Courage Campaign / MyDD Poll: Why Francine Busby Lost
by Chris Bowers, Wed Aug 02, 2006 at 07:01:09 AM EDT
Today, the Courage Campaign, a non-partisan, progressive 527 based in Los Angeles, and MyDD, a progressive blog devoted to analysis and commentary on political campaigns and infrastructure, announced findings today from the poll they commissioned in California's 50th Congressional District to determine why the national Democratic message centered on allegations of Republican corruption failed to give Francine Busby the seat formerly occupied by convicted felon, Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Busby lost to Republican, Brian Bilbray in the June 6th election.
The poll was funded by the netroots, and was conducted by Wright Consulting Services. It was in the field from July 6, 2006 to July 27, 2006. The poll surveyed 503 people who voted in the June 6th special election, and included 188 people who voted in either the 2003 recall election (Schwarzenegger) or the 2004 Presidential election, but did not vote on June 6th. The margin of error for the entire sample of 691 is +/- 3.8%, and +/- 4.5% for people who voted. Smaller subsets, such as Republicans, Democrats and Independents, had higher margin or errors.
The questionnaire used for the poll can be found here:
The full cross tabs for the poll can be found here:
Our finding from the poll are in the extended entry.
For further information, contact Chris Bowers of MyDD at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Susanne Savage of the Courage Campaign at email@example.com
Update: Read the press release for the poll on Yahoo News. Check The Huffington Post for further commentary on the poll by Rick Jacbos of hte Courage Campaign.
(all questions cited in parenthesis refer to the crosstabs file)
- Turnout: Democratic turnout in this election very high relative to voter registration. Voter registration in the district is 29.7% Democratic, 44.5% Republican, and 25.8% Independent / Other (Source: California Secretary of State). The partisan breakdown of the MyDD / Courage Campaign poll, which has the final vote results within one-tenth of one-percent for all candidates, was 39% registered Democrats, 43% registered Republicans, and 18% Independents / Others (see Q5). In other words, Democrats turned out in force, Republicans were slightly below par, and Independents barely showed up at all. Further, our over-sample of 188 non-voters in this election showed that those who did not vote hold nearly identical candidate preferences in the November test election question to those who did vote (Q21). Considering how heavily Republican this district is, the extremely low Independent turnout was a severe drag on Francine Busby's chances to win this election. She needed a big turnout among Independents in order to win, but that did not happen.
- Third-Parties and Independent Voters: While Francine Busby won a plurality of the Independent / Other vote (she received 40% to 34% for Bilbray) (Q5), given low Independent turnout and the heavily Republican nature of the district, this margin was insufficient to win the election. One major problem for Busby was that third-party candidates received a surprising 26% of the Independent vote (Q5). The MyDD / Courage Campaign poll indicates tremendous dissatisfaction among Independents toward Bush (Q16c), Randy Cunningham (Q16d), Brian Bilbray (Q16f), the direction of the country (Q14) and conservative immigration messaging (Q17b and 17c). However, while they are frustrated with Bush and conservatives, Independents did not turn to Democrats in this district, and instead opted for third-party candidates.
- Base Excitement: Democrats, liberals and progressives, who all went for Busby by more than 90%, indicated a higher level of voting "for" their candidate rather than "against" the other candidate than did Republican and conservative Bilbray voters (Q10). Democrats, liberals and progressives were also less potentially "movable" than Republicans and conservatives, turned out at higher rates, made their minds up earlier (Q8), had a more favorable opinion of their own candidate (Q16b and Q16d), and had fewer reservations about their vote than either Republicans or conservatives (Q6). However, despite lower base enthusiasm, among those who did come out to vote, Bilbray still held his base as well as Busby held her base. Both candidates received 90% of the vote from members of their own party (Q5). For Bilbray, this seems to have been accomplished significantly through negative advertising (Bilbray's campaign was seen as more negative, Q18f), harsh immigration rhetoric (which did not appeal at all to moderates or Independents, but did appeal to conservatives), and the widely publicized "gaffe" where Francine Busby accidentally said "you don't need papers for voting." (Q11 and Q11a) Overall, because of the low Independent turnout, Busby won 77% of her vote from registered Democrats, while Bilbray won 80% of his vote from registered Republicans.
- Culture of Corruption: The "culture of corruption" message, on which the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee based most of it's multi-million dollar advertising budget in the district, and which was a pillar of the national Democratic message going into the Busby campaign, failed. In an open-ended question where poll participants gave reasons for their vote, less than 2% cited Republican corruption as a reason for voting for Busby (Q9). Further, while people in the district viewed Bilbray as more corrupt than Busby (Q18b), Independents in particular still view Democrats as being corrupt, and as such do not believe Democrats can solve the corruption problem in Washington (Q20a). Yet still further, the "culture of corruption" message may well have been responsible for what was very low Independent turnout and for Independents to break heavily for third-party candidates (since they think both major parties are corrupt). Thus, for Democrats, the culture of corruption message quite possibly did more harm than good in this district. In a district with a 3-2 Republican registration advantage such as the CA-50, in order to win Francine Busby needed both high Independent turnout, and a large win among Independents. She received neither. She failed to define herself as a clear alternative with strong views (Q18c), instead running against a criminal, but incarcerated and retired incumbent.
- Immigration: Also contrary to many pundits, both moderates and Independents were far more drawn to progressive immigration messaging of the sort Busby gave rather than the harsh, punitive rhetoric from conservatives in the district (Q17b and Q17c). It is possible that such harsh rhetoric kept the Republican base together, but it should also be noted that no one, not even conservatives, believe that Republicans in Congress will be able to thwart Bush and enact harsh immigration legislation (Q20b). It is possible that this belief also helped keep conservatives home, and may be an avenue for Democrats to exploit in the fall. Put simply, voters see the current majority party as incapable of governing, and Democrats incapable of stopping them from making mistakes.
- Iraq:: Until this week, Democrats had no unified message on Iraq. While polling has consistently shown that voters like the idea of troop withdrawal or Murtha-style redeployment (including polling from the first MyDD poll in January, also conducted by Wright Consulting Services, see http://www.mydd.com/story/2006/1/31/1156
11/441), harsh Republican "cut and run" messaging completely dominated Democratic Iraq messaging in this district (Q17a). Our premise is that, like with culture of corruption and immigration, voters do not believe that either Democratic or Republican members of Congress can change current Iraq policy with Bush in the White House. We are currently engaged in pursing follow up questions to flesh this issue out further.
- Candidate Images: Neither candidate was well-defined among the electorate. When poll participants were given a battery of character and candidate quality phrases, in all but two cases the combination of "neither" and "don't know" was the most common response. The only two exceptions were that 44% of voters thought Francine Busby would "fight for ordinary people" (20% said Bilbray and 34% said neither), and that 45% of voters thought that Bilbray was "too close to powerful special interests." (17% said Busby and 38% said neither). Never once did a majority of participants in the poll ascribe a characteristic to one candidate. (Q18a through Q18h)
- The Gaffe: A few days before the election, at a campaign rally Francine Busby accidentally said ""you don't need papers for voting." This "gaffe" was widely publicized in local and conservative media. While the "gaffe" was widely known (61% of voters had heard about it, Q11), and while it hurt her image among many voters (41% of those who heard about it said it gave them a less favorable opinion of her, Q11a), those voters were overwhelmingly within Bilbray's conservative and Republican base (Q11). Overall, the percentage of people who heard about the gaffe, who had a lower opinion of Busby after the gaffe, who had not yet made up their minds, and who were predisposed to potentially vote for Busby anyway was very, very small (lower than Bilbray's winning margin). Specifically, only 28% of the voters had yet to decide for whom they would vote after the "gaffe," which means the it probably had an impact, and may have caused more Republicans to turn out and / or Independents to go with third-party candidates. However, data from this poll does not show that it swung the already close election.
Voters did not believe either candidate's vow to change President Bush's policies. This was as true of Bilbray on immigration as it was of Busby on the culture of corruption or troop deployment in Iraq. Thus, while Independents hold an outlook very similar to Democrats on a range of people and issues, including the Bush administration, the direction of the country, and public policy, they are not turning to Democrats. In fact, most Independents are not even bothering to vote.
Therefore, if Democrats want to win in November, we conclude the following:
- 1. The culture of corruption message must be abandoned altogether unless there is a direct connection to the opposing candidate (think Tom DeLay, Richard Pombo and Bob Ney)
- 2. Democrats should stop proposing, or at least stop foregrounding, legislation to enact if or when they are in control of Congress. Since few believe the Democrats can turn these proposals into law, we do not think anyone will vote for Democrats or against Republicans based on this issue.
- 3. Expect Democratic pick-ups in November in districts where:
- A. Less money will be spent (which quite possibly is everywhere)
- B. There will be less media attention preventing a potential "gaffe" (again, which quite possibly will be everywhere)
- C. There is a higher percentage of Democrats relative to Republicans (most competitive, Republican-held districts this fall)
- D. Fewer third party candidates will be on the ballot.
- A. Less money will be spent (which quite possibly is everywhere)
- Swing voters want politicians who will stand up to George Bush, stop his agenda, and hold him accountable for problems that have occurred under his watch both at home and abroad. We are testing this thesis with follow up interviews this week. If swing voters do not like Bush's agenda, and if they do not believe Congress can create a new agenda, then in the short term the only remaining option is to promise to grind Bush's agenda to a halt while holding both him and his enablers accountable for the problems that have occurred under his watch.