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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Editor’s Corner

Let’s Back Up

By Bradford Plumer
Before talking about how unions can appeal to a younger generation of technical and professional workers, I want to revisit the question of why they should do so. Let me rephrase that: How much effort should organized labor really spend reaching out to the professionals that Grossfeld describes — professionals who are already skeptical about unions — given that resources are finite and there are many other battles to fight? We can all agree that the workers themselves would benefit from better representation of some sort. But what does labor get out of the deal? And what would it have to give up?
On the face of things, white-collar workers seem terribly important to the future of organized labor. After all, the AFL-CIO estimates that a little over half of its members are “white-collar”. And in 2003, the organization published a report noting that 30 percent of all new members were professionals — “the fastest growing occupational group within the federation.” So this looks like the backbone of labor, right? Won’t unions wither and die unless they can learn to appeal to the professional class?
Well, hold on. The trouble is that “white-collar worker” is a rather vague and overly sweeping term. Looking at the AFL-CIO’s report more closely, it seems the vast bulk of new “white-collar” union members were actually teachers, health-care workers, and telecommunications workers organized by the CWA. In other words, the AFL-CIO seems to be making most of its headway among groups that have traditionally backed labor quite enthusiastically — rather than the young college-educated professionals in, say, Silicon Valley that Grossfeld appears to be targeting.
Now, granted, just because organized labor hasn’t depended on young professionals in the past doesn’t mean they won’t have to in the future. But a few years ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics put out a handy table: “Occupations with the largest job growth, 2004-2014.” Despite all the talk we hear about “the new economy”, here are the jobs that will grow most significantly in the coming decade: Retail salespersons, registered nurses, home health aides, food servers, janitors, waiters and waitresses, and customer service representatives. Again, these are all fields in which labor unions are already working hard to bolster their presence. Now my impression is that the main obstacles to organizing drives in these areas — that is, efforts to organize janitors and retail clerks and nurses — have been ruthless opposition by employers, rather than skepticism about unions among the workers themselves.
So to my eye, one could almost say the following: Look, organized labor has made the bulk of its recent gains by focusing on the sorts of workers who have traditionally been very receptive to unions — and it has ample reason to continue doing so well into the future. Yes, it would be nice if more college-educated engineers and technicians and so on joined unions, but if they’re going to make a fuss about it, why bend over backwards for them? And while the status quo is nothing to brag about, obviously, unions can grow most effectively by pushing for legislation that curtails employer resistance to organizing — the Employee Free Choice Act, for instance — rather than fretting too much about winning over workers who tend to cast a wary eye at the labor movement.
Of course, that’s not necessarily convincing, either. Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t unions do what they’ve long been doing while also trying to reach out to young, college-educated professionals who have very real concerns about workplace security and — as Kusnet nicely illustrates — the quality of their jobs? After all, as Grossfeld mentioned in his original report, too many Democrats in Congress would prefer to buck union influence if they could. Perhaps the only way to nudge them in a more labor-friendly direction — so that bills like the EFCA can actually get signed into law — is for organized labor to make new allies among college-educated workers. Why can’t they do both things at once?
I suppose it all depends on the details. If the idea here is that labor unions simply need to market themselves more effectively to college-educated workers, well, that seems wholly unobjectionable. As Grossfeld points out, this would involve pointing out — rightly — that unions have evolved a great deal from the days of wildcat strikes and bitter clashes with employers, and now often focus on expanding access to health care, creating better child-care options, cushioning the effects of rampant job insecurity, offering employees a voice in the workplace, and so on.
My own anecdotal experience suggests that this strategy can be highly effective. For several years, I was part of a local union comprised of college-educated professionals and white-collar workers. A great many friends and associates my age — I’m 25 — often wondered why on earth our office needed a union. Many of them shared the attitudes described by Grossfeld in his study: They were all sympathetic to labor in theory, but thought that unions often went “too far”, and assumed that most unions either fostered hostility in the office by fighting with the bosses or else hampered flexibility in the workplace by creating too many silly work rules. I would have to explain that, no, no, our union actually gave us an outlet to air our various concerns, and, when the organization faced a severe budget crisis, allowed us to work out a plan with management to avoid painful pay cuts and layoffs. And this was a run-of-the-mill union — our local was part of the UAW, one of the supposed “dinosaurs” of the movement. Once people I talked to realized what unions actually did, they were a great deal more receptive. Better marketing really does work.
Meanwhile, some unions are now taking concrete and often unconventional steps to appeal to white-collar workers. The SEIU has backed Barbara Ehrenreich’s new organization, United Professionals, which provides support for white-collar workers who find themselves either underemployed or hurt by job insecurity. And a few years ago, Grossfeld reported that the CWA helped sponsor Techs Unite, an advocacy group that offers training to IT workers who experience high turnover. These efforts no doubt help attract a number of young technical and professional workers to the ranks of organized labor. The question, as I’ve mentioned above, is how much energy unions should put into these efforts, relative to traditional organizing and political action.
Meanwhile, I’m curious to hear more about Grossfeld’s argument that unions need to create “new structures” to suit the needs of white-collar workers. The CWA has offered some modest steps in this direction with a number of creative endeavors such as Alliance@IBM, which uses the internet to bring IBM employees together. That seems perfectly sound — more unions could probably stand to learn a few tricks from the CWA and SEIU. What about more drastic changes, though? Grossfeld writes: “Democrats ought to showcase new approaches to workplace organization — and the modern labor laws that make them possible.” What, exactly, will this entail?
In the past decade, after all, various scholars and politicians have proposed changes to the labor law ostensibly designed to suit the wants and needs of white-collar workers. In 1997, Republicans in Congress — with the support of New Democratic groups like the DLC — put forward the TEAM Act, which would have allowed businesses to form non-union “teams” of employers and supervisors to address workplace issues. The idea was to create a more flexible sort of bargaining arrangement. So what was the problem? By repealing section 8(a)(2) of the National Labor Relations Act, the TEAM Act would have opened the door for management-dominated unions, which could be used to thwart organizing drives. Traditional labor groups objected, and Bill Clinton eventually vetoed the bill.
I don’t think anyone in this forum is proposing we resuscitate the TEAM Act. But it does pose a possible conundrum. The GOP sold the bill by declaring that it would “empower employers and employees to act as a team, rather than as adversaries, to advance their common interests.” The DLC sounded a similar note at the time: “Labor law should seek not only to protect workers, but also to empower them to participate in decisions that affect their livelihood and workplaces.” According to Grossfeld’s findings, this is exactly the sort of rhetoric — and potentially, the sort of “new product” — that appeals to college-educated professionals. Nevertheless, it proved radioactive to traditional unions.
So there are several questions here: How can Democrats and organized labor find ways to offer a “new product” that can appeal to college-educated professionals without clashing with the interests of the existing labor movement? Will those two goals ever conflict? Moreover, if Democrats and organized labor are going to talk about new approaches to workplace organization, how can they prevent their rhetoric from being co-opted by opponents of labor — as happened in 1997? And, to return to the question posed at the beginning, how much effort should unions spend chasing after white-collar workers, relative to other strategies?
I certainly don’t know the answers to all of these questions. But I do think they’re worth exploring.

Bradford Plumer is a reporter-researcher at The New Republic. His blog can be found here.

Office Workers of the World Unite! You Have Nothing To Lose But Your Cubicles

By Will Marshall
Economic change has been especially brutal for Americans who work in factories. Now office workers are feeling their pain.
Thanks to corporate restructurings, automation, cheap communications and the rise of global sourcing and supply chains, U.S. white collar workers face unprecedented levels of job churning, demands from employers for “give backs” on wages and benefits, and the growing risk that their jobs will be sent offshore.
On top of that, middle class workers aren’t getting a fair share of the nation’s economic growth. Although U.S. labor productivity has risen a healthy 15 percent since 2001, the median hourly wage has barely budged.1 Meanwhile, the top one percent of households is reaping a bonanza, claiming fully 53 percent of income gains in 2004.2 This growing concentration of wealth, combined with job instability, has put economic insecurity and inequality front and center in the voters’ concerns — as Republicans learned the hard way in the 2006 elections.
Given office workers’ well-founded sense of economic vulnerability and unfairness, labor analyst Jim Grossfeld asks, shouldn’t more of them turn to unions for protection? It’s a good question. In White Collar Perspectives on Workplace Issues, a report on polling and focus group research into white white-collar attitudes, he makes an intriguing case that workers with professional and technical skills, especially women in “helping professions” like nursing, are ripe candidates for union cards.
Put me down as sympathetic but skeptical. There’s no question that working Americans need a new social contract to replace the unraveling World War II era safety net. In theory, unions could play a key role in such a compact, but they’d first have to reinvent themselves to serve the interests of largely autonomous knowledge workers who compete in global markets. Despite some promising experiments here and there, it’s not clear the U.S. labor movement is ready for such radical change.
Ever since the Reagan years, union leaders have complained that the rules governing organizing drives are rigged in favor of employers. That’s undoubtedly true, though whether it’s the main cause of labor’s dwindling membership is another question. Nonetheless, I note that the Democratic Leadership Council, though often at loggerheads with labor, has endorsed card check registration as a way to redress the imbalance of power. Solidarity forever! But the main barriers to organizing office workers, as Grossfeld’s research makes clear, are cultural, not legal.
It’s no secret that many white-collar workers view unions as relics of the industrial economy they have gladly left behind. They see unions as fomenting conflict between workers and employers, when a dispersed, networked economy relies puts a premium on teamwork. And they view unions as an obstacle to the flexibility and ceaseless innovation U.S. companies need to win in global competition.
Yet their growing disenchantment with the risky new world of global commerce, says Grossfeld, is making them more sympathetic to unions. This is plausible and he should be applauded for asking the right question: What do unions have to offer insecure white-collar workers? While he stresses the need for unions to take a “non-traditional approach,” this passage from his report gives me pause:

In the era of economic globalization, unions and the collective bargaining process remain the most effective vehicles for workers to win economic security for themselves and their families. Regardless of how profitable their employers are, workers who are denied the opportunity to negotiate their wages, hours and working conditions lack any significant means to share in the profits they create. This is the case for the 87 percent of U.S. workers who have no union representation today.

Today’s knowledge workers might well benefit from innovative mutual aid organizations. But industrial unions and collective bargaining rose in response to a specific historical circumstance–the reorganization of America’s agrarian society for mass production — that lies well in our past. The percentage of private sector workers in unions today (around 7. 8 percent) is not much greater than it was as that industrial reordering began in 1901: 6.5 percent.3
Industrial-era unionism scored important victories in protecting workers’ basic rights (now largely codified in national policy and law) and equalizing power between labor and big corporations. Collective bargaining was generally a progressive force (although sometimes minorities were left out). When labor and management struck deals for better pay, benefits and working conditions, the costs were passed on to consumers. Since most consumers workers were also workersconsumers, the result was a virtuous cycle as long as inflation didn’t get out of control.
Global markets confound the old model of labor-management relations, which was designed to work in an hierarchical, national economy. Companies seeking competitive advantage readily move production from high-wage to low-wage countries. Communications satellites and the Internet make it possible to shift specific jobs, typically in business and other services, to well-educated but lower-paid workers in countries like India. With foreign competitors breathing down their necks, U.S. workers and employers really don’t have the luxury of indulging in adversarial relations. Moreover, union-negotiated work rules sometimes stand as obstacles to closer collaboration between managers and workers in making the adjustments necessary to keep pace with global competitors. If U.S. workers want to keep high-wage jobs in America, they have to focus as much onon their company’s productivity, innovation and quality, not just their pay and working conditions.
The contemporary case for traditional unionism seems strongest for workers at the bottom in the labor market, especially in low-paying service jobs: child care, big-box retail employees, hotels and restaurants, etc. Most of these jobs are insulated from the pressures of global competition (though not large-scale immigration), and collective bargaining could help to lift low-wage service workers into the middle class, just as it did steel and auto workers in the industrial era.
But white-collar workers don’t see themselves as victims, as alienated from their labor–which usually often involves collaborative problem-solving rather than performing repetitive tasks on assembly lines–or as incapable of adapting to changing labor market demands. What they need is a new model of unionism that focuses on assuring their employability, mobility and earning power rather than protecting specific jobs or compensation packages.
Today’s workers know in their bones that education and skills are ultimately the keys to their economic security. Yet companies nowadays have weak incentives to make big investments in training their workers, who could pack up and take their new skills to competitors at any time. A creative effort to solve this “free rider” problem is the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, a consortium of business, labor and government. In effect, it spreads the risk of investing in worker training and, by insisting that training be company-based, makes sure workers get skills for which there is demonstrable market demandthat are really in demand.
This is one model for a new unionism; Grossfeld cites others. The point is, post-industrial unions must provide office workers with what it takes to succeed in the global economy. For example, they could help workers acquire valuable marketable skills, and create “virtual hiring halls” to match them to employers. They could also provide services like portable pensions and health insurance, which would smooth workers’ transitions from job to job. And they could experiment with novel concepts like wage or mortgage insurance, which aim at keeping families’ living standards from collapsing when workers lose their jobs.
Modern labor associations could help workers bargain with their employers for a better work-family balance–for flextime, paid leave, telecommuting and part-time jobs with decent benefits. They could operate, in short, like a back-to-the-future update on the old craft unions, which were defenders of quality workmanship as well as worker’s interests.
In an article for the DLC way back in 1998, Stephan A. Herzenberg, John A. Alic and Howard Wial captured the essence of the new bargain unions might offer today’s knowledge workers:

The essence of the new social contract–the New Deal for the New Economy–must be: Workers and unions will deliver responsible, high quality service; in exchange, society will support a union’s right to exist and all workers’ right to economic security.4

Still sounds like a deal to me.

Will Marshall is president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute and editor of With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty.
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov/cps/labor2005/chart1-18.pdf.
2Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, www.cbpp.org/7-10-06inc.htm.
4“New Unions for a New Economy,” The New Democrat, March/April 1998. This publication has been replaced by Blueprint magazine.

Minding Our P’s and Q’s: Professionals, Portability and Quality

By David Kusnet
Jim Grossfeld is performing a real service by urging the unions, the Democrats, and progressives of all kinds to reach out to technical and professional workers in ways that make sense to this large and fast-growing constituency.
Grossfeld rightly urges the unions and their Democratic allies to understand that professional and technical workers want new kinds of supports — from education and training to portable health and pension benefits — to make their way in a churning economy. He’s also right on target when he urges organizers to transcend the stereotypes that unions are confrontational, resistant to change, oriented only to blue-collar and low-wage workers, and uninterested in partnering with management.
These points are well-taken, but it’s been a long time since they represented “apostasy” for organizers from the most successful unions or strategists for Democratic candidates who don’t remember Labor Day rallies in Cadillac Square. Are today’s unions unattractive to professional and technical workers because labor preaches class struggle, while white-collar workers are aligned with management and adverse to conflict of any kind? It’s not that simple any more, and professional and technical workers’ attitudes are evolving in complex and fascinating ways. So here’s a slightly different analysis — call it Apostasy 2.0:
Almost everything Grossfeld writes about white-collar workers is true — and so are some other things. In an uncertain economy, growing numbers of professional and technical workers are indeed concluding that they need some stable institutions on their side, from employee organizations to programs providing health insurance, continuing education, and retirement security. But there’s also something else at work: The idealistic concerns that used to make professionals identify with management now are pushing many of them in different directions. Professionals, technicians, and skilled workers of all kinds have always been dedicated to doing the best work for the people they serve. As long as the demands of their employers, the standards of their occupations, and the needs of the public all appeared to be in harmony, professional and technical workers were reluctant to challenge management. If they organized, it was as members of their occupations, not as adversaries to their employers.
But now, just as job security is becoming problematic, so is quality work. Doctors and nurses find their professional judgments are second-guessed by hospital administrators with corporate mentalities. Newspaper reporters are told to avoid in-depth stories. Software writers are required to rush their products to completion. Tenured professors are being replaced by part-time faculty.
These threats to professionalism are making professionals more open to organizing, to challenging management, and (as recent election results revealed) to supporting contemporary forms of populism. Historically, professional and technical workers are most likely to unionize when they believe that the quality of their work, as well as the security of their jobs, salaries and benefits, all are in jeopardy. Since the 1960s, teachers concerned with unmanageable class sizes, social workers upset with swollen caseloads, and other beleaguered public employees organized unions and even struck, often with slogans like “Teachers want what children need.” Nurses and other health care workers have organized against threats to patient care, as well as their own pay and benefits. More recently, engineers and information technology workers have begun to organize — and the engineers and technicians at Boeing even staged a successful 40-day strike — over professional issues as well as economic concerns.
As this recent experience suggests, professional and technical workers build organizations that address their aspirations for doing quality work, as well as navigating the new economy. Both concerns are crucial, and unions and Democrats should take note.
First, as Grossfeld correctly emphasizes, unions should emphasize and enhance their efforts to assist workers who are moving from job to job and need to learn new skills, acquire new credentials, and maintain their health insurance and retirement security. As William Safire, of all people, once advised me, unions and Democrats should use the word “security” less and “portability” more.
As they retool their services as well as their sound-bites, unions can look to many models: The craft unions pioneered apprenticeship, skill upgrading, and credentialing for skilled construction workers, as well as multi-employer pension programs for workers who move from contractor to contractor. Public sector unions like AFSCME, AFT, and SEIU created career ladder programs to help low-wage workers qualify for higher-skilled jobs. The talent guilds in broadcasting, the performing arts and the specialized fields of translating and interpreting run job referral programs (The phrase “hiring hall” doesn’t appeal to white-collars). CWA sponsors training and credentialing programs for telecommunications workers. And professional associations and professional unions set professional standards and stress professional development.
Second, these workers expect their organizations to advocate — and even, to use that dread word, “fight” for — their concerns about quality work. After all, people become teachers, nurses, journalists, computer programmers, and aerospace engineers because these careers are their callings in life. They want to be proud of their work.
Since the late ’70s, I’ve heard professional and technical workers express their concerns for the people they serve as well as the paychecks they earn. Working in organizing campaigns for AFSCME from 1976 through 1984, mostly in white-collar units, I heard social workers, employment counselors, psychologists, nurses and other professionals complain that they weren’t afforded the time, the resources, or the discretion they needed to serve the public properly.
Fast forward to 2000, when I researched and wrote a report about professional and technical workers for the Albert Shanker Institute, a think tank founded by the AFT. I interviewed nurses in New Jersey, aerospace engineers at Boeing, and temporary workers at Microsoft, and profiled the innovative organizations that they had founded, all of which meld the services and appeals of professional associations and modern unions. These studies accompanied national surveys of teachers, engineers, nurses, and information technology workers, conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates.
Our research and similar studies confirm the importance of quality work as an issue that inspires professionals and technicians to organize. In their surveys of the four occupational groups, Hart Research Associates found that three of five of those who said their profession was getting worse–but only about a third of those who said their profession was improving–wanted to found a union or some other form of employee organization. Similarly, in a 1997 survey of 1,500 non-union professional and technical employees by Cornell University Professor Richard Hurd, these white-collar workers said the most important issue on the job was threats to their ability to exercise professional judgment.
These findings suggest that today’s professional and technical employees take a more complex view of their jobs, their employers, worker organizations and workplace conflicts than earlier generations of white-collar workers. In my own interviews with aerospace engineers, software testers, and nurses and other healthcare workers, I found an anxious ambivalence that could be summed up in three paradoxes: 1) They love their work, but not their jobs; 2) They believe they care more about the organizations where they work than the people who run them; and 3) They will “fight,” if necessary, but not just for themselves. Each paradox creates an organizing opportunity:
Paradox #1:Professionals are committed to their callings — teaching, nursing, creating software, or designing airplanes, to name a few. But, while they enjoy the actual work that they do, they are less satisfied with the circumstances under which they do it — in other words, their “jobs.” For instance, a software tester told me, “I love my work. The only thing I hate is Volt [one of the staffing agencies that Microsoft uses to serve as the nominal employers for its temporary workers].” Unions should offer professionals the opportunity to improve their jobs so that they once again feel fulfilled by pursuing their callings in life. As a New Jersey nurse told me

Three or four months ago, I had a night that reminded me of the ideal nights a long time ago. There were three or four patients, all stable. I spent a lot of time with one. When I got home in the morning, I said to my husband, ‘I remember how it feels to give good patient care.’ This is what I went into nursing for, this is why I unionized.

Paradox #2: Nurses and other health care workers whom I’ve interviewed at several hospitals in New Jersey told me the same story: The old management cared about people; the new management cares about money. Engineers at Boeing told a similar story — the company had started shortchanging research and even testing, and they feared that Boeing might get out of civilian aviation. When the engineers struck, they had an unusual slogan on their picket signs — “On Strike for Boeing” — because they believed they were more loyal to Boeing’s mission and traditions than top management.
Paradox #3: Of course, professional and technical workers don’t want to walk off their jobs, except as a last resort. That’s partly because they don’t want to miss a paycheck or have a hostile workplace (who does?). It’s also because they are so dedicated to their work and the people they serve. Thus, nurses strike over patient care, not just their own paychecks. As for the Boeing engineers who felt they were defending American leadership in aviation, their union leader, Charles Bofferding, told me, “They don’t like conflicts, but they sure do like crusades.” In a similar spirit, Bofferding said, “We want to cooperate with Boeing, even if we have to do it on our own.”
The concern for quality is the common denominator for all three seemingly self-contradictory viewpoints. So, if we want to promote unions, we have to stress the concern for quality — to link the q-word and the u-word.
Quality work can be the unifying theme for the two essential roles for professional unions: 1) advocating for the resources and autonomy that empower professionals to do their best work; and 2) providing the services that prepare, attract and retain capable workers in a churning economy. Progressive candidates should point to both positive features of modern unions and also present a vision of work in America that not only pays a living wage but also offers the satisfaction of a job well done.

David Kusnet was chief speechwriter for former President Bill Clinton from 1992 through 1994. He was on the staff of AFSCME and helped to research and write Finding Their Voices: Professionals and Workplace Representation for the Albert Shanker Institute. He is writing a book about workplace conflicts in today’s America, Love the Work, Hate the Job, for the publisher John A. Wiley and Sons.

Unionizing the White-Collar Workforce

By Jim Grossfeld
“You need to be bar mitzvahed!” my London-born, Orthodox grandfather bellowed. I was taken aback. After all, even though I was 13, I’d been raised a suburban, ham-eating Jew whose only religious instruction was watching the Ten Commandments on TV.
“But I don’t understand Hebrew,” I answered. “It doesn’t matter,” he shot back, “just go up and say the bloody words!”
When I think about the relationship between labor leaders and their young, more upscale Democratic brethren I’m often reminded of that encounter. Like my grandfather, many in the labor movement hold firm to their Orthodox trade unionism and expect younger Democrats to honor it regardless. And, like me at 13, many of those Democrats see it as an empty ritual; something you do it to make the old guys happy. And that’s a tragedy, because labor and Democrats could both gain if only more in the Party recognized that old time religion could speak to the needs of white-collar workers with uncertain careers. And it can. This is the principal finding of the recent Center for American Progress study of mine, “White Collar Perspectives on Workplace Issues.”
The study, based on polling data and focus group research by Lake Research Partners, underscores the extent to which young technical and professional workers are as bewildered by the “new economy” as manufacturing workers have been for a generation. For them, Bill Clinton’s 1993 prediction that they “will change jobs eight times in a lifetime” is an unquestioned fact of life. As one focus group participant put it: “Our parents, they were able to keep their old jobs for 25, 30 years. They were very secure, and if they wanted to move over to another job they pretty much could, but if you find yourself out of work at age 50 in this day and age and you need to change fields because your industry has been eliminated and you don’t have training; no one will want to hire you.”
“I’ve been actually pretty much covering three people’s jobs,” another worker said. “Two people are out on disability so I jumped in the spot where I’m covering three people’s jobs. Then when they bring in the temp into the office I have to take time and train him, but I don’t have the time because I’m covering three people’s jobs!”
There was a time when more than a few of us would have cited comments like these as evidence of a nascent proletarianization–often justifiably so. For example, the California Nurses Association has been winning the support of some RNs with a message as militant as anything to come out of the United Mine Workers. Yet, as unstable and stressful as their jobs have become, few white collar workers will tell you that they’re being ground down under the boot heal of capitalism. Instead, they will say that instability and turmoil are unavoidable in today’s economy. And employers? They’re just doing what they have to do. In the words of another focus group member:
“Most owners want to maximize their investment out of every employee and they’re going to push you beyond your limits until they can reach some sort of capacity that’s going to support one more person or whatever. So there’s that time frame in there that you’re way overworked and that’s just a part of getting to the next level…. No it’s not fair, but unfortunately the economics plays into that.”
Long ago Seymour Martin Lipset described how white-collar workers see their interests as the same as management’s. Notwithstanding the challenges they face today there’s little reason to suggest that’s changed. This is especially so in the attitudes many voice about unions. “Certainly at one point when the unions were formed they were very important,” remarked one worker, adding: “I mean workers were horribly treated and not paid, you know? Child labor and all sorts of things. I think at that point the unions were very, very important. I think there are other avenues that are available, now that workers in general have a better voice in most situations, to address those same problems that don’t necessarily have to involve a union.”
It’s not that U.S. workers share a deep-seated animus toward unions. To the contrary, by some measures public approval of unions is as high today as it’s been in 40 years. Few Americans doubt that unions improve wages and working conditions. Yet, according to one 2005 Harris poll, 55 percent also believe unions stifle individual initiative and 60 percent agree that unions are more concerned with resisting change than helping to bring it about.
Of course, the labor movement has a huge stake in turning these attitudes around and more than a few believe the way to do it is to present unions as a movement that fights for social justice. In fact, a search of the AFL-CIO’s website finds that the words “fight” or “fighting” appear almost 2,900 times: that’s more than twice as frequently as the words turn up on the website of The Boxing Times. Don’t get me wrong: being seen as standing up for worker rights isn’t a bad thing. Efforts to organize janitors, hotel employees, farm laborers and other poverty-wage workers routinely win the sympathy of many technical and professional workers. But it hardly follows that those workers will then choose to unionize, too. Some white collar workers may want to join a struggle for justice on the job, but most just want to advance in their careers. Even if labor laws were made fair, many of these workers would still feel that unions have become eight-track tapes in an iPod economy.
Is all this to say that white-collar workers are ready to send unions to the Hefty bag of history? Not necessarily. In truth, white-collar workers do see the value in having some kind of workplace organization, just not the kind they think the labor movement is offering. When asked to describe the kind of group she would create for herself and her coworkers, one focus group member said it would promote “a safer workplace, better pay, opportunities for advancement, improving morale, bringing more revenue to our company, more training for the employees and more employee recognition.” Another said his would focus on employee recognition to help retain workers. A third added that she would have her group create child-care options for workers and join with employers to lower health-care costs. Another summed up the attitude of most when she said there needed to be an organization that would work to “create an environment where people want to come to work.”
It should not come as any surprise then that they sat up and took notice when they were presented with examples of existing unions who seem to be doing just that. Focus group members who had rolled their eyes at the mention of past union achievements were intrigued by case studies of unions joining forces with management to train employees for new tech jobs, working with employers to develop telecommuting policies, and creating a multi-employer pension funds for freelancers. They especially liked hearing how one union worked closely with an employer to turn a failing company around and make it competitive. In fact, they gave a thumbs up to every example of unions and management working together to help companies succeed.
To some, this may seem like labor-lite: less John L. Lewis than Stephen Covey, but whoever becomes its champion stands to make inroads with a new generation of young, career-oriented workers. Just ask the Republicans. “The times in which we live and work are changing dramatically,” George W. Bush told the 2004 Republican National Convention.

The workers of our parents’ generation typically had one job, one skill, one career often with one company that provided health care and a pension… Many of our most fundamental systems — the tax code, health coverage, pension plans, worker training — were created for the world of yesterday, not tomorrow. We will transform these systems so that all citizens are equipped, prepared and thus truly free to make your own choices and pursue your own dreams.

Democrats and the labor movement should be able to do better than this. And they can. But not by recycling Bill Clinton’s taking points or, for that matter, Henry Wallace’s. Instead, Democrats ought to showcase new approaches to workplace organization — and the modern labor laws that make them possible — as part of a broader plan to help white-collar workers succeed in their careers. For their part, labor leaders need to recognize that few workers, particularly technical and professional employees, want to sign up to join a coalition of victims. Rather than insist that those workers conform to more orthodox approaches to unionism they need to create new structures (dare I say products?) designed to meet their needs. The CWA, SEIU and a few other unions get this. The rest need to.
What should Democrats and labor be saying to younger, white-collar workers? It would be the following:

  • New technologies and globalization have changed how Americans work. What matters isn’t what labor unions achieved in the past, it’s how new unions can help employees — and employers — succeed now and in the future.
  • That’s why we are seeing the growth of new unions created by professionals who believe in being flexible and working together with management to make firms more competitive and profitable.
  • These new unions provide a strong, respected voice so that employees can team up with management to solve tough problems, whether they’re healthcare costs, overwhelming workloads, or the need for leading-edge training and opportunities for advancement.
  • The new unions also understand that as more Americans work from home or as contractors and part-time employees, it’s important that they have the resources they need to be successful, such as networking opportunities, ideas for better telecommuting and access to portable health insurance and pension benefits.

Apostasy? No doubt to some it is. But at a time when union membership is in a freefall labor needs a better strategy for organizing younger, white-collar workers than hoping they become class-conscious — and Democrats need to demonstrate that they care as much about helping them succeed in their careers as they do about stem cell research. It isn’t enough to just go up and say the bloody words.

Jim Grossfeld is a veteran of more than 25 years of union organizing drives and contract campaigns. During the Clinton administration, he was a senior aide to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy and, later, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. Grossfeld later served as Communications Director for U.S. House Democratic Whip David Bonior (D-MI) and as Director of Speechwriting and Editorial Services at the Center for American Progress in Washington. Based in Bethesda, Md., he is now a public affairs consultant for unions and non-profit groups and a frequent contributor to the American Prospect magazine.

The Fair Trade Sweep1

By Chris Slevin and Todd Tucker
In 2004, the celebrated author Thomas Frank asked: “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” The question sought to get to the root of why Democrats lose in districts and states where low-income and working-class people ought to be in open revolt against Republican economic policies.2
In 2006, we got the answer to Frank’s question. There’s nothing the matter with Kansas, or the rest of “red state” America, when Democrats are willing to run on an economic platform that emphasizes their opposition to corporate-sponsored trade deals and support for policies that address middle- and working-class needs. In the midterm elections, a net sum of 7 Senate and 30 House seats flipped from the anti-fair trade to the fair trade column.3 Moreover, as our research shows, most of those Democratic candidates that made a strong fair trade message a campaign priority won, while most of those that did not–including many high-profile candidates supported by the national party–lost. (A “fair trade” position supports strong and enforceable labor and environmental standards in the core text of trade agreements, is against harmful investment and protectionist pharmaceutical patent rules, and is open to replacing fast track with a more democratic alternative.)
And while nearly all Democrats ran on a platform that emphasized criticism of the Iraq War, the difference between those war-critic Democrats that won and those who lost was the strength of their trade and economic message. War criticism was a necessary but insufficient basis for electoral support; anyone who thought that merely being opposed to a war of choice that is costing American lives would carry the day was proved wrong. It’s not enough to be against something; voters want to know what candidates are for. A fair trade position was an indicator to voters that a candidate was serious about being for the middle class.
The increasing diversity of opposition to the NAFTA-WTO model was becoming apparent in 2004 when a University of Maryland Project on International Policy Attitudes poll showed that nearly three-quarters of Americans making more than $100,000 a year rejected actively promoting more trade deals, preferring instead a more passive approach or even a roll back of the status quo. This was the reverse of the group’s 1999 findings that found majority support among wealthy Americans for an aggressive tack.4
Polls since have showed growing public anxiety about the course of our trade policy. Global competition and the off-shoring of jobs was the top concern of Americans–no less important statistically than the Iraq War–according to a 2006 poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.5 Eighty-seven percent of voters were concerned about off-shoring and 81 percent gave the government a C, D, or F in its handling of the issue, according to a 2006 Public Agenda poll.6
The public anxiety these polls capture has a clear basis in reality. Despite rising growth and productivity, income for the vast majority of Americans has been stagnant for a generation–leading to levels of economic inequality not seen since the robber baron era. As the U.S. trade deficit approaches $800 billion this year–at six percent of U.S. GDP a level threatening to the global economy’s stability–millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs continue to disappear. The exploding negative balance between what we buy and sell is not only in manufactured goods: in August 2006, the U.S. agricultural trade balance went into deficit, a reality totally at odds with the image sold to Midwestern voters that they will export their way to wealth because the United States is “breadbasket to the world.”7
Between the 2004 and 2006 elections, in their voting record and messaging, Democrats reconnected with middle-class economics for the first time since the Clinton administration wheeled and dealed NAFTA through Congress in 1993, a move that blurred the line of economic policy differentiation between the parties. The 2005 vote on CAFTA, a Bush priority expanding NAFTA to Central America, was framed as a referendum on NAFTA’s decade of lived damage both in the United States and in Mexico. The Republican Party became owner of NAFTA’s legacy when just 15 House Democrats supported CAFTA, compared to the 102 Democrats who voted for NAFTA. The Senate CAFTA vote was uniquely tight with 45 senators voting against it. And all congressional Democrats said to be exploring 2008 presidential bids voted against CAFTA–including several who had supported NAFTA over a decade earlier. And in July 2006, most Democrats also voted against a NAFTA-style pact with Oman.
In the actual campaign season itself, fair trade organizations helped translate popular discontent over failed trade policy into electoral gains. In addition to trade playing a prominent role in the political work of organized labor,8 newer specifically fair-trade-focused electoral efforts operated nationwide this year–showing again the growing public saliency of the NAFTA-WTO critique. For instance, beginning in 2005, Working Families Win (WFW), a project of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), ran a major 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) field program in Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin aimed at raising the visibility of economic issues, including fair trade, the minimum wage and universal healthcare.
But the fair trade effort with which we are most familiar was the affiliated political action committee (PAC) formed in 2006 by the Citizens Trade Campaign (CTC), a fair trade grassroots coalition initially founded in 1992 by consumer, labor, environmental, family farm and religious groups to fight NAFTA. After collecting trade policy questionnaires from dozens of candidates, CTC PAC endorsed 15 candidates and put paid organizers in seven campaigns that proved instrumental to the Democratic takeover, while making financial or other contributions to the remainder of the endorsed candidates. CTC PAC helped create media and get-out-the-vote operations specifically targeting independent voters considered receptive to a fair trade message. In the end, 12 out of 15 of CTC PAC’s candidates won their races, with a thirteenth race–Democrat Larry Kissell’s challenge of CAFTA and fast track flip-flopper Robin Hayes (R) in what should have been a solid GOP district–lost by just a few hundred votes.
As Table 1 shows, congressional candidates across the country ran and won on a fair trade platform against anti-fair trade incumbents and in open seats, resulting in a net fair trade gain of 7 Senate and 30 House seats.

Furthermore, at least 25 campaigns ran paid TV ads highlighting fair trade positions. Fair trade was a campaign theme for nearly all Democrats, including those that replaced retiring fair traders and are thus not considered “net fair trade pick ups” in our analysis.9
As described in our report “Election 2006: No to Staying the Course on Trade,” the tenor of the fair trade message varied widely across the country. But a remarkable finding is that locally-tuned versions of the fair trade message won elections in “pro-NAFTA” corn belt states, including Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri, where rural communities have seen the trail of broken promises from past failed trade deals.10 In areas swamped by manufacturing job loss, candidates talked about stopping trade deals that disadvantage U.S. workers. Others spoke about requiring that potential trade pact partners meet EU-style readiness criteria before trade negotiations are completed, and others approached the immigration issue through a trade lens, citing Mexican farmer displacement to the United States following NAFTA. Still others spoke of the need for replacement of the undemocratic fast track process with a better process that allows Congress to fill its constitutional role of conducting oversight and setting the terms of trade policy. But where all candidates agreed was that positive alternatives to the Clinton-Bush trade agenda need to be constructed to ensure that the benefits of trade are widely shared.
Still, there were certainly degrees of fair trade messaging. We graded the fair trade messaging of the Democrats who challenged incumbent Republicans in competitive races, with even the “F” candidates still likely to be better on trade than the GOP incumbent with a pro-NAFTA-WTO voting record.11 As Table 2 shows, the single most common grade Democrats received was an A-plus–showing just how widespread was the fair trade messaging in 2006. Furthermore, in 73 percent of the races where Democrats successfully dislodged an incumbent Republican, the Democrat in the race made a strong fair trade message a campaign priority (receiving either an A+ or an A). At the same time, in 72 percent of the races where the incumbent Republican emerged victorious, the Democrat in the race was much weaker on the fair trade issue, receiving a B, C, D or F.

Many incoming Democratic House freshmen won–while many other Democratic challengers came within striking distance of winning–in very Republican districts. One widely-cited strategic approach was for Democrats to focus resources in districts that lean Democratic but have Republican congressional representation, where it was thought that another dollar spent or another ad run might make the difference in a close election. But another approach might consider how several very underfunded and understaffed Democratic candidates in very “red” districts came within hairs of winning. In such races–of which there were many–a small investment of Democratic Party resources might have made a difference. Fair-trade Democrat Gary Trauner’s tremendous showing in the Wyoming at-large race was one such example. The race, which was not ranked as even an “emerging” race by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), resulted in a 48-48 margin, with Republican anti-fair trader Barbara Cubin barely squeaking back into office in a district that went overwhelmingly for Bush in both 2000 and 2004.
There is some evidence that top Democratic Party officials may not understand the voter mandate for change on trade policy. Ninety-two Democrats voted for a lame-duck-session measure that will subject the U.S. labor force to more low-wage competition from Vietnam, while several incoming Democratic committee chairs have hinted that they might pursue a more-of-the-same trade policy. In the midterms, a majority of the DCCC’s hand-picked top candidates lost–11 out of 20.12 All 11 scored low on our fair trade index, while 6 out of the 9 who emerged victorious received top fair trade grades. Meanwhile, all three challenger candidates who won on Election Day and who were not on the DCCC’s priority lists were A+’s on the fair trade index.
Politics, as DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel points out, is not a business in which you bat 100 percent.13 Still, the stated reason for the DCCC’s focus (and in turn, the focus of many other donors and Democratic-leaning groups that follow the DCCC’s lead) on specific candidates from Tammy Duckworth to Ken Lucas and beyond was that these races were deemed “winnable.”14 In contrast, fair trade groups looked beyond the party leadership’s top tier and focused on promoting and lending organizing resources to Democrats who recognized the failures of the NAFTA-WTO model and actively embraced a fair trade message. While several of these races were not deemed winnable by leaders in Democratic circles, nearly all of these candidates ended up winning or coming very close to winning.
Despite stacks of polling data and focus group evidence that a fair trade message resonates, there were also tactical decisions by candidates prioritized by the DCCC to not embrace stronger messages on globalization.
Two such instances are worth recounting. In Pennsylvania’s 6th district, Democrat Lois Murphy has twice come close to winning in a district that incorporates parts of the Philadelphia suburbs and also the manufacturing hub of Reading, which has lost a disproportionate number of jobs to trade relative to both the country and state of Pennsylvania.15 In the 6th district, two-term incumbent Republican Jim Gerlach has taken a lot of heat for voting wrong on CAFTA and other trade deals, with constituents organizing a Valentine’s Day protest and news conference about the increase in sweetheart corporate PAC money Gerlach had received after his CAFTA vote.16 While Murphy’s trade position was decent, it was buried in a 40-page policy document. Efforts to run a trade-specific Reading GOTV program were not met with enthusiasm from the DCCC or Murphy camp, which is unfortunate for the Democrats considering that Murphy’s margin in 96 percent of Reading’s precincts dropped in 2006 relative to 2004.
Indeed, while Murphy carried every Reading precinct in 2004, she actually lost one precinct to Gerlach in 2006. While Murphy had outperformed John Kerry–who was considered very weak on trade–in 92 percent of Reading precincts in 2004, Murphy’s 2006 margin actually sank below Kerry’s 2004 margin in 80 percent of Reading precincts. Meanwhile, vocal fair trader Senator-elect Bob Casey, Jr. carried and outperformed Murphy’s (and Kerry’s) margin in all Reading precincts.17 Casey’s fair trade message clearly resonated in Reading in a way that the more muted Murphy/Kerry message did not.
In a one-point Gerlach victory in the 6th district overall, a better trade message and showing in Reading could have provided Lois Murphy–whose race was considered winnable–with a margin of victory. Meanwhile, Democrat Patrick Murphy–the other Murphy running in the Philly suburbs in the neighboring 8th congressional district–was thought less likely to be able to pull off an upset against GOP incumbent and CAFTA-supporter Mike Fitzpatrick, but achieved a victory in a campaign that prominently and aggressively advocated fair trade and hammered Fitzpatrick for his CAFTA vote.19
A similar fair trade message effort was attempted by fair trade groups in Ohio’s 15th District, where Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy was seeking to oust anti-fair trade GOP incumbent Deborah Pryce, Democratic Party operatives chose not to emphasize a trade message, arguing that the Democrats’ strongest county in the district–Franklin County–was composed of voters who were not displaced manufacturing workers.20 But Senator-elect Sherrod Brown’s campaign, which focused heavily on a fair trade message, received a higher margin of the vote than Kilroy’s campaign in each of the 15th District’s counties, including in Franklin County, where party operatives predicted a fair trade message would not resonate.21 The reason for the Franklin County surprise was that voters are anxious about the economy not solely because of economic damage suffered by them personally, but also because they see people who are one-degree removed from them losing their jobs and health care and realize that Franklin County could be next. In other words, while some voters in Franklin County might be experiencing relatively decent economic outcomes, they are aware of the growing risk faced by the middle class overall in Ohio (which has lost one in five manufacturing jobs during the NAFTA-WTO decade) and fear economic crisis for their own families.22
Stan Greenberg, in the days after the election, said “There was a missed opportunity here… I’ve sat down with Republican pollsters to discuss this race: They believe we left 10 to 20 seats on the table.”23 Indeed, it seems that there were many real Democratic pickup opportunities missed, but it’s unclear if any of these were the top-priority, weak-on-trade DCCC candidates. As one political reporter told Roll Call, the biggest story of the 2006 races in North Carolina was “the Democratic Party’s abandonment of Larry Kissell. The national and state Democrats missed the boat.”24 Democratic fair-traders like Victoria Wulsin, who nearly won her Cincinnati race against “Mean Jean” Schmidt, have publicly questioned why they seemed to fall “through some DCCC cracks.”25
2006 has shown us that fair trade is not only good policy, it’s smart politics. A fair trade position showed that a candidate was willing to fundamentally challenge the outdated corporate consensus that government must be hands-off when it comes to supporting the middle- and working-class, while being hands-on when pushing policies like NAFTA and WTO that redistribute income upwards.26 Contenders and donors in 2008 hoping to sweep even more elected offices will have to recognize that voters are ready to move beyond “staying the course” on the failed trade policies of the past and to embrace an agenda which promotes economic security and mobility for all.

Slevin is deputy director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch (GTW), and took a leave of absence in 2006 to run Citizens Trade Campaign’s affiliated political action committee (CTC PAC). Tucker is GTW research director and author of a major post-election report on the role of fair trade in 140 federal and state level races.

1The authors thank Phila Back, Heather Boushey, John Nichols and Lori Wallach for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this piece.
2Thomas Frank, What’s The Matter with Kansas? (Metropolitan Books: New York 2004).
3For our full report on the role of fair trade in 140 Senate, House and gubernatorial races see http://www.citizen.org/hot_issues/issue.cfm?ID=1471.
4Peronet Despeignes, “Poll: Enthusiasm for free trade fades; Dip sharpest for $100K set; loss of jobs cited,” USA Today, Feb. 24, 2004.
5“Outsourcing of Jobs is Top Concern in U.S.,” Posted on Angus Reid Global Scan, March 22, 2006.
6Ana Maria Arumi and Scott Bittle, “Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index 2,” Public Agenda, Winter 2006, at 15.
7Since 1959, the United States has maintained a positive annual agricultural trade balance. But this balance is trending downwards. Since 1979, there have only been 10 months were the monthly trade balance was negative–eight of these were in the past three calendar years. See U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service’s December 2006 trade balance update.
8Steven Greenhouse, “Labor Goes Door to Door To Rally Suburban Voters,” New York Times, Oct. 8, 2006.
9While most in the GOP are unrepentant anti-fair traders, a few have stayed in office a long time by amassing a voting record that is at once socially conservative and pro-fair trade. The Ellsworth and Shuler victories (the latter is listed in Table 1 because incumbent Charles Taylor “took a walk” on CAFTA and significantly angered his constituents) show that that Democrats can “out-fair trade” the GOP’s occasional fair traders.
10Daryll E. Ray, Daniel G. De La Torre Ugarte, and Kelly J. Tiller, “Rethinking U.S. Agricultural Policy: Changing Course to Secure Farmer Livelihoods Worldwide,” Agricultural Policy Analysis Center Briefing Paper, University of Tennessee, September 2003.
11We considered races to be competitive if they were listed in the Cook Political Report of Nov. 6, 2006 as “Toss-Up,” “Lean Republican,” “Likely Republican,” “Lean Democrat,” or “Likely Democrat.” Many important Democratic pick-ups were in open seat races. Given the complex factors at work in a race with no incumbent, however, the following two tables focus only on those races where Democratic challengers faced Republican incumbents. Our grading system was extremely conservative. An F was reserved for candidates who had no known position, or who had a professional record that indicated they would likely be against fair trade, or for candidates that had previously served in the House and had a bad trade-vote record. (Many of these promised to have “seen the light” of fair trade in their most recent campaigns.) A D was for candidates who had a vaguely fair trade position, but who had not made that position public beyond word-of-mouth. A C was for candidates who had a good position who did not put high emphasis on the issue. A B was for candidates who were more public about a good position (i.e. paid ads on manufacturing job loss, etc.). An A was for candidates with strong positions in favor of fair trade; while an A+ was for candidates with excellent, very public positions who made trade a top campaign priority.
12While the DCCC’s ranking of individual races was in flux throughout the campaign season, we consider the DCCC’s very “top candidates” to be the 20 races that were deemed “Red-to-Blue” in early 2006.
13Jill Lawrence, “Party recruiters lead charge for ’06 vote; Choice of candidates to run in fall may decide who controls the House,” USA Today, May 25, 2006.
14“Pelosi and Emanuel want to do what the Republican National Committee is doing–husband the money so it can be pumped in massive quantities into tough but winnable races in the final months… [They oppose strategies that run] counter to the highly tactical approach that Emanuel has pursued, which is to pick winnable districts and candidates who can win them.” See Mike Allen and Perry Bacon Jr., “Whose Party Is It Anyway?” Time, June 12, 2006; see also Steve Kornacki, “Emanuel, Dean Still Sparring,” Roll Call, July 3, 2006.
15According to statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Survey, Reading, Pa. lost 25 percent of its manufacturing jobs during the NAFTA-WTO decade, while Pennsylvania lost 22 percent (and the United States 15 percent) of its manufacturing jobs during the same period.
16Douglas W. Wesner, “Citizens Group gives Gerlach scathing valentine,” Westside Weekly, Feb. 23, 2006.
17Reading overlaps more than one congressional district. We only considered precincts in the 6th district. See http://www.co.berks.pa.us/berks/lib/berks/departments/elections/election_results/2006/resultsprecinct2006.html and http://www.co.berks.pa.us/berks/lib/berks/departments/elections/reports/cong_06.htm
18See Bryan Schwartzman, “How Did Gerlach Dodge Disenchantment Bullet?” Jewish Exponent, Dec. 14, 2006.
19Patrick Murphy, “Fitzpatrick Sells Out Bucks County and Sends US Jobs Overseas,” Candidate Press Release, Nov. 18, 2005.
20At the eleventh hour, Kilroy gave the go-ahead to run paid ads that highlighted her good position on trade, but perhaps too late to save her from her eventual loss.
21Brown received 59 percent of the vote in Franklin County, 47 percent of the vote in Madison County and 41 percent of the vote in Union County. Kilroy, by contrast, received 52, 38 and 34 percent of the vote in these counties, respectively. Note that Franklin County overlaps three congressional districts. In the 12th district, Bob Shamansky–who had no stated trade policy–squeaked by with 50.1 percent of the vote in Franklin County but lost the district by 15 percentage points. In the 7th district, Democrat William Connor carried Franklin County by 55 percent, but ultimately lost the district overall. Connor was very strong on fair trade, but his race was not considered competitive by the Cook Political Report and is therefore not featured in our analysis for methodological reasons explained above. See http://www.sos.state.oh.us/SOS/ElectionsVoter/results2006.aspx?Section=1849; http://www.sos.state.oh.us/SOS/ElectionsVoter/results2006.aspx?Section=1846 and http://connerforus.com/Balance_of_Trade.htm.
22For a nationwide analysis of this trend, see Jacob S. Hacker, The Great Risk Shift, (Oxford University Press: New York 2006), at 68.
23Adam Nagourney, “Flush of Victory Past, Democrats Revert to Finger-Pointing,” New York Times, Nov. 16, 2006.
24Louis Jacobson, “For a Red State, North Carolina’s GOP Is Surprisingly Embattled,” Roll Call, Dec. 11, 2006.
25David Hammer, “Wulsin: Where was Dem support?” Associated Press, Nov. 23, 2006.
26For a more detailed analysis of this pervasive double standard in the policy realm, see Dean Baker, The Conservative Nanny State, (Washington, D.C.: Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2006.)

Purple Reign

By Akshay R. Rao, PhD
Once the tea leaves are read, Democratic pundits will offer at least three “truths” about the 2006 mid-terms.

  • A tsunami, earthquake or tidal wave (pick your geological metaphor) swept corrupt, hypocritical Republicans out of office,
  • Karl Rove was unmasked as less mathematically able than Robert Siegel, has received more credit for political craftiness than is his due, and will therefore be banished to pollster’s Siberia, and
  • There has been a fundamental shift in electoral preferences.

There is merit in all of these claims (though my favorite is the second). But, the evidence suggests that they are a trifle overstated. The Senate went Democratic thanks to less than 10,000 votes (in Montana and Virginia) and its future hangs in the balance. Joe Lieberman could pull a Jim Jeffords and then, all bets would be off. And, the House majority was eked out vote by vote, District by District, and in the grand scheme of things probably represents a marginal shift on the political dial.
It is my suspicion that the story of the November elections is more nuanced and more volatile than meets the eye. I offer below my own diagnosis of the electoral outcome (which, whatever its other flaws, has the virtue of being mine), and draw implications for how future Democratic campaigns ought to be run. I hope what I have to say is provocative. I hope it leads to a debate about tactics and strategy. And, I fervently hope that it results in the recognition that the academic disciplines of Marketing and Psychology have much to contribute to the topic of political persuasion.
Some Background
It is my contention that the Democrats have not won a Presidential election in roughly 40 years. (How’s that for provocative?) Republicans have lost a few. I discount Jimmy Carter’s victory because he won with the gale force winds of Watergate behind him. I discount Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory because Ross Perot demonstrably siphoned off substantial numbers of Bush Sr. votes. And, I discount Clinton’s 1996 victory because he was an incumbent. To be sure, there have not been that many straight Republican victories either (Reagan in 1980 and Bush Sr. in 1988 were two relatively clean wins), but, whether you buy my premise or not, you will agree that their recent electoral record is arguably superior to that of the Democrats. Despite their demonstrable inability to govern, Republicans tend to win more elections. Why?
One important reason for their superior performance at the polls is their superior understanding of the marketplace. No, I am not talking about voter registration lists and data base management techniques that allow one to identify likely voters depending on whether they drink red wine and drive Volvos (though that is an important competence). Nor am I talking about their ability to insert ballot measures such as the prohibition of gay marriage, that then turn out certain kinds of voters who are more likely to vote Republican. I am talking about consumer intimacy, a fine grained and time sensitive understanding of the deep-seated and unstated issues and concerns of different segments in the marketplace that are susceptible to subtle and not-so-subtle forms of persuasion. Consider three areas of spectacular Republican success:

  • The appropriation of God. As Rabbi Michael Lerner has observed, by identifying a profound spiritual emptiness in the lives of ordinary people, Republicans have successfully employed God (more precisely, the Church) as a marketing tactic. This, despite the fact that free-market economics envisions no role for the right or left hand of God, but rather the invisible hand of market efficiency driven by ruthless self-interest, competition, and individual rationality.
  • The appropriation of the Flag (and sundry symbols). On national security, economics, and social policy (read “gay marriage”), the Republicans recognize the power of rhetoric over reality, particularly when communicating with “uninvolved” voters. Bromides such as “stay the course”, “tax cuts”, and “family values” trump the reality of ballooning mortality figures in Iraq, ballooning structural deficits at home1, and the presence of “pink Republicans” in the halls of Congress. President Bush famously doesn’t do nuance, and neither does Joe 6-pack.
  • The appropriation of the media. The Republicans are masters at controlling the media narrative. Whether it be generating disarray among Democrats over Senator Kerry’s slip of the tongue, or inoculating Republicans on the gap between their aggressive and muscular foreign policy and their own woeful lack of military service, the media has displayed a level of pusillanimity rivaled only by its level of incuriosity, largely due to fear of reprisal by the rabid right.

But before ceding the arena of Marketing savvy to the Republicans, let’s revisit November 2006. There exist insights and implications that might level and even tilt the playing field in favor of the Democrats.
The Political Marketplace
The best visual metaphor for the political marketplace is the dumbbell (Figure I). The sizes of the red and blue spheres are (not unimportant) empirical details, as is the magnitude of the multi-hued middle. But, there are three other important features of this picture. First, the base (on both the right and the left) is “brand loyal”. They will either vote for their guy (upwards of 90% in 2006) or not at all. Second, the voters in the middle (independents who are not brand loyal) determine the outcome of elections as much as (if not more than) the base. Independents broke for Kerry by 1% in 2004, while they broke for Democrats by 19% in 2006. Third, the middle is probably more complex than either of the extremes. There are at least three different segments in the middle: the uninterested, the currently uninvolved and the undecided. Each has different reasons for not being a conservative or a liberal, each has different reasons for voting (or not voting), and each is susceptible to different information sets that will persuade them one way or the other. And, it is not clear to me that either party has figured out how to deal intelligently with this new marketplace. There are at least two sets of important prescriptions that emerge, and that I discuss below.
Speaking with the Enemy
The best advice I have for Democrats trying to convert Republicans to their cause, is “Don’t”. It takes a great deal of effort to convert brand loyal customers because they have an emotional attachment to the brand that is difficult to overcome with argument, reason or evidence. Brand loyal voters don’t rely on candidates’ arguments when they support them. They rely on their own feelings. When exposed to the faces of the opposing Presidential candidate, both Republicans and Democrats display enhanced activation in the insula, an area of the brain associated with “disgust” and “feeling threatened”. They also displayed enhanced activation in their Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and portions of the anterior cingulate, perhaps in an attempt to enhance their negative emotions towards the candidate they dislike.2 Attempting to transform deep-seated emotions, at least in the short-run, is an enterprise fraught with pitfalls. Regardless of their expressed preference for Democrats, or opposition to Republicans, brand loyal Republicans will probably find it viscerally traumatizing to cast a vote for a Democrat. It’s difficult for a Hatfield to marry a McCoy. In fact, Democrats are much better off giving Republicans reasons to stay home, as opposed to taking the chance that a left-leaning Republican will revert to form, once faced with making an actual choice in the privacy of the voting booth.
The Middle is not the Center
And independents are not centrists. They care about particular issues, not brands. They are like the price sensitive customer who keeps switching long-distance calling plans because there is a better deal to be had. And, there are two features of these voters that make them interesting. The first is the degree to which they are informed (or not), and the second is the degree to which they are involved (or not). (I am struggling to avoid the temptation to employ the ignorance and apathy metaphor).
Each of these segments merits a different strategy. The “uninvolved” segment pays only peripheral attention to political messages when the election is months away. In research I have been conducting, I find that when the choice decision is temporally distant, advertising messages should emphasize abstract messages such as the “judgment”, the “integrity” and the “character” of a candidate. It is only when it gets close to decision time that concrete messages (such as “I have a plan to fix the budget deficit”) are attended to. Amy Klobuchar (MN) executed this strategy in textbook fashion, announcing a deficit reduction plan about 65 days prior to the election, as voters began to pay attention to detail. Prior to that, her rhetoric emphasized “real change” and “real leadership”. She beat her rival by a handy 20 points, while all other major races in her state yielded much tighter outcomes.
The “undecided” segment is quite another story. They tend to pride themselves on voting for the person not the party (they are brand unloyal), being informed about the issues, and being unpredictable. This is a group that is frequently offended by “politics as usual” including negative advertising and other overt forms of communication. Since they frequently see “both sides of the issue”, they are often faced with trade-offs. “Tastes great” versus “less filling” types of tradeoffs. Should healthcare be weighted more than security? Should the economy be viewed as more important than social issues? There are many Marketing principles that can be employed to break such ties. One non-standard approach called the “attraction effect” employs the introduction of a third (relatively unattractive) option into the choice set (see Figure II). This option is similar to the focal option and its entry influences the weight these voters attach to the attributes that influence choice. Think Ralph Nader — did his presence in the political firmament help or hurt Gore’s message? In research I have been conducting, it turns out that Nader’s presence could have increased attention to those attributes on which he and Gore dominated. (Unfortunately, he eventually stole some votes from Gore; our data show that had he exited the race after having drawn attention to the attributes on which Gore dominated, thus increasing their weight in the decision process, he would have benefited Gore more than had he never entered the race). While there may be other reasons to avoid engaging in such a strategy, one obvious implication is for Democrats to encourage the entry of like-minded candidates into a race, with the proviso that they exit once they have fulfilled their charge.
The “uninterested” segment is politically uninteresting. They are unlikely to vote for several reasons. They don’t believe their vote matters, the opportunity cost of their time is too high, they look down on politics, and the like. This segment represents a serious long-term problem, particularly if it grows, for both parties, not to mention the Union itself. But, in the short run, they are the segment that is perhaps best left alone.
The temptation to over-interpret the results of November 7, 2006, is strong and alluring. Republicans are looking for glimmers of “conservatism” among the Democrats who have been elected, suggesting that they are more red than blue, while Democrats are looking for evidence of a fundamental shift in the body politic, suggesting the country has turned more blue. Most thoughtful observers are focusing on the purple middle, and my caution is that the middle is distinguished by its complexity, the fact that it is not brand loyal, and that it is susceptible to very particular persuasion strategies that are sensitive to time (how temporally distant the decision is) and content (what attributes to emphasize and how). In other words, the middle is not “centrist” (in the DLC sense of the term). It is multi-hued, and it is persuadable, while the right and left are not persuadable because they are emotionally wedded to their political brand.
Figure I: The Political Marketplace

Figure II: The Attraction Effect Illustrated
Panel A: Bush v. Gore (Before Nader enters)
Voters care about the environment and baseball and rank Gore higher on the former and Bush higher on the latter. The candidates’ shares of the electorate are equal, as reflected by the size of the circles.

Panel B: Bush v. Gore (After Nader enters)
Nader is ranked lower than Gore on the environment and equally low on baseball expertise. He has little support.

Panel C: Bush v. Gore (After Nader exits)
Gore’s share of the electorate has grown because Nader made environmental issues more important.


Akshay R. Rao, PhD is the Director, Institute for Research in Marketing and the General Mills Professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management.

1Try explaining what a “structural deficit” means to a college educated voter, without having their eyes glaze over. Go on, try it.
2Kaplan, Jonas T., Joshua Freedman and Marco Iacoboni (2006), “Us versus them: Political attitudes and party affiliation influence neural response to faces of presidential candidates,” Neuropsychologica, (forthcoming).

Abstinence Education

By Jasmine Beach-Ferrara
On a 100-degree day this summer, I took my dog on a run through Tower Grove Park in St. Louis. A mile into it, I looked up to see two teenagers, a guy and a girl, walking toward me, their shoulders brushing. Beyond us, an African drumming circle pounded away as part of an International Festival taking place on the park’s periphery.
My dog stopped abruptly in his tracks to relieve himself and I slowed down to jog in place. This, apparently, was all the prompting the teenage duo needed. In tandem, they veered towards me on the path and the guy — his shaggy bangs fanning coyly over his eyes, the collar on his pink polo perkily up — started talking about Jesus. As in, I’d like to tell you about my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the distance, the pace of the drumming picked up to a frenetic pace. Sweat dripped into my eyes as I blinked rapidly. Jesus?
I mumbled something about being comfortable with my faith and then gestured toward my dog, who was still crouching in a patch of weeds and staring off nobly into the distance. The guy smiled easily, undeterred. He was very calm and tan. Well, maybe you’ll join us for a church service this Sunday? he asked. The girl, much paler, nodded encouragingly as she offered me a brightly-colored, illustrated Jesus pamphlet. Maybe, I said as my dog jerked on his leash and pulled me down the path. Thanks, I called over my shoulder, out of a compulsive, and perhaps pointless, Southern politeness. My partner and I had moved from North Carolina to St. Louis just a week earlier and, in the midst of a Midwestern landscape that still felt foreign to me, there was something reassuringly familiar about crossing paths with evangelists.
Running again, I laughed, not derisively, but rather at the necessary absurdities of our America. Different day, different neighborhood, that could well have been me, waving someone down to talk earnestly about, oh, say, voting against a marriage amendment.
Might the progressive movement have more in common with the Evangelical Right then we like to admit? Like the pair I encountered in the park, we’re relying on door-to-door and in-the-streets evangelism to change hearts and minds about core spiritual beliefs and values. Across the country this fall, for instance, campaigns to defeat marriage amendments sent cadres of volunteers to knock on strangers’ doors and recite a two-minute script focused on conversion. I’ve been that volunteer and I’ve seen the guarded look on the face of Poor Voter X as she tries to shut the door without being too rude. Who can blame her?
Scripted, involuntary interactions with strangers are not an effective way to engage people, much less change their minds, about deeply-held beliefs. Election results, polling data and common sense all support this conclusion. Why, then, are progressive campaigns still relying so heavily on this strategy? I’m honing in on the LGBT movement in this article, but this question must be asked of any campaign attempting to defeat, or pass, a values-based ballot measure.
Since 2004, anti-marriage amendments have passed resoundingly in twenty states, including seven in the 2006 election cycle. The defeat of an amendment in Arizona is a tremendous victory for the movement. The narrowing gap between “yes” and “no” votes in several other states is also noteworthy. But the hard truth is that the LGBT movement is partly to blame for this storm of defeats: we can do better, if only we are willing to change our strategies.
As we knock on strangers’ doors, our opposition is busy preaching about the sanctity of marriage to thousands at a time from the pulpit, and microtargeting voters using consumer data. Putting aside basic democratic values like equality, they deserve some credit for their strategies. A hot button issue on the ballot does indeed boost turnout among your base. And when you put a “yes/no” question about gay marriage to a populace that is still figuring out what it thinks about the issue, most people will stick with what’s safe and familiar. Once again, the Right is playing smart offense while the Left cobbles together a formulaic — and ineffective — defense.
In the long view, anti-marriage amendments — and even the marriage issue itself — may come to seem incidental in the LGBT community’s journey towards civil rights. But in the short-term, we face a real, pressing dilemma in figuring out how to defeat these amendments. A holistic solution involves restructuring the LGBT (and the broader progressive) movement and adopting an approach to community and political organizing that is rooted in values and relationships rather than strategies of questionable effectiveness like canvassing and phonebanking. These are bigger picture topics for another day, though.
The question on the table today is how to engage meaningfully — and strategically — with the American public about values-based issues, including the charged question of whether full civil rights should be extended to LGBT individuals. Surprisingly, the short-term answer may be adopting another strategy from the Far Right: Abstinence Education.
Currently, when an anti-marriage amendment goes to the ballot, campaigns on both sides compete ardently for swing voters. Meanwhile, voters face the flawed, dichotomous choice of voting either for or against an amendment. For those on either extreme of the issue, these options are a good match. But what is that coveted swing voter, who, after all, isn’t quite sure what she thinks about gays getting married, to do? Anti-amendment campaigns expend tremendous financial and human resources trying to convince her — through short, scripted interactions with strangers — to cast a “no” vote. But, time and again, they fail to change her mind, her heart or her vote.
This should come as no surprise; after all, as people change, they typically do so slowly and idiosyncratically. Conversion takes time and the sooner we accept this, the better off we’ll be. In the short term, we’re not going to win the swing vote; so why not destabilize it?
For the time being, let’s say we’d still knock on a swing voter’s door to contact her. But when she opens it, our message, tone and goals would be different. Instead of simply exhorting her to vote “no” against an amendment, we would instead start a conversation acknowledging the complexity of the issues at stake. While still encouraging her to vote “no,” we would also present her with another option: to abstain from voting on this one ballot measure. As the election cycle progressed, we would use increasingly tailored messaging for a) our base, b) swing voters that seemed likely to vote “no” and c) swing voters who seemed likely to abstain. The only voters excluded from targeting efforts would be those who were certain to vote “yes,” a much narrower pool than is currently being excluded.
At first, the idea of abstaining from voting chafes against the basic democratic impulse that it’s always good to vote. But give it a few minutes. The questions being posed to voters by values-based ballot measures (about gay marriage, about stem cell research, about abortion) are inherently flawed; they don’t allow room for the nuanced and even conflicting belief systems that polling and anecdotal evidence suggest so many people hold. There’s no reason for us to continue to be complicit in this. Why not, instead, give voters a proactive option — abstinence — that actually correlates with their beliefs.
If sufficient numbers of swing voters abstained and if a campaign’s base turned out robustly, it could impact election results. Implemented successfully, this strategy would increase the likelihood of defeating an amendment by (1) reducing the number of votes necessary to defeat a ballot measure and (2) pulling swing voters away from the opposition. (For the sake of brevity, the details of implementation are not enumerated here, but they are available on request.)
A quiet piece of 2006 Election Day data from South Carolina points to the potential of this strategy, and the fact that some voters are also acting on the impulse to abstain. The South Carolina Equality Coalition reports that a total of 26,021 people who voted for governor abstained from voting on Amendment 1. Could this number be grown if a campaign were willing to adopt abstinence education as a proactive strategy?
Polling data and election results from 2004 and 2006 provide insights into the tension between actual beliefs, beliefs reported to pollsters, and voting behaviors. National polling conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Associates International in the months leading up to the ’04 election showed that 29% of people favored gay marriage, 60% opposed it and 11% were unsure. However, when asked whether they favored or opposed a legal agreement that would grant gay couples many of the same rights as married couples, 48% were in favor, 45% opposed, and 9% unsure. In 2004, amendments passed with at least 60% of the vote in ten states; in Mississippi alone, a full 86% of voters supported the amendment. In other words, many of the people who reported believing in equal rights, or who weren’t sure what they thought, ended up voting for amendments. Why? In part, at least, because our campaigns failed to engage them meaningfully, and failed to provide them with a way to accurately express their beliefs.
With the notable exception of Arizona, these tensions held true in 2006 as well. According to July 2006 polls conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 56% of people polled opposed gay marriage, 35% favored it and 9% were unsure; meanwhile 54% of people reported favoring a legal agreement that would grant equal rights to gay couples, with 42% opposed and 4% unsure. On Election Day, amendments passed by margins ranging from 4% (South Dakota) to 54% (South Carolina).
Public opinion is changing, and our strategies need to change along with it. The question is whether our movement is nimble enough to do this.
The problem with “Abstinence (Voting) Education” is that it’s a new strategy and thus challenges established methods of political organizing. But a variation on this approach has proven effective in public health work, a field that is also concerned with changing human behavior. The “Abstinence (Voting) Education” model is rooted in the public health theory of harm reduction, which years ago redefined how we think about treating addiction. In a harm reduction approach, a person gradually reduces her risk-taking behavior, such as drug use, and each reduction in risk is defined as a success. If a person uses drugs once a week instead of three times a day, for instance, they are making progress. In public health and in political organizing, the polarized choices — to vote yes or no, to be sober or relapsed — leave out that great swath of people who are in flux, who are in the midst of the (beautifully) messy and human process of change.
If any community knows about the change process, it’s the LGBT community, and it’s time to extend the lessons learned in our personal lives to the political sphere: people change, but they tend to change slowly, and what they need through this process is choice and latitude, not exhortations and polarities. “Abstinence (Voting) Education” meets people where they are and, like the most effective political strategies, plays to human nature instead of trying to change it.

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara is the Director of The Progressive Project and is a consultant to non-profits and political campaigns. She is currently working on a novel and her writing has appeared in The Harvard Review, The Advocate, The Bellevue Literary Review and on Alternet.org. Those interested in discussing this strategy can reach her at jelibe@hotmail.com.

Racial Animosity as a Value, The Cherry Pick, and the Democratic Diamond

By Thomas Schaller
If only I were either rich enough or, absent wealth, disarmingly persuasive enough to have been able to enlist Ezra, Paul or Scott (or all three) to serve as ghostwriters for Whistling Past Dixie. Putting aside their areas of (mostly) agreement and their insightful points of disagreement with my original essay on the demographics of the non-southern strategy, what’s apparent is that they often ratify or refute my arguments with far better prose than my own.
Despite those areas of agreement, there’s quite a bit in each of their replies that deserves a response, and I shall proceed as follows: I will take each critic’s central counterpoint, respond to it directly in defense of my main thesis, but then use that critique as an opportunity to make a limited case against my own claims. I’ll take them in order, starting with Ezra and finishing with Scott.
1. The annoyingly-wise-beyond-his-years Ezra Klein is right that economics may prove to be a more precise barometer than non-economic measures of demography, but that observation only affirms southern exceptionalism. For if, as we saw in 2006–a year in which every minimum-wage ballot measure passed and all three of Grover Norquist’s “starve the beast” measures failed–economics is indeed what matters most, surely the poorest region of the country would have produced the most resounding surge for Democrats, right? Yet the reverse is true: The Democrats carried the richest region, the Northeast, by 28 points; the West by 11 points; and the Midwest by five points; and lost the poorest region, the South, by 8 points. And 85 percent of all Democratic gains at every level came outside the South, home to none of the 10 state legislative chambers the Democrats flipped.
Why the, um, “poor” showing for Democrats in the South? It was not for lack of support among poor and working-class African Americans, that’s for damn sure. Rather, the losses were a byproduct of general Democratic disdain among poor whites. The lesson of ’06 is that economics is destiny until the point that non-economic demographics intercede, namely, in the form of cultural and religious values and, unfortunately, the unseemly “value” of racial animosity. The latter is hardly unique to South, and not all southerners harbor such feelings. But as ample studies of National Election Survey data I discuss in detail in the book demonstrate, these sentiments are most prevalent and most powerful in the South.
Schaller contra Schaller: When traveling in South Carolina as I researched this book, a state political observer whose name I must protect stopped me in the middle of a discussion about Republican Governor Mark Sanford’s support for school choice and said: “Well, of course he supports it–it’s basically the last legal form of racial redistribution.” And by redistribution, he meant away from African Americans. That observation, coupled with the pre-civil rights era support for economic populism among white southerners means that the best way to recapture the support of working-class and poorer whites is to frame government programs as helping the region’s whites rather than the poor. If the effect of those programs is (incidentally or intentionally) to also help blacks, so be it. But if sold that way, they will be harder to use as a way to pry blue-collar southern whites away from the Republicans. That conclusion may smack of affirming the assumption that southern whites harbor significant racial antipathies, but again, the empirics make this assumption inarguable.
So, short of a massive campaign to re-socialize the white South with some sort of on-the-couch-with-Oprah regional diversity seminar–sidebar: would the James Carvilles, Steve Jardings and Ed Kilgores endorse such an idea?–the best way to lure back working-class white southerners is to find ways to de-racialize social and economic programs. That’s a tough nut to crack, and one I’ll leave to those very same consultants to solve; after all, they’re the experts who know these voters best, care about them most, and best speak their language. I’m all ears, fellas.
2. I’ll accept Paul Waldman’s media-oriented bouquet of a critique as an invitation to tackle, head-on, the resistance among talking heads to dealing with my thesis. Even before the 2006 election results were known, Paul correctly pronounced me a convenient target. Though Rick Perlstein of The New Republic has done a nice job of defending me, nobody would call me a shrinking violet. So let me push back against the one media critique I find most suspect and most dangerous: The Cherry Pick.
There have been a variety of pieces written since the election–most notably by Kilgore and The Nation’s Bob Moser–in which writers presume the entitlement to self-select results and loosen borders as a way to arrive at what I assume were pre-ordained conclusions. I define the South as the 11 former Confederate states, as most scholars in my field do. I’d certainly engage discussions about whether Kentucky or Oklahoma ought to be added to that list, so long as I’m allowed to exempt Florida–the least southern of the southern states precisely because it has so few native southerners or southern descendents. But critics be warned: Removing Florida from the equation means that the other 10 Confederate states plus KY and OK cast a smaller share of electoral votes today than a century ago. I’ll accept that border redefinition, if they want it.
More disconcerting is the use of exceptional cases (like Heath Shuler’s) to paint a misleading national portrait. Why Kilgore and Moser–both of whom I’ve engaged by email, and respect–are knowingly avoiding the overall trends and results is baffling and rather revealing. Those results include not only the 85 percent non-southern gains and exit poll results I mention above. The “flip rates” in the U.S. House in 2006 were as follows: Democrats defeated or replaced 31% of retiring Republican House incumbents in the Northeast; 15% in the Midwest; 9% in the West; and just 6% in the South. And, for the first time in 52 years, the party holding the minority of House and Senate seats, the Democrats, is nevertheless the majority party nationally–a truly stunning regional development. Waldman might contend that many in the media have chosen to ignore these developments because they are, by reflex, reluctant to point out anything that might discomfort southerners, and I’d agree. So I’ll ask rhetorically: Have we really reached a point in our national discourse where the reporting of basic facts must be made secondary to somehow offending certain groups of voter-citizens, no less national commentators? I hope not.
Schaller quiets Schaller: More than a few Democrats, including some liberal Democrats, have essentially said to me, privately, “OK, Tom, you’re more or less correct, but would you mind shutting up now?” As a social scientist and political analyst, my reflex is to refuse. As a liberal Democrat who very much wants to win and maintain power, my opposing reflex is keep quiet so that the party can claim “the center” and project an inclusive, 50-state approach. (By the way, I’m on record, both in the book and since the election, as a supporter of Howard Dean’s approach.)
So, I’ll offer to Democrats what we might call the “Nike Compromise”: If they agree privately to build a non-southern majority before turning to the South–to just “do it” without announcing it–I’ll agree to muzzle myself about the data and the analytical cherry-picking. I want to sell books and, like anyone else, I want to be proved right. But I’ll trade book sales and self-satisfaction for the broader goal of an enduring Democratic majority.
3. As for the request by Scott Winship–to whom I’m grateful for both organizing this roundtable and participating in it–that I embrace the moderates outside the South and not give up completely on the South, his is an easy request to fulfill.
The entire book is built around the premise that most of the non-southern states are simply easier or closer to being swung to blue because the swing voters there are either more amenable to Democratic messages and messengers, and/or in greater supply. The fourth through seventh chapters of Whistling lay out the where, who, why and how of building the non-southern majority. The essay that started this Roundtable was a distillation of the book’s fifth chapter–the “who” Democrats can assemble in those non-southern states in order to build a majority. Backing up one chapter, the “where” is what I call the 20 pan-western states of the “Democratic Diamond” formed by connecting Cleveland to Helena to Las Vegas to Tucson, and back to Cleveland. The underlying premise, again, is that these 20 midwestern and interior western states are easier to flip right now. It’s clear, especially from recent presidential results, that most of the competitive states are in fact in the Midwest and Southwest.
On this point, Scott might interject–“Yes, Tom, because the moderates in these purple states are less wedded to either party.” I do not have state-by-state data to prove that self-described moderates in these states are more or less firm in their partisan commitments, or are larger or smaller as a share of their respective state electorates. Unlike the founders of this site, I think that focusing too much on self-descriptive labels can be very misleading. If we discovered that 10 percent of voters were self-described “hot fudge sundaes,” and that they went 70% for Bill Clinton in 1996, but only 55% for John Kerry in 2004, would that result have any meaning without first asking who, demographically, these people are, and second, what their ideological dispositions and policy preferences are? Labels are not entirely semantic, but one man’s idea of “moderate” is another’s idea of “liberal” or “conservative.” This is why the Galston-Kamarck analyses are misleading, if not borderline irrelevant–all they prove is that a lot of people who think, act and have preferences similar to “liberals” prefer instead to call themselves “moderates,” as Roundtable participants Waldman and Klein have both shown.
Despite not having looked at self-described “moderates” for the book, my sense of it from having looked at the state registration data in some of these states, especially Interior West states like Arizona and Colorado where the share of registered independents (or “unaffiliateds”) is growing, is that a focus on moderates and independents will bring us back to a non-southern strategy. How do I arrive at this conclusion? Because early in the book’s opening chapter, I show that the region where both Ross Perot and Ralph Nader did worst was the South. And that’s because the South, for a century prior to the civil rights era, was a place where voters made firm commitments (to Democrats) and stuck to them and, since the Dixiecrat-to-Republican turbulence of the past two generations, has now become a place where voters have made firm commitments (to Republicans) and stick to them. Put aside race, gender, socioeconomic status, rural-urban-suburban factors, and unionization for a moment and just look at the regions based on their inclination to vote for third parties as a notional proxy for the existence of “moderates,” or “independents” or “swing voters” generally up for grabs, and what do we find? The South is the last place for Democrats to turn first.
Schaller moderates Schaller: As to Scott’s request about not giving up on the South in the longer term, I already make this point in the book, so that’s easy enough to satisfy. In the book and subsequent to its publication, I very clearly state that the South is not as monolithic as it was 30 years ago and won’t be as regionally distinct 30 years from now–but that I just don’t want to wait until 2040 for a southern-infused Democratic majority. But let me do Scott one better and make a limited case for not giving up on the South right now–realizing that my most harsh and unfair critics will seize upon only the graphs to follow in order to say I’m contradicting myself or diluting my argument.
A don’t-abandon-the-South-now argument centers, in my view, on two things. First, is an understanding of the region’s demographic heterogeneity, something almost every critic points to when countering my book. “The Research Triangle in NC is different,” they’ll say. “And what about Northern Virginia?” And so on. But notice that many of the more competitive areas are populated by high numbers of non-native southerners. If the southern defenders want to argue that the way to win the South is to bring in a bunch of northerners, fine, I’ll surrender right now because they would be conceding that native (white) southerners have gone Republican and aren’t coming back any time soon. But my larger point is that these very criticisms bring us right back to the issue of demography–and once you get there and pull back the lens, you realize that the demographic picture points generally to a non-southern strategy. Sorry, detractors: Demography matters.
The second argument has to do with non-transferable resources. Take, for example, recruitment. Finding a Heath Shuler is always a good idea because recruiting him does not detract from the efforts made to, say, find a Chris Murphy to win in Connecticut. Likewise, if there is somebody in western North Carolina who would be willing to write Shuler and only Shuler a check, that’s found money that is not, say, coming out of the DCCC’s coffers. So the rule here is simple: Any organically-raised resources–the recruitment of candidates; the training of those candidates; the local volunteers who are motivated to work on behalf of those candidates; contributors who are so enamored with those local candidates they are willing to write them checks they otherwise would spend non-politically–that can be harvested, should be because they in no way militate against winning elsewhere. But any non-local or national resources that are funneled to long-shot candidacies for the sake of “moral” victories, or to pacify angry southern Democrats, at the expense of winning in more competitive races must be avoided.

Dr. Thomas F. Schaller is associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and a board member of the Democratic Strategist. A political columnist for the Washington Examiner, Schaller has published commentaries in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Baltimore Sun, Salon.com, and The American Prospect, and is presently writing columns for The New York Times-Select Special “Midnight Madness” feature. Dr. Schaller has also appeared on ABC News, MSNBC, National Public Radio, and C-SPAN.

Progress Toward a New Synthesis

By Ruy Teixeira
In TDS’s premiere issue, I observed that “[t]he old debates between ‘populists’ and ‘New Democrats’ have clearly run out of gas” and that the contributors to our initial issue had, refreshingly, “focused their attention on providing concrete suggestions on where and how the party can focus its energies to be more effective”, instead of re-fighting those old battles. I thought it would be interesting to revisit these suggestions–which struck me as potential points of unity among Democrats–and see how they look in the aftermath of this election.
Here are the seven points of unity from my initial article and how they look today.

  1. Make Elections Fair and Clean. Who could argue with this? While the 2006 elections were not without their flaws (e.g., Florida-13), it seems fair to say that, by and large, these elections were reasonably clean. It also seems fair to say that Democratic vigilance helped make this happen and more of the same is in order in future elections.
  2. Support and Promote Unions. Always a good idea, it seems an even better one for Democrats after an election in which union household voters supported Democratic House candidates by a very wide 64-34 margin (68-30 among actual union members) and represented nearly a quarter (23 percent) of all voters. Time to really pump up the pressure for EFCA (the Employee Free Choice Act), which would allow “card-check” recognition of unions and make it a great deal easier for workers to join them. This reform is now supported throughout the Democratic Party, including by many, like Al From of the DLC, who have clashed in the past with the union wing of the Party.
  3. Catch the Demographic Wave. And it looks like the Democrats are catching it. In my earlier article, I noted that a surge toward Democrats among Hispanics appeared likely given their disenchantment with Bush and the Iraq war, as well as the GOP’s anti-immigrant politics, and I cited a poll showing Democrats running 40 points ahead of Republicans among Hispanics in the generic congressional ballot. Pretty close! According to the exit polls, Hispanics favored Democrats by a 39-point margin (69-30). No one in the Democratic Party can reasonably dispute anymore that effort put into mobilizing Hispanics is effort well-spent.
  4. Get Back to Competence and Reforming Government. This point looks even better now. In the 2006 election, 41 percent of voters cited corruption/ethics as “extremely important” to their vote, and these voters supported Democrats by a 59-39 margin. In addition, the issue figured prominently in the Montana Senate race and may have actually been decisive in quite a few House races. As I remarked in the earlier article, “Voters are looking for change and Democrats must provide it…. Over the longer term, the ability of Democrats to promote the kind of programs they believe in, even if they are electorally successful, very much depends on building the belief among voters that government can, in fact, be competent and work well. Otherwise, voters will fear that, even with the best intentions, Democrats will wind up wasting their money.”
  5. Change the Map. It certainly seems like this point has been vindicated by the 2006 election results. Looking outside the obvious blue and purple target states–where the Democrats did very well indeed–they also took Senate seats in Montana and Virginia, governorships in Arkansas and Colorado, and House seats in Arizona (2), Colorado, Indiana (3), Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Texas. And, in the process of gaining 321 state legislative seats nationwide and complete control of 24 state legislatures (vs. only 16 for the GOP; the rest are split), the Democrats made significant gains in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming (where Democrats came extremely close to also capturing that state’s lone seat in the US House). Clearly, the map has shifted in the Democrats’ favor, and the idea that Democrats should “put more and more of the country in play and allow for the building of substantial Democratic majorities, rather than razor-thin victories based on swinging a few battleground states” seems an eminently viable one.
  6. Go After Moderate and Independent Voters. Check again. In the earlier article, I observed that “[a] serious Democratic majority–barring radical changes in turnout by partisanship and/or ideology–needs a 5-10 point margin among independents and a 15-25 point margin among moderates.” I was, if anything, too modest in my goals! In the 2006 election, independents favored Democrats by 18 points (57-39), while moderates voted Democratic by 22 points (60-38).
  7. Give Voters Clear and Big Choices. Here is where one might argue that there is general agreement, but not necessarily much progress. While it was unfair to accuse the Democrats of having no ideas in this campaign, those they had did not really qualify as “clear and big choices” for voters–besides which the election was inevitably more a referendum on the Bush Administration’s record (especially on Iraq, but also on the economy, corruption, health care, etc.) than anything else.

So the quest for big or “swing” ideas (as Kenneth Baer and Andrei Cherny put it in our first issue), and for a compelling public philosophy to undergird them, continues. I have already offered my nomination for such a public philosophy, focused around the concept of the common good, in my paper with John Halpin “The Politics of Definition” (see also Michael Tomasky’s path-breaking article in The American Prospect, “A Party in Search of a Notion“). Now let me offer my nomination for a swing idea that would provide a clear and big choice to voters.
This idea is outlined in an article Jacob Hacker and I just published in The American Prospect on the role of the economy in the 2006 election and how Democrats might generate even larger advantages on that issue in the future. Here’s an excerpt from our article that summarizes the idea:

[D]emocrats need to refashion the theme of security for the 21st century, putting forth a set of simple ideas and arguments for providing Americans with the secure financial foundation they need to reach for the American dream.

The starting point for this vision is a simple but forgotten truth: Economic security is a cornerstone of economic opportunity. When Democrats talk about social insurance they tend to focus on how programs like Social Security and Medicare help prevent financial disaster. But there is another, more positive way to talk about insurance: as a way for families to get ahead. Just as businesses and entrepreneurs are encouraged by basic protections against financial risk to invest in economic growth, so adequate security encourages families to invest in their own future — something many now find quite difficult. It’s not easy to invest in the future, after all, when a sudden drop in income or rise in expenses could completely blow away your family budget. That sense of insecurity will make a person less likely to invest in specialized training, cultivate new career paths, aggressively change jobs — the very things that are likely to allow that person to get ahead.

There is a huge void in American politics just waiting to be filled by public leaders who can speak convincingly about the need to provide economic security to expand opportunity. Efforts to increase health coverage and contain health-care costs (including the cost of prescription drugs), to improve the quality and availability of child care, to defend and extend guaranteed retirement benefits (including Social Security), to provide middle-class families with strong incentives to save and build wealth, and to make college and specialized training available to all are the subjects of countless and competing policy prescriptions. But the important thing is that these policies should be put in the context of helping Americans get ahead. These are measures to allow the typical American family to raise its head from the day-to-day struggle of an insecure world and concentrate on its most heartfelt wish: to achieve the American Dream.

With this approach, the democrats’ mantra can be simple and repeated endlessly: providing security to expand opportunity. The Republicans, in contrast, provide nothing, leaving hardworking American families without the secure base they need to get ahead. That’s the wrong message in this day and age and Democrats can make Republicans own it, if they play their cards right.

Over the next two years, Democrats should use their newfound power over the agenda to set goals and formulate ideas that force Republicans to take a stand on the domestic issue of our day: the economic insecurity of the American middle class. No 50-point programs. No triangulating targeted measures. Just one powerful vision, backed up by bold ideas on health care, retirement and job security, and family finances.

That’s our idea and we think it’s a good one. There will be other nominations for swing ideas, of course, and that’s fine. Let the debate be vigorous and, as we always emphasize here at TDS, as fact-based as possible. But let’s keep at it until we really do have some swing ideas that American voters can embrace with enthusiasm. Running against the failures of the Bush Administration worked very well in 2006, but for 2008 we will need stronger medicine–the kind that can only be supplied by such ideas.

Ruy Teixeira is a joint fellow at the Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation. He is the author of five books – including The Emerging Democratic Majority (with John Judis) — and over 100 articles — including the recent series, “The Politics of Definition”, with John Halpin.

How Democrats Won the 3rd National Security Election & What We Must Do Now

By Jeremy D. Rosner
President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Karl Rove went into this year’s election with the same basic play book as in 2002 and 2004: run hard on national security, invoke 9/11, equate Iraq with the war on terror, frame both as with-us-or-against-us choices, use wedge legislation to show Democrats are on the wrong side of that choice.
They ran the play perfectly. But it failed massively. It’s important to understand why Democrats won — not despite the GOP’s focus on national security, but partly because of it — and what our party must do to continue strengthening our profile on national security in the coming months and years.
The pivotal role of national security in the November 7 vote is beyond question. The election was, in large part, a referendum on Iraq. In a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey of the 50 most competitive GOP-held districts conducted for Democracy Corps the week before the election, 25 percent of likely voters said Iraq was the single most important issue behind their vote — nearly twice the level for the two next issues, “jobs and the economy,” and “terrorism,” both at 13 percent.
The Edison-Mitofsky exit polls raised some questions about whether Iraq was, in fact, the dominant issue. They reported 36 percent of voters said Iraq was “extremely important” in their vote, the same as for “values issues, such as same-sex marriage or abortion,” and slightly less than the shares for terrorism (39 percent), the economy (39 percent), and “corruption and scandals in government” (41 percent). Yet the exit poll asked these questions serially, rather than as a single choice, which obscures Iraq’s importance.
Indeed, when asked as a forced choice, not only was Iraq the single biggest driver of the vote, but its dominance climbed in importance as Election Day neared. In the Democracy Corps polls, the share citing Iraq as the top issue roughly doubled from June to Election Day while the share of voters citing other issues mostly remained static. The dynamic that was just emerging at the time of my previous article exploded as Election Day neared: by stressing terrorism, President Bush actually focused more attention on Iraq and deepened the public’s anger about his conduct of that conflict.
The growing focus on the mismanaged war in Iraq led voters to reassess their decades-old assumption that Republicans were stronger on national security. For years, Republicans led by 20-30 points or more on this question. But the 2006 exit polls show that Republicans only led by a narrow 7-point 53-46 percent margin among those who said terrorism was an extremely important issue in their vote — still a lead, but nearing parity. By contrast, among those who said Iraq was extremely important, Democrats led by a huge 22-point 60-38 percent margin. Not only was Iraq the dominant voting issue, but it went a long way toward neutralizing the long-time Republican advantage on the broader array of national security issues.
Many of the Democratic candidates who scored the biggest upsets were ones who showcased their opposition to Iraq — rebutting pre-election counsel from some Democratic advisers that national security would inevitably be a losing issue. To cite just one of many examples, in Minnesota’s first congressional district, local high school football coach Tim Walz beat Republican incumbent Gil Gutknecht partly by running an ad with Walz standing in front of his school’s empty football stands, and pointing out that the number of seats was about equal to the number of Americans lost in Iraq. National security was mostly a winning issue for Democrats in 2006.
The anti-Iraq wave did not wash all Republican incumbents away, of course, sparing two I highlighted in my earlier article. In Connecticut, Rep. Chris Shays eked out another term partly by moving away from his earlier defense of the war and becoming more critical of the President. Similarly, Rep. Heather Wilson in New Mexico won by 875 votes in the NM-1 race despite her profile as a Republican NSC staffer who had backed the war. Yet even in these districts, the Iraq war was a liability that Republicans had to overcome. Virtually the only candidate who featured his support for the war in an ad was Minnesota Senate candidate Mark Kennedy, who went on to lose by about 20 points.
All this underscores something about American attitudes on national security: for the most part, the public views these issues pragmatically, not ideologically. They want national security policies that work. If the US mission in Somalia in the early ’90s had been a resounding success, the public might have felt “nation building” was a great thing; that term only became a conservative epithet because of events. If there were calm in Baghdad today and the Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds were governing peaceably together, then the public might align today behind ideas like pre-emption.
Instead, the public now has deep (and well-founded) doubts that the GOP knows what it is doing in international affairs. The political consequences of that change could be profound. If those new perceptions take root, it could mean that future Democrats could enter national elections without being on the defensive against “bear in the woods” ads, “swift boat” smears, and other attacks on their national security credentials. It could mean that, instead of our party worrying about being tarred as “Defeatocrats” on national security, the GOP might have to worry about being seen as “Refumblicans.”
But the new parity on national security will not endure automatically. November 7 was above all a rejection of the Republicans on Iraq — not an endorsement of any Democratic alternative. And although voters who focused on Iraq tilted Democratic, voters focused on terrorism still opted for the Republicans. A post-election Democracy Corps poll finds that voters still favor the GOP by 13 points on which party “can be trusted to keep America safe.” Even though the White House retains primary control of America’s foreign and military policies, Democrats now have the responsibility to show they have serious ideas that would do more to protect America and improve our standing abroad than would the course Bush has offered.
Congressional Democrats have done a pretty good job of this so far. In the House, incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her team have outlined a 100-hours plan that includes implementation of the full recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, something President Bush has resisted. House and Senate leaders have outlined serious ideas on a range of other security initiatives as well, such as stronger steps on non-proliferation and legislation to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.
But the real test will be on Iraq, where Bush’s egregious mismanagement of the war has rendered most worthy goals unreachable and the remaining alternatives unpalatable. Even Henry Kissinger now argues that a military victory in Iraq is no longer possible. We have only bad choices about how to wind down America’s involvement with the least harm to Iraq’s people and our own forces, regional interests, and global reputation.
It would be a welcome relief if the election results and the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group led the Bush White House to seek genuinely bipartisan answers to these agonizing questions. But Bush’s very first post-election move in foreign policy — resubmitting the twice-rebuffed nomination of John Bolton as UN ambassador — signals that Karl Rove’s base strategy remains alive and well, and does not stop at the water’s edge. In the same way, everything we know about this President suggests he will argue that the new Democratic Congress is somehow culpable for the horrific end-game we are already starting to witness in Iraq. His model will be Vietnam, where Republicans managed to assign a good deal of partisan blame to a bipartisan policy failure.
It will be harder to cast Iraq as the Democrats’ doing. This is not a war that spanned administrations of different parties. Despite the war’s initial bipartisan authorization, Iraq belongs to George Bush. He was, as he says, “the decider,” waging this war on his own terms, and exploiting it at home for his own partisan purposes. Democrats — including those of us who supported the war’s initiation — did not passively assent to Bush’s mismanagement of its conduct, but instead vocally condemned each strategic failure, from his rejection of the military’s call for more troops, to his refusal to involve allies, to his lack of a serious plan for post-Saddam reconstruction, to his insistence on interrogation techniques that undermined our moral standing.
Yet Democrats will still need to take care not to give Bush and his team any easy pretext for shifting responsibility for the outcome in Iraq. The new Democratic Congress needs to provide the vigorous oversight of the war their Republican predecessors never provided. But they also need to avoid pushing for funding cut-offs that could be cast as undermining the troops (and which would in any event merely be veto bait). And they need to push for an end-game that moves gradually, doing what we can to build up Iraq’s infrastructure and professionalize its military and police forces, acknowledging that we bear some moral responsibility for Iraq’s growing chaos.
Over the next two years, Democrats need to make several principles clear at every turn. First, whether measured in floor time or rhetoric, we place as much emphasis on national security as domestic priorities. Second, we offer a broad program for fighting terror and strengthening our security that goes beyond opposition to Bush’s policies in Iraq. Third, we have a long-term commitment to rebuilding our over-stretched military, caring for this war’s veterans, and creating stronger relations with the military leadership. Fourth, despite the costs and setbacks in Iraq, we remain committed to an outward-looking and idealistic foreign policy that promotes the expansion of democracy, human rights, global environmental quality, trade, and economic opportunity for the world’s poorest citizens.
If the new Democratic majorities in Congress can act on these principles over the next two years, America will be more secure, and our party will continue to stand on stronger ground as we face what is likely to be America’s fourth consecutive national security election in 2008.

Jeremy D. Rosner is Senior Vice President of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic strategy and polling firm in Washington. He served as a senior staff member on the staff of President Clinton’s National Security Council, and as Special Adviser to the President and Secretary of State for NATO Enlargement Ratification. He is a contributing co-author with PPI’s Will Marshall for With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006).