Bush's High Disapproval Still Holds Realignment Potential

The closer Bush gets to breaking the all-time record (67%), the closer realignment comes. From Gallup:
In three January polls, an average of 36% of Americans approved of Bush's performance as president. The Feb. 1-4 poll, the first Gallup Poll conducted after his State of the Union address, now finds 32% of Americans approving of Bush and 65% disapproving. The new approval rating nearly matches the low for his administration, 31% in May 2006, and the 65% disapproval rating ties his highest negative rating, from that same May poll.

Bush has not had an approval rating above 40% since last September, and has not been above 50% in any Gallup Poll in nearly two full years (March 2005).

Republicans are still largely supportive of Bush -- 78% approve of him in the latest poll. But fewer than one in four independents (23%) and 1 in 10 Democrats (7%) approve. Bush's approval rating among Democrats has been below 10% in every Gallup Poll since mid-October 2006. By comparison, Gallup never recorded a sub-10% approval rating for Bill Clinton among Republicans. His lowest support among the opposition party's supporters was 13% during the late summer and fall of 1994.
I almost never put Presidential approval polls on the front page, but this poll from Gallup is historic and needs to be noticed. Look at where it fits in the all-time ranking of high disapproval polls from Gallup:

Highest Presidential Disapproval In Gallup Poll
  • Truman: 67%, once in early January 1952
  • Nixon: 66%, immediately before resigning in 1974. Only reached 65% in one other poll.
  • Bush Jr.: 65%, twice. Once in May 2006, and again in February 2007. Period of extreme unpopularity now as long as Nixon's.
  • Bush Sr.: 60%, once, in early August, 1992.
  • Carter: 59%, early July, 1979. Never hit 60%.
  • Reagan: 56%, late January, 1983. Never rose above 46% during final five and a half years in office.
  • Clinton: 53%, September 1994. Disapproval never passed 43% during final five years as President.
  • Johnson: 52%, twice, in March and August, 1968.
  • Ford: 46%, mid-April, 1975.
  • F. Roosevelt: 46%, three times (twice in May 1938, once in November 1938).
  • Eisenhower: 36%, early April, 1958.
  • Kennedy: 30%, mid-November 1963. No wonder people thought Johnson's 52% rating meant he was really unpopular--no one else had broken 36% in over 15 years.
As you can see, Bush's disapproval rating is extremely high compared to past Presidents, both in terms of simple rankings and in terms of the length it has lasted. Only Carter, Truman and Nixon suffered plus 55% disapproval ratings for this length of time. Only Nixon and Truman approached the same raw level of disapproval for any length in time. And to top it off, Republicans still strongly approval of Bush. In other words, we are going through an extended period time when a sitting President has disapproval as ratings high as anyone has ever had, and when members of his own party view his performance in an utterly divergent way from Independents. That is a potential formula for re-alignment. Bush can brand his party in a negative fashion for a long, long time.

Of course, Democrats and progressive will have to do a lot of work to make this happen, but the door is clearly open.

The Importance of Generation Y

Generation Y, defined by the census as those Americans born between 1977 and 1994, is the largest American generation since the Baby Boomers. In fact, it is almost exactly the same size as the Baby Boom generation, and may soon be the largest of all. It also now forms the entire 18-29 year voting demographic that we see on exit polls. In 2006, Generation Y made up 12% of the electorate, and broke for Democrats 60%-39%. Democrats also hold an enormous, double-digit lead in partisan identification among this age group. In 2004, that advantage was 39%-28%. In 2006, it had increased further to 41%--28%.

This is important because if someone develops a voting pattern at a young age, that person is likely to continue voting that way throughout her or his life:Continuing a trend that began in the mid-1990s, young voters once again disproportionately identified themselves as liberals and gave a supermajority to Democrats. Unless basic findings of political science have been repealed, these formative experiences of early adulthood are likely to influence electoral behavior throughout the life of this cohort. Generation X (1965-1976), has pretty much passed the age where formative voting experiences are developed. However, it is a small generation, and while it leans Democrat (and is more liberal than older generations, as conservatives only hold an eight-hold ideological self-identification edge), it is nowhere near the level of progressive generation that is still under the age of thirty. In a rather stunning statistic, ideological self-identification among Gen Yers actually slightly favors liberals, despite a double-digit gap for conservatives within the nation as a whole. This is a generation that is also only 61% white, and less than 40% white Christian. In short, it does not cohere with the ideological or identity tendencies of the modern conservative movement at all.

Given its enormous size, if Generation Y grows to voting and political maturity with the same ideological and partisan tendencies it currently displays, it will entirely transform the national political environment by serving as the backbone of by far the most progressive governing majority America has ever experienced. How do we make that happen? The battle can actually be nearly won in less than two years time, if Democrats nominate a candidate loved by young people, and if that nominee becomes President. Consider the following:Speaking as a political scientist.... Generally speaking, the "you get more conservative as you get older" myth really is a myth. People's ideological/partisan identification don't change much after the age of 30. If someone votes for the same party three times in a row, they're hooked for life. It takes some earth-shattering to change after that.

People don't get more conservative as they get older, but they do get more rigid. What happens is that ideology acts as an informational screen - people shield out stuff that is inconsistent with their predispositions (which is why FOX News works). So as we get older, our attitudes get reinforced.

So liberals should NOT get happy if people who are under 30 are on the left, because the young are very volatile. But after thirty, it's smooth sailing. If the 2008 Democratic nominee becomes President, then that person will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee in 2012 as well. If that person is loved by young people, then that will make a long, 2004-2012 run where young voters broke heavily for Democrats, self-identified as Democrats, and self-identified as liberals. Thus, it will match the 1980-1988 run where young Late Boomers broke heavily for Republicans in the three Presidential landslides of that decade. When that generation grew to political maturity, it resulted in by far the most Republican-identifying generation in over half a century, the 1994 Republican landslide, and the general sense of creeping conservatism the country experienced through the 1990's and first half of our current decade. Generation Y holds the potential to do exactly the same thing for America, only in reverse, for the 2000 "teens," 2020's and 2030's. And much, if not most, of whether or not that happens will depend on what Democrats do over the next two years.

Realignments do not have to take place in just a single election. The Republican and conservative "revolution" was a slow climb, starting with the election of 1978 and ending in the election of 2002. In the 1930's, the New Deal coalition was built over the course of several elections, starting really in 1930 and continuing until 1938. Considering the demographic and political characteristics of Generation Y, the period starting in 2006 and ending in 2012 has the potential to forge a long-term, very progressive, solid-blue governing majority in America for a long time to come. Finding a potentially transformational Presidential candidate is an essential part of making this happen. Here is to hoping that at least one Democratic candidate will be able to step up and fill that role.

Be Inspired. Seek Transformation

If there is one thing I have learned in my four years in the progressive netroots, it is that we are at our best when we eschew the practices and norms of the Washington, D.C. media and political establishment, and instead strive toward new ideas, new organizations, and new communities. The fifty-state strategy is a new idea for Democrats that does not merely replicate the narrow targeting of the soft, unreliable "swing" in a small number of districts. The silent revolution is a new strategy where the grassroots and netroots refuse to simply fall in line with the Democratic Party, and where we also refuse to adopt the old, self-defeating practices of splintering via either third parties or apathy. The small donor revolution works not just to support Democratic candidates, but as an aggressive approach to freeing the Democratic Party from corporate money. New progressive media is not around just to influence established media structures, but also to keep the base excited on a daily basis, and to build new media and activist communities of our own. When we support Democrats like Howard Dean and Russ Feingold, as Glenn Greenwald brilliantly notes it is not just so that we can forward their political ambitions and make them more "electable." It is, instead, because we seek the most radical transformation of all in American politics: an America where our leaders take actions because of strong conviction and belief, not simply to get another leg up in the great beltway game that seeks to scam the American people into voting for them.

A smart political scientist friend of mine, Matthew Kerbel, once told me that every revolution in American media has been followed by a realignment in American politics. In this tradition, I firmly believe that a long-term, progressive transformational realignment of American politics is the promise of the progressive netroots. As a movement, I have always believed that we should shoot for nothing less than a full-scale realignment of the media, the pundit-ocracy, the Democratic establishment, and indeed of American politics as a whole. I believe that looking at what we have achieved in just the last four or five years, we should expect nothing less of ourselves. We clearly can make this transformation happen.

Nothing saddens me more then when I see people in the netroots trying to play Washington insider. When I see netroots activists talking about which vice-presidential candidate someone should choose in order to better scam certain national demographic groups into voting for the Democratic ticket, it really bums me out. Whenever I see netroots activists declaring their support for a candidate based on his or her "electability," it really bums me out. Whenever I see netroots activists deeming candidate X or candidate Y "un-electable" for one of the many clichéd and utterly discredited reasons that the established has always used to deem candidates unelectable ("doesn't play in the heartland,""too liberal,""can't swing the South or the border states,""not enough military credentials") I almost start shaking with rage. Since when did we become the same losers we are trying to replace via the silent revolution?

What Democrats need in 2008 is a candidate who can truly inspire people. That is the only way we are going to achieve the transformation that the progressive movement promises. It is not going to be done through narrow targeting. It is not going to be done through resume boasting. It is not going to be done through risk aversion and "electability." In fact, in all likelihood, it will be done in spite of all the old rationales. The transformati0on will probably only happen when we have a winning candidate who wins despite supposedly not appealing the swing, despite supposedly not having the right credentials, despite supposedly being too "liberal," and despite supposedly being "unelectable." When a candidate like that wins, then the transformation will truly have taken place. Since World War Two, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were two candidates who defied all conventional wisdom in their runs to the Presidency. However, they shared a key trait: they inspired large numbers of people who otherwise would simply have fallen in line behind their party's candidate or stayed in the mushy middle. And there have also been transformation candidates who lost, but still had a profound impact on our national political culture. In that category, Barry Goldwater and Howard Dean come to mind.

I am writing this essay now that one candidate who I believed could enact the transformation promised by the progressive movement, Russ Feingold, has decided not to enter the campaign. I write this essay both to urge my fellow Feingold supporters to not quickly throw your support to someone else, unless you truly believe that someone else could also enact the sort of transformation Feingold promised. I also write to all netroots and movement activists, and urge them to do the same thing. In the primaries, don't fall for narrow targeting. Don't fall for resumes. Don't fall for electability arguments. Look for inspiration. Demand inspiration. I don't know who among the remaining pool of candidates is most likely to deliver that inspiration. Off-hand, Obama, Edwards and Gore seem like the best bets, but nothing is guaranteed at all. It might be none of those three. It might be someone else who has yet to find his or her true voice. Change can happen. Edwards himself was transformed during the 2004 primary process, when late in 2003 he began to find a way to articulate a powerful and progressive vision based on an utterly inspiring story of America. He didn't start the campaign that way. Actually, I think it could be argued that just like Howard Dean, John Edwards was transformed by his most earnest and fervent supporters. Both candidates were able to take the inspiration they drew from their supporters and use it to inspire wide swaths of America in return.

Stay on the lookout for transformation and inspiration. Shoot for the moon and reach for the stars. When beltway pundits tell you what you are doing is either wrong or hopeless, that means there is a very good chance you are on the right track. Ignore the people who don't believe in anything. Go with your hopes and your inspiration, because without our hopes and without our inspiration, the progressive movement has absolutely nothing.

Blue Districts Form Backbone of Democratic Future

Signs of a wave are popping up all over the place, but no more so than in blue House districts held by Republicans. For example, look at NH-02, where netroots candidate Paul Hodes is now on the brink of victory:

University of New Hampshire poll, 9/24 numbers in parenthesis
Hodes (D): 46% (36%)
Bass (R): 38% (46%)

This is the third poll in a row showing Hodes with the lead. The previous two were Constituent Dynamics, showing Hodes ahead 50-47, and the Becker Institute, showing Hodes ahead 48-39. Keep in mind that Hodes was down 25 points in this race as recently as six weeks ago. He was never supposed to win this. Now, it looks like NH-02 is "Lean Dem."

KY-03 looks very good too. The latest form Survey USA, with the mid-October numbers in parenthesis:

Yarmuth (D): 52% (48%)
Northup (R): 44% (47%)

In September, Survey USA has this race at 50%-44% in favor of Northup. But now Yarmuth is in a position to win. Both KY-03 and NH-02 are districts with a partisan voting index favorable to Democrats. If Democrats take these seats, which is starting to look like a good bet, it will be very hard for Republicans to take them back. It doesn't stop in KY-03 and NH-02. Look at the current polling averages from several more:
  • CO-07: Perlmutter (D) 50.2%--42.0% O'Donnell (R)
  • NM-01: Madrid (D) 50.6%--43.0% Wilson (R)
  • IA-01: Braley (D) 45.8%--40.7% Whalen (R)
  • NY-25: Maffei (D) 48.7%--43.7% Walsh (R)
  • PA-06: Murphy (D) 48.4%--44.1% Gerlach (R)
  • CT-05: Murphy (D) 46.8%--44.0% Johnson (R)
For a while, people noted that the best Democratic pickup chances tended to come from red districts like IN-09, KY-04, TX-22, and NC-11. However, as the campaign has progressed, blue districts have clumped together near the top of our target list. I currently estimate seven blue districts as Lean Democratic: CO-07, CT-05, IA-01, NH-02, NM-01, PA-06 and PA-07. Another eight are Toss-ups: CT-02, CT-04, FL-22, KY-03, NY-25, PA-08, and WA-08. The only one that doesn't strike me as quite a toss-up is IL-10, but even there netroots candidate Dan Seals is actually ahead 48-46 in the latest poll.

In just the seventeen blue House districts currently held by Republicans, Democrats are poised to make somewhere between seven and sixteen pickups this cycle alone. Hell, we could win enough seats to take back the House in just these districts, and those are all seats Republicans will have a very hard time getting back. Thus, these districts form not only the backbone of our drive to take the House this year, but have the clear potential to serve as the backbone of our majority in future cycles. Further, none of these Democrats will be in a position where they will have to "run from the party" in order to win, meaning that these districts can serve as the backbone of a Democratic and progressive legislative majority.

Karl Rove is supposedly a genius for adopting a polarizing, turn out the base strategy. However, it now looks entire possible that this strategy will blow up in his face. Polarized environments force people to choose sides, and after the 2006 elections there will be only a handful of Republicans left in blue House districts, while dozens of Democrats remain in purple and red districts. Creating a polarizing environment and only talking to the Republican base has resulted in only the Republican base siding with Republicans. The Republican base got exactly what it wanted after the 2004 elections: complete and lavish attention from their party leaders. The result looks like it will be the near-total collapse of Republicans in blue and purple districts.

Beyond Red & Blue---The Possible Underpinnings of A November Sweep

Cross-posted from Patterns That Connect

I began writing this in July.  I would have looked so much more prescient if I had finished it up and posted it then!  But it contains reworkings of material I was already writing about in other posts, so the connections are obvious.

Since the 2000 election, descriptions of American political discourse and behavior is dominated by "blue" and "red", liberal and conservative as the fundamental divide, with the notion of polarization underlying and dominating all discussions.  Even those, such as during the immediate post-9/11 period, in which polarization was temporarily set aside, generally called attention to the fact of polarization by noting that it was conspicuously missing.

Looking forward to the 2006 elections, it seems unlikely to most that we could see a major, realigning election, giving Democrats decisive and lasting control over Congress. There are a number of reasons for this, but woven into all them, in one way or another is fundamental notion of a polarized, evenly-divided electorate.  But this presumption may prove false, based on two observations--the first general, the second specific. If it does  prove false, then there is considerable chance of a realigning election--one that not only shifts power to the Democrats this election, but establishes a majority that will endure for some time into the future, perhaps even growing more substantial in the 2008 election, for example.

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