doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for, in a great democracy.
In 21st century America, however, ignoring voter theft and polling screw-ups in formulating strategy is a prescription for defeat in too many localities. Writing in the September/October issue of Mother Jones, Sasha Abramsky explains it thusly in “Just Try Voting Here: 11 of America’s worst places to cast a ballot (or try): Machines that count backward, slice-and-dice districts, felon baiting, phone jamming, and plenty of dirty tricks”:
We used to think the voting system was something like the traffic laws — a set of rules clear to everyone, enforced everywhere, with penalties for transgressions; we used to think, in other words, that we had a national election system. How wrong a notion this was has become painfully apparent since 2000: As it turns out, except for a rudimentary federal framework (which determines the voting age, channels money to states and counties, and enforces protections for minorities and the disabled), U.S. elections are shaped by a dizzying mélange of inconsistently enforced laws, conflicting court rulings, local traditions, various technology choices, and partisan trickery.
Abramsky then describes vote rip-offs and polling screw-ups in some of the ‘worst places’ for voters, including Atlanta; Beaufort, N. C. ; Fort Worth, TX; Philadelphia, PA; Franklin and Cuyahogo counties in Ohio; Travis County, TX; the Mississippi Delta; Charleston, S.C. and Waller County, TX . He also spotlights major statewide problems in Florida, New Hampshire and Ohio.
It’s a sobering litany of compromised voting rights, particularly for voters living in those localities – and for Democrats in general, who are the undercounted in every instance. Reforms to correct vote suppression ought to be a high priority for Dems who want to level the playing field.
Shankar Vedantam’s “In Politics, Aim for the Heart, Not the Head” in today’s WaPo explores a provocative idea for political strategists. Although his proposition is tethered to a 71 year-old experiment in which voters responded twice as positively to a raw, emotional appeal over a rational one, the idea deserves some consideration. Vedantam puts it this way:
Given the enormous proliferation of policy questions today, surfing the emotional wave nowadays may be even more important than it was in 1935. George E. Marcus, president of the International Society of Political Psychology, said modern research confirms that unless political ads evoke emotional responses, they don’t have much effect. Voters, he explained, need to be emotionally primed in some way before they will pay attention.
The research is of importance to politicians for obvious reasons — and partly explains the enduring attraction of negative advertising — but it is also important to voters, because it suggests that the reason candidates seem appealing often has little to do with their ideas. Political campaigns are won and lost at a more emotional and subtle level.
An interesting idea which warrants more long-range exploration. In terms of short-range strategy, Vedantam offers the following:
What works much better, because it influences people at an emotional and subtle level, is to get people to focus on a different issue — the one where the candidate is the strongest.
“The agenda-setting effect is what we are talking about,” said Nicholas A. Valentino, a political psychologist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. “The ability of a candidate not to tell people how to feel about an issue, but which issue they should focus on — that is the struggle of most modern campaign managers.”
“Campaigns have been much more successful at shifting people’s attentions to different issues rather than shifting people’s positions,” he added.
Is Vedantam on to something here? Or is this another way of saying people often vote their gut feelings? Either way, the idea merits further study.