washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

The Two Sides of “Hollywood”

David Callahan of Demos has a provocative article up on the New Republic site that challenges Democrats to take on “Hollywood” as a matter of both liberal principle and practical politics.
As regular readers know, I am sympathetic to Callahan’s basic argument, insofar as Democrats who are willing to hold all sorts of powerful corporations accountable for the effects of their products and marketing on families and communities shouldn’t give the powerful corporations who purvey entertainment products an automatic pass. And he’s right to accuse Democrats who love to bash those who elevate “profits over people” of a double hypocrisy when they look the other way so long as a share of those profits are dumped into Democratic campaign contributions.
But in his seamless indictment of “Hollywood,” Callahan conflates two very different issues. I’m down with his suggestion that entertainment corporations who aggressively market, for example, video games glorifying extreme violence, sexual exploitation, and misogyny–in a word, pornography–to minors ought to be criticized and held accountable, not defended. And I also agree that the general drift of our popular culture–which we export to every corner of the world–towards infinite commercialization and compulsive consumerism should become a target as well.
Yet Callahan leads off his piece by talking about a very different aspect of “Hollywood:” political appearances by movie and television celebrities. He cites the famous Radio City Music Hall fundraiser in which John Kerry praised a group of actors including Whoopi Goldberg and Paul Newman as representing “the heart and soul of America” as exhibit A in the case for a Democratic assault on the entertainment industry.
Now let’s be clear about this: the Republican ability to distort and exploit this moment had nothing to do with the content of Whoopi Goldberg’s movies; it was attributable to obscene comments the actress made about George W. Bush earlier in the evening. The movie industry has absolutely no control, and frankly no responsibility, for what actors say and do off camera, other than maybe paying them a bit less in the future when they’ve alienated parts of their potential audience.
Moreover, Democrats have an easy solution to this particular problem: just stop inviting movie and television stars to share their platforms, particularly if they are unwilling to accept a script that keeps them from saying stupid or offensive things. Let them wave from the wings or sign autographs on the rope line if they are willing, but otherwise treat them just as they would the generous financial rainmakers from a law firm or an international union.
Musicians and other true performance artists are a different matter; after all, they are generally hauled onto political platforms to do what they always do, and serve the important function of breaking up the tedium of political speechifying.
But for those celebrities who do not perform their craft at political events, the only rationale for dragging them up to the microphone and letting them make still more political speeches is the worn-out “role model” theory whereby NBA stars bear the absurd responsibility of speaking ex cathedra on all matters of faith and morals. I mean, when you really get down to it, are Sean Penn’s pithy thoughts on Iraq any more meaningful than Howard Dean’s views on Method Acting?
So I conclude: flail away, Mr. Callahan, and my fellow Democrats, at the Joe Camels of “Hollywood” who are making a dishonest buck trying to turn our kids into pint-sized greedheads, airheads, and gangstas. But don’t blame Hollywood for the apparent belief of the political class that Alec Baldwin is indispensible to the goal of achieving universal health coverage.
Maybe the real problem is that politicians struggle and strive for high office in part because it gives them the opportunity to hang out with celebrities whose visages and alleged life experiences regale Americans in every grocery-store checkout line. This theory is reflected in the old jibe that “politics is show business for ugly people.”
Any way you cut it, the ugly people of politics should try to ween themselves from excessive dependence on the pretty people of People. As those suicidally unfashionable and anti-political performance artists, the Sex Pistols, once mocked their celebrity peers:
We’re so pretty,
Oh so pretty–
Pretty vacant.

Higher Ground on Abortion

In sharp contrast to the president’s evasive and deceptive phone-in comments on abortion yesterday, Hillary Rodham Clinton provided a direct, provocative pro-choice message that challenged people on both sides of the divide to help make abortion safe, legal and rare. The details are in today’s New Dem Dispatch.
The impressive thing about Clinton’s message is that it simultaneously refutes the extremist, all-abortion-is-sacred stereotype the Right has so successfully reinforced about pro-choice Democrats, while also helping expose the genuine extremism of pro-life activists and the Republican Party that’s given them an implicit promise to recriminalize abortion through Supreme Court appointments.
Most notably, Clinton pointed out that an estimated 15,000 abortions a year–or about twenty times the number of so-called “partial-birth” abortions that the GOP so loves to talk about–involve victims of sexual assault. She suggests that such abortions could be largely avoided if “day-after” pills were made available over-the-counter.
Many people who are troubled by abortion or want to see the numbers go down would agree. But the hard-core right-to-life position holds that day-after pills, like intra-uterine devices, are actually “abortifacients” morally indistiguishable from late-term abortions or for that matter, infanticide. They don’t like to talk about that publicly; proposals like Clinton’s force such extremist views right out into the open.
True, some abortion rights ultras will denounce Clinton’s position as a “move to the right” or a “compromise with the enemy,” but let’s be clear that she did not change her position on abortion rights one iota. She simply explored a higher ground from which pro-choice advocates can speak to the non-absolutist majority and actually expand support for the right to choose.

Phoning It In

At today’s March for Life, the annual anti-abortion event in Washington marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the guest of honor, the President of the United States, was a no-show. He did phone in with a message that was broadcast to the half-frozen marchers, in which he trotted out the usual code-talk about his support for a “culture of life” and his contrived and largely symbolic legislative agenda aimed at gnawing at the far corners of the right to choose.
As my colleague The Moose pointed out today, anyone listening in who didn’t have an anti-abortion decoder ring might have thought all the talk about compassion and the need to protect the weak and the vulnerable referred to a broader agenda of helping women and children after, not just before, the moment of birth.
But today’s anti-abortion marchers know exactly what Bush was alluding to, and thus they probably didn’t mind that he characteristically refused to come out and say he shared their fervent desire to re-criminalize abortion, much less the fact that he chose to share the moment next to a fireplace in Camp David rather than braving the elements in his sometimes workplace of Washington, DC.
They’ll forgive Bush another phoned-in quasi-commitment to their cause so long as he shows up live and in person when a Supreme Court opening appears, which could happen very soon. At that point, the game will be over, the Code won’t suffice, and all the contrived and symbolic gestures will become meaningless, because one issue will be unavoidably front and center: does Roe v. Wade stand, or does it fall? Then Bush will no longer be able to stay all warm and toasty as the political winds whirl around the contending forces on this issue.

A Real Crisis For Our Far-Sighted President

George W. Bush has now claimed the oracular mantle of a leader much too far-sighted to be troubled with the here-and-now–a man who looks beyond ephemeral problems like the mess in Iraq or the federal budget meltdown to gaze from high on history’s crest towards the End of Tyranny and the Social Security Crisis of 2060 or whatever it is.
So perhaps this report on the catastrophic dimensions of global climate change will get His Serene Majesty’s attention.
Oh, sorry, forgot. Been there, dismissed that as an enviro-hoax to destroy the U.S. economy and teach Druidism in public schools. But it’s sure going to be a truly royal pain in the butt for Bush if Tony Blair continues to use his chairmanship of the G-8 to draw attention to this issue, and to the Bush administration’s continued efforts to bury it until “the day after tomorrow.”

“Free” Rhetoric, and Worth It

There’s been a lot of discussion since Inaugural Day about the vast and growing gap between George W. Bush’s rhetoric about America’s relentless commitment to the spread of freedom and democracy, and his own administration’s rather different policies. My colleague The Moose succinctly described the Inaugural Address as “disconnected to reality.”
But Ryan Lizza of The New Republic has offered the best, so far, full documentation of this “disconnectedness” in Bush’s foreign and domestic policies. He names all the names of the freedom-hating, undemocratic regimes the administration has continued to snuggle up to, and cites all the sites of the administration’s domestic disrespect for the Gersonian values trumpeted on Thursday.

Answering Armando

I got a few emails about my last post on Southern Democrats, which also received an extensive discussion by Armando on the Daily Kos site. Since Armando raises some of the same points–along with several others–as the emails, and because this is the first non-abusive mention I think I’ve ever gotten from someone posting on Daily Kos, I’ll go through his questions (paraphrasing them to save space) one by one and try to address them.
Q– Even if there is a cyclical nature to modern southern politics, isn’t the long-term trend pretty clearly towards the GOP?

A–Yep, not much doubt about it. The questions I was trying to address were whether (a) the trend is linear and absolutely irreversable, which I don’t think it is, (b) there are lessons in the previous Democratic comebacks that might be relevant today, which I think there are (mainly the possibility and necessity of building new biracial coalitions), and (c) Democrats can hope to at least become competitive, if not dominant, once again, which I think they can, maybe not in every southern state but certainly in some. I tried to set a pretty low threshold in this piece, basically urging national Democrats not to write off the region and local Democrats not to despair. And that answers another implicit Armando question which I didn’t raise: no, I’m not arguing for the Party to obsess about the South or put all their chips on the South or even “target” the South, as a region at least. I’m just saying don’t write it off without thinking about it and really looking at the record.
Q–Does your passage on Carter imply that evangelical Christians are swing voters, and hey, aren’t you ignoring Watergate as a factor in 1976?

A–Without getting into an obscure discussion of varying definitions of evangelical Christians, I certainly am not suggesting that the kind of proto-Christian Right voters who were, as a matter of historical fact, often attracted to Jimmy Carter can be won back by Democrats. And more generally, I hope neither Armando nor anybody else thinks I’m saying Democrats can reduplicate the particular alliances they forged in the past. The point is that they did keep coming up with new alliances in response to the Republican surge, and perhaps, as the three contemporary governors I talke about have shown, they can do it again.
As for Watergate: yes, this was crucial to Carter’s national victory in 1976, but he would have carried much of the South anyway. Look at the margins.
Q–What the hell is a “centrist African-American” candidate?
A–Okay, Armando, you caught me in the bad habit of ideological shorthand, which I generally try to avoid. Maybe the better way to describe the kind of candidates I’m talking about is to say they have an agenda and message that’s squarely within the Democratic mainstream in their state, with some demonstrated ability to appeal beyond racial and partisan boundaries. The African-American politicians I mentioned fit that definition (Georgia’s Thurmond and Baker have repeatedly won statewide); so, too, perhaps do others, like Harold Ford of Tennesee or Artur Davis of Alabama. The big point here is simply that Democrats cannot expect African-American voters, who represent as much as a third of the electorate and a majority of Democratic voters in many southern states, to perpetually vote for white Democratic candidates unless white voters show some willingness to cross the racial line themselves.
Q–Why, specifically, did Republicans overcome the “Wave II” Democratic response and start winning overwhelmingly in suburbs again?

There are two answers I’d offer here, recognizing that the picture is very complicated and varies state to state. The first is that southern Democrats often failed to offer a suburban-friendly agenda that went beyond better public education (an echo of the national Democratic problem in the suburbs). The second is that the composition of southern suburbs (at least in the high-growth states) really changed a lot in the late 90s and early 00s. Putting aside all the David-Brooks-Style exaggerations about sunbelt exurbs, it’s generally true that new suburbs, especially in the South, tend to be very conservative places loaded with young, middle-income families fresh from rural communities or alienated by urban centers or older suburbs. The good news is that as suburbs age, they tend to move politically away from rabid conservatism, often because the Republicans they vote for tend to let them down. And that brings me to perhaps the most important Armando question:
Q–What are the Republican divisions that Southern Democrats should try to exploit?
A–In Virginia and Tennessee, Republicans split over tax and budget issues, with educational finance being an important background issue. In Alabama, there’s an impending split over cultural issues between the hard right and the crazy right, with the infamous Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore likely to challenge incumbent Republican Governor Bob Riley in the ’06 primary. At the local level, all over the South, there are deep tensions between suburbanites committed to public education and home-schoolers and private-schoolers committed to their destruction. And if history is any guide, there will soon be deep divisions in rapidly developing sunbelt suburbs between Republicans worried about uncontrolled growth and those addicted to developers’ campaign contributions.
The general point is this: the upside of Republican gains is that they have to actually govern, and (a) they aren’t very good at it, (b) they have to make choices that will alienate voters, and (c) you cannot run a city, county or state on the kind of cultural wedge-issues that Republicans use to win in the first place.
Q–What should Democrats do in the South about abortion? Or about creationism?
A–While there may be exceptions in states like Louisiana and the border-state Missouri where there are extraordinarily high concentrations of both fundamentalists and Catholics, I don’t believe there is a popular majority in any southern state for overturning basic abortion rights. But there are almost certainly big majorities supporting the contrived agenda of anti-abortion incrementalism: bans on “partial-birth” abortion, parental notification, restrictions on sex education in public schools, etc., etc. But in most cases, this stuff has majority support all over the country. So the smart pro-choice, not to mention Democratic, position in the South isn’t that different from what we should be doing nationally: relentlessly, endlessly, redundantly focusing on the basic right to choose, and refusing wherever possible to be drawn into fights that label 70% of voters “pro-life” when they aren’t in any meaningful sense.
As for “scientific creationism,” or “intelligent design,” I could personally care less if a biology teacher has to spend five minutes a year acknowledging that there is a tiny minority of “scientists” who reject evolution, so long as they are required to equally acknowledge that hundreds of millions of religious people don’t have a single problem with Darwin. Fight fire with fire. That’s also how I feel about the Ten Commandments brouhaha: I’ve long advised Southern Democrats to say, “We don’t just want to post the Ten Commandments; we want to practice them, so let’s talk about honorning our fathers and mothers with a decent retirement.”
Okay, I’ve clearly gone beyond answering Armando, and have ascended the pulpit for a tangentially related sermon, but I hope this post continues a debate about the fate of Southern Democrats in a constructive way. Lord knows there’s enough fact-free stereotyping going on with respect to this subject to make me crave a real discussion like I crave grits for breakfast.

The Future of Southern Democrats

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a special interest in Southern Democrats, and believe they must remain somewhat competitive if the national party is to have any serious chance of controlling Congress, and of entering presidential contests on an even plane with the GOP. And unlike some Democrats in and out of the region, I also think that a competitive southern party is not at all a lost cause.
Part of that conviction is historical. There have been three big waves of Republican gains in the South since the Civil Right era. The first began in 1964, with the defection of southern segregationists to the Barry Goldwater campaign, and subsided in 1970, when a host of “New South” Democrats like Jimmy Carter, Dale Bumpers, and Reuben Askew swept key gubernatorial races across the region. The second began in 1980, when Republicans swept Senate races in the South; it was reversed in 1986; and after rebuilding and peaking in 1994, subsided in 1996 and 1998, when Democrats made a modest but unmistakable comeback in both presidential and non-presidential contests. We are now in the midst of the third big Republican wave, and you will forgive me for being persistently skeptical that this one is any more “permanent” than the other two.
The Democratic response to the first two waves of the GOP tide was very simple: Democrats began building biracial coalitions that offset defections among conservative white voters. In the Wave I response, Democrats combined strong and hard-earned African-Americans votes with a partial revival of support among rural white voters, often exploiting Republican extremism and incompetence in governance. The apotheosis of the Wave I Democratic comeback was Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign of 1976, which drew strong support not only from black voters but from Wallace voters, and–a small detail often forgotten–from self-conscious evangelical Christians attracted by Carter’s outspoken “born-again” identity.
Once both rural conservatives and, most conspicuously, “born-agains,” drifted into the Republican coalition between 1980 and 1994, Southern Democrats created a new bipartisan coalition by continuing to earn 90 percent support from African-Americans, while attracting suburban voters and southern “moderates” generally with a message focused on education and other attractive public-sector agenda items. while insulating themselves from the less attractive aspects of the national party, such as “big government” and cultural liberalism. This new biracial coalition helped Bill Clinton carry four southern states in 1996, and lifted Roy Barnes of GA, Don Siegelman of AL, and Jim Hodges of SC, to upset wins in gubernatorial contests in 1998.
The Democratic response to Wave III of GOP success is uncertain, in no small part because Republicans at both the presidential level and down-ballot have re-established their dominance of the suburban vote, while gradually but steadily increasing their hold on rural white voters.
But the obvious models to look at for a Wave III Democratic comeback are three southern governors: Mark Warner of Virginia ( elected in 2001), and Phil Bredesen of Tennessee (elected in 2002), and Mike Easley of North Carolina (elected in 2000 and re-elected easily in 2004).
Bredesen is profiled by Clay Risen in the latest edition of The New Republic (not up now, but soon to appear on www.tnr.com). Everything Risen says about Bredesen could also be said about Warner (indeed, the Tennessean clearly based his campaign on the Virginian’s electoral strategy). Both men are non-southerners and successful high-tech entrepreneurs who (a) exploited divisions in the dominant Republican Party in their states; (b) found ways to neutralize cultural issues without abandoning progressive principles; (c) used their business experience to establish a reputation of competence and to attract other business people to Democratic policy priorities like education; and most important, (d) convinced conservative rural voters that public sector activism and new technologies could create economic opportunity in regions left for dead by conventional Republican economic development strategies.
Easley’s political appeal has followed many of the same patterns, but the Warner/Bredesen model is especially worth pondering because it has succeeded in states where Republicans appeared to be in a permanent ascendency.
Warner and Bredesen created a whole new biracial coalition, on the fly, based on the political opportunities available to them. Warner, for example, won southwest Virginia, a heavily-white, economically strugging region where our last two presidential candidates just got killed. And he did well in central and southside Virginia, areas where many Democratic elected officials had retired or become Republicans, and where the Democratic Party as an institution had become all but invisible.
The $64,000 question, which Risen implicitly raises in discussing Bredesen’s success, is whether such Wave III Democratic candidates are an aberration; a vestige of the fading past; or perhaps a portent for the future.
Risen cites a compelling analysis of southern voting trends by Ron Brownstein that recently appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Aside from documenting the steady erosion of geographical support for Democrats in post-1996 presidential elections, Brownstein notes the formidable rise in the percentage of southern voters self-identifying as “conservative.”
But a comparison of Bill Clinton’s 1996 performance in the South to John Kerry’s in 2004, makes it pretty clear that the rise–or more accurately, the resurgance–of southern conservatism is not necessarily the only cause of the current Republican ascendency, and is not inevitably an immovable object in the way of a Wave III Democratic revival.
In 1996, the ideological profile of southern voters was: 44% moderate, 39% conservative, 17% liberal. In 2004, it was 43% moderate, 40% conservative, 17% liberal. Not a big difference at all.
Clinton lost southern conservatives in 1996 by 55 points, while Kerry lost them by 73. And Clinton won the plurality group of southern moderates by 20 points, while Kerry won them by 4.
Cutting marginally into the Republican dominance of conservatives, and winning a stronger majority of moderates, is the key to Democratic victories in the South. And that’s not at all a different challenge from the one Democrats face nationally.
To the extent that Warner and Bredesen–and in many respects, Mike Easley as well–represent candidacies that have met that challenge in the toughest possible terrain, and because they have done so without repuduating progressive policies important to Democrats in other regions, I would offer these southern governers not only as examples of how Democrats can remain competitive in the South–but of how Democrats nationally can build a new majority.
In the longer run, I personally believe African-American centrist Democratic candidates–like Mike Thurmond and Thurbert Baker of Georgia, and Ron Kirk of Texas, or for that matter, North Carolina’s Harvey Gantt, who was ahead of his time–offer the best avenue for re-establishing a strong biracial coalition in the South, and as Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois illustrates, a great opportunity nationally as well. Wherever they live, African-American candidates tend to understand and share the cultural values that white Democrats so often have trouble addressing, and also embody the opportunity message that is ultimately the key to Democratic success everywhere. And down south, as I have written about before, a two-way biracial coalition, in which white voters support black candidates, is the right way, and the only way, to keep that coalition alive.

SocSec and Taxes

Noam Scheiber over at TNR’s &c took a long and thoughtful look at my posts on the possible “bait and switch” strategy underway within the GOP, from Social Security “reform” to tax “reform,” and said he was unpersuaded. He makes some very good points, among them the totemic importance of private retirement accounts to the Bush “legacy,” and to the conservative movement’s agenda of fundamentally wounding the New Deal safety net as quickly as possible.
But I am in turn unpersuaded by the suggestion that conservatives ever, for a moment, stop thinking about their Prime Directive: reshaping federal taxation so that income from work rather than wealth bears the primary burden of financing government. Aside from the Jonathan Chait piece I cited earlier, you should take a look, if you haven’t already, at Nick Confessore’s offering in the New York Times Magazine last weekend, which lays it all out: conservatives are determined to shield all investment and inheritance income from taxation, and are willing to consider a variety of avenues to achieve that goal. Moreover, the Bush administration will without any question offer some sort of tax-cut measure this year, just as it has done for the last four years.
My specific concern, which I probably didn’t articulate that well in earlier posts, is that Republicans, if they are thwarted on Social Security, will exploit legitimate Democratic interest in private retirement savings accounts outside the SocSec system to propose something superficially similar but actually very different: big, general-purpose personal savings accounts available to high earners as a means of sheltering investment income from taxation altogether.
I don’t think Democrats should declare victory on Social Security and then move on to other matters. And for the record, I am agnostic as to whether Republicans are consciously planning a switch from Social Security to taxes in the immediate future. All I’m suggesting is that their likely defeat on Social Security could logically lead GOPers in the direction of another attack on progressive taxation, in a way that will initially be confusing to people who might generally favor new tax breaks for personal retirement savings. And Democrats need to start thinking about that. After all, we should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

O Unhappy Day

I’m not calling it Black Thursday or anything, and I don’t endorse protests that suggest Bush stole the 2004 election. But I share the general sense of most Democrats that this is a very different Inaugural Day, definitely more bitter than the one four years ago, despite the disputed outcome of 2000 and the outrageous way it was resolved.
That’s because (a) George W. Bush got re-elected without having to admit a single mistake in his mistake-riddled first term; (b) he won by increasing, not decreasing, the divisions in our country; (c) he enters a second term having systematically undermined any prospect for bipartisanship, and (d) he appears determined to promote the most divisive policies available, domestically and internationally, now that he has survived the “accountability moment” of the 2004 elections.
In other words, he’s done nothing to make this Inaugural event anything other than a gratuitous festival of GOP triumphalism and smug privilege. Predictably, the lines Mike Gerson wrote for his Second Inaugural Address are, compared to the Bush 2001 effort, short on appeals to unity, service and accountability, and long on unintentionally ironic celebrations of America’s reputation around the world as a champion of freedom.
So: this is, more clearly than any Inaugural Day I can remember over four decades, a banquet to which the whole country has decidedly not been invited. As Bush’s partisans celebrate tonight, I will raise a glass to the Uninvited.

Ending Exits As We Know Them

Unless you spent Election Night and The Day After ignoring the whole thing, you probably know there was, er, ah, a bit of a problem with the official exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International. Basically, the exits showed Kerry winning the popular vote by about the same margin that Bush actually won the popular vote; and also showed Kerry ahead and likely to win in Ohio and Florida, thus clinching the electoral college.
This discrepency obviously created a lot of embarrassment (and in the case of Democrats, soon-to-be-dashed victory expectations) for the millions of people who got access, via personal contacts or the internet, to the exits during the afternoon and early evening of election day. And it also helped feed the conspiracy theorists who decided that the actual vote count, not the exits, must be screwed up thanks to the devilish ministrations of GOP election officials or the Diebold Corporation or whatever.
To their credit, the people who conducted the exits didn’t retreat into a technical haze, and intone, like a parochial school teacher asked by a student to explain the Holy Trinity: “It’s a mystery; let’s move on.” The Edison/Mitofsky combine did an internal study, and have now released a 77-page analysis of What Went Wrong. Turns out, they say, it wasn’t a poor selection of sample precincts, or erroneous weighting of results, but mainly a skewed response level to the requests for interviews that led to a slightly higher percentage of exit poll participants among Kerry voters than Bush voters. And that, in turn, was partly caused by access problems in some precincts, and also by the youthfulness of exit poll interviewers, who may have unconsciously over-selected their peers.
The study suggests remedial steps to avoid bad exits in the future (mainly uniform access rules for exit poll interviewers and better training), but I have a different proposal: getting rid of the Election Day/Night predictive function of exits altogether.
Lest we forget, exit polls are conducted for two very different reasons: (a) to make sure news organizations can “call” states and elections as quickly as possible after the polls close, and (b) to provide empirical data to support interpretations of why voters chose this candidate over that.
The civic value of the first function is nil, and perhaps negative. The second does matter, and not only to political scientists or pundits, because without exits, how could we immediately and confidently tell the president he’s full of crap when he says the electorate endorsed his Iraq policies?
So the obvious thing to consider is to get rid of the first function of exit polls, and preserve the second (the latter goal being easy since they can be adjusted to reflect the actual weighting of actual votes, as they were a few days after this election). A flat ban on distribution of exit poll data until the day after the election should do the trick, since all the leaks invariably come from subscribing news organizations rather than the exit poll firm. Maybe a hefty fine for leakers would help as well.
What, specifically, would we lose from ending exits as we know them? News organizations would have to use actual voting data, measured against historic performance and census data, to “call” states and elections. But they already moved in this direction after the 2000 Florida fiasco, using actual votes to “correct” exits; that’s why the networks did not erroneously call Ohio, Florida, and the country for Kerry this last time.
Sure, America’s political junkies would have to abandon the election day game of searching for and then widely disseminating (often distorted) exit poll findings in the middle of the day. But believe me, O ye junkies, it was actually a lot more fun way back in the pre-lapsarian, pre-exits era when you actually had to wait to figure out what had happened. Instead of sitting on your butt and expecting the results to land in your lap at 4:00 p.m., you did your homework, looking for oracular signs of trends in the early votes from long-time bellweathers like Campbell County, Kentucky. With all the resources now available on the web, election day sleuthing could become a lot easier, and a lot more entertaining–without exits.