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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira’s Donkey Rising

Hey-Hey, Ho-Ho, Swing Voters Say Bush Has Gotta Go!

Well, not exactly.  But they’re getting there.  Check out these two new poll analyses released by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and Ipsos/Cook Political Report The Ipsos poll analysis looks at a group of swing voters who believe the war in Iraq was worth fighting but also believe the Bush administration intentionally exaggerated evidence on Iraq’s WMDs.  These voters, disproportionately moderate Democrats, residents of southern states, male, lacking college experience and working in sales or skilled trade positions, give Bush only a 49 percent overall approval rating, with 48 percent disapproval.  (The approval rating for all registered voters in the Ipsos poll was 54 percent.)
That’s pretty poor already, but not nearly as bad as these swing voters’ views on Bush’s handling of the economy: only 33 percent approval with 67 percent disapproval.  Wow.  That’s 2:1 disapproval over approval.  And Bush’s rating among these voters on handling domestic issues like health care, the environment and energy was almost as abysmal: 36 percent approval and 64 percent disapproval. 
Do these voters want to re-elect Bush?  They’re not so sure, to put it mildly.  Just 33 percent say they would definitely vote to re-elect Bush, compared to 32 percent who would definitely vote against him and 33 percent who would consider voting for someone else.
The PIPA poll analysis defines swing voters in a more conventional was as respondents who say they’re extremely confident they will vote in the upcoming election and identify themselves as independents.  But the news for President Bush isn’t much more comforting.
These swing voters give Bush a negative rating on handling the situation in Iraq (46 percent negative/38 percent positive) and a majority believes (52 percent) that Bush was being misleading when he presented evidence to justify going to war (only 36 percent of the general public believes this).  A majority of swing voters also say that the presentation of false evidence lowers their confidence in the President (52 percent) and that the war in Iraq was not necessary to stop Iraq’s WMD program since a regional military presence and a strong inspections regime could have contained the threat (51 percent, compared to only 36 percent with that view among the general public).
And do these swing voters want to re-elect Bush?  Nope.  If the election were held today 41 percent say they would vote Democratic, compared to 37 percent who say they would back Bush.  And, when asked how they would probably vote in 2004, 57 percent say they would vote for the Democrat and just 32 percent for Bush.
It’s a bit early, for sure, but these kind of numbers among two differently-defined groups of swing voters suggest that Bush may have some real difficulty capturing the center in the next election.  And that’s good news for donkeys everywhere.

What If They Gave a Faction Fight and Nobody Came?

That’s what DR hopes!   And it just might happen, judging from reaction to the DLC’s latest jeremiad against the dread forces of Mondale-McGovernism, delivered at their “National Conversation” (or should it be lecture?) in Philadelphia.   “The DLC has saved the Democratic Party once, and we’re bound to do it again”, thundered Al From, “We can’t afford to do anything less because the stakes are so high”. 
Oh really?  Just remember, Al, you put your pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us, so a bit more humility might be in order.  And also remember that the DLC isn’t quite the growth stock it used to be, so rants against liberals don’t get quite the same receptive audience.  As the article by Adam Nagourney in The New York Times pointed out, none of the Democratic Presidential contenders bothered to show up at the conference this year to tout their wares, in contrast to last year, when four of them addressed the conference.  As Nagourney points out, “the council has become increasingly politically radioactive in this primary season”.  Their rants just aren’t playing well with the rest of the party and, even, apparently, with some the attendees to their own conference.  As Laura Ruderman, an attending state representative from Washington put it, referring to the intra-party bickering: “I don’t think we can be successful if we let ourselves go down that rat hole”
Amen, says DR.  Imagine if the DLC had gone to Philadelphia and actually called for party unity against the real enemy, George W. Bush and his hard right GOP.  That would also have been news (Democrats bury the hatchet!) and would actually have done some good.  But no, instead they choose to bash their fellow Democrats and get on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers telling everyone how the Democrats are sinking fast because the public thinks they’re pacifists and big government liberals.  (Did they perhaps read by mistake from Matthew Dowd’s RNC talking points about the declining Democrats?)
Don’t these people read the papers?   Haven’t they been following all Bush’s troubles in the last few weeks and his declining poll numbers—don’t they realize Democratic criticisms of Bush, including on the war and intelligence abuse, are actually having some effect?   It is no longer December, 2002 or even April, 2003—it’s July, 2003 and the incumbent President is in some real difficulty.
Let’s not help him out by fighting.  Let’s make his troubles worse by uniting.

Tax Cuts Vs. Tax Reform

Beyond Iraq and national security (which aren’t looking quite as good as they used to), Republicans are hoping tax cuts and the inability of Democrats to politically counter them will carry them through the 2004 election. (Talking points 1, 2 and 3 from the RNC: “Democrats want to raise your taxes!”) But will that approach really work?
David Broder, who normally doesn’t stick his neck out too far, thinks it might not. He cites a just-released Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll that found the factor bothering people the most about taxes was not the large amount of money they pay (14 percent). Instead, the complexity of the tax system (31 percent) and, especially, the feeling that the wealthy and corporations don’t pay their fair share (46 percent) bothered people much more.
That, of course, suggests that simply opposing GOP tax cuts, or proposing to roll them back, does not exhaust possible Democratic approaches to the tax issue. Instead, perhaps it is time to reconsider the issue of tax reform, where Democrats can build on the initial advantages they have over the GOP on making the tax system more fair (12 points), reducing the tax burden on middle class and working families (11 points) and closing tax loopholes and tax shelters (8 points).
In this poll, the two proposals most strongly favored by the public for reforming the tax system also seem like Democratic naturals: closing the tax loophole that allows corporations to create off-shore tax havens (57 percent strongly favor) and changing the Social Security system so that everybody pays into social security on all their income (55 percent strongly favor).
Note that these proposals receive significantly more support than either a standard Republican proposal to make tax cuts passed over the last two years permanent (41 percent strongly favor) or a standard Democratic proposal to cancel recently passed tax cuts for the top 1 percent and invest that money in education, homeland security and Social Security (42 percent strongly favor). And pretty much every proposal finishes way ahead of a Steve Forbes style flat tax proposal (19 percent strongly favor).
Maybe it’s time for Democrats to revisit the tax reform issue and stop playing on the GOP-tilted tax cut terrain.


They just can’t stop talking ‘bout that man!  DR just doesn’t have the time to comment on all the recent additions to the debate, but here’s the raw material for those who want to keep up.
Garance Franke-Ruta in Salon.com goes after the DLC for going after Dean.  &c., The New Republic’s blog, worries that the Niger uranium flap is making Dean over-confident about his antiwar position.  And the two Jonathans (Chait and Cohn) continue their argument over Dean’s electability, also on The New Republic’s site. 

The Case for Kerry

Harold Meyerson does a nice job making the case for Kerry as the candidate who can unite the party against Bush.  Dean he sees as more of a Eugene McCarthy-type insurgent, riding antiwar sentiment among Democratic activists dissatisfied with the party establishment’s handling of the issue.  As he points out, Dean was, unsurprisingly, the candidate more voters in the MoveOn primary said they could support “enthusiastically” (86 percent), but Kerry was a close second (75 percent).

The Case Against the Greens

Soon-to-be American Prospect executive editor, Michael Tomasky, delivers a stern rebuke to the Greens for their apparent intent to run a Presidential candidate in 2004.  No more Mr. Nice Guy, he urges the Democrats.  Nader and Co. screwed up the 2000 election and delivered the White House to Bush.  Time to signal to the public that Democrats are tough enough to stand up to Ralph and his merry band of lunatics.

This Just In: Republican Area Leans Republican!

The Washington Post had an article last Sunday about an area in Michigan where the economy’s poor performance didn’t seem to be turning anybody against Bush.  Locals appeared to have memorized the RNC’s talking points on the economy: Eight years of Bill Clinton caused the recession! 
DR’s crack research team swung into action and has now uncovered the reason for this strangely pro-Bush reaction to economic woes.  The area, Grand Rapids, MI, is a hardcore Republican area.  In 2000, when Gore carried Michigan by 5 points, he lost Kent County, where Grand Rapids is located by 21 points. Clinton also lost the county both times he ran by 14 points (1992) and 16 points (1996).  So the political significance of this pro-Bush reaction to a poor economy is pretty much nil.  Bush will carry that county and by plenty in 2004 no matter what happens.
But the rest of Michigan?  In the latest EPIC/MRA poll of Michigan likely voters, Bush’s approval rating on the economy was 39 percent, with 59 percent disapproval.  In DR’s view, that’s a much better guide to Bush’s probable fate in Michigan than man-in-the-street interviews in Grand Rapids.

Bush Moving Downward

Yesterday, DR reported on Gallup data showing Democrats moving upward.  Today, DR is pleased to flag just-released Democracy Corps data showing Bush moving downward.  How sweet it is!
According to the DCorps data, Bush’s approval rating is now 55 percent, down 6 points from their poll last month.  His margin over an unnamed Democrat for reelection in 2004 is 6 points, down from 11 points last month.  And the classic right direction/wrong track question has flipped from slightly positive to 6 points negative (43 percent right direction/49 percent wrong track).
Consistent with other recent surveys, the poll shows substantial erosion of the public’s trust and confidence in Bush’s approach to foreign affairs, especially the Iraq situation.  Right now, 47 percent say they cannot trust what Bush is saying about WMDs in Iraq, up 7 points in one month.  And 52 percent agree Bush did not adequately plan for the postwar Iraq situation and doesn’t have a plan to win the peace and bring the troops home.
In terms of whether the war was worth the costs, that perception, too, is headed south.  In May, the public thought the war in Iraq was worth the costs in lives and dollars by 28 points, 61 percent to 33 percent.  That margin is now down to 10 points, 52 percent to 42 percent.  No wonder the public is now split on whether to continue in the direction Bush is headed on foreign policy (47 percent) or go off in a significantly different direction (46 percent).  That’s a substantial change from last month when the public wanted to continue in Bush’s direction by a 14 point margin.
And on a range of domestic issues, the public wants to go in a different direction than the one Bush is heading in.  The public endorses changing direction on the federal budget and deficits (27 points, up from 15 last month), the economy (19 points, up from 11 last month), health care (18 points), prescription drugs for seniors (14 points, up from 9 last month, despite the Republicans’ efforts to co-opt this particular issue), retirement and social security (8 points), the environment (5 points) and even taxes (2 points).
This is definitely a vulnerable President.

Things Are Looking Up for Democrats

That’s what the latest Gallup poll says.  Consider the following.
Democrats are now favored by 17 points over Republicans on the economy.  That’s up from a one point Democratic disadvantage in January.  The Democrats also have increased their margin on the federal budget deficit from 4 to 13 points over that same time period.  Their margins on unemployment (+19), education (+12) and, significantly, prescription drugs for older Americans (+22) remain impressive, despite Republican attempts to co-opt the latter issue.
Furthermore, while Democrats remain behind on foreign affairs, they have have shaved that deficit from 17 to 5 points.  Similarly, while still behind by 15 points on the situation with Iraq, that deficit has declined from 24 points in January.
Bush’s overall approval rating in this poll shows a 3 point decline to 59 percent over the last week and a half.  And, over that same time period, his approval rating on the economy has declined the same amount to an anemic 45 percent with 51 percent disapproval.
Finally, the poll shows Bush’s margin over an unnamed Democrat in 2004 at just 6 points (47 percent to 41 percent) among all adults and at just 4 points among registered voters (46 percent to 42 percent).
These are the kind of numbers that get ‘ole DR wiggling his ears happily!

Once Again on the Dean Question

DR’s posts on the Dean electability question (July 14, 16 and 17) have generated some comment, including most recently this post by MyDD and this post by Demosthenes, in which they hasten to assure me that my misgivings about Dean’s electability are misplaced.
I can’t say I was convinced, any more than I was by
Jonathan Cohn’s fine case for the good doctor in The New Republic.  But I think their posts are instructive because they reveal some of the assumptions that Dean boosters tend to make when arguing (in essence) that only Democratic wimps, hopeless Establishment types and/or DLCers believe Dean can’t beat Bush. 
Assumption #1: Dean’s association with liberal social issues like gay marriage won’t hurt him much—or, at least any more than any other Democrat will be hurt by social liberalism–because he is conservative on other social issues (guns, death penalty).  Anyway, the country is becoming more liberal on issues concerning gays (witness the recent Supreme Court decision), so Dean won’t seem nearly so out-of-step as a lot of commentators think.
Problem #1: Yes, all Democrats, including nominal front-runner Kerry, will have to battle social liberalism critiques and hit jobs if nominated.  But that’s exactly why you don’t want to present too much of an easy target and Dean does, due to not only the specific issue of gay marriage (still a bridge too far for most of the public, as opposed to legalizing gay sex, which they support), but also his geographic origins and the general profile of his candidacy.  
Assumption #2: Dean’s antiwar stance will not hurt him; in fact, it’ll help him, now that Iraq has evolved into a seemingly intractable mess and the public is starting to wonder whether the whole adventure was worth the costs.  Dean’s been consistently against the war, while the other candidates, like Kerry, have not and voters will reward that consistency.
Problem #2: Voters do not necessarily reward consistency.  They reward those who seem to represent their view of the world and what needs to be done.  The fact of the matter is that Kerry’s ambivalence-but-reluctant-support of the Iraq war more fairly represented the public’s view of the war going in than did Dean’s intransigent opposition and Kerry’s  current move from ambivalence toward a critique of Bush’s approach also fairly represents how the public mood is evolving.  So the inconsistent Kerry is probably in a much better position than the consistent Dean to capture the moderate voters who are becoming disaffected with the war’s aftermath, as well as the administration’s mendacity.  And don’t forget: Kerry’s war hero status does matter and will help allay moderate voters’ fears that a critique of Bush comes from Democratic softness on national security, not from a realistic, tough-minded appraisal of what it’ll take to beat terrorists and keep America safe.
Assumption #3: Sure, Dean may have some trouble with some independent voters.  But he will do well with independent-leaning members of the public who do not currently vote.  In fact, he will bring out enough of these currently nonvoting independents to more than cancel out his losses among today’s independent voters.
Problem #3: This almost never works.  The idea you can make up serious losses among existing voters by turning out lots of nonvoters is a very dangerous game indeed.  Nonvoters rarely differ enough from voters of similar characteristics to warrant such an approach.  (For those who want the long course on why this is so, DR recommends, in all due modesty, 
The Disappearing American Voter)  Instead, stick to the tried and true: get out your base (the folks you know will vote for you); fight like hell for the swing voters; and hope that an exciting campaign will bring in some new voters that will lean your way.  But to vest your hopes in new voters is a serious—albeit common—mistake. 
Well, all for now and, as DR is fond of saying: let the debate continue!
Coming soon in DR: The Demographics of Deanism