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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Hackett’s Near-Upset Shakes GOP

GOP spin doctors are scrambling to put a happy face on Paul Hackett’s near-upset of Jean Schmidt in Tuesday’s congressional election in Ohio’s most conservative congressional district. “Special elections are unique, they don’t always reflect the district’s usual results,” explained National Republican Congressional Committee spokessman Carl Forti, quoted in today’s New York Times.
The GOP post-mortems argue correctly that, after all, Schmidt won by a margin of 51.7 – 48.3 percent. True enough, but if Hackett received another 1787 votes of the total cast, he would have been elected.
They point out that it was a low turnout –about 25 percent of eligible voters, or 112,375 total votes. But this argument underscores the GOP’s weakness in delivering a low turnout in one of their strongholds.
But not all Republicans were in denial. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich issued a candid warning to the GOP, as quoted in today’s WaPo:

“It should serve as a wake-up call to Republicans, and I certainly take it very seriously in analyzing how the public mood evidences itself,” Gingrich said. “Who is willing to show up and vote is different than who answers a public opinion poll. Clearly, there’s a pretty strong signal for Republicans thinking about 2006 that they need to do some very serious planning and not just assume that everything is going to be automatically okay.”

Ohio GOP political director Jason Mauk put it this way:

To the extent that voters in that district were sending a message to the Republican Party at the state or national level, we have heard that message and we will continue to listen to their concerns.

One of the key lessons of Hackett’s near-win is the power of the liberal blogosphere in raising needed funds for individual campaigns. Lead by The Swing State Project, liberal bloggers raised an estimated $500,000 for Hackett, two-thirds of his campaign budget of $750,000, according to the WaPo article.
Another lesson for Dems is that Hackett’s impressive tally was boosted by his refusal to water down his criticism of the Administration’s Iraq policy or tone down his anti-corruption message. Hackett also used some strong rhetoric during the campaign, reportedly calling President Bush an “s.o.b.” and a “chicken-hawk.” An interesting question is whether the name-calling helped or hurt him. When asked if his rhetoric helped his campaign, Hackett, who clearly appreciates the importance of consistency, was quoted in a Cincinnatti Post article as saying “Meant it, said it, stand by it…I’d say it again. For every vote I may have lost because of it, I probably picked up one or two.” There should be no doubt, however, that his tough stands on Bush’s Iraq policy and GOP corruption in Ohio resonated with many of the 2nd district’s swing voters.

Whites Moving Away from GOP

Pundits like to point out how dependent the Democrats are on the minority vote and, therefore, how vulnerable the Democrats would be to any weakening in that support. True enough. But it’s also true–perhaps even more so–that the GOP is utterly dependent on high levels of support among whites and, therefore quite vulnerable to any weakening of support among these voters.
And weakening of white support for the GOP appears to be precisely what’s happening–though you’d never guess it from the deafening silence among the very pundits who like to tut-tut about the Democrats’ dependence on the minority vote. Here are some very interesting figures from a recently-released Gallup report, “Black Support for Bush, GOP, Remains Low“, based on results of their 2005 and earlier Minority Relations polls.
1. In June of 2004, Bush’s approval rating among non-Hispanic whites was 61 percent. This June, it’s down to 47 percent, with 48 percent disapproval. In contrast, Bush’s approval ratings among blacks is flat-lined at 16 percent in the two polls, while Hispanics haven’t really budged either, giving Bush a 40 percent rating in 2004 and a 41 percent rating in 2005.
2. In June of 2004, the GOP enjoyed a 19 point lead in party ID (including leaners) over the Democrats among whites. This June, the Democrats actually have a small 2 point lead in party ID among whites. That’s a huge shift. Combined with the Democrats’ current 60 point lead in party ID among blacks and 19 point lead among Hispanics, that makes the GOP look quite vulnerable indeed.
After all, without white voters in essentially landslide proportions, the GOP political coalition, as we know it, could not exist. In fact, it wouldn’t even be particularly competitive.
Something more for Karl Rove to worry about! And for pundits to opine about, if they can tear themselves away from telling the Democrats to panic about their dependence on the minority vote.

Main Political Supports of Bush Presidency Seriously Weakened (Continued)

On Friday, I discussed two of the main supports of the Bush presidency–public views of Bush’s character and the role of Karl Rove–that have been seriously weakened, as revealed by the new Pew Research Center poll.
But the most important support of the Bush presidency is, by far, the war on terror and the public’s belief that Bush and his policies are keeping them safe. That belief now appears to have eroded considerably.
Start with the Iraq war. Right now, Bush’s approval rating on Iraq is down to 35 percent with 57 percent disapproval. That’s the lowest his rating has ever been in this poll.
That’s bad, but the really significant news here is that the public is now concluding that the Iraq war has had a negative effect on the war on terror and on their safety from terrorist attacks. For example, an 8 point plurality in the poll (47-39) now believe the Iraq war has hurt, not helped, the war on terror. This is the first time views have been so negative about the Iraq war’s effect on the war on terror. And the public now believes, by 2:1 (45-22) that the Iraq war has increased, rather than decreased, the changes for terror attacks on the US.
Reflecting these views, Bush’s approval rating on handling terrorist threats has sunk to 49 percent, only the second time that his approval rating in his premier area has dipped below 50 percent. It is unlikely to be the last time given how the public is starting to view the Iraq war.
Pew provides an interesting table comparing different groups’ views from today and about a year ago on Iraq war’s effect on the war on terrorism. Scrutinizing the table it is clear that white women, as opposed to white men or nonwhites, are mostly driving the overall public move toward the position that the Iraq war has hurt the war on terror. This is particularly significant because it is white women, primarily on the basis of security issues, who moved the most toward Bush in the 2004 election and provided much of his victory margin in that election.
If these voters are starting to conclude that the GOP is not doing a good job protecting them and may, in fact, be making them less safe, the implications for the GOP in 2006 and beyond could be profound.

Main Political Supports of Bush Presidency Seriously Weakened

Bush may very well get his Supreme Court nominee through without much trouble. But that’s likely to help him only marginally, because the Pew Research Center has just released two new reports on their latest poll, “Republicans Uncertain on Rove Resignation” and “More Say Iraq War Hurts Fight Against War on Terrorism“, which together show that the main political supports of Bush’s presidency have become seriously weakened.
Bush has benefitted during this presidency from positive public perceptions of his character, which have seemed relatively immune to fallout from his many policy failures. No longer. Public views of Bush’s character have apparently taken a nose-dive since the last time Pew asked in people for their impressions of Bush’s character.
In fall of 2003, 62 percent said Bush was trustworthy and just 32 percent said he was not, a 30 point positive margine. Today, however, it’s almost an even split–49 percent say he’s trustworthy and 46 percent say he isn’t. Similarly, he’s slipped from 56 percent he does/38 percent he doesn’t on “cares about people like me” to 48/49 today.
The biggest shift has been on “able to get things done”, which has fallen from 68/26 to 50/42 today. And even characteristics like “a strong leader” (68/29 to 55/41) and “warm and friendly” (70/23 to 57/37) have declined substantially.
Across the board, those stellar character ratings which supposedly meant Bush could weather any political storm have become mediocre to poor. And he’s lost the most ground among independents, only 38 percent of whom now believe Bush is trustworthy or cares about people like them. Even more amazing, less than half (48 percent) of indepedents now think Bush is a strong leader, which is a massive 24 point decline since Pew’s previous measurement.
And how about this: in February of this year, the two leading one word description of Bush were “honest” and “good”, cited by 38 percent and 20 percent of the public, respectively. Today, honest has declined to 31 percent, closely followed by “incompetent” (26 percent, up from 14 percent) and “arrogant” (24 percent, up from 15 percent).
Karl Rove
Another mainstay of Bush’s presidency has been Karl Rove. But he’s starting to seem more a liability than an asset. As ABC News reported the other day, only a quarter of the public think the White House is cooperating fully in the investigation of the “outing” of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame (married to Bush critic Joseph Wilson). Rove is a central target of that investigation and administration attempts to shield him are just contributing to the erosion of public trust in Bush and his administration.
Right now, more believe Rove is guilty of a serious offence than not (32-23) and more believe he should resign than not (39-23). But many haven’t heard enough to have an opinion, so the percentage of the public calling for his resignation still is not that high.
However, among the half of the public that has been following the story closely (which makes this story roughly as big as the Trent Lott resignation and much bigger than the Delay ethics controversy), almost three-fifths (58 percent, including 69 percent of independents) call for Rove’s resignation, compared to just 26 percent who don’t. Similarly, those who think Rove is guilty of a serious offense rises to 47 percent among the attentive public (54 percent among independents), with 29 percent dissenting.
More on “Main Political Supports of Bush Presidency Seriously Weakened” tomorrow…..

No Rally Effect for Bush

A number of media observers predicted that a rally effect would significantly boost the popularity of Bush and his agenda after the July 7 London bombings. That does not appear to have happened, based on a number of public polls that have been released since then. Instead, these polls suggest little positive effect on Bush’s popularity and agenda, as violence continues in Iraq and the Rove scandal at home grabs the headlines.
Job Approval. Gallup is the only firm to have polled close to and then right after the July 7 bombings. They found a modest three point rise in Bush’s popularity, from 46 to 49 percent. With other public polls, one has to compare the post-July 7 poll with poll from early June or even May. Based on this comparison, Pew and CBS News found Bush’s popularity up 3-5 points to 47 percent and 45 percent respectively and Ipsos-AP and NBC News/Wall Street Journal found Bush’s popularity down a point to 42 percent and 46 percent, respectively. In the case of the latter two polls, these are actually the lowest job ratings Bush has ever received.
The Economy. Bush’s economic approval rating was 42 percent in the Ipsos-AP poll (a point down from the previous poll reading), 40 percent in the CBS News poll (a point up) and 39 percent in the NBC News poll (four points down). Moreover, a July 13 Gallup report notes:

The Gallup Poll’s first read on consumer confidence after last Thursday’s London terror bombings shows little positive or negative change. Americans remain generally pessimistic about the economy, only about a third rate the current economy as excellent or good, and a majority say that now is not a good time to be looking for a quality job.

Social Security. The Ipsos-AP poll finds Bush’s approval rating on Social Security dropping to 35 percent. And the NBC News poll, which asks now finds its lowest number ever, 33 percent, saying it is a “good idea” to change the Social Security system to allow workers to invest their contributions in the stock market, compared to 57 percent who term it a bad idea. And, as we have seen before, those who believe it’s a bad idea say they’re unlikely to switch (by 62-36), while those who believe it’s a good idea say they’re open to switching by essentially the same margin (62-37).
Iraq. As I noted in an earlier post, the Gallup poll taken right after the bombings showed no evidence that reaction to the bombings had increased support for the Iraq war. The other post-bombings public polls tell the same story. Bush’s Iraq approval rating remains mired at 40 percent in the Ipsos-AP poll, and 39 percent in both the CBS News and NBC News polls. Moreover, the CBS News poll finds the following:
1. More than half the public (52 percent) says that US involvment in Iraq is creating more terrorists, compared to just 17 percent who think our involvement is eliminating terrorists.
2. As for how the Iraq war has affected the terror threat to the US, 44 percent now say that war has increased that threat (another 41 percent say there has been no effect), while only 13 percent believe it has decreased the threat.
3. Half the public says that Iraq is not part of the war on terror, compared to 37 percent who it’s a major part and 9 percent who say it’s a minor part.
4. Most Americans (54 percent) continue to think things are going badly, not well (44 percent), for the US in Iraq.
5. By an overwhelming 63-28 percent, the public says Bush does not have a plan for dealing with the Iraq situation.
6. And, finally, by 55-40, the public says the US should set a timetable for bringing the troops home from Iraq. This underscores the developing interest among the public in a timetable for leaving Iraq, despite Bush’s adamant refusal to consider such an option.
In short, Bush’s problems today look pretty much like Bush’s problems before the London bombings. Those problems were serious then and they’re still serious now. Indeed, with Karl Rove now in the crosshairs of the national press as the current scandal continues to unfold, they could easily become much worse.

Dems Have Bigger Problems Than Rove

In his Bullmoose post today, “Reviling Rove,” Marshall Wittmann makes a couple of important points Dems should heed in focusing their energies on punishing Karl Rove for his role in Plamegate:

Democrats can’t merely be the party of “no” – or “we hate Karl”. While we are seething with our justifiable anger, the Republican Chairman is making serious overtures to the African-American community. And what kind of effective out reach is the Democratic Party making to groups that have been estranged from the party in recent years?
The politics of scandal do not always pay off for the opposition party. In the 1988 campaign, Iran-contra did not doom an incumbent Veep with ties to the scandal. And Democrats actually made gains in 1998 in the midst of the Lewinsky frenzy.
Surely the donkey should pursue Rove, but Democrats should not be consumed with him.

The other point Bullmoose could have made is that Rovism was around before Karl Rove and will likely be a cornerstone of GOP strategy and tactics long after he is gone. Rovethink is just a bent form of the same ruthless mentality embraced by Haldeman and Erlichman during the Nixon Administration, or Lee Atwater during Bush I. Democrats need to develop a more effective strategy for confronting dirty politics, regardless of who is behind it.
Rove should be held accountable for his role in the Plame affair, because endangering our intelligence personnel is a very serious transgression. But Rove-bashing, however richly deserved, will not do anything to inspire confidence in the Democratic Party. For that, we have to put more energy into developing strong candidates who know how to deliver a consistent, credible message that wins the support of swing voters.

Did the London Bombings Increase Support for the Iraq War?

The lead to my post yesterday was: “As support for the Iraq war continues to ebb–and, no, I don’t think reaction to the London bombing will much of an impact on that support….”.
I swear I wrote those words before I saw the results of the latest Gallup poll. Here they are, showing no increase–in fact, a general decrease–in support for the Iraq war and Bush’s foreign policy after the London bombings.
1. In the Gallup poll prior to the July 7 bombings, 46 percent said it was worth going to war in Iraq and 52 percent said it was not. In the new poll, conducted July 7-10, 44 percent say it was worth going to war, compared to 53 percent who say it wasn’t.
2. In the pre-bombings Gallup poll, 44 percent said the war in Iraq has made the US safer from terrorism, while 39 percent said it has made us less safe. In the new poll, those figures have changed dramatically: 54 percent now say the war in Iraq has made us less safe, compared to just 40 percent who say it has made us safer. Most of this change appears to be attributable to people switching from the view that the war in Iraq has had no effect on the safety of the US to the view that the war has made us less safe.
In light of what just happened, one can see why these fence-sitters switched.
3. In the new poll, 52 percent say the war with Iraq has made the world less safe from terrorism, compared to 40 percent who say it’s made the world safer (question not asked in pre-bombings Gallup poll, so no recent comparison available).
4. As for who’s winning the war against terrorism, the view that the US and its allies are winning declined to 34 percent in the new poll, down 2 points from before the bombings, while the view that neither side is winning is up 3 points to 44 percent and the view the terrorists are winning is up a point to 21 percent.
5. Finally, those expressing a great deal of confidence in the Bush administration to protect US citizens from future acts of terrorism is unchanged at 23 percent from before the bombings. That 23 percent figure, however, is down from 38 percent in early February.
In short, it looks like the London bombings have simply deepened the political trouble the Bush administration faces from its Iraq policy and its increasingly vexed relationship to the overall war on terror.
How can Democrats take maximum advantage of that political trouble? I refer you to the excellent post below by Andrew Levison, who, I believe, has some very plausible suggestions.

Meanwhile, Back on the Economic Front

As support for the Iraq war continues to ebb–and, no, I don’t think reaction to the London bombing will much of an impact on that support, except perhaps in the very short run–let’s not forget how little support Bush has for what he’s doing on the economic front.
A recent report by Gallup, “Bush’s Economic Report Card Shows Little Progress“, notes the following:

Americans remain concerned about the economy, as more say they expect it to get worse than get better, and Bush’s economic approval rating stands at 41%, with 55% disapproving.
Gallup asks the public on a monthly basis if Bush’s economic policies are “helping the economy, not having much effect, or hurting the economy.” The trend line over the last five months shows consistently lackluster ratings. Slightly more than a third of Americans (36%) say Bush’s economic policies are hurting the economy. This percentage has remained fairly steady, with a high point of 40% in April. A similar percentage of Americans (37%) say the president’s policies are not having much of an effect. About one in every four Americans (24%), on the other hand, say the president’s policymaking has helped the economy, and this percentage has hovered within a five-point range since February.

So only about a quarter of the public (and just 16 percent of self-identified moderates) believe Bush’s economic policies are actually helping the country. That should make the economy another difficult issue for the Republican party in 2006. As Democracy Corps’ report on their recent poll puts it:

Iraq will certainly be an issue, but do not underestimate the power of the economy. Structurally, this economy is not producing enough jobs to seriously tighten the labor market or enough income and benefits for people to feel they are making gains. When asked whether this is economy is doing well (creating jobs, rising incomes and home ownership and moving in the right direction) or not doing well (jobs scarce, incomes stagnant and benefits cut), a large majority (60 percent) are very clear that this economy is not performing for people.

Ah, but how to translate this economic dissatisfaction into the political coin of the realm, actual votes on election day? That’s the difficult part and, in the last couple of elections, Democrats have had little success doing just that.
An easy answer is: new ideas on the economy. But, as Jonathan Chait usefully reminds us in his New Republic piece, “The Case Against New Ideas: Policies Aren’t What Matters in Politics“, Democrats don’t lack for ideas, many of them fairly new, and, in fact, Democrats’ ideas tend to more resemble real ideas (as opposed to slogans) and to be more carefully worked-out than those of their Republican opponents. Moreover, there is little evidence that voters actually pay much attention to detailed ideas, however new, about public policy.
So is there no ideas problem in the Democratic party? Depends on what you mean by “ideas”, as Mark Schmitt points out in an excellent post on his Decembrist blog. It may be true that voters pay little attention to the details of policy ideas, but they do pay attention to what parties generally stand for and where, in general, they propose to take the country. And they do pay attention to the results of parties’ policies once they are in office.
The Democrats could use new ideas, therefore, but:
1. Those ideas should sum up clearly and simply what the party stands for and where it proposes to take the country.
2. Those ideas should be few in number and easily reduced to a key principle or two that can be transmitted to voters–otherwise voters are unlikely to pay much attention.
3. Those ideas should actually work in practice, so that voters will see the benefits of having the party in office and reward it with additional electoral success.
If Democrats can produce ideas on the economy that meet these criteria, I think they have an excellent chance of capitalizing, both short-term and long-term, on voter dissatisfaction with Republican management of the economy.
Otherwise, not.

Shedding Light on Iraq Occupation

The London bombings underscore the urgency of improving homeland security in the U.S., a critical issue for Democrats to master in upcomming campaigns. But it’s also important for Dems to get up to speed on what is really going on inside Iraq. Facing South, website of the Institute for Southern Studies, has a trio of articles that shed fresh light on U.S. policy in Iraq and ought to be of interest to Democratic strategists. Chris Kromm’s “What Do the People of Iraq Want” reports on a U.S. government poll of Iraqis which found that:

45 percent of Iraqis support the insurgent attacks against coalition troops and a majority of Iraqis oppose having the U.S.-led multinational force in the country, and feel less safe with foreign troop patrols in their neighborhood.

In another article, “A Way Out of Iraq,” Kromm reports on a proposal for a “negotiated withdrawall” from Iraq, a “win-win” policy option that merits thoughtful consideration by Democratic candidates and strategists. And, as long as you are there, you might as well check out Kromm’s eye-opening piece “The Looting of Iraq,” a devastating indictment of contractor corruption in Iraq, which summarizes a longer Guardian article Kromm calls “one of the most galling stories in the annals of U.S. foreign policy.”

Sure, Hispanics Are Important, But You’ve Still Got to Do Most of Your Hunting Where Most of the Ducks Are

The Pew Hispanic Center has just released a very useful, data-rich report, “Hispanics and the 2004 Election: Population, Electorate and Voters“. Among other things, the report concludes, as I have, that the 58-40 Kerry-Bush split among Hispanics in the combined state exit polls is much more plausible than the 53-44 split in the national exit poll. To support this view, they note that the demographics of the Hispanic voter sample in the combined state polls matches up well with the demographics of the 2004 Census Voter Supplement Hispanic sample. The demographics of the national exit poll Hispanic sample, on the other hand, match up rather poorly with the Census data. (For an explanation of what the Census Voter Supplement data is and why we should take its demographic information quite seriously, see my recent comments on the release of the 2004 Voter Supplement data.)
The report also notes that all of the shift toward Bush among Hispanics from 2000 to 2004 occurred among Protestants. Hispanic Catholics didn’t waver in their Democratic loyalties.
The focus of the report, however, is not on partisan Hispanic voting patterns, but rather the Hispanic vote as a whole and how rapidly it is growing. Their answer, in brief, is: not as rapidly as you think, especially in comparison to the overall growth of the Hispanic population. Here are their key findings:

Between the 2000 and 2004 elections, the Hispanic population grew by 5.7 million, accounting for half of the increase in the U.S. population of 11.5 million.
Of those 5.7 million Hispanics added to the U.S. population between the last two presidential elections, 1.7 million persons or 30 percent were less than 18 years old and are thus not eligible to vote. Another 1.9 million or 33 percent of the people added to the Hispanic population between the two elections were adults not eligible to vote because they were not citizens.
As a result of these factors, only 39 percent of the Latino population was eligible to vote compared to 76 percent of whites and 65 percent of the black population.
Both the number of Latinos registered to vote (9.3 million) and the number of Latinos who cast ballots (7.6 million) in November 2004 marked increases of political participation over the 2000 election that were larger than for any other ethnic or racial group in percentage terms.
However, both registration and turnout rates for Latinos were lower than for whites or blacks. As a result, only 47 percent of eligible Hispanics went to the polls compared to 67 percent of whites and 60 percent of blacks. Differences in registration rates explain most of the gaps.
The combination of demographic factors and participation rates meant that only 18 percent of the Latino population voted in 2004 compared to 51 percent of whites and 39 percent of blacks.
In November 2004, Hispanics were 14.3 percent of the total population but only 6.0 percent of the votes cast. In the previous election, Hispanics were 12.8 percent of the population and 5.5 percent of the votes cast.

These interesting data serve to remind us of an important fact. While the Hispanic population is indeed growing fast, the Hispanic vote still lags far, far behind the white vote in terms of political importance and that is not going to change anytime soon. Therefore, even if the Hispanic vote turns back towards the Democrats in the 2006 and 2008 elections, as I believe is likely, the Democrats will not make much progress without moving the white vote, particularly the white working class vote, away from the Republicans.
Indeed, it would greatly serve GOP interests for Democrats to focus their worries and energies on the Hispanic vote, while conceding GOP dominance over the white vote. That’s still where most of the ducks are and where most of the Democratic hunting should be, if they hope to break the GOP hold on Congress and the Presidency.