December 29, 2005
Dems Target Seven States to Win Senate Majority
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has decided to focus on winning races in seven states to regain a majority in the U.S. Senate, according to New York Senator Chuck Schumer, chair of the DSCC. The Associated Press reports that the targeted Senate races will be in Arizona, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Missouri, Montana and Tennessee. Dems currently enjoy a better than 2-1 fund-raising advantage, with $22 million in their campaign war chest, according to the AP.
The article also offers insight into Schumer's strategy for individual campaigns, noting:
In part to counteract charges that Democrats are disconnected from average Americans, Schumer has for years boosted his political strength by constant public appearances throughout New York state.
Every year, he has visited each of the 62 counties, talking up local issues or touting some new piece of federal funding. In 2004, that effort paid off with Schumer winning all but one county.
It is a strategy he is preaching to 2006 candidates.
Schumer is also trying to pare his party's message down to a few straightforward ideas.
"Mostly, it's the meat and potato issues: Save Social Security. Fix prescription drugs. Energy independence," he said.
The targeting decision may create some buzz among Democratic strategists, some of whom have made compelling arguments against focusing on a few races to the detriment of others. See, for example, Ruy Teixeira's article making the case against narrow targeting of House of Reps seats, "Do the Math: Expanding the Playing Field in 2006 Is Actually A Very, Very Smart Idea."
The GOP currently holds a 55-44 lead over Dems in the Senate, with one Independent voting Democratic. In 2006, 5 open Senate seats will be contested, with 14 Democratic senators seeking re-election and 14 incumbent Republicans seeking re-election. The Cook Political Report rates five races for Senate seats as tossups, with four of the seats currently held by Republicans.
Posted by EDM staff at 09:31 AM | link
December 28, 2005
Vets Boost Dems '06 Chances
by Pete Ross
Swing State Project has an interesting article on the bumper crop of Dem candidates, who are veterans of the armed forces and a soon-to-be-launched PAC, "Band of Brothers" designed to give them some leverage. Swing State's David NYC notes that vets bring some built-in advantages to a campaign, including:
Veterans' views on matters of war and national security are often accorded greater respect in the public sphere (whether fairly or unfairly). These issues are going to matter a whole hell of a lot in 2006, and we need candidates willing to engage - not avoid - this debate.
The media typically adores veterans, especially the straight-talking kind. (Think Hackett & McCain.) Moreover, our lazy media has bought into the GOP's smear of the Dems as "weak on security" wholesale. It doesn't matter how sophisticated our think-tank-produced plans on foreign policy are - the media just doesn't care. But if you've worn a dogtag around your neck or have had ribbons pinned to your chest - now that is something the media can understand.
The American people love our armed forces. The military always ranks at the very top when pollsters ask people how much confidence they have in various public institutions.
Strength in numbers: It's a lot easier to Swift Boat a lone vet in isolation. While I put nothing past today's GOP, it's much harder to slander your opponents when you're talking about dozens and dozens of men and women across the country. And these guys, I can assure you, will fight back when attacked.
All good points. Candidates should be careful, however, about overplaying the vet card, as Kerry may have done at the '04 convention, and Bush certainly did on the aircraft carrier. Vet status works best in combination with a little humility. Make it known, but as much as possible, let others praise the candidate for her/his service. GOP Senator McCain seems to work this technique effectively.
Band of Brothers already has a new website, featuring a list of Democratic vets running for office. Presumably, the group will also support women candidates. The PAC will provide money, expertise and training to vets running as Democratic candidates and is now accepting contributions.
Posted by EDM staff at 07:01 AM | link
December 23, 2005
Gopoian and Whitehead Reply to Bartels
By David Gopoian and Ralph Whitehead, Jr.
We have checked our data and stand by the findings we reported. Our sample consists of whites who voted and have family incomes under $35,000. Whatever discrepancies appear between Bartels's descriptions and ours must reside in unknown differences between his coding of the data set and ours.
We'd also note that Bartels has leapt to a conclusion as to what we regard as the electoral-strategy implication of our attempt to flesh out the demographic characteristics of his 'white-working class.' To be fair to him, our original post failed to offer an explicit statement of the implication as we see it. By failing to do so, perhaps we were inviting him to get it wrong. So here goes:
We don't think that the Democratic Party can become a majority party unless it improves its share of the votes cast by (among others) people who fit this profile:
• Ages 25 through 62
• Attached to the work force, or sharing a household with someone who is attached to the work force
• Nonunion, and living in a nonunion household
These voters are a significant presence in near-miss states like Nevada, Iowa, Ohio, and New Mexico, as well as in slipping-away states like Florida, Missouri, Louisiana, and West Virginia.
In order to do better with these voters, we would argue, the Democratic Prty doesn't necessarily have to give ground on social issues. But it does has to offer them a much more sweeping and aggressive economic agenda. This agenda must respond to the cumulative crises that beset those who hold a strong stake in the world of work, and aren't necessarily well-equipped to be able to protect it, let alone enhance it. As it happens, however, the content of this agenda is unlikely to appeal strongly to two groups of people who don't fit the profile but are among Bartels's white people with household incomes of less than $35K -- and, more to our point, are already drawn to the Democrats in ways that the profiled voters are not:
• Those who are old enough to be eligible for Medicare and Social Security.
• Young college graduates, who currently have low incomes (because they've recently entered the world of work), but have relatively good economic prospects. This is partly because they are college graduates, and are therefore on the upside of the college gap in earnings. And it is partly because their status as college graduates makes it highly likely that they are the children of college graduates, who are also on the upside of the college gap, and thus likely to have money to provide to their adult children. These young people certainly feel a stake in the world of work, but are relatively well-equipped to protect it, and even enhance it. Also, since many of them are socially liberal, the social liberalism stressed by Bartels will presumably keep them in the Democratic fold.
The voters who do fit the profile are likely to feel a need for national health insurance, unlike the people who are 62 and older and unlike those among the young college grads who currently feel bulletproof. They also have a stake in salvaging the social contract -- de facto lifetime employment, a pension, health care coverage -- or establishing a full-fledged successor to it. They have a stake in strengthening (or modernizing) the safety net: As pension coverage continues to vanish, more and more workers will have to rely on Social Security as their sole pension. (Thus, the objective economic need will be for larger Social Security checks.) Unemployment insurance was designed to tide people over during bona fide layoffs, rather than euphemized firings, and between jobs, rather than between occupations. It needs to be modernized. And the safety net will have to be extended to include long term care. (Unless the profiled voters are all able to follow the advice of a recent lead editorial in The New York Times and rely on "serious financial planning on an individual basis.") The voters who fit this profile also need to experience a sustained increase in their real earnings -- something it has been hard for them to do in recent years, and something that might well get even harder for them to do in the future.
We hate to leap beyond the evidence to impute a view to Bartels, since he has leapt beyond the evidence to impute a view to us.. But we hope he isn't implying that the Democratic Party can become the majority party merely by sticking with a low-protein economic agenda. The crucial question for Democratic electoral strategists is not: To what degree are the voting decisions of noncollege voters driven by economic concerns, as opposed to (or as well as) social concerns? Rather, it is: To what degree are Democratic issue positions clearly and strongly responsive to these economic concerns?
Also, in suggesting 'households who are in the middle of the income distribution' as a definition of 'the middle class,' he offers what seems at first glance to be an admirably simple and sensible idea. However, if we accept this definition of 'the middle class,' we are implying that a nation like Haiti OR Bangla Desh, if it has a bulge in the middle of its income distribution, has a large middle class. But this implication might be misleading. Closer to home, of course, the question is: Are the median earnings of a working-age household, some $48K, enough to enable it these days to afford a 'middle class' standard of living? Particularly if many of the people who are close to the middle of the income distribution -- such as those in the profile, and millions of otherwise similar Hispanic households and African-American households-- now have to use a growing share of this sum to plug the growing holes that have been created by the demise of the social contract, the obsolescence of the safety net, and persistently flat pay?
Posted by Ruy Teixeira at 02:26 PM | link
December 22, 2005
A Reply to Gopoian and Whitehead
Several months ago, Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Princeton, wrote a very interesting paper, "What's the Matter with What's the Matter with Kansas" critiquing Thomas Frank's book and its view of white working class politics. On this website, David Gopoian and Ralph Whitehead, in turn, published a short critique of Bartels' analysis, questioning his definition of the white working class and the political conclusions he drew from his analysis.
In the interests of furthering discussion of this very important issue, I provide below a recent comment (originally on the Crooked Timber website) by Bartels on Gopoian's and Whitehead's analysis.
I was surprised by Gopoian and Whitehead’s demographic profile of whites in the bottom third of the income distribution, so I checked the NES data. All I can say is that their tabulations don’t look like mine. They claim that only 35% of low-income whites (in 2004, I assume) were actually working, while 43% were retired or disabled. I have 49% working (with another 6% temporarily laid off or unemployed) and 35% retired or disabled. (Weighting the data as I did in my paper reduces both those percentages slightly, while increasing the percentage of homemakers and students.) Whatever group they are looking at, it is not the group of low-income whites characterized as “working class” in my paper.
More generally, if social scientists have a “prevailing definition” of the term “working class” I missed the memo. Apparently the people we’re talking about did, too. Among whites in the bottom third of the income distribution in 2004, 55% called themselves “working class”; among Gopoian and Whitehead’s whites without college degrees, only 48% did. Further restricting the definition to people with “incomes that surround the median household income for the nation” makes me even more curious why we don’t just use a well-established term that would seem to fit these people comfortably: “middle class.”
Of course, analysts can use whatever labels they want as long as they are clear about their definitions. My focus on low-income whites was inspired primarily by Frank’s reference on the first page of his book to Democrats as “the party of workers, of the poor, of the weak and the victimized,” and by his subsequent insistence on considering class “in the material, economic sense, not in the tastes-and-values way our punditry defines class.” It also fits nicely with my own broader interest in the politics of economic inequality. It is very easy to think of significant government policies that distribute costs and benefits on the basis of income, but much harder to think of instances in which “who gets what” depends on whether they happen to have a college degree.
Finally, a brief comment on the broader debate in which Gopoian and Whitehead’s analysis is situated. It is certainly true that the Democratic Party has lost support among whites without college degrees. (As with Democratic fortunes more generally, most of that decline is directly attributable to the demise of the artificially Democratic Solid South of the Jim Crow era. But let’s ignore that elephant in the room – along with the growing proportion of the electorate that happens not to be white.) What should we conclude from that trend? Many observers seem to leap to the conclusion that the party needs to reconnect with “traditional values.” Whites without college degrees are, indeed, more conservative than better-educated whites are on social issues like abortion and gender roles. But they also attach much less weight to those issues in their voting behavior. In 2004, the statistical connection between social issue preferences and presidential votes was more than twice as strong among college-educated whites as among those without college degrees. (In contrast, the connection between economic issue preferences and presidential votes was equally strong among both groups.) If anyone has a magic formula for appealing to less-educated socially conservative whites while retaining the loyalty of better-educated – and apparently more attentive – socially liberal whites, I’m all for it. But in the real world of hard political trade-offs, it is by no means obvious that moving to the right on social issues would be a net vote winner for Democrats.
For those interested in this debate, you may also want to read Frank's lengthy reply to Bartels, just posted on Frank's website.
Posted by Ruy Teixeira at 10:37 PM | link