BlogPac Netroots Survey, Part Two
by Chris Bowers, Thu Jun 15, 2006 at 04:04:49 PM EDT
In the first release of the netroots survey I focused on how the survey was conducted, what the netroots thought of the Democratic Party in general, and what the netroots thought of twenty-four different Democratic elected officials. This portion of the survey will focus on what strategic advice the netroots has for the Democratic Party and the progressive movement, as well as what the netroots thinks on certain key issues.
As I indicated in the first post, I did not want to conduct a survey that would merely replicate the information already available in other surveys of the netroots. From Pew and Blogads, we already new that netroots activists were extraordinarily well-educated, very high consumers of news, extremely politically engaged, middle aged, and more likely to self-identify as liberal than most Democrats. There was no need to test that hypothesis once again. The hypothesis I wanted to test was that, even though the netroots possess all of the attributes I listed above, what strategic advice to they have for the rest of the progressive movement? It seems only fair that activists should be asked what sort of activism they believe is best for the Democratic Party and the progressive movement. To date, I can't think of a single poll that has done that.
To accomplish this, we developed a series of either / or questions on possible strategies. In constructing these questions, we did the best we can to not favor one response over the other, to make the two options true opposites, and to only choose strategic avenues where trade-offs actually exist. Again, just like in the first set of questions, the results showed that what netroots wanted form Democrats above all else is for them to stand up and offer a clear, positive message. Here were three of those questions:
Three of the either / or questions we asked are printed in the pics posted above, and the bar charts show the answers. Respondents were asked not only which statement they agreed with more, if they strongly or somewhat agreed with one position more than another. As you can see from the first graphic, a resounding 84% of people who took this poll want Democratic candidates to emphasize their policies and stances on issues, rather than their background and personal characteristics (51% strongly agreed with this position). In the second graphic, 77% of the netroots would rather that Democrats in Washington describe what they would do in power, rather than merely attacking Republicans for the mess they have made in Washington (48% strongly agree with this position). Further, by a 3-1 margin, the netroots would rather than Democrats fight Republicans across the board when it comes to their policies, rather than only concentrating their efforts on those battles where there is a "good chance of winning" or significant public support. For me, these three questions form a narrative. The netroots want Democrats to offer a positive agenda to fight for, and to fight for that agenda across the board. Stand up for a positive agenda, and fight for that agenda.
Now, even though the cry for Democrats to stand up and offer a clear, positive agenda is by no means limited to the netroots, some people may read these questions and think that the netroots are hardliners who are unwilling to compromise and who make unreasonable demands. However, while the netroots are certainly progressive / liberal, and while they for a show of Democratic strength and guts in the face of Republican onslaughts and radical, conservative legislation, further questions from the survey showed that the netroots favored a pragmatic political strategy that emphasized partisanship and inspiration above all else. Consider the following:
By despite self-0identifying as liberals at a very high rate, by overwhelming margins, netroots activists have no problem with running moderate and conservative candidates in purple and red districts. Further, when it comes to the type of Democratic candidate they would rather see, once again by overwhelming margins the netroots are looking for inspirational candidates rather than consistently left-wing candidates. When one looks at the ideological diversity among the six Democrats who were the netroots favorites, this last point should not be a surprise. What connected those six people--Brabara Boxer, Bill Clinton, Russ Feingold, Al Gore, Jack Murtha and Barack Obama--was not any ideological inclination, but rather an ability to inspire people. Inspiration is what most netroots activists are looking for, not rigid ideological tests.
Of course, this should have been obvious to the media and political establishment from day one, when generally moderate, but clearly inspirational, Howard Dean became the first netroots candidate. I am pretty far left, but I love Howard Dean. What attracted me, and many other people to Dean was his straight talk, his guts, and his willingness to stand up to Republican attacks. He may have had some left-wing positions, but he also had a lot of moderate positions too. The same thing was the case with Paul Hackett. The point is that the netroots are willing to run conservative and moderate candidates in purple and red districts, and they are even willing to work their asses off for conservative and moderate Democrats in some cases. However, in order to receive that support, what most netroots activists demand from Democrats is inspiration, guts and strength.
As I noted in the first release on this survey, there are some differences between netroots activists who read blogs and those who do not. Specifically, the more likely someone is to read a progressive political blog, the less likely they are to have a favorable opinion of Hillary Clinton. This next slide shows another area where the netroots are split by blog readers and non-blog readers:
As you can see from this slide, among the large segment of the netroots that does not read political blogs regularly, most people do not have a strong opinion on the relative merits of the 50 state strategy versus selective campaign targeting. In fact, over 70% of netroots activists who do not read blogs fail to register a strong opinion on this strategy, which generally indicates that the issue is not really important to those polled and / or they haven't put a lot of thought into it. However, among regular blog readers, not only is there a very large amount of support for the 50 state-strategy, there is a surprisingly large amount of "strong support." In other words, among those netroots activists who are the leading indicators of public opinion online, the fifty-state strategy has taken hold. This may also indicate that blog readers tend to be more strident and "hard-core" than netroots activists as a whole, but overall from the data we have in this survey that is a very tenuous case to make. Much more often than not, there is no real difference between the opinions of netroots activists who read blogs, and those who do not.
We also asked about whether people thought contested, competitive primaries were generally good for Democrats in general elections, and whether Democrats should move closer to, or further away from, single issue groups. In both cases, the responses were almost precisely split, but there was very little in the way of strong feelings in favor of one position or another. Apparently, those were strategic issues that the netroots does not concern themselves with all that much, even if a few of us do online.
The Netroots and Issues
In our survey, we also wanted to ask the netroots about some of the biggest politics issues of 2006. MoveOn.org had already asked their members about Iraq and withdrawal (overwhelmingly in favor of withdrawal), so we did not include a question about Iraq. We did, however, ask about three other things often discussed online:
I regret not including a question on immigration, but there is nothing I can do about that now. Still, I feel that hat we did ask was informative. A solid majority of the netroots, 64%, favors censuring President Bush, including 53% who are strongly in favor. 69% of the netroots categorically oppose using military force on Iran, and would rather use sanctions, while only 28% would rather keep "all options on the table." An identical number, 69% favored filibustering the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, while only 30% were in opposition. Strong majorities in all cases but, to be fair, the netroots is also clearly a place where there are disagreements and dissent. This is hardly an "echo chamber," as so many would deride it.
And this brings me to my final point. Yes, netroots activists more progressive than the nation, and even the whole Democratic Party. However, that does not mean they what they want from Democrats, to stand up for something and fight Republicans, is any different than what the nation wants form Democrats. That also does nto mean that the netroots have hard-line, ideological demands from the Democratic Party. Instead, what the netroots demand is inspiration, partisanship, and guts. Also, no one should be in the least bit surprised that the netroots, who are highly engaged political activists, are more progressive than the Democratic Party rank and file. People who are willing to donate their previous time and hard earned money to political campaigns are not the sort of people who are often considered "swing voters." People who make up their minds on who to vote for in the last few days of an election are not very likely to work for a campaign. People who often switch their votes between parties are not very likely to donate their time and resources on behalf on a single party. Netroots activists are political activists, and political activists of both parties have always been among the most strident, most dedicated, and most hard-core followers of politics. Of course netroots activists who favor Democrats are going to be more progressive than the country, and even the party as a whole. Of course, netroots activists who favor the Republican Party are going to be more conservative then their party as a whole. That is how politics works. Just do not make the mistake in assuming that because someone is a progressive, they do not hold a pragmatic strategic outlook. Do not make the mistake in assuming that because activists tend to be further off-center than the rank and file that the activists do not want the same things as the rank and file from Democratic candidates. So not think that just because someone hold a particular ideological worldview that they ultimately crave partisanship and inspiration even more than they crave ideological similarity. Do not mistake the netroots for an entirely unified echo chamber either. Do not make those mistakes because they are all just that: mistakes. Research clearly shows that the progressive netroots are pragmatic, that they are people who like deabte and diverse views, that they are within the mainstream, and that they dying for inspiration and guts. That is what we want, that is who we are. I hope that anyone who reads this can come to accept us as just that. It would be about time.