Seeing the electoral glass one-fifth empty!


Ruth Marcus finagles her framework: Is the Democratic Party lousy at winning elections?

Who knows? There may be better approaches the party could take. But good grief! Look at the way the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus started yesterday’s column. We’re using the headline which appeared in the hard-copy Post:
MARCUS (2/22/12): Why the Democrats don’t win

Far more Americans favor Democrats over Republicans. For decades, the number of Americans identifying as Democrats or calling themselves independent but leaning Democratic has far exceeded the share of Republicans and Republican leaners. That gap has persisted, even in landslide Republican years like 1984 and 1994.

So why don’t Democrats perform better in national elections? Why have Democrats won only four of 10 presidential races since 1972?
In her column, Marcus explains “why the Democrat don’t win” presidential elections. She also explains the steps they should take to put an end to their slide.

Who knows? Democrats might get more votes if they take her advice. But what did Marcus forget to note?

Democrats have won the popular vote in four of the last five White House elections! In three of those elections, they won by fairly large margins. In 1992, 1996 and 2008, they won by six to eight points.

In fairness, Marcus was discussing a new report by Third Way, a “moderate Democratic group.” It was Third Way which constructed the framework in which Democrats have “won only four of 10 presidential races since 1972.” Even there, Third Way counted Campaign 2000 as a loss, even though the Democratic candidate won the popular vote.

That said, no one forced Marcus to adopt the group’s gloomy framework. No one stopped her from noting an obvious fact: Democrats have won the popular vote in four of the past five White House elections!

Who knows? Maybe Democrats would get even more votes if they took Marcus’ advice—if they became more “centrist/moderate.” But for a taste of her analytical skill, consider this example:
MARCUS: First, the Democratic-leaning independents are far more likely to switch loyalties and vote Republican than are their pure Democratic counterparts. This may seem obvious, but consider: Republican leaners were far less likely to defect than were Democratic leaners.

For example, in the 2002 House election, 46 percent of those who had identified themselves as Democratic-leaning independents two years earlier voted for Republicans; just 26 percent of Republican-leaning independents switched to vote Democratic.
2002 was a bad year for Democrats in those House elections. Many independents did go with the Republicans. But does Marcus remember the context there?

President Bush was ginning up a war. He was pushing a whole lot of buttons.

Marcus thinks the Democrats should move back toward the “middle” in the hope of attracting more votes. As she continued, this was another piece of her analysis:
MARCUS (continuing directly): Second, the Democratic-leaning independents have different views than those who call themselves Democrats. As Eberly reports, they are “less supportive of government intervention in the economy, more likely to believe that the government has gotten too involved in things people should do for themselves, and express higher levels of support for cutting Social Security spending.”

Eberly’s conclusion: “There may be more money and passion among activists on the left, but there aren’t enough voters there to secure consistent electoral victory for Democrats. The true wealth of voters in the Democratic coalition resides in the vital political center and that’s where the Democratic Party will find the path to sustained electoral dominance.”
Democratic-leaning independents “express higher levels of support for cutting Social Security spending” (as compared to Democratic activists). To Marcus, this means Democrats should support cutting this program too.

Possibly! But might that fact mean something else? Might it mean that Democrats should find a way to explain to the public that they have been disinformed about Social Security for at least the past thirty years? By the way: A party can’t learn how to do such things by coasting along on stupid stories about the other party’s pet dogs. Democrats may defeat Romney that way. But they'll be left without a real politics.

What will they do if the next GOP nominee never owned a pet dog?

In our view, Marcus offers lousy advice. That said, her pitch is cued by a comical failure—a failure to note an obvious fact:

Democrats have won the popular vote in four of the past five elections! Did this fact cross Marcus’ mind? How about the mind of her editor?


  1. Oh Bob, More of your crazy demands that Democrats hog-tie themselves by telling the truth!

    Voters don't want the truth. They want wacky stories. Democrats might be great at inventing wacky stories -- we should at least give it a good try, shouldn't we?

    1. Assuming your first paragraph is meant to sarcastic ("Oh Bob, More of your crazy demands that Democrats hog-tie themselves by telling the truth!"), one might note that the objection to Somerby's course of analysis isn't that he demands the truth, but that he demands literal accuracy on relatively small matters -- you either want the Religious Right to dictate the availability of contraception or you don't -- while altogether ignoring the Big Lies; that, in the midst of a political discourse driven entirely by private money, that his criticisms are irrelevant to the world we actually live in.

      It doesn't help that his "liberal" targets have nothing to do with the progressive movement. What he's doing, in effect, is criticizing corporate-owned media or corporate-run media (e.g., PBS). which is just dandy. But corporate media is guilty of far more serious sins. To focus on Maddow, et. al is simply absurd.

    2. Hi. In "a political discourse driven entirely by private money" what criticisms are relevant, according to you?

      What should Bob Somerby be expending his efforts to point out?

    3. Well, hell, glad you asked. For starters, how about the fact that no mainstream news organization in the U.S. will systematically report that:

      1) the U.S. government is among the most corrupt in the world today;

      2) by the standards to which the State Department holds other countries, the U.S. is a rogue and terrorist state;

      3) if an enemy of the U.S. was behaving as Israel behaves, the U.S. would have bombed or invaded it years ago;

      4) that first GWB, and now Obama, are claiming for themselves powers which King George didn't have at the time of the American Revolution; and that the U.S. government is now by definition a tyranny, with largely imaginary civil liberties (they're yours, as long as you don't exercise them where it matters--there are folks rotting in jail because they didn't quite understand this);

      4) the American economic system is rigged by and for the benefit of the top .1%, and consequently has the highest poverty level, the most child hunger and the least social mobility of any developed nation; and

      5) 20-30% of the American population hold beliefs characteristic of pre-industrial, pre-literate societies and that without this benighted and hopelessly ignorant cohort, the Republican party wouldn't win a single election.

      By "report", I mean sufficient coverage to establish any of these points as narratives -- in the same way, for example, that "Sadaam is Hitler" and "Weapons of Mass Destruction" was established, and the way "Iran is Hitler" is currently being established -- only this time, based on actual facts.

      Note here that despite their public affairs entertainment programming, there's no difference between Fox and MSNBC -- the narrative is same at both stations. Investigative work at the New York Times may occasionally touch on any or all of these questions, but in isolation: NYTimes Corp won't put them together in the same way (for example) that it put together, on the front page, a case for going to war against Iraq, or for going after Bill Clinton for that imaginary, and largely the creation of the NYT, Whitewater.

      And, meanwhile, we're worried about whether Rachel Maddow gives an entirely fair account of the right-wing point of view on contraception and health care?

    4. Yeah, even if I agree with your points (and I probably do mostly agree) -- you're in la-la land here.

      Let's just take #2.

      You really think a wise use of The Daily Howler is for Bob Somerby to establish and point out the means by which our media hide the fact that the USA is "a terrorist state?"

      Get a grip.

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    6. To focus on Maddow, et. al is simply absurd."

      Create a blog. It's free.

      You've already got the first post for it, right there. Meanwhile let Bob write about what he thinks is important to write about.

  2. While Clinton won twice he never won 50% of the vote. He ran as a centrist due to how badly Dukakis got beat by HW Bush. Not sure your premise is correct.

    1. You confuse "winning the popular vote" with getting "50% of the vote." Winning a plurality wins the popular vote.

      Horace Feathers

    2. Clinton won. Marcus said Democrats "don't win." She didn't argue that Democrats don't surpass the 50% line. Republicans lost to Clinton...both the senile Dole and George W. Bush sr. Has Marcus every written a column as to why Republicans don't win?

  3. Re: MARCUS (continuing directly): Second, the Democratic-leaning independents [...] express higher levels of support for cutting Social Security spending.”

    Higher levels of support does not equal majority support.

    10% > 3%, yet pissing off 90% and 97% respectively is not "smart politics".

  4. One thing which might increase votes for Democrats is explaining what they actually stand for, other than not being Republicans.

    Note that Reagan got re-elected by a huge margin despite the fact that polling indicated most of his voters openly hoped his policies wouldn't be enacted.

    The public respects a forthright candidate (or at least one who believes his own lies), which is probably why Santorum is out-polling Romney at this point. What the public doesn't respect is a candidate doesn't have the courage of either his lies or his convictions. Which description would seem to fit Democrats generally.

    For example, what has to happen before a Democrat actually runs for national office promoting socialized medicine? Instead, you get some Democratic prevaricator trying to explain, quite hopelessly, why we need to reform the health care system but simply can't do so without private insurance companies.

    If Democrats lose on a genuinely progressive platform, at least they *have* a platform, and a mandate, when they finally come back. And can function as a true opposition party.

    But no ... they wanna be Republican Lite. It's a great formula success.

    1. Actually, the only formula for success is to have some rich buddies (or be rich yourself). Liberals are by definition less rapacious and greedy than Conservatives and therefore it is much more likely that only Conservative Democrats will be able to run for office. We live in a plutocracy.

  5. In the 2008 campaign I worked for the Pinal County Democrats.
    Most of them are well informed about major issues, although there are a few knee-jerk liberals.
    In 2010, I worked an election poll in Pinal County, a staunch Democratic stronghold, even though the division among registered voters is roughly 1/3 Democrat, 1/3 Republican, and 1/3 no party affiliation.
    The Sheriff is a Republican, and one of three Supervisors is a Republican, and the Justice of the Peace is a Republican (And the Sheriff’s brother, to boot.) That’s about it. (So far.)

    As an aside, we Democrats are feeling a great deal of unashamed Schadenfruede over the mishaps of our Sheriff Paul Babeu. We don’t care if he is gay. (We already knew it anyway). But the people that elected him DO care that he is gay, and are NOT ashamed of that emotion.

    I worked both the primary and the general elections, and part of my job was to hand out ballots (James O’Keefe didn’t show), run the tapes from the voting machine, and hand them over to the pickup team to be taken to the County Recorder’s office.
    The primary ballots were Republican, Democrat, and Green. If a voter was registered in one of those parties, they got that party’s ballot.
    If the voter was not registered in a party, they could choose which ballot they wanted. (Libertarians, contrarians to the core, had no Primary candidate, so couldn’t vote. Arizona has closed primaries.)
    The overwhelming choice of independents was the Republican ballot. And I mean about 75-80%. What’s more, far more Republicans than Democrats showed up at the polls. Mail–in ballots were a different story.

    At the General election, the ballots were all the same. But again the registered Republicans showed up in far greater numbers than Democrats.
    My observations support Ruth Marcus.

    The popular vote is skewed to Democrats because so many live in metropolitan districts where they might have an 80% majority, but still only get one delegate, and it is delegate’s votes that get counted. Also, many states have a winner-take-all electoral vote policy.

    Two thirds of the Arizona Senate is Republican, with almost the same for the House. 4/5th of the executive branch are Republicans.

    Of course our Senators are John McCain and Jon Kyl. We are also blessed with Reps. Jeff Flake, Ben Quayle, (yes, that Quayle), Paul Gosar, David Schweikert, Trent Franks, all darlings of the Tea Party. And then Ed Pastor and Raul Grijavla, both hated by the Tea Party.
    I always thought there was something slightly sinister about Jon Kyl, what with him leaving letters out of his name and all.

    1. Well, your observations may match Marcus' thesis in Pinal County, but they don't actually reflect the actual numbers that actually exist nationwide. Each election season we're treated, in fact, to both parties eventually throwing immense amount of resources aimed directly at "independents" who do, in fact, lean, sometimes heavily one way or another. But only a few percentage change in their voting habits toward D or R literally means flipping the seat or winning the state's electoral votes.

      To counter your anecdotal experience, go to Massachusetts. Liberal old blue MA actually has a very large number of "independents", sometimes a larger portion of the electorate than members of either party and some of whom are to the left of the Democratic Party and others who share with the Democrats almost everything, but just refuse to be part of the two party duopoly. Still, come election time, these independents vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. On rare occasions, they'll swing toward a Republican (several governors and Scott Brown), but not reliably.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Liberals are so idiotic that in the comments section of Marcus' article, most of them fail to point out that Marcus is LYING about Democrats not winning. They simply try to find excuses and explanations as to why Democrats "don't win."

    1. What exactly are Democrats winning? And if this is what a win looks like, what's a loss?

  7. Ruth Marcus is living proof of an old truism: with friends like her you don't need enemies.

  8. Does no one else recognize that Third Way is yet another incarnation of the Republican-lite New Democrat/DLC corporate-loving DC-based centrists with NO constituency beyond the Beltway, and yet you have people like Marcus steadily shilling for them? Look, we get it: she and the "centrist" Democratic corporate hustlers are out to do one thing: keep taxes low and lower them more for the rich and for corporations; slash government programs that help the "small people"; push further deregulations that allow corporations to do as they please; appear socially "moderate" while passing ever more stringent legislation to keep the bodies of the women among the "small people" under control and regulation; destroy all unions wherever possible to give the corporations more power, and thus the rich people running and benefiting from them more money (and power); and gut any regulations of the environment or anything else that will check the power of the corporations and the rich. We get it. Marcus is a sock puppet, and even more mindless than most. But she gets a nice penny for it, and has a high profile post at the Kaplan Test Wannabe University Newspaper of no record, so her claptrap is amplified many times over.

    I wish people like her would be FORCED to spend 2-3 months, without access to all their comforts and cocktail parties and mindless Washington-Versailles chatter, in other parts of the country, like, say: suburban parts of Indiana; Nebraska; far northern California; Arkansas; central Missouri; western Massachusetts; the finger-lakes region of New York; southern Georgia; anywhere in Tennessee but Nashville or Memphis; eastern Washington state; and inner-city Detroit; Kansas City; Albuquerque; Boise; Denver; Pittsburgh; Orlando; Birmingham (Alabama); and Corpus Christi, Texas. Let's see how well that Third Way corporate-loving slash Social Security ("entitlements"!) crap would go over!

    1. I'll have to go back and check but I think you have more than one BINGO on this card.

  9. btw . . .

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in more than 3/4ths of the states that now are just 'spectators' and ignored.

    When the bill is enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions possessing 132 electoral votes - 49% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    Follow National Popular Vote on Facebook via nationalpopularvoteinc