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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Rural Voter

The new book White Rural Rage employs a deeply misleading sensationalism to gain media attention. You should read The Rural Voter by Nicholas Jacobs and Daniel Shea instead.

Read the memo.

There is a sector of working class voters who can be persuaded to vote for Democrats in 2024 – but only if candidates understand how to win their support.

Read the memo.

The recently published book, Rust Belt Union Blues, by Lainey Newman and Theda Skocpol represents a profoundly important contribution to the debate over Democratic strategy.

Read the Memo.

Democrats should stop calling themselves a “coalition.”

They don’t think like a coalition, they don’t act like a coalition and they sure as hell don’t try to assemble a majority like a coalition.

Read the memo.

The American Establishment’s Betrayal of Democracy

The American Establishment’s Betrayal of Democracy The Fundamental but Generally Unacknowledged Cause of the Current Threat to America’s Democratic Institutions.

Read the Memo.

Democrats ignore the central fact about modern immigration – and it’s led them to political disaster.

Democrats ignore the central fact about modern immigration – and it’s led them to political disaster.

Read the memo.

 

The Daily Strategist

May 26, 2024

New WaPo Election Guide Tracks Issues, ’06 Elections

The Washington Post today launches a new daily guide to the ’06 elections, “Bellwethers: Key Issues in the Battle for Congress.” The feature focuses on how voting may be affected by eight major “issues,” including: Iraq; immigration; President Bush; corruption; “pocketbook” concerns; GOP chances in the northeast; Democratic chances in the “upper south”; and ballot measures. The feature includes dozens of cross-links to useful data, including candidate bios, district and state demographic profiles, opinion polls, financial information and voting records — much of it nicely illustrated with clickable maps and jazzy graphics. WaPo says ‘Bellwethers’ will be an “organic” feature, which presumably means it will be updated and expanded with new developments. ‘Bellwethers’ offers substantially more easily-accessible content than the New York Times 2006 Election Guide and promises to be the best election tracking gateway offered by a daily newspaper


Round and Round

I’m proud to announce that new content is up on the magazine website. Over the next week or so, we will be hosting a roundtable discussion of a piece by Binghamton University political scientist Jonathan Krasno. Krasno argues that the decline in party competition in Congress is due not to redistricting, but to…well, I’ll let you find out for yourself. Also contributing to the conversation will be Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz, MyDD.com founder Jerome Armstrong, DLC Vice President for Policy Ed Kilgore, and New America Foundation’s Mark Schmitt. Responses will be posted as we receive them. Check it out, and look for more roundtables to come.


Progressivism + ‘Nonzero’ism = Realism

by Scott Winship
All I have to say today is T.G.I. freakin’ F.
Well, that’s not all I have to say. What I really want to tell you is that last Sunday’s New York Times featured an op-ed by Robert Wright on a new foreign policy doctrine he proposes. I also want to describe it to you. I also want to finish my beer first….
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…OK, progressive realism. First the realism part. Like traditional realists, Wright would put American interests first, but would think more broadly (more realistically?) about the costs and benefits of different policy options. Globalization creates non-military threats such as viruses and pollution, and there may be developments within states that threaten our interests even in the absence of immediate military threats. Failing states, for instance. Hence, it is in our interest to promote stability and democracy in a country, even where there is little immediate threat to America.
As Wright notes, this part of his formula may as well have been pulled from The Neoconservative Bible – the neocons have always combined self-interest with their idealistic vision of democracy promotion. But Wright adds to his philosophy a strong faith in the power of markets to promote freedom – rendering forceful democracy promotion unnecessary – and a willingness to submit to the constraints of international institutions in order to get other nations to submit to the same. This is the progressivism.
Wright’s is actually a program that I would support in principle, though of course the details of any implementation of it matter. But it strikes me as the worst of all worlds strategically. I can already picture those parts of the Democratic coalition who oppose the neoliberal consensus of managed international trade building their giant Wright puppets. And the right will wail about acquiescence to the demands of “foreigners” who want to erode our national sovereignty. Maybe they’ll make puppets too.
Wright would counter the objections of the anti-globalization puppet people by arguing that economic interdependence has a pacifying effect on nations, making war more costly. This seems to me one of the best and most honest frames I’ve seen for winning over those who are unmoved by appeals to the theoretical win-win nature of trade, though I’m not sure how persuasive it would ultimately be to the puppet people.
To the nationalists, Wright would make two different appeals. Unfortunately, one is a quasi-isolationist framing in support of multilateralism – arguing that the United States should not bear as much of the costs of fighting terrorism as it does. He asks why we should let the rest of the world free-ride on our military. The neocons would clearly reply that we should do so in order that we are not constrained in our pursuit of American interests.
But the U.S. can’t simply pursue its goals unilaterally without any thought to how its actions will play in other nations, and this is Wright’s second appeal to nationalists. He gravely makes the case for paying attention to how the world sees us:

when you consider the various ways information technology helps terrorists — not just to recruit more fighters to the cause, but to orchestrate attacks and spread recipes for munitions — and you throw in advances in munitions technology, an alarming principle suggests itself: In coming years, grass-roots hatred and resentment of America may be converted into the death of Americans with growing efficiency

There is undoubtedly a tension here between constraint in service of long-term interests and unilateralism in service of our short-term interests. This tension is nowhere clearer than in our dealings with the United Nations, which Wright would utilize heavily. But even if one accepts Wright’s argument for multilateralism, there are good reasons for relying on alternative new or existing institutions instead of the U.N. If we are to be serious about advancing our values, we ought not to put the values of authoritarian leaders and illiberal peoples on an equal footing as those of our liberal allies. What is more, the membership of the Security Council is anachronistic, and the Council more often than not blocks our ability to advance our interests. I’m with Fukuyama on this one – better to use the nascent Community of Democracies or regional alliances [subscr.].
Wright does not shy away from acknowledging the trade-offs that are necessary in any foreign policy, noting that we must prioritize helping nations that are greater threats to us over struggling nations that are strategically unimportant. He also counsels trying to understand our enemies, advice that shouldn’t make him brave but sadly does in our current world.
When it come right down to it, Wright’s program really doesn’t need the “progressive” half of its name – it is realism with a different understanding of costs, benefits, and American interests. Either progressive realism and traditional realism define American interests differently or one of them is wrong about the best way to advance them. Considering that neither really bothers to define American interests, the appropriate strategy depends on which version of realism is the more accurate one. As for the relationship between progressive realism and neoconservatism, given Wright’s willingness to let the trajectory of history expand freedom on its own time, his proposal amounts to democracy promotion…slowly.


Once More on the Netroots

by Scott Winship
Debate-by-blog definitely has its downsides and pitfalls. All too often it is all too easy for debates between faceless strangers hundreds of miles from each other to turn ugly. This tendency is really a shame, because blogs are in many ways conducive to debating issues efficiently compared with other media.
Yesterday, Chris Bowers of MyDD.com calmly responded to the last of my posts on the netroots by citing some evidence from a poll he conducted – which I mentioned in passing – that contradicts the conclusions I made about the pragmatism of the netroots. I’m going to follow his lead and work to keep this elevated debate going a bit longer. He and I ultimately both want accurate conclusions about the netroots, so it’s worth seeing where we agree, where consensus breaks down, and why.
First, the areas of agreement. We both agree that the data says the netroots are frustrated, though as Chris notes, that’s not exactly a news flash. We also agree that the community is liberal. This claim is sometimes contested by the occasional defensive blogger, but most wouldn’t dispute this characterization.
Where we disagree is on the question of the netroots’ pragmatism. I argued that the Pew data on the “Dean netroots”, as I called them, implied that the netroots believes its views are shared by enough voters to constitute a majority. Therefore they see no need for pragmatism – their ideals should be voiced loudly and proudly by Democrats, and those who insist on making craven moves to the center hurt themselves once on an ideological level and again on a character level.
Chris argues that the netroots prefers candidates that can clearly and passionately articulate their views (even if they are moderate on some issues) over candidates that are down-the-line liberals. They see the need for pragmatism in red states, and the politicians they favor nearly span the ideological spectrum of the Democratic Party, having in common only the extent to which they inspire people.
In what follows, I’ll treat the Blogpac survey as one that represents the netroots accurately, though as I noted in an earlier post, with a 7 percent response rate, that is to some extent a leap of faith. (The Dean survey had a low response rate too, but Pew did some checks to see how biased their results might be.) In particular, given Chris’s (not inappropriate) advocacy of a more complex view of the netroots, I’d also be concerned that this could have affected the kinds of people who responded to his request to participate.
We’re also using different definitions of “the netroots”, with Chris using a sample of MoveOn.org members and me using a sample of Democracy for America activists who regularly relied on blogs for news. Note that one need not have much interaction with the blogging world to be included in Chris’s MoveOn.org sample. In fact, according to the figures on his “50-State Strategy” chart, those who “regularly” read “blogs such as Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, or MyDD” amount to just 19 percent of the sample. Nearly 4 in 10 said they never read blogs. So my preference might be to restrict Chris’s sample and have a more apples-to-apples comparison.
I’d like to frame my argument around the Iraq war, clearly the most important issue that has driven the netroots. As I noted in my last post, 80 percent of the netroots believed that Democratic leaders in Congress supported the war not because they “thought it was the right thing to do”, but because they “were afraid to stand up and oppose the president.” Unpack that and it says that the vast majority of the netroots believes that “most of the Democratic leaders in Congress” were against the war but voted for the congressional resolution anyway.
But this may be too convenient a position to take. At the time, two-thirds of Americans – and two-thirds of Independents – approved of going to war [p. 25]. Add up the number of Democrats (roughly one-third of the country) and one-third of the one-third of Americans who identify as Independent, and that gets you to 44 percent – not nearly a majority. Nor were key states on the side of progressives. Consider how the two senators from “purple states” who were facing a tough reelection challenge voted. Presumably, these votes strongly reflected the preference of constituents. Democrat Tom Harkin (IA) voted for the resolution (as did Iowa’s other senator, Charles Grassley). Republican Wayne Allard (CO) also voted for the resolution, and Colorado’s other senator, Ben Nighthorse Campbell did too. All six red-state Democratic senators up for re-election (Mary Landrieu, Max Baucus, Max Cleland, Tim Johnson, Jean Carnahan, and Jay Rockefeller) voted for the resolution. All of the senators listed here except Cleland and Carnahan won.
The point is that any Democratic senator with presidential aspirations – indeed, any Democratic voter who wanted to see the Party retain control of the Senate in 2002 or see Bush defeated in 2004 – had to contend with the consequences of a vote against the resolution. Of course, casually voting to send American sons and daughters into war on the basis of selfish concerns about reelection or presidential aspirations would be unforgivable. But Democrats needed to also think about what would happen if they lost their (as it turns out brief) majority or if their own individual seat was filled by a hawkish Republican. Even a selfless progressive Democrat could very well have reasonably concluded at the time that the least worst option for the country and for one’s constituents was to vote for the resolution. In retrospect, that conclusion seems obviously wrong, but at the time, no one really knew.
If one accepts the netroots’ disenchanted view of Democratic leaders’ motives on the vote then one has to conclude either that ideology was more important in this case than pragmatism or inspiration, that the netroots believed that a majority of the country was with them on the Iraq vote (i.e., that a majority was as liberal as they were), or that it believed the country could be brought around by an inspirational Democratic leader. I think a case could be made for the first interpretation, beginning with the fact that many more of the Dean netroots said they were liberal than said they were Democrats and proceeding through the evidence in my last piece. The second interpretation, if true, would be a problem because the evidence indicates that the country – and swing voters – lies to the right of the netroots.
The problem with the third interpretation is that what is inspirational to the netroots generally elicits their liberalism or populism (see Governor Schweitzer), and it is assumed that these liberal positions or populist attitudes will inspire other voters. Heterodox views are often difficult to explain to voters, and moderate views are not as exciting as extreme ones (or appear disingenuous), making it less likely that a politician will inspire. So while it may be, as Chris’s poll finds, that in the abstract the netroots prefers inspiration to (uniformly) liberal positions, in practice it is not likely to find inspirational candidates who do not meet most of its litmus tests.
It seems fair to say that all of the politicians for which the Blogpac survey requested favorability ratings met most relevant litmus tests. Chris notes that Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Barack Obama are moderates and have high favorability ratings, but what is likely more relevant is that they don’t have Iraq resolution votes. Of the top six politicians – going by the number rating them “very” favorably – none voted for the Iraq resolution. Furthermore I think the two most relevant findings are that the unelectable Russ Feingold leads all potential presidential candidates except Gore and Obama in the number of people giving him a “very favorable” rating (and Jack Murtha and Barbara Boxer out-poll him), and that less than four in ten of the people in Chris’s sample gave very favorable ratings to any candidate, save Gore and Obama.
As further evidence of the netroots’ pragmatism, Chris and others point to the netroots’ willingness to give red-state Democrats a pass or to accept moderate candidates when the situation calls for it. I would speculate instead that the netroots is relatively unfamiliar with red America and so defers to conventional wisdom about politics in those places. In the Pew survey I cited here, for instance, just 10 percent of adults who regularly get their news from blogs were from rural areas. On the other hand, because of the closeness of recent presidential elections and relative parity in Congress between the parties, the netroots feels that at the national level liberals and conservatives are essentially at parity. Netroots activists ultimately tried pragmatism in 2004 when the stakes could not be higher, but their dislike of Hillary Clinton and embrace of Russ Feingold shows an increasing skepticism of this strategy.
In the end, I am arguing, it’s not so much that netroots activists reject pragmatism, it’s that they see less of a need for it in presidential elections because they believe that the country “looks like them”, that skeptical swing voters can be won over by the people who win the netroots’ hearts, or both. They will take what they can get in red states, but because of their perceptions of the electorate, they will lead with their liberalism elsewhere rather than worrying about pragmatic considerations. Furthermore, with the growing popularity of the fifty-state strategy, I predict that pragmatic willingness to give red-state politicians a pass is going to decline as local activism increases and expectations rise.
And all this might be OK. But it might not.


Reed Defeat Shows Corruption Issue Resonates

In today’s WaPo, Jim VandeHei addresses the national political ramifications of Ralph Reed’s defeat in the Georgia GOP Lt. Governor primary. VandeHei’s article hones in on the nut question for political strategists: Does the corruption issue have legs after all? A strong possibility in several races, suggests VandeHei.

Republicans worry that more than six candidates for the House and Senate could be hurt by Justice Department investigations, the courts and revelations in the Abramoff affair. Topping the list are Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), both bruised by Abramoff connections and facing tough races.
…Other members threatened by corruption charges include Republican Reps. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), John T. Doolittle (Calif.) and Richard W. Pombo (Calif.). A court ruling could force former majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) back into the race in Texas’s 22nd District, a potential boon for Democrats.

Hotline‘s Jonathan Martin credits an aggressive campaign by GOP State Senator Casey Cagle, as well as strong media reporting on Reed’s ethics issues. Martin explains:

…Metro Atlanta Republicans decided they could not take the risk of supporting a tarnished candidate. Cagle won the four big counties (Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett and DeKalb) in and around Atlanta by a combined 19K votes. Add in the further afield exurbs (including Cagle’s native Hall Co) and over half of Cagle’s margin came from just the Metro area.

Alternet‘s David Donnelly shares this take:

This spells trouble for scandal-ridden members of Congress…it also should put every vulnerable member of Congress on notice. Those who have voted in the interests of their contributors on issues critical to voters on prescription drug costs, renewable energy, and others should have to answer for their actions…voters are in a throw-the-bums-out kind of mood, and candidates who capitalize on this by showing how they’re going to clean up Congress (like by signing the Voters First Pledge supported by Common Cause, Public Campaign Action Fund, Public Citizen, and US PIRG can tap into voter discontent.

The Reed defeat indicates that corruption and scandal clearly affect the votes and perhaps the turnout of Republicans concerned about ethics. With six Republican candidates mired in scandals, compared to two Democrats, it looks like a net gain in House seats for Dems in November.


Hispanic Vote — A Deepening Shade of Blue

New Democratic Network‘s Hispanic Strategy Center has just released a new poll of Spanish-speaking voters, and the news is quite good for Dems. There’s lots to chew in the poll, and MyDD‘s Chris Bowers takes it for a spin here, while Kos mulls it over here. We’ll just offer the following juicy nugget and encourage readers to check out the poll and Travis Valentine’s summary at NDN.

In the 2004 cycle, Bush regularly received a 60% favorable rating from Hispanics. In our survey this was reversed, as 38% see him favorably, 58% unfavorably, with 40% very unfavorable. When asked how they would vote if the Presidential election were held today, this group gives Democrats a remarkable 36-point advantage (59% – 23%). For Republicans this is a dramatic drop from the 52% – 48% Kerry-Bush result with the Spanish-speaking sub-group in 2004.

Another poll, the National Survey of Latinos of the Pew Hispanic Center (conducted (6/5 to 7/3), reports that “the share of Latinos who believe the Republican Party has the best position on immigration has dropped from 25% to 16%.” The effect of the GOP’s immigrant bashing on non-Hispanic voters may still be in flux, but a growing number of Latinos have clearly had enough.


Netroots….Revealed!

by Scott Winship
Last data dump for a little while, so hope you enjoy. Actually, this one is probably the most interesting one I’ve done from my perspective. Avid readers will remember that yesterday’s post ended with the teaser argument that the netroots is more ideological than partisan. Today I’ll see whether this conclusion holds up under a closer look at the netroots’ positions. Remember, I’m using Dean supporters who were active in the primary campaign and regularly used blogs for news to proxy “the netroots”. The data is publicly available from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
To quote the bard Perry Farrell, Here We Go…..
The portrait the Pew data paints of the netroots is one of strong political frustration. The Pew survey asked respondents, “How good a job is the Democratic Party doing these days in standing up for its traditional positions on such things as protecting the interests of minorities, helping the poor and needy, and representing working people?” Half of the netroots members said it was doing only a fair job, and another 28 percent said a poor job. When asked how well the Party was doing defending “progressive/liberal positions”, 41 percent said fair and 43 percent said poor. Over half said they wanted the U.S. to have a third party.
Getting at the question of pragmatism versus idealism, while 39 percent of the netroots said that the most important reason – other than the issues – for supporting Dean was that he was willing to take unpopular positions, just 7 percent cited his electability. That’s a pretty remarkable contrast. It’s true that half the netroots said that the most important reason for supporting Dean was that he would change the direction of the Democratic Party, and these respondents likely thought this was entirely consistent with Dean being electable. But given the option of picking electability explicitly, they instead chose a response that is ambiguous in that regard. The implication is that changing the direction of the Party is actually more important that short-term electability for the netroots, a conclusion that accords with the importance of taking unpopular stands among them.
Fully 70 percent of the netroots said they wanted the Party to become more liberal, while the number who wanted it to become more centrist was no different than the number wanting the Party to “die off and be replaced”. Their policy positions reinforce the view of the netroots as strongly liberal. Fully 88 percent support immigration rather than feeling threatened by it, whereas Americans and Democrats specifically are split on the question. (All the figures for Americans and Democrats are from other 2004 Pew studies that are publicly available.) Nearly all members of the netroots accept homosexuality, compared with half of Americans and 60 percent of Democrats. Nine in ten respect conscientious objection to fighting in a war. This compares with six in ten Democrats and less than half of Americans. And while minorities of Americans and Democrats said free trade agreements were bad for Americans, two-thirds of the netroots thought so.
So the netroots is strongly liberal and frustrated with the Democratic Party for not representing them. The clear interpretation to this point is that the netroots believes that they are representative of the country and so Democratic candidates and officials should be promoting their policy preferences. If they were to do so – by this logic – they would win. Instead, professional Democrats are timid and transparently calculating.
Essentially all members of the netroots agreed at least somewhat that Howard Dean was the only candidate in the primaries who spoke for them. Dean’s governorship was more moderate than the preferences of the netroots, but he emphasized progressive themes in his campaign – particularly opposition to the Iraq war – and he strongly defended these themes. Indeed, 90 percent of the netroots said he was the only primary candidate who stood up to President Bush.
On the other hand, over four in five members of the netroots thought that most Democratic leaders voted for the Iraq resolution because they were afraid to stand up to the President rather than because they supported it. If one believes that one’s views are in step with those of the public and that the leadership of one’s party is rejecting those positions on the basis of a crass – and misguided! – pragmatism, then it is no wonder that one would look to an outsider who stridently defends not only one’s positions, but one’s diagnosis of the party’s problems.
Despite the fact that he dropped out of the race early on in the primary calendar, half the netroots voted for Dean in the primary election. When those who didn’t vote but would have voted for Dean are added, the total rises to 63 percent. Among those who did vote for Dean, the most popular second choice was John Edwards (31 percent), followed by…Dennis Kucinich (21 percent). The number preferring Carol Mosley Braun was not statistically different than the number preferring John Kerry or Wes Clark. Again, the interpretation most consistent with the evidence is that pragmatism is devalued because having progressive views is a greater signal of electability to the netroots than pragmatic positioning that isn’t even consistent with public preferences.
Also supporting this conclusion is the fact that 57 percent of the netroots said Hillary Clinton should not run in 2008, 60 percent said Kerry shouldn’t, and 63 percent said Gore shouldn’t. To the netroots, these are the most prominent symbols of crass Democratic pragmatism today, though Gore’s reputation has been rehabilitated notably since late 2004. On the other hand, 82 percent said Dean should run and 68 percent said Edwards should, reflecting their perceived lack of positioning and their more vocal embrace of liberalism (as reflected, for instance, in Edwards’s populist “Two Americas” critique).
One final factoid reinforcing the interpretation I have put forth here. The most common reasons the netroots gave as to why Bush won in 2004 were that Bush scared voters on security issues and that he misrepresented Kerry’s positions. Nevertheless, 41 percent said one reason Kerry lost was because his positions were too conservative, compared with 16 percent who said it was because his positions were too liberal. For a substantial segment of the netroots, there is no tension between one’s views and those of the public, and so centrist impulses are doubly disastrous.


’50 State Strategy’ Sinks Roots in Red Soil

Kos riffs on US News & World Report’s update on the progress of DNC Chair Howard Dean’s “50-state strategy” and the conflict with the agendas of DCCC’s Rahm Emanuel and DSCC’s Chuck Schumer. Explains Kos:

Folks at the DSCC and DCCC have to think short-term. That’s their job. That’s why we have a DNC — to work towards building a long-term, healthy, viable national party. That there’s friction is perhaps a feature, not a bug of the system…in the long-term, a healthy national Democratic Party will make the jobs of future heads of the DSCC and DCCC much easier.

In the US News article, author Dan Gilgore reports on the DNC’s promising progress in Mississippi, and gives fair vent to the DCCC’s and DSCC’s concern that ’06 campaign funding is being damaged by the DNC’s long-term focus:

Grousing about insufficient funds from the DNC, Emanuel recently told Roll Call “there is no cavalry financially for us.” Emanuel declined interview requests, but DCCC sources say more money should go to Democratic candidates in tight races, not to field organizers in long-shot red states.

The stakes are high indeed, as Gilgore notes:

A big bet. With the future of the Democratic Party at stake, Republicans are watching closely, too. “Dean could wind up looking like a genius eventually,” says a top GOP strategist. “Or this could be the election that could have been.”
…the 50-State Strategy, for the time being, is focused more on keeping or regaining control of state legislatures, which have taken on more national political value because they draw the lines for U.S. House seats. In Mississippi, Democrats control the Legislature but have lost dozens of seats recently. In Arizona, Republicans are three seats away from veto proof majorities in the state House and Senate. The state Democratic Party there has used its DNC field organizers to do aggressive outreach to American Indians and Hispanics, particularly during the huge immigrant rights protests earlier this year. “The DNC has enabled us to become part of the fabric of these communities,” says Arizona party chair David Waid. “There used to be this sense of coming around only when we wanted your vote.”

It’s a tough call, and the article has a lot more to say about the consequences and choices involved in allocating resources short-term vs. long term.


Just Another Netroots Monday

by Scott Winship
Today you are rewarded for waiting all weekend to finally – FINALLY – discover the empirical truth about the netroots. You’ve marked it in your Franklin-Covey day planner, you’ve canceled your morning appointments. Some of you probably woke up hours ago to make sure you got this as soon as possible. One or two of you may be on the verge of a breakdown from the anticipation. And tomorrow, more than a few of you will be hung-over from celebrating the arrival of another…Data Day!!
I realize that in truth, this is only going to marginally help the fact that it’s Monday, but I’m here to do my little part. In my seemingly never-ending quest to produce an accurate picture of the netroots (see here and here), I believe I am nearing the end of the journey.
Last year, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press published a nifty report on Howard Dean’s supporters called, “The Dean Activists: Their Profile and Prospects”. You can view the report here, and you can even download the raw data used to produce it, which I’ve done for this post. The fragrant folks at Pew obtained the Democracy for America database from the Dean folks and drew a random sample from this list of contributors, MeetUppers, and volunteers. The sample is big enough that it’s a lot more useful for our purposes than the Pew survey I messed around with last week. So without further ado, let’s see what we can learn.
First, uh, some further ado. While the survey is large enough that we can make meaningful statements about the characteristics of the “Dean netroots”, the response rate in this survey leaves much to be desired. For the questions I am looking at, just 13 percent of those contacted completed the initial survey. While this is nearly twice the response rate of the BlogPac survey I refused to take seriously last week, it is still awfully low. Without any additional information about who participated and who didn’t, we would have every reason to believe that the two groups might differ in important ways that prevent us from generalizing to all members of the Dean netroots.
But to its credit, Pew took advantage of additional information provided by Democracy for America to consider whether its sample was systematically biased. It turns out that survey participants were more engaged in the Dean campaign than nonparticipants (in terms of contributions, participation in MeetUps and the like) and were particularly more likely to have made campaign contributions. When Pew categorized survey participants by campaign engagement, they found that engagement wasn’t related to political views or to most demographic characteristics. The exceptions were that highly engaged people had higher incomes and more education, were older and more politically experienced, and were more likely to support Dean’s opting out of public financing. Taken together, this evidence implies that the Pew sample is a little older and advantaged than it ought to be and more politically savvy.
To keep consistent with last week’s analyses, I define the “Dean netroots” as those who were liberal or Democrats, who “regularly” relied on blogs for news, and who participated in at least one campaign activity. The difference this time is that they also had to be in the Democracy for America database as of late 2004. My results indicate that 16 percent of “Dean activists” (those in the DFA database) met this definition for inclusion in the Dean netroots. Dean for America included over 600,000 supporters at the peak of his presidential campaign. If we assume that Democracy for America’s database included 650,000 adults in late 2004, then my estimates indicate that around 100,000 adults – or one-twentieth of one percent of them — were members of the Dean netroots in late 2004. The entire group of Dean activists comprised 0.3 percent of adults, which is close to the figure for the “Democratic netroots” from last week. I’ll discuss both groups in what follows, but I’m going to simply refer to “Dean activists” and “the netroots” to make for easier reading.
OK, let’s look at ‘em. I’m going to splice my results in with those reported in Pew’s study, which incorporates other surveys they’ve done to characterize Democrats and Americans as a whole.
While 60 percent of Democrats were women in late 2004, men were just as likely as women to be Dean activists, and they made up 60 percent of the netroots. One in four members of the netroots was under 30 years old, making the group younger than Dean activists, Democrats, and Americans taken as a whole. People under 30 made up twenty percent of each of those groups. Just 11 percent of the netroots was at least 60 years old, compared with 22 percent of Dean activists, 26 percent of Democrats, and 22 percent of Americans. So much for the claim that the elderly are overrepresented in the netroots community. Indeed, one in four members of the netroots was a student.
The netroots was also unrepresentative in terms of race. While 80 percent of Americans and 70 percent of Democrats were non-Hispanic whites in 2004, 90 percent of Dean activists and netroots members were. Blacks and Hispanics were quite underrepresented.
Among Americans as a whole and among Democrats, half of adults had no more than a high-school education in 2004. One in four was a college graduate. Contrast this with the netroots’ seventy-percent college graduation rate, which was possibly lower than the rate for Dean activists as a whole. One-fourth of the netroots had a graduate degree.
These educational differences, not surprisingly, are reflected in income differences as well. While a third of American families and forty percent of Democratic families had less than $30,000 in income in 2004, that was true of only 15 percent of Dean activists and netroots members. In contrast, 30 percent of Dean activists and 20 percent of the netroots had family incomes greater than $100,000. Just 10 percent of Democrats and Americans were that well off. The possible bias in the Dean survey can’t explain such a large disparity.
Protestants made up four in ten white Americans in 2004, split evenly between evangelicals and non-evangelicals. They accounted for three in ten white Democrats but just one in five white members of the Dean activists and the netroots. Barely any were evangelical. In fact, four in ten white members of the Dean activists and the netroots were secular – four times the incidence among white Democrats or Americans as a whole. While four in ten Americans and Democrats attended church at least weekly, just 15 percent of Dean activists and of the netroots did so. One in three Dean activists never attended church, which was also true of one in four members of the netroots but just one in ten Democrats or Americans.
And finally, as a teaser for Part Deux of this profile, a couple of findings on political characteristics. In Pew’s studies, 38 percent of Americans identified as conservative, compared with 20 percent who identified as liberals. Even among Democrats, one in four identified as conservative – nearly as many as said they were liberal (30 percent). On the other hand 80 percent of Dean activists and 90 percent of netroots members called themselves liberal.
Contrast this result with the fact that just 69 percent of Dean activists and 77 percent of the netroots identified as Democrats. The implication is that if these findings really do proxy the netroots community, then the movement is really about ideology rather than partisanship, recent claims notwithstanding.
And that’s about as tantalizing a teaser as I can come up with this early in the morning. More later this week on the political preferences and attitudes of the netroots.


Dems Lead Battle for Youth Vote

Zachary A. Goldfarb has a WaPo update on the battle for the youth vote in the mid-terms and ’08, which should be of interest to Dem campaign staffers and strategists. According to Goldfarb, Dems can be cautiously optimistic about younger voters. First, with respect to turnout:

In 2004, young people voted in the highest percentage they had since 1992, and in the third-highest percentage in the nine presidential elections since a constitutional amendment in 1971 lowered the voting age to 18…in the 2004 presidential election, when the overall electorate showed a four-percentage-point increase in turnout from 2000, the turnout rate among people ages 18 to 24 increased by 11 points — to 47 percent from 36 percent. In 2005, overall voter turnout declined in the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, except for the student-dense precincts with big voter turnout projects.

Goldfarb’s article highlights the efforts of a new organization, Youth Voter Strategies and cites an encouraging trend for Dems:

…Recently, the group has been showcasing the results of a poll on young voters done with prominent pollsters Ed Goeas, a Republican, and Celinda Lake, a Democrat. The poll found that young people believe Democrats are better equipped to handle their top concerns — gas prices, education and the economy — by a wide margin.

Democrats are emphasizing college affordability as a hot button issue with young voters, according to Goldfarb. He also offers an interesting clue for longer-range Democratic strategy from pollster Lake.

Lake said she has told Democrats they have “a major opportunity” to nurture the future of the party. “The long-term studies show that if you capture a cohort in their youth three times in a row, then you hold their party identification for the rest of their life,” she said.

But, as Goldfarb’s article points out, it’s not all about text messaging, cell phone and internet chatter, and stresses the importance of “peer-to-peer efforts in the offline world” and good, old-fashioned Election Day reminders.