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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Independents’ Views: Read ‘Em and Weep, Karl

Expanding on yesterday’s post about how the political center of the country is leaning against Bush and toward the Democrats, here are some very interesting data from the latest CBS News/New York Times poll.
Among political independents, Bush’s approval ratings are almost all net negative: overall (45 percent approval/50 percent disapproval); foreign policy (40 percent/50 percent); Iraq (44 percent/49 percent); and the economy (37 percent/58 percent).
Bush’s favorability rating is also net negative among independents: 33 percent favorable/39 percent unfavorable. And by 9 points, (46 percent to 37 percent), independents say they will probably support the Democratic candidate rather than Bush in the November election. Note that Bush actually carried independents by 2 points in 2000, an election in which he lost the popular vote, so a deficit of this magnitude–of even half that size–would probably sink him in ’04.
And check out these party favorability ratings among independents: net negative on the GOP (43 percent favorable/46 percent unfavorable) and strongly net positive on the Democrats (52 percent/36 percent).
More anti-Bush sentiment: by 14 points (56 percent to 42 percent), independents do not have confidence in Bush’s ability to deal wisely with an international crisis; by 33 points (64 percent to 31 percent), independents lack confidence in Bush’s ability to make the right decisions on the nation’s economy; by 24 points (58 percent to 34 percent), they don’t think Bush has the same priorities for the country as they do; and by 39 points (62 percent to 23 percent), they think Bush is more interested in protecting the interests of large corporations than the interests of ordinary Americans.
On the economic front, just 13 percent of independents think their family is better off financially now than they were when Bush took office; and the exact same low number of independents believe Bush administration policies have increased the number of jobs in the country.
In terms of the war, independents, by a wide 57 percent to 38 percent margin don’t think the result of the war was worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq. And, by 55 percent to 40 percent, they think the Bush administration was too quick to involve the US in a war in Iraq.
But perhaps these voters will be impressed with the role of religion in Bush’s life, despite their disagreements with his policies? Nope. By 53 percent to 43 percent, they say they don’t even want to hear about the role of religion in candidates’ lives during the presidential campaign.
In closing this post, let me offer three propositions:
1. Independents will decide the outcome of the 2004 election.
2. Independents, because they’re leaning toward the Democrats in so many different ways, will give the Democratic candidate a long and respectful listen in this election.
3. Therefore, the best candidate for the Democrats in 2004 will be the one who can communicate most effectively with independents and turn their leanings into actual votes.

20 comments on “Independents’ Views: Read ‘Em and Weep, Karl

  1. Terry Falk on

    Not to be a contrarian, but I fail to see how either FL or NH is out of play in ’04. Nor have I seen any justification from you for this position, other than “but they are.”
    I believe discounting either FL or NH in ’04 is a strategy upon which Democrats embark at their own risk. The simple truth is, Gore lost FL (officially) by 537 votes, notwithstanding the fact that a third-party candidate running to the left of Gore pulled some 94,000 votes. As a matter of simple math, I think FL HAS TO BE in play in ’04. And as I previously mentioned, FL in recent elections had been trending more Democratic — in addition to Gore, Clinton carried FL in ’96. More northeastern retirees (who tend Democratic) are continuously moving into FL, and second-generation Cuban-Americans are less likely to be Republican than their parents were.
    As for NH, that was another state where Nader pulled more votes than Bush’s margin of victory. And Clinton carried NH twice. NH has more entolled independents than either Republican or Democrats, so if courting the independent vote is important, NH is a state we can’t overlook.
    I would also posit that TN is in play, in addition to the states already mentioned.

  2. Ron Thompson on

    I disagree with Wishful’s statement that “historically, self-described Independents are Democrats in disguise.” As you can see from my two previous posts covering 7 different states, the Gore-Bush breakdown among Independents varied widely, from about even in Nevada and Arizona, to a Bush margin of better than 2-to-1 in Arkansas. In the key states of Ohio and Missouri, Bush’s margin among Independents was 16 or 17 points.

  3. Chris Stefan on

    One thing I think that is getting overlooked is the fact that a good portion of Republicans are seriously annoyed with the Bush administration and it’s policies.
    Fiscal conservatives, foreign policy multilateralists, moderates, libertarians, and pro-privacy pro-civil liberties christians all have some level of disgust.
    The main problem is most of these people believe that another 4 years of Bush is preferable to any potential democrat. The question is what are their objections to voting for the democrats and can any of the issues where they object to Bush be wedged effectively enough to peel them off?
    One thing to remember is regionalizm effects the Republican party just as much as it does the Democrats. For example the Western states are mostly libertarian and fiscal conservatives. Social and Religious issues don’t play nearly as well in Arizona as they do in Louisiana.
    The Republicans have been using wedge issues to peel off various portions of the Democratic base for years, I think it is time we fought back. While this may not gain many percentage points it has the same effect as grabbing independants and will probably get some of them as well.
    This is not to say I don’t think attempts to increase participation overall via voter-registration, youth and minority outreach, and GOTV efforts isn’t worthwhile. Single women and latinos are probably the best sources of new votes for Democrats. Both groups lean heavily our way at rates of around 2-1 and both groups have such low rates of turn-out that if even only a few can be convinced to participate that still translates into a lot of new Democratic voters.

  4. tstreet on

    With respect to Colorado, Californians are the problem, not the solution. The ones who left California are Republicans; the ones who stayed are Democrats. These influxes have just made Colorado a more conservative state. We used to elect Dems as Governors and Senators. No more. The only Dem holdouts are in the Denver and Boulder area. The rest of the state is red, red, red.

  5. Wishful on

    Historically, self-described independents are democrats in disguise. They prefer the “independent” label for vanity purposes because it avoids the stigma associated with being a talking-point following partisan. Winning this “independent” vote (whose “independence” isn’t determined by willingness to swing their vote but by their own arbitrary determination) therefore is rarely the accomplishment it seems.

  6. Marcia on

    Terry, Yes, the blue states lost several votes due to the 2000 census. I used as my reference for those numbers the map on John Edwards campaign site. You can find it at:
    I agree with you that in a two-man race, there would have been no question that Gore took Florida. I think Nader got something like 75K votes from there. But that was in 2000 and this is 4 years later.
    Ron, let’s go back to those states I mentioned and talk about 2004, not 2000.
    Arkansas is extremely winnable by Wesley Clark. The “native son” thing will take that state out of the red column if he’s the nominee. With Kerry or Edwards, there’s less of a chance, but a chance. Kerry’s military credentials and Edwards’ southerliness will play well.
    Bush used the NRA heavily to defeat Gore in W. Va. It’s usually a pretty middle-of-the-road state, but convince them that “da gubmint” is coming to take their guns and they’ll head for the polls to defeat the dastardly creep who would dare such a move. Gore NEVER countered the NRA charges there, just kept going on an on about prescription drugs for seniors. Also, West Virginia has suffered economically under Bush AND that steel tariff fiasco didn’t play well.
    Nevada is heartily miffed at becoming the nuclear waste dump for the country’s power plants. Nuff said.
    Arizona is fairly conservative but not as right-wing as a lot of the solidly red states. It did go with Clinton in 1996, mainly because of the budget balancing. With the present deficit, Arizona is definitely risky for the GOP.
    Colorado has had a pretty massive influx of Californians in the past 4 years. It did go to Clinton in ’92, so who knows?
    The point of the whole discussion is that Bush has some vulnerability. What the Dems need to do is figure out where he’s most vulnerable, and get a candidate who can take advantage of it. Because make no mistake, the Bushies aren’t going to give us this one.
    If you have some ideas on other states, anyone, feel free to share them. But I don’t believe that either NH or FL is in play. I’d like to be wrong on that, however :-}

  7. Terry Falk on

    Not doubting your electoral vote numbers, but all the Gore states plus Arkansas and West Virginia would have equaled 277 electoral votes in 2000. Did those states really lose 6 electoral votes overall?
    Btw, I have to think New Hampshire is also in play. Bush barely won there in 2000, and there’s a pretty good chance that the Democratic nominee will be from a neighboring state (Dean and Kerry).
    As for Florida, imho, there is no question that Gore would have carried Florida in 2000 in a two-man race (Bush won officially by 537 votes, whereas Nader, running to the left of Gore, picked up 94,000 votes). Florida had been moving toward the Democratic Party in years up to and including 2000. What’s the source for a reversal of course now?

  8. Ron Thompson on

    For the states Marcia mentioned,
    Gore got 47.1% of the two-party vote in Arkansas, and lost the 33% listed as Independents 30-62. He would have won by getting 41% of the Independents, so the Democrat needs to improve by 11% among Independents.
    In West Virginia, Gore got 46.9% of the two-party vote, and lost the 21% who called themselves Independents by a 34-62 margin. Bush had a slight lead of less than 1% among the 79% who self-described as Democrats or Republicans, so Gore needed to win the Independents by 2 points, rather than losing them by 28. Gore’s main problem in WV was that Bush got 25% of the Democrats.
    In Nevada, Gore got 48.15% of the two-party vote, while carrying the 28% listed as Independents 45-43. He would have needed 60% of the Independents to overcome Bush’s advantage among the 75% who self-identified as Republicans or Democrats.
    In Arizona, Gore lost the 24% Independent share 44-45. He would have needed over 61% to overcome Bush’s lead among the 76% who self-identified as Republicans or Democrats.
    In Colorado, Gore lost the 29% Independent share 39-44 (with Nader getting 13% of Independents). Gore would have needed 66% of the Independents to overcome Bush’s 57-43 advantage among among the 71% who self-identified as Republicans or Democrats.
    So of these 5, the only one which would have flipped in 2000 by adding 14% to Gore’s percentage of Independents was Arkansas. That’s not to say they’re unwinnable, but winning any of them probably involves some improvement in the Democratic share of the Democratic and Republican vote, rather than just winning a large share of Independents. In Missouri, Ohio, and Florida, by contrast, the Democratic nominee can win by a relatively modest increase of 10 or 11% among Independents.

  9. Gene on

    I am glad to see that independents have little faith in Bush’s abilities. My concern is that these same independents might have even less faith in those of his opponent. I think that Rove and his crew will address this issue. They realize that they can’t sell Bush using the economy, the war, his lack of concern for anyone but the rich, or anything else for that matter. The possible exception is the spector of terrorism. More alerts will follow this year in an effort to convince Americans that only Bush is capable of protecting America. (I know it’s funny but let’s not try to laugh too much.) They will characterize Bush’s opponent as even less able than Bush. Just in case all else fails, I’m sure that Bush, Rove et alia will be leading services to pray for an attack. If you think that this last point is ‘too over the top’, understand, these are same people who have committed this country to a frivolous war in Iraq and have plans for others if re-elected.

  10. Marcia on

    I live in Ohio. I live in NE Ohio, which is the most progressive part of the state, and it’s becoming increasingly conservative. Ohio now has a GOP governor, two GOP senators, the majority of House Reps are GOP, and both the State House and the State Senate are controlled by the GOP. And…..look at the bill they passed yesterday in regards to gay unions.
    I base my judgement on Florida on what I read. Those articles that have dealt with Florida’s political leanings have pretty much said it’s more Republican. They may not be accurate, but until I see something else to the contrary, I’ll have to take their word for it.
    Both states MIGHT be winnable by Dems with the right candidate, but for now I just want a change of administrations and , IMO, the states I listed are more open to move into the “blue column than are either Ohio or Florida.

  11. Alan on

    Aren’t the conclusions (1,2,3) always true? I would submit that any “Independent” that leans conservative is by definition not an Independent. Equivocation is a liberal trait, not a conservative one.

  12. another poster on

    I’m just curious what the numbers are regarding independents perception of Bush as a person. I don’t think there is any question that when you push people who are not hardcore cons on what they think of Bush’s policies, the numbers are bad. But so much of what people seem to dig about Bush is the fact that he seems like a decent and regular guy to many people.
    How does that perception play into the mix?

  13. Paul Criswell on

    Marcia, Why do you say taht Ohio and Florida are more Republican than they were in 2000? Is that based on registration, polling data or just the results of the 2002 elections?

  14. Marcia on

    The problem is that Florida is a lot more Republican today than it was in 2000. So is Ohio.
    I think Dems need to look to states like W. Virginia, Arizona, Arkansas, Nevada and maybe even Colorado……..all are pretty much fed up with the Bush policies and are open to listening, at least, to a Dem candidate. Now, which candidate can best appeal to the voters in those states?
    Oh, and if the Dem candidate retains ALL the Gore states and picks up only Arkansas and W. Virginia, he wins 271 electoral votes. 270 are needed to be elected.

  15. Ron Thompson on

    In response to Longshot, Bush got 51.7% of the two-party vote in Missouri, and Gore got 48.3%. Independents cast 23% of the vote, and broke 55-38 for Bush. The party vote was a wash, so Gore needed to carry Independents, by doing 9 points better among them.
    Ohio was almost exactly the same–each candidate got 9% of the other party’s voters, the party vote was 38-37 Democratic, and the 26% identified as Independents went for Bush 54-38.
    And of course any improvement at all would swing Florida, where Gore actually carried Independents 47-46.

  16. Tom on

    What was the polling universe? Registered voters or likely voters ?Typically makes a difference– when the sample comes from “registered” voters the results skew more liberal/Democratic, at least marginally.

  17. Orv on

    Longshot has a good point…these overall polls are interesting, but the overall vote isn’t what elects a President. Can Democrats overcome Republicans’ virtual lock on the Southern and Great Plains states and get enough electoral college votes to win?

  18. reignman on

    …then hope. “cynics didn’t build this country. optimists did.”
    get people at the company picnic talking politics, and so on.
    as for the subject independents, yes, i agree, and clark or edwards or kerry could probably do a better job of it than dean, but, of course, he’s supposed to get all of those young people fired up.

  19. Chad Robinson on

    I almost hate reading your posts because they give me hope. Hope is probably not a good idea right now for a liberal, and someone working in a profession that is being carted offshore wholsale. If these new immigration restrictions pass… well… I’m frankly terrified of what that means. And the GOP run the country right now.
    So I almost hate reading your posts. But damn, I wanna hope.

  20. longshot on

    Ok — those are the stats today. Assuming the parties motivate their base as well as in 2000, what is the Indy split needed to swing a couple of states to the Democrat nominee — +9%, +2% ?
    And which states(s) ?


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