Thursday, February 4, 2010

Which States Are Most Blue? Which States Are Most Red?

Gallup and Politico have some cool new maps to browse over for those of us watching the political landscape this year.

First, Gallup has a new “State of the States” page in which you can see what states most identify as Republican, Democratic, conservative, moderate, and liberal.

Overall, the Democrats are still more popular in the minds of the voters than Republicans. 49% of those polled identify with the party of Jefferson, while less than 41% identify with the GOP. Conservative is still the most popular ideology at 40%, followed by moderate at about 36%, with liberals in last place with under 21%.

The Top 5 GOP States:

1) Wyoming
2) Utah
3) Idaho
4) Alaska
5) Alabama

The Top 5 Democratic States:

1) Maryland
2) Massachusetts
3) Rhode Island
4) Vermont
5) Illinois

There were only 8 states that identified more with Republicans than Democrats.

Politico also has an interesting page worth checking out in their new 2010 section. In it you can find a map with election results for gubernatorial, senatorial, and House races going back ten years. Additionally, they provide dates for primaries across the country.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Did the SOTU Address Bump Obama’s Approval Rating?

Summary: The State of the Union Address did help President Obama - but by how much, and will it last?

A week ago today President Obama delivered his first State of the Union Address. Earlier that day we asked “could it bump his approval rating?”

We looked at Gallup data from previous SOTU speeches and determined it was unlikely. Presidents rarely get a significant bump following their annual address. But after seeing the speech, we determined that if any address could help his approval rating, it was that one.

Well, the new Gallup data is in, and - though it was small - there was a notable increase.

In just a day or two, the gap between his approval and disapproval ratings increased from 2% to 6%. As of this morning it is currently at 9% (note: the approval rating data will be updated later today).

As Gallup notes though, most of that increase came because Obama was able to re-inspire confidence in the Democratic base - not among Independents and Republicans.

Support for Obama among Democrats on a week-by-week basis has held steady in the mid-80s during January, although with some minor shifts among segments of the Democratic Party. His approval rating dipped mid-month among liberal Democrats before rebounding a bit last week. His support increased slightly in mid-January among conservative Democrats and has held at the higher level.

Support for Obama is now a bit lower among moderate/liberal Republicans than it was at the start of the month (27% vs. 33%). It is also slightly lower among conservative Republicans and pure independents (those who don't lean to either party), but neither of those changes is statistically significant.

Of course, the impact of single political events - even as high-profile as a State of the Union Address - fade quickly. A small bump in his approval rating this week means virtually nothing when looking forward to the 2010 elections. President Obama needs to continue what he started during that speech.

And he appears to be doing so. His tone has become more populist, more inspiring, and more reasonable. His recent address and Q&A with House Republicans was a very good event for him. If he manages to keep this up he could easily recapture a lot of the ground he lost over 2009 in terms of popularity.

Obviously he is not up for election this year - members of Congress are. But as a Democratic president during a year Democrats are expected to see big losses, he certainly has his role to play. And for now, he appears to be playing it well.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why the Smarter Candidates Aren’t Always the Better Politicians

Summary: Having the facts on your side is never enough - what Democrats need to know for 2010.

Democrats will be tempted this year to explain the healthcare debate - or eventually the healthcare bill - in terms of economic efficiencies and aggregate improvements.

These will, of course, be the results of such a bill - but the argument may still cost these Democrats their elections.

Dr. David Runciman - a political scientist at Cambridge University - explains why in a piece for the BBC.

Why are so many American voters enraged by attempts to change a horribly inefficient system that leaves them with premiums they often cannot afford?

Why are they manning the barricades to defend insurance companies that routinely deny claims and cancel policies?

It might be tempting to put the whole thing down to what the historian Richard Hofstadter back in the 1960s called "the paranoid style" of American politics, in which God, guns and race get mixed into a toxic stew of resentment at anything coming out of Washington.

But that would be a mistake.

If people vote against their own interests, it is not because they do not understand what is in their interest or have not yet had it properly explained to them.

They do it because they resent having their interests decided for them by politicians who think they know best.

There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots.

As the saying goes, in politics, when you are explaining, you are losing. And that makes anything as complex or as messy as healthcare reform a very hard sell.

In his book The Political Brain, psychologist Drew Westen, an exasperated Democrat, tried to show why the Right often wins the argument even when the Left is confident that it has the facts on its side.

He uses the following exchange from the first presidential debate between Al Gore and George Bush in 2000 to illustrate the perils of trying to explain to voters what will make them better off:

Gore: "Under the governor's plan, if you kept the same fee for service that you have now under Medicare, your premiums would go up by between 18% and 47%, and that is the study of the Congressional plan that he's modelled his proposal on by the Medicare actuaries."

Bush: "Look, this is a man who has great numbers. He talks about numbers.

"I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the internet, but he invented the calculator. It's fuzzy math. It's trying to scare people in the voting booth."

Mr Gore was talking sense and Mr Bush nonsense - but Mr Bush won the debate. With statistics, the voters just hear a patronising policy wonk, and switch off.

For Mr Westen, stories always trump statistics, which means the politician with the best stories is going to win: "One of the fallacies that politicians often have on the Left is that things are obvious, when they are not obvious.

"Obama's administration made a tremendous mistake by not immediately branding the economic collapse that we had just had as the Republicans' Depression, caused by the Bush administration's ideology of unregulated greed. The result is that now people blame him."

Thomas Frank, the author of the best-selling book What's The Matter with Kansas, is an even more exasperated Democrat and he goes further than Mr Westen.

He believes that the voters' preference for emotional engagement over reasonable argument has allowed the Republican Party to blind them to their own real interests.
The Republicans have learnt how to stoke up resentment against the patronising liberal elite, all those do-gooders who assume they know what poor people ought to be thinking.

Right-wing politics has become a vehicle for channelling this popular anger against intellectual snobs. The result is that many of America's poorest citizens have a deep emotional attachment to a party that serves the interests of its richest.

Thomas Frank says that whatever disadvantaged Americans think they are voting for, they get something quite different:

"You vote to strike a blow against elitism and you receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our life times, workers have been stripped of power, and CEOs are rewarded in a manner that is beyond imagining."…

…As Mr Frank sees it, authenticity has replaced economics as the driving force of modern politics. The authentic politicians are the ones who sound like they are speaking from the gut, not the cerebral cortex.

Now, there are a lot of Democratic candidates out there who are able to connect to voters on the basis of these emotional values rather than objective policy-centered politics. For the most part, they will be fine.

Then there are a lot of Democrats who like to focus on policy specifics. Like Adlai Stevenson, they will hope the voters to understand these ideas if put to them correctly. But that’s not how voters make their decisions, and these Democrats will learn this the hard way come November.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Why a Strong Volunteer Base is Critical in 2010

Another Democratic consulting firm has started blogging! This time it’s Activate, a direct voter contact firm in Washington, DC.

Recently, Founder and CEO Mark Sump wrote about the importance of volunteer outreach and direct voter contact.

From The New Paradigm in Poltics:

The media is of course singularly focused on recent Democratic Party failures in Virginia, New Jersey and, of course, Massachusetts. They were colossal failures, and each of them was a reflection of the old paradigm in political campaigns. It is no longer true that the successful campaign is the one that has the most and best television advertisements. It is no longer true that campaigns can be won without engaging the public.

Coakley is the definition of this old paradigm. The fact that she was up by 30 points after her primary is not the relevant issue. The fact that she did not see the need to run a campaign after the primary is relevant. The fact that she did not see the need to engage the public and rally her supporters is relevant. Relying on a blitz of paid media at the end of the campaign no longer wins campaigns for Democrats even in the most liberal of states. Coakley is proof of that.

The new paradigm in winning elections is that public opinion is important, but paid media no longer carries the sway to change public opinion it once did. The new paradigm is that you have to earn public opinion through direct interaction with the public.

While the media is focused on in a few high profile campaigns, there is a quiet undercurrent that has so far gone unnoticed. The latest is Oregon, but just last month, the city of Houston…not known for its liberalism…elected Annise Parker the first big city mayor who happens to be a lesbian. A month before that, the state of Washington rejected proposition 71 ensuring the most sweeping gay rights legislation ever up for a public vote in the nation’s history.

Each of these campaigns had two things in common. Each of them embraced this paradigm shift toward engaging an army of volunteers, and each of them won.

We’ve mentioned the importance of volunteers and voter contact many times before, but this should provide more evidence towards their importance in 2010.