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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Like Ouch, Man

If Maynard G. Krebs, beatnik extraordinaire, worked down at RNC headquarters, that’s what he’d likely be saying about the latest round of public polls.
Newly-released data from the latest Pew Research Center poll include the following dreadful approval ratings for Bush: 43 percent approval/50 percent disapproval overall; 42/43 on the environment; 38/46 on foreign policy; 37/56 on the Iraq situation; 35/57 on the economy; 31/49 on energy policy; and 29/56 on Social Security.
The Pew analysis of the poll notes that the biggest factors (based on a regression model) driving Bush’s poor overall approval rating are the public’s negative views of his handling of the economy and of the Iraq situation.
The Pew poll also includes a series of questions asking respondents whether the country is making progress, losing ground or staying about the same on a series of important issues. The worst result was on the budget deficit, where 65 percent say we’re losing ground and just 6 percent think we’re making progress. That’s followed by Social Security finances (63/6), how the health care system is working (62/9), Medicare finances (56/5), availability of good-paying jobs (55/15), illegal immigration (52/11) and the quality of public education (50/20). On the health care system, going back to 1994, and the budget deficit, going back to 1989, these are the most negative assessments ever. And on job availability, only an early 1994 reading is more negative than the public’s assessment today.
Speaking of job availability and the economy, the latest ARG poll indicates extraordinarily high levels of economic pessimism. Bush’s economic approval rating in the poll, 35/57, closely matches Pew’s rating (as does Bush’s overall approval rating at 43/51). And just 19 percent in the poll say the national economy is getting better, compared to 59 percent who say it is getting worse. Moreover, only 21 percent expect the economy to be better in a year, compared to 51 percent who say it will be worse.
In terms of their household financial situation, a mere 9 percent report that their financial situation is getting better, while 61 percent say it is getting worse. And expectations for a year from now are only slightly more positive: 23 percent say their finances should be better, while 50 percent expect them to be worse.
The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has right direction/wrong track at 35/52 and indicates a number of ways in which Bush and his administrattion are seriously out of step with the American public (for the public’s views on Congress, see this earlier post).
Just 35 percent say Bush has the same priorities for the country as they do, compared to 57 percent who say his priorities are different. By 49 to 12 percent, the public says Bush and his administration are placing too much, rather than too little, emphasis on Iraq and, by 30-27, they feel the same way about “issues related to moral values”. On the other hand, they feel very strongly that too little (65 percent) rather than too much (1 percent) emphasis is being placed on jobs and the economy and express similar sentiments about health care (75/3), education (57/8) and gas prices (64/9).
Consistent with this overwhelming sense that the Bush administration is putting too little emphasis on jobs and the economy, the public finds Bush administration economic policy falling short in almost every area of the economy (the one exception is on keeping interest rates low). Bush administration policies receive their worst ratings on keeping manufacturing jobs in the country (69 percent not working well vs. 10 percent working well) followed by dealing with the price of gas (67/11), managing the federal budget (65/15), keeping white collar jobs in the country (48/23), expanding the number of new jobs (48/24), controlling inflation (43/28), improving the overall economy (39/30), encouraging retirement savings (38/32) and keeping taxes low (43/34).
The public also expresses lop-sided support for Congress holding hearings on gas prices (66 percent support/13 percent oppose) and for Congress investigating Tom DeLay’s relationships with lobbyists. And the public continues to think, by a wide margin, that is a bad idea (56 percent), rather than good idea (36 percent), to change the Social Security system to allow workers to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market. Moreover, those who believe private accounts are a bad idea are quite unlikely to change their minds (62 percent say their position is firm), while those who believe these accounts are a good idea are quite open to shifting their position (62 percent say they’re open to changing their minds).
Things just seem to be going from bad to worse for the Bush administration. Or, as Mr. Krebs might put it: Like ouch, man–like double ouch.

The Exit Polls Tell a Different Story on Church Attendance and Partisanship

By Alan Abramowitz
According to the 2004 NEP exit poll, the relationship between church attendance and partisanship is not just a white Protestant thing. Yes, the relationship between church attendance and partisanship/presidential vote is stronger among white Protestants than among white Catholics, but it’s there for both. Among churchgoing white Protestants, those who attended religious services weekly or more often, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 61% to 19%. Among non-churchgoing white Protestants, those who attended religious services a few times a year or never, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by only 38% tp 34%. Among white Catholics who attended religious services weekly or more often, R’s outnumbered D’s by 44% to 29%. Among white Catholics who attended religious services a few times a year or never, R’s outnumbered D’s by only 36% to 35%. Not nearly as big a difference but still statistically significant and certainly politically significant. In terms of presidential voting, 77% of churchgoing white Protestants voted for Bush vs. 56% of non-churchgoing white Protestants. 61% of churchgoing white Catholics voted for Bush compared with 51% of non-churchgoing white Catholics. Again, the difference among Catholics is statistically significant and, more importantly, politically significant.
More generally, my analysis of the 2004 exit poll data shows that among white voters, two measures of religiosity–church attendance born again/evangelical identification–correlated more strongly with both party identification and presidential voting than any other social characteristics including age, income, gender, marital status, and even union membership.
The way Gallup presents the data also tends to underestimate the influence of religiosity on partisanship and voting behavior because including only Protestants and Catholics leaves out a large group of voters–those who describe their religion as “something else” or “none.” These “something else/none” voters comprised 15% of the white electorate in 2004. Church attendance among “something else/none” white voters is much lower than among Protestants and Catholics: 85% of “something else/none” white voters reported attending religious services only a few times a year or never. Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 39% to 23% among “something else/none” white voters in 2004 and 65% voted for Kerry.

It’s a White Protestant Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand

What is the relationship between church attendance and party ID? The conventional wisdom is that those who attend church most frequently lean heavily Republican, while those who attend least frequently lean heavily Democratic. A new Gallup report, based on 30,000 interviews conducted during 2004, confirms this perception.
According to the report, a “macropartisanship” measure tapping the Democratic leanings of a group (defined here as the percentage of Democrats in a group divided by the percent of Democrats plus the percent of Republicans in that group) has a value of 40 among those who attend church once a week, 45 among those who attend almost every week, 54 among those who go once a month, 56 among those who seldom attend and 61 among those who never attend. That indicates a pretty strong and uncomplicated relationship between church attendance and Democratic leanings.
But among important subgroups of the population this relationship is considerably more muddled. Among blacks, for example, the relationship is considerably weaker and more erratic, going from 88 to 92 to 94 to 95 and back to 94, as you go from highest to lowest attendance. And among white Catholics the relationship is also quite weak and even more erratic, going from 49 to 47 to 46 to 57 to 54, as you move from highest to lowest levels of church attendance.
Given this, what’s driving the strong relationship we see in the overall data on church attendance and partisanship? It’s all about white protestants: at the highest level of church attendance, macropartisanship is 25, rising to 32, 41 , 47 and finally 52 at the lowest level of church attendance.
So when Democrats worry about the relationship between religious observance and supporting the Republican party, it appears they should focus most of that worry on white protestants. Among other groups, it doesn’t seem to be that big a deal.

Dems Drunk on ‘Frames’?

The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber provides what may be the most thougthful critique to date of George Lakoff’s influence on Democratic Party strategy. Scheiber’s article, “Wooden Frame: Is George Lakoff Misleading Democrats?” nicely distills Lakoff’s ideas about “the subtle art of framing…evoking metaphors that leave voters with favorable impressions of your positions.” Says Scheiber:

Americans, Lakoff argued, vote their value systems. They care very little about individual issues; these things only matter to the extent that they reflect a voter’s worldview. The implication was that Democrats need to pay attention to the powerful, if not always obvious, signals they send about values through their choice of rhetoric and policies. Republicans have been doing this for years.

Scheiber limns Lakoff’s “Strict father” and “nurturant parent” analogs for the GOP and Dems, with swing voters embodying a combination of the two. Scheiber seems to believe that the concept has merit in helping to understand political attitudes. But, Scheiber, argues that Lakoff’s advice could be “a dangerously seductive tonic — the idea that the party can right its course merely by concocting better buzzwords.” Scheiber’s critique of Lakoff’s ideas echoes the DLC’s more conservative perspective:

Lately he [Lakoff] has begun promoting the idea that Democrats can regain their majority by embracing their more liberal impulses while emphasizing the values that underlie their positions. It is Democrats’ ineptness at showcasing their values, Lakoff says, not their liberalness per se, that has hurt them in the past. This has, not surprisingly, endeared him to the party’s liberal base. But, if this is the lesson Democrats take from Lakoff’s work, they could be in for a long, cold exile.

Scheiber takes Lakoff to task for naive tactical advice to various Democratic candidates and policy advocates. But he gives Lakoff due credit for awakening Democrats to some important insights, such as the need to avoid getting trapped in terminology that accepts “conservative premises” or false dichotomies (e.g. saving jobs or spotted owls). Scheiber concludes in agreement with Lakoff’s view that the GOP’s exploitation of the Terry Schiavo tragedy was a net loss for Dems, although opinion polls indicate they both may be wrong (see EDM’s March 8 post “New Poll: GOP Interferes In American’s Private Lives”)
All in all, Scheiber does a solid job of putting Lakoff’s influential views in a centrist perspective, and the entire article should be required reading for Dems of all leanings.

Democratic Potential Among White Working Class Voters (Continued)

Yesterday, I started discussing the new Pew Research Center political typology survey and what it tells us about Democratic potential among white working class voters. Here is the continuation of the list of the most relevant data points from the survey:
4. Pro-government conservatives (PGCs) believe, by 80-13, that “government should do more to help needy Americans even it means going deeper into debt” They also believe, by 83-11, that too much power is concentrated in the hands of few large companies and, by 66-27, government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest. Finally, the PGCs believe , by 61-32, that stricter environmental regulations are worth the costs, rather than that such regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy. (Note: no data available on these questions for Disaffecteds.)
5. Both PGCs (47-46) and Disaffecteds (53-31) put a higher priority on moving stem cell research forward than on not destroying potential life in human embryos.
6. Both PGCs (71-22) and Disaffecteds (78-13) overwhelmingly endorse the idea that outsourcing is bad for the economy because of its effect on jobs, rather than good for the economy because it keeps costs down.
7. The Pew report puts a great deal of emphasis on the centrality of national security issues in determining who leans Democratic and who leans Republican. Indeed, the report asserts:

Foreign affairs assertiveness now almost completely distinguishes Republican-oriented voters from Democratic-oriented voters; this was a relatively minor factor in past typologies. In contrast, attitudes relating to religion and social issues are not nearly as important in determining party affiliation.

In light of this argument, it’s interesting to note that PGCs and Disaffecteds do depart from the Republican-leaning consensus on some foreign policy issues. For example, Disaffecteds believe that the best way to ensure peace is through good diplomacy, rather than military force (49-38) and that relying too much on force creates hatred and more terrorism, rather than that military force is the best way to defeat terrorism (47-38). And PGCs think, by 50-40, that US foreign policy should account for allies’ interests, even if that entails compromise, rather than follow national interests even when allies disagree.
Of course, none of this means that white working class voters in these two groups will be an easy “get” for the Democrats. The Pew report provides abundant data on various pressures pushing these voters in the GOP direction.
Nor does it mean that simply invoking some of the issues on which these groups agree with Democrats will produce an automatic harvest of white working class votes. As Ralph Whitehead points out, reaching these voters is a great deal more complicated than that.
But it does indicate a serious opening for Democratic appeals among these voters. And it is important to stress that such appeals need not eliminate the GOP advantage among white working class voters or even come close. All that is necessary is to reduce their current landslide levels of dominance among these voters to dominance that is not quite so lopsided.
Keep in mind that Bill Clinton actually carried white working class voters in both his successful presidential campaign (by a single percentage point in both instances). But Democrats need not replicate that performance. If Democrats can simply keep the Republican margin among white working class voters to the low double digits (say 11-12 points), and maintain their margins from 2004 among college-educated whites and among minority groups (note that I assume no improvement from 2004 in the Democratic peformance among Hispanics, though I strongly believe that is likely to happen), my estimates indicate that the Democrats will win the 2008 presidential election by 3 points.
And if the Democrats can keep the Republican margin among working class whites to single digits? It’s lights out, GOP.

Democratic Potential Among White Working Class Voters

I’ve written quite a bit lately about Democratic woes among white working class voters. Clearly, Democrats can’t get very far without substantially improving their performance among these voters. But there is reason for hope. Two recent reports demonstrate there is considerable potential for Democratic inroads among large segments of the white working class.
The first report is a recent cover story in Business Week on “Safety Net Nation“. As the story points out:

The most predictable members of Safety Net Nation are liberals who favor activist government. The really crucial bloc, however, is made up of those who backed Bush in 2004. They still approve of his overall job performance but have soured on Wall Street and dislike the President’s approach to Social Security. This faction–estimates range from 17% to 22% of the electorate–rejects both traditional liberalism and conservative laissez-faire. In an era of rampant job insecurity, when employer-provided pensions and health coverage can no longer be taken for granted, they want a middle-class security blanket that gives them protection as they build wealth.

The story terms those Bush-backers who now think he’s gone off the rails on Social Security as “Safety Net swing voters”. And it is apparent from data provided with the story that these swing voters are primarily working class whites (especially men). I have flagged the potential for Bush’s Social Security plan to alienate Republican-leaning white working class voters (or “Sam’s Club Republicans”, as Reihan Salam, likes to call them) before and this is more evidence of the same.
The second report of interest is the new Pew Research Center 2005 Political Typology survey. This is a moose of a report and, while I generally don’t care too much for elaborate attitudinal typologies of voters such as the one used in this report, it still contains much useful data.
For our purposes, the most interesting two groups in their typology are “Pro-Government Conservatives” (PGCs) and “Disaffecteds”.
The PGCs, classified as a Republican base group, are 10 percent of voters. They are 85 percent white, 85 percent non-college-educated, 90 percent with incomes below $75,000 and 62 percent women.
The Disaffecteds, classified as a middle group (though they leaned strongly toward Bush in the last election) are also 10 percent of voters. They are 81 percent white, 89 percent non-college-educated, 87 percent with incomes below $75,000 and 57 percent men.
So both groups are clearly dominated by working class whites, though the PGCs are heavy on working class white women and the Disaffecteds on working class white men. And both of these white working class groups show considerable sympathy for Democratic approaches according to the Pew data. Here are a few of the most relevant data points:
1. PGCs favor a government guarantee of health insurance for all, even if it means raising taxes, by 63-33 and Disaffecteds favor such a guarantee by 64-26. The most economically conservative group in the GOP coalition, the “Enterprisers” (dominated by affluent, educated white men) opposes such a guarantee by 76-23.
2. PGCs favor raising the minimum wage, 94-5, and Disaffecteds favor it by 84-13.
3. PGCs, by 58-27, want Bush’s tax cuts either repealed completely or repealed for the wealthy, rather than made permanent and Disaffecteds endorse the same viewpoint by 51-33. Enterprisers, on the other hand, support making the tax cuts permanent by 82-13.
More on “Democratic Potential Among White Working Class Voters” tomorrow….

Once Again on Party ID and Likely Voters

We’ve all had a chance to calm down since the polling controversies of the 2004 campaign. Where do we stand on the two biggest ones: party ID/party ID weighting and likely voter screens/models?
Party ID
The wild swings in party ID during the 2004 election campaign, particularly the huge Republican advantages that started showing up, were defended by Gallup and other pollsters as just reflecting actual changes in party ID as the campaign evolved. They took vindication from the exit poll results that showed an even distribution of party ID, rather than the 4 point Democratic advantage four years earlier.
But it doesn’t follow that, if there was a shift toward parity in party ID (leaving aside the turnout issue) in the ’04 campaign, that therefore the 6-10 points or more Republican advantages we were seeing at some points during the campaign were therefore real. Those still seem quite out of line, indicating levels of party ID movement among voters in short periods of the campaign that just don’t seem plausible.
The idea that sample bias couldn’t possibly have been a factor in some of those outlandish ’04 campaign results seems especially questionable in light of the fact that the NEP exit pollsters–paid-up members of the polling establishment–now maintain that the Kerry bias in their own poll stemmed from differential willingness to be interviewed on the part of Kerry and Bush voters. This is the same dynamic–differential willingness to be interviewed by a highly politically consequential variable–that myself, Alan Abramowitz and others thought could be causing some of the skewed samples during the election campaign.
Indeed, if the NEP pollsters are right, perhaps we had the mechanism slightly wrong on the pre-election polls: intead of differential willingness to be interviewed by partisanship, it was, more simply, differential willingness to be interviewed by Bush supporters and Kerry supporters. Such a differential could easily produce the sudden partisan skews we saw in some of these samples.
On party ID weighting, if sample bias has been and is a problem and all the party ID shifts we see aren’t completely driven by actual shifts in public sentiment (+ random sampling error), then there is still a case for party weighting. Weighting by the exit poll distribution is certainly a blunt instrument and I wouldn’t advocate it as a matter of course. But “dynamic party ID weighting” continues to be a very defensible idea.
The idea here, associated with political analyst Charlie Cook, is that polls should weight their samples by a rolling average of their unweighted party ID numbers taken over the previous several months. This would allow the distribution of party ID to change some over time, but eliminate the effects of sudden spikes in partisan identifiers in samples such as we saw during the ’04 campaign (and still see from time to time now in both partisan directions; there have been polls recently that have seemed implausibly Democratic, as well as those that have seemed implausibly Republican).
Pollsters don’t want to do this? Want to maintain there’s absolutely nothing wrong? Fine: just give the public the data needed to form independent judgements of their polls and conduct independent analyses (e.g., computing and applying dynamic party ID weights) if they wish to. Mark Blumenthal’s series on party ID disclosures by major pollsters is instructive. There is clearly progress here, but still considerable resistance. It’s still hard to find these data, even by pollsters (like Gallup) who say they are making it publicly available. If you read The Hotline, you can now get the party ID breakdown of nearly every poll. But very few people have access to The Hotline.
There is no reason why every pollster couldn’t fully disclose on a webpage somewhere on a public site: party ID and demographic distributions of both weighted and unweighted samples for every poll they do and for every type of sample they have: general public, registered voters (RVs), likely voters (LVs), etc. They have the information: let it free.
Likely Voters
LV samples appeared to do better than RV samples when predicting the election results right before the election. They should have; that’s what they were designed for. But it doesn’t follow that therefore, say, Gallup was fully-justified in using tightly-screened LV samples, with their very volatile results, weeks and, in fact, many months before the actual election. As academic analyses and common sense suggest, political movement indicated by such LV results are typically driven by voters moving in and out of the LV samples in the weeks and months before the election, rather than actual changes in voter sentiment. But Gallup’s LV results were shamelessly promoted during the ’04 campaign as indicating just that: real changes in voter sentiment. That’s not right and is a corruption of what LV models and samples were originally developed for–predicting the results of the election, right before the election.
It’s also worth noting that elaborate, tight LV screens like Gallup’s, that have the most volatility, didn’t do much better than weak LV screens in predicting the actual election outcome in the days before the election (see these data collected by Mark Blumenthal, keeping in mind that the final Bush-Kerry margin was about 2.45 percentage points, not the 2.9 points indicated in his post). So there wasn’t even that much of a payoff for their methodology there.
Pollsters don’t want to change their methodologies? That’s their prerogative, however much I may disagree with them. But they clearly should, at a minimum, publicly release their screening questions and methodologies and full results and demographic breakdowns of results from their screening questions, as well as the information called for above on the composition of the samples they produce by their pet methodologies.
In general on both the party ID and likely voter controversies: pollsters may not agree with the criticisms I and others have made, but by God there’s no convincing reason why they can’t release the sample data I outline above on a regular basis. Full disclosure, full disclosure, full disclosure! What are they afraid of?

Blair’s Win: Lessons for Dems?

Dan Balz discusses some possible lessons for Dems in the British elections in his Sunday WaPo article “Democrats Could Profit From Blair’s Labor: Prime Minister Shows Value in Hewing to Center.” Balz concedes that making any comparisons between the Labor and Democratic parties’ performance in national elections is fraught with problems. For starters, it’s impossible to sort out how much of the average Brit’s vote is for Prime Minister, since they don’t vote directly for the P.M., just their local M.P. Balz does believe, however, that among other factors, a thriving economy played a central role in Blair’s victory:

Under the guidance of Gordon Brown, Britain’s finance minister and likely prime minister when Blair steps down, Labor has made the economy its number one priority, supporting growth policies that have provided stability and prosperity….”No one really argued that there was no improvement in public services or the economy,” said David Miliband, a former domestic policy adviser to Blair who was named to a cabinet position in the new government. “People could say they wanted more, but they recognized that there was improvement.”

WaPo columnist Sebastian Mallaby sees huge economic problems looming for the U.K. in the near future. But he notes further in today’s column on “Blair’s Magic”:

Since Labor took power eight years ago, there hasn’t been a single quarter in which the economy failed to expand. Inflation has stayed out of sight. Unemployment, the bane of Britain 20 years ago, has fallen below 5 percent, marginally lower than in the United States and less than half the rate in France and Germany.

By contrast, Balz argues that the Democrats have failed to make the most of their successes as stewards of the economy under Clinton or the GOP’s failure to deliver economic security:

In 2000, Democrats surrendered their advantage on the economy when Al Gore decided not to make the economic record of the Clinton administration the central theme of his campaign for president. Democratic strategists believe that Bush’s economic record, particularly on fiscal matters, provides an opening to make the Democrats once again the party of stability, growth and fiscal discipline. But party leaders have yet to do so.

Balz doesn’t have a lot to say about the effect of the national security issue on Blair’s win. Clearly, the “Bush’s lapdog” critique had a very limited effect. Given the much stronger anti-war sentiment and movement in the U.K., however, it may account for the loss of Labor seats in Parliament. But Balz hit on something important in citing “the conviction Blair demonstrated in the face of rebellion in his own ranks.” And, Mallaby has noted Blair’s:

…willingness to espouse policies on frankly moral grounds have been a tonic for his country’s cynical culture, even if his perceived dissembling on Iraq has brought the cynics out in force again recently

Anyone who has watched Tony Blair holding forth on C-SPAN’s broadcast of “Question Time” in the House of Commons would likely agree that, like him or not, Blair doesn’t waffle on issues, particularly Britain’s involvement in Iraq. The big lesson for Dems in Britain’s elections may be that certitude, rightly or wrongly, is a key to winning uncommitted voters.

Has Bush Turned the Corner?

Did Bush thrill the nation with his bold proposals in last Thursday’s press conference and thereby turn around his flagging political fortunes?
Not on the evidence of the two public polls that have been released since the press conference. Consider first the results of the latest Gallup poll.
1. The poll found Bush’s overall approval rating unchanged from Gallup’s previous poll at 48 percent approval/49 percent disapproval. His rating on Social Security was also essentially unchannged at 35/58. His rating on the economy was up slightly to 43/53 and his rating on Iraq was down slightly to 42/55.
His ratings on energy policy (34/52) and gas prices (27/67) brought up the rear.
2. On Social Security, the Gallup data show that people are still not chafing at the bit for immediate action of Social Security. A majority (52 percent) feel that major changes are necessary only within ten years (36 percent) or not at all (16 percent), rather than in the next year or two (45 percent). Moreover, only 27 percent say that Congress should pass the Social Security plan this year most Republicans support, compared to 66 percent who say Congress should either pass a Democratic plan (22 percent) or not pass a plan at all this year (46 percent).
A generic question about private accounts that neither mentions Bush nor any possible tradeoffs of such accounts–thereby tending to produce a relatively positive response–nevertheless generates 52-45 opposition, worse than the 47-45 opposition in the middle of March, near the beginning of Bush’s 60 day Social Security tour.
And Bush’s specific proposal for cutting benefits for the middle and upper class, but not the poor, receives 54-38 opposition, similar to the 53-38 majority that believes Bush’s Social Security proposals will but cut, rather than protect, their Social Security benefits.
Finally, at end of Bush’s 60 day tour, the public continues to trust the Democratic party over the Republican party on the issue of Social Security retirement benefits. A 10 point gap in favor of the Democrats has not budged over that time period.
3. On Iraq, as noted below, 57 percent now believe going to war was not worth it, compared to 41 percent who believe it was. That’s the most negative response Gallup has yet received on this indicator.
4. On the filibuster issue, the public backs the the use of the filibuster in the Senate by 52-40. And they say they back the Democrats over the Republicans in the Senate by 45-36 on this issue.
The news for Bush in the new Hotline/Westhill Partners poll is, if anything, even worse.
1. Bush’s overall approval rating (48/48) is up slightly, as is his rating on Social Security (all the way to 34/56!); his rating on the economy is down slightly (to 38/57) and his rating on Iraq (41/52) is essentially unchanged.
2. On Social Security, the poll asked respondents how Bush’s proposed changes to Social Security made them feel about their financial security after retirement. Only 9 percent say they feel more secure than a year ago, compared to 39 percent who say they feel less secure and 28 percent who report no change.
I suppose that’s not quite the reaction Bush was looking for.
3. On the economy, there is some particularly bad news for Bush and the GOP. Just 9 percent think most American families are better off financially now than they were a year ago, while half–more than five times as many–believe American families are not as well off. As for their own family, only 19 percent think their family is better off today than it was a year ago, compared to 28 percent who think their family is not as well off and about half (51 percent) who think there’s been no change.
Moreover, over half (51 percent) say they will hold Bush (37 percent) or the Republicans in Congress (14 percent) responsible, rather than the Democrats (14 percent), if the economy remains shaky.
4. On the filibuster, by 53-32, voters say they disapprove of changing Senate rules to take away the filibuster and allow Bush’s judicial nominees to be voted on. And, by 46-35, voters approve of the proposed Senate Democratic slowdown if the filibuster is taken away.
Turning the corner? Sounds more like running into a brick wall to me.

Myths of Democratic Renewal

One of the hardest things to do is to change. That’s why people–and parties–frequently try to avoid it.
That’s a problem because Democrats need to change to take advantage of both their long-term opportunities (as laid out in The Emerging Democratic Majority) and the considerable opening that has been provided in the short-term by Bush’s and the GOP’s recent political missteps. As a number of recent surveys have documented, despite these missteps, Democrats have not generated commensurate political gains and remain bedeviled by public perception that they stand for little and lack clear ideas to deal with the nation’s problems.
Rather than pursue the changes necessary to address this failure, however, much of the Democratic party seems in thrall to one or another of a series of myths about how the Democrats can renew their popular appeal.
The Framing Myth. Associated with Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakoff, the framing approach assures Democrats they need not change what they say, but how they say it–how they “frame” their message. As Josh Green pointed out in his devastating Atlantic piece on Lakoff, this framing is typically a reshuffling of tired old rhetorical cliches and shows no signs of being any more politically effective than the Democrats’ previous unframed appeals.
The Inoculation Myth. One reason John Kerry got the Democratic nomination was that many Democrats thought his Vietnam service would inoculate him against the charge that Democrats were not sufficiently tough to conduct the war on terror. It didn’t work. But many Democrats appear to have concluded in the aftermath of the 2004 election that the solution to the party’s problems is to have more and better inoculation. Let’s act even tougher on national security! And let’s inoculate ourselves on values! And on religion! And on culture!
This seems no more likely to work in 2005 and beyond than it did in 2004. Voters still want to know what Democrats stand for and inoculation, pretty much by definition, cannot provide that.
The Unity Myth. Another approach among Democrats is to insist that little needs to be re-thought–the key is for Democrats to unite around what they already believe. As Mark Schmitt pointed out recently, this approach confuses a desirable kind of unity (partisan unity in action) with an undesirable kind of unity (agreement on program and ideas without vigorous debate and discussion). Democrats need far more debate and discussion about ideas, not far less.
The Mobilization Myth. A hardy perennial in Democratic circles, the mobilization approach insists that Democrats’ problems can be overcome by a sufficiently high level of mobilization among Democrats and Democratic-leaning groups. The fact of the matter is, however, that the Democratic coalition was pretty highly-mobilized in the 2004 election, especially in the battleground states. The fatal problem was that they couldn’t convert the considerable dissatisfaction with Bush among independents and moderates into large enough margins among these groups to win the election. That’s basically the same problem facing Democrats today: how to turn the “Revolt of the Middle” into solid support in the center of the electorate. Mobilization, by definition, can’t solve this problem.
Sorry, Democrats, there’s just no substitute for good ideas and fresh approaches. It’s time to jettison these myths and buckle down to the real work of change–serious change–in what Democrats say to voters.
OK, what should those changes be? Here are some guidelines. Ed Kilgore argues that:

….[W]e need a Reform message and agenda that (a) meshes with our negative critique of GOP misrule; (b) reminds voters who’s in charge in Washington; and (c) reassures voters we aren’t just itching to get back into power and substitute our form of special-interest pandering and fiscal indiscipline for theirs.
….James Carville and Stan Greenberg of Democracy Corps agree with this argument, and in their latest strategy memo, lay out the evidence for it. A Democratic agenda that includes budget reform, lobbying reform, ethics reform, and tax reform, they say, could begin to connect the dots for voters skeptical of both parties and help Democrats finally get some tangible benefits from Republican misery.

Harold Meyerson observes:

….[T]he Democrats have been losing the white working class since 1968. In the eyes of many of those voters, the Democrats became the party of racial preferences, as government became the entity that taxed them in order to give money to blacks. To be sure, Bill Clinton repositioned the party by ending welfare, and won back some of that white working class. And John Kerry did nothing to indicate that he would reverse Clinton’s changes.
But still-running 16 points behind Bush on the economy, among [white] working-class voters? Something-not just Kerry or national security or the values gap or even racial politics-is badly wrong.
What’s disquieting about the Democratic quiet is that it signals a failure to grapple with this most crippling of conundrums. We are all talking about how to inoculate ourselves on cultural and security concerns. But we are not talking about how better to exploit our advantage on the economy. To a considerable degree, that’s because we’ve lost our advantage on the economy, and we don’t know how to get it back or even what to advocate to get it back.

And Noam Scheiber reminds us:

….[W]hat voters mean when they claim that a politician or a party lacks ideas isn’t that they lack specific proposals; it’s that they lack a larger, animating philosophy. John Edwards, for example, leveled a comprehensive critique of this administration–that it was shifting society’s burdens from people who made their living from capital to people who made their living working–that gave individual proposals meaning. Tellingly, most of these proposals lost their resonance once the Kerry campaign appropriated them into its wonkish miasma.

How to put all this together? Tricky! It’ll take some doing and some change on the part of the Democratic party. But, in the end, it’ll be a hell of a lot more rewarding than better framing, more inoculation, unity at all costs and redoubling mobilization efforts. Those may be easier and more familiar paths to take–but they lead to defeat, not victory. Personally, I’m ready to win.