washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

GOP Tries Gay Marriage Again

By Alan Abramowitz
Americans are deeply dissatisfied with the failure of the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress to address the major problems facing the nation including the deteriorating situation in Iraq, our growing dependence on foreign oil, health care, education, and the environment. But Republican leaders have finally come up with a strategy to deal with growing public discontent–bring back gay marriage. On Monday President Bush will again announce his support for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Despite the fact that the amendment has no chance of being enacted, Republican strategists hopes to use the issue of gay marriage to distract the public from the war and other issues and to energize its conservative base–just like they did in 2004.
The problem with this scenario, however, is that the strategy didn’t even work the first time. There is no credible evidence that the issue of gay marriage actually helped the GOP in 2004. Gay marriage referenda were supposed to increase turnout and support for President Bush among religious white voters. But they didn’t. Turnout increased by the same amount in states with and without gay marriage referenda on the ballot and George Bush’s share of the vote increased by the same amount in states with and without gay marriage referenda on the ballot.
According to national exit poll data, in the 11 states with gay marriage referenda on the ballot, regular churchgoers made up 46 percent of the white electorate in 2000 and an identical 46 percent in 2004. The percentage of regular churchgoers who voted for George Bush was 72 percent in 2000 vs. 74 percent in 2004, an increase of two percentage points. But this was less than the three point increase in support for Bush among all white voters.
The gay marriage ploy didn’t work in 2004 and it is highly unlikely that it work in 2006. Maybe the Republicans should try something different this time–like dealing with the real problems facing the American people.

The Politics of Definition, All in One Place

By Ruy Teixeira
Considerable interest has been expressed in a .pdf of the entire Halpin/Teixeira Politics of Definition paper, rather than the somewhat-difficult-to-read four installments now in various places on the Prospect website. I’m happy to oblige with this very nice .pdf put together by the Prospect folks, laid out in a format similar to Prospect print magazine pieces.

No Good News for GOP in Recent Polls

By Alan Abramowitz
While there have been very few polls in the past 2-3 weeks, the two polls that have come out recently indicate that George Bush’s approval rating is continuing to slide. A new Fox/OD poll shows Bush at 36% approval, 53% disapproval, tied for his lowest rating ever in that poll. And a new AP/Ipsos poll has Bush at 36% approval, 62% disapproval, a new low in that poll. The AP/Ipsos poll also gives Democrats a 16 point lead in the generic vote for the House of Representatives–the largest Democratic lead to date in that poll.

Strong Disapproval Matters

By Alan Abramowitz
An analysis of National Election Study data on voting patterns in midterm elections between 1982 (when the NES began asking a presidential approval question) and 2004 indicates that voters with strong opinions of the president’s performance are more likely to base their House vote on their opinion of the president than voters with only weak opinions. Moreover, voters with strong negative opinions are by far the most likely to base their House vote on their opinion of the president.
Across these six midterm elections, the average percentage of each group whose House vote was consistent with its opinion of the president’s job performance was as follows:
Strongly approve 72%
Weakly approve 49%
Weakly disapprove 70%
Strongly disapprove 85%
With 44% of the public now strongly disapproving of George Bush’s performance, these results provide further reason to expect substantial Democratic gains in the 2006 midterm elections.

Further Thoughts on the Most Recent Gallup Poll

By Alan Abramowitz
1. A substantial majority of Americans now believe Bush to be incapable of managing the government, which is one of the core responsibilities of any president.
2. Bush’s approval has fallen to 59 percent among conservatives–the lowest level of his presidency. This is another sign that the base is beginning to erode.
3. The percentage of Americans who strongly disapprove of Bush (44%)is the highest of his presidency. Strong disapprovers outnumber strong approvers by more than two to one. This has important implications for the midterm election because voters with the strongest views on Bush are the most likely to vote and the most likely to vote based on their opinion of the president.

Latest SurveyUSA Poll Shows Dem Gains Likely in Senate Races

By Alan Abramowitz
Even though only 15 Republican Senate seats are up in 2006 compared with 18 Democratic seats, the latest Surveyusa approval ratings of all 100 U.S. senators provide reason for optimism for Democrats. Six GOP incumbents whose seats are up this year received approval ratings below 50% including Conrad Burns of Montana (42%), Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania (43%), Mike DeWine of Ohio (43%), John Kyl of Arizona (47%), Jim Talent of Missouri (48%), and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (49%). All except Kyl appear likely to face serious, well-funded Democratic challengers in the fall. Recent polls show Santorum and Talent trailing their likely Democratic challengers and Burns, DeWine, and Chafee locked in close contests. In contrast, only two Democratic incumbents whose seats are up this year received approval ratings below 50%. Bill Nelson’s approval rating was 49% in the latest poll of Florida voters, but his disapproval rating was a relatively low 34% and he has consistently led his likely GOP challenger, former FL Secretary of State Katherine Harris, by a comfortable margin in recent polls. Debbie Stabenow’s approval rating was also 49% but her disapproval rating was only 39% and she, too, has been leading her potential Republican challengers by wide margins in recent polls. Democrats need to gain six seats to take control of the Senate. With at least five vulnerable GOP incumbents and a promising open seat contest in Tennessee where Republican majority leader Bill Frist is retiring, a pickup of six seats is not out of the question. At a minimum, Democrats are likely to gain several seats in the upper chamber and be well positioned to regain control in 2008 when a larger group of Republican seats will be up.

Is Bush on the Comeback Trail?

By Alan Abramowitz
In a news story today, the Times reports that “after months of political erosion, President Bush’s approval rating improved markedly in the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.” Well, not really. Bush’s approval rating increased from 35 percent in the Times’ October poll to 40 percent in the current poll. The 35 percent approval rating in the October poll was somewhat below the average for all published polls during that time period while the 40 percent rating is close to the average of all polls conducted in the past month. Given the margin of sampling error of both polls (+/- 3 percent), there is a strong likelihood that President Bush’s approval rating has not changed at all.

Will the Real White Working Class Please Stand Up?

By David Gopoian and Ralph Whitehead, Jr.
One of the puzzles that faces Democratic electoral strategists is what to make of white working-class voters. Many Democrats believe that it is in the objective economic self-interest of white working-class voters to give a majority of their presidential votes to the Democratic ticket. In the last two elections, however, it does not appear that white working-class voters have done this–over even come close to doing so.
Now, for those who follow the discussion of the voting behavior of the white working class, a recent paper by Larry Bartels of Princeton University, “What’s the Matter with What’s the Matter with Kansas“, offers good news and bad news. The good news: “Has the white working class abandoned the Democratic Party,” asks Bartels. “No. White voters in the bottom third of the income distribution have actually become more reliably Democratic in presidential elections…”
The bad news: Bartels’s definition of the white working class–white voters whose incomes put them in the lower-third of the household income distribution–is quite different from the prevailing definition of the white working class.
In a broad version of the prevailing definition, the white working class consists of white voters whose education has stopped short of a four-year college degree. (A narrower definition might focus on the voters within this segment who are ages 30 to 60, work in blue-collar and pink-collar and lower-white-collar jobs in the service sector and what’s left of the manufacturing sector, and have household incomes that surround the median household income for the nation, $44,000.) In 2004, voters who fit the broader definition–noncollege whites– favored George W. Bush by a margin of 23 points in the NEP national exit poll.
The Bartels paper doesn’t include a demographic profile of the voters who fit his definition of the white working class. But if you turn to the NES, the same survey he uses for the data in his paper, you can determine some of the demographic features of the Bartels group. And they don’t bear a strong resemblance to the demography of the prevailing definition. For one thing, the median household income for his group is $21,000, less than half as high as the median household income in the prevailing definition. And the income figure is lower largely because only one-third (35%) of the Bartels voters were actively doing paid work. Also, of those who were working nearly half were under the age of 30. This leaves only 19 percent of the voters in Bartels’ group who were at least 30 years old and also actively on the job. The plurality of voters in Bartels’ definition were retired (35%) or permanently disabled (8%). An additional 4% were unemployed or laid-off.
Bartels’ paper does underscore a couple of important conditions: For many Americans, retirement means economic hardship. And a lot of workers who are under the age of 30 are likely to be slogging through the lower reaches of the earnings scale. More to the point, he is surely correct in implying a notable truth about these voters, the close-to-the-edge elders and the still-struggling 20-somethings: namely, it is in the objective economic self-interest of these voters to support the Democratic ticket — and they actually do support it. But his findings don’t necessarily solve the puzzle of what Democrats ought to make of “white working class” voters as the term is generally understood.
Indeed, in the same 2004 NES data set that Bartels used for his analysis, the white working class, using the white noncollege definition, comprised nearly half of the voting electorate, had median household incomes of $47,500, and provided Kerry with only 40% of their votes, compared to about 59% for all other voters in the NES sample.
The Democrats’ troubles with white working-class voters are further substantiated by state-level exit polls. Kerry failed to gain a plurality of noncollege white voters in any of the 22 states where data for respondents’ education levels were obtained. By contrast, Kerry did win a majority of votes from white college-educated voters in 8 of those states and topped 48% among these voters in 4 other states. For all of the comfort that Bartels’ analysis provides regarding surprisingly strong Democratic performance among the least affluent white voters, there is still plenty of justified anxiety about how to reach the forgotten majority of white working-class voters.

Follow the Bouncing Gallup Poll

By Alan Abramowitz
According to the new Gallup Poll, in the past 10 days, George Bush’s approval rating rose from 40 percent to 45 percent while his disapproval rating fell from 58 percent to 50 percent. That’s a shift from a net approval rating of -18 percent to a net approval rating of -5 percent, a pretty big change. Gallup attributes Bush’s improved poll numbers to favorable public reaction to his response to Hurricane Rita. Perhaps.
But a simpler explanation might be that the new Gallup sample is more Republican and less Democratic than the previous one. Between the Sept. 16-18 Gallup Poll and the Sept. 26-28 Gallup Poll, the proportion of Republican identifiers (including leaners) increased from 38 percent to 43 percent while the proportion of Democratic identifiers decreased from 53 percent to 47 percent. So in just 10 days a net Democratic advantage of 15 points shrank to a net Democratic advantage of just 4 points.
Given the strong relationship between party identification and presidential approval, it is likely that the entire difference between President Bush’s approval rating in these two polls was due to the difference in the partisan composition of the two samples.

Iraq: Where Dems Agree

Peter Baker and Shailagh Murray are generating some buzz with their article in today’s WaPo “Democrats Split Over Position on Iraq War: Activists More Vocal As Leaders Decline To Challenge Bush.” But there’s little that is new here — it’s pretty much a standard “Dems Face Dilemma” piece. Baker and Murray provide a good summary of recent developments concerning Iraq with respect to Democratic policy (Hackett, Feingold, Sheehan etc.) and they present a few interesting comments about the wisdom of Dems quietly feeding Bush more rope as he continues to self-destruct.
Actually, the more interesting story is the widening cracks in the GOP’s foreign policy consensus (See Hagel, Chuck on the front page of today’s edition of any American newspaper).
Yes, it would be swell if all Democrats agreed on what to do about Iraq. But that is about as likely to occurr as Bush’s daughters enlisting to serve in Baghdad. Dems can ill afford hand-wringing over the fact that we do not have a unified position on Iraq, and probably won’t. But let’s do emphasize what the overwhelming majority of Democrats agree on:

Bush lied about Iraq having WMD’s and being a threat to U.S. national security.
Bush, Rumsfeld & Co have bungled the occupation of Iraq through poor preparation, mismanagement and bad decisions and gotten us into a horrific quagmire.
Halliburton and other firms favoring the GOP have gotten filthy rich on the bloodshed in Iraq.
At the present casualty rate, more Americans will have been killed in Iraq by next summer than were killed in the attacks on 9-11.
We have already spent $250 billion taxpayer dollars in Iraq, and there are credible forecasts indicating that the final tab could reach $1 trillion.
Although there have been no more attacks within U.S. borders since 9-11, our “homeland security” is highly porus, with many needed measures, such as stronger port security, left sorely underfunded.
There are probably more terrorists willing to do harm to the U.S. today as a direct result of U.S. oocupation of Iraq than there were before we invaded Iraq.
We have a manpower shortage in our armed services, and new enlistments have slowed to a trickle.
Gas Prices are higher than ever, and expected to go up even further.
Flip-flopping on what to do about Iraq is clearly a loser. Dem candidates all across the dove-hawk spectrum must state a clear policy on Iraq, while leaving enough room to adjust to changing realities.
Bin laden is alive and taunting the U.S, and he ain’t in Iraq.

These points of agreement, which are shared by a huge majority of Democrats ought to be enough to project powerful campaign themes that can resonate in ’06 and ’08 in every congressional district. If we can’t present a compelling foreign policy alternative to the Bush administration’s litany of blunders, we don’t deserve to win.