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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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Averaging Horse Race Polls Gives Best Snapshot

With the presidential election 17 months out, it may seem a little early to be paying a lot of attention to the horse race polls. But Super Tuesday is 8 and 1/2 months away, and that seems a good time to begin monitoring the Democratic polls. To put the polls in perspective, start with Chris Bowers’ post, “Inflated Clinton Poll Theory: Prudence Sets In” at MyDD. Bowers argues that averaging polls gives the best snapshot:

With so many polls, it just seems unlikely to me that one extreme Clinton-Obama margin or the other is absolutely correct, or that one methodology or the other is absolutely correct. When has there ever been a large, hidden vote out that that most pollsters were missing? Outside of the Iowa caucuses and post-Katrina New Orleans, the answer over the last thirty years has been “basically never.” These days, the worst-case scenario is for poll averages to be about six points off the final margin, which isn’t that bad and can be accounted for in margin of error and turnout programs.
…At this point, with so many different polls floating around, with so many different methodologies, with about half of the primary and caucus electorate not even paying “somewhat” close attention, and with an ever-changing and developing campaign, the simple fact is that widely varying results among polls is unavoidable…
Average the polls–all of the polls–and don’t dismiss any of them just because they seem odd or you don’t like the results for your candidate. Right now, that would indicate that Clinton is probably up by 10-12 points. And so she probably is. However, as the differences between the varying polls shows, there is still a lot of movement left in this electorate. It ain’t over until February 6th.

In his previous post Bowers discussed some of the problems with the most recent polls, noting:

Could the difference be social pressure, where Democrats don’t tell live-interviewers that they are currently leaning against Clinton? Rasmussen’s numbers consistently back up that theory, but those produced by Harris do not. Could it be that traditional live-interview polls and newer polling methodologies sample different universes of voters, thus producing different results? Possibly, but even if that is the case, it is extremely difficult to say which group of polls is sampling a more representative universe right now, both because we don’t know who will vote in the 2008 primaries and because few polling firms release comprehensive crosstabs and methodologies. Could it simply be that when it comes to the 2008 Democratic nomination, live-interview polls are growing less useful due to the rising wireless-only population and social pressure, or that newer techniques are not yet able to achieve the same level of accuracy as traditional methods? Both are possible, but neither can be confirmed at this time.

The rapid increase in wireless only voters does present an interesting challenge to pollsters. Pollster.com‘s Mark Blumenthal sheds some fresh light on the problem here.

Movement to Disempower Electoral College Picks Up Steam

Chris Kromm has an encouraging update on the effort to render the Electoral College irrelevant at Facing South. As Kromm reports on recent action by the North Carolina state senate:

This week, North Carolina became the latest state chamber to endorse a direct popular vote, as the Charlotte Observer reports:
“North Carolina would enter a compact that could eliminate the power of the Electoral College system to choose a president, according to a bill that passed the Senate Monday night. If agreed to by states representing a majority of the nation’s 538 electoral votes, the measure would require North Carolina to give its electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide.”
Nationwide, 41 bills have been introduced. In Maryland, it’s been signed by the governor, and both of Hawaii’s legislative chambers have passed the hill. North Carolina is now one of five states where it’s passed at least one house, the others being Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, and most recently California…And if states that represent a majority of the current 538 Electoral College votes form a compact to do away with the system, they can move the country to direct popular vote for President and Vice President.

North Carolina being a moderate to moderately-conservative state, the action of its state senate bodes well for the popular vote campaign nation-wide. Apparently, this movement has some legs.

Latino Citizenship Campaign Lifts Dem Prospects

Miriam Jordan’s WSJ article “Univision Gives Citizenship Drive An Unusual Lift” no doubt comes as unwelcome news in GOP circles.
Jordan reports that Univision Communications, Inc., America’s largest Spanish language broadcasting network, is sponsoring an energized nation-wide campaign to help millions of green card-holders become citizens. In the greater Los Angeles area alone, citizenship applications have more than doubled in the first three months of the campaign, which began in January, compared to the same period in ’06. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has extended the terms of 40 immigration adjudicators to process the upsurge in citizenship applications.
The campaign is rapidly spreading eastward, and is underway in Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Miami. It usually takes six or seven months to complete the naturalization process. In 2008, the second stage of the campaign will focus on getting the new citizens registered to vote. The impact could be decisive, as Jordan explains:

Latinos have had a lower voter-participation rate than others — in 2004, 47% of those eligible voted, compared with 67% of whites and 60% of blacks, according to Pew Hispanic Center tabulations. However, Latino immigrants who become citizens report higher rates of political participation than native-born Latinos, according to Pew.
If the citizenship campaign culminates in two million to three million new Hispanic voters, “that could turn the tide in several states,” including Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, says Sergio Bendixen, a pollster who specializes in ethnic markets. In 2004, Republicans won by a small margin in those states.”

An energetic naturalization campaign has long been needed to help resolve America’s immigration problems. Now that one has been launched, Democrats can reasonably expect a significant advantage with these new voters. A 60-40 break favoring Dems among the new voters would not be unreasonable, given recent voting trends. Naturalization applicants currently pay a $400 fee, which does not augur well for America’s commitment to equal opportunity. No surprise that Republicans want to raise the fee, and we can expect other obstructionist tactics leading up to the election.

Lengthening List of Military Brass Oppose GOP Iraq Policy

One tactic Republicans never tire of deploying is impugning the patriotism of Democrats who want to end/de-fund U.S. military occupation of Iraq. As Bush recently said in just one version of a frequently-uttered GOP meme:

…Members of the House and the Senate passed a bill that substitutes the opinions of politicians for the judgment of our military commanders.

One of the more effective responses for Dems is to call the roll of military brass who also believe Bush’s Iraq misadventure is a disaster. It is a lengthening list, and The Nation‘s John Nichols has a round-up of the latest quotes of America’s more thoughtful military leaders here. A couple of samples from Nichols’ post:

The President vetoed our troops and the American people,” says retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste. “His stubborn commitment to a failed strategy in Iraq is incomprehensible. He committed our great military to a failed strategy in violation of basic principles of war. His failure to mobilize the nation to defeat world wide Islamic extremism is tragic. We deserve more from our commander-in-chief and his administration.

Or this, from another former Major General, Paul Eaton:

This administration and the previously Republican-controlled legislature have been the most caustic agents against America’s Armed Forces in memory. Less than a year ago, the Republicans imposed great hardship on the Army and Marine Corps by their failure to pass a necessary funding language. This time, the President of the United States is holding our Soldiers hostage to his ego.

There’s more from our military leaders in Nichols’ article. Nichols sums it up:

Add the public statements of the retired generals together with the behind-the-scenes expressions of frustration from current commanders and they form the most powerful tool that Congressional Democrats have in what will ultimately be a negotiation not with Bush but with the American people–a negotiation that, the president well understands, is about the question of which side is playing politics and which side is listening to military commanders and supporting the troops.

Democrats would do well to keep a file on the growing list of military leaders and former leaders who have the integrity to tell the truth about Bush’s Iraq policy, and Dems should be ready to cite their names and message points. Republicans will be less quick to impugn their patriotism.

Netroots Article Generates More Buzz

Ed Kilgore’s New Donkey post contributes to the discussion about Jonathan Chait’s New Republic article, adding,

…Chait’s piece, despite a few questionable assertions, is a very good introduction to the whole topic of the netroots’ role in Democratic politics….The criticism most consistently aimed at Chait is that he overemphasizes the role of a handful of high-profile bloggers in coordinating the netroots “message.” I think that’s a bit unfair, since the whole piece was about the netroots as a self-conscious political movement…Chait might have dwelled a bit more on the inherent tension between the medium’s decentralized nature and various effort to make it a unified political force; it’s a tension you see every day in the comments threads of most “activist” sites.

Kilgore, who had an earlier post on the topic at TPM Cafe, has more to say about the article as it relates to the differing agendas of the DLC and the Netroots. His article features links to posts by Eric Alterman, Matt Yglesias and MyDD‘s Chris Bowers, which help to round out the discussion. Bowers’ critique includes this point:

…while Chait is correct that the activist blogosphere is generally focused on achieving politically positive results, he seems to miss the fact that that in order to achieve politically positive results, it is necessary to engage in political strategy that is based on solid ideas. In other words, the activist blogosphere has long been concerned with improving the political tactics and strategies of Democrats and progressives, and we won’t be very effective at that if we intentionally float misinformed ideas on political tactics and strategy. Misinformed, poorly researched, and ill-conceived strategy is not helpful in creating positive political outcomes. We need solid tactics based on solid research and analysis in order to succeed in politics. In that sense, we in the activist blogosphere are very concerned with ideas, logic and truth, but we are more focused on ideas, logical conclusions, and truth as they relate to improving political strategy rather than with debating policy specifics. That isn’t propaganda–it is simply a difference between hacks and wonks.

Alterman and Yglesias’s TNR responses offer their takes on Chait’s article. Says Alterman:

Chait’s range, linguistic felicitousness, and self-confidence are quite impressive. I found myself nodding in agreement through most of the piece at points I hadn’t realized before as Chait’s argument crystallized my thinking in ways that only the best opinion journalism can do…On the other hand–and this is also endemic to the best and worst of almost all opinion pieces but particularly at TNR–Chait’s piece is actually empirically empty. Either we trust Chait or we don’t. I didn’t notice a single point of evidence in the analysis that could not be argued away….The main argument I want to have with Chait concerns what he deems to be the netroots’ purposeful intellectual insularity with regard to the idealized platonic cosmopolitanism of establishment journalists and policy wonks. If history is any guide, it just ain’t so…One could make a sound empirical argument–based on virtually every major event in the Bush presidency–that the MSM narrative was a convenient invention of self-interested parties while the analysis that permeated the netroots has been largely borne out (so far) by history.

Alterman recommends Chris Bowers Democratic Strategist article for a fuller consideration of the role of the Netroots as a political force. Yglesias takes Chait to task for mischaracterizing his views, and continues:

I have about a million things to say about Jonathan Chait’s alternatively brilliant and infuriating essay on the netroots…Meanwhile, Chait’s characterization of the netroots’ beef with The New Republic and the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) seems deliberately obtuse. “What makes such internal enemies so dangerous,” writes Chait, “is that they engage in self-criticism.” In particular, Chait–in a bit of unsubstantiated overstatement–thinks that the netroots considers “any criticism of any part of the Democratic Party or its activist base from the right” to be “treasonous.” Rather, the primary issue is that netroots activists and TNR have major, persistent, principled disagreements about foreign policy. Secondarily, a certain proportion of TNR’s published material evinces a kind of sneering dislike for liberal politicians and activists, even as TNR writers happily market themselves as liberal (but independent-minded!) pundits when such a label suits them. (Until its recent sale to CanWest, it was owned by men who seem to hate most liberals and liberalism as an ideology, which were strange attributes for a liberal publication.)…Chait provides an admirable reconstruction of the intellectual origins of the netroots movement, its love/hate relationship with the conservative movement, and the logic of its objections to the “centrist” political strategies that seemed so appealing in the 1990s–by far the best account by a true outsider that I’m aware of.

All in all, quite an interesting fray — and “The Left’s New Machine” is just getting started.

Dems Should Note Groups Public Wants to Help

Gallup has a freebie that merits a gander from Democratic strategists and candidates. The poll, conducted 3/26-29, addresses “Americans’ perceptions about the relative political influence of various groups in the United States.” Gallup reporter Jeffrey Jones kicks off his wrap-up analysis this way:

Of the 14 groups tested in the poll, military veterans are thought to be the most in need of increased government attention. On the other hand, the public is most likely to believe political leaders pay too much attention to big corporations and Hollywood movie executives.

What’s a little fishy here is that one wonders what percentage of Americans can even name three Hollywood executives, or two for that matter. Maybe respondents conflated execs with actors. If there’s a moral here for political strategists, maybe it’s accept their dough graciously, but don’t let Hollywood execs do your campaigning.
But Dems should take very seriously how the public views treatment of military vets. As Jones explains:

Eighty-one percent of Americans say government leaders pay too little attention to the needs of military veterans…The poll was conducted shortly after news reports about poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center focused attention on the plight of wounded soldiers returning from Iraq. This news may have helped to push veterans past the poor (77%), small-business owners (68%), and senior citizens (66%) as the group most widely viewed as lacking in government attentiveness.

This is a clear advantage for Dems, given the shoddy treatment vets have received under Bush and at the hands of Republican office-holders in general. Those who have voted in any way to cut or restrict veterans’ benefits should be forced to explain their votes again and again.
A look at the five largest numbers in the survey may be more instructive. Following the 81 percent who believe vets are most in need of more government attention: 77 percent cite the poor as receiving too little attention; 76 percent say big corporations get too much attention; 74 percent say Hollywood execs get too much attention; and 68 percent say small business owners get too little attention.
In terms of political ramifications, the respondents were adults, not registered or likely voters. And it’s hard to imagine that many voters will reason, “I’m not going to vote for so-and-so because he/she gives too much attention to Hollywood execs,” regardless of policies, character and other priorities. But the other percentages relate to needed policy reforms supported by Dems, not Republicans — and are too large to ignore.

Reagan Myth to Cast ’08 Shadow

Tom Bevan has a post, “Reagan’s Shadow” at The Real Clear Politics Blog, predicting that the current crop of GOP presidential candidates will “work to invoke his name and associate themselves with his legacy” in the months ahead, beginning with the first GOP presidential debates at the — you guessed it — Reagan Presidential Library on May 3rd. The idea being that the public needs to be reminded that Republicans once ruled without serial blundering, scandals and foreign policy disasters of epic proportions on an almost daily basis. Reagan nostalgia is likely to become even more of a cottage industry with conservatives and lapdog media as we approach November ’08. Some polling outfits have apparently bought into the meme, as Bevan notes:

The polling firm Strategic Vision recently began asking Republicans in six states whether they believe George W. Bush is “a conservative in the mode of Ronald Reagan.” The results were surprisingly consistent and overwhelmingly negative: 62% of Republicans in Florida answered “no.” The numbers were even worse in the five other states: 68% in Wisconsin, 69% in Pennsylvania, 71% in Michigan, 77% in Iowa and 78% in Georgia.

Even asking such a question suggests that Reagan mythology is still thriving. Reagan, not Lincoln, is clearly the GOP’s internal standard for measuring their candidates, and no doubt, the GOP’s ’08 field will strive to appear more “Reaganesque” as the campaign wears on, just as some Democrats tried to emulate JFK’s persona over the years with less than impressive results. With a few exceptions, the MSM gave the Reagan “legacy” a free pass in the wake of his death, thereby allowing the Reagan myth to grow in stature. By the time summer ’08 rolls around, it will be “Bush who?,” and Reagan’s name and image will be invoked ad nauseum at the GOP convention and during the fall campaign as the GOP’s preeminent symbol. The Democratic attitude should be “Bring it on.”
Democrats, including party leaders and the progressive blogosphere should be ready to demolish the Reagan mythology. Fortunately, this will not be hard, and there are plenty of resources. Probably no source has been more vigilant than The Nation. Start with The Nation’s editorial “The Reagan Legacy,” a succinct wrap-up of the damage done by the Gipper. Proceed to Alexander Cockburn’s blistering essay “Reagan in Truth and Fiction.”
An interesting handful of articles about the most treasured myth of Reagan-worshippers, that he single-handedly won the cold war, can be accessed at this link. For a good overview of the damage done by “Reaganomics,” check out Steve Kangas’ “The Reagan Years:A Statistical Overview of the 1980s.” Walter Field’s “No Tears for Reagan” at BlackAmericaToday.com explains how Reagan obstructed Civil Rights gains.
The GOP will almost certainly wield the Reagan Myth with increasing frequency during the campaign ahead, if only because they have nothing else to project in a positive light. Democrats are not running against Reagan, but some well-crafted sound bites about Reagan’s real record whenever his name is exalted will help show voters which candidates — and which party — tell it straight.

Frontloaded Primaries Provide Advantages

Chris Bowers has a pair of posts at MyDD in support of frontloaded primaries, and provides a couple of compelling arguments in his first post. Regarding frontloading’s longer focus on candidates:

If anything, frontloading and the long campaign are actually good things for our democracy…Giving the public more information on the candidates vying to hold our most important elected office, and more information on those candidates, are also good things for any democracy…

Concerning the financial advantages of frontloading, and who gets them:

…Inexpensive, early states are still just as available to every underfunded, longshot candidates as they ever were. If you have a full year and several million dollars, your inability to break through to 35% of the small caucus and primary electorates in Iowa, where only 50,000 caucus goers would be enough to win, or New Hampshire, where 100,000 primary voters would be enough to win, is not the fault of a corrupted political system. In 2004, even Dennis Kucinich raised $13,000,000, which would be enough to spend over $85 on each of the voters needed to win both states. Don’t come cryin’ to mama about frontloading, a long campaign, or too much money in the process if you can’t win in Iowa or New Hampshire.

In his second post, Bowers provides data from a recent Pew poll showing that voters are already paying a high level of attention to the presidential campaign, thus the argument that there isn’t enough time for voters to make thoughtful choices is bogus. Bowers notes further:

This increased public interest in the campaign is matched by the rapidly increasing amount of campaign donors and the number of people attending campaign rallies, both of which are easily on record pace compared to other recent elections.

Bowers predicts:

…significantly higher levels of voter turnout than previous primary/caucus seasons. This also means voters will spend more time, not less, making a decision on who to support. And yes, because of the frontloading, far more people will potentially have a say in who is nominated. Increased turnout, more informed voters, a greatly expanded electorate and increased grassroots activism — this is why it is a good thing the campaign is receiving so much attention early in the season.

Democratic bloggers and opinion leaders seem to be evenly divided pro and con about frontloading, and it would be interesting to see a poll of rank and file Democrats on the topic. Meanwhile, it’s a done deal, and candidates have to factor it into their ’08 strategy. The turnout in primaries will be a fair measure for evaluating frontloading, and a Democratic victory in November ’08 will make it a permanent part of presidential campaigns.

Second-Tier Candidates Redux

With respect to yesterday’s post, we missed a good link, actually two good links. We refer you to Edward B. Colby’s “Stop the Winnowing Already!” in the Columbia Journalism Review‘s CJR Daily, which has this to say about the MSM’s weak coverage of second-tier candidates:

It is way too early for…narrowing the field. In fact, as Time’s Karen Tumulty wrote in a recent blog post, “the media seem to be getting ahead of the voters” already: “What’s the hurry, ten months before the first caucus, to winnow the field to a few candidates deemed viable — say, three at most from each party?” While Chris Dodd, Joe Biden and Richardson “are getting all but ignored by the national media,” Tumulty wrote, celebrity has defined the leading candidates in the press narrative, while “actual issues” have of course been shortchanged.
2008 is supposed to be the most “wide open” presidential race Americans have seen in eighty years. This election is of crucial importance — the winner will have to deal with Iraq, Iran, North Korea, massive environmental issues, a staggering deficit, etc. But the country will only get the kind of national debate it desperately needs if the political press resists the time-honored temptation to put the horserace above all else. Cast the media spotlight to the wider field of candidates and let them duke it out for a while. That just might give journalists on the campaign trail better stories, too.

Readers are encouraged to take up the cause and email the editors of the top rags, mags and tube news programs, urging them to report more on the whole field.

Media-Dissed Second-Tier Candidates Deserve a Look

With their perspective based on early polls of questionable relevance, the MSM does a lousy job of giving the “second-tier” presidential candidates fair coverage, and niether voters or the democratic process are well-served. As a result most voters probably know more about the most trifling details of the personal lives of “front-runners” Clinton, Obama and Edwards than the policy positions of second-tier candidates Biden, Dodd, Gravel, Kucinich or Richardson.
The Democrats have a strong field competing for the ’08 nomination, and the second-tier candidates more than match the front-runners in terms of experience and accomplishments. To find out more about the second tier, who get relatively little ink or face time on TV, voters have to do their own research. Google and Yahoo search engines are great resources for this quest. But time-challenged voters may prefer Wikipedia, which does a surprisingly good job of presenting link-rich political biographies that present both the positive and negative aspects of their respective careers. We’ll even save you some typing. Just click on the links below to get up to speed on the second-tier Dems running for President. In reverse alphabetical order:
Bill Richardson
Dennis Kucinich
Mike Gravel
Chris Dodd
Joe Biden
Yes, we know that there have been some problems with accuracy in some Wikipedia entries. But the links in each article provide a handy resource for double-checking controversial statements of fact.