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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


Swing Ideas, not Swing Voters

By Kenneth S. Baer and Andrei Cherny
At this spring’s exclusive Gridiron Dinner, Senator Barack Obama — according to reports, as the dinner is closed press – offered up a complaint common in Democratic circles. “You hear this constant refrain from our critics that Democrats don’t stand for anything. That’s really unfair,” he said, “We do stand for anything.” As they say in the Catskills, the line killed. But the problem it refers to has been killing Democrats for years.
Since the end of the Clinton years, the Democratic Party has been adrift – without a coherent agenda or public philosophy. According to a poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research earlier this year, only 29 percent of Americans believe that Democrats have a better sense than Republicans of what they stand for as a party (while 51 percent say that Republicans have a better sense than Democrats). As Stan Greenberg has put it, the American public believes Democrats have “no core set of convictions or point of view.”
Part of that is expected: when you lose the White House, a party loses a de facto leader who can impose message and ideological discipline. But there is more to it. The world has profoundly changed since President Clinton sat in the Oval Office: globalization has accelerated at a torrid pace as have the technological innovations fueling it, the country has become more diverse and more dispersed, changing family arrangements and workplace structures have deeply affected how people see the world, and the attacks of September 11th have brought to the surface a simmering war with radical Islamist terror.
Yet Democrats have not put forward a vision of where the country should go, where it should lead the world, and why. And absent that vision, no get-out-the-vote effort, re-messaging exercise, or charismatic candidate will help Democrats win the White House and, just as importantly, become a vibrant progressive force for years to come. That is why if Democrats want to win in 2008 and beyond, they must invest in the intellectual infrastructure that underpins a modern political movement. They need to develop coherent responses — rooted in the party’s deepest beliefs about democracy, liberty, equality, and justice — that respond to the new realities that America faces.
What Democrats cannot rely on are the explanations that have cropped up in the wake of the loss of the Senate in 2002 and the failure to win back the Presidency in 2004. These include the technological — witness the huge amount of money poured into the Democratic National Committee’s “Demzilla” database project, and now into the independent Democratic DataMart – but more often than not focus on the Democratic message. Here is a sampling:
1) All we need to do is retool our message – a quadrennial complaint that probably extends back to Thomas Jefferson’s loss to John Adams. This time this strategy has resurfaced under the rubric of “framing”, otherwise known as putting old wine in new bottles.
2) All we need to do is boil down our message to four phrases that have the same catchiness as the GOP’s “Smaller Government. Less taxes. Stronger Military. Family Values.”
3) All we need to do is figure out what goes on the bumper sticker. This produced a Democratic response to the 2006 State of the Union in which Virginia Governor Tim Kaine repeated the phrase “A Better Way” nine times in his short address – using the very same slogan which the Robert Redford movie “The Candidate” mocked as the essence of vapid, meaningless political rhetoric.
4) All we need to do is figure out “how to talk to” evangelical, gun-owning, Hispanic, exurban married couples in red states as if voters simply had merely not understood what we were saying.
Tactics and targeting, media and messaging – these are the ways we try to put lipstick on a party that does not know what it stands for. Democrats today are rich in strategies and poor in beliefs. Ask most Democrats what they believe in, and they will respond with a list of policies and programs, criticisms of Republican wrongs, or a series of painful stammers.
Right now, Democrats are like the fourth-generation that takes over the family firm: we have forgotten why we went into business in the first place. As a result, we spend most of the time fighting to protect the proud heritage of our past achievements from being destroyed, a necessary assignment in the current climate, but not sufficient to provide the roadmap to the future that America needs and that a great political party should provide.
Of course, Democrats have policies – by the truckload. But policies are not ideas – and anyone who tries to conflate the two is putting the cart before the horse. A policy is the “How?” An idea is the “What?” and the “Why?”. Social Security is a policy, one that has served the nation well. The notion that the federal government should mandate that Americans put money aside into a pool to ensure that seniors, widows, and orphans are not left to rot in poverty is a powerful idea, rooted in distinct beliefs about equality, justice, and the role of government in our economy.
Understanding what you believe and developing a view on how the world works and how it should are critical to the nuts-and-bolts of politics. That is to say that you cannot work on the bumper stickers or on talking to swing voters if you do not know what it is exactly you believe. Think of policy platforms, political slogans, and bumper stickers as the tips of icebergs. The ones that work are deceivingly simple but strong because underneath the surface is all the substance and weight that holds them up and that most people never see.
And therein lies the strength of the conservatives’ slogans. Their bumper sticker phrases were not cooked up in a focus group or decided by a central committee of Republican Party elders meeting in the wood-paneled boardroom of Dick Cheney’s secure undisclosed location. They were arrived at through years of vigorous debate and discussion by people who passionately held some core beliefs – and debated them with each other and the politicians seeking their support. They were unafraid to think big and unafraid to anger those who disagreed with them – including many voters.
And, most of all, conservatives had the institutions in which to float the fanciful idea and debate it — not just think tanks and academic institutes, but also idea journals such as The Public Interest and Policy Review. In fact, almost every signature idea that we associate with the modern Republican Party – from supply-side economics to pre-emption and Social Security privatization – was incubated in one of these journals years ago. It doesn’t change the fact that these policies are wrong-headed, but we cannot deny that underneath them is a well developed public philosophy.
Election Day is when the Republicans reap the rewards of this intellectual spadework. When George W. Bush, Bob Dole, or any other mainstream Republican is chosen as their party’s nominee, they get placed on top of a pyramid of thinking that has been developed far in advance of their first visits to New Hampshire. It was not George W. Bush’s campaign, for instance, that developed the theory of compassionate conservatism; that was done by Marvin Olasky and others before. Bush, characteristically, inherited the work that others had sowed in the intellectual vineyards. Democrats, on the other hand, tell their candidates to go into the fields and plant their own ideas six months before the first primary. As we have seen in campaign after campaign, what ends up happening is that candidates lapse into the default position: what does everyone else say or what does the most powerful interest group want.
To help Democratic candidates win and to revive the progressive movement, Democrats need to invest in ideas – and in the think tanks and journals that incubate them. They need to recognize the importance of investing in the development of a coherent public philosophy not just for its electoral implications (of which there are many), but because when a party lacks a viewpoint on the type of nation and world it seeks, then it loses its raison d’etre.
While winning elections is the ultimate goal for any political party and the way to affect real change, Democrats need to shed their compulsion for the transactional. Currently, candidates are selected by Party committees on the basis of their bankroll rather than their experience. Primary voters sometimes seem more concerned with that elusive quality of “electability” than with the old-fashioned notion of ability. Policies and ideas seem to be discussed by Party insiders almost exclusively in the context of which voters they would appeal to instead of what impact they would have on the nation and the world. What does it profit a political party to win an election and lose its soul?
Instead of another round of discussion over who are our swing voters, Democrats need a real debate over what are our “swing ideas”: the big notions that will remake the political landscape as surely as Republican ideas have over the past generation. To do that, we need to get back to first principles, thinking deeply about the world we want to build and how we will do it. Once we do this, we will be able to build a Democratic Party that strides boldly into this new century confident about who we are and where we are headed. That is a Democratic Party that will win again – and one that will be ready to change America for the better.
Kenneth S. Baer and Andrei Cherny are the founding editors of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, www.DemocracyJournal.org.

Replacing the Battleground Mentality with the Mapchanger Attitude in the Democratic Party

By Jerome Armstrong
Ten years from now, the Democratic Party will have fully broadened its election strategy beyond the battleground mentality that dominates strategic thinking today. Democrats will be a national party, leaving no uncontested race anywhere in the nation, and will have rebuilt a party infrastructure down to the precinct everywhere in the nation. The Democrats will have regained their majority status as the governing party, and the mapchanger approach to elections will have been the reason.
The notion of “running Democrats everywhere” seems fanciful (to put it nicely) to DC beltway insiders and veteran political strategists. At the Presidential level, those strategists that subscribe to the beltway mentality believe that Democrats should forget about half the states, and focus all of our resources on trying to win a bare majority of electoral votes.
As the Democratic Party shrinks from a national party into a regional stronghold, the battleground also shrinks further and further. In the 1992 and the 1996 Presidential elections, with three candidates in the race, as many as 30 states were viewed as competitive battleground contests up through Election Day. In 2000, that number dropped to just 17 by Election Day. In 2004, the number of contested states early in the presidential contest stood at 18, and was whittled down to about eight by Election Day.
The battleground strategy – or more accurately obsession – that the Democratic establishment in DC pursues of narrowing electoral campaigns to ever shrinking “swing states” is self-defeating. It does not build any new converts to the party, it makes it easier for the Republicans to walk away with huge chunks of the country unchallenged and it starves the Democratic Parties in those “red” states.
At the congressional level the focus is on trying to win just enough seats to win back the majority. This incremental notion is exactly why the Democratic Party has not been able to reclaim a majority on the House side of Congress since losing control over a decade earlier. Every two years, since 1994, the congressional strategists mark out the 10 or 20 seats representing the best opportunity to win back bare control of the House, make a minimal show in 10 or 20 more, and cede the remaining GOP seats to Republican control-without even a party-supported oppositional candidate.
Those strategists have argued that they simply do not have the money and resources to fight on a broader front, and it is true – the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was outspent by its Republican counterpart $186 million to $93 million in the 2004 cycle.i Yet, the party must have a better approach than narrowing its efforts only to the districts it sees as “winnable”. That may serve the short-term interest of trying for a slim majority in the House, but it completely ignores the long-term interest of acting, behaving and campaigning as a truly national political party.
As blogger Chris Bowers of MyDD noted November 5, 2004:

Abandoning a district also has repercussions for future elections. Failing to challenge your opponent’s message in an area is damaging to your message in that area in the future. Failing to provide a choice to those willing to support you – and there are always tens of thousands willing to support you in any congressional district – sends a message that you do not represent or care about those people. Even worse, failing to challenge an incumbent sends a message that you are afraid of your own beliefs and that you are not working to make this country a better Democracy.
Running a candidate in each of these districts would also have helped to identify Democratic activists in each of these districts. Identifying, encouraging, and assisting potential Dem[ocratic] activists throughout the entire country would help to strengthen the Party, both now and in future elections cycles. These are the people who can help to bring the Democratic message to every corner of the country.ii

The battleground mentality is cautious and narrow, and it plays to the Republican strong hand. The Republicans realize exactly which races are the battlegrounds, and focus all of their resources in kind, on the same races. This allows the party with the stronger array of resources to have the upper hand, and that is the Republican Party, which has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into new media, machine politics and database inventories that give them superior voter targeting capabilities.
In contrast, the mapchanger attitude urges an aggressive and broad challenge to Republicans. It provides the national party with the best opportunity to utilize the tens of thousands of grassroots activists in every state and congressional district. The power of people becomes the strongest resource and gives the national Party the ability to pour resources into those states or districts that become surprisingly contested.
Further, the battleground mentality leaves half the country without a contest of ideas. We abandon progressives in rural areas of the country and let Republicans rule there, without even a contest-and those Republican incumbents then go out and raise money for Republican challengers in contested races.
Challenging Republicans in “deep red” districts would force Republican incumbents to spend a great deal of time and money defending their seats instead of campaigning for other Republicans and donating to their campaigns. Walter Ludwig’s Project 90, which encourages Democratic candidates to run in “red” Congressional districts, found that

between 2000-2004, Democrats failed to compete or barely challenge in over a quarter of U.S. House races, and the Republican incumbents in those districts contributed over $60 [million] to their colleagues in closer races.iii

Activist bloggers do not advocate that the people wait for the Democratic Party strategists in DC to adopt the mapchanger strategy. The Republican Party has become an election machine. The Democratic establishment, while they believed they were the party of governance, wasted hundreds of millions of dollars while ignoring what the Republicans have been building.
Instead, Democratic Party officials and politicians have been under the powerful sway of a cabal of media and polling consultants in DC, whose principle contribution seems to be an extension of this battleground mentality into decisions over campaign expenditures, advocating that the majority of funds be spent on polling and media in a strategic manner that rewards their services with increased profits.
Even for this upcoming cycle, all of the Democratic candidates in big races are going with inside-the-beltway media consultants whose best practices remain entrenched within a conflict-of-interest approach. It is a fact that consumer businesses no longer receive commissions based on the amount of advertising that is done-that racket only remains in DC (particularly on the Democratic side). And if you look closely at what media consultants are doing, they are really only project-managing the task of creating television commercials. That is, they will usually outsource the creation and the placement of the ad, and thus are merely the middleman for the politicians. As project managers, they should be paid a set monthly fee, not commissions without end that sometimes reach into the millions. The Democratic Party and its candidates who are participating in this scam are ripping off people that are contributing through donations.
For beltway outsiders to take more of the duties of the Democratic Party apparatus is really the only option that seems to be available. Waiting for those tired and defeated Democratic consultants to “get it” means remaining in the political wilderness beyond the next decade.
The netroots and grassroots progressive community should begin to take matters into its own hands. It is time to go beyond merely collectively grouping hundreds of thousands of dollars and pushing it toward candidates and consultants that perform business as usual. Building a progressive movement is going to take more than that sort of hit-and-run attitude of activism. We should be creating institutions that effectively spend the dollars raised for campaigns, rather than relying on the establishment channels.
In order to begin the mapchanger process, and really reform the Democratic Party, progressives must organize online in a manner that takes control of the Democratic Party at the precinct level. This ‘trickle up’ strategy will yield results by creating a state-based power that dictates the party strategy from within the Democratic Party establishment.
Yes, the Democratic Party has a problem with branding. Yet if we can rebuild the party across the country, at this very local level, the message and branding problems will be much easier to address. They are certainly not going to be solved within DC. In fact, in many ways, the debate over strategy and tactics versus ideas and principles is a false one. The election strategies that a party puts into practice reflect its values. A national party cannot, through a slogan, say they are putting people first, and then in the next election blow off half the people of the nation.
No matter how you look at it, challenging Republicans in all races and all geographic areas is a good idea – it builds the Democratic Party’s brand, it exhausts the Republicans’ resources and it sows the seeds for future Democratic wins.

iCenter for Responsive Politics, Open Secrets web site, www.opensecrets.org. Accessed 4/13/2006.
iiChris Bowers, “Uncontested,” http://www.mydd.com/story/2004/11/5/115834/784, as quoted in Crashing The Gate (White River Jct., VT: Chelsea Green, 2006) 157.
iiiWalter Ludwig, as quoted in Crashing The Gate (White River Jct., VT: Chelsea Green, 2006) 158. (Ludwig’s Project 90 document is available from him personally.)

The Party of Prosperity?
In the age of globalization, what’s a Democrat to do?

By Harold Meyerson
We live in a time when there’s no such thing as purely good economic news. When the GDP surges – as it did by 4.8 percent in the first quarter of this year – something always lags behind, and that something is almost always the income of ordinary Americans. In that same first quarter, for instance, worker compensation rose by just 2.4 percent – half the rate (4.8 percent) by which inflation grew.
Save for the wealthiest of our countrymen, we are all of us laggards. The American economy booms; the American people are left behind. Once upon a time, in the period of great post-World War Two prosperity, median income rose at precisely the same rate as productivity (both increased by 104 percent between 1947 and 1973). Since then, however, productivity gains have outstripped the average American’s income by a rate of three-to-one, and in recent years, by eight-to-one. As Northwestern University economists Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon have demonstrated, over the past couple of decades, all the income from productivity gains has gone to the wealthiest ten percent of Americans.
One economy vanisheth, another – a meaner one – taketh its place. GM and Ford announce they will close roughly 30 factories, while the median wage for newer hires among such industrial powerhouses as Caterpillar Tractor is now half that of their veteran workers. Or, to depress ourselves further, consider a survey of the nation’s 361 metropolitan areas, which account for 86 percent of the nation’s GDP. It found that the average wage of jobs lost in the recession of 2001-2003 was $43,629, while the average wage of jobs created in 2004-2005 was $34,378 – a cozy 21 percent decline.
Worse yet, it’s no longer clear that one of the lines that Bill Clinton frequently used in his 1992 campaign – “What you earn will be the result of what you learn” – is even remotely true, now that so much highly-skilled work can be sent electronically. Last year, economists J. Bradford Jensen of the Institute for International Economics and Lori Kletzer of the University of California at Santa Cruz concluded that within the service sector, it’s skilled workers in general and scientists, mathematicians, and engineers in particular who are susceptible to having their jobs off-shored. Indeed, over the past half-decade, the United States has generated just 70,000 new jobs in engineering and architecture. In such an economy, sending more people to college, while a social good in itself, may not prove an economic panacea. In 2002, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has concluded, 26.9 percent of all jobs in the U.S. required college degrees; by 2012, that will rise to 27.9 percent – one measly point.
The middle is falling out of the American economy. Globalization, immigration, de-unionization, the decline of manufacturing, and the rise of a financial sector and culture enamored solely of shareholder value have combined to imperil one of America’s defining achievements – the creation of the world’s first majority middle-class economy. At the same time, they have also combined to negate virtually all our theories about how to create mass prosperity. Oh, there are things the Democrats could do in power that would have very positive effects. Nationalized health insurance would take a major burden off employers with older work forces and enable them to compete on a more level playing field with foreign companies whose health care costs are picked up by their governments. The minimum wage could be raised and indexed. Labor laws could be amended so that workers could feel free again to join unions without fear of firing.
But none of these changes would basically alter the DNA of American financial and corporate institutions, which ceaselessly impels them to disaggregate firms, out-source work, and find the cheapest labor in a world brimming with cheap labor. In such a world, generating broadly shared prosperity amounts to squaring a circle.
This is a crisis for the nation, and it is a particular crisis, and challenge, for Democrats and liberals. At bottom, the Democrats – and parties of the left and center-left across the planet – are parties of broadly shared prosperity. Since the days of Jefferson and Jackson, that has been the one defining attribute the Democrats have largely clung to (though there have been periods – the presidency of Grover Cleveland, for instance – when they have happily dropped it).
Today, there’s not a political tendency on the planet that has much in the way of plausible notions as to how to preserve mass prosperity in the advanced economies in the face of the new global realities. The long-term political consequences of this dilemma, however, may not be equally distributed among all political tendencies. The alternative to a politics of economic advancement is often a politics of social and cultural resentment. The steadily declining income of white working-class males over the past several decades, for instance, correlates to their increasingly rightwing voting habits. We may not be able to prove that correlation is causal, but I doubt it’s entirely coincidental.
In any given election, the inability to lay out a plausible scenario for renewing mass prosperity is not likely to leap out as the Democrats’ most glaring deficiency – particularly since the Democrats’ economics both are and are seen to be more friendly to the ordinary American than the Republicans’. But the objective reality of downward mobility, of the vanishing of an entire stratum of secure, middle-income jobs, creates a volatile political terrain on which nationalist, immigrant-bashing, union-hating demagogues may thrive. If Democrats can not assure broadly shared prosperity, a floodgate of reaction will at some point likely burst.
What, then, should the Democrats be advocating? I have three suggestions, in ascending order of difficulty.
First, when they retake power, the one action that could most strengthen their base, politically and economically, would be to enact the Employees’ Free Choice Act, which would enable workers to join unions without fear of firing. The new Change To Win Federation estimates that there are 44 million non-union private-sector jobs in such non-off-shorable sectors as construction, hospitality, transportation and health care. Over time, the EFCA could lead to the betterment of low-wage service sector jobs, just as the Wagner Act transformed over time the economic life of America’s industrial workers.
Second, they need to revive the idea of industrial policy. In such proposals as the Apollo Project (backed by unions and environmentalists), which would create tax credits for businesses that retrofit and become otherwise more efficient; or the consortium of Midwestern states (proposed by political scientist Joel Rogers and economist Dan Luria) that would improve the infrastructure of and give benefits to firms that in-source their supplies from the Midwestern region; or Barack Obama’s bill in which the government assumes some of the auto companies’ health care costs so long as they invest their savings in hybrid technology, we see a movement to shore up the nation’s industrial sector. The nation and the Democrats would profit by more such movement.
Finally, and here we move from the difficult to what may be the near-impossible, the Democrats need to disenthrall themselves from many of the values and mindsets of the financial community. They need more Eliott Spitzers and Phil Angelideses to ride herd on corporate abuses and to invest public funds with an eye to social responsibility. More sweepingly, they need to make corporate and financial institutions answerable not just to shareholders and top management, but to their employees and communities as well. Doing that will take a reform and redefinition of corporate power at least as sweeping as that of the New Deal. Given the increasingly dominant role of finance in filling the party’s coffers (the Rockefeller Republicans are all Democrats now), and in defining the party’s “responsible” economics, this will be anything but easy. But the grim reality is that in the age of globalization, American capitalism as currently practiced is eroding mass prosperity in the nation as a whole. In that contest, Democrats’ allegiance must be to their nation.

Once Again on the Value Change Question

By Scott Winship
Garance Franke-Ruta has posted a response to Ruy’s and my critiques of the American Environics data presented in her recent piece in the American Prospect. We challenged the American Environics findings that Americans were becoming less egalitarian on gender issues and less civically engaged. The most important argument she makes is that by relying on the National Election Study, we are primarily looking at voters, while American Environics surveys voters and nonvoters alike. To be fair to Franke-Ruta, this is the explanation given by American Environics rather than her own. But their excuse is really embarrassingly easy to knock down.
If it wasn’t obvious from our earlier posts, both Ruy and I tabulated results for all adults rather than just voters. The NES is a nationally representative sample of American households, restricted to adults. It is true – as Ruy has consistently noted for years – that the NES tends to exaggerate how many people vote (and how many vote for the winner), but that is a problem of response bias rather than a problem with the underlying design of the survey. Some people don’t want to admit to not voting. But that does not change the fact that comparing the NES aggregate results to the American Environics aggregate results is a valid, apples-to-apples comparison. So we could stop right there and render American Environics’s critique moot.
But let’s not. American Environics claims that voters and nonvoters have markedly different levels and trends in their data. To check this claim, I re-ran the NES figures separately for voters and nonvoters. The fact that the NES overstates voting means that comparing “voters” to “nonvoters” in the NES will understate differences between the two groups, but if both groups show similar trends and levels and differ from the American Environics data, the response bias is irrelevant to this controversy.
The following tables compare the American Environics figures (for all adults) to the NES figures for all adults, voters, and nonvoters. As Franke-Ruta notes (and as we noted ourselves) the questions are not exactly comparable but get at the same underlying dimensions and should show similar trends. Note that we subtract American Environics’s gender figures from the article from 100 so that they represent gender egalitarianism rather than inegalitarianism.

To summarize, the NES indicates:
* More gender egalitarianism (on an admittedly different question) than the American Environics research for both voters and nonvoters
* Increases in gender egalitarianism since 1992 among both voters and nonvoters (as opposed to the decline American Environics claims)
* More civic engagement (on an admittedly different question – though not much different) than American Environics finds for all adults, for voters, and (in 2004) for nonvoters.
* Only a small, statistically insignificant change in civic engagement since 1992 (as opposed to the huge decline claimed by American Environics).
American Environics could claim that the NES also suffers from response bias on the gender egalitarianism and civic engagement questions, though that’s not the actual criticism they initially made. It is also the case that their own data could be subject to various biases. The fact that they have 12 years of experience with their survey while the NES has been conducted for 56 years points toward the likely superiority of the NES data.
More to the point, if response bias is constant across time, then the trends in the NES will be unaffected, and the trends in the NES are dramatically different than those in the American Environics data. Unless American Environics has a story about why response bias would have increased in 2004 relative to 1992 – and increased a lot – this explanation doesn’t have legs. (Remember too that, looking back to 1984, the NES indicates that just 67 percent of adults were civically engaged by our definition. Are we really to believe that increasing response bias explains the big increase in civic engagement the NES shows between 1984 and 1992 too?)
And since we generally show the same discrepancies between the American Environics data and NES voters and nonvoters, any response bias would have to be independent of the response bias that causes some nonvoters to say they are voters.
For all these reasons, the basic critique of the American Environics data still stands, as does the need to cast the data net widely when seeking to understand value change. Relying on the Environics data alone is clearly not a wise approach.

Kerry Campaign Performance in Swing States

By David Gopoian
Political performance should be evaluated against a benchmark of realistic expectations. As in a previous post, I use expected partisanship as such a benchmark to evaluate Kerry’s performance relative to expectations for a Democratic candidate in a given jurisdiction.
The expected vote measure is derived from an analysis of the voting behavior of national populations across five previous presidential elections. Estimates of the likelihood of a Democratic vote for specific categories of partisan identifiers are then applied to the geographic regions within state-level exit samples designated by the designers of the 2004 exit surveys.
The geographic designations created by Edison Mitofsky were done for sampling purposes primarily and often do not correspond to the most ideal geo-political boundaries for the purposes of political analysis. Findings may nonetheless prove instructive. Altogether, there were 202 geographic regions for the 50 states plus DC in the state-level exit polls.
The expected outcomes in these 202 regions were evenly split by partisan tendency, with 103 (51%) leaning Democratic and 99 (49%) leaning Republican. In southern and border states, 27 of 62 regions (44%) leaned Democratic. In northern states, 76 of 140 regions (54%) leaned Democratic.
Kerry received a majority of the two-party vote in 85 of the 103 regions that leaned Democratic (or 83% of them). Of the 27 regions in southern and border states that leaned Democratic, Kerry received the majority of the two-party vote in only 9 (or 30% of them). In northern states, where 76 regions leaned Democratic, Kerry actually exceeded that number, carrying 77 regions.
In a nutshell, Kerry was expected to win 51% of all regions nationally, and won in only 42%. In northern states, the Democratic nominee should have carried 54% of all regions, and Kerry captured 55%. In southern and border states, the typical Democrat should have won 30% of the regions. There, Kerry received the majority of the two-party vote in just 13% of them.
Of course in many of these regions, there was no visible Kerry campaign effort. Even such pivotal states as Colorado and Missouri were vacated early by the Democratic nominee. With the exception of Florida, the same may be said for every southern state. So the really intriguing data are those for the contested swing states.
Most of these findings may seem unsurprising, as they should given the stability of partisan tendencies across time. Perhaps the best showing of the Kerry campaign was in the Republican-leaning Philly suburbs, which proved essential to carrying Pennsylvania. In general, Kerry did better than expected in urban centers, pivotal to winning such states as Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Even in the uncontested states of Missouri and Colorado, Kerry held his own in urban centers. The Florida data suggest that the Kerry campaign succeeded in the Miami media market, but fell flat in Tampa Bay.
Some Notes on Central Ohio
Central Ohio, a largely rural, very white, very born-again expanse that covered parts of 5 Congressional Districts, each represented by a GOP House member (balanced only by Democratic-leaning Columbus), was the critical region that cost Kerry the state and the election.
In Central Ohio, Kerry gathered only 41% of the vote, three percentage points shy of expectations for the Democratic candidate. This is where Kerry lost the state and the presidential election. So it makes sense to focus a bit on Central Ohio.
Not surprisingly, vanilla is the flavor that best defines Central Ohio. More than 90% were white, and three-fifths were white Protestants. Approximately 40% were rural residents. But nearly half (45%) of the region’s voters were college graduates and their household median income approached $60,000.
The best-fitting model of the presidential vote for the Central Ohio region includes just two predictor variables: party identification and overall Bush approval ratings. Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 45% to 28%. Conservative Republicans outnumbered liberal Democrats by a ratio of three to one. Overall, 60% approved of Bush’s performance in office.
Attitude measurement has never been a forte of exit surveys, but the limited data available do indicate that voters’ perceptions of the candidates best able to handle the economy and terrorism and voters’ outlooks regarding Iraq correlated strongly with both Bush approval and party identification. So, too, did the major social marker and pivotal demographic in the life of Central Ohio.
At the end of the day, the key demographic that explained most of what may be observed about Central Ohio simmered down to religiosity. More than one-third of the region’s voters claimed born-again status, including 41% of all women and 28% of the men. This gender breakdown explains one of the major ironies of the vote preferences of central Ohioans – a reverse gender gap.
Among men, Kerry ran about one percentage point better than expected, and gained 45% of their votes, but among women Kerry ran eight percentage points below expectations and finished with only 37% of their votes. Kerry’s percentage of the vote from men who were less religious was two and one-half times what he received from born-again men; his percentage among less religious women was four times as great as the share of the vote he obtained from born-again women in the region.
Collectively, from voters who were not born-again, Kerry ran even with expectations, and took a slight majority of the vote (51%). From the 35% who were born-again, however, Kerry ran thirteen percentage points below expectations and took only 17% of the vote.
In Central Ohio, as in the nation as a whole, the social issues agenda of the Republican Party did not define the motivations of most voters. But more importantly than anywhere else in 2004, the moralistic agenda of the GOP generated the margin in Central Ohio that provided Bush with four more years.

Partisan Benchmarks and Political Performance in the 2004 Presidential Election

By David Gopoian
Evaluations of campaign performance should be tied to meaningful benchmarks. A classic measure of political expectations is one based on the partisan composition of specific populations. The attainment of 51% of the vote may be evaluated differently, for example, if earned in a jurisdiction that typically supports one’s own party in contrast to a jurisdiction that typically does not.
In this post, I compare Kerry’s share of the two-party vote in the 50 states, plus DC, to a measure of the expected Democratic vote in each. The expected vote measure is derived from an analysis of the voting behavior of national populations across five previous presidential elections. Estimates of the likelihood of a Democratic vote for specific categories of partisan identifiers are then applied to the state-level exit samples of voters in each state.
The first column of numbers shows the Expected Democratic Vote for each state. This percentage represents a partisan benchmark for Democratic candidates – the percentage he should get given the partisan makeup of a state’s electorate.
An interpretation might flow as follows: given the sample of voters who actually voted in Massachusetts in 2004, the typical Democratic candidate should have expected to have gotten 62.9% of the vote. Kerry’s actual vote of 62.5% in the exit poll indicates that Kerry came very close to matching how a Democratic candidate should have performed in his home state.
Examining the 19 states that Kerry won, plus DC, it is apparent that his actual vote percentages were within one rounded percentage point of the expected Democratic vote in all but 6 of them. The exceptions were DC, Vermont, and Illinois where he ran above expectations and Hawaii, Rhode Island, and New Jersey where he ran below expectations. In the remaining 14 states, Kerry ran about as well as should have been expected of the Democratic nominee..
The problem, of course, is that these 20 states left Kerry 19 electoral votes shy of the White House. There were seven other states a Democrat should have won based on partisan inclinations of voters. These included West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Missouri, Iowa, and Louisiana. Granted, in many Southern and Border States, partisan attachments do not necessarily carry much clout for the evaluation of political figures associated with the national Democratic Party.
However, a case could be made that the partisan benchmarks for these states are not unrealistic. In the 2004 election, West Virginia elected a Democratic Governor with 65% of the vote; Arkansas re-elected Senator Lincoln; Kentucky gave its Democratic Senate challenger 49% of the vote. Missouri had just elected a dead Democrat over a live Republican to the Senate four years earlier. And Gore won both Iowa and New Mexico in 2000.
In fact, there are 12 states where the expected Democratic vote ranged from 49% to 51% — the very definition of swing states. Kerry won only two of them – – New Hampshire and Wisconsin. He lost four others where he finished within one rounded percentage point of meeting expectations for a Democratic candidate (Iowa, Florida, Ohio, and Nevada).
Three of the remaining six swing states were southern states where Kerry ran at least 6 points behind expectations for a Democratic candidate (North Carolina (-6), Louisiana (-8), and Kentucky (-11). He also ran below expectations in Montana by 8 points. The last two, potentially winnable swing states were lost without a battle – Virginia, where Kerry ran 3 points worse than expected and Missouri, where he ran 4 points below expectations.
I’ll leave it to readers to draw inferences about the past campaign and about future ones as well. In the graph below, blue is used to highlight pro-Democratic inclinations or performance, pink to illustrate pro-Republican tendencies or performance, and yellow to show differences that did not deviate markedly from partisan expectations. The Kerry Vote column is based on weighted exit poll data, not official election returns.

Has the Public Turned Away from Internationalism? (Part Two)

by Ruy Teixeira
Last week, I examined public opinion on America’s role in the world to see whether the move toward unilateralism in American foreign policy could be traced to shifts in public opinion. The verdict was: no, not really.
But perhaps that examination was looking in the wrong place for the relevant change. Maybe the real shift has been in the realm of the economic, as the public has shifted from a pro-free trade to anti-free trade stance. There is little evidence of this either. We lack a consistent time series, but in 1953, Gallup found a 54-33 majority favoring a policy of free trade. Almost half a century later, in 2000, the Pew Research Center found a 64-27 majority in favor of the idea that free trade with other countries is good for the United States.
If anything, support for free trade, at least in principle, may be increasing, not decreasing. When posed as a question of whether tariffs across countries should be eliminated to bring the costs of goods down for everybody or are necessary to protect manufacturing jobs, Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (CCFR) surveys recorded a steady drop from 1978, when 57 percent thought tariffs could be justified in that way, to 49 percent in 1998.
Finally, in the 2004 CCFR survey, 64 percent described the process of globalization as mostly good for the US, compared to just 31 percent who said it was mostly bad. And in the same poll, the public said, by a 73-22 margin, that international trade is good for “consumers like you”, by a 65-29 margin that it was good for “your own standard of living, by a 59-37 margin that it was good for American companies and by a 57-39 margin that it was good for the US economy.
Nor do Americans wish to stop or even slow down the process of globalization. Surveys invariably find large majorities favoring the continuation of the globalization process and little support for opting out of that process.
Again, it is hard to know for sure, but these data do not suggest there has been a substantial decline in public support for the principle of free trade in recent decades-certainly not enough to be a significant factor in the decline of internationalism. And it is possible that there has been no decline at all in pro-free trade sentiment and that change has actually been in the opposite direction.
On to other factors, then. What about salience? It is possible that support for internationalism has remained about the same, but the salience of internationalism to the average American has declined, perhaps drastically. This is the argument of James Lindsay in his 2000 Foreign Affairs article, “The New Apathy: How an Uninterested American Public Is Reshaping Foreign Policy”. While Americans’ views continue to support multilateralism, international institutions like the UN, etc., these views matter much less to them than they once did, so politicians feel free to ignore these views when they form policy. They know they won’t be punished by an American public in the grip of an “apathetic internationalism”.
This is a more promising line of analysis. It is true, for example, that Americans’ tendency to describe some foreign policy problem as the nation’s most important problem has declined over time. Political scientist Mark Smith has found that, from 1950-1972, an economic problem was the dominant problem mentioned by the public just 5 percent of the time, while from 1973 onward, an economic problem was the dominant problem 65 percent of the time. Consistent with this shift, the number naming a foreign policy issue as the most important problem declined from 10-20 percent or even more of the public to 2-3 percent in the late 1990’s.
But there has been a resurgence, naturally, of the tendency to name a foreign policy problem since 9/11, so this point seems less sharp than it once was. On the other hand, since internationalism’s problems accumulated over decades, perhaps a long-term decline -even if now partly reversed–in the apparent salience of foreign policy to the public did play a role in eroding internationalism.
Lindsay also argues that Americans follow foreign affairs less closely than they once did, contributing to the decline in foreign policy salience. This seems a more difficult case to make. The first CCFR survey in 1974 found 50 percent saying they were “very interested” in following news about the relations of the US with other countries and the last one, in 2004, found 53 percent expressing that level of interest (after a spike to 62 percent in 2002, the first survey after 9/11).
But if attentiveness to foreign affairs has not declined, perhaps the aspects of foreign affairs that most engage the public have changed. A clue is provided by Smith’s data on the extraordinary post-1973 surge in importance of economic issues to the public. And it does appear that these concerns have spilled over into foreign affairs. Since 1974, concern about jobs has been very high in the CCFR survey and, in the 2004 survey, 78 percent thought “protecting the jobs of American workers was a “very important” goal of US foreign policy. This was higher than for any other goal, including combating international terrorism. This apparent rise in the importance of economic foreign policy goals in the eyes of the public may have contributed to the erosion of internationalism, at least in its classic post-World War II form.
This discussion suggests some ways in which shifts in the composition and intensity of public sentiment about foreign affairs may have contributed to the decline of internationalism. But it is worth asking the question at this point: how much does the public really influence foreign policy anyway? If there is little connection there, then, logically, even if there have been significant shifts in the structure of public opinion on foreign affairs, these shifts could not have played much of a role in the demise of internationalism.
Some evidence for a lack of connection between the public and foreign policy is provided in a 2005 American Political Science Review article by Lawrence Jacobs and Benjamin Page. Jacobs and Page examine data from CCFR surveys of the public and of policymakers, labor leaders, business leaders and foreign policy experts between 1974 and 2002 and find that it is primarily business leaders and, secondarily, experts that exert influence over the preferences of policymakers, not the public.
The Jacobs and Page work is hardly definitive. It covers a limited period and leaves open the possibility that public sentiment may set the overall agenda for foreign policy within which business and experts exert the most direct influence. But it should add to our doubts that changes in the structure of public opinion on foreign affairs have had much to do with the fading of post-World War II internationalism and the rise of Bush-era unilateralism.
For the latter trend, we probably need look no further than the current occupant of the White House and his allies in the Congress. The public, however, can justifiably plead innocent.

Should We Call Them “Indycrats”?

by Ruy Teixeira
It is commonplace to call attention to the polarized nature of partisan views on Bush’s administration and policies. Republicans approve; Democrats don’t and the gulfs between them are immense by historical standards.
The latest CBS New poll confirms this yawning gulf between Democrats and Republicans. But it shows something else that is actually far more significant: the views of political independents are now almost as far away from Republicans as Democrats are. In fact, the two groups-independents and Democrats-have converged so strongly in their political views that we could almost lump them together as one group, “Indycrats”, whose views are starkly different from those of GOP identifiers.
Consider these data from the CBS News poll:
1. Bush’s overall approval rating is 79 percent among Republicans and 14 percent among Democrats-a gap of 65 points. But his rating is also just 29 percent among independents, producing a very sizable gap of 50 points relative to GOP identifiers. Put another way, independents are 50 points away from Republicans, but just 15 points away from Democrats.
2. Only 20 percent of independents believe the country is going in the right direction, a mere 12 points more than the comparable figure among Democrats-but 37 points less than the figure among Republicans.
3. Twenty-six percent of independents approve of Bush’s handling of the economy (66 percent disapprove), 14 points more than the number of Democrats who approve-but 44 points less than the number among Republicans.
4. Twenty-six percent of independents approve of Bush’s handling of the Iraq situation-15 points more than Democrats; 43 points less than Republicans.
5. On handling the campaign against terrorism, 38 percent of independents approve of the job Bush is doing. That’s 11 points more than Democrats, but 45 points less than Republicans.
6. How about whether Bush has “the same priorities for country as you have”? Sixty-nine percent of Republicans agree, but just 11 percent of Democrats and 25 percent of independents.
7. Was removing Saddam Hussein from power worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq? Only 30 percent of independents and 15 percent of Democrats say yes, compared to 70 percent among Republicans.
8. And what should the US do now? Just 24 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of independents believe we should “stay in Iraq as long as it takes to make sure Iraq is a stable democracy” (the administration position), compared to 61 percent of Republicans.
You get the idea. Independents and Democrats-“Indycrats”-see eye to eye on the policies and priorities of the Bush administration-which they find very wanting indeed–while Republicans are off seemingly on a different planet.
This helps clarify an important aspect of today’s political polarization. It’s not that there are two roughly equal groups in the public that are at loggerheads with one another. Or that the Democrats and Republicans are light years from one another, while the political center stands in a crossfire, equidistant from both extremes. Instead, what we have is one large group, Indycrats (two-thirds of the public), on one side and a much smaller group, Republicans (one-third of the public), on the other.
That’s polarization, all right, but polarization that pits a big center-left majority against a small right wing minority (inverting the claims of many after the 2004 election that the US had become a center-right nation). And it’s polarization that raises a vexing question: why can’t this big majority-the Indycrats-get more of what they want? Why do the policies and priorities of the country seem skewed toward the minority, not the majority?
That’s a huge question and certainly part of the answer lies in GOP manipulation of cultural issues and the war on terror to promote their narrow agenda. But that’s by all means not the whole story of how the public and public policy got so divorced from one another. The other part of the story is about a GOP leadership increasingly responsive to its own base and increasingly clever about circumventing the popular will to promote that base’s agenda. For that story, I refer you to the important new book, Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson.
In the meantime, we shall see how long the Bush administration is able to keep the Indycrats at bay. Given the way the Bush administration is currently unraveling, even all the clever tricks described in Hacker’s and Pierson’s book may not be enough to save them this time.

More Hispanics, More Democratic

By Ruy Teixeira
As two recent reports document, the Hispanic population of the United States continues to increase rapidly, especially in areas that we now think of as “solid red.” The Pew Hispanic Center report describes and analyzes the extraordinary growth of the Hispanic population in six southern states, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, down to the county level. The Census report shows that Texas has now become a majority-minority state (joining New Mexico, California and Hawaii), primarily due to its burgeoning Hispanic population.
The political impact of this demographic trend should generally favor the Democrats. But the extent to which this is true will be limited if Democratic margins among Hispanics continue to be shaved, as they were in the 2004 election.
However, according to a useful new report by the indefatigable folks at Democracy Corps, the Democratic margin among Hispanics seems likely to expand in the future, not contract. If so, the pro-Democratic impact of Hispanic population growth should be very substantial.
The Democracy Corps report is based on a June survey of Hispanic voters, whose basic results I previously summarized. There is much rich detail in this report, but here are some of the most important observations:

Democrats witnessed the loss of a small though significant portion of their Hispanic support to George Bush in 2000 and 2004, but by no means were these dislodged voters an advance party for a greater flight of Hispanics from the Democratic Party. Hispanic voters remain instinctively very Democratic, but more important than that, they hold values, views of society, the economy and the role of government, as well as issue priorities and hopes for America, that put them deep inside the Democratic world. The Democrats will stem the erosion of the Hispanic vote, not by chasing the defectors or waving the partisan banner, but by rediscovering their own values and beliefs. The route to a national Democratic majority goes right through the Hispanic community, where Democrats will find the themes that best define the modern Democratic Party. . . .
[Hispanic] voters were disappointed and dislodged; they did not defect. In this survey just completed, Hispanics had swung back to the Democrats with a vengeance, giving them a 32-point margin in a generic race for Congress (61 to 29 percent). The Republican vote today is 10 points below what Bush achieved just six months earlier. These voters are deeply dissatisfied with the Bush economy and Iraq war; they are socially tolerant and internationalist; they align with a Democratic Party that respects Hispanics and diversity, that uses government to help families, reduce poverty and create opportunity, and that will bring major change in education and health care. This is even truer for the growing younger population under 30, including Gen Y voters, who support the Democrats by a remarkable 46 points (70 to 24 percent). All together, this paints a portrait of a group that respects Bill Clinton, indeed giving him higher marks than the Catholic Church, and that embraces his vision of the Democratic Party. . . .
When Hispanic voters were asked why Kerry lost, they focused above all on Kerry himself, his lack of clear convictions, followed by worries about his positions on abortion and gay marriage. . . .
That values issues were part of the erosion in 2004 and 2000 is not the same as saying that addressing those issues directly is the best way to rebuild the Democrats’ majority. Majorities of Hispanics believe we should be tolerant of homosexuality, would keep abortion legal, and support stem cell research, even with church opposition. This is especially true among the large younger and more middle-class segments of the community. . . .
[Hispanics’] views on values, family, the economy, the poor, working people and the middle class, community and government, and how best to expand opportunity and realize the American dream put these voters in the center of a Democratic world-if the Democrats would remember what it means to be a Democrat in these times. (emphases added)

Do I detect a theme here? Just as Democrats-see the post below-will do best among difficult, contestable voter groups by making clear what they stand for, they will maximize their potential gains among Democratic-leaning Hispanics by doing the very same thing. Sounds like a winner to me.

Dealing with Iraq: What Recent Polls Suggest About Strategy for the Dems

By Andrew Levison
An extremely important new Gallup poll on Iraq (analyzed in a recent post by Ruy Teixeira) dramatically illustrates both the key problem and also the tremendous opportunity that now confronts the Democratic Party.
The problem Dems face on Iraq is that the public is divided into three roughly equal groups – one solidly anti-war, one solidly pro-war and a pivotal middle group with more nuanced and less easily pigeonholed views of the conflict. According to the Gallup poll, 36% of Americans believe that the war was a mistake and that we should set a timetable for withdrawal while 30% believe that we were right to send troops in the first place and that we must now keep them there as long as necessary.
These two groups – neither close to a majority – include many of the committed base supporters of the two political parties. The critical swing group of 28%, however, is comprised of people who believe either (1) that the initial decision to send troops was correct, but we should now set a timetable for withdrawal or (2) that the initial decision to send troops was a mistake but we are now nonetheless obligated to keep troops in the country until some kind of stability is achieved.
This poses an extremely difficult opinion climate for the Dems. They face a hard uphill struggle to formulate a clear, coherent message that can appeal to these distinctly ambiguous sentiments among the swing voters while at the same time not alienating those who are firmly opposed to the war. Attempts to rhetorically bridge the gap by combining different elements of these distinct positions – or by switching between them — inevitably ends up appearing vague, confused and vacillating. What the Democrats need is one clear core message that firmly expresses most Democrats’ basic disagreement with the Bush Administration’s approach to Iraq but which is presented in a form and language that seems reasonable and convincing to the ambivalent middle group.
For an answer, the polls suggest that the Democrats should take page from the Republican’s political playbook from 2004 and challenge Bush on the basic and fundamental issue of leadership. In the last election, Republicans did not debate John Kerry’s specific criticisms of the Administration’s policy in Iraq; instead they challenged his ability as a leader, caricaturing his behavior with pejorative adjectives like “flip-flopping” and “waffling”.
Democrats should take a parallel approach with Bush – not out of spite, but for two more substantive reasons. First, because the key current problems America faces in Iraq stem directly from Bush’s profound failures of leadership and second, because the public opinion polls clearly indicate that in recent weeks there has been nothing less then a massive collapse in public confidence in George W. Bush as a wartime national leader.
Recent surveys have consistently and repeatedly shown that solid majorities – ranging from 51% to 58% and 59% now feel that the war was “not worth it” or that we “should have stayed out” and similarly firm majorities of 55%-59% express direct disappointment and disapproval of how Bush himself has handled the conflict. In the last month majorities have agreed that America has become “bogged down” in Iraq, that the war was “a mistake”, that it “has not increased U.S. security” and that Bush and his administration have “no clear plan” for ending it.
These results have been reconfirmed by a number of distinct surveys and survey questions. They indicate a genuinely stunning loss of confidence in George W. Bush as a leader. Even Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon’s support during the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War declined relatively gradually in comparison with the sudden meltdown that has occurred in Bush’s popular backing.