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Democrats rode a wave of wins in 2006, after coming up short in 2004. What did we do right?

In a recent exit poll analysis, Chris Bowers tries to show that we energized the base and boosted Democratic turnout. Markos highlights this result in a DLC-bashing front page post. Unfortunately, Chris didn't finish the maths, or select the most comparable data.

Perfecting his model, we learn that 78% of the swing came from Independents and Republicans. ("Base" gains finished third.) This tends to weigh against "base election" schemes, in favor of persuasion, conversion and oppo attrition strategies, with a primary focus on "center court".

Details [and bonus updates by Ideology and Region!] below the fold.

First, the maths. Elections are decided by vote margin, not vote total. Every political act wins votes and loses votes, for your side and the opposition. Capable strategists instinctively size up every bright idea that's thrown on the table by this four-part rule. Unless our political "income statement" covers both sides of the equation, we're "budgeting votes" with play money.

Bowers uses exit poll data to estimate Democratic gains between 2004 and 2006 -- but not Republican losses.

For instance, 26% of respondents exit polled in 2006 House races identified themselves as Independents (same as the 2004 Presidential sample). In 2004, 49% of these reported voting for Kerry. 57% said they voted for House Dem's in 2006. 0.26 x (0.57 - 0.49) = 0.0208, or 2.08%  So far, we confirm Bowers figure.

But Republicans also lost 7% of these Indies (from 46% for Bush in 2004, to 39% I's for Republican House candidates in 2006). This adds 1.82% to our net margin attributable to I's.  Total margin gain from Independents? 3.90%, not 2.08%.

In similar fashion, using the same data, net margin gain from self-identified Democrats pencils out to 3.82%, and from Republicans, 2.31%.

Thus I's gave us more swing than D's, which in turn gave us more than R's. 3.82% net margin gain came from turning out our "base", versus 6.21% from non-party and opposing party segments of the electorate. (We could also do this with self-identified liberals, moderates, conservatives.)

Next, the data. The National Election Pool collects separate samples for Presidential and House races, and publishes separate results. The original analysis calculated swing between 2004 Presidential exit poll results and 2006 "National House" results. That's apples-to-lugnuts.

Using the more comparable NEP 2004 National House sample, we derive strikingly different results.
On a House-to-House, margin-to-margin basis, we derive:

3.93% Margin growth from Independents
2.80% Margin growth from Republicans
1.90% Margin growth from Democrats

Thus, of our 8.63% net margin swing between 2004 and 2006, our greatest yield came from self-described I's. The next most came from R's ... with D's a distant third (22% of net margin gain).
Do these more comparable data and more complete calculations lead you to appreciate the exit poll analysis less? We can offer the following grains of salt:

  1. Party ID is short term mutable. Dem-leaning centrists may identify as Democrats today and Independents tomorrow. Similar for "out and proud" Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents.
  1. Any comparison of a presidential election cycle (2004) and a midterm is automatically suspect. They are not the same electorates, either nationally or locally. (Neither are there competitive race drawing cards in all the same districts in both years.)
  1. NEP protocols were substantially reformed after the 2004 exit polling debacle. They aren't same polls.
  1. Exit poll results are published in whole percents. A reported "37%" could be anything from 36.5% to 37.5%. The actual number behind a reported "49% of 26%" could be 12.74%, or 12.3675%, or 13.1175% ... anywhere within a 0.75% range. A comparison of two such products (for 2004 and 2006, for instance) could be 2.08% plus or minus 1.5%!
  1. Exit polls are not high-acuity instruments in any case, especially on deltas between subsamples.

With all those caveats, how seriously should we take the result? Not entirely seriously ... but it's a nice topic for further further study and analysis.

Update: We can do likewise with self-described "Liberal", "Moderate" and "Conservative" exit poll respondents. In brief:

0.71% Lib's
4.49% Mod's
3.20% Con's

... for 8.40% net margin swing, and 92% of that achieved outside our liberal base.

By Region?

  • Democrats accounted for a bare majority (50.39%) of our 10.36% swing in the East.
  • Southern D's swung the wrong direction (-1.49%), accounting for a whopping minus 27% of their region's favorable 5.61% swing.
  • Midwest D's accounted for 27% of the region's 5.24% swing.
  • In the West, D's swung 33% of a net 11.79% swing.

Originally posted to RonK Seattle on Fri Aug 10, 2007 at 11:12 AM PDT.


Which best describes your feelings?

7%4 votes
37%21 votes
8%5 votes
16%9 votes
30%17 votes

| 56 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  The thing is the country now (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, libertyisliberal

    is where the base was four years ago.  That doesn't mean the base needs to move; there are advantages to being able to set the agenda now which we were not able to do before.

  •  I think we got good candidates (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    N in Seattle, libertyisliberal

    in the last round. I think we've got good candidates in this round. People vote for the people that they like, and ignore everything else. It's not about issues.

    You can't get away with the crunch, 'cuz the crunch always gives you away

    by dnamj on Fri Aug 10, 2007 at 11:18:23 AM PDT

  •  So (9+ / 0-)

    this begs the question: what does the data mean? I guess Harold Ford would argue it means Democrats should be pandering to the center/right.

    But we don't really know what resonated with any of the above groups, do we? For all we know, the center/right Independents may like the sound of progressive ideas, and Democrats would win less of them if they took to pimping center/right ideas and programs.

    Showing up everyday, 'doing my job.' Also, Rudy Giuliani sux

    by taylormattd on Fri Aug 10, 2007 at 11:19:59 AM PDT

  •  Voted not a hate site (4+ / 0-)

    But some here will hate on you if they read this as urging us to fight for the center instead of going after the Nader vote purists on the left. But the big numbers are in the middle. Grabbing 10% more of those who think of themselves as moderate will gain us a lot more voters than if we grab 50% more of those who call themselves "green" or whatever on the farther left. Uh oh, now some will hate on me ;-(

    The lesson I take from your number crunching is that "moderates" are not happy voting for the Repubs these days, whether they are longtime Repubs, independents - whatever that means, or even some Reagan Democrats. Most of this movement is negative, away from the nuts running the Repub Party, from Bush & Rove on down the line. Of course it helps for the Democrats to present a clear alternative and show some fight against the Repubs that are repelling the moderates.

    Thanks for your good work.

    •  Lemme add (3+ / 0-)

      I don't think for a minute that we win votes by triangulating or being Repub lite. We win when we make our stand on national health care and similar issues ones that moderates want to support. Oh, I think we're there already.

    •  Really? (0+ / 0-)

      And where do those numbers come from that you toss around so easily?

      Based on my anecdotal evidence, most registered Independents are too progressive to consider themselves Democrats.

      I don't have a study, where is yours?

      •  Figures (0+ / 0-)

        Let's look at Nader's vote at his high point:

        Nader in 2000 as candidate of the Green Party ... received ... 2.74% of the popular vote

        Running mate Joe Lieberman later criticized Gore for adopting a populist theme during the campaign ... Gore's "people vs. the powerful" message

        Exit polls conducted by NBC news revealed that Nader supporters would not have voted for Gore as an alternative. They would have stayed home

        So lessee, Wikipedia says Gore ran as a populist, not good enough for the Nader purists, who came to 2.74% of the national vote.

        I said, grabbing 50% of the Green or whatever farther left voters -- and 50% of 2.74 equals 1.37% of the vote in 2000 election -- would be less than 10% of the Moderates.

        CNN reported in 2004, not the same election, but more recent figures, that voters identified as Liberals 21%, Moderate 45%, and Conservative 34%. So 10% of the Moderates would have been 4.5% in 2004, that's more than three times that 1.37% share from farther left voters.

        To me, the BIG number is that 45% of all voters self-identified as Moderates in the exit polling.

        Sorry, I only come up with these figures, and hypotheticals, no anecdotes today ;-)

        BTW, ek, I greatly respect your work with the Overnight News Digest. Perhaps we don't disagree as much as it seems. Would you suggest a couple of issues you think would bring us more of the progressive voters you know, who are not being motivated to become Democrats? I've suggested that universal health care is a progressive issue that appeals to the Moderates -- and surely to the farther left as well. What's missing from the current debate?

        •  Source for "would not have voted ..."??? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I did quite a bit of analysis of the claim that Nader brought otherwise non-voters to the polls in 2000, and found the claim substantially empty. The exit polls NBC help pay for indicate Gore would have picked up an additional half point popular vote margin without Nader on the ballot.

          Out of Nader's 2%+ exit-polled popular vote share in the 2000 VNS results, in a two-way race(no Nader or Buchanan):
          0.96% say they would have voted for Gore.
          0.49% say they would have voted for Bush.
          0.62% say they would not have voted.

          (There are strong reasons to treat the last figure as exaggerated. Only 0.39% claimed they did not vote in 1996, 0.36% identified as "first time voters". Extrapolating from reported age distribution, this would have been the first age-eligible Presidential cycle for 0.25%.)

          Some odd things we know about 2000 Nader voters ...

          They were almost as likely to assert "Government should do less" (1.06%) as "Government should do more" (1.29%).

          Roughly equal numbers called Gore "too liberal" as called Bush "too liberal".

          More identified as "moderate" or "conservative" (combined) than "liberal".


          We must defeat them over there, or they'll follow us home ... hide under our beds ... and grab us by the ankles when we get up to pee.

          by RonK Seattle on Sat Aug 11, 2007 at 10:49:29 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Data/methodology footnote (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            above results are derived from published exit poll results reported in whole percents, and are accordingly subject to the round-off effects noted in the diary above.

            Finer-grained data are available from the Roper Center, for a price.

            We must defeat them over there, or they'll follow us home ... hide under our beds ... and grab us by the ankles when we get up to pee.

            by RonK Seattle on Sat Aug 11, 2007 at 10:56:08 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Exit polls are not "high-acutity"? Really? (0+ / 0-)

    Compared to what exactly, my understanding is that they have a fantastically low MOE since you're not polling voter intentions, but what they actually did so you don't have to worry about whether they'll show up at the polls.

    As to your arithmetic, I found it confusing and hard to follow.  Are you disputing Bower's contention that the better part of the growth came from Democrats and thus arguing for a more centrist approach?

    Finally, you note that comparing the 2004 and 2006 elections is automatically suspect.  So why not compare the 2002 election to 2006 then and see what we get?

  •  The way to swing the Center/Right to us (0+ / 0-)

    is by forcibly making our Leftist arguments.

  •  The swing vote is moderate. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Newsie8200, libertyisliberal

    The cross-over voters and the independents aren't ideological voters IMHO.

    Hang in there Ron K.  But, on another subject, I don't understand Ford's tactics re netroots.

  •  Uh education diary and the teacher (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    N in Seattle, taylormattd

    wants us to do our homework...what a drag.

    I wondered what it would take to drag you out of diary timeout.

    As we say in Ed Reform...back to basics!

    Tell me how you spend your time and how you spend your money -- I'll tell you what your values are.

    by oldpro on Fri Aug 10, 2007 at 11:46:33 AM PDT

    •  P. S. Is this going to be on the final? n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Tell me how you spend your time and how you spend your money -- I'll tell you what your values are.

      by oldpro on Fri Aug 10, 2007 at 11:48:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's good to be prepared (4+ / 0-)

        We must defeat them over there, or they'll follow us home ... hide under our beds ... and grab us by the ankles when we get up to pee.

        by RonK Seattle on Fri Aug 10, 2007 at 11:50:53 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I don't know what it is about simple math (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          that eludes people when it comes to politics and elections.

          GOTVing our people gets us one vote per person.  Getting an Independent or an R to cross over gets us two votes per person (+1 for us, minus 1 for them).  Getting an R-leaning Independent or an R to not vote or vote 3rd party gets us one vote per person (-1 vote for them).

          This is not rocket science.

          Oh, wait...maybe it is.

          Tell me how you spend your time and how you spend your money -- I'll tell you what your values are.

          by oldpro on Fri Aug 10, 2007 at 12:01:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Also, everything that energizes our base ... (0+ / 0-)

            ... also energizes their base. People tend to forget this. (There may be exceptions to this rule, but I've looked long and hard and haven't found one.)

            So if you think of a way to turn out 1% more of your side, you're probably turning out 0.5% more of the opponent's voters, so your real gain is on the order of  0.005 net margin vote.

            We must defeat them over there, or they'll follow us home ... hide under our beds ... and grab us by the ankles when we get up to pee.

            by RonK Seattle on Fri Aug 10, 2007 at 12:17:16 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Which is why we sometimes run a local (0+ / 0-)

              'under the radar' low key campaign.  Can't do that for President, of course!

              Tell me how you spend your time and how you spend your money -- I'll tell you what your values are.

              by oldpro on Fri Aug 10, 2007 at 12:43:41 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  The real question is why (0+ / 0-)

    these people voted for a Democrat last election:

    3.93% Margin growth from Independents
    2.80% Margin growth from Republicans
    1.90% Margin growth from Democrats

    Are they less conservative than they were 2 yeas before?  Are they new voters who are Democratic-ly inclined?  Were these mostly anti-[insert your crooked, ethically challenged Republican here] voters? Did some of them think that the majority of Democrats were right all along about Iraq and started leaning-Dem more in general?  

    Why can't the early states just settle on a primary/caucus calendar?

    by Newsie8200 on Fri Aug 10, 2007 at 11:59:24 AM PDT

  •  Center does not equal DLC (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I'm with you on the need to capture independents and moderate Republicans.  In particular, I liked your re-stating the obvious but oft-forgotten truth that political decisions can result in both gain/loss on our side, as well as gain/loss on the other.

    Elections are decided by vote margin, not vote total. Every political act wins votes and loses votes, for your side and the opposition. Capable strategists instinctively size up every bright idea that's thrown on the table by this four-part rule.

    This way of calculating costs and benefits argues, at least to me, for the need to be pragmatic and not rock the boat too much on gun control.  There's a fair number of rural independent and moderate republicans to be picked up, and a strong gun-control platform is not likely to result in that many more Democratic votes.

    But I think the whole DLC controversy right now is not about the Democratic Party being taken over by the Left.  Plenty of centrists are here on DailyKos and plenty of centrists and indepdendents are calling for far tougher Congressional action on the DOJ scandals, negotiating with Iran rather than bombing them (God, what a disaster that will be!), FISA, etc.

    Harold Ford  and the DLC fear irrelevance precisely because lumping all issues into a faux-centrist rubric no longer really resonates with centrists and cross-over voters.  Each issue needs to be parsed separately, because independents may be way out in front of the DLC on issues like avoiding war with Iran or insisting on judicial and congressional oversight for wiretapping.  The DLC will fold on these issues, or encourage members to fold, in the interest of preserving what it views as a coherent "centrist" platform.  The problem is, actual centrists and independents may be far more radical on certain aspects of that overall platform than the DLC realizes.  The DLC may end up just making us look weak.

    In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. ...Thomas Jefferson

    by ivorybill on Fri Aug 10, 2007 at 12:01:08 PM PDT

    •  Certainly not. (0+ / 0-)

      Neither does the DLC bear much resemblance to the descriptions one reads here (obligatory disclaimer: but we're not a hate site).

      And I confess I haven't tracked what Harold Ford has been up to lately.

      Most voters don't fit comfortably into the chairs we line up for them on either side of the hall ... and in a healthy democracy, they never will.

      So the question remains: How DO we arrange the furniture so we can best get this party started?

      We must defeat them over there, or they'll follow us home ... hide under our beds ... and grab us by the ankles when we get up to pee.

      by RonK Seattle on Fri Aug 10, 2007 at 12:39:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Only Pubs discredit exit polls. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SME in Seattle, DrWolfy

    That's my massively-verified conclusion.

    The truth is not a hit piece.

    by cskendrick on Fri Aug 10, 2007 at 12:04:49 PM PDT

  •  Yes we need the center.... (0+ / 0-)

    We need those Independents.  I don't see much evidence there though that we gain much from courting Republicans.  It seems that a combination of increasing votes from the base and persuading more Independent swing voters is the right formula.  So I do think we need a healthy interchange between the center and left as part of our governing coalition.

    Where the DLC seems to especially have gone wrong to me seems to be that they have been more interested in appealing to Republicans than Democrats.  They have been more interested in engaging with Republicans than Democrats.  

    Harold Ford claims he is concerned about the future of the Democratic party, but chooses to take his debate on this matter to such places as Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.  Is he even talking to Democrats in those places?  It is actually refreshing that there will be a bit of debate this weekend between Ford and Markos on this question, as until now, the DLC has often more often refused to engage at all in any direct discussion with fellow Democrats.  They seem to be only interested in communicating with politicians in Washington, and with their friends in the conservative media who routinely trash the Democratic party.  

    What is needed is a healthy debate between the left and the center, or between the left and the center-left.  The DLC instead seems to be more interested in propping up their allies on the right.  They also are not a grassroots organization, they don't truly give any voice to the many Democrats who do consider themselves centrists or moderates.  They're a top down organization representing the views of a handful of Washington insiders.  The Blue Dogs are likewise not representatives of Democratic voters.  They are instead a coalition of politicians, organized around a pro-business slant.  In effect that makes them an organization of politicians and their big donors and lobbyists.

    The result of this is that when there important issues of disagreement, such as bankruptcy reform, or FISA extension, there is a loud chorus of dissent and criticism from the left, some of it fair, some perhaps not, and in response, there is stone cold silence from most of the Washington elites making these decisions.  These two disagreements are perhaprs more with the Blue Dogs more than the DLC; Al From notes that the DLC "never uttered a word on the subject" of the Bankruptcy Reform Bill.  But that still begs the question, why not?

    Meanwhile, the DLC, while taking some more traditionally Democratic positions on a number of issues, has differed most with the left on two key policy areas, trade and national security.  The DLC has always argued that there was some political necessity for adopting their positions, that doing so would combat perceptions that Democrats were "weak" on national security, or likewise, on the economy.  But in doing so, they have more often than not only served to re-inforce those stereotypes rather than counter them.  

    Moreover, can anyone today seriously argued that Democratic capitulation on Iraq or on trade has strengthened the party electorally?  It seems doubtful, yet the DLC argues for continued capitulation, ignoring the fact that these are today the two greatest areas of dissatisfaction with both parties amongst the electorate, and especially amongst independent voters.

    There are many areas where there ought to be debate between the many real Democratic voters who identify as moderates, those who identify as liberals, and those who identify as  progressives.  How much do we really need to spend on "national defense"?  Is single payor the best way to get to universal health care?  Should Nafta be reformed or scrapped entirely? etc.  Too often however, the perspective offered by these big money backed Washington insiders is not that of real voters, but of corporate interests or of the military industrial complex.  They aren't responding to public concerns about Democrats, they are trying to create them.

    It would be nice to hope that an organization like the DLC could reform and become more relevant, but it's structure makes this unlikely.  There really is a need though for a grassroots center, as well as a grassroots left.

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