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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Another Victory for Electability

With 97 percent of the precincts reporting, Kerry is running far ahead of Dean (39 percent to 26 percent) and Clark and Edwards (about 12 percent each) are battling it out for third and fourth. This a great result for Kerry and a poor one for Dean, though DR is not yet persuaded that Kerry is the Annointed One, nor that Dean is irrevocably toast (though he’s hurting pretty bad).
Based on the exit polls though, we can confirm the message of the Iowa caucus voting that Democratic voters are increasingly focused on electability and mainstream issues and decreasingly interested in “sending ’em a message” and protest politics around the Iraq war. Consider these data from the exit poll (note that numbers here may change slightly as the National Election Pool reweights its data to reflect the final vote tally).
About one third of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters said flat-out that electability (“can beat Bush”) was more important to their vote than issues. Among those voters, Kerry walloped Dean 56 percent to 14 percent. Then, when you look at the specific issues that voters said were most important to their vote, Kerry was way ahead of Dean among the 60 percent of New Hampshire voters who selected the economy and jobs, health care or education, the top three issues in the nation, according to most national polls.
Among health care voters, Kerry led Dean 43 percent to 26 percent; among economy and jobs voters, Kerry led 48 percent to 18 percent and among education voters Kerry led 44 percent to 23 percent. In fact, the only issue voters among whom Dean led were Iraq voters, who favored Dean over Kerry by 37 percent to 33 percent.
Looking at top candidate qualities motivating voters, we find Kerry again doing hugely well among voters who selected “can beat Bush” (62 percent to 10 percent for Dean) or experience (58 percent to 9 percent) and beating Dean by about his margin of overall victory among those who selected “cares about people” or “positive message”. Dean, on the other hand, only won among those who selected “stand up for beliefs” (47 percent to 21 percent for Kerry) or “shake things up” (46 percent to 13 percent). But those send-em-a-message and protest voters were only 36 percent of the primary voters, hence Dean’s poor overall performance.
This skew in Dean’s support is underscored by some of the other (very few) categories where he beat Kerry. He beat Kerry among those who described themselves as “very liberal” (15 percent of primary voters) by 41 percent to 30 percent. And he beat Kerry among those who want to repeal all the Bush tax cuts (32 percent of primary voters) by 37 percent to 34 percent.
The demographics of Dean’s support were also not impressive. He lost every age category to Kerry except those 18-29 (where he led by just 34 percent to 33 percent). He lost every income category. He lost every education category, only coming close to Kerry among those with a postgraduate education. He lost among both union and nonunion households (so much for the SEIU/AFSCME endorsements). He lost veterans and non-veterans. He lost those who own a gun and those who don’t. And he lost independents and got creamed among moderates.
More on these results tomorrow as well as an assessment of Kerry’s chances, both for the nomination and as a general election candidate.

19 comments on “Another Victory for Electability

  1. AmyB on

    Here’s a flyer on the subject of Dean vs. Kerry electability:
    Dean went through a trial by fire. Nothing like that has happened to Kerry and I’m afraid the salvos against Kerry won’t hit until he safely has the Dem nomination.
    I’mreally worried that Kerry is a Trojan horse for the ABB voters. He looks “safe” to registered democrats but he has no appeal to attract crossover/independents.

  2. frankly0 on

    Among other things, Bob Dole was running against a President who had engineered both peace and prosperity. Bush, as an incumbent, has brought about a war more and more Americans can’t justify, and has lost jobs hand over fist. Bob Dole had an anger problem, or at least was so perceived — Kerry does not.
    Some important differences, I’d think.

  3. Ashami on

    The fact that Kerry is winning so handily is a sign that Democrats are still too afraid of real change. It’s getting better…the fact that Dean came so far and made such an incredible impact on the party is a testiment that things are moving forward.
    However, Kerry is Bob Dole when he ran against Clinton. Dole was a highly respected congressman, politically straight down the GOP line, without any serious detriments or weaknesses. He was kinda boring on the stump and didn’t say anything risky or questionable. And Clinton stomped him.
    Kerry is a highly respected congressman, politically straight down the Demoratic line, and doesn’t have any serious detriments or weaknesses. He is kinda boring on the stump and doesn’t say anything risky or questionable. And Bush will stomp him.
    Maybe in ’08, when BushCo. rapes this country a little more, people will get over their fear and nominate/elect a Democratic leader that will reform the party and Washington. It could happen.

  4. frankly0 on

    In many ways, this primary season may be working out very well for the Democrats. To begin with, the horse race/soap opera aspect of it has turned the Dem primaries into the best Reality show on TV. All the candidates except for Holy Joe are criticizing Bush with practically word out of their mouths (and even Holy Joe mostly is criticizing him). In contrast, who watched the SOTU all the way through and remained conscious? This time, it seems like the incumbent is getting less air time than his critics (in Bush’s case, it’s hot air time, of course).
    Beyond this, Dean’s candidacy has had at least two good effects on the nominee, if that nominee is Kerry. First, Kerry’s criticism of Bush has most definitely sharpened. Second, Dean is perceived by most of the country to be the far left candidate (witness who voted for him in NH), and Kerry is appealing to the moderates, and rejecting the more extreme views of Dean and his campaign. Had Dean NOT been in the race, Kerry might very well have tried to steer toward the left to pick up the votes Dean has instead gathered.
    Kerry can probably now pretty safely engage a few Sister Souljah (sp?) moments, without it in any way damaging his prospects for the Dem nomination — in fact, it might help.
    And, obviously, any such moments will help him big time when the general election comes, in dispelling the notion that he is any kind of extreme liberal.

  5. BrilliantIdiot on

    First, Kerry’s not my first choice.
    I don’t think attacking “perceived liberalism” will be anywhere near as effective as it was 10-15 years ago. Note that this wasn’t how they ran against Gore. They will run a character race again (that’s all they’ve got), and if Kerry performs as he has in the last 2 weeks, he’ll be fine. He doesn’t have to be Elvis.
    Kerry’s tax plan is wise politically – people won’t care about statements he may have made about taxes 10-20 years ago.
    Why won’t a “perceived liberal” race work as well? It’s been used up, beaten to death in the 80s and early 90s, reeks of “the past”, takes them off message about the future, and demographics and corresponding policy positions have shifted favorably. Kerry can lose by being unlikeable and falling into a Gore like trap. He won’t lose by being Dukakis – he’s much better than that.
    The NE label was never a reason I didn’t support Dean. Taxes, security and personality were the reasons. Being from VT wasn’t going to inhibit him.

  6. Marcia on

    Eric, If you choose to stay home, then you deserve another 4 years of GWB. But please don’t do it. Because the rest of us DON’T deserve it. Don’t even think about it. You support Dean because of a desire to replace Bush. If the party chooses another candidate, you should be able to work just as hard for them because the aim is the same….to save our country from 4 more years of what we have now.
    The thing that has impressed me the most in this campaign is how much voters seem to like the field, overall. The undecideds are having a tough time making up their minds which candidate to vote for because they like something about each one of them. I think that says a lot for a slate of candidates that really seemed to take forever to “get going”.
    Kerry will indeed be tested in the next two weeks as to his overall electability. It will be interesting to see just how wide his appeal is.
    Whomever the eventual nominee is, they’ll be well tested by the primary and ready, I believe, to take on the Bush machine. Every one of us should be making a firm commitment to ourselves to give them not only our vote, but our enthusiastic support. Oh yes, and if you can, send money. Even ten dollars would would help.
    On a side note, did anyone else see a short mention last night on cable television about Dick Cheney stepping down? A lot of people have sort of thought that if Bush’s poll numbers started to drop the GOP would drop Cheney and put Guiliani on the ticket. ( I know, there’s a lot of guess work and supposition there). It will be interesting to see what develops there, tho. Also interesting is that the notice was released as the NH primary results were coming out. Trying to steal some of the Dems news time, are we, Karl?

  7. Daniel Hatch on

    If John Kerry wants to be elected president, very soon now he has to start acting like a president.
    That means he has to begin to lead the country and — especially — his party.
    That means he has to reach out to the supporters of the other candidates and address them as part of a large and multifaceted group with different, but not contradictory, interests.
    He has to cultivate the Dean supporters and praise their passion and idealism.
    He has to cultivate the Clark supporters and praise their patriotism and perception.
    He has to cultivate the Edwards supporters and praise their populism.
    And he has to tell them all to keep going. He can win the nomination without the votes of their supporters, but he can’t win the presidency without them.
    He has to remind them that all Democrats have to work together if they want to change things.
    He has to tell Dean, Clark, and Edwards that he expects them to stay in the fight so they can be there at the convention to add their voices to the debate.
    He has to tell their supporters that he will be there for them when their issues and interests are considered.
    And if he does that, then when the time comes, they will be there for him.

  8. Sebastian James on

    OK, the very first comment incensed me. Dean voters, do not stay home if he doesn’t win the nomination. Do you want to fight for your beliefs or your candidate? An ideal or a man?
    Dems that stay home because Dean is not the nominee run the same chance as being labeled the “reason why Dems lost” when the race becomes tight. It adds credibility to the myth that Democrats would rather beat each other than whoever they’re running against. With Bush in office for 4 more agonizing, polarizing years, what opportunity to Dems, liberals, lefties, environmentalists, civil rights-ers, or anyone who believes that the market is not what makes a country strong have?
    If you stay home, you doom the things you stand for.

  9. Eric on

    The comments by Upper Left are right on with my assertion except his push for Edwards. Kerry will be eaten up by the Rove machine for his voting record and perceived liberalism. It doesn’t help with Teddy in foreground at his events. Rove’s attacks on Dean’s will look foolish if people pay real attention to his record as Govenor.
    I’m holding out for a Dean/Clark, D & C in DC. Clark has been coming off pretty weak so Dean/Edwards may the the right formula.
    My vote goes to Dean. If he’s not on the ticket, I have a feeling a lot of us will be staying home. Not because of a protest vote, but because of a lost cause…electability of Kerry, or lack thereof.

  10. m rose on

    a primary election focusing on electibility — bring it on!!!
    but kerry must not be nominated unless he’s been really tested as front runner. he needs to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s not another dukakis or gore. for that we need a tough, down-to-the-wire contest, ending on march 3 at the earliest. we’ve got to see if he responds to attacks better than dean (arrogant and ineffectual) or daschle (wimpy and ineffectual). we’ve got to see if he wears well. if he can, he’s the man. if not, everyone ought look closer at edwards and the (hopefully) new dean.
    by the way, frontloading the primaries is going to KILL us. what a boneheaded idea. just gives the press and republican machine more time to raise a thousand little questions about our nominee. and if he stumbles at that point, we have no money and its too late to replace him.

  11. cicero on

    Upper Left —
    You have to be kidding — Howard Dean invented the populist Democratic rhetoric he’s been using and now the other candidates have been copying it?
    He, like all the others, simply copied what they believe works — like the Dem wing of the Dem party line, right?
    Dean’s initial attraction was that he seemed forceful and passionate about what he was saying. But his bottom has fallen out among most voters because they simply don’t believe he can deliver.
    By “deliver” I don’t mean just winning the election but also actually changing America, as Dean always says he is really out to do.
    Now, I am not so sure that America cannot be changed — I think it can — but I see nothing in Dean’s past to believe he could do it. His resume is indeed thoroughly uninspiring — a cautious governor, who, like Bushie, was completely disengaged with any of the pressing social issues of the time until he decided to run for Prez!
    Dean always seemed to me to be punching way above his weight. And that, to me, felt like a pander. Dean is no MLK; Dean is not even an LBJ. Aside from running for Prez, he has never taken a risk for something he believed in (unless you count his battle to build a bike path around Lake Champlaign).
    Despite Dean’s sound and fury, voters can smell this weakness.
    So just admit it — Dean’s best talent was listening to the discontent out there, letting Trippi et al package it into a campaign, and then running on it without looking back. There is nothing wrong with that and I think he did an amazing job considering who he is.
    But this was no paradigm shifting campaign and he is no mind altering candidate. Give him the credit for coming somewhere from nowhere. But don’t delude yourself in thinking that he has made that much of a difference. Actions speak much louder than words.

  12. Lumdor on

    The main goal of ALL Democrats MUST be to defeat Bush!
    Electability is essential and a North/South ticket is equally important.
    No matter who is nominated for the presidential spot, though I prefer Gov. Dean, either Sen. Edwards or Sen. Graham MUST be on the ticket.
    Bush is “defeatible”.
    We Democrats MUST work together.
    From today through the November election – ONLY 9 MONTHS AWAY! – Democrats MUST unite by keeping ALL of the present and past presidential candiates on the ‘campaign trail’ to keep their ‘followers’ engaged and active in the election.
    This is a must in order to beat Bush and his diabolical propaganda machine.

  13. Paula on

    cdmarine, Kerry also beat Dean among voters who cited the economy, health care and education as most important, so “electability” is not the only reason Kerry won. I don’t know if Kerry is our best choice, but the fact that Dean only won the “very liberal” category (and barely at that) and lost everyone else, from somewhat liberal to somewhat conservative, can’t say much for his ability to appeal to enough of a voting cross-section to win the GE.

  14. Upper left on

    This just in from New Hampshire:
    Dean wins! Dean gets second! Dean gets third! and Dean gets fourth!
    I watched all the candidates give their speeches last night and was struck by how much they are all starting to sound like… well, like Howard Dean. Kerry, Edwards, and Clark were all serving up big, juicy, dripping slabs of populist rhetoric. It seems ironic that the party seems to have stoned the messenger but adopted his message.
    What is even more ironic is watching all the “Chicken Little Democrats,” my term of endearment for all the pundits and smart insider Dems who have been running around saying that the sky would fall if we nominated Dean and who mostly supported Clark, scramble to be the first to hop on the Kerry bandwagon. Yes, Ruy this includes you.
    Why is this ironic? Because for months these same people have been telling us what a disaster it would be for the party to nominate a North-eastern liberal. Now they are supporting the one true North-eastern liberal in the race.
    Look, I think Kerry has been a fine Senator and would make a fine President. He seems to be getting better on the stump. I love it that he has been picking up more and more of Dean’s populist rhetoric.
    But let’s not kid ourselves, Kerry is even more vulnerable to the North-eastern liberal attack than Dean. From a perception point of view, Kerry is the ultimate “Taxachusetts,” liberal-elitest. If you want a preview of the Reps attacks on Kerry, go read William Safire’s column in the Monday edition of the NY Times. He sites Kerry’s voting record as being to the left of Ted Kennedy. Now close your eyes and imagine hearing this message repeated over and over with 200 million dollars in Bush advertising money. IMO, it isn’t a pretty picture. In fact, I fear Karl Rove has us just where he wants us.
    What is enfuriating is the apparent inability (refusal?) of the media and the insider Dems to see this reality. Beneath his insurgent campaign structure and “give’em hell” rhetoric, Dean’s record is very moderate. Beneath his solid, “Presidential” bearing, Kerry’s voting record is very liberal. He has a 92% rating from the ADA for goodness-sake.
    What has been laughable has been watching these same people support Clark as the supposed anti-Dean savior. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see how vulnearable Clark was in a Dem primary. People vote for values not resumes. A guy who wasn’t sure which side he was on until a few months ago is not going to inspire confidence in the party rank and file. All it took was a little press coverage of a few surrogate attacks and most of the air leaked out of the Clark balloon.
    Do the Clark and Kerry supporters who post here see my point? I fear Kerry is going to get a free ride from the media until it is too late to stop him. I don’t see how Dean overcomes the “unelectable” label, given that it has been firmly affixed to his forehead.
    I think our best hope is probably Edwards, although I doubt he can raise enough money, even coming off a SC win, to stop the growing Kerry jugernaut. The only real hope is if the pundits wake-up and start challenging Kerry on the “electability” issue.
    If Kerry wins, I will do everything I can to support him, but I fear it is going to be a rough ride.

  15. huey on

    I would really like someone to take a look at an electoral map from 2000 and explain how John Kerry will win more states than Al Gore in order to beat Bush. This electability issue is really not being carefully considered by voting Democrats.

  16. TedL on

    Ruy, I’m not sure why you’re joining the media in trying to turn this into a two-man race, Kerry against Dean. Last night’s result was largely an accident of sequencing in the primaries. Consider what would have happened if SC had followed Iowa instead of NH — Edwards would probably have won. What would the headline have been then?
    Instead, we went to NH, where two well-established candidates from bordering states did best. Surprise, surprise. But this received almost no emphasis in the coverage. And in the current compressed primary season, spread over so many states, there’s little time for Edwards or Clark to make their own case.
    This is unfortunate. It would have been far better to have an extended look at a contest in, say, Missouri, a real battleground state, to see who emerged.
    As to whether Dems are playing prevent, please. There is a huge gulf between W and the Dems – any Dem, even Holy Joe. I wish the Dean supporters who keep saying their man is the only one with a spine would go look at the voting records of the candidates. Edwards, the “Southern Moderate” is given a 100% voting record on Social Security, Reproductive Rights, Welfare and Poverty, Crime and Justice, and Campaign Finance Reform by the liberal Americans for Democratic Action. Overall, he rates 85% (one point shy of Dennis Kucinich). And Kerry voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, for pete’s sake. This is Bush Lite?!?
    Dean has done some great things, helping the party recognize its own strength. But the other candidates have shown leadership, too, and we’d be well off to have them instead of W.

  17. cdmarine on

    “About one third of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters said flat-out that electability (“can beat Bush”) was more important to their vote than issues.”
    Oh yes, let’s celebrate this.
    When are Democrats going to learn to quit playing the Prevent? Your Emerging Democratic Majority will not happen until Democrats quit letting Republicans pick their nominees for them by elimination. When you let your opponent dictate the terms of battle, you have already lost.

  18. Raenelle Fisher on

    Daily Kos notes the following results from the Republican primary in NH:
    Bush 57,670
    Kerry 835
    Dean 633
    Clark 545
    Edwards 541
    That’s from REGISTERED Republicans, and the Kerry, Dean, Clark, and Edwards votes were write-ins.


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