Excited for Tomorrow's Presentation by Mike Hais and Morley Winograd on Emerging Political Coalitions

Tomorrow, Thursday March 4th at 12 noon, we're going to be having a great event here at NDN,  a special presentation on a new poll regarding the changing political coalitions of the 21st Century.  I encourage partisans and political idealogues of all stripes, as well as those interested in changing demographics to join us.You can rsvp to jsingleton@ndn.org or by following this link.

Part of what is so great about this presentation is that it takes a look at very important segments of the electorate (Millennials, Unmarried Women, African-Americans and Latinos) and really emphasizes how their power exists in their emergence as a coalition - and how that coalition is growing. 

I know that this is going to be an exciting kickoff for our 21st Century America project.

Everybody's Wrong But Us

In Wednesday’s Washington Post, conservative columnist Michael Gerson, citing a recent Pew Research Center poll, says that the "polarization" between Democrats and Republicans in their approval of President Barack Obama's performance is greater than for any other president in surveys stretching back to the early days of the Nixon administration. In the Pew survey, a nearly unanimous 88 percent of Democratic identifiers, as opposed to a scant 27 percent of Republicans, approved of the president's performance, a gap of 61 percentage points. Independents (57% approve) fall precisely between the Democrats and Republicans. Overall, in that survey, 59 percent of all Americans approved of the job the president was doing, a number that rose slightly (to 61%) in the most recent Pew survey, conducted in the wake of Obama's European trip.

While Gerson's statement of the facts may be correct, his interpretation is dead wrong. The election of President Obama last year brought America into a new civic era, a turning point that has occurred roughly every eighty years throughout American history. Each time the country enters a civic era there is a rise in partisan identifications, a more coherent ideological divide between the two parties, and an increase in straight ticket voting. Even Gerson noted that polarization might be a good thing when it is a "decisive" and "ambitious" president like Franklin D. Roosevelt who is doing the polarizing to achieve overriding national goals. Despite Gerson's attempts to blame Obama for our current level of partisan divide, the truth is that such a division is inevitable in a civic era.

The polarization between Democrats and Republicans in the Pew and every other survey has much less to do with President Obama's personal and political style, as Gerson suggested, than it does with the inability of his own Republican Party to adapt to this new era. From the earliest Pew survey conducted in 1989, the first year of George H.W. Bush's administration, through 2005, there was near parity in the distribution of party identifiers within the electorate; no more than three or four percentage points ever separated the Democrats from the Republicans. By contrast, since 2006 the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats has risen significantly, while the number saying they are Republican has fallen. In the most recent Pew study, conducted early this month, the Democrats held a clear 52% to 35% lead over the Republicans in party ID, a 13 percentage point shift toward the Democratic Party since 2004. And, only 21 percent of American voters are "pure" Republicans, a group that consists only of those willing to call themselves Republicans and does not include independents that say they lean toward the GOP. This is the smallest number of "pure" partisans for either party in any survey ever conducted by Pew.

Quite simply, the GOP has become an ever-declining corps of conservative true believers. A recent Frank N. Magid Associates survey indicates that while Democratic identifiers are almost evenly divided between liberals or progressives (45%) and moderates (42%), among Republicans, conservatives outnumber moderates by more than 2:1 (61% vs. 26%).

As a result, Republicans see things very differently than almost everyone else. The latest Daily Kos weekly tracking poll, for example, indicates that more than two-thirds of Americans (67%) have a favorable opinion of President Obama. In that poll at least sixty percent of both women and men and all age and ethnic groups have a positive impression of the president. Only among Republicans (23%) and in the geographic center of the GOP, the South, (41%), is only a minority favorable toward Obama.

Given the distance of the Republican Party from the current American political mainstream, and the increased sense of party loyalty felt by many Americans, it shouldn't be surprising that most of the public is reticent to see President Obama compromise with Republicans on important public policy questions as Gerson suggests. In a March CBS/New York Times poll, a clear majority (56%) wanted President Obama to pursue the policies he promised in the campaign rather than working in a bipartisan way with Republicans (39%). An even larger majority (79%) wanted Congressional Republicans to work in a bipartisan way with the President rather than sticking to Republican policies.

By refusing to do so, it is the Republicans and not Barack Obama who are now polarizing American politics and, as a result, it is they who are polarized from most of their fellow citizens as well.

If Republicans like Michael Gerson truly want to see bipartisan policymaking, they will have to retreat from their position as a corporal's guard on the right wing of American politics and join the rest of the country in seeking real solutions to the major issues facing the United States at the dawn of the 21st Century.

My Predictions

The Hill asked a few folks to offer their election predictions late last week, so I had to commit to something. You can find my full analysis here. The bottom line - Obama 53, McCain 46, Obama wins 353 in the Electoral College. Dems get to 59 in the Senate and pick up 20 seats in the House.

And a new day dawns in Washington.  A new and better day. 

Still No Evidence That McCain Is In This Thing

In reviewing the polls today the trend lines continued unaltered - Obama holds his commanding lead with no evidence that the race is in any way breaking towards McCain.  As DemFromCT's am report shows there was no meaningful movement towards McCain overnight and Obama's numbers held.  Gallup's 3 daily tracks released at 1pm this afternoon have all sorts of bad news for McCain, with the 2 likely voter tracks each now having the race 52-42 for Obama.  For all this talk that the late breaking vote may break to McCain there is no evidence of this. What still must be terrifying to the national GOP is that there are so many late polls with Obama ahead by 8-12 points, and with their man still mired in the low 40s. 

I offered some thoughts yesterday on why the race the broke the way it did this Fall.  Called Keys to the Fall: Obama Leads, McCain Stumbles, you can find it on the Huffington Post (where it ran on the home page for almost 24 hours) or a version right here on our blog. 

So.....I was asked by a newspaper to offer my predictions for Tuesday.  I committed to Obama 53, McCain 46 and Obama claiming 353 electoral college votes.  But given the polls of recent days there is a remote but growing possibility that Obama wins by 10 points or more.  

Also if you haven't seen it read Jonathan Weisman's front page political story in the Wall Street Journal today.   It includes this passage, which includes data and arguments that will be familiar to our readers:

Demographics also shifted in the right places to give Democrats a lift. In Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina, the influx of a younger, more-educated populace brought voters more receptive to the Democrats' message. A concerted Republican campaign to curb illegal immigration turned a wave of new foreign-born voters against the GOP in Florida, Nevada and Colorado, just as the Latino vote in those states was growing.

Between 2000 and this year, the Hispanic electorate will have doubled, to 12% of voters, according to Census data and NDN, a Democratic group that studies the electorate. That growth has been concentrated in once-Republican states, not only in the Mountain West but in the South. By 2006, Hispanics represented 31% of voters in New Mexico, 13% in Nevada, 11% in Florida and 8% in Colorado.

President Bush and his political team were able to ride that wave, nearly doubling the GOP's share of the Latino vote from 21% in 1996 to 40% in 2004, according to exit polls. Then came 2006 and the Republican Party embrace of get-tough legislation on illegal immigration, followed by Republican efforts to kill bipartisan bills to stiffen border enforcement and provide illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

In 2006, Republican support among Hispanics fell to 30%. Even Sen. McCain, who co-authored the bipartisan immigration legislation, does not appear able to reverse the trend. An NDN poll in August, when Sens. Obama and McCain were virtually tied in the polls, found Sen. Obama leading among Colorado Hispanics 56% to 26% and Nevada Hispanics 62% to 20%.

In Colorado alone, more than 70,000 new Latino voters have registered since 2004. An Associated Press-GFK poll released Wednesday found that 16% of Colorado's likely voters identify themselves as Hispanic -- and 70% of them back Sen. Obama.

The growth of professional havens in Northern Virginia, the Research Triangle of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and the Boulder-Denver corridor of Colorado may also be contributing to the changing electoral landscape. Voters in such places tend to be younger, more ethnically and racially diverse and less interested in social-conservative issues, such as abortion and gay marriage. And there are a lot of them: 83 million so-called millennials between ages 19 and 37, compared with 74 million Baby Boomers between 51 and 69.

530pm Update: This from today's Washington Post track analysis

In today's Washington Post-ABC News daily tracking poll, Obama holds a 53 to 44 percent lead over McCain, unchanged from yesterday, and little in the survey suggests that trimming the margin would be an easy feat.

For the first time, the slice of likely voters who report they will "definitely" vote for Obama has (by just a hair) now reached 50 percent, a milestone which George W. Bush never reached in Post-ABC tracking polls in 2004 or 2000, and the number of movable voters - those who said they could change their minds or who remain undecided - has slimmed to 7 percent.

McCain's campaigning over the past week has not convinced more voters that Obama is a risky choice, nor has he gained ground as the candidate better able to handle taxes or the economy. (Obama holds a 13-point advantage on taxes, his largest of the campaign, and a 14-point lead on the economy.) For the second time in Post-ABC polling, Obama has crossed into majority support as the candidate better able to manage an unexpected crisis.

One plus for McCain: Strong enthusiasm among his supporters has moved up a bit to 41 percent, the highest level it's been since the Republican convention, but still far behind the 68 percent of Obama supporters who are deeply enthused by his candidacy. 

Keys to the Fall: Obama Leads, McCain Stumbles

Robert Kaiser has an interesting piece in the Washington Post today that makes the case that Senator Obama's strong performance in the debates has been the key to his success this fall. I agree, but think there several other factors.  Remember that McCain came out of his convention ahead and with momentum and a fresh life. It really looked liked it would be a close general election, or that McCain might have a shot to pull this off. So what happened?

Their Reactions to the Financial Crisis - At moments of crisis, leaders are tested. Obama passed this test, looking steady, strong, engaged. McCain stumbled, "suspended" his campaign, changed his message, and in general, looked a little desperate and out of it. He failed this critical test of leadership, which significantly undermined the entire McCain narrative of "proven, tested, ready." 

The Debates - Based on post-election polls, Obama and Biden each overwhelmingly won their debates. And as Kaiser argues, the debates became critical for Obama, for they allowed him to fill in the gaps and to address the very real concerns many had about whether he was up to the job. Again, he looked in command, smart, steady, ready.  McCain, on the other hand, while showing flashes of effectiveness, again came across as a slightly addled and occasionally an angry old man, struggling to keep up with his younger, smarter and more compelling opponent.

All About Sarah - It was her rise that lifted McCain, and with her collapse, came McCain's fall. I predicted in a pre-convention post that McCain would pick a vibrant, telegenic running mate to help make up for his not-so-appealing grumpy old man persona. Well he did, but man, when that teenage belly bump arrived on the scene, it became clear that the Palin vetting was, let us say, a little "mavericky."  They clearly had no idea what they were getting into with her. Tina Fey then gave the nation permission to start saying what they were sensing with her, that seeing Russia from her front porch was not really adequate prep to be VP for a man unlikely to finish out his time in office. The comparison between her vacuousness and Biden's experience became a true black mark on the McCain campaign while doing a great deal to undermine his brand.

A Superior and More Modern Campaign - There can be no doubt now that the Obama campaign is the best run and most innovative Presidential campaign of the modern era, and clearly the model for a new 21st century era of post-broadcast, people-based advocacy and politics. Their commitment to this new Dean/Trippi inspired Internet model gave them the resources to overwhelm McCain these last few months on the airwaves and on the ground in the battlegrounds, and to produce a primetime video seen by an amazing 34 million viewers in the final week of the election. For more on this new political model and the emergence of what we've been calling a virtuous cycle of participation, see this recent post

The Issues - Obama has stayed relentlessly focused on the most important issue facing Americans today - the struggle of every day people to make ends meet. McCain and his campaign have seemed weirdly preoccupied with peripheral issues, political issues - Paris Hilton, Bill Ayers, sex ed and baby killing and now Jeremiah Wright - rather than focusing on the stuff that really matters to people. These divisive, distracting ads - straight out of the Southern Strategy GOP playbook - reinforced the very things that the public has come to dislike about Republicans: their willingness to put politics above solving problems. These ads and attacks helped undermine McCain's brand, and suggested instead that McCain was just another one of "those" Republicans after all.  

Finally, incredibly, McCain's economic plan has been so similar to the approach Bush took in his years in office that it has been stunning to watch. The GOP's economic strategy this decade has left the average American making less money while giving huge tax breaks to the most privileged among us. The inability of the Republicans to come to terms with this outcome of their years in control of government has been central to their dramatic fall from power.  That John McCain did not understand this, and did not offer any real proposals to deal with the struggle of every day people, is what allowed Obama to successfully tie him to President Bush and his failed Presidency. I think McCain never really believed that the Democrats would pull off making him a Bush clone because of his own hatred for Bush. But the ideological blindness of the modern GOP to the struggle of every day people is what drove the GOP from office in 2006, and will likely be the central cause of their defeat once again in 2008. 

In early September, John McCain led the race. In the weeks that followed, both candidates were given a series of tests. Clearly, the American people believe Senator Obama passed his tests. Senator McCain, on the other hand, did not. And it was this disappointment with McCain that gave Obama his opening, an opening that he and his focused, disciplined campaign successfully exploited.

7:30 am Update - DemFromCT's morning poll roundup shows no real change of the closing dynamic we've been describing these last few weeks - a slight uptick for McCain but Obama holding steady and retaining a commanding lead. 

The Polls Five Days Out - "Not Dead Yet."

The Kos Daily Track now has it 50-45, and the Pollster.com average is 49-44.  Earlier this week these measures had it at 7.  Today it is 5.  

For the last several weeks we've been offering an analysis which anticipated McCain getting up into the mid 40s in the final ten days, reclaiming natural ground lost due to his very shaky fall campaign.   We argued that For McCain to make the race competitive rather than just interesting he would also need to see a drop in Obama's number, something, importantly, that has not conclusively happened yet.  There also isn't any evidence that McCain has made inroads in the key battlegrounds, places where the superior financing and ground operation of Team Obama will insulate their campaign to some degree from any late national tightening trends. 

So, five days out where are we? Obama still holds a commanding lead with McCain showing some sustained signs of life.  The Arizona Senator is in the immortal words of Monty Python "not dead yet."

The Polls 6 Days Out

Reviewing the excellent daily poll analysis from DemFromCT, we see the Obama-McCain average now at 6, coming in at about 50-44. For the past few days, the race had been at 50-43. 

The trend is the one we've been anticipating here for some time - McCain appears to be in the process of reclaiming ground he should have long occupied but lost due to his terribly disappointing campaign this fall.  Which is why we've been arguing that this slight uptick for McCain is more a sign of his weakness than his strength. The key number to watch now is Obama's - and there is no real evidence of slippage. If he can stay at 49-50-51, he will win, particularly given his continued strength in the key states, a strength that is likely to be very resilient in these last few days due to the deep message penetration of Obama's superior ground effort and paid media advantage. 

In my post yesterday I also speculated that McCain's team at this point may be playing more to prevent a realigning blowout  - in both reality and in the spin game - than to win. That the RNC has now bought ads in Montana and West Virginia provides further grist for this mill: at this point, how can these states really factor one way or the other into McCain's win? 

And speaking of the narrative, will the Obama campaign just step up and buy time in Arizona and try to beat McCain in his own backyard?  As our readers know, we've long been arguing that Arizona would be a competitive state if Obama played there. They have the resources. Will they do it?  It will be interesting to see what kind of ratings Obama's 30-minute ad gets in Arizona tonight and whether that might have any impact there.

So where do we stand six days out?  There is evidence McCain's wavering base is coming home, but with Obama holding steady at 50 percent and showing unyielding Electoral College strength, it is too early to say that McCain is in the process of making the race competitive.

Is McCain Playing to Win?

Reviewing DemFromCT's morning poll roundup, we see some evidence of one scenario we have been anticipating in my posts of recent weeks: that McCain is in the process of reclaiming ground he should have occupied for some time, ground that he had given up with his dismal performance these last few months. While McCain has gained a point or two in many national polls these last few days (remaining at a still anemic 43-45 percent), Obama is not showing any sign of slippage. And as we wrote the other day, the only way this race becomes competitive now is for both McCain to gain and Obama to begin losing ground.  

One point very much worth considering is something DemFromCT looks at this morning, which is where McCain's gains are coming from. There is a very real chance he could pick up national points by gaining ground in non-competitive Southern states with wavering base Republican voters. And while those gains will give him some national points, they will in no way affect the current dynamic of the race, which is why it is possible to see Arizona coming into play and McCain picking up a point or two on the same day. The national poll numbers are not evenly distributed across this vast and complicated country.

So, today, one week out, Obama's lead looks solid and unaltered. And while McCain's slight uptick does not look like it will affect the outcome of the Presidential, it could impact close races down ballot, particularly in more conservative districts and states. It has been my sense for some time now that the McCain strategy has been focusing on bringing wavering base voters home, hence Baby Killer! Socialist! Communist! Terrorist! Muslim! Liberal! - all messages seemingly more attuned to the GOP base than traditional undecided voters in battleground states. It almost seems as if what the McCain camp decided a few weeks ago was to give up getting to 50 percent and winning the election, and rather has been focusing on turning out its base, settling for a 45-47 percent showing, saving some folks down ballot, particularly in the Senate and House and preventing a big-time realigning election.

Are The Polls Tightening? Revisited

Last week I wrote a short post which argued that the race was likely to end with McCain picking up some lost ground but not in any way altering the central dynamic of the race - which today appears to have Senator Obama heading towards a significant victory.

Today the various polls averages have the race about 50-43, which means that there are 7 percent undecided (see the latest from DemFromCT). Giving Senator McCain 4 of those 7 points gets him back to 47, a very low number in a 2-way Presidential race.  Obama ends up at 53 - still landslide territory.  So it is very possible for us to end this campaign with McCain making up a significant amount of ground and still suffering an historic, potentially realigning defeat.   Which is why those who are arguing that the race is "tightening" or that things are getting "closer" have to take a deep breath before implying that the race has become competitive - which is all that really matters now.  Turning a 30-0 football game into a 30-14 may make the losing team fell better but it doesn't alter the fundamental dynamic of the game. 

So the key number to watch now is not McCain's.  One should assume McCain gets back to the mid forties, reclaiming ground he has ceded due to his terribly disapointing campaign.  The number to watch is Obama's.  If he can stay at 49-51, and not show any signs of weakening, the race while getting closer will not become competitive.  For the race to become competitive Obama will have to start sliding, giving up ground.  And to date there is not much evidence of this at all. 

Are The Polls Tightening?

The question on everyone's mind today is - are the polls tightening?  As I suggested the other day in my post, Expect McCain to Gain Ground These Final Weeks, the real question isn't whether the polls are "tightening," but whether the fundamental dynamic in the race - a clear and decisive win by Barack Obama - has begun to change. I guess you can say that John McCain turning an eight-point race into a six-point race - which of course is within margin of error - shows the race is tightening. But it still means a landslide win for Obama. So is this concept of tightening at this stage important, salient? I'm not so sure. 

Surveying all the main sites - Real Clear Politics, fivethirtyeight, Pollster.com - and DemFromCT's always excellent early morning analysis - there is no evidence of sustained movement to McCain, or any major change in the fundamental dynamic in the race. The averages have it six points today 49-43, and if anything, the news from the states just got a whole lot worse for McCain, as his campaign now admits with CO, IA, NM and VA slipping away, that their map is essentially impossible. Obama's number - the important one to watch - is holding steady in most polls at 49-51. As I wrote yesterday, unless that number starts to drop, there is no way McCain can win at this point.  

So the question  isn't "tightening" now; it is whether the map and the polling have changed enough to alter the dynamic in the race. And the answer to that today is clearly "no." 

All this became clear to me when I watched CNN this morning. They claimed the race was tightening by showing one-point movement in polls in Ohio and Missouri, while showing Obama still winning Florida by a wide margin. The anchor's conclusion by looking at these 3 states was "the race was tightening."  But of course by showing Obama winning Florida and with OH and MO within margin of error, what he was really saying - but could not say - was that this data showed Barack winning the election. It will be important to hold analysts and commentators accountable on this point in the final two weeks. 

With the national numbers apparently stabilizing, it will be interesting to see what happens in the states these next two weeks. My sense is that this is where the Obama fundraising advantage will really kick in, and if anything, we could see improvement in the states while the national numbers either stay the same or we see McCain bring his base home and get a slight national uptick at the end.  

Finally, as the CNN piece above suggests, I think the states to watch now are the small and medium sized states. If Obama holds the Kerry/Gore states, he then just needs to win 3 of  5 currently Obama-leaning states - CO, IA, NM, NV, VA - to win. These are now the true battlegrounds and if McCain cannot chip away there, the race will be over long before Election Day.

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