Democrats Who Move Right Lose Elections – There Is No “Center”

Mainstream Democratic campaign consultants and pollsters typically tell candidates they should “move to the right” and campaign to the “center” with positions that are “between” the “left” and the “right.” This is the way, they say, to “attract swing voters” who would be “scared off” by a candidate who takes populist positions that favor the interests of the 99 percent over the interests of the 1 percent.

Polling and experience show that exactly the opposite might be true.

This week Lynn Vavrek writes at the New York Times Upshot blog, in “The Myth of Swing Voters in Midterm Elections“:

There just aren’t that many swing voters. … Ultimately voters tend to come home to their favored party. There are relatively few voters who cross back and forth between the parties during a campaign or even between elections.

Looking at the Democrat loss in the 2010 election, this is the key:

The results clearly show that voters in 2010 did not abandon the Democrats for the other side, but they did forsake the party in another important way: Many stayed home.

Again: In 2010 “swing” voters did not “shift” toward Republicans. What happened was that Democrats stayed home.

2011 Pew Poll: Independents Aren’t ‘Centrists’

Who are the “independent” voters? In 2011 The Washington Post’s “The Fix” looked at a Pew Research Center poll. In the post, “The misunderstood independent,” Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza wrote (emphasis added)

In politics, it’s often tempting to put independents somewhere in the middle of Republicans and Democrats, politically. They identify somewhere in between the two, so they must be moderates, right?

A new study from the Pew Research Center suggests that’s not so true anymore. Independents, in fact, are a fast-growing and increasingly diverse group that both parties are going to need to study and understand in the years ahead.

. . . Pew identifies three different kinds of independents. Libertarians and Disaffecteds are 21 percent of registered voters and lean towards Republicans; Post-Moderns are 14 percent and lean towards Democrats.

A look at their views on issues shows those three groups can often be among the most extreme on a given topic.

Disaffecteds, for example, believe in helping the needy more than most Democrats. Libertarians side with business more than even the solidly Republican Staunch Conservatives. And Post-Moderns accept homosexuality more than most Democrats. The three independents groups are also less religious, on the whole, than either Republicans or most Democrats.

In other words, polling shows that many “independents” are to the left of Democrats and many others are to the right of Republicans. They are not “in the middle” or “between” but rather are more likely to stay home and not vote for candidates who move “to the middle.” Those independents to the right of Republicans are not going to vote for Democrats no matter how far “to the right” the Democratic candidate goes.

2010 PPP Poll: The Independents Who Stayed Home

In 2010 Greg Sargent wrote at the Washington Post’s Plum Line blog, “Progressives and centrists battle over meaning of indy vote” (emphasis added):

Independents are not a monolith, and what really happened is that indys who backed Obama in 2008 stayed home, because they were unsatisfied with Obama’s half-baked reform agenda, while McCain-supporting indys turned out in big numbers.

. . . The key finding: PPP asked independents who did vote in 2010 who they had supported in 2008. The results: Fifty one percent of independents who voted this time supported McCain last time, versus only 42 percent who backed Obama last time. In 2008, Obama won indies by eight percent.

That means the complexion of indies who turned out this time is far different from last time around, argues Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. His case: Dem-leaning indys stayed home this time while GOP-leaning ones came out — proof, he insists, that the Dems’ primary problem is they failed to inspire indys who are inclined to support them.

“The dumbest thing Democrats could do right now is listen to those like Third Way who urge Democrats to repeat their mistake by caving to Republicans and corporations instead of fighting boldly for popular progressive reforms and reminding Americans why they were inspired in 2008,” Green says.

March Florida Special Election

In the March special election in Florida’s 13th District, the Republican candidate strongly embraced the values of “the base” while the Democratic candidate took “centrist” positions, even embracing austerity and cuts to Social Security – in Florida. In Did Dems Have A Reason To Show Up And Vote In Florida House Race? I wrote about what happened, but in summary, R’s voted and Dems stayed home.

The Republican won by about 3,400 votes out of about 183,000 votes cast. Turnout was 58 percent in precincts Romney won in 2012, and 48.5 percent in precincts Obama won in 2012. There were 49,000 fewer people who voted in this election than in the 2010 general mid-term election (down 21 percent), and 158,500 fewer than in the 2012 Presidential (down 46 percent). So it was the failure to get Democratic voters to show up that lost them the election.

The Republicans ran “the furthest right a GOP candidate had run in the area” in 60 years. Meanwhile the Democrat tried to “reach across the aisle” to bring in “centrist” and “moderate” voters, and emphasized “cutting wasteful government spending” and “introducing performance metrics to hold government accountable for waste and abuse and creating the right fiscal environment for businesses to create jobs.”

Again, the Republican campaigned to the right, the Democrat campaigned “in the middle.” The result: Republicans showed up to vote, Democrats stayed home.

What The Heck Do “Centrist” And “The Middle” Even Mean?

Think about the words we use to describe voters and policy positions. “Left,” “right,” “between,” “center” and “swing” force the brain to visualize policy positions as endpoints on a straight line. The visualization forces people to imagine a “centrist” that is someone who holds positions that are somewhere “in the middle” and “between” the policy positions that are these endpoints. There is a bulk of voters who are imagined to “swing” from the positions on these endpoints, who are looking for politicians who don’t go “too far” in any policy direction. Politicians can “attract” these “swing” voters by taking positions that are “between” the endpoints.

But polling and experience tell us:

1) There are very few actual “independent voters.” Instead there are lots of voters who agree with the left or agree with the right, but are further to the left or right and so do not register as Democrats or Republicans.

2) There is no “swing voter” block “between” the parties. There are different groups of voters who decide to vote or stay home. No conservative “independent” who is to the right of the Republican party will vote for any Democrat, no matter how far right they move. All that moving to the right accomplishes is to cause many Democratic “base” voters to hold their noses if they do vote, and possibly just stay away from the polls.

Karl Rove got this. He understood that you can get the right-wing voters roused up to come to the polls by moving Republican politicians to the right. Instead of “moving to the center” he got Bush and the Republicans to stand up for conservative principles and refuse to compromise, and the result was that more of “the base” enthusiastically showed up at the polls.

Conclusion: You Have To Deliver For And Campaign To Your Base Or They Don’t Show Up

Here is what is very important to understand about the “swing” vote: Few voters “switch.” That is the wrong lesson. There are not voters who “swing,” there are left voters and right voters who either show up and vote or do not show up and vote.

The lesson to learn: You have to deliver for and campaign to YOUR “base” voters or they don’t show up and vote for you. If Democrats don’t give regular, working people –- the Democratic base -– a reason to vote, then many of them won’t.

To learn what the American voter wants, please visit Populist Majority, Exposing the gulf between American opinion and conventional wisdom.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Nullification, The Bundy Ranch And Right-Wing Lawlessness

Does the right get a free pass to ignore laws? Is armed intimidation the way we decide which laws should be followed? Is conservative media whipping up the conditions for another Oklahoma City bombing? These questions are popping up with more and more frequency in light of recent events.

Armed Militia At Bundy Ranch

Flag-waving Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy refuses to pay cattle-grazing fees like other ranchers do, or even get a grazing permit, because he “doesn’t recognize the federal government.” The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), following years of federal court rulings, finally starts removing Bundy’s cattle from public land. The state’s Republican governor and Republican senator accuse the government of “intimidation” for enforcing the court’s rulings.

Continue reading

5 Right-Wing Myths About Raising the Minimum Wage, Debunked

I wrote this for AlterNet: 5 Right-Wing Myths About Raising the Minimum Wage, Debunked.

They edited out one that I had in it so I’ll share it with you:

6. Myth: The minimum wage fight is “the latest distraction from Obamacare.”
According to many conservatives like those at website Redstate, “Democrats are turning to their age old panic button – demagoguery over the minimum wage.” OK, busted. This is, of course, the real truth. The conservatives have exposed that the real reason that so many people currently forced to live in poverty are pushing for an increase in the minimum wage is to distract the public from Obamacare.

The Job Of The NSA

The NSA tracks the things we buy, the shows we like, things like that. When they have enough information to know what we like they discontinue those products, cancel the programs, change the ingredients of the foods, even close restaurants…

Remember Firefly? How about Southland? Caprica?

Land Line Slammed With Telemarketers

I keep a land line because I do radio shows, and because so manylegacy accounts have that as the reference number. But lately that line is just SLAMMED with telemarketing calls! “Do you need your carpet cleaned”

And the ones where you pick it up and there’s no one there, and just as you are hanging up you hear them coming on so you hang up faster… Do those robodialing systems actually trap anyone into waiting until someone comes on?

I thought this stuff was finally illegal.

Republicans Have Done Real Damage to the Economy

Republicans believe that a bad economy works for them at election time. The thinking is that the public will turn on Democrats for not making things better. So they do what they can to make the economy bad. But maybe they went too far this time. This hostage-taking episode has done real, serious, lasting damage to the economy on top of the ongoing damage Republicans have been doing. Will the public still blame Democrats, or will they finally see what is going on here?

The Damage Last Time

Look what happened the last time (2011) Republicans threatened to force the country to default on its debts.

The 2011 hostage-taking hit jobs. In Debt-Ceiling Deja Vu Could Sink Economy Bloomberg reported that, “Growth in nonfarm payrolls decelerated to an average 88,000 a month during the three months of the debt-ceiling impasse, compared with an average of 176,000 in the first five months of 2011.” Consumer confidence plunged to a 31-year low. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index fell from 59.2 to 44.5.

In November, 2012, the Bipartisan Policy Center released a “Debt Limit Analysis” estimating the costs of the 2011 hostage-taking:

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report detailing additional costs to taxpayers as a result of the 2011 debt limit increase

  • A substantial cost to taxpayers stemmed from elevated interest rates on U.S. securities issued in 2011 prior to when the debt limit was increased in August
  • GAO conducted an economic analysis to estimate the resulting change in interest rates
  • For Fiscal Year 2011, GAO estimated additional interest costs to taxpayers of $1.3 billion

The cost of the event to the federal government, however, continues to accrue because many of the bonds issued during that period remain outstanding

  • BPC extended GAO’s methodology to analyze the long-term cost to taxpayers stemming from the elevated interest rates
  • Estimate of the ten-year cost to taxpayers of the 2011 debt limit standoff = $18.9 billion
  • To put this in perspective, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the “Doc Fix” to prevent the scheduled 27% cut to Medicare physician payments for 2012 cost $18 billion over ten years

That is serious damage. And, of course, the 2011 fight resulted in a downgrading of the US credit rating.

(See also: Think Progress, CHARTS: How The Debt Ceiling Debacle Hurt The Economy)

The Damage This Time

In this hostage fight the immediate damage is much worse than 2011. Consumer confidence, for example, has plunged even more dramatically than during the last debt-ceiling hostage-taking. But these measurements were taken only a week into the fight.

Standard & Poor’s ratings agency has done some early calculations of the damage and says, “the shutdown has shaved at least 0.6% off of annualized fourth-quarter 2013 GDP growth, or taken $24 billion out of the economy.” Note the words “at least.” This is an early estimate and does not count direct costs to government and costs to government contractors.

The NY Times today, in Gridlock Has Cost U.S. Billions, and the Meter Is Still Running, reports,

Containers of goods idling at ports. Reduced sales at sandwich shops in downtown Washington. Canceled vacations to national parks and to destinations abroad. Reduced corporate earnings forecasts. Higher interest payments on short-term debt.

Even with the shutdown of the United States government and the threat of a default coming to an end, the cost of Congress’s gridlock has already run well into the billions, economists estimate. And the total will continue to grow even after the shutdown ends, partly because of uncertainty about whether lawmakers might reach another deadlock early next year.

The Damage From Cutting Instead Of Investing

Republicans have forced the country into an austerity mode, instead of an invest and job-creation mode. Everything is being cut, so that the billionaires and their giant corporations can have lower taxes. Aside from the sequester cuts there have been trillions in other cuts.

Paul Krugman writes about this ongoing damage today in a blog post, What A Drag, estimating that just two of the cuts we have experienced (not counting other cuts and the sequester) have cut “about $200 billion of fiscal contraction at an annual rate, or 1.25 percent of GDP, probably with a significant multiplier effect.”

That’s just those two pieces of Republican damage to our economy. Looking at the overall effect of austerity on our economy,

“Add this to the effects of sharp cuts in discretionary spending and the effects of economic uncertainty, however measured, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that extortion tactics may have shaved as much as 4 percent off GDP and added 2 points to the unemployment rate.”

Damage: 4% off GDP and 2% added to unemployment.

The Sequester Damage

Then there is the ongoing economic damage done by the sequester cuts. Republicans hail the sequester’s cuts as a great victory, an accomplishment in their ongoing fight to destroy government, but in reality the cuts are costing jobs and hitting the economy.

The 2013 job-loss from the sequester cuts is estimated at only 800,000 jobs, but the 2014 job loss is estimated to be 1.6 million.

These job-loss and slow-growth numbers do not include the ripple effect into the larger economy, nor the longer-term cost to our economy from the cuts to scientific research, education, child nutrition and other cuts.

And these cuts don’t even save the government money! One example of the costs of the sequester cuts comes from the effect of cuts in the Meals On Wheels program. Because of the cuts, many elderly end up in hospitals with malnutrition-related problems, and/or are forced into nursing homes because they can no longer live at home. Aside fromt he cruelty and resulting human suffering (not considered a “cost”) this costs money from government services including Medicare and Medicaid.

The Ongoing Damage From Obstruction

Republicans have been obstructing … everything. The ongoing economic damage has been just incredible but because it gradually worsens things the public is not as aware as they should be. There are two obstructions taking place. In the Senate Republicans have been filibustering every bill, every nominee … everything. In the House the “Hastert Rule” prevents the majority of the Congress from being able to vote. By preventing bills from coming up for a vote if they might be passed by a majority that includes Democrats and some “RINO” Republicans, anything that could help the country and economy is blocked.

So along with the series of manufactured crises there is a constant, ongoing drag because people have come to believe government will generally continue to hamper rather than boost economic progress. They see no jobs programs coning down the pike, see the infrastructure crumbling, and see the corporate/billionaire-favoring trade deals killing jobs.

Krugman again, from his blog post, What A Drag,

The now widely-cited Macroeconomic Advisers report estimated the cost of crisis-driven fiscal policy at 1 percentage point off the growth rate for three years, or roughly 3 percent now. More than half of this estimated cost comes from the “fiscal drag” of falling discretionary spending, with the rest coming from a (shaky) estimate of the impacts of fiscal uncertainty on borrowing costs.

The Damage Next Time

So what will the damage be next time, and how can we fight it? Yesterday’s “deal” only puts off the fight for a few months. With more of this on the horizon companies will be hesitant to hire or invest. Consumers will remain wary and distrustful.

Republicans still have one power: the power to destroy. And they will use that power until we take it away from them.

6 Absurd Right-Wing Lies About Food Stamps

I have a post up at AlterNet today, 6 Absurd Right-Wing Lies About Food Stamps,

In the middle of the worst economy and job situation in decades Republicans in the House voted to cut $40 billion from food stamps. This will kick 3.8 million people out of the program by 2014, 3 million more each year after.

Republicans in Congress have blocked every effort to help the economy. They block bills to create jobs by fixing our crumbling infrastructure because it’s “government spending.” At the same time, right-wing outlets (accurately) complain that the economy is so weak that millions are hurting. And then the same Republicans who blocked efforts to help the economy cut assistance to the people who are hurting, claiming they don’t really need the help. No shame.

In the months leading up to this vote, right-wing outlets such as Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, RedState and the rest of the far-right propaganda machine invented a number of justifications for cutting the program. Here is a takedown of some of those myths and lies.

Myth #1: Food stamps are “growing exponentially” because of waste and fraud.

Click through to read 6 Absurd Right-Wing Lies About Food Stamps.