New Progressive Politics

Go West, Democrats

One of the themes that is likely to be discussed over the next few days is the rise of Democrats in the West.  Progressive with a libretarian streak, these Democrats are rapidly breaking the Republican hold on the West, and that red-to-blue trend should continue tonight, as reported by the Boston Globe

...demographic changes have shifted the political landscape in a region that was long considered rock-red Republican. 

Western Democrats pointed to House races and statewide races in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and even Wyoming that are unexpectedly competitive, given the GOP's traditional strength in the region. 

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have been forced to make appearances for candidates in four Western states where GOP victories were considered almost assured earlier this year. Denver is a finalist to host the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and Western lawmakers believe the Mile-High City will win the competition if Colorado elects a Democratic governor today. 

"Colorado is definitely moving from a red state to a short stop at purple, and it's conceivably going to be a blue state" after today's elections, said Floyd Ciruli , an independent pollster based in Denver. Demographic changes and frustration over the war in Iraq "are all contributing to what looks like a really historic transformation here."

The Critical Arnold Frame: What does the one big Republican success story truly mean?

There is one Republican who is poised to do exceedingly well on Tuesday – California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. We’ll see what plays out, but if it goes as expected, Arnold will win big over the Democrat.

It is very important to be clear on what this means. From my perspective, it’s because Arnold represents a creature we have not seen in a long time – a progressive Republican.

He started out as a mushy moderate in the 2003 Recall Election that started him out. He then tacked hard to the right and championed a conservative agenda in the 2005 special election for initiatives – where he got clobbered. But in the last year he has now tacked to the other side and become a champion for a range of progressive policies that originated with the progressive Democrats that run the state legislature.

The success of this formula, particularly in the context of a repudiation of conservative Republican politicians and policies, will have a big impact on the next wave of Republicanism to evolve in the coming years.

The San Francisco Chronicle had a front page story this morning that comes closest to articulating this framework, though reporter Carla Marinucci still dances around the edges. Here’s how she leads off the story:

If the Republican Party, as predicted, takes a serious swamping Tuesday across the country, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may look not only like a prescient politician who rode the wave -- but like one who's now poised to generate one himself.

Even before Tuesday's vote is tallied, "Arnold has become the New Republican -- someone who talks fiscal conservatism and put together a coalition of Democrats and Republicans," said GOP strategist Ed Rollins. "Certainly, he can become a very significant role model."

Should he win re-election -- and polls put him in a commanding lead -- Schwarzenegger's bounce back from unpopularity a year ago will show how California "has always been a trendsetter,'' Rollins said. Politically, "it's always two to six years ahead of the rest of the country.''

Rollins gets the new wave part, but muddles the mix of what Arnold represents. Marinucci then gets everyone else’s take on what Arnold means and the story goes into a “he said, she said” balanced piece that can tie newspaper stories up in knots.

But the general thrust of the piece is pointing to Arnold as a sign of new wave Republicans. And that much is true.

However, the piece begs the question about where the really interesting story now lies. Not in Republicans who are desperately taking Democrats’ progressive ideas to appeal to the electorate, but on the front edge of that progressive movement.

The real story of the next couple years is going to be how progressives drive the new agenda that needs to fill the gaping void the conservatives are leaving. As the Chronicle story puts it in the end with a quote from Democratic strategist Chris Lehane:

The political question isn't "does Arnold provide a road map to the future,'' Lehane said, but now that Schwarzenegger has "tacked to the left and taken many of their ideas, are Democrats going to create a new vision for the party and seize the opportunity?''

Indeed, that is the question now.

Peter Leyden

The way we do media is ready for a big re-think

A great deal of thinking has been done in recent years about a building a 21st century progressive infrastructure.  New institutions like Center for American Progress, Media Matters, Democracy Journal, Copernicus, Platform Equity, the Blue Fund, Catalist and Air America has all benefited from political venture capitial meeting progressive entreprenuers eager to build a new and better capacities to bring our values and ideas to the American people. 

We've always believed that an area that needed an immediate and critical re-think is the way we market, brand and sell our movement, institutions, ideas/values, leaders and candidates.  It is not just about adopting and experimenting with all the new and game-changing tools becoming available today, it is about the content of the paid advertising itself.  As the Washington Post points out today in a very good front page article, paid advertising is where most of our money goes in the progressive movement, and along with the impression people get through the media of how we govern, is the primary way people understand who we are and what we are about.  And I for one am not convinced the way we communicate is as modern and or effective as it can be:

...."The Republican and Democratic parties dumped tens of millions of dollars this week on dozens of congressional races, locking up broadcast time yesterday for a blizzard of new advertising that will saturate the airwaves over the final weekend of the midterm campaign season.

Candidates rushed out more than 600 new television ads ahead of network deadlines for the weekend, with many Republicans trying to shift attention from Iraq and President Bush to local issues such as the environment, taxes and immigration. This final thrust will boost spending on political and issue advertising past $2 billion in this campaign, or $400 million more than in the 2004 presidential campaign, according to Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

"Politics is probably the only business in the world where they spend the most money when they have the least number of available customers to pitch to," Tracey said..."

I wrote earlier this week about how tv ads have changed this cycle, as our practioners are coming to terms with how broadcast tv norms have become exhausted and are experimenting with new ways to connect.  This is becoming all the more urgent, as the speed in which we are leaving the broadcast era is increasing.  Consider that over the next few years: half of all voters will come to own a DVR, making it likely they will skip a very high portion of tv ads; live, over-the-air broadcast TV will continue its dramatic decline, and reach perhaps only a third of all people watching TV on any given day; this year Google will sell as many search ads this year as ABC will TV ads; the kind of one to one marketing invisioned by Copernicus and Catalist will become commonplace; and a third of all voters will have broadband video on their phones, radically increasing the importance of viral video and other bottom-up, citizen-led viral networks. 

I will have more on all this over the next few days, and will talk about how the three major media campaigns our community has funded in recent years have been built with all these transformations in mind. 

Lots to think about.  But that's what we do here at NDN and NPI.  Your thoughts, as always, are welcome. 

TV ads feel different this cycle, and are

Alessandra Stanley has an interesting essay in today’s Times Week in Review section that looks at the humor in many political TV ads this season, suggesting that

 “In a culture where growing numbers of viewers say they get their news from “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report,” and at a time when anything shocking or amusing on television can be downloaded and e-mailed instantly, candidates are co-opting the YouTube revolution.”

She is on to something here.  Surveying the ads this cycle it is clear that many more of the most memorable ads we’ve seen is a candidate, or other “real” people, speaking directly to camera.  Think of Harold Ford's great ads, or the Tester/Schweitzer ad mentioned in Stanley's piece, the wonderful ads from Women's Voices Women Vote or Michael J Fox. They are attempting to be more real, more intimate, more authentic.  And they connect. I think humor has been used this cycle not as an end in itself, but as a way of connoting that the message is real, and “not political.”

This new attempt to connect to people in more meaningful ways I think has come for two reasons.  First, as she suggests, the broadcast era of political communications is exhausted, and a new rapidly changing digital and personal age is emerging.  This new age is still very nascent, and what we are seeing is the first of a new wave of efforts to connect to an audience that is no longer as open to traditional 30 second spots or broadcast media norms.   These direct to camera ads are in essence an acknowledgement that it is getting much harder “to break through.”

Second, people are deeply unhappy with the current direction of the country, are seeking a “new direction,” and want to better understand what is happening to the country they love.  The Bush era, with its failed government, extraordinary spin (lying) and disconnect from what people perceive to be the reality of the day, is leaving people wanting “straight talk,” authenticity, realness, leveling.  They want to better understand what is happening, and are looking for leaders to show them the way – and not manipulate them.

Both of these trends taken together would lead one to believe that what voters want more than anything else these next few years is a more direct, honest, authentic politics.  They know the country has gone off course, and are looking for a real and better path forward, and leaders who can take us there.  The Bush era has also given them new tools to detect “truthiness,” or the appearance of authenticity and realness as opposed to its actual existence.

Above all else I believe what this means is that in the next few years the two parties and their leaders will need to say what they believe and believe what they say, or will suffer their own “macaca” moment – a moment when the mask comes off, reveals the true person underneath and shows that it has all been a big show.  “Political positioning,” or playing to the polls, isn’t gonna cut it in what Stanley calls the “YouTube revolution.”  This is a time for real vision, leadership and powerfully held beliefs. 

New Schaller book worth a read

We held a small lunch for Tom Schaller, a friend of mine, and author of a new book about American politics, Whistling Past Dixie.  Why I dont endorse what appears to be the thrust of the book - that Dems should write off the South - it is full of important and interesting analysis about how progressives and Democrats can build a new majority around the new American of the 21st century.  I strongly recommend it, and Tom himself.  His presentation was very compelling.

Controversy around Using Search for Politics

The New York Times had a story today on “A New Campaign Tactic: Manipulating Google Data” which comes right off two themes the New Politics institute has been promoting recently in our Tools Campaign. There have also been a spate of other stories recently on what some call “Google-Bombing,” the practice of using search optimization techniques to get certain websites or articles on the web to get returned higher in search queries at search engines like Google. Two of the stories featured NPI’s work: MSNBC had one called “Political Bloggers Coordinate Google Bombs,” and another site had “Web strategists tout candidate use of search ads.”

The two themes NPI has promoted are: using search optimization techniques to ensure that progressive candidates get their messages as high as possible in search queries, and buying search ads. As the stories point out, buying search ads is probably the quickest, cheapest, and most effective thing that progressives candidates could do in the last weeks before the election. Spread the word – a these stories are doing.

Peter Leyden

New Politics Institute

New NPI Report shows Progressives Gaining in the Exurbs

Our New Politics Institute Director, Peter Leyden just sent this out. It's worth a good read, as it shows how progressives find new opportunities in Exurbia.


Can progressives win in the exurbs? Today NPI releases a new Fall 2006 edition of our groundbreaking exurban report that argues – yes, we can.

Writing immediately after the 2004 election, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote an influential op-ed called “Take A Ride To Exurbia,” arguing that Conservatives were victorious because they won exurban voters: “the Republicans achieved huge turnout gains in exurbs .... [they] permeated those communities, and spread their message.”

But today our new report from NPI Fellow Ruy Teixeira shows Brooks is out of date: conservative exurban strongholds are breaking down, and the exurbs are up for grabs for progressives.

The Report, The Next Frontier: A New Study of Exurbia, shows why progressives can prosper as the exurbs become more diverse and less wealthy. It provides convincing evidence from a raft of recent polls that exurbans are today open to progressive messages and ideas.

There are three ways to absorb the report. First, you can check out the Highlights Version that just gives the executive summary and selected passages that are particularly relevant this fall. This includes an entirely new analysis with regional breakdowns of critical states like Ohio and Missouri.

Then you can read the full 34-page report, that includes all that highlighted material as well as a comprehensive analysis of the changing urban, suburban and exurban landscape of the 20th century that provides the foundation for some of today’s biggest political battles.

You can also watch our recently released video of Ruy Teixeira presenting a slide show version of the report at an event in Washington DC.

If progressives can take back the exurbs, we can also take back America. This report shows us the way. And you can help by reading it, passing it along and promoting it.


More and More Data on the unusually civic-minded Millennial Generation

A big USA Today story lays out more data that show that the young Millennial Generation is unusually civic-minded and socially conscious. They also are embracing issues that tend to be considered progressive:

A graphic shows the top 10 causes on their minds: education, poverty, environment, health, drug and alcohol prevention, human rights, equal rights, disaster relief, AIDS, and hunger.

No sign of bans on gay marriage.

The newspaper piece is also part of a big effort at PBS to build a better understanding of what they call Generation Next, which is what we call the Millennial Generation. The Online NewsHour has put up a bunch of material that fills in context for understanding this group, including a timeline for their lifetimes, which includes the march of technology. It’s a nice reminder of how much tech and media change has come within their lifetimes.

The New Politics Institute has been promoting a deeper understanding of this important constituency for the past year. You can see a fun 5 minute viral video we created that gives the top-line analysis of why these young people are so politically important.

Peter Leyden

New NPI Website marks Final Push on Fall "New Tools" Campaign

The New Politics Institute is making one final push to help progressives maximize their impact this fall through the use of four new tools – and we need your help to spread the word.

We are proud to announce that our newly relaunched website now has a complete set of materials from our “new tools” campaign.

Together our memos, videos and reports give a complete overview of four ways progressives can make a difference this fall: Buy Cable, Engage the Blogs, Use Search, and Speak in Spanish. Check out the Tools Campaign, as part of our completely revamped website.

The new NPI website is now the center of our campaign, and will be a vital resource in the weeks and months ahead. It’s built on a Web 2.0 foundation that gives NPI new capabilities and lets us tell our story in new ways. You can check it out at

The site is full of video including original interviews with our fellows. Especially notable is Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos giving his overview of the political impact of blogging. We also have an edited viral video that introduces the Millennial Generation that is poised to change politics.

Make sure to check out our video of a talk and multimedia slide show that gives an overview of the opportunity for a new politics in the decade ahead. We also have a whole section of written material that explains the context for this transformation.

And you can find more about the network we have built up since we started in May 2005, and the backgrounds of our fellows, who span the gamut from Joe Trippi to Jen Nix.

Please spread the word (and the links) to this rich resource for progressive organizations and candidates. It could make a difference this fall.

GOP stumbling with minorities

Peter Wallsten of the LA Times has a very interesting piece today about the Rovian-led efforts to reposition the GOP with African-Americans and Latinos in unraveling. 

The numbers in the Latino Coalition poll are consistent with our NDN political fund poll this summer. and other polls, that show a dramatic degradation of the Republican brand with Latinos across the country. 

NDN and our affiliate continue to be the most aggressive of all progressive groups in speaking to Latinos, as we end the year with two media campaigns, one promoting the minimum wage in AZ and CO, and the other our wonderful campaign connecting Democratic values to the iconic sport of soccer, "mas que un partido."

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