The Emerging Democratic Majority

by Ted on September 19, 2003

Donkey Rising has some amazing results from a recent poll:

It’s been remarked that Bush’s poll ratings in most respects seem to be returning to about what they were prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That’s true and in some cases they’re actually worse. The public is now 10 points less likely to think Bush is honest and trustworthy; 7 points less likely to think he is moderate, not extreme, 6 points less likely to think he is for working and middle class families and 5 points less likely to think he “cares about people like you”. In addition, the public is 12 points more likely to think he has a go-it-alone policy that hurts our relations with our allies.

Similarly, when comparing the ratings on which parties are trusted to do a better job on the issues, Democrats now have the same leads or better that they had prior to 9/11 and Republicans are not doing much better today than they did then. Democrats are favored by 35 points on the environment today (33 points before 9/11), by 26 points on Medicare (26 points previously), by 24 points on health care (21 previously), by 20 points on retirement and social security (16 previously), by 20 points on prescription drugs (22 previously), by 20 points on the federal budget and deficits (just 3 previously), by 12 points on the economy (3 previously) and by 11 points on education (7 previously). For the Republicans, they are favored by 6 points today on taxes (but were favored by 12 points before 9/11) and by 22 points on keeping America strong (but they were running a 16 point lead even before 9/11).

The conclusion is inescapable. Much of the Bush’s political capital from 9/11 has been dissipated. More than anyone would have thought a year ago, the 2004 election seems likely to be fought on the actual merits and demerits of the entire Bush presidency, not just the two months after 9/11. And, in DR’s opinion, that’s pretty bad–extremely bad–news for Bush.

I spent some time looking at the results, and there’s a lot here to make someone like me smile. (Detailed results here, slideshow here.) It was commissioned by Democrats, but it still seems like a useful survey. I don’t see a leftward bias in the sample: 19% of them describe themselves as liberal, 41% as moderates, and 38% as conservatives.

A few things got my attention:

– Between July 2002 and September 2003, the percentage of people who said that they would vote Bush or lean Bush in the next Presidential election never topped 52%. I thought that it would have been higher right after “Mission Accomplished”.

Democrats couldn’t exactly crow- it wasn’t until August 2003 that “the Democratic nominee” got within striking range. (In September, it’s 47% Bush, 45% Democratic nominee.) Still, the landslide talk was probably always misplaced.

– Respondents were asked which of these statements came closer to their views:

“America’s security depends on building strong ties with other nations.”


“Bottom line, America’s security depends on its own military strength.”

50% agreed with the first statement, while 39% agreed with the second.

– On the other hand, the argument that Bush is too conservative in his appointments to the federal courts is an apparent loser. Only 37% agree, while 46% disagree.

– In the most recent poll, for the first time, about as many people said they opposed Bush’s tax cut plan (45%) as favored it (44%).

– From November 2001 until the end of 2002, more respondents said that Republicans were better on the economy than Democrats. That has reversed in a big way- in the most recent poll, 48% of respondents said Democrats were better on the economy. Only 35% said Republicans.

– On the federal budget and deficit, in the most recent poll 47% said that Democrats were better. Only 27% said Republicans.

(I think that this discrepancy is worth highlighting. I’ve been told so many times that Democrats have no credibility on budgetary issues that I had started to believe it. It’s also worth highlighting because 80% of respondents say the federal deficit is a serious problem, compared to 69% who say high taxes are a serious problem.)

– As previously noted, the biggest weakness is the discrepancy between Republicans and Democrats on who does a better job on keeping America strong. 50% say Republicans, 29% say Democrats.

If only there were a Democratic candidate who could overcome that weakness…



laura 09.19.03 at 5:51 am

It’s just mean to reduce a girl to this kind of whimpering hopefulness. Times like this I wish I prayed.


Downunder 09.19.03 at 10:31 am

These numbers are persuasive – and especially if you’re someone like Wes Clark. However, I don’t think Bush’s ‘political capital’ really matters that much. The strength of the current administration is not maintaining consistent polling numbers, but rather skewing the debate to more favourable terms based on the 9/11 spectre.

We saw this during the 2002 midterms and we saw it in the lead up to Iraq, both directly from Bush and from other sectors who shared his interests. That’s enough to make these statistics almost meaningless as a reliable indicator. Once we hit the main election cycle, ‘everything has changed since 9/11’ becomes a self-fulfilling adage and the results will skew to reflect this.

Odds are Clark won’t survive the primary, either. He’s a long shot and his domestic policy nous seems visibly lacking.


raj 09.19.03 at 12:37 pm

I would take polls like this with something of a grain of salt. Recall that Gore out-polled Bush in the popular vote, but Bush won because the electoral college scheme give substantially more weight to votes from less-populous states, which will probably stay republican.


Barry 09.19.03 at 1:09 pm

And Bush *will* start another war or almost-war in 2004 if he feels the need. After all, what does he have to lose? If he feels that he’d probably lose without it, it’s no skin off of his nose.

And as was seen in May-June this year, the American people will support a war, as long as it’s easy. One thing was clear in the first couple of months after the ‘end of major combat operations’, and that was that Saddam didn’t have a ‘vast stockpile’ of WMD’s. Which means that the was was based on a lie (unless one believes that Bush, Congress and the American people would have gone to war with Saddam over his cruelty to his own people).

But the suport for the war went up after this became clear. It only went down as it became clear that the war had only started with the initial cmapaign.


Keith M Ellis 09.20.03 at 1:42 am

Clark will win if things don’t improve much with unemployment and in Iraq (and likely neither will improve much, if at all) and he survives the primaries. The problem is that in the primaries he, like McCain before him, is beholden to party faithful that like candidates that are more extreme than what the general election voters prefer. Much of the Democratic party apparatus and the Democratic/left activists are excited about Dean because they honestly believe that the Dems need to move *left* in order to win the general election. They’re wrong. So, what will make all the difference is whether or not the Democratic centrists are a significant voting presence in the primaries. I honestly don’t have a sense at all as to whether this will be the case or not.

But Bush’s favorable ratings were always a mile wide but an inch deep and bought with the blood of 9/11. The truest cliche in American politics is that people “vote their pocketbooks”. Recall how popular Bush I was after his Iraq war. But the economy ruined him. Today, the situation is confused and unprecedented given that supposedly the economy is in good shape….while employment is not. This has confused people as they’ve heard the good numbers and been assured that things would get better real soon now. But the jobs haven’t materialized, and confidence is faltering. On the terrorism and Iraq front, I think that this week’s strange and unexpected change from everyone except Cheney about the supposed 9/11/Iraq connection will hurt BushCo. (I can’t figure this out politically, except speculating that the Kay report and other things were about to puncture that myth conclusively and this is a preemptive defense from the admin. But being their mendacious selves probably would have served them better. Or just keeping mum.) Anyway, Bush is extremely vulnerable, I believe. The Democrats only need a candidate who can take advantage of this. Clark is far from ideal, but much better poised to do so than are any of the other candidates.


Keith M Ellis 09.20.03 at 1:44 am

Barry, the beauty of the Iraq mess is that Bush *can’t* start another war. The US military is spread far too thin right now. The neocon war agenda has completely failed as a result of its fantastic asumptions. What I’m wondering is if Bush has figured this out and if he’s pissed yet at those who led him astray.


Barry 09.20.03 at 5:26 pm

Oh, he can *start* a lot of wars; successful wrap-up would be the trick, just like it is in Iraq.

Personally, I think that the administration will go for a ‘brink of war’ attempt. But starting another war would be quite easy. And given the choice between losing an election or winning an election through dirty tricks, why shouldn’t he go for the second? Especially since starting a war is a traditionally non-proesecutable act for presidents (even in the late 1990’s, the GOP Congress didn’t directly threaten Clinton over Kosovo, even though it’d have been a legitimate impeachment charge).


Barry 09.20.03 at 6:50 pm

Oh, Keith – I do agree that the neo-con dream of empire is dead, at least for this administration. However, I felt that they were useful fanatics, who could be used or ignored as the real powers-that-be wanted. That if the economy had been rebounding in summer, 2002, the war probably wouldn’t have happened, because the administration wouldn’t have needed it.


Robert Schwartz 09.25.03 at 10:17 pm

I got a benjamin says you are wrong.

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