Notes Toward A National Battleground District Poll

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sat Aug 25, 2007 at 17:21


In my previous diary, "Beyond Bush Dogs? Proposal For A Pro-Active Battleground District Organizing Strategy", I proposed using a national poll of battleground congressional district as the vehicle for an organizing project to lobby swing-district Democrats, while more broadly influencing the political climate in battleground districts generally-including improving the prospects for Democratic challenges in GOP-held seats.

Regardless of how much organizing is done, a battleground district poll has enormous potential utility in and of itself, and I'd like to initiate a discussion of what it could look like, and what good it could do.  Hopefully others will have a lot to add in comments.

A battleground district poll should:

  1. Address multiple issues.
  2. Include sufficient benchmark questions-presidential and congressional approval, right track/wrong direction-so that these can usefully be compared to other polls.
  3. Address levels of satisfaction and discontent, and shed some light on their sources.
  4. Help distinguish between unreachable and persuadable voters, and provide a better sense of how attitudes may be changing in a more durable manner (possible realignment).
  5. Help test some progressive value and issue frames.

All that, and be short enough to be practicable!  For a more in-depth discussion, jump....

Paul Rosenberg :: Notes Toward A National Battleground District Poll
Note: In a valiant struggle to keep this diary under 10,000 words, I'm going to defer some parts for future diaries.  My decision to do so is not a reflection on the importance of what is included or excluded.  It is merely for the sake of trying to keep discussion manageable.

A battleground district poll should:

(1) Address multiple issues. These include:

    Iraq & the Middle East in general

It is imperative that we not accept the dual frame that (a) Iraq can be addressed in isolation and (b) how Iraq is addressed in isolation then defines everything else.

It is particularly important that we highlight the fact that there was an Arab League Israel-Palestine peace initiative put forward in 2002 which included recognition of Israel's right to exist, and that Bush ignored it in his rush to war with Iraq.  The existence of a credible non-conflict-based approach toward resolving issues that terrorism feeds on is crucial to laying the groundwork for a viable alternative to "war on terror" framework.

    (b) How to respond to the threat of international terrorism.

Questions regarding Iraq & the Middle East lay the groundwork, but there is much more to be done in the way of developing alternatives to the "war on terror" approach, and test people's initial receptivity to other approaches.  This could easily be an entire poll unto itself.  Crafting a few questions to capture the core concerns in this area will be a significant challenge.

    (c) Global Warming and energy policy.

Now that denial has been all but abandoned, the ground is quickly shifting to float schemes that will the public massively subsidize the worst offenders to change their ways, while continuing to starve the real sources of possible innovation and major advances in dealing with the looming crisis.  A few questions about broad principles we should follow would be an invaluable addition to our poll.

    (d) Reproductive Rights-including contraception and sex ed.

A recent post at Feministing, "Start asking candidates about contraception!" makes an excellent point that I plan to elaborate on in separate post.  For now, I'll just say that there is an extremist core to the anti-choice movement, and it's darned well time that we seriously organize to expose it.  This poll can help advance that cause by raising issues surrounding contraception and sex-ed that splits the extremist core even from most of their conservative base.

    (e) Immigration.

So much needs to be said about this. But the bottom line is that we have to create a rich context for this discussion to combat the impoverished context of scapegoating and demonization being pushed by the hardline GOP base.  Again, a poll devoted entirely to this subject is warranted. Our task will be to craft a few questions that can best illuminate the key cleavages and opportunities as a starting point for future work.  The inclusive theme of "dignity for all," which I discussed in my earlier diary, "Keys To Victory #3: Constructing Liberal Identity, Values & Narrative For A Political Realignment", certainly needs to be tested here.

    (f) Health care.

Medicare for all.  Need I say more?

    (g) Economic issues.

As mentioned in my previous diary, "Keys To Victory #3: Constructing Liberal Identity, Values & Narrative For A Political Realignment", Jacob Hacker's book,  The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care, and Retirement--And How You Can Fight Back develops the thesis that economic insecurity has expanded even more rapidly than economic inequality, and that it forms a devastating threat to the American people, collectively as well as individually.  In formulating our questions about economic policy, we should seek to take some initial steps toward formulating new economic narratives and initiatives to reflect this reality, connecting the theme of "security for all" to domestic economics as well as international security.

(2) Include sufficient benchmark questions-presidential and congressional approval, right track/wrong direction-so that these can usefully be compared to other polls.

There's a special benefit when several different benchmark questions are all asked in the same poll, so that cross-tabs can be generated between them.  These also lay the foundation for the next major concern.

(3) Address levels of satisfaction and discontent, and shed some light on their sources.

The blogosphere has long argued, on fairly straightforward grounds, that declining rates of approval for the Democratic congress are a result of failure to take a tough line against Bush and the GOP Congress. Soft public attitudes in battleground districts are one of the reasons given to excuse and/or explain this failure.  So, it's only natural that we should come right out and ask:  If you disapprove of the Democrats' performance is that because they are being too confrontational?  Or too wishy-washy?

Of course, this needs to be refined a bit.  We should be asking about Iraq, about Congressional investigations and about the rest of the Democrat's agenda that the GOP has bottled up.

(4) Help distinguish between unreachable and persuadable voters, and provide a better sense of how attitudes may be changing in a more durable manner (possible realignment).

The basic distinction between unreachable and persuadable voters will come primarily from analysis of responses to issue questions. An additional attempt to gauge long-term trends is necessarily limited in any single poll. Although people are notoriously unreliable in reporting past voting behavior, we should at least make a diligent attempt to find out how people are changing, by asking questions in the most non-threatening, non-judgmental way possible.  One thing that would help is to give people the opportunity to identify issues or events (9/11, Iraq, Katrina, etc.) that have caused them to change their minds.

(5) Help test some progressive value and issue frames.

I've already mentioned two such themes in my discussion of issues above, "dignity for all," and "security for all."  More extensive information can be gained by the use of questions that use the format "Some people say X," while other people say Y."  Usually this format is used to test arguments or positions that have been established for some time.  However, there is no reason not to use such a format to test new and emerging progressive narratives.  We may even want to use split-samples at some points to test new vs. established narratives, or to test different variants of new narratives.

Wow!  Less than 1300 words!  Who'da thunk I could do that?

Okay, your turn.  What do you think?


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how to use (0.00 / 0)
It seems there might be 2 levels this could be conducted on, since we are ourselves advocates and not merely neutral observers.

First is the obvious, that of gathering more objective data on issues and attitudes; and

Secondly, use of the poll to push ideas.  In other words, if you ask a question that someone has not thought about, aren't you in fact then planting that idea, and thereby changing the arena that you are ostensibly merely polling.

Full Court Press!  http://www.openleft.com/showDi...


All Polls "Push" In Some Sense (4.00 / 1)
I am very definitely interested in pushing ideas, though not in the "push poll" sense.  I am interested in seeing which new ideas might find a receptive audience, and where that audience might lie.

But all polls essentially change the arena they are polling.  The ones that seem not to are changing it simply by stabilizing what otherwise might be a more dynmic field of public opinion.

Consider, for example, the long-standing practice of polling questions that pit the environment against the economy, or even more particularly against jobs.  This is a highly ideological formation, since environmental damage is a clear-cut case of an externalized cost, and what is really being asked is "should we subsidize polluters and despoilers with externalized public health and other costs?"

In general, if such costs were internalized, the results would be even more jobs--as is obvious, for example, when you consider the labor intensity of clearcutting vs. carefully culling mature forests to maintain sustainable yields.

My point of view is that we should be very outfront about what we are doing.  We should not try to spin any results via loaded or tricky wording, but we should not hesitate to use progressive frames in presenting progressive ideas.  We are, after all, trying to discover how appealing different policies, ideas and and proposals might be.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


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