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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Generation Y and American Politics

If you haven’t already encountered it, I urge you to take a look at a new study about the values and politics of Generation Y, which may be loosely defined as those born between 1980 and 2000 (though the report really only covers only the adult members of this generation, those currently 18-25 years of age). The report, with the somewhat gimmicky title of “OMG: How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era“, was written by Anna Greenberg and is based on a large-scale survey with oversamples among Jews, blacks, Asians, Hispanics and Muslims, as well as supplementary analyses of Census and other data, all conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.
Much of the report focuses on the detailed religious and civic attitudes of Gen Y adults and I won’t go into those findings here–read the instructive report to get the full picture. But there are some broader findings in the report that are worth highlighting.
Generation Y is extraordinarily diverse in a race-ethnic sense. Only 61 percent of Geb Y adults are white; 15 percent are black, 4 percent are Asian and 17 percent are Hispanic.
Generation Y is more secular and less Christian. Almost a quarter (23 percent) have no religious preference or are agnostic/atheist, 4 percent are Jewish or Muslim and another 7 percent are other non-Christian; only 62 percent identify themselves with some Christian faith.
Gen Y is at the leading edge of what Chris Bowers has pointed out is an extremely fast-growing demographic: the non-Christian coalition. Between 1990 and 2001, according to CUNY’s American Religious Identification Survey, non-Christians grew by 84 percent (from 20 to 37 million adults), including an astonishing increase of 106 percent (from 14 to 29 million) among seculars.
Generation Y is very liberal on social issues. A majority (53 percent) flat-out support allowing gay marriage. And 63 percent say women shoudl have the legal right to choose an abortion.
Generation Y is unusually liberal in an ideological sense. More Gen Y adults say they are liberal (31 percent) than say they are conservative (30 percent).
Generation Y leans strongly Democratic. Gen Y adults give Democrats an 11 point edge on party ID (39-28).
Of course, there’s no guarantee Gen Y adults will stay as Democratic and liberal as they are now–change is possible (but much less likely after the age of 30 which is not so far away for the leading edge of this generation).
But they’re off to a good start! If Gen Y is the future of American politics, their relatively diverse, secular, liberal and Democratic character can only make those on the center-left smile. And the conservative Establishment in Washington scowl.

Oh Sure, Telling People You Want to Cut Their Benefits Will Certainly Turn These Numbers Around

A little bit before Bush told everyone that, yes indeed, he did want to cut their guaranteed Social Security benefits, Americans United to Protect Social Security released a Hart Research poll that showed how little progress–negative progress–his 60 day tour to promote privatization had made. How anyone could look at these and similar data and conclude that Bush can turn things around by specifying how much he wants to cut benefits is beyond me.
Here are the key findings from the Hart Research poll:
1. Bush’s approval rating on handling Social Security is now 32 percent, down from 43 percent on February 6.
2. In January, voters opposed Bush’s Social Security proposals by 46-39; today, they oppose them 52-41.
3. The more voters hear about Bush’s Social Security plan, the less (52 percent), rather than more (27 percent), they like it.
4. By 43-19, voters say that, if their Congressional representative voted for Bush’s plan, it would make them less likely, not more likely, to vote for them in the next election.
5. By 51-34, voters believe Bush’s plan would make the Social Security system weaker.
6. By 58-26, they believe Bush has been misleading about his plan, rather than providing a full and accurate description.
7. By 58-32, voters say Democrats are raising legitimate concerns about Bush’s plan, rather than engaging in unfair political attacks.
8. Only 18 percent believe Bush’s plan would mean higher overall Social Security benefits.
9. In January, voters thought Congress should develop a new plan (64 percent), rather than pass the Bush plan (20 percent). Today, they believe the same thing by a bigger margin: 73-16.
10. By 82-16, voters say Congress should wait on changing Social Security and educate the public, rather than make it a priority to change the system this year.
Sounds like good advice. We’ll see if Congress and, especially, George “I’m going to cut your benefits” Bush take it.

Does Bush’s Sinking Popularity Matter?

That question is explored in depth in an excellent new article by Farhad Manjoo in Salon. Here’s an excerpt, but the whole article is worth reading:

Bush’s second-term agenda was so unapologetically bold — he wanted to privatize Social Security, flatten federal taxes, remake the courts and, on the side, democratize the world — it bordered on the revolutionary. In November, as liberals were sunk in the delirium of defeat, their in boxes buzzing with comic maps dividing North America into the United States of Canada and Jesusland, it seemed that nothing could rein the Republican president in.
Six months later, Bush is the dog that didn’t bite. He approaches the end of the first 100 days of his second term with approval ratings that fall below those of all other reelected presidents in the modern era. Americans aren’t happy with the direction in which the country is heading. They don’t like the economy, and they don’t like the war. They also don’t like Bush’s plans for the nation. If it isn’t already dead, Bush’s signature domestic-policy effort, the plan to privatize Social Security, is in a persistent vegetative state; hated by Democrats, independents and even Republicans, only divine intervention can save it.
Now the question is whether Bush’s sinking popularity — and his desire to stick with the unpopular Social Security plan — will hurt the Republican Party’s agenda over the next two years and beyond. The GOP continues to advocate world-changing plans. Conservatives want to amend the Constitution, alter the Senate’s rules on judicial nominees, and disrupt long-standing fiscal, environmental, global and social norms. At the same time, Bush looks boxed in. There’s no money in the federal till to implement his tax cuts. The military’s stretched too thin for him to invade another country (such as Iran). And the federal courts are holding his social agenda in check.
Some key Republicans are beginning to balk at Bush’s extremism. On questions involving the Social Security plan, or the details of the federal budget, or the confirmation of Bush’s nominees, a few moderate Republicans have begun to go against White House plans. If the American public continues to turn away from Bush, political strategists say, it’s only logical to expect more defections from their Republican representatives on Capitol Hill.

Economic Pessimism Continues to Grow

New Gallup data show that the public’s negative views about the economy are only becoming more negative. Here’s the lead paragraph from their report on these data:

The latest Gallup survey finds Americans to be the most pessimistic they have been in two years about where the economy is headed. Today, 61% say the economy is getting worse, while just 31% say better — a net negative 30 percentage points. That is the worst rating since early March 2003 — just prior to the beginning of the war in Iraq — when Americans gave the economy a net negative rating of 44 points, with 67% saying the economy was getting worse and only 23% saying better.

The data in the report also show that independents are particularly pessimistic about economic conditions. Among independents, 78 percent say the economic conditions are only fair or poor, compared to 68 percent among the public as a whole. And independents believe by an incredible 69-22 margin–a net negative 47 points–that the economy is getting worse rather than better.
More raw material for the “revolt of the middle“.

Revolt of the Middle?

In E.J. Dionne’s column yesterday, “Revolt of the Middle“, he remarked:

…[S]omething important has happened since President Bush’s inauguration. America’s moderates may not be screaming, but they’re in revolt. Many who reluctantly supported the president and the Republicans in 2004 are turning away. The party’s agenda on Social Security, judges and the Terri Schiavo case is out of touch with where moderate voters stand. Worse for Bush and his party, most moderates have a practical, problem-solving view of government and think these issues are far less important than shoring up a shaky economy and improving living standards.
The moderates have rebelled before. This period in American politics is beginning to take on the contours of the years leading up to the 1992 election. That’s when Ross Perot led an uprising of the angry middle and Bill Clinton waged war on the “brain-dead politics of both parties.” Bush’s decision to read the 2004 election as a broad mandate for whatever policies he chose to put forward now looks like a major mistake. In fact, Bush won narrowly in 2004, and he won almost entirely because just enough middle-of-the-road voters decided they trusted him more than they did John Kerry to deal with terrorism.

That seems entirely correct to me. Bush is losing the center of American politics which, as Alan Abramowitz points out in his post on “The New Independent Voter“, leans Democratic to begin with. Bush’s actions seem designed to accentuate those leanings, rather than counter them, and have contributed mightily to his declining political fortunes.
The new Washington Post/ABC News (WP/ABC) poll provides exceptionally clear evidence of these declining fortunes. Bush’s approval rating is now 47 percent approval/50 percent disapproval, as low as it’s even been in this poll. His ratings on the economy and Iraq are, respectively, 40/56 (his second-lowest ever) and 42/57. On energy policy, his rating is 35/54. And on Social Security, his approval rating has sunk to 31/64, by far his worst rating ever.
Other results in the poll underscore how Bush is losing the political fight on Social Security. The WP/ABC poll has asked the following question since 2000:

Would you support or oppose a plan in which people who chose to could invest some of their Social Security contributions in the stock market?

Note how the question does not mention any tradeoffs and does not associate the plan with Bush–both of which tend to depress support for privatization. Indeed, this question has about as favorable a wording for privatization as you are likely to see and has never returned a negative response….until now. But now it yields 51-45 opposition. And when combined with a followup to supporters on whether they would suppport the plan if it “reduced the rate of growth of guaranteed Social Security benefits for future retirees”, opposition skies to an overwhelming 70 percent.
On who the public trusts to do a better job on Social Security, less than a third (32 percent) now say they trust Bush, compared to half who pick the Democrats in Congress. That 18 point gap in trust is by far Bush’s worst performance ever on this indicator.
On Iraq, the public continues to regard the situation with little enthusiasm. By 54-44, they say the war was not worth fighting and, by 58-39, they say the US is bogged down in Iraq.
As for the current brouhaha on ending the filibuster for judicial nominees, the public is overwhelmingly opposed (66-26) to “changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush’s judicial appointments.” That includes 80 percent opposition among Democrats and 70 percent opposition among independents, demonstrating once again how the GOP’s actions are activating the political center against them.
The poll also demonstrates that Bush and the GOP are not faring well on the values front, supposedly a critical underpinning of their hold on power. Consider these data from the poll:
1. By 63-28, the public supports embryonic stem cell research.
2. By 56-40, the public supports some legal recognition of gay relationships and, by 56-39, they oppose a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, preferring that states make their own laws on gay marriage.
3. By 56-42, the public says abortion should be legal in most or all cases.
4. By 51-47, the public thinks Bush does not share their values and, by 58-40, believes Bush does not “understand the problems of people like you”.
5. And how about this one: by 47-38, the public says that Democrats, not Republicans, better represent their own personal values.
6. Does the public actually believe political leaders should rely on their religious beliefs in making policy decisions? No: by 57-40, they reject that proposition, including by 65-27 among Democrats, by 59-38 among independents and by 58-36 among moderates–once again showing how today’s political center leans very close to the Democrats. Along the same lines, independents (46 percent) and moderates (45 percent) are almost as likely as Democrats (52 percent) to think religious conservatives have too much influence over the Republican party.
The center is there for the taking. When these voters lean Democratic to begin with and are edging close to outright revolt against the way Republicans are currently running the country, Democrats would be foolish to ignore this opportunity. Mobilization is great, but without the center it’s defeatable. With the center, it’s not. Need I say more?

Energy and the Environment? Now That You Mention It, He’s Doing a Bad Job There, Too

On Earth Day, Gallup released some data on the public’s view of Bush’s environmental record. Not surprisingly, it’s pretty negative.
On protecting the environment, half now say he’s doing a poor job, compared to just 39 percent who say he’s doing a good job. That’s down from 51 percent who thought he was doing a good job at the beginning of his first presidential term.
And on improving energy policy, his rating is even worse: only 32 percent think he’s doing a good job in that area, 26 points down from the 58 percent who thought so at the beginning of his first term.
As for whether progress is being made on the environment, the public is quite pessimistic. Right now, 63 percent say it is getting worse, more than twice the number who think it is getting better (29 percent).
The poll also shows that the public prefers a generally activist approach to improving the environment. As Gallup’s report on the poll notes:

….When asked if they “think the U.S. government is doing too much, too little, or about the right amount in terms of protecting the environment” a clear majority of Americans (58%) say “too little” and only a small minority (5%) say “too much.” These figures represent the highest ratio of “too little” to “too much” observed since 1992, and a continuing increase in support for governmental action since a low point in March 2003 when 51% held this view.
Such results demonstrate that the vast majority of Americans do not want to see a reduction in the government’s environmental protection efforts (as 92% respond that it is doing “too little” or “about the right amount”).
Similarly, Americans continue to favor the environment when asked to choose between environmental protection and economic growth. After dipping slightly below 50% last year, a majority (53%) once again says that protection of the environment should be given priority, when environmental protection conflicts with economic growth.

Ipsos-AP have released new data specifically on energy problems and how well Bush is handling them. The verdict: not well at all.
In the poll, exactly twice as many (62 percent) say Bush is not handling the nation’s energy problems effectively as say he is (31 percent). The poll also finds 88 percent saying that the higher gas prices affect them personally either a lot (55 percent) or some (33 percent) and 51 percent saying that gas price increases will cause them financial hardship in the next six month, including 30 percent who describe the hardship as “serious”.
In terms of specific actions due to increased energy prices, 60 percent say they’ve turned down the heat or air conditioning in their home, 58 percent have reduced the amount of driving they do and 57 percent have cut back on other expenses.
Energy and the environment: two more areas where the public is apparently starting to run out of patience with the Bush administration’s failures.

The Case of Pennsylvania

It is easy to show how boneheaded actions and poor performance in areas from Social Security and Terri Schiavo to the economy and Tom DeLay are dragging down Bush’s popularity and that of his party. But the key question from now through the 2006 election will be the extent to which that unpopularity spreads to the GOP’s Congressional candidates and drags down their electoral fortunes.
Which brings us to the very interesting case of Pennsylvania. Based on a new Quinnipiac University poll, it appears that in this state Republican Senator Rick Santorum, up for re-election in 2006, is definitely being hurt by his association with unpopular GOP initiatives. As Clay Richards, assistant director of the poll, notes:

The numbers show clearly that Sen. Santorum has lost ground in his re-election bid over the last two months. The Senator has come under strong criticism for his outspoken involvement in the Schiavo case and his campaigning for President Bush’s unpopular Social Security proposal.

Let’s take a look at some of the data from the poll.
1. Santorum’s approval rating is down to 48 percent approval/35 percent disapproval (40/40 among independents), only the second time his rating has been below 50 percent. Bush’s approval rating in the state is down to 43 percent, with 55 percent disapproval (37/60 among independents), his second worst rating ever.
2. Santorum’s re-elect number has slipped to 44 percent, 9 points down from February’s 53 percent. And he now loses to Democrat Bob Casey in a Senate horse race question by 49-35, a contest that was only 46-41 in February. Santorum gets thumped, 52-28 among independents, loses 62-28 in the Philadelphia area and loses every other area of the state (except the central area) by at least 11 points.
3. Bush’s proposal to change Social Security “to allow people to invest some of their Social Security taxes in stocks and bonds” is opposed 55-37 by Pennsylvania voters (59-31 among independents.
4. By 38-15 (41-11 among independents), Pennsylvania voters say Santorum’s advocacy of Bush’s proposal makes them less likely not more likely to vote for him. And by 34-14 (41-11 among independents), Pennsylvania voters say Santorum’s role in urging Congress to intervene in the Schiavo case makes them less likely not more likely to vote for him.
Sounds like Santorum’s loyal service to the Bush machine is starting to backfire on him! And that’s got to make Bob Casey–and Democrats everywhere who want to take back Congress–very happy indeed.

How Low Can He Go?

Who knows? But two new polls suggest he hasn’t hit the floor yet.
The new CBS News poll has some truly cringe-inducing findings for the Bush administration. On the classic right direction/wrong track question, just 32 percent say the nation is going in the right direction, compared to 62 percent who say it is off on the wrong track. That’s a net negative of 30 points on this question, a swing of 20 points from February’s rating in this poll, when it was “only” 10 points net negative (42/52 right direction/wrong track).
Moreover, this question generates an astonishingly negative response among independents: 26 percent percent right direction/67 percent wrong track. Wow!
Bush’s overall approval/disapproval is now 44/51 (-7), compared to 43/48 (-5) in March. His approval rating on Iraq is now 39/56 (-17), down from 39/53 (-14) in February. His economic approval is down to 34/57 from 36/53 in March. And even his rating on handling the campaign against terrorism has sunk to 53/41, from 61/33 in February.
Bush’s approval ratings among independents are all substantially lower than even the anemic figures cited above: 36/56 overall; 35/59 on Iraq, 29/60 on the economy (!); and 50/41 on the campaign against terrorism.
And how about this one: are you confident or uneasy about Bush’s ability to make the right decisions about Social Security? That question returned a crushingly negative 70 percent uneasy/25 percent confident response.
Perhaps reflecting which way the wind is now blowing, Democrats in Congress in this poll now get a better favorability rating (49 percent favorable/40 percent unfavorable) than their Republican counterparts (42/49, including 34/50 among independents). That’s a switch from public polls earlier in the year had been showing.
The new ARG poll provides similarly sobering news for the White House. The poll has Bush’s overall approval rating at 44/50 and his economic approval rating at 38/56–the latter rating the worst rating he has received going back to April, 2004 (the ARG release does not provide any data earlier than that date).
The poll also shows an exceptional level of economic pessimism. In terms of whether the national economy is getting worse or better, 53 percent say it is getting worse, 25 percent say it is getter better and 21 percent say it is staying the same. The 53 percent figure is the most negative figure recorded going back to last April. Moreover, when asked where the economy will be in a year, an amazing 44 percent say it will be worse than today, compared to 27 percent better and 25 percent the same. That 44 percent figure compares to just 2 percent last April who thought conditions in a year would be worse.
More evidence that economic pessimism is running rampant is provided in article today in the Washington Post, “Economic Worries Aren’t Resonating on the Hill“. That article cites just-released WP/ABC News Consumer Comfort survey data showing that almost half (48 percent) now think the economy is getting worse, compared to just 14 percent who think it is getting better. That’s the most negative reading on this question in two years of monthly polls.
Can Bush go lower? On this evidence, I’d have to say yes. How much lower? Don’t know, but the way things are going, it could be considerably lower. Stay tuned.

Bush’s 17th Quarter Approval Ratings Lag Far Behind His Predecessors

A new Gallup report finds that Bush averaged 50.7 percent approval (just 43 percent among independents) in the 17 quarter of his presidency (January 20-April 19, 2005). That compares quite poorly with his predecessors. The report notes:

Most other presidents were well above the 50% job approval mark at similar points in their presidencies: Dwight Eisenhower at 69.0%, Richard Nixon at 60.8%, Ronald Reagan at 58.0%, and Bill Clinton at 57.5%. The lone exception was Lyndon Johnson, who — unlike the other presidents — was not beginning his second term during the 17th quarter of his presidency, but rather, nearing the end of it. An average of 44.3% of Americans approved of Johnson at that time. In Johnson’s first full quarter after being re-elected (January to April 1965) — similar to where Bush and the other presidents were in their 17th quarters — he averaged 68.4% job approval.

The report concludes:

Absent some dramatic international or domestic event that could produce a rally in support, Bush’s approval ratings are unlikely to improve substantially in the near term. In the long term, the state of the economy and Bush’s ability to handle pressing issues such as Social Security, Iraq, and energy costs will help determine whether Bush can break out of the low 50% approval range, or whether he will slip below that level.

In light of what has been happening lately, especially on the economy, slipping below that 50 percent level seems like a very real possibility.
On Monday, for example, the New York Times had a front page story on “Sudden Bearish Sentiment Underlines Fears on Economy“, detailing the sudden and serious investor jitters about the economy.
Also on Monday, Paul Krugman pointed to the unmistakable signs of stagflation that are now afflicting the economy.
Last week, several papers, including the Times, pointed out that real wages in the last year have declined, reversing the steady progress in living standards that had started under Bill Clinton in the mid-90’s.
And on April 11, I posted on the latest evidence concerning declining consumer confidence and rising consumer credit worries.
Maybe Bush better savor that 50.7 percent average while he’s got it!

Seven Potentially Vulnerable GOP Incumbents

By Alan Abramowitz
Democrats need to gain 15 seats in the House in 2006 to regain control. That’s not a large number by historical standards. In fact it’s close to the postwar average for seat losses by the president’s party in midterm elections. The problem is there are fewer and fewer marginal districts in the House and the cost of running a competitive campaign for a House seat keeps increasing. So Democrats will need to carefully target the most promising seats currently held by the GOP. An analysis of the performance of House GOP incumbents in the 2004 election suggests some candidates. I identified seven current incumbents who did considerably worse than expected based on the partisan composition of their districts and the amount of money spent by their challengers. These seven could be vulnerable if Democrats put up strong, well-financed challengers in 2006. There are some juicy targets here so an energetic and skillful challenger should be able to raise enough money to put these seats in play.
1. David Dreier–CA 6. Dreier has been a long-time fixture in the House and a key player on intelligence issues, but his performance in 2004 suggests that he could be vulnerable to a strong Democratic challenger in 2006. Despite outspending his Democratic challenger by a better than 20 to 1 margin, Dreier won only 55.8 percent of the major party vote in a district than leans Republican but appears to be trending Democratic.
2. Marilyn Musgrave–CO 4. Everyone knows about Bob Beauprez in the 7th district, but don’t forget Musgrave. Despite the strongly Republican make-up of the district, this right-wing ideologue won only 53.3 percent of the major party vote in 2006. Musgrave’s Democratic challenger spent a respectable $869,000 but was outspent by a nearly 4 to 1 margin. Democrats have been gaining ground in Colorado and a well financed challenger could give Musgrave a run for her money in 2006.
3. Katherine Harris–FL 13. Need I say more. Despite outspending her Democratic challenger by a 6 to 1 margin in 2004, Harris won only 55.3 percent of the major party vote in this Republican-leaning district. What Democrat wouldn’t want to go down in history as the candidate who knocked off Katherine Harris? And what Democrat inside or outside of Florida wouldn’t be willing to contribute to that candidate?
4. Henry Hyde–IL 6. If Hyde decides to run for another term, he could be vulnerable to a well-financed challenger. This long-time GOP stalwart and former House impeachment manager won an unimpressive 55.5 percent of the major party vote in 2006 despite outspending his Democratic challenger by a 3 to 1 margin. Illinois has been trending Democratic and a strong challenger could put this seat in play.
5. Chris Chocola–IN 2. No surprise here. Chocola got 54.9 percent of the major party vote in this marginally Republican district despite outspending his Democratic challenger by a better than 2 to 1 margin. Chocola is another right-wing ideologue who could be vulnerable to a well-financed challenger in 2006.
6. Robin Hayes–NC 8. Hayes has failed to improve his margins since his first election in 1998. In 2004, he won only 54.5 percent of the vote in this marginally Republican district despite outspending his Democratic challenger by an almost 8 to 1 margin.
7. Jim Gerlach–PA 8. No surprise here either. Gerlach’s 2004 challenger was the only one in this group who was not underfinanced, spending more than 1.9 million dollars. Even so, Democrats should take another crack at Gerlach. Gerlach won by a narrow 51-49 margin in 2004 and Al Gore carried the district in 2000.
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are undoubtedly other potentially vulnerable GOP incumbents and Democrats will need to target open seats as well as vulnerable incumbents if they are to have any chance to regain control of the House in 2006. But targeting these seven seats would be a good place to start.