by Alan Abramowitz, Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science, Emory University
With only five weeks left until the 2006 midterm election, political analysts remain divided about the Democrats’ chances of regaining control of the House and Senate. While some indicators such as the generic ballot continue to show a strong Democratic advantage and the overwhelming majority of competitive races involve GOP seats, President Bush’s approval ratings have climbed a bit in recent weeks, giving Republican strategists and candidates renewed hope. In addition, many analysts believe that Republicans have an ace in the hole going into the final days of the campaign—their party’s well-oiled get-out-the-vote (GOTV) machine. Despite polls showing Democratic voters more energized than Republican voters, these analysts believe that the Republicans’ vaunted “72-hour program” will give the GOP a critical edge on Election Day.
But is the Republican GOTV machine really as good as it’s made out to be? Claims about the effectiveness of the GOP’s 72-hour program are based largely on the results of the 2004 presidential election, and especially on what happened in the large battleground states. And no state is cited more frequently to illustrate the effectiveness of the Republican 72-hour program than Ohio.
Does the evidence from Ohio actually support these claims about the effectiveness of the Republican 72-hour program? It is true that the number of Republican votes in Ohio increased dramatically between the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, going from 2.35 million in 2000 to 2.86 million in 2005. That’s an increase of more than 500,000 votes, or 21.7 percent. Sounds impressive. But wait a minute—the number of Democratic votes in Ohio rose from 2.19 million in 2000 to 2.74 million in 2004. That’s an increase of more than 550,000 votes, or 25.4%. So which party’s GOTV program was more effective?
Okay, but everyone knows that the real key to a GOTV campaign is getting out your base. So how effective were Republicans and Democrats at getting out their base voters in Ohio? Well, one way to gauge this is to focus on each party’s strongest counties. In Ohio there were 14 counties that George Bush carried by a margin of at least 10,000 votes in 2000 and 6 counties that Al Gore carried by a margin of at least 10,000 votes. Between 2000 and 2004, the number of Republican votes in the 14 strongly Republican counties increased by 163,000, or 23.4%. That’s pretty impressive. But the number of Democratic votes in these 14 GOP counties increased by 113,000, or 26.4%! So while the Republican plurality in these counties increased by about 50,000 votes, the percentage increase in Democratic turnout was actually greater than the percentage increase in Republican turnout.
And what happened in the six strongly Democratic counties? The number of Democratic votes increased by 193,000, or 24.9%, while the number of Republican votes increased by 97,000, or 21.7%. So not only did the size of the Democratic plurality increase by almost 100,000 votes in these six counties, but the percentage increase in Democratic turnout was greater than the percentage increase in Republican turnout.
One of the most difficult things to accomplish in a GOTV campaign is to mobilize your own party’s supporters without also mobilizing the opposing party’s supporters. Not only did Democrats do a better job of turning out their own voters in Ohio, but they also did a better job of not turning out opposition voters. Based on the actual turnout data, it appears that the GOP’s vaunted 72-hour program was actually less effective than the Democratic Party’s GOTV effort in Ohio. On November 7th, that Republican ace-in-the-hole may turn out to be a joker.
It’s too early to gauge the political ramifications of the still-unfolding Foley scandal/cover-up and it’s clear more revelations are forthcoming. Thus far, the blogs are a step ahead of the newspapers-of-record in sharing the inside skinny on the political fallout. A good place to start is “Fight the Foley Five” at Daily Kos, which reports on five GOP-held seats that may be endangered by the scandal and their Democratic opponents. Also check out The Left Coaster Steve Soto’s “Will The Foley Cover-Up Take Down The GOP House Leadership?” In his MyDD post, “Time For Hastert To Resign,” Chris Bowers says “there is simply no way that we lose FL-16 now.” The New Republic‘s Michael Crowley reports in “The Plank” that NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds may be especially vulnerable:
Although the New York Republican chairs the National Republican Campaign Committee, a post usually held by a safe incumbent (thus allowing him to focus on other races) Reynolds has always faced an inconveniently dicey re-election fight. Indeed, as reader CS notes, a September 28 SurveyUSA poll showed Reynolds with a mere 45-43 lead over his Democratic opponent, Jack Davis…In all likelihood, then, Reynolds is effectively down by a few points. And now newspapers in his own district are running headlines like “Reynolds accused of inaction on Foley.”
And Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo covers the political fallout from more than a dozen different angles here.
Matt Bai has a lengthy portrait of DNC Chair Howard Dean in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. Bai sheds favorable light on Dean’s leadership as a champion of long-term (50 state) strategy and greater participation of Democratic “outsiders,” who have been overshadowed by “insider” consutlants. But Bai also gives fair vent to Dean’s critics, who believe his strategy will hurt Democratic chances on November 7.
And speaking of long-term strategy, WaPo’s Zachary A. Goldfarb has a short, but encouraging update on an important topic that doesn’t get enough attention from political journalists (or the DNC web pages) — the battle for control of the state legislatures, where congressional districts are defined and future candidates for congress are prepared for leadership. Goldfarb’s article, “Democrats Hope to Swing State Legislatures Their Way,” says Dems have a solid shot at winning majorities of state legislatures in Colorado, Indiana, Iowa (both houses), Maine, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon and Tennessee.
by Alan Abramowitz, Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science, Emory University
It’s déjà vu all over again. The 2006 midterm elections are only seven weeks away and the Gallup Poll likely voter screen is back to its old tricks. Last week Gallup released its first poll of the 2006 campaign using its likely voter screen and the results showed that Democrats and Republicans were tied on the generic ballot question. That’s the question that asks respondents whether they would vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate for the House of Representatives in their district if they election were being held today. The question doesn’t provide respondents with the names of the candidates—hence the term “generic ballot.” Nevertheless the generic ballot question has proven to be a fairly good predictor of the results of congressional elections once the sample is pared down to those likely to vote. But that’s not easy to do, especially more than seven weeks before Election Day.
At first glance, it might appear surprising that the new Gallup Poll found a tie on the generic ballot. After all, one week earlier another Gallup Poll produced a 12 point Democratic advantage on this question, similar to that found in most other national polls in recent weeks. But, as Charles Franklin and Mark Blumenthal recently explained, the shift from a 12 point Democratic lead to a tie wasn’t really as dramatic as it seemed. It was almost entirely a result of the introduction of the likely voter screen. Among all registered voters, the new Gallup Poll found a 9 point Democratic lead on the generic ballot.
Almost all polling organizations use some sort of likely voter screen to measure voting intentions shortly before an election. This is especially critical in a midterm election in which, historically, only about 40 percent of eligible voters go to the polls. However, the Gallup likely voter screen is more complicated than most—it involves a series of seven questions including one that measures current political interest. As a result, while it appears to work quite well in the last day or two before an election, it can produce highly volatile results when applied several weeks before an election. During the 2000 election campaign, for example, Gallup’s presidential preference results sometimes gyrated wildly over the course of only a few days—on October 4th, Gallup showed an 11 point lead for Al Gore. Three days later, on October 7th, they showed an 8 point lead for George Bush. However, much of this apparent volatility was caused by the likely voter screen rather than actual shifts in candidate preference among voters.
Some of the volatility in Gallup’s results in 2000 may have been caused by their use of a tracking poll with a 3-day rolling sample. Tracking polls tend to be more volatile than standard polls because they allow less time for callbacks. During the 2004 campaign, however, Gallup’s likely voter screen sometimes produced large swings in candidate support over relatively short time periods. For example, between October 10th and October 16th, Gallup reported a shift from a 2 point Kerry lead to an 8 point Bush lead. In contrast, the CBS/New York Times Poll found a 1 point Bush lead on October 11th and a 1 point Bush lead on October 17th and a Time Magazine Poll found a 1 point Bush lead on October 7th and a tie on October 15th.
Why does Gallup’s likely voter screen produce greater volatility in candidate support than likely voter screens used by other polls? The answer is not clear but a reasonable guess would be that it has to do with the use of a question asking about a respondent’s current level of political interest. Political interest may vary considerably depending on what types of news stories are making the headlines. When the President delivers a major address to the nation for example, supporters of his party are likely to be more interested in news about the speech than supporters of the opposing party. In the final days before an election, interest in the campaign and knowledge about where one’s polling place is located are probably good predictors of voter turnout. Seven weeks before an election, however, these questions may not predict turnout very well.
The 9 point gap between registered and likely voters in Gallup’s recent generic ballot results appears overly large by historical standards. Don’t be surprised to see the gap close by the end of the campaign. In the meantime, however, don’t be surprised to see big fluctuations in the results of Gallup’s generic ballot question among likely voters.
It’s hard to get focused on long-range political goals so close to elections. But there is a good article noted in the ‘hump day’ wrap-up below that political strategists should grab and save. Search far and wide — you won’t find a better analysis of the need for a greater investment in Democratic youth leadership development than Iara Peng’s Alternet article “How Progressives Can Win in the Long Run.” Peng’s challenge:
For nearly 30 years, ultraconservatives have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in young people and built an infrastructure that initiates young people into the radical right movement through campus activism, leadership training and career development. Their investments have paid off. The radical right wing now controls the executive and legislative branches of government, and it’s only one seat away from complete dominance of the Supreme Court.
If progressives want to achieve the same sort of political success that the radical right has enjoyed for the past two decades, we’re going to have to do more than focus on the next round of elections and pay lip service to engaging young people. We must make a serious, long-term investment in our next generation of progressive leaders.
Yes, Dems have their own youth leadership training programs. But can they match this?
For decades, right-wing organizations including the Leadership Institute, Federalist Society, Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation have spearheaded a massive effort to bring young people into their movement. Last year alone, the Right invested $48 million in 11 youth-focused organizations aimed at increasing the number of ideologically friendly campus papers, fostering networks of students on campuses, shifting the way that students self-identify in terms of political ideology, providing skills and strategies training, and promoting right-wing values.
Students are cultivated by the right-wing campaign against college courses that conflict with their agenda. For example, they have accused more than 100 professors of making “anti-American” statements. They attend courses with titles like “How to Stop Liberals in Their Tracks.” They have internships, fellowships and jobs waiting for them when they graduate. They learn how to run campaigns and how to run for office.
…Right-wing groups spend more than ten times as much on long-term political leadership development than we do, and financial trends over the past four years show that progressive leadership development organizations are actually, on average, experiencing a decline in revenue.
And the pay-off has been impressive. As a result,
A powerful network of young ultraconservatives fills state capitols, the halls of Congress, the executive branch and the courts. It is supported by community leaders, skilled organizers, academics and media personalities that help dominate the debate. The leaders in whom the right has invested in are familiar names. In 1970, a man named Karl Rove was head of the National College Republicans. In 1981, Grover Norquist took the reins. And in 1983, it was Ralph Reed.
Peng offers some credible corrective measures, and there are some good comments responding to her challenge. Clip her article, read it and consider making a contribution for the long haul.
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.