washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

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

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

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Matt Morrison

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

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

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The Daily Strategist

January 17, 2018

Nancy Pelosi, American Idol

Every now and then someone conducts a poll testing Americans’ knowledge of current events, civics and history, and adjudges the U.S. a nation of ignoramuses. So I wasn’t surprised when Newsweek rolled out one last week, with the snooty title of “Dunce Cap Nation.”
It is indeed discouraging to learn that 40 percent of Americans still think Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. But the number that jumped out at me was this: 59 percent of resondents to the Princeton Survey Research Associates poll successfully identified Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. This finding compares well with the 18 percent who named the latest winner of American Idol (though Pelosi did benefit from a multi-choice offering). Thus Newsweek lost the opportunity to follow up its numbingly predictable headline with the predictable analysis that Americans are spending too much time watching junk TV instead of CSPAN.
Pelosi’s relatively high name ID is undoubtedly attributable to the publicity surrounding her status as the first female Speaker. So even if Americans don’t know much about history, they do seem to notice when they are living through it, unless the subject is Saddam Hussein and 9/11.

Rural Youth Trending Blue

Mike Connery has some good news for Dems in his MyDD report on “Capturing the Rural Vote.” Connery Highlights some data the Youth Voter Strategies newsletter culled from crosstabs in a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey, conducted 5/31-6/5. Connery reports that the 18-29 age group of rural youth who voted for Bush over Kerry by a 20 point margin in 2004 now self-identifies 46 percent Republican 43 percent Democratic and and 11 percent independent.
Even better:

When asked to pick between generic Republican and Democratic presidential candidates for 2008, 48% chose the Democrat and 40% the Republican.

Of course, there is a cautionary flag:

Conversely, when asked to choose between unnamed Republican and Democratic presidential candidates as described by two issues/values statements, 53% chose the Republican and 46% the Democrat.

Natch, the GOP will play the ‘values’ card big time in rural communities in battleground states. Fortunately, the same survey also shows that Iraq is the paramount issue with young rural voters, likely to be an even greater concern this time next year. For a more in-depth look at youth political attitudes, Connery also flags an important New Politics Institute study “The Progressive Politics of the Millenial Generation” by Peter Leyden, Ruy Teixeira and Eric Greenberg.


The big MSM story this weekend was the Washington Post’s first entry in a four-part profile of Dick Cheney’s role in the Bush administration.
The installment focuses on Cheney’s early, successful efforts to short-circuit every established policy-making procedure to force through vast enhancements of executive power after 9/11. Ironically, Cheney subverted the executive branch itself by weaving his way around and over the State and Defense Departments, and the National Security Council, to get George W. Bush to rubber-stamp “anti-terrorism” powers he didn’t himself seek.
None of this is particulary suprising. But the Post’s series matters a lot because it spotlights a new authoritarian strain in the Republican Party and the conservative movement that is not an ephemeral reaction to 9/11 or a peculiarity of an administration with an especially weak president. If you pay attention to what the leading candidates for the Republican nomination for president in 2008 are saying about executive powers and anti-terrorism methods, Cheneyism will survive its author and its presidential enabler if the GOP hangs onto the Whie House. And that ought to be a campaign issue for Democrats.

Early Horse-Race Polls: How Relevant?

Is all the time, expense and energy that goes into early political horse race polls and poll analysis justified? Maybe not, if Robin Toner’s article in today’s New York Times is right. Toner pulls together interesting examples and observations from political insiders to make her case. Mark Blumenthal’s Pollster.com article “The Merits of the Horse Race” agrees with Toner that early polls have little value in predicting election outcomes. But he sees value in monitoring polls to assess campaign progress and in polls in early primary states. Blumenthal has a round-up review of recent articles on the relevance of early horse-race polls here.

The Reform Imperative

It’s obviously been a busy week at TDS; aside from the site’s “re-launch,” all three of our co-editors have been active as well. I discussed Ruy Teixeira’s revisitation (with John Judis) of the Emerging Democratic Majority hypothesis earlier this week, and later I’ll talk about Bill Galston’s new piece at Democracy. But today I’d like to direct your attention to Stan Greenberg’s segment of The American Prospect’s new cover package, about the stronger-than-ever imperative that progressive embrace change and reform in the operations of government.
Greenberg’s argument is straightforward: the very incompetence and corruption that led to the Democratic conquest of Congress and the devastation of conservatism’s credibility has also undermined the public confidence in government that is essential to the future success of a progressive agenda. Add in the fiscal constraints created by the Bush tax cuts and it’s obvious Bush and company have left a toxic legacy for those who would seek to use government to meet the big national challenges facing America.
It’s not that Americans don’t want a more active government. As Greenberg notes:

People want government to get serious about addressing the challenges we face as a country. Huge majorities want the government to be more involved in a range of issues including national security, health care, energy, and the environment. To tackle global warming, two-thirds of Americans support stronger regulation of business. When it comes to health care, the results are dramatic. By a two-to-one margin, people opt for a universal health care system rather than separate reforms dealing with problems one at a time…. Americans are rightfully angry and impatient with a government they see as having achieved almost nothing for them in years.

From Iraq to New Orleans to the corruption and influence-peddling in Washington, Republicans have deeply damaged their own reputation for honesty and competence. But they have succeeded in spreading the damage to public faith in what Greenberg calls “Americans’ sense of collective capacity:”

The results of a February study we conducted for Democracy Corps that assessed people’s attitudes toward government stunned us. By 57 percent to 29 percent, Americans believe that government makes it harder for people to get ahead in life instead of helping people. Sixty-two percent in a Pew study said they believe elected officials don’t care what people like them think, and the same number believe that whenever something is run by the government it is probably inefficient and wasteful. The Democracy Corps study found that an emphatic 83 percent say that if the government had more money, it would waste it rather than spend it well. The government receives a job approval rating of more than 50 percent on only one issue — national security. On nearly every other issue, a majority of Americans disapprove of government’s performance.

Given this atmosphere of deep distrust in government, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the job approval ratings of the new Democratic-controlled Congress have quickly sunk to levels as poor as those of George W. Bush.
What can Democrats do about all this? Greenberg suggests that we take a page from the early Bill Clinton playbook and once again make government accountability and reform a major counterpart to public-sector activism in the progressive agenda.

To have any chance of getting heard on their agenda, Democrats need to stand up and take on the government — not its size or scope, but its failure to be accountable — and deliver the results that people expect for the tax they pay.

The Bloomberg Factor

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement earlier this week that he was changing his voter registration from “Republican” to “Undeclared” has revived simmering speculation that he may run for president in 2008 as an independent. And the New York and Washington media are eating it all up.
The questions about Bloomberg generally revolve around “Will He or Won’t He?” (a subject he seems to be fanning with calculated ambiguity), and “If He Does, Who Gets Hurt?” (Pew says Republicans; the New York Post, quoting anonymous GOP operatives, says Democrats; a batch of SurveyUSA state polls say it depends on the field).
To show how rapidly the Mike-o-Mania is spreading in the Big Apple, there’s actually a New York Observer article out today rating various prominent politicians as potential Bloomberg running-mates (including, to my amusement, my old boss Sam Nunn, who is more likely to enter the 2008 Olympics as a sprinter).
New York media provincialism aside, the legitimate reasons for this buzz include the much-discussed public disdain for Washington partisanship and gridlock; the exceptionally high “wrong track” numbers in every poll; the persistently high percentage of Americans self-identifying as Independents; the likelihood of a close two-party presidential race where a third force could tip the balance; and Bloomberg’s vast personal wealth, which he has certainly used generously in his New York political career (he spent upwards of $160 million of his own money in his two mayoral races, and spent untold millions more in pre- and post-election contributions to a variety of politically significant organizations and causes).
If the Bloomberg speculation continues, it may be a good idea for TDS to dust off and freshen up the existing research on third-party presidential candidacies. Our own co-editor, Stan Greenberg, after all, did the best research on Perot voters back in the early 1990s, in conjunction with the DLC.
But it’s not wise to assume that a Bloomberg candidacy in 2008 would necessarily follow the Perot model. Over at The New Republic’s site today, John Judis suggests the more likely model is John Anderson’s 1980 campaign, which started as a resolutely centrist enterprise and turned sharply left before the end, almost certainly taking more votes from Jimmy Carter than from Ronald Reagan. Judis is concerned about Bloomberg’s potential appeal to independents on whom Democrats increasingly rely for majorities, especially given Mike’s cultural liberalism (see yesterday’s post here about the revised Judis/Teixeira hypothesis on the Democratic coalition). And having done a post myself over at TPMCafe yesterday saying negative things about Bloomberg’s record, unleashing a surprisingly passionate number of comments defending him on that left-bent site, I wonder if some Democrats might be tempted to go third-party under the right circumstances. (Indeed, TPMCafe regular M.J. Rosenberg, whose main preoccupation is criticizing neocons and AIPAC, did a post entitled: “I Could Vote For Bloomberg.”)

The Bull-Headed Pulpit

George W. Bush has used his veto pen exactly three times. Once, of course, was to veto the supplemental approrpriations bill that would have imposed a withdrawal timetable for troops in Iraq. And the other two vetoes, one just yesterday, were aimed at legislation relaxing his administration’s restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
On both topics, Bush is swimming against a heavy tide of public opinion. Virtually any way the question is asked, Americans now oppose Bush’s Iraq strategy by a two-to-one margin. Support for stem cell research has risen from 58 percent to 68 percent during the Bush presidency, with half of Republicans supporting it. Fully 60 percent of Americans support federal funding of such research. State stem cell funding initiatives–most famously, California’s–are spreading.
Moreover, on both Iraq and stem cell research, Bush has struggled to articulate a coherent rationale for his position. In the case of Iraq, his “stay the course” rhetoric is jarringly out of synch with media coverage of events on the ground, not to mention Iraqi public opinion and the behavior of Iraqi leaders, as amplified by the vast number of leaks from U.S. military leaders despairing of success. On stem cell research, Bush’s claims that existing stem cell “‘colonies” provide sufficient material for research has been roundly refuted by scientists. On an even more fundamental level, his argument that research “destroys human life” flies in the face of the simple fact that the embyros in question are scheduled for destruction anyway. (I’d love to know if anyone in the administration has considered trying to follow Italy’s lead in restricting embryo generation at IV fertility clinics, which would at least be logical, if politically explosive).
And now, with an override of Bush’s stem cell veto almost certain to fail (in the House, if not in the Senate as well), Congressional Democrats are reportedly toying with the idea of attaching an appropriations rider authorizing research funding, which would make both of the big issues where Bush is defying public opinion subject to the ever-murky appropriations process. And in that legislative swamp, the theorectical power of Congress to impose its will on a president by denying money for objectionable policies contends with the practical ability of the president to force a showdown on his own terms (viz. the 1995 budget standoff between Clinton and Gingrich).
I won’t wade into the fractious debate about the Iraq supplemental, which many Democrats, particularly in the netroots, regard as an example of craven surrender to Bush on an issue where public opinion might support a tougher stance. (That debate, however, is likely to be reignited, at least in the blogosphere, by Sen. Carl Levin’s Washington Post op-ed today defending his vote for the supplemental, citing Abraham Lincoln, no less).
But more broadly, both the Iraq and stem cell issues illustrate that even a weak, lame-duck president has siginificant ability to block change, if not to initiate change, in public policies, even if they are very unpopular, particularly if the opposition party is divided on how to overcome his bull-headedness. The damage inflicted on this country by the Bush presidency is likely to continue right up to the next Inauguration Day.
On the stem cell research issue, the impasse in Congress does potentially make this a significant 2008 campaign issue, and a winning one for Democrats. If anyone other than Rudy Giuliani or John McCain is the GOP presidential nominee (both have opposed Bush’s funding ban), it will be an issue in that campaign.

TBA Lights Path for Progressive Dems

The progressive blogosphere and even the MSM has plenty of coverage of the Take Back America Conference, sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future. Rightly so, because it is not only a unique gathering of America’s top progressive activists and leaders, but also a wellspring from which Dems can draw to create an inspiring vision that can win the white house and a stronger congressional majority next year.
By all means read the MSM articles and blogosphere posts about the conference. But the primary source for keeping up with TBA doings is CAF’s website. There you will find gateway links to video and articles about speeches by presidential candidates Kucinich, Obama, Clinton, Edwards, Gravel and Richardson, as well as a “kitchen table” discussion with fighting Senate newcomers Brown, Klobuchar and Sanders. The web pages also feature reports on a presidential straw poll of conference participants and insightful interviews with top bloggers and activists

South Mouth

As a yellow-dog Democrat from Georgia, I am naturally interested in the ongoing debate about the future of our party in the South, a subject on which a lot of nonsense–ranging from claims that only southern Democrats can win the presidency, to arguments that Democrats should loudly demonize the allegedly atavistic region–often gets said and published.
This week there’s a burgeoning blogospheric debate revolving around the assumption that John Edwards’ southern background and accent uniquely enable him to get a hearing for progressive causes in the South. And that makes some people mad.
It started with a Ben Smith Politico comment on a John Edwards speech in Iowa suggesting that his rivals might have trouble going into certain parts of the country, which Smith interpreted as a citation of Edwards’ status as a southern white male.
At TAPPED, Ezra Klein jumped in with this observation:

Edward’s Southern accent and manners are critical in his ability to project a much more combative, sharp form of liberalism than the others are offering. What would sound like Marxism from the mouth of Howard Dean or Hillary Clinton sounds like good, old-fashioned, American populism from Edwards

At the same site, Paul Waldman suggested that both southerners themselves and national media elites think of us Crackers as more “authentically American,” giving Edwards a “Dixie Bonus.” And then Political Animal’s Kevin Drum, who says he’s feeling surly today, weighed in with an angry blast at the South’s “victim complex,” and its purported refusal to vote for anybody from “north of the Mason-Dixon line.”
Lord a-mercy. Can a post from Professor Tom “Whistling Past Dixie” Schaller be far behind?
Let’s hold our horses here, fellow bloggers, and at least examine the premise that Edwards has a big southern advantage over other Democratic candidates.

The Re-Emerging Democratic Majority

When Kevin Phillips published his brilliantly prescient book, The Emerging Republican Majority, in 1969, he couldn’t have known that Watergate, the forced resignation of Richard Nixon, and the 1974 Democratic landslide would obscure the fundamental soundness of his analysis.
And in 2002, when John Judis and Ruy Teixeira (a co-editor of TDS) published their own counterpart to Phillips, The Emerging Democratic Majority, they had the misfortune of going to press within months of 9/11, and on the eve of a smashing Republican midterm victory.
Phillips’s long-range view of electoral dynamics, of course, was ultimately vindicated by Ronald Reagan’s landslide win in 1980, and down the road, by the Republican breakthrough victory in 1994.
Does the Democratic comeback in 2006 portend a similar vindication for the Judis/Teixeira hypothesis? That’s the question they examine in an important new article just published by The American Prospect, Back to the Future.
Their conclusion after examining the evidence is quite clear:

[T]his election signals the end of a fleeting Republican revival, prompted by the Bush administration’s response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the return to political and demographic trends that were leading to a Democratic and center-left majority in the United States.

Moreover, say Judis and Teixeira, the demographic categories that were trending Democratic in the 1990s have actually been augmented:

Just as important as these victories is who voted for Democrats in 2006. With few exceptions, the groups were exactly those that had begun trending Democratic in the 1990s and had contributed to Al Gore’s popular-vote victory over George W. Bush in 2000. These groups, which we described in our 2002 book…included women, professionals, and minorities. But in 2006 they also included two groups our book slighted or ignored altogether: younger voters (those born after 1977) and independents. These voters can generally be expected to continue backing Democrats.

It’s become commonplace for Democrats and others to observe that 9/11 (and later, the runup to the Iraq War) made national security a suddenly preeminent public concern, to the benefit of Bush and the GOP. But Judis and Teixeira go further, suggesting a psychological process they call “de-arrangement”:

The focus on the war on terror not only distracted erstwhile Democrats and independents but appeared to transform, or de-arrange, their political worldview. They temporarily became more sympathetic to a whole range of conservative assumptions and approaches. In the past, voters had trusted Democrats to manage the economy, and in 2002 that preference should have been strongly reinforced by a recession that occurred on Bush’s watch. Instead, voters in that election believed by 41 percent to 37 percent that Republicans were “more likely to make sure the country is prosperous.” Recessions could also be expected to reinforce populist perceptions of the economy, but in 2002 the percentage of voters who believed that “the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer” hit its lowest level in 15 years.

This “de-arrangement” began to subside in 2004, and dissipated largely by 2006, as the electoral trends of the mid-to-late 1990s began to reassert themselves, especially among single women, Hispanics, and professionals, all rapidly growing elements of the electorate. And Democrats also made striking gains in the white working class, a shrinking category of the electorate nationally, but one that is still large and crucial in many battleground states of the Midwest. Suddenly voters began to care about economic insecurity again, even though by most measurements the economy was doing better than in 2002 or 2004.