[OPE-L] Explaining electoral volatility in the USA, in the lead-up to November 7

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sun Oct 15 2006 - 07:45:10 EDT

Andrew Rawnsley writes in The Observer (Sunday October 15):

(...) When I spoke to Andy Card, who for five years was Chief of Staff to
President Bush, he calculated that the election would ultimately come down
to which side could mobilise more of its supporters in the last 72 hours.
(...) A slew of recent opinion polls shows support for the Republicans
plummeting and the Democrats gaining what should be a decisive edge. (...)
Given such a toxic blend of policy failure abroad, financial and sexual
scandals at home, compounded by discontent about the economy, in most
democracies the governing party would be expecting a total meltdown.
(...)And yet you have to be a little cautious about predicting that the
Republicans will suffer the sort of wipe-out that natural justice says they
deserve. (...) There are three weeks left before election day and the polls
have yo-yoed depending on the sleaze or terror headline of the hour. While
America's mood is volatile, its democracy is becoming atrophied. (...) The
gerrymandering of seats to permanently fix their political complexion has
made it extraordinarily difficult to dislodge incumbents. The story of this
election is one of Republican collapse rather than any great enthusiasm for
the Democrats. They don't have a clear message delivered by a popular and
plausible leader. (...) It is in the nature of the American system that the
executive can speak with a single voice - that of the President - while the
opposition talks in a cacophony of tongues. (...) George Bush faces a bleak
closing chapter of his presidency. The Democrats need only gain control of
one house to start launching investigations into 9/11, the Iraq war and its
searing aftermath, the financial scandals, the sexual scandals - you name
it, they can subject the White House to torture-by-inquiry. (...)

But are there not more profound reasons why "the opposition talks in a
cacophony of tongues" than "the nature of the American system"?

"The Democratic party['s] constituencies are more diverse and, while united
in opposition to President Bush, the Democrats are fractured by differences
over social and personal values."

One columnist, E. J. Dionne Jr, noted succinctly in the Washington Post
(September 27, 2005):

"But the [Democratic] party's problems are structural and can be explained
by three numbers: 21, 34 and 45. According to the network exit polls, 21
percent of the voters who cast ballots in 2004 called themselves liberal, 34
percent said they were conservative and 45 percent called themselves
moderate. Those numbers mean that liberal-leaning Democrats are far more
dependent than conservatively inclined Republicans on alliances with the
political center. Democrats second-guess themselves because they have to.
(...) The core difficulty for Democrats is that they must solve two problems
simultaneously -- and solving one problem can get in the way of solving the
other. Over time Democrats need to reduce the conservative advantage over
liberals in the electorate, which means the party needs to take clear stands
that could detach voters from their allegiance to conservatism. For some in
the party this means becoming more moderate on cultural issues such as
abortion. For others it means full-throated populism to attract lower-income
social conservatives. Some favor a combination of the two, while still
others worry that too much populism would drive away moderate voters in the
upper middle class. The debate often leads to intellectual gridlock. But
even indeterminate talk of a "national" message makes many Democrats [...]
(and Democratic senators from red states) nervous. Such Democrats figure
they know their own districts better than any national party leader or
consultant, and they often prefer to operate on their own."

In the meantime the Pew Research Centre reports that:

"The percent of Democratic voters who think of themselves as "liberals" has
been slowly rising in recent years, while the number of conservative
Democrats has declined."
http://people-press.org/commentary/display.php3?AnalysisID=141 "Democrats
are also far more excited about voting this year, with 51% saying they are
more enthusiastic about voting than usual, up from 40% in 2002. Just a third
of Republicans say they are more enthusiastic about voting than usual, down
from 44% four years ago."

The Pew Research Centre provides the following thumbnail sketch of the axes
of current ideological divisions:

- national security
- assertive foreign policy

- environmentalism
- government regulation
- isolationism versus global activism
- immigration

- religious and moral values
- welfare
- cooperation with allies
- business and the free market
- cynicism about politics
- individualism versus fatalism

The Oct. 6-8, 2006 Gallup poll finds "a majority of likely voters saying the
Democrats in Congress would do a better job than the Republicans in Congress
at handling healthcare, government corruption, gas prices, the economy, and
the situation in Iraq. Just less than half say the Democrats would be better
on immigration, moral standards, and terrorism".
http://www.galluppoll.com/content/?ci=24961 "The probability has increased
that the Democrats will win the 15 seats necessary to take control of the
House of Representatives on Nov. 7." http://www.galluppoll.com/ELECTION2006/


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