washington, dc

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

July 19, 2024

Dems’ ‘Edgy’ Campaign Leaders Break Tradition

L.A. Times reporter Janet Hook’s “Meet the Powers Behind the Democrats’ Strategy” profiles DSCC Chair Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel, chair of the DCCC. Hook credits both men with “an aggressive intensity.” She also discusses their conflict over campaign spending with Howard Dean and the politics behind some of their controversial decisions on strategy, including Schumer’s tradition-breaking endorsement of primary candidates.

Dem Consensus on Iraq Drawdown Evolving?

A couple of articles about the politics of Iraq withdrawal merit a read by Democrats searching for policy consensus on this issue. Trudy Rubin’s Philly News column is generating some buzz among the progressive blogs. She points out that Iraqi leaders want US toops “drawn down” within 18 months, but don’t want “an explicit timeline”:

Instead, they favor a “road map” for troop reductions, that depends on achieving a set of goals for improving Iraqi security. They want dates, but dates that depend on meeting those targets…As for Democrats, they should stop obsessing over timelines. The Republicans and Iraqis will set those soon enough.
Instead, Democrats should focus on the issue of competence. They must convince voters they are more capable of salvaging the Iraq mess than the incompetents who created it.

And The Washington Monthly‘s Kevin Drum explains in his post on Rubin’s column that she and Iraqi leaders:

..appear to believe that an open-ended commitment to the occupation of Iraq is a bad idea, and that a vague commitment to drawing down U.S. forces that’s something short of a firm timetable is a good idea. On that score, 38 out of 44 Senate Democrats seem to agree.
…This is not precisely what the Reed-Levin resolution called for, but it’s pretty close: make at least a small start on troop drawdowns this year; don’t set a specific timetable for further drawdowns; but do insist that the Bush administration submit a redeployment plan by the end of the year that specifies “estimated dates…with the understanding that unexpected contingencies may arise.”

Meanwhile, over at Mystery Pollster, Mark Blumenthal offers insightful analysis in several posts on recent polls measuring U.S. opinion on Iraq withdrawal.

Losing Their Religion

by Scott Winship
There are a lot of things I don’t understand. (No, it’s true.) I’ve never understood the appeal of The Big Lebowski, for instance. I don’t understand how Cops could have had higher ratings than Arrested Development. And I don’t get how anyone can enjoy the taste and texture of coconut.
Similarly, I think a lot of progressives are confused about the values gap. (Not at all a strained transition there.) For example, many seem to believe that the answer to Democrats’ problems is for our candidates to find religion or fake it. This is frankly ridiculous. Religious beliefs are among the most personal we have. No one can be expected to change their beliefs out of electoral concerns. And good luck faking greater devotion. The bottom line is that Democratic politicians are disproportionately drawn from (relatively) secular areas and segments of the population compared with Republicans. Absent an active campaign at the party level to change this, it’s unlikely that Democrats will end up more outwardly religious in the future.
The question is: is this a problem? I could make an argument that it is not. The U.S. is among the most religious nations in the world, but faith remains a mostly private matter. Over three quarters of the population says that religion is an important part of their life, yet little more than half pray everyday, and only a third attend religious services weekly. The latter are roughly equally divided between Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. (This all comes from the National Election Study of 2004.)
On the other hand, ceding to the Republicans so many of those for whom religion is an important factor in their voting is quite a consequential decision in a nation so closely divided politically.
A number of Democrats are themselves devout, but few are comfortable with and effective at describing how their faith affects their life or policy orientation. Amy Sullivan has a must-read piece in Slate on Barack Obama’s recent speech on faith and politics. She clearly outlines how the speech shows the way for Democrats struggling to connect with religious audiences.
The problem is that Obama can reach the devout largely because he is one of them. Other than Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who could both cite scripture effortlessly, no Democratic nominee going back over 40 years has conveyed that religious faith was an important influence on their politics.
This conundrum leaves few possible strategies for Democratic nominees running in places where religious faith cannot be ignored. I disagree with those who counsel “reframing” on the theory that values voters are just voting on “values” per se rather than on specific values they hold. It is as if the problem is what gets defined as an important values issue rather than the poor performance among voters for whom current values issues are important. I don’t deny that many religious Americans who oppose abortion and gay marriage also support greater generosity toward the poor. But the problem is that too large a fraction of them decide their vote on the basis of abortion or gay marriage instead of greater support for the poor. It is not that they don’t understand the parties’ positions on these issues – if redistribution is more important to them than banning abortion, they will vote for the Democrat.
At this point, you’re probably asking, “But what should we do, Scott? Show us the way, o ye car-less sage.” No? Well, let me offer my two cents anyway. Candidates who are themselves religious yet pro-choice or in favor of gay marriage should be prepared to discuss how they reconcile their faith and these relatively liberal positions. Bill Clinton is perhaps the master in this regard.
More-secular candidates should be up front about their views rather than trying to skirt these questions with poll-tested pablum (“Abortion is a decision between a woman and her doctor.” “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman.”). The data does not support those who think that conventional progressive absolutist positions on abortion and gay marriage command majority support. Nonetheless, secular candidates can pick and choose their fights more carefully, acknowledge the lack of consensus on controversial issues, promote incremental measures that move the country toward their goals, push for state experimentation, and adopt rhetoric and tone more consistent with public opinion. This is how the President deals with abortion, rather than espousing a loud-and-proud anti-abortion agenda.
Addressing the values gap doesn’t require that progressives clothe themselves in an entirely new moral wardrobe. But it does require that we wear the occasional conservative suit when we would rather be “fashion forward”, that we throw out those garments in our closet that never fit, and that we resign ourselves to bringing the rest of the country around rather than expect that traditionalists will immediately accept our haute couture.

Dems’ Game Plan Taking Shape

Ari Berman’s article in The Nation, “Where’s the Plan Democrats?” should be of interest to anyone involved in Democratic politics. Berman assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the Dems’ readiness for the November elections, and explains what the DNC, DSCC and DCCC are doing to get the vote out for ’06 and beyond. He sees a stronger-than-usual GOP GOTV effort, but credits the Dems with significant improvement in fund-raising and mobilizing key constituencies. Berman also discusses Howard Dean’s emphasis on longer-term strategy, compared with the focus on November ’06 advocated by Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel.

Ranking Values – How Much Consistency?

by Scott Winship
A central line of social psychological research maintains that people have stable rank-ordered values, each of which inform behavior across diverse settings. On the other hand, political behavioral theory offers a number of reasons why voting might not be a simple matter of consulting one’s ordered values. Values may be in conflict, and choosing to prioritize one may come at the expense of others. Another possible complication is that voters may be indifferent, thus unable to rank two competing values. Or value rankings may be situational. Finally, the possibility that value ordering may be manipulable by political elites is highlighted by the current popularity of “framing”.
In his new paper, “Value Choices and American Public Opinion” (American Journal of Political Science 50(3), William G. Jacoby examines the question of how values are ordered. The survey Jacoby used first defined four values for respondents: liberty, equality, economic security, and social order. It then asked respondents to rank pairs of these four values presented one at a time so that each value was evaluated against each other value.
Jacoby found that economic security was ranked highest, followed by liberty, equality, and social order at the bottom. When he considered how many people produce a clearly ranked set of values from the pair comparisons (as opposed to a set of inconsistent choices), he found that four in five adults have a clear ordering. And when he looked at sets of three values, between 90 and 94 percent of adults ordered them consistently.
These figures overstate how many people truly have consistently ranked value preferences however. Some people who end up with ordered rankings really have non-ordered ones but for one or more pair comparisons, they couldn’t prioritize the two values and essentially chose one randomly. If people who are truly ambivalent or indifferent between a pair of values flip a coin when stating a preference, then the one-fifth of adults whose responses were inconsistently ranked would translate into one-third of adults actually having non-ordered preferences.
Another interesting finding is that adults with less education, political knowledge, and income are more likely to order the four values inconsistently. Jacoby persuasively argues that this is evidence that inconsistent rankings are primarily due to indifference arising from a lack of political information and, more generally, education and time.
Finally, Jacoby provides a creative test of whether framing affects policy preferences. If framing is effective, it should be the case that the influence of some values on support for policies increases while the influence of other values decreases under alternative frames. In contrast, Jacoby finds that the effects of liberty, equality, and economic security on support for government spending are statistically the same regardless of whether spending is framed as being for the poor, for minorities, or for the general public. Jacoby doesn’t seem to appreciate, however, that values could be operating through partisanship, which is also included in the models and which does have different effects depending on the framing.
Jacoby’s study shows that for most adults, there is a clear ordering of values. Apparently, choosing between competing or conflicting values is not a problem for most people in forming policy preferences. Americans value economic security above liberty, liberty above equality, and all three above social order. Where values are not clearly ordered, it is mainly due to low education levels. Those who are less educated consider questions of value ordering less than well-educated adults do, perhaps because they have less time, interest, or ability to do so. Unfortunately, Jacoby didn’t look at whether the policy positions of the least educated reveal similar indifference and whether the positions of the most educated are consistent. This question is crucial to interpreting survey responses on preferences for spending, tax cuts, deficit reduction, and other policies.
Update: Here’s a link to the paper.

GOP ’06 Strategy Hinges on Iraq, Terrorism

The GOP appears to be anchoring its ’06 campaign hopes on stigmatizing Democratic candidates as weak on Iraq and terrorism, according to L.A. Times reporters Doyle McManus and Peter Wallsten.
GOP leaders, including President Bush and Rep. John Boehner this week accused Democrats of “defeatism,” advocating “special priviledges for terorrists” and wanting to “wave the white flag of surrender.” But blaming the Democrats may be a very tough sell for the GOP, and their timing is not the best, as the authors explain:

The environment is not entirely hospitable. A car bomb killed scores of people in a busy Baghdad market Saturday, a day after the Army announced that American soldiers were accused of raping an Iraqi woman and then killing her and three family members. Polls find most voters say they want to see Democrats take control of Congress this fall.

Democrats will likely be ready for the GOP to do its worst. Responding to Boehner’s accusing the Dems of being soft on al-Qaeda, Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Minorty Leader Nancy Pelosi replied:

Republicans are resorting to their tired tactics of distort, distract and divide. Instead of actually doing something to protect our nation, such as implementing the 9/11 commission recommendations or hiring more border control agents, they are doing what that always do: trying to incite fear and attack Democrats. It won’t work.

A good strong reply, and it is likely that other Dem leaders will not hesitate to point out the Administration’s failure to secure America’s ports and the weak response to disaster in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as an indication of the Administration’s preparedness for possible terrorist acts. As the authors point out, races in the House, where the Dems are more likely to win a majority, will be less likely than the Senate to turn on foreign policy issues.

You Say Agendas, I Say Agenda

by Scott Winship
Today I’ll examine the agenda the parties run on in House and Senate races. Or rather the agendas, as no less an authority than the Oxford Dictionaries declares that agendum has gone the way of the dodo, much as datum is in its death throes. (Is it dodos or dodoes, by the way?)
Campaign agendas affect how candidates fare in their elections and thus determine the makeup of legislative bodies. They also affect legislation by setting the broader policy agenda at the federal level, both in the elevation of the issues of victors and in the pressure put on victors to take up opponents’ issues.
These points are made by Tracy Sulkin and Jillian Evans in “Dynamics of Diffusion: Aggregate Patterns in Congressional Campaign Agendas” (American Politics Research, July 2006). And let me just say as a final grammatical gripe, I was really looking forward to writing “[sic]” at the end of that title.
Sulkin and Evans begin with a useful discussion of how candidates strategically choose the issues to run on. In one political science model, the two major parties “own” certain issues. That is to say, they

have reputations for their competence at handling certain issues, “produced by a history of attention, initiative, and innovation toward these problems, which leads voters to believe that one of the parties [and its candidates] is more sincere and committed to doing something about them.” (They are quoting a 1996 paper by John Petrocik.)

Candidates then emphasize the issues their party owns while de-emphasizing those owned by the other candidate’s party. Does this strategy sound familiar? In 2002, Democrats attempted to take national security “off the table” and ran instead on a Medicare drug benefit and other domestic social programs. Indeed this strategy would have been the logical one to follow if voters had prioritized these programs over national security. Unfortunately, as one of my editors, Bill Galston, and his coauthor Elaine Kamarck have illustrated, that was not the case. When the issues owned by one’s party aren’t as important to voters as the other party’s issues, then the strategy described by Petrocik amounts to reliance on the Myth of Prescription Drugs, in Galston and Kamarck’s pithy phrase. (I suppose I ought to disclose that I was a research assistant on that paper.)
Sulkin and Evans look at House and Senate races from 1984 to 1996, selecting over 1,100 where information on one or both candidates’ priority issues was available from the CQ Weekly Report “Special Election Issue” published just before elections each year. Most of these are House races. The authors found that the three most common issues across the whole period were the economy, the budget, and taxes, and the least common were “family issues”, foreign policy (excluding defense), and (somewhat surprisingly) Social Security and welfare.
Either the economy or the budget was the most common issue in four of the seven years. The environment and “social issues” were the most common in 1990; crime was most common in 1994, the year of the Contract with America. In 1996, taxes were the top issue. Only once did an issue take up more than 20 percent of the agenda – the economy in 1986.
Democrats picked up House seats in 1986 and 1988, when the economy was the top issue, in 1990 (social issues and the environment), and 1996 (taxes). Republicans picked up House seats in 1984, 1992, and 1994, when the top issues were the budget, the economy, and crime (respectively). So issue ownership seems important, but certainly isn’t the end all, be all of successful campaigns.
Unsurprisingly, given the extent to which Democratic candidates rely on issues rather than character, they tended to have more priority issues than Republicans did per candidate, and their agenda as a party is less focused than that of Republicans. Furthermore, the disparity between the parties grew after 1988 as Republicans became more focused.
Top issues for the Democrats during this period included the economy, the environment, defense, and the budget. Among Republicans, the most common issues also included the budget and the economy, as well as taxes. While those three were priority issues in twenty-five percent or more of Republican campaigns during the period, no issue was featured in that many campaigns among Democrats. Six issues (out of sixteen) were featured in no more than five percent of Republican campaigns; just four issues were that rare among Democrats. Relatedly, House Democrats were more likely than Republicans to emphasize nine issues, but on only two of these nine were they also more likely to emphasize the issue in the Senate. On the other hand, House Republicans were more likely than Democrats to emphasize three issues, but on all three they were also more likely than the Democrats to emphasize the issue in the Senate too. These figures could be evidence that the Democratic coalition is less cohesive than its Republican counterpart. Different Congressional districts and states have different priority issues among Democrats and different issues are given importance by Democrats – relative to the attention they receive by Republicans – in the House than in the Senate. This diversity likely is also reflected in Congressional votes and in presidential campaign agendas.
I take from this paper the conclusion that poor messaging on the Democrats’ part, the complaint that no one knows what we stand for, and even inadequate party discipline compared with Republicans may be fundamentally rooted in the disparate agendas espoused throughout the Party. Whether this problem reflects a coalition that is more diverse than that of Republicans, more intransigence within party ranks, or just less willingness to prioritize, is an important question. I’ll add it to my agendum.

Immigration Clarification

by Scott Winship
Here’s a plug for a new report by one of my bosses. Ruy has just written up a nuanced summary of public opinion on immigration reform for the Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation. The bottom line is that views are much more complicated than either party would admit. Think tough, but not punitive. A path to citizenship, but no free ride. Check it out here.

LA Times Poll: Dems Gain in Congressional Races

The new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll just out gives the GOP a lot to worry about. The poll, conducted 6/24-27, paints “a gloomy picture for the Republicans in Congress,” with Dems poised to make substantial gains in the November elections.
The poll indicates Dems enjoy a 14-point advantage among registered voters in races for congressional seats “if elections were held today.” The poll also reveals a widening gender gap, more like a gender gulf, really, with women now giving Dems a 26 point advantage in their congressional districts. The poll found that 54 percent of all respondents wanted the Dems to control both houses of congress.
The poll also indicates that, even though Bush apparently gets a small post-Zarqawi bump in his approval ratings, he is more of a liability for congressional candidates than an asset. More than one-third of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for a congressional candidate who had Bush’s endorsement or who supported his policies, 45 percent said it would not matter and less than a fifth said they would be more likely to vote for a Bush-supported candidate.
The poll also addresses current opinion trends on a range of issues, including Iraq and immigration. For the time-challenged, LA Times columnist Ron Brownstein has a wrap-up here.


by Scott Winship
There’s a new report out on swing voters by pollsters Anna Greenberg and David Walker of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. Greenberg and Walker find that swing voters in swing states and districts want more spending on education, health care, and energy independence. They would pay for the increased outlays by rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.
Democratic Strategist editor Stan Greenberg is Chairman and CEO of GQR Research.
On an unrelated note, we have made hyperlinks in the blog entries here easier to see. Yes, they were there all along. Go back and take a look if you wondered about the “omission” before.