David Brooks is mistaken about what independents want

(Cross-posted from Think it Through)

David Brooks' op-ed in the NY Times last week was mistaken when it asserted that this most recent election was an indication that political moderates were turning more conservative.

Brooks argues that independents who voted in the elections last week are by definition political moderates, and that the election marks a turning point in this voting bloc toward more conservative views.  He says we now know that independents do not want government to help solve the economic problems of the country, and that this will be the prevailing mood going into 2010.

Brooks' arguments are built on a foundation of mistaken assumptions about public opinion.  First, he considers self-described independents as a static group.  Pollsters and other political observers know that the label "independent" is taken on and off by voters like a piece of clothing.  You cannot assume independents are by default moderates, because their makeup is never the same from year to year.  In 2009, we know for sure that many of today's independents were yesterday's Republicans.

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Obama's biggest problem: Trust

Barack Obama won the 2008 election by convincing voters with his campaign based on hope and trust. His success was beyond his supporters' wildest dreams.

However his core support -- progressives -- were alarmed even before he took office, when he announced centrists Hillary Clinton and Rahm Emmanuel as his choices for Secretary of State and Chief of Staff. Subsequent to those choices, he raised hackles on liberals by pointedly ignoring even considering Howard Dean, who had played an important in his victory, and Russ Feingold, who has a history of standing up for liberal causes when centrist (and even moderate) Democrats hid in closets or under desks.

Worst of all, he has continued to pursue his strategy(?) of seeking bipartisan support for his programs, despite rapidly, growing evidence of entrenched Republican intransigence.

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"Im Feed Up With it..... Enough"

Matt Stoller passes along this Dukakis/Obama mash-up video:


He adds something that I'll use to go ahead and use for a reply to the inevitable comments this will produce:

I guess I should be clear that the reason I'm putting this up is because I want to point out that Obama is running the playbook of the Dukakis campaign.

More to the point though, the McCain campaign is running the Bush '88 campaign. They are trying to end this right now, by swinging the independent vote so strongly against Obama, that he'll never recover. I've looked at enough poll tabs in the last week to confirm that it's working.

Sure, you can go on and on about how these polls are taken at the height of the RNC bounce, but that misses the point that the McCain campaign is not acting as if they are content with a bounce, but that they are permanently attempting to reshape this race by influencing a large swath of Independent voters opinion of Obama.

One hit after another, no let up, pound pound pound... until a tipping point is reached and a mass amount of voters are persuaded to never look back.

Here's some good comments from that thread:

...but who in their right mind could think that Obama is as uncharasmatic as Dukakis? Just insanely dumb. It isn't 1988. Obama isn't Dukakis. Also, even if a progressive thinks it's a valid comparision, why the hell would a progressive help spread this kind of thing by helping make a youtube clip go viral?
That video didn't scare you? They are Dukakis. Trying to rise above, betting that the American people aren't dumb enough to fall for this s*** again. And again. And again. Holy rosy Moses. What Matt's trying to do, I imagine, is wake the Obama campaign the f*** up. Nothing else seems to work, why not try this?
Dukakis waited way too long to hit back and he did gain some ground after that ad but the die was already cast. Obama is doing it a lot earlier and the die is not cast yet. I do agree that Obama needs to go on offense. I like the fact that his campaign is not backing down on the lipstick on a pig remark and is in some ways embracing it. Good!
First you confess your love for Sarah Palin now this. If thats what you like so much go vote Republican. Go away you aren't a political strategist you don't know what Obama needs to do. Stop attacking our nominee. This isn't constructive criticism its a charecter attack. Your angry white liberal JE lost and if he had won we now know he would have lost. So grow up, and stop making republicans memes. They would like nothing more than for Obama to be Dukakis, clearly you would too. Then you can say he lost for not being liberal enough, or however you would spin his failure.
How long before republicans link to this? It is the new idiot. No one cares what matt says so he is going to attack them for not taking his advice. Spend some time attacking republicans for once.
Don't Worry Matt... Obama has "confidence in the American people" to see through McCain's portrayal of him as a monster. And make no mistake, that's what team McCain is doing... They're making the detestable Mark Penn look good right about now. His team at least had a set... ...Adding, they're allowing McCain to do all of this from the "Straight Talk Express." Think about that for a moment... Worst. Campaign. Ever.
This has been my problem with the Obama campaign straight along. Like every winning Presidential campaign since time immemorial, they were hailed as brilliant, ground-breaking, etc., etc. when they beat Clinton. And of course they did some very good things, organizationally. But the bottom line was that they took a charismatic candidate, overwhelmingly favored by the media, against a media-detested candidate whom they outspent nearly 2-1, and just hung on by the skin of their teeth. In fact, they might not have hung on at all but for pressure exerted by Party elders in the April-June time frame. This campaign has never known how to seize the initiative. If you looked at their daily press releases throughout the spring, they were constantly all about picking on some little thing Clinton had said. It scored then, because the media wanted to blow up attacks against Clinton, but they're doing the same thing now and it just isn't resonating. Even Obama's Convention speech was just a clever pastiche of a million and one defenses against every attack ever made on him. You could take almost any paragraph out of that speech at random and I could tell you what attack it was meant to parry. Obama is still the favorite, but by now he is only a narrow favorite. If his team doesn't find a way to grab the initiative between now and November, he will probably lose, and the only reason I use the word "probably" is because it is possible the Republican team will spectacularly implode.
Now that I've given my reserved response I think a troll-rating worthy comment is in order. Seriously, Matt. F*** you. How often do we hear from you and others the importance of sticking together?? Yet, you seem to think you are the exception. You may purposefully undermine our presidential candidate to your heart's content. I'm not complaining about serious criticism and debate, I'm talking about purposefully going for an emotional tug against our candidate. One that Republicans would love to play over and over to try and make Obama look weak. I don't even curse. Check out my comments and you'll see lots of "freak'n"s. But for you... Today... F*** YOU
Obama is on a very clear downward trend since June. You want us to pretend that's not happening and that if we all just STFU and let the Obama campaign do its thing, even though "its thing" flies in the face of what we all know to be true about smart and sound messaging. When exactly should we demand change? Mid-October? November 2? December 12? January 20? None of us want Obama to lose. But some of us prefer to take action to prevent that from happening instead of sitting on our hands telling ourselves all is well.
I agree with Matt...Maybe it's something like this... that will shock democrats out there to prevent this from happening again. Where is the outrage, where are the coordinated conference calls that we saw during the primary season. If we continue to respond in this way then we will get our clocks cleaned again.
I like the video... as it shows the direction Obama COULD be heading in, if he doesn't change things up in a hurry. Look at the big picture--McCain has been in Congress for the entire Bush administration, voted with Bush 90% of the time, the country is in ruins economically and in terms of foreign policy, yet, for the last week, the Obama campaign has been playing defense. What's up with that? They should be hammering McCain with everything they got--both factually and with innuendo, whatever it takes--yet you have Biden and Obama telling everyone what a lovely and honorable person McCain is, etc. I think the frustrating thing for many is that it is like Obama and company are surprised that this is the way that Republicans campaign. The minute they hired Schmidt, Obama should have known he was going to get hit hard and dirty, yet, when the hard and dirty hits came, they seem unprepared.
Matt is right. If Obama does not show self-respect and attack the conservatives then he does not deserve to be president and that would be a disaster for us and the world. I know I can't respect a man who won't defend himself against republican scum. Dukakis, Gore, Kerry could have won if they went on the attack and were relentless. But they were not. Dukakis wanted to be a gentleman. As thou the wingnuts would ever regard him as anything other than a wog. Prince Albert wouldn't go populist until it was too late. I can only feel sorry for John Kerry when he still allows himself to be intimidated (re general Clark and on and on) and doesn't stand on principle. The "lipstick on a pig" to describe McCain/Palin policies was great. He should add it to "more of the same" and use it every day. If he doesn't fight he will loose. The others left it too late. Obama must be spurred to fight before its too late. Even it it offends the Obamabots in the grip of their cult-of-personality. It is our duty to do everything we can to make this happen.
You know, that does it for me. I have been working my ass off and donating time and money to get Obama elected. I've been doing it because I don't want John McCain in charge of decisions that will affect my children's future. I have expressed my doubts, privately, about certain campaign tactics. But I know this: every single one of us is a messenger. If you make a half dozen voters waver with your attacks on Obama for being weak, you have made a negative impact on this race. If the news media picks it up -- as it did at Politico (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0908/13357_Page3.html) -- you get more points for hurting our chances. There are people blogging and writing about this race who are attacking John McCain every damn day--John Cole, for example, or Steve Benen/Hilzoy, and now, even Jeralyn Merritt, who has executed a perfect swing from primary to general election and seems to have made every one of her recent posts either a kind word for the ticket or a slam on McCain/Palin. You guys take valuable mindspace away from the people who actually are doing the things you demand more of. How can you call yourself a progressive when you can't direct nearly the enmity at a rightwing nut like Sarah Palin that you can at Barack Obama? Please, for the sake of all of us who are working to get Obama elected, and for the sake of our kids and everyone on this planet who will suffer under four more years of Republican rule, either start laying into the circus act that is the McCain campaign, or put a goddamn sock in it for just two months.
Ah, yes, the usual reaction. Shut the f*** up and send Obama more money. Well done. Who has ears to hear, let him hear.
I just put the whole back and forth up there, so you wouldn't have to bother doing so yourself in the comments.

I agree that Obama is way better than Dukakis, charisma-wise. But it should also be evident that McCain/Palin blows Bush/Quayle out of the water too, tactic-wise.


If anyone has any ideas for how to swing the Independents back to Obama, that's what I'm interested in hearing out.

Also, this isn't the first time this comparison has been made, Susan Estrich, back in May, Could Obama Be Another Dukakis?

And Glenn Greenwald basically agrees with Stoller:

That sounds not all that different from what Obama said today.
All that said, the structural advantage that the Democrats have had this year (and are on the way to blowing) is like none other since 44 years ago, in 1964.

If Obama blows this election, the comparison will not be with Dukakis, or any other former presidential candidate, of either party. He will be in a class by himself. He better not lose, I can't imagine still that he will, but I have to admit that the possibility seems more real today than at any other point of the election to date.

The good news is, there's plenty of time, for Obama to recover from the convention swing; like there was for Bush in '00 and Kerry in '04 to recover from the Gore and Bush Aug-Sept swing.

Obama will keep it close enough to pull it out.

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Gallup: Dems Continue to Maintain Remarkable Partisan Advantage

A few days ago Gallup released some composite data culled from polling over the past three months. The partisan self-identification numbers show a remarkable thing: Voters give the Democrats their greatest edge in over a decade, and tied for their greatest advantage in 20 years.

While the percentage of independents shrunk a bit since late 2007, Gallup trends show relatively little change in Americans' identification with the Republican Party over the same period. This has generally held at 27%, while Democratic identification increased from 31% at the end of 2007 to 36% today.

This skew toward one party in the redistribution of voters in an election year is not unprecedented. However, by the third quarter (from July to September) it would be unusual not to see some heightened public identification with both parties. If the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Republican does not pick up, the Democrats will have their strongest structural advantage in 20 years going into the November election.

[...]

The Democratic Party entered the 2008 election season with a solid advantage in party identification (32% to 27% in the fourth quarter of 2007), but, as a result of independents becoming more partisan in their thinking during the election, the Democrats now lead by a larger nine percentage point margin, 36% to 27%, tying with the third quarter of 1997 for their widest advantage in the past 20 years.

Why is this number so important? Back in the fourth quarter of 2006, the Democrats held a 6-point advantage in self-identification en route to a roughly 7-point victory in the overall popular vote for the House of Representatives. In 2004, Gallup actually found that Republicans had a self-identification edge, a data point that cannot be separated from George W. Bush's 3-point victory in the popular vote that fall.

Does this mean that the Democrats will necessarily have an overwhelming advantage on election day, or that Barack Obama is a shoo-in for the White House with numbers like these? Of course not. Even as partisan self-identification numbers aren't entirely malleable, they do tend to shift slightly as election day approaches and voters harden in their views. Nevertheless, these numbers do underscore a key point that is not really breaking through the media narrative at this juncture: Obama and the Democrats are ahead right now; this is not a tied race.

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McCain's Indy Strength -- Or Embarrassed GOP Voters?

A couple days back Chuck Todd wrote about this point, and I think Marc Ambinder has hit on it before too (though I can't find the post this morning), but for all of the talk of John McCain's supposed strength among independent voters, something huge is missing from the debate: the fact that a significant proportion of those now telling pollsters that they are "independent" are Republican voters effectively too embarrassed to admit their party affiliation or have recently left the party but still harbor positive feelings towards some of its leaders.

Be careful over-interpreting the independents number for McCain in current polls. The reason he's doing well among indies is that a growing slice of them are former Republicans.

This goes to the party I.D. issue. As more folks refuse to identify themselves as GOPers, they move into the independent category, making those voters more conservative than we've seen in the past and therefore artificially increasing McCain's share among them.

With this in mind, isn't it rather interesting that Barack Obama nevertheless leads John McCain among independents in each of the four battleground states recently polled by Quinnipiac for The Wall Street Journal and WashingtonPost.com -- by margins ranging from 8 points to 21 points? Which one of the two candidates has a problem with independent voters?

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