New Progressive Politics

Democrats in very strong position for 2008

As each day passes the magnitude of the Democratic victory become more clear.  We've offered some initial thoughts in three memos - quick post-election analysis, A day of reckoning for the conservative movement, voters send mandate for a new economic strategy and yesterday in a blog post - the end of the conservative ascendency

Since Reagan's election in 1980, there has been perhaps only a single year or so where Democrats were in as good a position as they are today - perhaps from the summer of 1992 to the fall of 1993.  Lets look at some numbers:

- The 2006 election were a highwater mark for Democrats.  The national vote was 53% Democrat, 45% Republican.  In other words, it was a blowout.  Given that Democrats have only broken 50.1 % in one Presidential election since 1948, and havent broken 50% since 1976 these national results are the among the best Democrats have achieved in the last two generations and has to be seen as a significant if not historic accomplishment. 

- While not in control of Congress in recent years, Democrats have been performing very well at the Presidential level.  Democrats have gotten 250 electoral college voters or more in the last four consecutive Presidential elections.  The last that happened was in the 1930s and 1940s.   They have also gotten 48% of the national vote or more in the last three Presidentials, gotten more votes than the GOP in three of the last four, and lost the last two elections by only a single state.  Not all that much has to change for the Democrats to wrest control of the electoral college.

- A 21st century sustainable, electoral majority strategy has emerged for the Democrats.  Democrats won their new Congressional Majorities in the Northeast, Midwest, Plains and West, and now have first non-Southern based Congressional majority in 50 years.  To win the electoral college in 2008, all Democrats will need to do is to hold on to the Gore/Kerry states in the North, a region where Democrats dramatically deepened their hold in 2006; and attempt to flip Ohio (where the GOP suffered an extraordinary meltdown) and some western states, particularly AZ, CO, NM and NV (all of which are trending Democratic, and where the GOP meltdown with Hispanics could dramatically change the game).  Given what happened in 2006, one would have to say that the electoral college is "Leaning Dem" in 2008. 

This new Northeast/Midwest/Plains/West/Southwest-first strategy could be the basis of a sustainable, 21st century national governing majority coalition for Democrats similar to what FDR built in the 20th century. 

- The Republican brand has been deeply degraded.  Even polls in late 2004 before and after the election showed the Democrats with a significant generic party label advantage, meaning that the floor Democrats were starting from heading into 2006 was much higher than many believed.  In a new Newsweek poll, the GOP is at historically low numbers in almost every measure.  When asked about the 2008 Presidential, Democrats were favored by 20 points, 48% to 28%.  Exits and private polling also show a significant erosion of support for Republicans with the fastest and most volatile part of the American electorate, Latinos, and severe degradation with under 30s, the future American voter.  

- In a new poll by Stan Greenberg, the word "conservative" has become almost as unpopular as the word "liberal."

- The Republican Presidential field has been weakened.  Frist and Allen now seem mortally wounded, and McCain I believe is the biggest loser of 2006.   His steadfast support of the Iraq war makes his path more difficult with many independent voters, and his right's reaction to his stance on immigration reform has made his task of winning his primary much harder.  Beyond these three the GOP field become much weaker, with a bunch of possible candidates with significant flaws or who are relatively unknown. 

Going into 2008 Democrats are starting from a remarkably strong position, perhaps their strongest position going into an election since 1975.  They start coming off a significant and deep national win in all regions of the country, and then a great deal of momentum, a strong Presidential field, a great chance to expand the Senate majority in particular, an electoral college trending their way, a new national electoral majority strategy, a Republican brand and conservative movement severely degraded, and a Republican Presidential field weakened.   

While of course a lot can happen between now and 2008, there should be no question that Democrats are leaving 2006 with a strong wind at their back.

Election narratives: the end of the conservative ascendancy

For the past several years, our members and friends have been helping lead a critical strategic conversation in the progressive movement on how to best respond to the remarkable success of the 20th century conservative movement. We all know the story - the conservatives invested billions of dollars over more than a generation to build a very powerful and modern political movement, one which they used to seize more ideological and political control over Washington than in any time since the 1920s.

In the fall of last year it was clear that the conservatives were writing a new and terrible chapter of their movement. Through our analysis grouped in the "meeting the conservative challenge" portion of our site, NDN began laying out an argument that the extraordinary governing failures of the Bush era was calling into question the very nature of the conservative movement itself. As we wrote in January of this year, in a memo called the "State of Conservative Governance, 2006,"

"Tonight the President reports to the nation on the State of the Union. We will hear soaring rhetoric, powerful words, a President resolute and determined. We will hear of victories, progress, and pride. He will tell a compelling story – and very little of it will be true.

The truly compelling story of this decade is one that Bush doesn’t want told – the rapid and dramatic failure of conservative government. Finally in a position of virtually unchecked power after decades in the political wilderness, modern conservatives have failed quickly and utterly at the most basic responsibilities of governing, leaving our nation weaker and our people less prosperous, less safe and less free.

Seduced by the temptations of power, these movement ideologues also quickly came to believe that the rules of our democracy did not apply to them. The result is one of the farthest-reaching episodes of corruption and criminal investigations into a governing party in our history.

To fully appreciate the State of the Union, we need a deep understanding of the conservative movement and its rise to power. Jumpstarted a little more than fifty years ago by William F. Buckley’s National Review, the conservatives began their long march to power by investing billions of dollars in a modern infrastructure to combat the entrenched position of progressives in government. They used this infrastructure – think tanks, for-profit media, superior and innovative forms of electioneering – to defeat an aging progressive movement, and now have more power than at any time since the 1920s.

In recent years America has learned what life is like under a true conservative government. With near absolute power, conservatives have pursued their agenda with little compromise or input from progressives. The latest chapter of the great conservative story – the Bush years – may have been one of political victories, but it has also been one of disastrous governance. The broad and deep failures of the Bush government should cause all Americans to reappraise the virtue of this grand conservative experiment, recognizing that even after 50 years and untold billions of dollars, they have yet to come up with a true alternative to 20th century progressive government -- which did so much good, for so long. "

Promoting this historical narrative about a needed reappraisal of "the grand conservative experiment" became one of NDN's top message priorities this year. It is woven through my foreword to the critically acclaimed book, Crashing the Gate, it was at the very center of my June Annual Meeting speech, and is at the core of the narrative behind the work of our affiliate, the New Politics Institute. We revsited the story in our quick post-election analysis, and in a memo released on the morning of Tuesday's election called "A Day of Reckoning for the Conservative Movement." In this new memo we wrote:

..."The question about conservatism has always been could it mature enough as a governing philosophy to replace 20th century progressivism, and provide America with a true alternative governing approach? I believe the Bush era has answered that question, and the answer is no. Given the extraordinary failure of conservative government to do the very basics – keeping us safe, fostering broad-based prosperity, protecting our liberties, balancing the books and not breaking the law – I think history will label this 20th century conservatism a success as a critique of 20th century progressivism, but a failure as a governing philosophy. It never matured into something more than an ivory-tower led and Limbaugh-fed correction to a progressivism that had lost its way.

Despite the many billions spent in building this modern conservative movement, history will label it a grand and remarkable failure. And I think we will look back at 2006 as the year this most recent period of American history – the conservative ascendancy – ended..."

Reviewing the media from the past few days, it is clear this important narrative has woven itself into the emerging set of major narratives about 2006. Matt Bai visits it in his new essay in the New York Times magazine; it was front-paged Wednesday on DailyKos; on Thursday a Wall Street Journal blog attacked it; it is at the core of the lead story in the New York Times Week in Review today; Jon Podesta offers his take on the narrative in his must read post-election memo; Jonathan Alter tackles it in his usually elegant fashion in Newsweek; and NPI fellow Joe Trippi, a major architect of this entire argument, makes the case in his very thoughtful essay in the Washington Post today.

A lot changed this week in America. One of the most important things that is in the process of changing is the understanding of the moment we are in in American history; and this new understanding, advanced to a great degree by NDN and our allies, should give all progressives optimism that this emerging new era in American history means better days are coming for our movement and the great nation we love.

Newsweek poll shows broad support for Dem agenda

Lots of interesting stuff in here.

Schaller's take on 2006

For those of you who saw Tom Schaller at our Thursday post-election forum, here is a link to an initial memo he has released that echoes his insightful comments.

Looking ahead to 2008: Dems have momentum

An upbeat piece from Reuters about Dems having momentum going into 2008:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The 2008 White House race opens in a political landscape transformed by Tuesday's election, with resurgent Democrats seeing new opportunities and wounded Republicans pointing fingers and counting casualties.

Some potential White House contenders, including Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Republican Sens. George Allen of Virginia and Bill Frist of Tennessee, suffered setbacks that likely took them out of contention.

Democrats solidified support in the Northeast and Midwest, continued their growth in the West and picked up governors' offices in battleground states like Ohio and Colorado that could give them an advantage in 2008.

"Rather than being beleaguered and lost, we have a national victory in all parts of the country and go into this two-year cycle with more momentum than we've had in 14 years," said Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a centrist Democratic group.

Republicans bickered over what caused the voter anger at President George W. Bush and Republican leadership that cost them control of Congress. Some questioned whether the party could be successful with a message crafted primarily for core conservative supporters.

"The Republican Party will have to decide whether they want to win in 2008 or whether they are willing to impale themselves on the point of doctrinaire conservatism," Republican consultant Rich Galen said.

But conservative leaders said Republican leaders in Congress needed to return to the ideas that first helped them win government control.

"If they hope to return to power in 2008, they must rediscover the conservative principles that resonated with the majority of Americans in the 1980s," said the Rev. James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family.....""

The nation is already on a new course

As I wrote in our quick post-election analysis this week, the nation not only voted for a new course, but a more progressive one.   And within days of the election we can already see signs of how different the next two years are going to be.  

On Wednesday the President fired Donald Rumsfeld and offered to work with the Democrats on minimum wage and comprehensive immigration reform, two issues blocked repeatedly by the Congressional Republicans (and aggressively supported by the members of NDN). 

The headlines this morning are about troop withdrawals, fixing the alternative minimum tax, labor dusting off their agenda, Joe Lieberman not just caucusing with the Democrats but being a Democrat, a rethink of our anti-terrorism strategy, bi-partisanship, and features quotes from folks Charlie Rangel, Rahm Emanuel, Chuck Schumer, etc. 

Tuesday's elections were a mandate for change.  The nation already feels different, as if a difficult and contentious time is ceding to perhaps a more constructive, optimistic one.  As progressives our role should be to keep it at that level, thoughtful, constructive, focused on solving the big problems of the day.  Of course we will have disagreements along the way, but if our politics is driven by the same sense "that we are all in this together" that many are advocating for our public philosophical approach, then we will have to show that in our daily behavior towards one another and of course those on the other side of the ideological debate.

Millennials Rising: The Youth vote is with us again, and again

The San Francisco Chronicle had a front page story today on “Growing Youth Turnout is Good News for Dems.” I’m biased because I anchor the piece at the end, but I do think this is a great quick analysis of the growing strategic importance of the Millennial Generation on progressive politics.

Much of it was based on a bipartisan exit poll of 500 18-to-29-year-olds done by GOP pollster Ed Goeas and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake for Young Voter Strategies in Washington, D.C. This poll and others quoted lump young adults as everyone under age 30, though the New Politics Institute and other analysts consider the up-and-coming Millennial generation (those born in the 1980s and 1990s) to be age 26 and under. Still it’s a close alignment.

Some key findings: two million more young people voted Tuesday than in the 2002 midterm elections. This generation is civic-minded and gung-ho about getting involved in politics.

It’s not just turnout but how they voted and which party they identify with:

“According to CNN exit polls, 60 percent of voters under 30 cast ballots for Democrats. Seventy-eight percent of young people who vote for the same party in three elections in a row are likely to remain a member of that party through adulthood, said pollster Goeas.

"We lost (the youth vote) in 2004 by 11 percent," Goeas said of Republicans. Now, with that number doubling this year, according to early exit polls, Goeas worried that a generation of the electorate is growing up as reliable Democrats.

According to the bipartisan Goeas-Lake exit polls, 40 percent of young voters said they identify with Democrats, 30 percent with Republicans and 23 percent with independents. However, half reported that they voted for Democrats, and 35 percent said they cast ballots for Republicans.”

This is truly good news for progressives because this Millennial Generation is no ordinary generation – it is massive in size, a full 75 million people, and it rivals the size of the baby boom. If the Boomers had split this dramatically, the last 25 years of conservative ascendancy would not have happened.

The piece also made the point that this high turnout was not all about the new tools, though it started to make a difference. My quote at the end of the piece addresses this:

"The 2006 election was an experimental one for new media," said Peter Leyden, director of the New Politics Institute, a liberal San Francisco think tank that focuses on the intersection of new media tools and politics. "But even if it wasn't fully integrated into campaigns, what things like YouTube did was energize and excite young people about politics."

Peter Leyden


AP News: "Youth turnout in election biggest in 20 years"

From Rueters News on the youth vote and the election, here are excerpts: 

"Young Americans voted in the largest numbers in at least 20 years in congressional elections...

About 24 percent of Americans under the age of 30, or at least 10 million young voters, cast ballots in Tuesday's elections that saw Democrats make big gains in Congress. That was up 4 percentage points from the last mid-term elections in 2002.

"This looks like the highest in 20 years," said Mark Lopez, research director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which compiled the data based on exit polls....

 Rock the Vote, a youth-and-civics group, said young voters favored Democrats by a 22-point margin, nearly three times the margin Democrats earned among other age groups and dealing a potentially decisive blow to Republicans in tight races...

 Future elections could also be at stake. The "Generation Y" of Americans born from 1977 to 1994 -- shaped by the September 11 attacks, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina -- in nine years will make up a third of the electorate."

California is the Future: what really happened in the election on the west coast

I’ve been taking in the largely east coast analysis of what happened in the historic election of last night. But from my perch out in San Francisco, I thought I’d give a quick analysis of what happened in California that may have implications for the rest of the country too.

I have always maintained that California is the future. I know that can rub people the wrong way, but it’s a useful rule of thumb when trying to forecast how many different trends in many different fields might play out across America. Look to California first. The same case can be made in politics. California often foreshadows larger trends that make their way into American politics over the long haul.

I’m not the only one who uses that frame. A couple days ago I even quoted Republican strategist Ed Rollins from a newspaper article: “California has always been a trendsetter,'' Rollins said. “Politically, it's always two to six years ahead of the rest of the country.''

If that’s the case, or even often the case, then what happened this election that politicos should pay attention to?

# First up, Arnold. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger whomped Democrat Phil Angelides in a landslide victory with almost a 17 point spread. Why? Because Arnold is becoming a form of Republican that we have not seen in a long, long time: a progressive Republican.

I wrote a whole post on this before the election, but the results bear it out. Californians clearly responded to his shift to the left, which started with his state of the state speech in January where he laid out a hugely ambitious and largely progressive agenda that he and the overwhelmingly progressive Democratic legislature largely delivered throughout this year. By working with progressive Democrats on progressive issues like landmark legislation to aggressively solve global warming, Californians rewarded him with their vote. Even in the very progressive San Francisco Bay area he was getting 50 percent of the vote in many counties.

Just last fall those same Californians had soundly defeated all four of Arnold’s clearly conservative ballot initiatives in the special election that he called. So Californians don’t just like Arnie, they like progressive Arnie. It’s crystal clear from the opposite results of two elections only one year apart.

This is very important for the future of American politics because Arnold is about the only Republican success story of this cycle and many people are going to study his formula very closely. He is blazing a trail for the next wave of Republicans who will flee the conservative formula like rats from a sinking ship.

# Aside from Arnold, the rest of California’s elected officials are overwhelmingly Democrats, and progressive Democrats at that. This election held true to a progressive trend that has been inexorably evolving since roughly 1992. (Before that time, California went for Republican presidents in the six previous cycles, and the state was not nearly as “blue.”)

In Tuesday’s election all the top statewide races went to Democrats, save one, the Insurance Commissioner, Steve Poizner, who was a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur and moderate Republican running against a damaged Democrat who was dogged by accepting illegal contributions, among other things. US Senator Diane Feinstein had a bigger landslide than Arnold at about 25 percent. And Dems won for Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Controller, Treasurer, and Attorney General.

# The US Congressional delegation stayed overwhelmingly Democrat, with Dems bringing down or seriously challenging even conservative Republicans who had been entrenched in their red state-ish districts inland. The notorious Richard Pombo, the seven-term member of the House leadership, fell to a political newcomer.

That Congressional delegation will be led by San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi, soon to be the first female speaker of the house. (Where would you look to see the manifestation of her politics?) And Ellen Tauscher, another representative from the Bay area, will head the more centrist but still generally progressive New Democrat Coalition in the new House too.

# Both California’s state houses stayed lopsidedly in control of progressive Democrats. The key leaders are from progressive bastions of the state: Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez is from Los Angeles, and Senate President Pro tem Don Perata is from Oakland. These houses have been the ones serving up the progressive proposals of the last legislative cycle – not Schwarzenegger. Arnold has been glomming onto the bills and signing them, or trying to one-up their initiatives, which have been big and bold.

# Californians approved $40 billion in public works spending this election, which will some from a series of bonds that had to be approved at the ballot box. All but one did. These bonds will go to finance roads and levees and schools and low income housing. This is the kind of public investment that is reminiscent of past eras of progressivism. Big, bold, and needed.

# That said, a series of proposed tax increases were voted down by Californians. The most high profile example was a proposition that would have taxed oil production in the state and invested the money, as much as $4 billion, in alterative energy research and development. This measure was defeated, partly because of $100 million spent on television advertising by the oil companies that would have been taxed. Another proposition was to put another $2.60 tax on a pack of cigarettes. Voters struck that down too, perhaps because it was overreaching.

(There is some learning to be done about how 21st century progressivism will work in the wake of decades of conservative brainwashing about never allowing new taxes.)

# The more progressive viewpoint prevailed on four other stateside propositions, including one on parental notification for abortion, and putting restrictions on the public's right of eminent domain. In other words, conservative attempts to push their agenda through state initiatives were beaten back by the California electorate.

What does all this add up to? In the coming weeks, all eyes are going to look to the Democrats of the US House and Senate to put forth their progressive agenda that will replace the discredited conservative one. Many Democrats, not to mention average Americans, are worried that progressives don’t have an alternative agenda.

In fact, there has been a progressive experiment going on in that test-bed of the future, the state of California. There are a lot of progressive ideas about what to do about global warming, and health care, and the minimum wage, etc. There are many fully-baked policies and legislation about how to move those ideas into law. And there are a lot of precedents about how a progressive majority might conduct itself in power in the early 21st century. It’s a long way from perfect, but it’s more than just a start.

It is a glimpse of a possible future, right here in California. Tune in and check it out.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

Quick post-election analysis: Republicans no longer the dominant party

- Last night the American people made it clear that they had grown weary of the failures and partisanship of the Bush era, wanted a new direction, and got one. After giving Republicans the nation in 1994, the American people just gave the nation back to the Democrats. Democrats now have a majority in the House, among governors and state legislative chambers, and apparently the US Senate.

- With these Democratic gains in all regions of the country the American people have not only choosen a new direction, but a more progressive one. While many of the newly elected Democrats will join the Blue Dog and New Democrat caucuses, in almost every instance the Democrat who won their race was ideologically to the left of the Republican they beat. Every type of Democrat won last night, Northeastern, Midwestern, Southern, Texan, Western, liberal, moderate, conservative and many whose ideology defies easy description and should be best described just as a Democrat.

- The Republicans can no longer be called the dominant party in American politics, as Democrats are now clearly competitive in all regions of the country. 42 of the 50 states either have a Democratic Senator or Governor (The 8 states without a major statewide Dem are AK, AL, GA, KY, MS, SC, TX and UT). The country remains, however, very evenly divided. Both parties now competitive in all regions of the country, with Republicans largely holding on their advantage in the South and Democrats making gains in Florida, the North, Mid-West and West. It is fair to say that heading into 2008 neither party hold a significant advantage, and the GOP/conservative ascendency has ended. It is a "jump ball" for control in 2008 with both parties starting out evenly matched, without a great advantage and Democrats perhaps having a little more wind at their back.

- It was a day of reckoning for the conservative movement. As we wrote yesterday in an election day essay, "Given the extraordinary failure of conservative government to do the very basics - keeping us safe, fostering broad-based prosperity, protecting our liberties, balancing the books and not breaking the law - I think history will label this 20th century conservatism a success as a critique of 20th century progressivism, but a failure as a governing philosophy. It never matured into something more than an ivory-tower led and Limbaugh-fed correction to a progressivism that had lost its way."

- The exits showed that voters had many issues on their minds - Iraq, corruption, terrorism and the economy. There was no one single issue driving the outcome, but the unexpectedly high number of people citing "corruption" or "scandals" signals to me a real desire for leadership that focuses on solving the people's business rather than playing politics. In many ways this is the most important message of the election, and from listening to Pelosi and others last night one Democrats clearly understand. The Republicans lost because their government did not what it needed to do for the Ameican people. To succeed Democrats will have to focus not on politics and positioning but doing everything they can to work with the Republicans to solve the many problems facing the nation.

- Most of the gains for Democrats in the House came in the Mid-West and Industrial North, the older and more settled regions of the country. Democrats won two Southern seats, two in Florida and three in the Southwest but overall did not make major gains in the Sunbelt. More gains in these areas may come with the 8 or so races in recounts right now. Democrats got their new House majority without making major gains in the South, and are now the first non-southern based Congressional Majority since 1955. The Senate followed a similar pattern, with most of the gains in the older regions of the country.

- The new Democratic Congressional Majority has all the attributes one normally associates with majorities - ideological, generational and regional diversity. This new Democratic team is a diverse lot, from all regions of the country, from rural, exurban, suburban and urban areas. Leading this team isn't going to be easy, nor will it be easy to predict where it goes on major issues. An early test of Speaker Pelosi will be to guide her new team towards consensus on Iraq and the budget.

- Looking ahead to 2008, it is clear that Democrats have strengthened their position in the electoral college. Their base in the North has deepened; the great swing state of Ohio has become much more Democratic; they continued to make gains in the West; add an angered and trending Democrat Latino population, and an already trending-Democratic Southwest looks much more Democratic.

- The Republican Presidential field took a big hit last night. Allen and Frist now seem damaged beyond repair, but the big loser of the night was John McCain. He has hitched himself to the President's failed Iraq policy, which will be seen today as the main reason why the Republicans did so poorly at the polls.

- Even the two good stories for the GOP last night, the CA and FL governor's races, have bad news for Bush and his brand of Republicanism. Both Arnold and Charlie Crist publically distanced themselves from Bush, with Crist doing it very publically just this past Monday before the election by not showing up at a Bush rally designed to help him.

- The Democratic bench has gotten much deeper and stronger in the past few years. Not only are there many more Democrats elected to offices across the country, there are many more powerful and compelling leaders emerging. In addition to already successful Democrats like Warner, Edwards, Napolitano, Granholm, Richardson and Sebelius we now can add Deval Patrick, Eliot Spitzer, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Martin O'Malley, Bob Menendez, Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama, Artur Davis, Antonio Villaraigosa, Gabriel Giffords, Gavin Newsom and many others to the growing pool of exciting, next generation leaders with a big future ahead.

- A sign of changing times. Our new Speaker is a woman, the Democratic frontrunner for President in 2008 is a woman, and the possible Presidential candidate with the most buzz is a young African-American Senator from the Mid-West.

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