Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Dan Gilmartin sends this --

NYTIMES 1/13/04

The Bush Democrats

Published: January 13, 2004

In 2000, the American electorate was evenly
divided. Now, as we enter another voting season,
the Gallup Organization has released a study,
based on 40,000 interviews, that shows that 45.5
percent of voters identify with or lean toward
the Republican Party and 45.2 percent identify
with or lean toward the Democratic Party.

So is that it? After Sept. 11, the Iraq war and
the Madonna-Britney kiss, could it really be that
we are back to where we started? Since 2000, tens
of millions of people have moved, divorced and
converted; can it really be that everything in
America changes except politics?

Yes and no. Yes, the political divides today do
look a lot like the ones that split the nation in
2000. But no. When you look beneath the headline
data, you see at least one important change. The
events of the past three years have brought to
the foreground issues that divide Democrats, and
pushed to the background issues that divide

The first result is that the Republican Party is
more unified than ever before. Ninety-one percent
of Republicans approve of the job President Bush
is doing. In 1992, Bush's father didn't have
anything like that level of support, and even the
Reagan administration was split between so-called
pragmatists and ideologues.

Today's Republicans not only like Bush
personally, they also overwhelmingly support his
policies. According to a Pew Center study, 85
percent of Republicans support the war in Iraq,
82 percent believe that pre-emptive war is
justified, and 72 percent believe the U.S. is
justified in holding terror suspects without

The Democrats, meanwhile, are divided on all
these issues. According to the same Pew survey,
54 percent of Democrats oppose the war in Iraq,
but 39 percent support it. Forty-four percent of
Democrats oppose the pre-emptive war doctrine,
but 52 percent support it. Forty-seven percent of
Democrats oppose holding terror suspects without
trial, but 46 percent are in favor.

Liberals have all the passion these days. They
dominate campaign events in Iowa and New
Hampshire, but they have not won over half the
voters in their own party.

The Democrats are also divided on major domestic
issues. The Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg
surveyed Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire and
South Carolina. Democrats there were split on
Nafta and gay marriage and on whether to roll
back all the Bush tax cuts.

The biggest divide among Democrats is
metaphysical. Some portion of the party, led by
Howard Dean, is so disgusted by Republicans that
it does not believe it is possible to work with
such people. Meanwhile, others, including Dick
Gephardt, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, accept
that Republicans are in power, are willing to
work with them and take a starkly different
approach to politics.

This situation - Republican unity and Democratic
fissures - means that the Democratic vote is less
cohesive than the G.O.P. vote, at least on the
presidential level. In a Bush-Dean matchup, 20
percent of Democrats would vote for Bush,
according to a CBS poll, while only 3 percent of
Republicans would vote for Dean. Over all, Bush
leads Dean by 20 points. And in Iowa and New
Hampshire, swing states where voters know both
candidates well, Bush is up by significant

In other words, at least at the moment, Bush has
crashed through the 45/45 partisan divide. He is
a polarizing figure, but there are many more
people who support him than oppose him. And this
support is not merely personal; it is built into
the issue landscape. According to an
ABC/Washington Post poll, 57 percent of Americans
say they are more likely to support a candidate
who supported going to war in Iraq, while only 35
percent say they would be less likely. According
to Pew, 59 percent believe that the war in Iraq
has helped in the broader war on terror.

All of this means two things. First, as we dive
into this period of intense Democratic primary
competition, it's worth keeping in mind that
Democratic primary voters are a misleading
snapshot of the electorate as a whole. Second,
while the nation remains closely divided over
all, and gravitational pressures will cause the
general election to tighten, it is wrong to think
that the electorate is fixed. There are millions
of people who may lean toward one party or
another, but who can be persuaded to support
either presidential candidate.

At the moment, many are supporting Bush.