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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Finding Common Ground in Abortion Debate Minefield

Democratic candidates are on solid political ground in opposing criminal penalties for women who have abortions and supporting safe and legal abortion as a general principle, according to numerous opinion polls. But the common ground turns into a minefield for Democrats addressing a range of related issues, such as parental consent, partial birth abortions and the “morning-after pill,” according to other recent polls.
Two recent articles help clarify the issues and political ramifications. David D. Kirkpatrick’s article in the New York Times, “For Democrats, Rethinking Abortion Runs Risks” provides an overview of the political challenge:

In their search for middle ground on the subject of abortion, Democrats are encountering a mixture of resistance and retreat from abortion rights advocates in their own party.
Since its defeats in the November elections, nothing has put the fractured soul of the Democratic Party on display more vividly than abortion. Party leaders, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and the new chairman, Howard Dean, have repeatedly signaled an effort to recalibrate the party’s thinking about new restrictions on abortion….But abortion rights advocates warn of a bigger revolt within the party if its members start compromising on new abortion restrictions like parental notification laws or the fetal-pain bill.

Better Choices,” a Boston Globe Editorial, provides a thoughtful exploration of alternative policies that can help find common ground:

Access to reliable birth control is an obvious way to reduce the need for abortion. Birth control has been legal since the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision by the Supreme Court, but religious conservatives have blocked making even condoms available in high schools.
…women who are driven to have abortions — the majority of whom are young and poor — would have better options if society provided them with support in raising their children. Instead, states are passing ever more stringent welfare laws that eliminate benefits for pregnant women and for those with ever younger children. Some centers for unwed mothers provided by opponents of abortion do provide prenatal care and parenting classes, but most simply aim to steer women away from abortions. After that, they’re on their own. Women who are desperate should not be forced into motherhood, but financial and social support would help make their decisions more of a true choice.
…Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, who opposes abortion, has filed the ”Prevention First Act,” which would require insurance plans to cover prescription contraceptives, give emergency contraception to rape victims, and fund comprehensive sex education, including discussion of birth control, in public schools.
Majorities of Americans still support keeping abortion legal in at least some circumstances. But everyone should be able to agree on ways to make abortions less frequent or necessary. Reid’s legislation would be a good test of the sincerity of all those calling for common ground.

The stakes are high for Democrats, including future support of Catholics and feminists, and balancing the concerns of all Democratic constituencies will not be easy. But an earnest search for common ground can help create a stronger Democratic consensus

Dems Future Scrutinized As Dean Takes Helm of DNC

The February reading list for Democrats provides a host of interesting articles on the party’s future prospects and strategy as Howard Dean takes charge of the DNC. It is usually a good idea to begin with the newspaper articles, because of their short shelf-life as freebies. So start with E. J. Dionne’s thoughtful piece in the Washington Post Sunday Outlook “Can Dean Give ‘Em A Winner?” enumerating and analyzing the choices and challenges facing Howard Dean as he assumes command. Then peddle on over to the Los Angeles Times, and take a peek at Ronald Brownstein’s “Democrats Aren’t Giving Bush A Break This Term,” predicting a much more contentious tone, not only from Dean, but across the Democratic spectrum. Chuck Todd’s “Clintonism R.I.P.: How Triangulation Became Strangulation” in the Atlantic has reinvigorated the debate about Bill Clinton’s strategy as a template for the Dems’ future, but you’ll have to subscribe to read it and an accompanying interview, as well as Al From’s critique. For an optimistic take, The American Prospect offers Robert Kuttner’s “Being Howard Dean: Give the Chair a Chance. You Just Might Like What You See.” If you’re up for some heavy lifting, check out Peter Dreier’s “Why Bush Won: What To Do Next” in the current issue of Dissent. Also reccomended is John Nichols’ recent Nation profile “Dick Durbin: Bush Fighter,” about Illinois’ soft-spoken tough guy and possible prototype for Democratic leaders of the future.

Bush Approval Sinks in New AP/Ipsos Poll

Not to pile on concerns about the credibility of Gallup’s sampling choices, but a new AP/Ipsos Poll indicates 54 percent of adults now disapprove of President Bush’s job performance, while 45 percent approve. Seniors over age 65 registered the highest disapproval ratings, a very bad sign for Social Security privatization prospects. The poll, conducted 2/7-9 also showed 57 percent disapproving of Bush’s Iraq policy and 56 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy. In addition, 58 percent of the respondents now believe the country is headed down the “wrong track”, a hefty increase from 51 percent in January.

GOP Clones Drive Bush Approval Surge

It appears that the Gallup Shop is at it again, oversampling Republicans like pod people, this time to jack up President Bush’s post-SOTU approval ratings, reports Steve Soto in the Left Coaster. Soto notes that Bush’s most recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup approval rating of 57 percent — up from 52 percent in early January — generated considerable buzz among the political pundocracy. But the sample was based on 37 percent Republicans, 35 percent Independents and just 28 percent Democrats–this depite other recent polls showing the Democrats taking a lead over the GOP.
As Soto points out:

Gallup feels that Democrats have fallen through the floor amongst the electorate as a whole, even though other polls since the election show the Democrats retaking a lead over the GOP.
The mid-January NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was based on a sample that contained 39% Republicans and 39% Democrats; poll respondents said that Bush did not have a mandate.
The mid-January CBS News/New York Times poll was based on a sample that contained 34% Democrats and 31% Republicans.
The Pew Center poll and analysis released January 24, 2005 reflected a split of 33% Democrat, 30% Republican.
And it should be noted than an ABC News/Washington Post poll done in mid-December showed that Americans self-identified 11% more as being Democrats (38%) than those who identified as being Republican (27%).
Yet Gallup looks at the electorate over the weekend and somehow feels that Democrats have fallen to only 28% of the electorate, a figure never seen for the party in decades if ever. At what point in our history over the last several decades has the GOP ever had a 9% edge over the Democrats? And knowing that, why would they put out a poll showing a 57% approval rating when they must know that it is based on a bogus sample?

A fair question that merits a straight answer.

New SS Poll Disses Chicken Little

A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted 2/4-6 indicates that the Administration’s panic-mongering on social Security isn’t finding many believers in red or blue state America. Only 17 percent of the respondents agreed that Social Security was in a “state of crisis” and 50 percent disapprove of the President’s “approach to addressing the Social Security system,” while 44 percent expressed their approval.

GOP Pitch for Black Votes Bears Little Fruit

If they gave an award for least comforting argument for Social Security privatization, the slam-dunk winner would be President Bush, for his comment that the lowered life expectancy rate of African Americans in comparison to whites makes privatization an especially good deal for the Black community. The President’s pitch, delivered at a meeting with hand picked African American conservatives in late January, was part of a broader GOP effort to win greater support for his agenda.
Despite media reports to the contrary, the GOP’s inroads into the black vote have been limited at best, as Chris Bowers explains in an interesting wrap-up over at MyDD. Although Bush did increase his percentage of the black vote from 9 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2004, Bowers points out that John Kerry received 10 million African American votes more than did George Bush. This was a 25 percent increase over Gore’s margin, significant because overall voter turnout increased by only 16 percent in 2004. This was the largest margin of African American votes for a presidential candidate in history. In a two-party, head-to-head comparison, Kerry’s portion of the Black vote was even higher than Clinton’s in ’92 and ’96. Lastly, and perhaps most encouraging for the 2006 congressional elections, African Americans, along with union members and voters under 30 are the three groups whose partisan self-identification shifted more strongly toward the Democratic Party in the ’04 election, according to the National Annenberg Election Survey.
The mainstream media has made much of the opposition of some African American religious leaders to same-sex marriage as a harbinger of increased future support for the Republican agenda among Black voters who hold strong religious convictions. But Bowers also notes that a late January meeting of leaders of 15 million African American Baptists joined together in declaring their opposition to such GOP causes as increased funding for the war in Iraq, the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General and the continuation of recent tax cuts. They also expressed strong support for leading Democratic Party priorities like a higher minimum wage, greater investment in public education and reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. It appears that African American voters will continue to support candidates and policies that respect their interests — and that’s good news for Democrats.

AARP Poll On Privatizing SS: NO!

An AARP opinion poll released on 1/24 indicates that a strong majority of Americans are opposed to President Bush’s proposal to privatize Social Security. The poll, conducted 12/6-23 by Roper Public Affairs for the AARP, revealed that 83 percent favored strengthening Social Security, rather than replacing it, and 60 percent believed that private accounts would hurt Social Security. Three out of five respondents would “strengthen social security with as few changes as possible.”
When informed that the white house proposal would not guarantee against reduced benefits and could pass on an additional $1 trillion in debt to the next generation to pay current obligations, an anemic 17 percent of respondents supported privatization. When informed about “all of the consequences to diverting payroll taxes to fund private accounts,” including an end to pre-retirement withdrawalls, support tumbled to 5 percent.
The poll found that 66 percent of respondents over the age of 30 favored keeping Social Security “as is.” Despite concerns about the viability of Social Security, 62 percent of the so-called “Gen X-ers” (ages 30-39), frequently identified as a key constituency for President Bush’s privatization scheme, agreed.

WSJ Poll: Bush ‘Mandate’ Limp At Best

The first WSJ/NBC News Poll conducted since the election offers scant support for President Bush’s assertion that he has “earned a mandate.” The poll, conducted by Hart/McInturff December 9-13, found that 41 percent of respondents think the country is “headed in the right direction,” while 46 percent agree that it is “off on a wrong track.” Bush failed to get a favorable majority for his job approval rating (49-44), while 51 percent disapproved of his handling of both the economy and foreign policy. He did get 51 percent approval for his handling of the war against terrorism, but the poll was conducted before most of the revelations of the Kerik debacle were reported.
As the President launches his campaign to privatize Social Security, the poll reports that only 35 percent of the respondents believe his election entails a ‘mandate’ for investing SS taxes in the private sector, while 51 percent say it does not. While 41 percent said they were “more confident” that the War in Iraq will come to a successful conclusion, 48 percent said they were “less confident” in that prospect. It appears that the only ‘mandate’ the President received in his 2 point margin of victory, if he wants to get anything done, is to move toward the political center.

New Study Cites Surge In Student Support for Dems

According to the first national post-election survey of student participation in the 2004 election, the era of student apathy is over and the Democratic Party is the big winner. The poll, conducted by Schneiders/Della Volpe/Schulman from November 9-19, found that 77 percent of college students nation-wide said they voted on November 2nd, and they voted for John Kerry by a margin of 55-41 percent.
The poll also found that 62 percent of the respondents said they encouraged or helped someone else to vote, nearly double the figure for 2000. Interestingly, two-thirds of the respondents were registered in their home town. However, the third who were registered in their college’s towns turned out to vote at a slightly higher rate. John Kerry received a healthy majority of all student major groups, except those who majored in education, 51 percent of whom voted for Bush.

DLC Gurus Propose ‘Heartland Strategy’ to ‘Get the Red Out’

Democratic Leadership Council bigwigs Al From and Bruce Reed have an article in today’s Wall St. Journal, “Get the Red Out,” that rolls out a couple of fresh ideas for a Democratic resurgence. Along with their more predictable proposals and pot shots at Michael Moore and Joe Trippi, From and Reed propose a “Heartland Project,” which would include “family policies that give parents more time to raise their kids right,” a provocative idea that merits further exploration. They also advocate a new message strategy that gives more emphasis to the Democrats’ outsider status, as they “take up the reform mantle” and become “the party of change, protecting our principles, not our programs.” All Democrats may not be able to unite behind the DLC’s positions on Iraq policy, same-sex marriage and other issues, but Reed and From are thinking creatively about the Party’s future, and their ideas merit thoughtful consideration.