Saturday, November 06, 2004

Peter Dreier's Analysis

Peter Dreier, a political scientist at Occidental College has written up the following analysis of the election and ask to post it on the site. Here it is:

       Got the post-election blues? Get over it.

       The results from the November 2 election are mostly awful but there are silver linings and lessons to be learned for the future. The Bush and Republican victories were due mostly to how well the GOP and its allies mobilized the white, conservative, evangelical base compared with how well their counterparts (the liberal/labor/environmental/women’s rights/civil rights groups that formed Americans Coming Together, America Votes, MoveOn.Org, League of Conservation Voters,  ACORN, NAACP,  and others) did in mobilizing the Democratic base.  In addtiion, the Bush forces did a better job of framing the agenda so that its issues -- the war on terrorism, opposition to abortion,  and opposition to gay marriage --  dominated the public debate rather than the economy, health care, the environment, and the failure of American occupation in Iraq. There is no reason for the Democrats to concede the Bible or the flag, but the Kerry campaign allowed Bush to appear to have a monopoly on "moral values" and patriotism.

        But remember: the Right has been cultivating its evangelical base for many years. It didn't happen overnight, as a reading of Ralph Reed's 1994 book, Politically Incorrect: The Emerging Faith Factor in American Politics, shows. Reed, former director of the Christian Coalition, recounts how his movement  built itself up from scratch, utilizing the network of conservative pastors and churches, providing sermons, voter guides, GOTV training, and other resources to create a powerful organizational infrastructure.  Separate, by overlapping with the religious right, is the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby.  Moreover, the religious right and the gun lobby isn't just an election-day operation. This is an ongoing movement that provides people with social, psychological, and political sustainence on a regular basis. Bush’s political director,  Karl Rove, did an incredible job at building on this earlier work, and did so under the radar screen of most reporters and pundits.

Who voted and who stayed home?

        On election day, 59% of eligible voters went to the polls. This is the highest overall turnout since 1968 (although still dramatically lower than turnout in other democracies).  The 59% who voted are not representative of all eligible voters. The non-voters are more likely to be young, poor, and minority -- groups that are most likely to vote Democratic.  These are the Americans that need activist government the most, and the ones who are most alienated from the political system.

        Turnout increased among all significant demographic groups. The Kerry campaign and its allied 527 groups (Americans Coming Together and others) did an impressive job at voter registration and turnout, especially in swing states -- better than liberal/labor groups have done in decades. They invested heavily in new technology, did an excellent job of targeting likely Kerry voters, and had an unprecedented level of street-level coordination among volunteers and staffers.  But, they were out-gunned by the Bush forces in the "ground game."

        Exit polls reveal that white evangelical/born-again Christians accounted for 23% of the total vote, and that 78% of them voted for Bush. Among evangelicals who attend church at least weekly (8% of the total vote), 96% voted for Bush.    This is an incredibly large and stable captive audience for the Republicans. In addition, gun owners, 41% of the those who went to the polls,  gave Bush 63% of their votes.

        Progressives' base -- African Americans (11% of the vote, 88% margin for Kerry) and non-Cuban Latinos, union members (12% of the vote, 61% for Kerry), the poor (voters with incomes under $15,000, 8% of the total, went 63% for Kerry; those with incomes between $15,000-$30,000, 15% of the total, went 57% for Kerry),  and the helping and teaching professions  -- are less geographically stable and less connected in terms of organizational affiliations. 

        Overall, voters with family incomes below $50,000 -- 45% of the total turnout -- voted for Kerry 55-45%. Voters with family incomes over $50,000 -- 55% of the total turnout -- voted for Bush, 56-43%. Even more dramatically, voters with family incomes under $100,000 - 82% of turnout -- gave Kerry a slight edge, 50-49%. Voters over $100,000 -- 18% of the total -- gave Bush the edge, 58-41%. This was definitely an election with a clear class dimension to it.

        Liberals and progressives currently lack the same kind of organizational infrastructure to compete on an equal footing with the religious right, the gun lobby, and their allies. The long-term decline in union membership is a major factor in the gap between how well the Kerry and the Bush forces did in mobilizing their respective bases. Union membership -- 35% in the 1950s, 25% in the 1970s -- is down to 12% today. Union members are more likely to vote, more likely to vote for Democrats, and more likely to volunteer for campaigns (phone banking, door-knocking) than people with similar demographic and job characteristics who are not unionized. Union members represented 12% of all votes on November 2; union households represented 24% of all voters. One of the most telling factoids from the election: union members who own guns supported Kerry by 12 points, while non-union gun owners supported Bush by 40 points, according to an AFL-CIO survey.
        The labor movement poured enormous resources (money, staff, members) into this election and worked well in coalition with community groups like ACORN, environmental, women's rights, consumer, and civil rights groups. Had union membership been at 1970s levels, Kerry would have won by a landslide.

        There's no quick fix to the decline of union membership.  The new levels of energy and strategic thinking within the labor movement is heartening.  The current generation of union leaders like Andy Stern, Maria Elena Durazo, Karen Nussbaum, Bruce Raynor, and John Wilhelm are focused on organizing and coalition-building. Thanks to these efforts, a growing number of clergy (linked through the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice) have become labor's strong allies, helping to connect the struggles of the working poor to the Biblical tradition of prophetic justice. Thousands of young activists are flocking to the  labor movement.  

            Surveys consistently show that most workers would like a union voice at work, but federal labor laws are so tilted toward management that it is almost impossible to win an NLRB election. We won't see a significant increase in union membership without reform of federal labor laws.  We're not going to get labor reform out of this Congress and President.  But its important to start laying the groundwork for such reform.

        However,  time, and demographics, are on the liberals' side. Voter turnout among Americans under 30, though modest compared with other age groups, increased from 42.3% in 2000 to 51.6% this year. The youth vote is trending toward Democrats.  In 2000,  47.6% of  18 to 29 years olds voted for Gore, another 4.7% for Nader, and 46.2% for Bush.  This year, Kerry captured 55% percent of the youth vote and Nader got another 1%, while Bush's support fell to 44%.  Also, huge numbers of college students did volunteer work in various (mostly Democratic) campaigns. As their voter participation increases, this generation will change the political calculations. In particular, they are more tolerant and less susceptible to right-wing appeals around gay-bashing and opposition to abortion.  

           In addition, the inevitable increase in Hispanic voting – as immigrants and their children become citizens, register, and vote – will bring more Democrats into the fold. The Hispanic population is not monolithic on economic, foreign policy or cultural issues (including  gay rights and abortion), and Bush captured more Hispanic votes this year than he did four years ago. But the Hispanic vote is still a predominantly Democratic constituency and a key recruiting ground for union organizing efforts among low-wage workers.  On November 2, Hispanics favored Kerry over Bush by a  Kerry 53% to 44% margin. If you add the 2% who voted for Nader, the Hispanics' liberal margin is even bigger.   


The Issues

    Two days after the election, Bush said, "The people made it clear what they wanted," and claimed that the  outcome gave him a mandate.  The exit polls make it clear that this isn't true. There is no majority mandate for any of the issues Bush identified, such as privatization of Social Security, further regressive tax reform, or imposing limits on lawsuits against corporations and medical malpractice.

    The proportion of Americans who define themselves as “liberals” has been declining.  But this does not mean that Americans do not share most “liberal” values.  For example, fewer women call themselves “feminists” now than did 20 years ago, but more women agree with once-controversial “feminist” ideas like equal pay for equal work or a women’s right to choose.  Likewise, more Americans today than 20 years ago believe that government should protect the environment, consumers, and workers from unhealthy workplaces and other dangers. Most Americans now think that the federal government should help guarantee health insurance for everyne. Ideas that were once outside the mainstream and now so taken-for-granted that many  people who call themselves “moderates,” or  “conservatives,” agree with them.  (And remember: more than 20% of evangelicals voted for Kerry). This is progress. 

        But some issues are still very polarizing, and can be used by politicians to “wedge” their way to victory.

        The exit polls from November 2  are clear. Bush effectively made the  election a referendum on gay marriage and terrorism. Kerry tried to focus on the economy, health care, and the war in Iraq. The Bush campaign, helped by the mainstream media, did a better job of setting and dominating the issue agenda.

        o 49% of the voters on November 2 said they are "angry" or "dissatisfied" with Bush, while 48% are "satisfied" or "enthusiastic" with Bush. This is an incredible low level of support for an incumbent President, especially in the middle of a war.

        o 70% of voters are "very concerned" about the availability and cost of health care and another 23% are "somewhat concerned."  

        o 54% percent of voters think that Bush pays more attention to large corporations than to "ordinary Americans."  

        o 52% of voters think the economy is either "not so good" or "poor," compared with 47% of voters who think the economy is "excellent" (only 4% do) or "good."  

        o 43% of voters think the job situation in their area is worse than it was four years ago, compared with 23% who think it is better.  (34% think it is the same).

        o 53% of voters think the war in Iraq is doing "somewhat" or "very" badly and 46% of voters "somewhat" or "strongly" disapprove of the US decision to go to war with Iraq. But...

        o 55% of voters think that the war in Iraq is part of the war on terrorism

        Even on what the media have been labeling "moral values" (by which they really mean opposition to gay marriage and to abortion), Tuesday's voters are far from monolithic.  

       o 55% of voters think that abortion should be legal in all cases (21%) or most cases (34%). In other words, a pro-choice majority.

        o 60% of voters believe that gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to legally marry (25%) or form civil unions but not marry (35%). Only 37% oppose any legal recognition of gay/lesbian relationships.  We’re in the midst of a significant demographic and cultural shift.  Americans are increasingly accepting of homosexuals.  Out-of-the-closet gays and lesbians have been elected to Congress and are prominent in the entertainment industry, business, journalism, and the clergy. Many big cities and suburbs have openly gay schoolteachers. TV sit-coms have openly gay characters. The New York Times and other daily papers now include same-sex wedding announcements.   In 20 years -- when today’s younger voters reach middle-age -- this topic will no longer be controversial.  No presidential candidate will be able to create a “wedge” issue about gay marriage.


The campaigns and the candidates


        This was an election in which the candidates -- or at least how the voters perceived the candidates in terms of character and leadership -- trumped what should have been the defining issues. 

       Although Bush and Kerry faced off in three debates, the two campaigns were like ships passing in the night.  They were talking past each other, and each was talking to a different group of potential voters.  They both focused their campaigns on 17 “swing” (or “battleground”) states, but the issues and constituencies they focused on were very different.  This was only partly a battle for the moderate voters. It was, even more, a  battle to mobilize their respective bases.  The Bush forces did a better job.

        The voters who think that "moral values" were the most important issue in the campaign (22% of all voters) voted 80% for Bush.  The voters who think that "terrorism" was the most important issue in the campaign (19% of all voters) voted 86% for Bush.

        The voters who thought that taxes, education, Iraq, the economy and health care were the most important issues voted for Kerry, but (except for health care, 8% of all voters, 80% of whom voted for Kerry) not by the same wide margins.

        Kerry's base was less enthusiastic about Kerry than Bush's base was enthusiastic about Bush. Among the 69% of voters who were enthusiastic "for" their candidate, 59% voted for Bush. Of the 25% of voters who mainly voted "against" a candidate, 70% voted for Kerry. Bush inspired his voters; Kerry voters were more likely to be voting "against" Bush than "for" Kerry.  Kerry voters were more likely to think that "he cares about people like me," "he is intelligent" and "he will bring about needed change." Bush voters were more likely to think that Bush was a "strong leader," "is honest and trustworthy," "has clear stands on the issues," and "has strong religious faith."

        Karl Rove was successful in portraying Kerry as a flip-flopping ultra-liberal with a controversial military record, tying the unpopular war in Iraq to the popular war against terrorism, and mobilizing conservative voters at record high numbers. Plus, Kerry's patrician demeanor didn't make him the best salesman for the Democrat's strongest issues -- Bush’s crony capitalism, tax cuts for the rich, jobs, the economy and health care. 

        Moreover, the Bush campaign was able to portray itself as having almost a monopoly on “moral values.”  The right wing’s version of morality was obsessed almost entirely with sex --abortion (including stem cell research) and gay rights.  Kerry was unable to promote the Democrats' own version of morality, to present his own policy ideas in Biblical and moral terms: That it is immoral for  families for suffer without health insurance. That it is immoral for people who work full-time, year-round to live in poverty, in the wealthiest nation on earth.  That it is immoral to give a tax cut to the richest CEO’s in the country while our millions of kids go to underfunded schools and thousands of our soldiers in Iraq lack basic necessities to protec themselves from death and injury.  That is it is immoral to allow corporate greed to endanger public health and destroy environment for future generations.

        The majority of the major media (not just Fox News) made it easier for Rove to set the agenda.   The New York Times and other mainstream media repeated the lies of the Bush administration and its allies about WMDs and the Osama-Saddam connection for months without doing the necessary reporting to challenge these fabrications. They allowed the Bush campaign and its allies to fabricate issues such as Kerry's war record (allowing Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to dominate the news for more than a week in October). They gave Rove a free hand at setting the agenda around gay marriage, even making Kerry's reference to Mary Cheney's lesbianism in the last debate a controversy out of nowhere.  

        The Democrats made lots of strategic mistakes and were out-organized by the GOP. The Bush forces were brilliant at encouraging conservative voter turnout by reaching out to evangelical churches and by putting ballot initiatives in 11 states opposing gay marriage.  


Silver linings and next steps


        The liberal forces had a parallel strategy to the conservatives’ anti-gay marriage ballot measures, but only in two states. In Florida and Nevada, progressive and liberal-labor groups sponsored statewide ballot measures to raise each state's minimum wage by one dollar. In both cases, they won overwhelmingly. In Florida, by 72-28; in Nevada, by 68-32.  Florida voters approved, by a 72% to 28% margin (4.95 million to 1.96 million), the statewide ballot initiative to raise the state minimum wage by one dollar an hour, to $6.15/hour (and index it to inflation) -- sponsored by ACORN with a broad coalition of unions and others liberal groups -- despite the united opposition (and heavy spending) by the state's big business community and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. This margin was much higher than the 68,000 vote margin (out of 6.85 million cast) for Republican Mel Martinez over Democrat Betty Castor for Florida's open US Senate seat   Bush beat Kerry in Florida by slightly more than 300,000 votes. 

        Obviously, many Floridians, including many middle class voters (and certanly some evangelicals), who voted for Bush and Martinez, also voted to raise the minimum wage. Florida saw a significant increase in turnout among low-income and working class voters, as well as African American and Latino voters -- thanks to a grassroots voter registration and GOTV campaign by the coalition of liberal and progressive groups -- but it wasn't sufficient to beat Bush and  Martinez. 

        Further, voters in other states approved important progressive measures.  California voters approved a tax on  people with annual incomes of $1 million or more to pay for additional mental health services.-- “about as pure a Robin Hood measure as one can imagine,” observed syndicated columnist Neal Peirce. Voters in  Colorado and Oklahoma approved increased tobacco taxes to health care services. In Maine and Washington, voters defeated  tax cut measures. Colorado voters approved a ballot measure which set goals for public utilities to adapt more wind, solar and biomass power.

        In other words, many voters (though not a majority) may agree Bush on abortion, gay rights, and terrorism, but most voters (and even more non-voters) do not agree with Bush on his running of the economy, the widening economic divide, the 36 million Americans living below the poverty line (an increasing number of them the working poor), growing  job insecurity, the 45 million without health insurance, and his efforts to dismantle environmental and consumer protections. This should offer hope for liberals and progressives.

      Despite the significant increase in voter turnout among the have-nots, the overall turnout rate among poor, working class and minority voters (in Florida, Ohio, and other swing states) was still much lower than it should and could be, especially when compared to turnout rates among more affluent voters, including evangelicals (whose churches did a great job of mobilizing voters).   

        The issue of the "working poor" and widening inequality is now a mainstream issue. Ironically, welfare reform helped. Pushed off welfare, folks are now working in the low-wage economy.

         Liberal and progressive groups need not simply fight defensive battles while Bush promotes his agenda.  For example, they should be laying the groundwork for a national campaign to raise the federal minimum wage to at least the poverty level: $9.50/hour (which translates into $19,000/year - the official poverty level).  Kerry was too timid proposing $7/hour.  If the minimum wage level in 1968 had risen with inflation, it would be $8/hour now. Start off bold; compromise down the road to $7.50.            Moral values? How about "make work pay." and  "no one who works full time should be in poverty"?  Let Bush try to oppose this. Let the guy in the White House who gave the richest Americans a huge tax break say that a nurses aide with two kids making $5.15/hour shouldn't be making $9.50/hour, $19,000/year.  Members of Congress should be vulnerable to pressure to give Americans a raise. Let the 435 members of the House and the 33 Senate members -- especially. the Republicans -- try to  run for re-election in 2006 opposing the minimum wage.   Business groups will trot out their hired-hand economists to argue that raising the min. wage will kills jobs, especially for small business.  But there's plenty of empirical evidence that  ripple ("multiplier") effects of raising the minimum wage are positive for jobs and the economy.

The long haul...

        Political victories are about more than technology and election-day turnout. They are about message and movement.  Succceses on election day are a by-product of, not a substitute for,  effective grassroots organizing in between elections.  Over the past century, the key turning points for improving American society involved large-scale mobilizations around a broad egalitarian and morally uplifting vision of America.  In the Gilded Age, it was agrarian populism and urban Progressivism. During the Depression, it was the upsurge of industrial unionism linked to Roosevelt's New Deal.  In the 1960's and 1970s, it was the civil rights, women's rights, and environmental  movements, promoting a vision of how the nation's prosperity should be shared by all but not squandered for future generations. These movements drew on traditions of  justice and morality to redefine the rights and responsibilities of citizens, government, and business.

.        To those suffering from post-election depression, Rick Perlstein's book, Before the Storm, about the Goldwater movement offers some solace and lessons. If you think Democrats are depressed now, think about how depressed the Republicans were in 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson beat Goldwater in a real landslide and the Democrats won huge majorities in Congress. (One of Goldwater's volunteers was a young Arizona attorney named William Rehnquist whose assignment was to keep Hispanics from voting).  At the time, almost every pundit in the country wrote the conservative movement's obituary. Goldwater's right-wing supporters were viewed as fanatics, out of touch with mainstream America. But, the GOP's right wing regrouped. With the help of conservative millionaires and foundations, they created new organizations, professorships at universities, and think tanks to help shape the intellectual climate and policy agenda. They recruited a new generation of college students and funded their campus organizations.  They created a network of right-wing talk radio stations.  They identified potential political candidates, cultivated and trained them. They took over the atrophied apparatus of the Republican Party. They helped change the political agenda. In 1980, they elected Ronald Reagan. In 2000, they helped Bush steal the election  On November 2, they helped Bush win a second term, almost fair and square.

        Michael Harrington used to say that progressives have to be long-distance runners. We're in this for the long haul. We lost a big battle on Tuesday, but we won a few skirmishes (the Florida and Nevada minimum wage victories; California's tax on the very rich to fund mental health services). More importantly, there is still a war to win -- a war of ideas, a war of position, and a war of organization and  strategy.

         The next two years will be brutal and painful in terms of Bush's foreign policy agenda, domestic agenda, a war on the poor and workers, and Supreme Court appointments. 

        It is time to take to the streets as well as the workplaces, living rooms, church basements, union halls, and neighbhors. The issues are clear: Bush's mismanaged occupation of Iraq (and any additional wars Bush might have in mind), Supreme Court nominees, further dismantling of environmental, worker, and consumer protection laws, and attempts to slash the social safety net and Social Security. There are also pro-active campaigns to raise the minimum wage and to organize workers at Wal-Marts and other corporations.  

       America today is holdIng its breath, trying to decide what kind of sociey it wants to be. Liberal and progressive forces are gaining momentum, but still lack the organizational infrastructure needed to effectively challenge the conservative message and movement.  They have begun to invest in building that infrastructure -- think tanks, grassroots coalitions, technology, recruitment of staff, identification and training of candidates.  Some of  that investment bore fruit on November 2, but there is more to be done.

         It is also time to regroup for another round of voter mobilization, organizing at the local and state levels, and preparation for the 2006 Congressional elections, only two years away.   We can try to checkmate the worst part of Bush's agenda while building for the 2006 elections, the 2008 elections, and beyond.         

         This is no time for hopelessness.

Peter Dreier,  professor of politics and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy program at Occidental College, is coauthor of The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City and Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century.

1 comment:

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