Are Democrats Entitled to the Left?

Blair and Labour took a real pounding in the local and European British elections this past week. They finished third behind the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives locally, and the European elections were not much better for them.

In the wake of these results, The Guardian today published an article by Gary Young that is a must read for all Democrats.

Hell hath no fury like an American Democrat scorned.... Just the mention of defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, attorney general John Ashcroft or vice-president Dick Cheney will set diatribes in motion. But if you really want to see them in a rage wait until the Bushwhacking stops and someone admits that they voted for Ralph Nader, the anti-corporate crusader, in the 2000 presidential elections.

The N-word should not be spoken in polite liberal company. Once his name has been uttered all camaraderie and bonhomie evaporate as readily as if the miscreant had confessed to relieving himself in the host's sink....

Nader plans to stand again this year as an anti-war candidate. Given his absence from the anti-war campaigns, this is a mistake. But it is also a fact. And there is every chance that he could, once again, make a crucial difference...

The Democratic party's strategy to deal with this thus far has been simple. Along with "independent" organisations like, it is doing everything legally possible to keep him off the ballot in different states. "Nader must be nowhere near the ballot," wrote a Texas Democratic official in an email seen by the Guardian.

The trouble with this plan is not just that it employs purely bureaucratic means to prevent a legitimate, if misguided, political expression. It is also that it reveals the extent to which Democrats believe they are entitled to Nader's votes even if they make no appeal to the concerns of those who cast them. The source of their anger is that they believe his votes are rightfully theirs. The logic of their campaign is that if Nader is removed from the equation the votes will automatically return to their rightful owner - John Kerry.

If they want to see where this sense of entitlement could lead they need only look over the Atlantic, where the Labour party leadership has stretched the loyalty of its core supporters until, last week, it finally snapped. The only thing that was surprising about Labour's drubbing last week was that it was such a long time coming.

Iraq was not the only source of the collapse (if it had been, the Tories would also have done far worse). But it was the most blatant symbol of the distance Tony Blair has put between his government and the aspirations of those who put it in office. The war gave this dislocation a moral dimension and a clear focus. But the original exclusion of Ken Livingstone, private-public partnerships, tuition fees and meagre pension increases all chipped away at the faithful and primed them for their flight.

The problem was not that Blair misjudged his base. It is that he judged it and then ignored it in the belief that it had nowhere else to go. Last week showed us that, if pushed far enough, it could go anywhere - including the Lib Dems, Greens and Respect - or nowhere at all and simply sit on its hands.

Having lectured the party on the need for pragmatism, he now blames the public for not falling in behind his principles. "These people who think they get a free hit will find themselves with a rude shock and a Tory MP," said Peter Hain, the leader of the House of Commons, following the local election results. "They could deprive us of our majority." In other words, it's not Labour that has to change, but the electorate.

Neo-liberal economic policy and interventionist foreign policy are not flying with the left in Britain anymore, and it is showing at the polls. Now, consider this Gallup poll trend:

"Which comes closest to your view about what the U.S. should now do about the number of U.S. troops in Iraq? The U.S. should send more troops to Iraq. The U.S. should keep the number of troops as it is now. The U.S. should withdraw some troops from Iraq. OR, The U.S. should withdraw all of its troops from Iraq." Options rotated.

	  Send More  Keep Same	 Withdraw Some	Withdraw All
6/3-6/6 	    18	      30		       23		   27
5/7-5/9 	    25	      24		       18		   29
4/16-4/18	    33	      25		       16		   21
The drift away from sending more troops and toward withdrawal is clear. Two months ago "send more" had 33%, and withdrawal had 37%. Now, Send more has 18%, and withdrawal has 50%. I am going to take a wild guess and suggest that the 84% of Kerry supporters who feel he war was not justified overwhelmingly fall into the withdrawal columns, even though Kerry himself does not. The platform committee at the convention will have an interesting time with this one.

Canda's upcoming National Election

A new Ipsos-Reid/CTV/Globe and Mail poll projects the following the upcoming elections in Canada are a virtual tile between the Liberals (32%) and the Conservatives (31%):

Seat Projection Model Suggests:

Liberals 115-119 
Conservatives 110-114
NDP 17-21
Bloc Quebecois 56-60
Green 0-2

The Liberals are down 2% since their last polling, and at their lowest polling since 1991, the Conservatives are up 1% and have momentum, 11% are undecided. The election is June 28th.

The results from another recent poll of percentages:

A poll last week, with the largest sample of B.C. voters to date, put the Conservatives at 32 per cent, the Liberals at 29 and the NDP at 28 per cent. The fledgling Green Party had 9 per cent. With approximately 50 per cent saying they may still change their minds, experts expect a bruising, no-holds barred campaign until voting day. The closeness of the race has all four parties, even the Greens, predicting breakthroughs. But Conservative John Reynolds, with nearly 30 years in provincial and federal politics under his belt, cautions that "the real action is gonna take place" after the national leader debates next week.

A Shocking Act of Electoral Humility

I think you have to be named Ghandi to decline to be the leader of the world's largest Democracy:

Sonia Gandhi said she would "humbly decline" to be the next prime minister of India, a decision that followed Hindu nationalist outrage over the prospect of a foreign-born woman at the helm of the nation.

"It is my inner voice, my conscience," she said. "My responsibility at this critical time is to provide India with a secular government that is strong and stable."

Wow. If this does not make you less cynical about world leaders, I have no idea what will.

Poll for Spain's June 13th Election (Zapatero chrushing conservatives)

Defeated Aznar is meeting President Bush while on a private visit to the United States on Tuesday.  Advice? Aznar, who has angered officials in his own party by criticising Zapatero's decision to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq, is probably seeking employment by the Bush family. Meanwhile, ahead of the June 13th election in Spain for the European Parliment, Zapatero party's is finding success:

According to an Opina institute poll for Cadena Ser radio the PSOE of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has a 10-point lead and is set to win a 47 percent vote share compared with 37 percent for the PP...

Tuesday's poll put his personal satisfaction rating at 65.5 percent with just 16.4 of those questioned unhappy with his stewardship.

Just rewards for doing the right thing, and getting out of Iraq.

Analyzing Ukrainian Elections, Part 2

This is the second part of two posts analyzing Ukrainian elections. This second part will focus upon many factors that lead to Ukraine’s exceptional regional polarization. The first part can be found here.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Two Ukraines

Modern Ukraine is a strange hybrid of two quite different regions. One part, composed of western and central Ukraine, is politically more aligned with the West; it favors, for instance, joining the European Union. This part includes the capital Kiev. The other part of Ukraine, consisting of the Black Sea coast and eastern Ukraine, remains more loyal to Russia and the memory of the Soviet Union. It includes Donetsk Oblast (formerly named Stalino Oblast), the most populous province in the country.

This division is reflected in Ukrainian politics. Take the 2004 presidential election, in which pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko faced off against pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych:

Link to Map of 2004 Ukrainian Presidential Election, Round 3; Image Courtesy of ElectoralGeography

Few things better illustrate the boundary between east and west Ukraine than this election, which Mr. Yushchenko ended up winning by a seven-point margin.

These divisions have long-standing roots. During the 16th and 17th centuries, for instance, much of Ukraine was under the control of the Poland-Lithuania. This country, which at one point constituted the largest nation in Europe, declined in the 18th century and was eventually partitioned by its stronger neighbors Prussia, Russia, and Austria.

Here is a map of Poland-Lithuania at its peak:

Link to Map of Poland-Lithuania

As the map makes clear, there is a strong correlation between the parts of Ukraine once controlled by Poland-Lithuania and the parts of Ukraine that today vote for pro-Westerners such as Mr. Yushchenko. Although Poland-Lithuania is long gone, the vestiges of Polish influence still exist in these places, drawing western and central Ukraine closer to the West than eastern Ukraine and the Black Sea region.

These two parts of Ukraine differ in another, even more important aspect: language. Take a look at the most Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine:

Link to Map of Linguistic Division in Ukraine

The correlation between the percentage of Russian speakers and the vote for pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych is even stronger here. The three provinces with more than 60% of Russian-speakers gave Mr. Yanukovych’s his strongest support; Mr. Yanukovych managed to gain greater than 80% of the vote in each of them, despite losing the overall vote by 7%.

Language was a matter directly related to the Soviet Union. While on paper all languages were equal in the Soviet Union, in reality there was little question that speaking Russian was necessary to succeed. Today the situation is the opposite; the government encourages individuals to speak Ukrainian, although many in the country use Russian.

Ironically, Mr. Yanukovych himself is a native-born Russian-speaker. According to the Kiev Post, his Ukrainian remains imperfect to this day. The current president is reported to desire adding Russian to Ukraine’s list of official languages (which at the moment includes solely Ukrainian). This would be quite controversial if actually done.

Ukraine’s Future

Polarization, like that illustrated in the humorous picture above, is a disturbing phenomenon for any country. In Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election, all but one province gave more than 60% of the vote to a single candidate. This is the type of political division that sometimes leads to civil war, such as which occurred in Yugoslavia. That is one possible path for Ukraine to follow, unlikely as it may seem at the moment.

Yet polarization of this sort does not necessarily lead to separation. In the 2010 presidential election, polarization declined slightly; as memories fade, this trend may continue. And fortunately for Ukraine, the East-West division does not extend to ethnicity; Russian-speakers and Ukrainian-speakers may have a different language, but they look the same. It is a sad comment on the human condition that this makes a break-up of Ukraine less likely.

Moreover, a number of other countries contain similar electoral divisions without splitting up. Former East Germany votes quite differently from former West Germany (especially with regards to the Left Party, the ex-communist party), but Germany certainly will not break-up into pieces anytime soon. After the Civil War, the South unanimously supported one party for decades – parts of it still do, if one excludes blacks – but the idea of another national schism is unthinkable today. If things go well for Ukraine, the electoral divide in its voting patterns may remain nothing more than that.




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