by Scott Winship
We can talk about national security, values issues, tactics, and the like. But I think I’ve discovered the real problem we’re having: this.
According to this remarkable study by the respected firm Radar Magazine, 58% (14 of 24) of the Members of Congress with bad hair are Democrats (counting Bernie Sanders). Hell, we sweep the “Extreme Symmetry” and “Just-Nuts Hair” categories. Why is this not getting more attention? Look for an upcoming TDS issue devoted to better hair. I only hope this doesn’t decide the November elections….
by Scott Winship
I hope you’re enjoying the roundtable discussion as much as I am. Because it doesn’t really matter if I enjoy it. And even if it did matter, I certainly wouldn’t say on this blog that I didn’t enjoy it. Not that I’m saying now that I actually don’t enjoy it. I mean…uh….
Look, I’m a data junkie. I live for this stuff. In that spirit, I want to play devil’s advocate and raise a possible explanation for the paradox of middle-class expressions of insecurity amidst middle-class affluence. Jacob Hacker tries to resolve the paradox by arguing that affluence is fragile — that incomes are fluctuating up and down more than Third Way realizes and that a snapshot average implying affluence doesn’t reflect this reality. I’m not sure this explanation really is adequate though — it would still mean that Americans are affluent on average, just that they typically have an equal number of under-average years and over-average years around this affluence.
Ruy explains the paradox by arguing 1) that the optimism of the middle class is misguided to some extent and 2) that middle-class families are insecure but correctly think they will do better in the future because people earn higher wages and salaries as they age. But if they are worried about (future) declines in living standards, how can they think that they will do better in the future? So this seems like an inadequate explanation to me as well.
As an advocate of Satan (seems like a weird phrase when you put it that way….), let me throw out another possibility: it’s the I’m OK-They’re Not Syndrome at work. In The Optimism Gap, journalist David Whitman described a phenomenon common to a number of areas of public opinion. People will often perceive society to be in trouble or declining on some indicator while at the same time perceiving themselves to be doing quite well. So the educational system is a mess, but my kids’ school is just fine. Politicians are corrupt, except for mine. Family values are a thing of the past, except in my family where they thrive.
Similarly, people tend to report that economic conditions and living standards are bad and getting worse but believe they are doing well and will do better. All too often, we give more credence to their assessment of the state of the union than to their assessment of their own life, even though they have far more information about the latter. And we have statistics that seem to indicate their state of the union is correct.
But Whitman shows that we are often measuring the wrong things. If one looks at per capita compensation (wages plus benefits) or consumption and uses a better adjustment for inflation, things look better than ever (because family size has declined, fringe benefits have increased in value, and the standard CPI understates increases in purchasing power). It’s true as Elizabeth Warren notes that two-worker families are ubiquitous now, but living standards have improved enormously. (Whitman quotes Robert Samuelson suggesting that couples who want to get by on just one paycheck could live as well as their parents by “unplug[ging] their air conditioners, sell[ing] one of their cars, discard[ing] their VCRs and PCs” and not paying for their kids’ college expenses.
As an example, I’ve always suspected that the income instability estimates of the sort Jacob relies on are driven by the models used to produce them and complications such as which age groups are and are not included in the data cranked through the model. Does anyone else find it difficult to believe that over ten years, the typical family’s income in their worst year will be less than one-fourth their income in their best year? Raise your hand if that’s ever been true for you (not counting spells of education).
I don’t want to push this advocacy for the devil too far — I agree with much of what the roundtable discussants have to say about the contemporary economy and the shift of risk onto individuals. And this whole discussion ignores the poor. But I do think it is easy for pundits and researchers to seize hold of a potentially mistaken conventional wisdom — just as survey respondents might — that obscures reality to some extent, which is what the Third Way folks are ultimately arguing. Regardless, even if Whitman is correct that insecurity is largely unwarranted, that doesn’t change the political reality that people think there’s insecurity out there. That means that this perception must be attended to. As Whitman remarks, “It’s what voters think the economy is, Stupid.”
by Scott Winship
What has proven to be a lively roundtable discussion thus far continues with Third Way’s response to its discussants and another round of counter-responses. Stay tuned as more responses come in over the rest of the week. Also check out the parallel universe debate over at The American Prospect, which involves TDS editor Ruy Teixeira and roundtable participant Jacob Hacker.
Democratic strategists should read Chris Kromm’s Facing South post “Are Women Key to Democratic Chances in the South?” discussing the gender gap as a wedge for Dems to regain some clout in the region. As Kromm notes in evaluating a recent Associated Press story on the topic “War Turns Southern Women Away from GOP”:
…the AP piece makes the classic mistake of equating “Southern women” with “white women.” Last year, Texas became the country’s fourth “majority minority” state, and over 40% of the populations of Georgia and Mississippi aren’t white. Women of color, who will soon be half the population of these states, have never been strong supporters of Bush or the Republican Party.
That being said, the AP rightly observes that a defection of white Southern women from the GOP could be a key factor — maybe the leading factor — in determining the outcome of the mid-term elections, and that foreign policy is a leading cause of their disappointment
As Shannon McCaffrey writes in the The Associated Press article:
“In 2004, you saw an utter collapse of the gender gap in the South,” said Karen Kaufmann, a professor of government at the University of Maryland who has studied women’s voting patterns. White Southern women liked Bush because “he spoke their religion and he spoke their values.”
…Republicans on the ballot this November have reason to worry. A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that three out of five Southern women surveyed said they planned to vote for a Democrat in the midterm elections. With control of the Senate and House in the balance, such a seismic shift could have dire consequences for the GOP.
Kromm points out that the gender gap has been “most volatile” in the south, and he quotes from Dr. Karen Kaufman’s study in the Journal of the American Political Science Association:
Although the gender gap between White Southern men and women was a full 11 percentage points in 2000, it fell to only 5 points in 2004. Even more striking, the presidential vote gap in the South hit its lowest point in 40 years. Compared to White Southern men, Southern women chose Bill Clinton over Bob Dole by a 17-point margin in 1996 and preferred AlGore to George W. Bush by 9 percentage points in 2000. In 2004, however, Southern women favored Bush by a 2-point margin over Southern men. The collapse of the Southern gender gap was not mirrored else where. Outside of the South, the male-female divide in the vote actually increased slightly from a 9-point difference in 2000 to a 10-point difference in 2004.
The “write off the south” strategy favored by some Democratic strategists may soon be outdated, if it isn’t already. Clearly, demographic trends in southern states favor the Democrats and they have much to gain by a stronger commitment to turning out people of color — especially women — in southern elections.
Republican campaigns are expected to set a new standard for negative attack ads in the weeks ahead, according to Jim VandeHei and Chris Cillizza’s Sunday WaPo article “In a Pivotal Year, GOP Plans to Get Personal: Millions to Go to Digging Up Dirt on Democrats.” According to the authors,
The National Republican Congressional Committee, which this year dispatched a half-dozen operatives to comb through tax, court and other records looking for damaging information on Democratic candidates, plans to spend more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget on what officials described as negative ads.
The hope is that a vigorous effort to “define” opponents, in the parlance of GOP operatives, can help Republicans shift the midterm debate away from Iraq and limit losses this fall.
Some ads are already running, and Cilliza and VandeHei cite examples, including an attack on a Democratic House candidate’s medical practice for suing 80 patients for non-payment of bills and Ohio Democratic Senate candidate Sherrod Brown’s votes on border protection and illegal immigration.
How dirty will it get? Expect the worst, suggests MyDD’s Matt Stoller, who comments on the track record of RNC oppo research director Terry Nelson:
In 2002, he was deputy Chief of Staff at the RNC, where he became wrapped up in Tom Delay’s TRMPAC money laundering scandal as a key point of contact between the RNC and Delay’s Texas PAC. He also testified in the trial of convicted GOP operative James Tobin for illegal phone jamming in New Hampshire, because he was Tobin’s supervisor when Tobin illegally spammed Democratic phone banks on election day.
None of this comes as much of a surprise. But Democratic campaign strategists should prepare their candidates for the most intense negative ad campaigns ever and to respond aggressively. Reading the aforementioned articles is a good start.
by Scott Winship
Democracy Corps — part of boss Stan Greenberg’s vast polling empire — released a strategy memo yesterday based on a new national security survey they conducted last month. You’ll be hearing more about this survey this fall, but for now you can check out the memo and some top-line survey findings.
The Republicans are basically in no better shape now than they were on Memorial Day. In the aggregate, Democrats hold a narrow lead when respondents are asked which of the named candidates they will vote for in Congressional elections. Over 6 in 10 likely voters think the country is headed in the wrong direction, basically unchanged from recent months (the steady increase since 9/11 having plateaued). Fifty-five percent of likely voters disapprove of Bush’s performance. The number who approve — 41 percent — is smaller than the number who strongly disapprove (45 percent). In the fifty most-competitive districts, the number who strongly disapprove rose from 36 percent to 47 percent. In these districts, Democrats’ aggregate lead is growing and has reached a majority of likely voters.
The GOP has tried to use gay marriage and immigration as issues to fire up their base and flip swing voters, but “illegal immigration” comes in 7th on a list of most important issues, and “moral values” comes in 9th. Iraq and terrorism are basically tied for most important. Want to guess which of these the Administration will try to exploit this fall?
Many Democratic critiques of the Bush Administration’s Iraq policies resonate with the public, including charges of mismanagement of the war, the assertion that it has no plan moving forward, and the accusation that Iraq has taken away from the effectiveness of the war on terrorism.
But there are a few reasons for worry. Half of the Democracy Corps sample was asked whether they felt warm or cool toward “the Republican Congress” and half about “the Congress”. While just 26 percent were warm toward “the Congress”, 38 percent were warm toward “the Republican Congress”. This is the opposite of what we’d expect to see if voters were mainly fed up with the GOP. And corruption ranked dead last among ten issues when respondents were asked which were most important to their vote.
Furthermore, the number of voters indicating that terrorism was one of their top two concerns jumped 9 percentage points since the spring. And even though their advantage has declined, Republicans are still trusted more on this fundamental issue, 48 to 33 percent. The DCorps memo emphasizes that Democrats narrow these gaps after respondents are given security questions that contrast the Democratic and Republican messages, especially among Independents and in swing districts. But even then Republicans lead Democrats on terrorism and national security (nationally and among Independents) or are tied with them (in swing districts). Democrats are given the edge in terms of who would do a better job in Iraq only by a two-point margin (not statistically different from a tie).
The memo recommends an emphasis on changing the course in Iraq, implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, working toward energy independence, rebuilding international ties, and demanding accountability for Republicans failure to prioritize keeping America safe.
I think that if the election were held today, I’d feel pretty good about our chances. But I do worry that the Administration can create political traps — such as the one in the making regarding the move of al Qaida leaders to Guantanamo and the Administration’s demand for military tribunals. I also worry that the real-world competition between Democratic and Republican messages is poorly captured by the poll-testing of head-to-head position statements. The Democrats’ position on Iraq matches the public, but the public doesn’t give either party the edge on future plans there, and it trusts the GOP more on terrorism. Haven’t I seen this movie before? I don’t remember that it has a happy ending. Hope the sequel is better….
by Scott Winship
With TDS editor Ruy Teixeira’s entry, the first round of our middle-class roundtable is complete. Look for a response from the authors of the original discussion piece in the next few days, as well as some additional reaction here and from around the web.
Gadflyer Paul Waldman has an op-ed in the Boston Globe “Elections aren’t about issues,” arguing the primacy of identity as the key to future Democratic victories. As Waldman explains in the nut graph:
If there’s one thing Republicans have understood and Democrats haven’t, it is that politics is not about issues. Politics is about identity. The candidates and parties that win are not those aligning their positions most precisely with a majority of the electorate. The winners are those who form a positive image in the public mind of who they are (and a negative image of who their opponents are). Issues are a vehicle to create that identity, one that combines with symbolism and narrative to shape what the public thinks about when they think about Democrats and Republicans.
Waldman, author of Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success, makes a compelling case in clear, blunt language and his insights about strengthening Democratic campaigns deserve more attention.
by Scott Winship
Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to….review a paper by one Paul T. McCartney. (Hey Jude, I never claimed to be the Daily Humorist.)
For real though. Let’s talk about a paper presented at last weekend’s annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. Not just any ol’ paper, but Sir Paul’s “Partisan Worldviews and Foreign Policy in Post-Cold War Era.” The paper tackles the question of whether there really is such a thing as an ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy. That is, can it be said in the post-Cold War period that Democrats and Republicans consistently prioritize different values that lead them to embrace different foreign policies? Is there something about the Administration’s foreign policy that is “conservative”, or does it simply reflect the particular views of the Administration itself? Is Democratic electoral weakness on foreign policy due to framing or past decisions by Democratic leaders, or is it a consequence of the Party’s basic ideology in foreign affairs? Different answers to these questions imply different political strategies.
McCartney’s review of the more general “culture war” literature and literatures oriented toward national security positions leads him to identify two worldviews that govern foreign policy preferences. The Inclusive Pluralist worldview is analogous to George Lakoff’s Nuturant Parent worldview; both emphasize cooperation and empathy and reject blind authoritarianism and moral absolutism. Lakoff’s Strict Father worldview mirrors McCartney’s Nationalist-Darwinist worldview. In both cases, the emphasis is on strength, competition, self-interest, submission to authority, and respect for tradition.
McCartney took all of the Key Votes related to foreign policy — as chosen by Congressional Quarterly editors — between 1989 and 2004 and coded them to indicate which position was Inclusive Pluralist and which was Nationalist-Darwinist. He then examined how the votes mapped onto legislators’ parties. Each year, between 60 and 92 percent of Democrats voted the IP position, while just 8 to 64 percent of Republicans did. The gap between Democratic and Republican legislators ranged from 9 to 64 percentage points, with the average across years being 37 points.
There was one exception to these results — in 2001 Republicans were actually more likely than Democrats to vote the IP position. That’s because in the wake of 9/11, most Democrats voted for N-D policies (i.e., related to the Patriot Act) while Republicans were more likely to vote the IP position on Fast-Track Trade Authority (i.e., pro-free trade). McCartney classifies the pro-free trade position as IP because it indicates support for a cooperative arrangement that benefits poor countries. In this case, the domestic Nurturant Parent/Strict Father worldviews conflict with and win out over the foreign policy IP/N-D worldviews. The same is true for one immigration vote in 1998.
I would go a step further than McCartney and argue that there are three fundamental value dimensions underlying the domestic and foreign policy worldviews (and therefore all policy preferences): altruism vs. self-interest (How much do I care about others versus myself?), idealism vs. realism (How practical is it for me to pursue these priorities?), and classical liberalism vs. traditionalism (Is it legitimate for me to pursue these priorities?). Inclusive Pluralism and economic liberalism at home combine altruism and idealism, while cultural liberalism rests on classical liberalism. The foreign policy preferences of establishment Republicans as well as economic conservatism can be seen as reflecting self-interest and realism. Nationalist conservatives like Pat Buchanan add a dose of traditionalism. Cultural conservatives value traditionalism above all. Domestic neoconservatives of the ’60s and ’70s can be viewed as altruistic realists who wanted to believe in social programs but could not. They eventually also embraced traditionalism. Finally, the foreign policy neoconservatives of recent decades blend self-interest and idealism.
Analyses like McCartney’s help explain why Democrats have electoral problems related to their cultural liberalism and their national security views. Fairly or not, the Party is perceived to put too much of a priority on the rights and interests of other nations rather than advocating a strong self-interested foreign policy. And their stance on key “values issues” challenges the traditionalism of many voters. Because of the basic values underlying each party’s worldview and the policies the parties have supported over time, voters have become sorted into two camps, one of which embodies both traditionalism and self-interest and one of which values classical liberalism and altruism.
One final thought — like cultural polarization, foreign-policy polarization is a recent phenomenon. The ’60s marked the arrival of the culturally-loaded controversies that would reshape the parties in subsequent decades as well as the breakdown of Cold War liberalism as a unifying foreign policy doctrine. Vietnam activated the altruistism, idealism, and anti-authoritarianism of young liberals and changed American politics. It is interesting to ponder what might have been if early war protestors had been more traditional or if anti-authoritarian youth had entered politics without the backdrop of the war. Perhaps we’d be looking at a gap in only one policy area rather than two.
…with responses from Strategist editor William Galston and political scientist Jacob Hacker. Give it a look.