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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Who Are You Gonna Believe: Me or The Actual Poll Numbers?

That’s kind of the impression DR gets from reading today’s writeup in The New York Times of the latest CBS/New York Times poll, conducted in mid-to-late July. This is a pretty interesting poll, not least because they took a large Hispanic oversample that allowed them to compare Hispanics with the overall population and various subgroups.
What does the poll show? First, it shows the same decline in strength for Bush and the Republicans that other public polls have been showing lately. Bush’s overall approval rating is down to 54 percent, 13 points lower than the last time this poll was taken in mid-May. That’s a decline of about 5 points a month and gives back all of Bush’s approval gains from the Iraq war and then some.
His approval rating on foreign policy is down to 52 percent–essentially the same as before the Iraq war–and his approval rating on the economy is now only 40 percent, with 52 percent disapproval.
Democrats are now preferred over Republicans by 8 points on ensuring a strong economy (in May, the Republicans were preferred by a point), by 20 points on creating new jobs, by 13 points on education and by 3 points on “sharing your moral values” (!). And Bush’s re-elect number is an anemic 32 percent.
Second, it shows that, on each and every one of the indicators just cited, and a number of others besides, Hispanics are more, and frequently much more, anti-Republican and pro-Democratic than the overall population. And they are especially pro-Democratic when compared to whites.
But here’s the weird part: the headline for the front-page New York Times story is: “Hispanics Back Big Government and Bush, Too”. Huh? Where the heck did that come from? If Hispanics’ views can be characterized as “backing Bush”, he is in more trouble than DR had dared hope.
Check out these figures from the poll. Bush’s approval rating among Hispanics is 52 percent. That compares to 54 percent among the overall population and about 59-60 percent among non-Hispanic whites (DR’s estimate on whites; bizarrely, The Times supplies data for Hispanics, non-Hispanic blacks and all non-Hispanics, but not non-Hispanic whites, so data from this group must be inferred from the other data given). Moreover, Bush’s favorability rating among Hispanics is only 37 percent, compared to 46 percent for all adults and 52-53 percent among whites and just 21 percent of Hispanics are willing to say, at this point, that they would probably vote to re-elect Bush.
And what is the Democratic party’s favorability rating among Hispanics? A rather healthy 60 percent, with just 22 percent unfavorable; the Republican party gets an anemic 40 percent favorability rating, with 39 percent unfavorable. In addition, Hispanics’ partisanship is 2:1 Democratic and, by 49 percent to 21 percent, Hispanics think Democrats are more likely to care about the needs of Hispanics. Hispanics also favor Democrats by 30 points on creating new jobs, by 24 points on education, by 23 points on ensuring a strong economy and by 22 points on sharing their moral values.
Underscoring their proclivity for Democrats, Hispanics also say, by an incredible 75 percent to 16 percent margin–by almost 60 points!–that they would rather have a bigger government providing more services than a smaller government providing fewer services. The public as a whole favor smaller government by 48 percent to 40 percent.
Finally, Hispanics aren’t even that supportive of the war with Iraq, contrary to various anecdotal reports in the press. By 49 percent to 40 percent, Hispanics do not think removing Saddam from power was worth the loss of American life and other costs; that compares to 54 percent to 39 percent among the general public who do think that removing Saddam was worth the costs.
So how on earth can this profoundly pro-Democratic group of voters be described as “backing Bush”? Apparently, what The Times means is that Hispanics are fairly conservative on abortion and gay rights (though they believe Democrats are more likely to share their moral values), are supportive of vouchers (though not if it means less money for public schools) and are more interested in tax cuts than deficit reduction (though not more interested in tax cuts than, say, spending on public schools). But none of this is news; all are long-standing tendencies of Hispanic public opinion and should never be interpreted as meaning that Hispanics “back Bush”, unless there’s actual evidence that they do so. And, in fact, all the other data from the poll suggests that they don’t.
Well, DR supposes that pro-Democratic, pro-big government Hispanics who show few signs of defecting to the Republicans wouldn’t have made such a good story. But it would have had the great virtue of being more accurate and more clearly reflecting The Times’ actual data.