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Presidential Campaign Decisions and Political Ideology

bringiton's picture

Both the Obama and McCain campaigns are acutely aware of where this election will be decided, and it is not amongst Liberal voters.

[This post is a fragment of a larger essay on American voter ideological affiliation that is part of an ongoing discussion with the highly esteemed VastLeft, one I’ll roll out after the Convention dust has settled. I’m putting this subsection up now for consideration as we try and digest the VP and Convention decisions of both campaigns in real time.]

There are a lot of different ways to come at this issue, but I am going to restrict myself here to an analysis based on polling data from Gallup. Data from other sources varies somewhat from these, but taken in the aggregate Gallup numbers are pretty much in the middle of the pack and while others, notably Zogby and Rassmussen, have bounced all over the place Gallup’s have been reasonably stable and thus have the appearance, if not the actuality, of being plausibly credible. If nothing else, their stability allows at least a semi-rational discussion.

Historical data going back to early June can be seen at the Gallup link above, but here I will discuss only that from the week of August 18-24.

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The most strongly ideological elements of both parties are already fairly settled in their opinions. Both Obama and McCain have 90%+ of their respective Liberal or Conservative voters committed while a small fragment have made contrarian choices and an even smaller subset remain undecided.

For Obama, only 3% of self-identified Liberals (Progressive is not a Gallup identity choice, but I assume that in this constrained selection Progressives would choose Liberal over the others available) are uncommitted, and at no more than 20% of the electorate this Undecided fragment represents 0.6% or less of registered voters. From a strategic standpoint, trying to appeal to such a small number is all but wasted effort and the stands that would need to be taken would risk alienating other, much larger, constituencies. If as a Liberal or Progressive you are anxious because you do not hear Obama speaking directly and unequivocally to you please relax; he isn’t going to do that, not now and likely not ever.

Where Obama can make some headway is with Moderate and Conservative Democrats and Independents.

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These are the groups his campaign has looked towards since early June, and their focus group and internal polling results are what produced Joe Biden and the text of Obama’s acceptance speech. (Surely they drove the texts of all of the major convention speakers as well as the choices of the speakers themselves – Wesley Clark probably polled with high negatives. The speech “editing” – none of it demanded but rather suggested – was often discussed here and in the MSM as a sign of authoritarianism but in the eyes of others including myself was seen rather as a sign of competence and coherence, a beneficial change of pace for what has hitherto been an entirely too disorganized Party process.)

With Liberals as committed as they are going to be, Democrats must focus on and convince groups closer to the Middle to select for Democratic policies and promises, and by extension for the promise and persona of Obama himself.

McCain’s campaign sees their opportunity in almost a mirror image:

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albeit one with slightly less room for growth than what confronts the Democrats. Self-identified Liberal or Moderate Republicans are few and far between (“Liberal” Republicans are so small and odd a group that pollsters lump them together with “Moderate” Republicans to avoid analysis of the ridiculous.)

Conservative Democrats are from a Republican viewpoint a substantial segment of low-hanging fruit, perhaps 12% of the voting electorate, and inroads have already been made. The Republican Party has, one assumes, been busy with their own focus groups and internal polls along with the strategizing of Karl Rove and the moves by McCain towards increasing military bellicosity, the increased geopolitical tension in Georgia, and selection of A Woman for VP should be considered to be the result of their assessments for a winning combination.

The over-lap between opportunities for both campaigns is with Conservative Democrats and Independents.

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Adding what Gallup’s graph does not display, the number of Undecided in each category, makes the point of focus even more evident:

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While Undecided Conservative Democrats account for 1% to 1.5% of voters (Undecided @ 11% x 12% approximately of the electorate), the largest group of remaining open-minded voters are the Undecided Independents.

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With Independents comprising at least a third of all voters and 40% still Undecided, this group holds a pool representing 13% of all voters and is the key to this election. Their votes are likely to control the outcomes in Swing States, and thus determine the Electoral College totals. So far, the Independent vote has broken equally for McCain and Obama at about 30% each, offering no guidance as to how the remainder may decide.

Everything the campaigns do between now and November 4th will primarily be focused on courting that large block of Undecided Independents and to a somewhat lesser degree the Conservative Democrats, and every move will be most profitably analyzed within that context.

• Does the selection of Joe Biden as VP help or hurt Obama with Independents? (I think it helps; Biden fairly screams “safe” and “experienced”.)

• Did Obama’s speech, which lays out the Democratic Party themes for the remainder of the election more reliably than those of the Party Platform, help or hinder his persuasion of Independents? (I think the economy will be by far the dominant issue and his emphasis on jobs and economic security is what the Malleable Middle wants to hear; he couched everything else, avoiding enmity on any hot-button issues.)

• Does the choice of Governor Palin, a complete unknown, benefit McCain? (I think not; the electorate’s insecurity around his advanced age – shown by multiple polls to be substantial – will not be alleviated by having an untried unknown as a backup, plus her anti-environmentalism, anti-choice, anti-progressive taxation and anti-gun control positions will not IMHO be strong attractants for Undecided Independents. Unless, of course, Independent White Women again decide to vote against their expressed interests, as they did when a majority of them supported George Bush in 2004, even though we can all see now how well that worked out.)

• We will have to wait to see what McCain and the Republicans lay out for their Party pitch, but weakness in addressing the economy plus More and Bigger Wars is not – I think – a winning combination.

So there it is; my analysis of why the Democrats have done what they’ve done. It is very much not the same approach as they have tried before, but these are not the same times and in any event shrill partisanship was not reliably working for them. As Mandos has tried to describe, the way that voters reach electoral decisions has shifted from what once was a newspaper-driven analytical approach to a more modern touchy-feely soft-focus “sense” of “trust” and “affinity”.

The Republicans are approaching this election as they have the last ten, in many ways “fighting the last war” all over again using these same tools of affinity and emotionality but based as before on fear and military bellicosity rather than what the Democrats are banking on, the more positive “Goo-Goo” concepts of “hope” and “change”.

What we will want to watch from an analytical standpoint over the next two months is how each of the campaigns adjusts to shifting poll numbers in their target audiences and to each other’s maneuvering around the Malleable Middle. For a weather-vane indicator, track the Undecided Independents as they move into one camp or another. Who ever wins that latter group will, I believe, win the election.

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amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

went Reagan 2x, and were not all conservative or moderate Dems by any standard (many were the actual base of the party and lifelong Dems up to that point) -- they're all 47 or older now and always vote -- unlike Independents, who do not have that commitment or voting record.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

which I do not, then by all means answer your own question. Here are some suggestions for a structured approach:

Who were they then? Support with data.

Does an equivalent demographic exist today? If so, support with data.

Why did they vote as they did? (Hint; bigotry along with reaction to economic difficulty and intractable foreign disaster.)

What factors would influence those same voters - or their modern equivalent - today? (Hint; bigotry along with reaction to economic difficulty and intractable foreign disaster.)

Which political party will those influences benefit today?

Many other people have recently considered this same issue; perhaps you’ll want to start with an analysis of their thoughts. Ezra Klein and Ruy Teixeira; Digby and Digby again; and Chris Bowers. Surely, there are more.

Chasing after the ghost of an apparition is not an enterprise that appeals to me, but I look forward to reading your thoughtful, detailed and well-supported post on the subject.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

"Reagan Democrats" or even "Clinton Democrats" or "working-class Democrats" or any subdivision---i'm talking about all the votes Reagan won in 80, and the millions of regular Democrats who voted Reagan instead of Carter. They didn't become Republicans, nor had they been Republicans before 80.

They're all still voting, and are all very reliable voters who can be counted on to come out every single election.

Truth Partisan's picture
Submitted by Truth Partisan on

Thanks for the detailed analysis. Love the links and facts and polls!

Nice breakdown of the stats (40%!) and I like the way you link it to how Obama has been running.

You bring up an important point I've been thinking about: many just think about the race from one side and not the perspective of the other--and unlike you here, they say not to even think about it...how can we work with the facts if we are unwilling to even think about what the other side is thinking? So thanks for that too...hasn't McC been popular in the past with the indies?

I disagree about Palin's effect, but we'll look at the polls in a few days and see...

More of this, please!

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

McCain has polled well among independents in the past against other Republicans and in stand-alone Approve/Disapprove ratings, but he did not show well in that demographic against Hillary, they broke to her for a big advantage in the Electoral College, and so far Obama is holding even. Many more than usual of this year's self-identified Independents are recent (2006 onward) defectors from the Repubican ranks, how that will affect future shifts is anyone's guess but the obvious choice for Obama is to try and appeal to them by appearing to embrace the "best" of Moderate Republicanism while showing revulsion for the excesses of BushCo Plutocracy.

Palin is too new and, ah, unconventional to assess well, we'll see.

Submitted by lambert on

that I read this post carefully and I'm not ignoring it -- well, I am ignoring it, but that has nothing to do with the post and everything to do with RL.

That said... Are you that the polling system isn't just a reflection/projection of the Village ideology of centrism? Somehow, I'm not sure that, er, reality is sliced up as this poll would have it be...

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

I always take it as a sign that whatever contrarianism I've posited has temporarily overwhelmed any possible ripost. Silence, it could be said, is golden.

Not sure exactly what you're asking. Polls are what they are, flawed to be sure and with all the bigotries running around this time they are IMHO even more difficult to assess than usual. These Gallup numbers were chosen because they've been pretty stable for a couple of months and as near as I can make it they seem to be near the middle of an aggregation of other poll results. Appears that nearly everyone who had been paying attention during the primaries made their decision right after Hillary suspended, and the rest probably won't start paying real attention until after Labor Day.

IIRC the early solidification of the farther wings in each party is the norm, and it is the Middle that typically waits. Of course, it could be that Gallup is not actually calling people and honestly reporting their responses but rather putting out conjured Village propaganda as an arm of the VRWC, but I doubt it.

Which slice of reality do you favor, and do you have any data to support it?

PS: Believe I have a separate reply to Herb caught in the spamcatcher, if you would be so kind as to take a look and thanks in advance.

herb the verb's picture
Submitted by herb the verb on

Bring it on,

Obviously you are impressed with your post (I use your response to Amberglow as example). Your post uses some weird stats and categories.

This is not your fault, but you are making a very data-based argument, it is up to you to present data which compellingly supports it.

The data is broken down by groups,
Liberal Dems
Moderate Dems
Conservative Dems
Pure independents
moderate/liberal Repubs
Conservative Repubs

The reporting is by which percentage OF EACH GROUP supports Obama or McCain, not WHAT PERCENTAGE OF THE POPULATION WHICH IS PART OF EACH GROUP supports Obama or McCain.

Plus, where do they come up with these liberal/moderate conservative definitions? Self-defined? Why are Mod/lib Dems grouped and Mod/lib Repubs not? Why do I think I'm alternately looking at large or small percentages of large or small populations only when/if it supports your arguments purposes. In otherwords (and I'm sorry to tell you), you don't have credibility with me to make an honest argument rather than 'any stick at hand' and even if you DID have credibility with me, if you were making an argument based on data you would have to make it based on less manipulated data.

In other words, if you went to all this analysis to convince folks here why Obama is teh smartest kool kid on the block for not saying anything positive to "progressives" couldn't you "bring a little bit more on"? For instance by you yourself converting those subgroup percentages to percentages of the polled (total) population?

BTW, I say this after noting what was revealed during this last weeks events where in my opinion Obamaism (defined as the kind of thin gruel post-partisan outreach you pom pom cheer) took some serious chin music after having lost decisively since, oh, I don't know, maybe last February is when the downward spiral began.

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Around these parts we call cucumber slices circle bites

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I'm not such a bad guy once you get to know me.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

that I'm impressed with. As a guest, I would never do less. Your standards for what you post are, of course, yours to establish.

As I stated in the brackets right at the beginning, this is a fragment of a larger post that will come later after the political news frenzy settles down a bit and no, I am not about to recapitulate the whole thing here in comments. If I had wanted to do that I'd have done it in the body.

H: Your post uses some weird stats and categories.
The categories (thanks for recapping them in your comment, probably no one was clear on what they were) are the ones Gallup uses and has for some long time; if you think Gallup is weird then there you are. The numbers are Gallup's, not mine.

H: if you were making an argument based on data you would have to make it based on less manipulated data.
The Gallup data is what it is, the link is provided for confirmation of the table screen grab and I didn't "manipulate" it in any way at all. The distribution has been remarkably stable since mid-June. The numbers are what they are, nothing "truthy" about them.

H: Plus, where do they come up with these liberal/moderate conservative definitions? Self-defined?
This is not a post on polling methodology. If you are interested in learning how Gallup polls, please visit their web site.

H: Why are Mod/lib Dems grouped and Mod/lib Repubs not?
Again, this is not a polling practices or statistical analysis post, but briefly: Democrats are broken down into Moderate, Liberal and Conservative because there are enough respondents in each category to allow statistically meaningful segmental analysis. The number of Liberal Republicans now in the United States is so small that grouping them separately would result in huge but statistically meaningless swings in the data. Tossing them in together with Moderate Republicans smooths the data, making it easier to interpret.

H: if you went to all this analysis to convince folks here why Obama is teh smartest kool kid on the block for not saying anything positive to “progressives” couldn’t you “bring a little bit more on”? For instance by you yourself converting those subgroup percentages to percentages of the polled (total) population?
Had you been reading for content you would have noticed that I did give data on population size for the segments that are relevant. For instance:

...at no more than 20% of the electorate this Undecided fragment represents 0.6% or less of registered voters.

An estimate at 20% of the electorate as Liberals is a generous; it could be as low as 15%, but my point would be the same - there are not enough Undecided votes left there to be worth pursuing.

And:

Undecided Conservative Democrats account for 1% to 1.5% of voters (Undecided @ 11% x 12% approximately of the electorate)....

as well as:

With Independents comprising at least a third of all voters and 40% still Undecided, this group holds a pool representing 13% of all voters....

The other categories are, for the purposes of this analysis, far less relevant.

H: you don’t have credibility with me
Not my worry, but thanks for sharing.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

that I'm impressed with. As a guest, I would never do less. Your standards for what you post are, of course, yours to establish.

As I stated in the brackets right at the beginning, this is a fragment of a larger post that will come later after the political news frenzy settles down a bit and no, I am not about to recapitulate the whole thing here in comments. If I had wanted to do that I'd have done it in the body.

H: Your post uses some weird stats and categories.
The categories (thanks for recapping them in your comment, probably no one was clear on what they were) are the ones Gallup uses and has for some long time; if you think Gallup is weird then there you are. Again, the numbers are Gallup's not mine.

H: if you were making an argument based on data you would have to make it based on less manipulated data.
The Gallup data is what it is, the link is provided for confirmation of the table screen grab and I didn't "manipulate" it in any way at all. The distribution has been remarkably stable since mid-June. The numbers are what they are, nothing "truthy" about them.

H: Plus, where do they come up with these liberal/moderate conservative definitions? Self-defined?
This is not a post on polling methodology. If you are interested in learning how Gallup polls, please visit their web site.

H: Why are Mod/lib Dems grouped and Mod/lib Repubs not?
Again, this is not a polling practices or statistics post, but briefly: Democrats are broken down into Moderate, Liberal and Conservative because there are enough respondents in each category to allow statistically meaningful segmental analysis. The number of Liberal Republicans now in the United States is so small that grouping them separately would result in huge but statistically meaningless swings in the data. Tossing them in together with Moderate Republicans smooths the data, making it easier to interpret.

H: if you went to all this analysis to convince folks here why Obama is teh smartest kool kid on the block for not saying anything positive to “progressives” couldn’t you “bring a little bit more on”? For instance by you yourself converting those subgroup percentages to percentages of the polled (total) population?
Had you been reading for content you would have noticed that I did give data on population size for the segments that are relevant. For instance:

...at no more than 20% of the electorate this Undecided fragment represents 0.6% or less of registered voters.

An estimate at 20% of the electorate as Liberals is a generous; it could be as low as 15%, but my point would be the same - there are not enough Undecided Liberal votes to be worth pursuing.

And:

Undecided Conservative Democrats account for 1% to 1.5% of voters (Undecided @ 11% x 12% approximately of the electorate)....

as well as:

With Independents comprising at least a third of all voters and 40% still Undecided, this group holds a pool representing 13% of all voters....

The other categories are, for the purposes of this discussion, far less relevant.

H: …you don’t have credibility with me….
Not my worry, but thanks for sharing.