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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Can You Say “Dead”? I Think You Can!

The latest Gallup poll, conducted April 1-2, puts another nail in the coffin of Bush’s Social Security privatization effort.
Gallup asked about Bush’s plan in two different ways. Here’s the good idea/bad idea version:

As you may know, one idea to address concerns with the Social Security system would allow people who retire in future decades to invest some of their Social Security taxes in the stock market and bonds, but would reduce the guaranteed benefits they get when they retire. Do you think this is a good idea or a bad idea?

The public’s verdict: 61 percent bad idea/33 percent good idea, which is even more negative than the last time this question was asked on March 18-20 when it was 59 bad/33 good.
And here’s the favor proposal/oppose proposal version:

As you may know, a proposal has been made that would allow workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes in the stock market or in bonds, while the rest of those taxes would remain in the Social Security system. Do you favor or oppose this proposal?

This also receives a very negative response: 56 percent opposed/39 percent in favor. Note that this is quite a bit more negative than the previous time (March 18-20) Gallup asked this question when the verdict was close to split (45 favor/47 oppose).
The shift on the second version of the question and the convergence in negativity between the two versions of the question suggest that the public is becoming less sensitive to question wording when asked about Bush’s proposal. They’ve made up their minds what they think about his proposal (they flat-out don’t like it) and any reasonable question wording is going to elicit that strongly negative verdict.
So where does that leave us? Let me turn things over to Max Baucus, Democratic Sentaor from Montana, who Bush once fantasized might be a Democratic vote for privatization:

Frankly, my personal view [is], privatization is dead. It’s not going to be enacted. It’s not going to be enacted because it is so flawed and it is so wrong, and the American people sense that, they feel it, they know it.

You go, Max!
The rest of the Gallup poll is full of yet more bad news for Bush, reflecting the way things have generally been going for him lately. His overall approval rating is 48 percent, with 48 percent disapproval, his second worst approval rating since the election (after last Gallup poll’s 45 percent). His approval rating on the economy is now 41 percent approval/55 percent disapproval, down substantially from 48/49 in late February. His ratings on Iraq (43/54) and terrorism (57/40) are also down from their late February measurements, though less than the economic rating.
Speaking of Iraq, this poll finds a 53-45 majority saying it was not worth going to war in Iraq. Even more significant, for the first time a majority (50-48) says the Bush administration deliberately misled the public about whether Iraq had WMD.
Bringing up the rear on Bush’s approval ratings are, unsurprisingly, Bush’s ratings on Social Security (now 35/57) and on handling the Terri Schiavo case (34/53).
And speaking of the Schiavo case, it now seems clear some serious damage has been to the GOP’s image by the intrusive and ideological way they handled it. As a USA Today story on the new Gallup poll points out:

By 55%-40%, respondents say Republicans, traditionally the party of limited government, are “trying to use the federal government to interfere with the private lives of most Americans” on moral values.
By 53%-40%, they say Democrats, who sharply expanded government since the Depression, aren’t trying to interfere on moral issues….
By more than 2-to-1, 39%-18%, Americans say the “religious right” has too much influence in the Bush administration. That’s a change from when the question was asked in CBS News/New York Times polls taken from 2001 to 2003. Then, approximately equal numbers said conservative Christians had too much and too little influence.

Final note: all this bad news, including the veritable death-knell for Bush’s privatization plan, comes courtesy of a Gallup sample that, as Steve Soto points out, is +4 Republican on party ID, a distribution inconsistent with almost all other recent polls, which have been showing a Democratic edge. So perhaps these results, bad as they are for Bush, may actually be understating his difficulties a bit.

Higher Gas Prices Hit Middle Class

Bush’s approval rating on the economy has been slipping lately and the latest Gallup poll has more evidence on one key reason for that: higher gas prices are hitting the middle class and they don’t like it.
According to the new poll:

Almost 6 in 10 say the higher prices are causing a hardship, including 15% who say the hardship is “serious.” More than a third of Americans have cut back on spending because of the higher prices, and about half have cut back significantly on the amount of driving they do. Lower-income Americans feel especially hard hit.
The poll, conducted April 1-2, finds that 58% of Americans have experienced hardship, the first time in the past six years that a majority has expressed this view.

Overall, 48 percent of the public has cut back on driving, due to higher gas prices, and 38 percent have cut back on household spending. By income group, these figures are 71 percent cut back on driving/68 percent cut back on household spending among those with less than $20,000 in household income, 54 percent/52 percent among those with $20,000-$30,000 income, 55/40 among those with $30,000-$50,000 and 42/29 among those with $50,000-$75,000. So the pinch from higher gas prices is now being felt at income levels well into the middle class. That’s a change and not a welcome one for those in the Bush administration.

New Foreign Policy Blog

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the new foreign policy blog, Democracy Arsenal, sponsored by the new Security and Peace Institute, a joint project of The Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress. It’s well worth regular visits and, for openers, you might want to check out this very interesting “ten-step program to get Democrats back on the map” on foreign policy by Heather Hulbert.

Time/SRBI Poll Has More Bad News for Bush

The new Time/SRBI poll, coming out on the heels of the very negative Gallup and Pew polls, has more bad news for President Bush.
Bush’s approval rating in the poll has declined to 48 percent, 5 points down from a week ago. Time/SRBI tends to run high on Bush approval relative to other public polls and that 48 percent rating is is the lowest for Bush they have ever recorded.
His rating on the economy is down to 42 percent, also his lowest ever in this poll. His rating on the Iraq situation is now 44 percent and even his rating on handling the war on terrorism is down to 52 percent, another low for this poll.
But his worst rating by far is on Social Security, which has sunk to 31 percent, with 58 percent disapproval–a rating even worse than in other recent public polls.
Turning to the Terri Schiavo case, the public says, by 59-35, that they agree with a Florida judge’s decision to uphold the removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube. As in previous polls, support for removing Schiavo’s tube extends across the spectrum, including even the highly religiously observant.
The public judges the political intervention into the Schiavo case quite harshly. By 75-20, they say it wasn’t right for Congress to intervene in the case and, by 70-24, that it wasn’t right for Bush to intervene in the case. Moreover, by 65-25, the public believes Bush’s intervention in the case had more to do with politics than values.
The public’s probably right about that–and, based on these and other data, it would now appear Bush made a very substantial mistake in doing so.

The Rural Vote in 2004

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner has just released a very useful analysis of the rural vote in 2004, along with a chartpack of interesting graphs on the rural vote. Here is their summary of the memo’s major findings:

Rural America emerged as one of the most hotly contested battlegrounds in the election. Both campaigns invested millions of dollars courting these voters, investing heavily in television and field outreach program. Kerry did not cede this vote any more than the Bush campaign took it for granted.
The final outcome in 2004 masks an often competitive political environment in rural America. Not only did Democrats closely contest the rural vote in recent elections (1992 and 1996), but even in 2004, the rural vote ebbed and flowed with the vagaries of the campaign, from Saddam’s capture to the debates. Only in the end did the Bush team salt away its win in rural America.
George Bush prevailed by successfully framing this election as a referendum on values and security. By moving the economy to the political back-burner and amplifying the disconnect between the perceived values of the Democratic nominee and the conservative, cultural values of the rural electorate, Bush improved upon his 2000 margin in rural parts of the country.
At the same time, rural voters signaled significant frustration with the economic course of the country. That Kerry could not capitalize on this frustration speaks to the power of values in shaping this vote, but more fundamentally, also to a missed opportunity among Democrats to speak to the populist anger of this vote in a disciplined and credible fashion.

For the Last Time, the 2004 NEP Exit Poll Did Not Provide Evidence of Voter Fraud in the 2004 Election

Alas, the absurd idea that the 2004 NEP exit poll, whose early unweighted data showed a Kerry lead, indicated widespread voter fraud in the 2004 election is still with us, promoted especially by alleged exit poll “expert”, Steven Freeman. For a useful demolition job on Freeman’s highly flawed analysis, see the recent paper by Rick Brady, posted on the website, Stones Cry Out. Some comments on Brady’s paper, as well as further disparagement of the exit polls/voter fraud thesis, may be found in this post over at Mystery Pollster.
Now can we please get back to thinking about the real issue: how to beat the folks who did, in fact, win the last election?

Gallup, Pew, Confirm Bush Decline

In posts on Thursday and Friday, I argued that Bush’s political support, already eroding because of his unpopular Social Security plan, is suffering additional and serious damage from his handling of the Schiavo case and from growing public disenchantment with the economy.
Abundant evidence for that view is provided by new polls from Gallup and the Pew Research Center. In the new Gallup poll, Bush’s approval rating is down to 45 percent–that in a poll that typically runs high on Bush approval relative to other public polls. The Gallup report on the poll points out:

This is the lowest such rating Bush has received since taking office….
In the last three Gallup surveys, conducted in late February and early March, Bush’s job approval rating was 52%. The timing of the seven-point drop suggests that the controversy over the Terri Schiavo case may be a major cause. New polls by ABC and CBS News show large majorities of Americans opposed to the intervention by Congress and the president in the Schiavo case, and Gallup’s Tuesday-night poll shows a majority of Americans disapprove of the way Bush has handled the Schiavo situation. Almost all recent polling has shown that Americans approve of the decision to remove Schiavo’s feeding tube.
But the CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey suggests that the public’s increasingly dismal views about the economy, and about the way things are going in general, could also be factors in Bush’s lower approval rating.

The report goes on to detail those “dismal” views about the economy:

Gallup’s economic measures also show a continual decline since the beginning of the year. Thirty-two percent of Americans rate current economic conditions as excellent or good, while 24% say poor. That eight-point positive margin is the smallest since Gallup found a two-point margin last May. At the beginning of this year, 41% rated the economy as excellent or good, while just 17% said poor — a 24-point positive margin. Earlier this month, the positive margin was 19 points, 35% to 16%.
Even more dramatic is the greater pessimism about the future of the nation’s economy. Fifty-nine percent of Americans say the economy is getting worse, just 33% say better — a 26-point negative margin. Earlier this month, the net negative rating was just nine points, with 50% saying the economy was getting worse, and 41% saying better. This is the worst rating on this measure in two years.

One factor clearly contributing to the economic malaise, as the report points out, is concern about rising gas prices (see below).
The latest Pew Research Center poll also finds Bush’s approval rating at 45 percent. In addition, the poll finds support for the most basic part of Bush’s Social Security plan–private accounts funded by part of the Social Security tax–continuing to sink. A generic question about these accounts, that does not mention Bush or any possible costs or tradeoffs, now returns only a narrow 44-40 plurality, down from 58-26 last September. Moreover, support for these accounts declines substantially (to 52-41 opposition) among those who have heard the most about this idea–in other words, awareness of the private accounts idea appears to promote opposition to it. Perhaps most disheartening of all for the Bush administration, the “awareness breeds opposition” dynamic appears to be strongest among the 18-29 year old cohort they are counting on to push Social Security privatization forward–opposition to private accounts is 26 points higher among 18-29 year olds who have “heard a lot” about the idea, than among those who have heard little or nothing.
And did I mention that 18-29 year olds oppose allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 54-33, according to this same poll? If Bush is counting on young voters to pull him out of his current slide, he’d better think again.

Americans Getting a Touch Impatient About the Economy

Below, I pointed out the new CBS News poll has Bush’s economic approval at just 36 percent. A fluke? Nope; it reflects the gathering economic pessimism of the US public as month after month of the economic recovery (now well over three years old) fails to generate the robust growth people have been looking for. Instead they’re getting stagnant wages, persistent unemployment, signs of inflation and high energy prices.
Reflecting this disquiet, in a mid-March ARG poll, 46 percent said the economy was getting worse and just 27 percent said it was getting better. That compares to 39 percent better/30 worse in February. And, looking forward, 38 percent said the economy will be worse in a year, while just 30 percent said it will be better. That’s quite a bit more pessimistic than in February, when 38 percent thought the economy will be better in a year and only 25 percent said it will get worse.
Similarly, a recent Gallup report notes:

Americans have become more pessimistic about the direction of the nation’s economy. In Gallup’s initial 2005 poll, 48% of Americans said the economy was getting better and 42% said worse. A more recent poll, conducted March 7-10, finds 41% say it is getting better and 50% say it is getting worse. That represents a net shift of 15 points, from a 6-point net positive assessment (48% better, 42% worse) to a 9-point net negative assessment (41% better, 50% worse).

The report goes on to note some detailed demographics about this shift toward economic pessimism, including the fact that, of 30 groups analyzed, 27 show a shift toward economic pessimism. Even worse for the Bush administration, the biggest shifts tend to be among the very groups that provided Bush with his biggest margins last November: whites (20 point shift toward economic pessimism); residents of the south (30 points); rural residents (37 points); those with $30-75K in household income (20 points); and those with some college (25 points).
The economy’s “strong and getting stronger”? Not according to the voters Bush needs the most.

The Culture of Life or the Culture of Ideology?

The Bush administration, with its aggressive intervention into the Terry Schiavo case, appears to have bet that it can make political gains from linking the Schiavo case to a generalized case for a “culture of life”.
So far, this attempt has been a thunderous failure.
1. In a March 20 ABC News survey, 63 percent supported the decision to Schiavo’s feeding tube while just 28 percent opposed it. Support for the decision cuts across partisan, ideological and religious lines, showing a remarkably undivided public. Democrats supported the decision 65-25, independents 63-28, Republicans 61-34, moderates 69-22, conservatives 54-40 and even conservative Republicans 55-40. Catholics supported the decision and even self-declared evangelicals narrowly supported it 46-44.
The public also solidly opposed federal intervention into the case by 60-35, with the same broad support across partisan, ideological and religious lines. And by 70-27, the public thought it was inappropriate for Congress to get involved in this case.
2. A March 18-20 Gallup poll, the public, by 56-31, agreed that removing Schiavo’s feeding tube was the right thing to do, with the same pattern of broad support seen in the ABC News poll. For example, while Democrats said removing the tube was the right thing to do by 62-26, independents agreed by 54-31 and even Republicans by 54-35. Hilariously, these exact data, which show a very small partisan spread, were displayed by CNN on its website in a classically deceptive way to imply a big partisan spread. This was done by using a truncated scale that went from a low of 53 to a high of 63. That truncated scale gave the Republicans and independents a bar height of just 1 and the Democrats a bar height of 9 that wound up towering above the Republicans and independents in the chart. Naughty, naughty, CNN!
Gallup also did a March 22 poll that found 52 percent of the public supported the federal judge’s decision not to reattach Schiavo’s feeding tube, compared to 39 percent who didn’t. The same poll found Bush will only a 32 percent approval rating, with 52 percent disapproval, on handling the Schiavo case.
3. In a March 21-22 CBS News poll, the public endorsed the decision to remove Schiavo’s feeding tube, 61-28. And, by 66-27, they said the feeding tube should not be re-attached at this point.
As for intervention into the case, they said the following: by 82-13, Congress and the president should stay out of the matter; by 75-22, federal and state governments should generally stay out of life support cases; and, by 67-31, the Supreme Court should not hear the Schiavo case. And as a kicker, the public said that Congress’ intervention into the case was to advance a political agenda (74 percent) rather than because they really care about what happens in the case.
How’s all this affecting Bush’s popularity? Well, it certainly doesn’t seem to be helping. In this poll, Bush’s overall approval rating is just 43 percent, with 48 percent disapproval. In addition, his rating on Iraq is now only 39 percent approval/53 percent disapproval and his rating on the economy is a stunningly bad 36/53, further evidence of growing public disenchantment with the economy.
And let’s not forget Congress. In the wake of their handling of the Schiavo case, Congress’ approval rating has plunged to 34/49.
In light of these data, is there any way not to read these data as a bad thing for the GOP? One way, of course, is to argue that all the pollsters’ questions are biased, an absurd contention disposed of handily by Mark Blumenthal over at Mystery Pollster (thanks, Mark!).
Another way (see Noam Scheiber) is to argue that, despite the unpopularity of Bush’s and the GOP’s stand, it serves to create a favorable contrast with the spineless, morally relativist Democrats.
I don’t buy it. Sometimes bad politics is just bad politics. As Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center put it in his recent op-ed, “A Political Victory That Wasn’t“, in the New York Times:

….Americans have a strong pragmatic streak. While most Americans may say they believe in creationism rather than evolution, on issues that directly affect their own lives, like health and protection of the quality of life, science wins.
Take note, for example, of the increasing support for stem-cell research. A nationwide Pew poll last August found respondents by a 52 percent to 34 percent margin saying it was more important to conduct stem-cell research that might result in new cures than to avoid destroying the potential life of embryos. Two years earlier, when this issue was first emerging, the public was more evenly divided, with 43 percent in favor and 38 percent against .
The August poll, taken during the presidential campaign, had another noteworthy lesson: the middle of the electorate, the swing voters, not only cared a lot about the stem-cell issue but also backed stem-cell research by nearly a two-to-one margin.

Thus, far from being devilishly clever on this one, Republicans are really creating another issue like stem cell research where the minority ideology of socially conservative forces within their party becomes counterposed to most Americans’ pragmatic interest in health research and control over health decisions.
In short, this is an issue that identifies Republicans with a “culture of ideology”, rather than with a culture of life. And that’s a loser every time.

Live-Blogging at the Brookings Event on New Media

Earlier today, I attended a Brookings event on the new media and live-blogged throughout the event. Below are my comments, arranged chronologically from first to last.
10:15 AM
I’m writing this from the Brookings event on “The Impact of the New Media“. What does live-blogging add to an event like this that regular old blogging might not? Possibly nothing, but it sounded like a fun thing to do, so here I am.
10:22 AM
The question has been posed to the panel of Shafer, Cox, Allen and Ratner (Sullivan is a no-show so far), do bloggers sometimes get it wrong? The consensus seems to be that that sometimes does happen.
I’m learning a lot!
10:39 AM
The issue has been raised of whether the blogs are a reflection of political polarization or help create that polarization. Probably both. I’m still learning!
Sullivan has showed up and Dionne posed a question to him re two of his recent posts, one of which denounced conservatives for pushing federal involvement in the Schiavo, while the other suggested the need to get rid of the Medicare entitlement. Is that consistent?
Sullivan replies that one of the greatest things about blogging is that you can say exactly what you want and publish it immediately. If it doesn’t fit into pre-existing standard conservative or liberal categories, that’s just fine. On the other hand, he points out, having maverick views on certain issues that differentiate you from your generally conservative or liberal readership can hurt your level of readership and ability to raise money. So there is a price for independence.
“A blogger has to be a pariah”–Sullivan
10:50 AM
Cox: Bloggers can be more independent than mainstream media. But, in important ways, it is becoming more like mainstream media. There are feeding frenzies as in the mainstream media, there is a blogger hierarchy just as there’s a mainstream media hierarchy and, increasingly, many of the top bloggers know each other and interact with each other.
Reasonable points, based on my observations and experience.
Dionne raises the issue of bloggers being paid by political campaigns to generate buzz around candidates or to spread specific political attacks. Shafer argues the key thing is to evaluate the truth content of what is in the blogs, rather than worry too much about where some money that supports the site might be coming from. Allen points out, though, that there can be a problem when sources of money are not disclosed so that readers cannot factor that into their evaluation of content on a particular site.
Shafer pooh-poohs the idea that campaign finance laws should be brought to bear on blogs’ activities and argues that this would amount to an infringement on free speech. Sounds right. Allen’s full disclosure approach seems far preferable.
11:07 AM
Blogs and slander: Are blogs much, much better for the spread of slander than the old media? Shafer, who is emerging as a resolute defender of blogs, argues that, if there was so much exceptional slander on blogs, there would be more legal actions against them.
Sullivan characterizes blogs as more about gossip than slander. He also points out that much of the vituperation on blogs is directed against other bloggers.
Dionne raises the Martin O’Malley question. Would the mainstream media have publicized the allegations about O’Malley’s private life (leaving aside the fact that, in the short run, the poster of these allegations appears to have hurt his boss, the Maryland governor, more than O’Malley)?
Shafer points out that mainstream media publish stuff all the time that they don’t know for sure is true. So what’s the big difference? There is nothing new here in what the blogs are doing.
The issue of comments sections on blogs has been raised. The consensus seems to be that there are a lot of intelligent folks out there who do comment on blogs or send in emails to sites and that’s a good thing. I’ll buy that, though the best way to harness and display all that intelligent commentary is left unresolved.
11:22 AM
Is blogging journalism? An audience member has posed that provocative question. Speaking for myself, no, I’m an analyst not a journalist and I wouldn’t consider my blog journalism.
Cox also stoutly denies that her blog is journalism, though she does admit to occasionally commiting journalism outside the bounds of her blog. She says, however, that Josh Marshall is a journalist and much of what is in his blog could reasonably be considered journalism.
Sullivan argues that this is not an interesting question; bloggers are writing about the world and so are journalists (who are referred to by the universal term “hack” in England). The whole concept that you need special traing and adherence to these special standards to be a “journalist” is, in Sullivan’s view, baloney. Anybody who does some research and/or analysis and writes them up in an entertaining and clear way is a journalist.
There is, however, a difference between reporting and commentary and it is true that almost all blogging is commentary, not reporting. But that is a different question than whether blogging qualifies as journalism.
Color this question “unresolved”.
11:38 AM
What are blogs good for? Sullivan points out–very rightly in my view–that blogs can tap into sources of information and expertise very fast that might never see the light of day otherwise. He gives the example of trying to understand county-level developments in Florida and finding a professor who could provide him with just the information he needed which he could then immediately put on his blog.
Dionne points out that most people relate to information on the internet not through blogs but rather through conventional sites (e.g, newspaper websites). Allen adds that the readership of blogs is still quite small and that only a very small proportion of the public actually reads them (undeniably true).
Back to free speech. Shafer argues that blogs should be protected by the same regulations that protect mainstream print and broadcast journalism. And he believes they eventually will be. Anyhow, he says, all these media are bleeding into one another and becoming one big uber-media. Newsweek runs a story, it’s also featured on its website and then blogs pick up the web version and link to it, comment on it, embellish it and provide more information that was not in the original story. To censor the blogs is to censor this whole process.
11:45 AM
Final comments: So, what to make of this event? Looking over the various points I posted about above, I guess I’d have to say that nothing particularly earth-shaking was said today. The discussion was generally interesting and certainly blogs were treated very respectfully as a new member of the media universe.
Perhaps that’s the real news here: blogging has now developed a high enough profile and plays a big enough role in society that it can be the subject of a very pleasant and characteristically earnest Brookings event.
As to where blogging is going–no one here seems quite sure, other than it is likely to be more important in the future than it is now. And is blogging good or bad? It seems that most agree that it’s more good than bad, though there are obviously some places where blogs go awry. But clearly blogs can provide much important information to readers faster than the conventional media–and in the process bring many, many important voices into the media universe that would otherwise not be heard.
And that’s a very good thing whose implications we are only beginning to understand.