The Politics of Definition

Editor's Note: Earlier this year, John Halpin of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Ruy Teixeira of CAP and the Century Foundation (and co-author of The Emerging Democratic Majority) undertook research on the state of the Democratic Party and progressive politics in America. Their chief concern: To get to the bottom of the question of why so many Americans don't have a firm sense of what progressives and the Democratic Party stand for today.

The result of their efforts is this paper, The Politics of Definition: The Real Third Way. The paper can be read in part as a 2006 answer to The Politics of Evasion, the landmark 1989 study by William Galston and Elaine Kamarck, which described a more centrist politics and helped lay the groundwork for Bill Clinton's ascendancy (and which they updated last year in The Politics of Polarization). Today, Halpin and Teixeira take a different view, and this work represents the authors' definitive attempt to burrow into the available data and, from them, reach conclusions about what progressives and Democrats need to do to address what they call the “identity gap.” Without giving away the ending, I'll just say here that their conclusions are similar to my own in my essay Party in Search of a Notion, from the May issue of the Prospect; Halpin and I discovered, quite accidentally at a conference in late March, that we'd been thinking along similar lines.

TAP Online is excited to publish the 18,000-word paper, which will appear exclusively on our site in four parts over the next few days. Part I gives a general description of the political situation today and describes voting blocs that represent progressive and Democratic strengths. Part II, which will be posted next Monday, will examine progressive and Democratic weaknesses. Part III will appear next Wednesday and will discuss the limits of mobilization and of inoculation. Part IV will appear next Friday and describe the way forward.

-- Michael Tomasky

The thesis of this report is straightforward. Progressives need to fight for what they believe in -- and put the common good at the center of a new progressive vision -- as an essential strategy for political growth and majority building. This is no longer a wishful sentiment by out-of-power activists, but a political and electoral imperative for all concerned progressives.

After three consecutive losses at the presidential and congressional levels, progressives have been consumed with finding the strategies, tactics, messages, policies, media outlets, language and messengers to overcome their problems at the ballot box. Thinkers across the ideological spectrum battle it out over the wisdom of pursuing a hard populist approach versus a renewed focus on national security and cultural deficits with middle class voters. Philanthropists and elites focus their efforts on building new progressive “infrastructure”; grass-roots activists yearn for new organizational and media tactics and an aggressive public posture; and still others continue to long for the next incarnation of President Bill Clinton.

Unfortunately, while each of these approaches offers important insights, the totality of the advice simply misses the mark and obscures the underlying problem driving progressives' on-going woes nationally: a majority of Americans do not believe progressives or Democrats stand for anything. 1 Despite difficult times for the GOP in early 2006, Republicans continue to hold double-digit advantages over Democrats on the key attribute of “know what they stand for” and fewer than four in 10 voters believe the Democratic Party has “a clear set of policies for the country”. 2

This trend, one we call the “identity gap,” has been written about and discussed by others in years past. What is not understood is the extent to which this gap continues to drag down progressives and Democrats and depress their support in myriad ways. “No identity” translates into no character. No personal integrity. No vision worth fighting for. No domestic agenda. No national-security agenda. No basic understanding of the problems facing everyday citizens. No contrast with the other side. No reason to vote for progressive candidates.

This is not to regurgitate a conservative narrative but to highlight what we believe is the core strategic challenge facing progressives over the next few years. The identity gap -- justifiably or not -- has allowed conservatives over the past few election cycles to capitalize on perceptions of progressives and Democrats as weak and heighten concerns about progressive leadership in the post-9/11 period.

Of course, significant erosion of support for and trust in conservative and Republican politicians -- as we are witnessing in the current 2006 cycle -- may yield electoral gains for progressives in the short term. Such gains, however, are likely to be only temporary. Progressives cannot build a durable majority unless they figure out a way to give voters a clear sense of who they are, what they believe, where they want to take the country, how they differ from conservatives, and how they will go about achieving their vision for society.

The identity gap cannot be attributed solely to conservative dominance in politics -- it's a homegrown problem that affects voters across the spectrum. In Democracy Corps' January 2006 polling, for example, Democrats suffer from a double-digit identity gap among voters residing in supposedly strong Democratic areas such as safe-Democratic congressional districts (minus-13 percent); safe-Democratic Senate states (minus-15 percent); and more supportive “blue” counties (minus-12 percent). 3 The relative advantage among partisans is staggering: Republican voters give their party an 84-point advantage on knowing what they stand for -- exactly double the 42-point margin for Democrats among their own partisan identifiers. And the pattern among key targets paints an equally grim picture -- an 11-point disadvantage among Hispanics on “know what they stand for”; minus-12 percent among moderates; minus-23 percent among the white working class; minus-31 percent among independents; and minus-32 percent among white married women. 4

The identity gap in politics has serious direct and indirect ramifications. Directly, voters hold the Democrats' lack of identity against candidates and the party as a whole; indirectly, the lack of identity undermines Democrats' abilities to capitalize on their strengths and enables the GOP to capitalize easily on Democratic weaknesses.

The direct consequences of the identity gap were most evident in the 2004 presidential contest. According to 2004 post-election polling, the most commonly cited reason not to vote for Kerry among Bush voters who considered voting Democratic -- in other words, the voters who turned the election to Bush -- was Kerry's “flip-flopping” on the issues. 5 Indeed, it wasn't even close -- other issues like gay marriage, abortion, and Kerry's anti-Vietnam war history were all cited by only around one-third the number who cited flip-flopping. Similarly, the top reason cited by white Catholics for why Kerry lost the 2004 election was that the candidate was “not clear on what he stood for” (48 percent selected this reason as one of the two top reasons Kerry lost, twice as many as selected “permissive views on issues like abortion and gay marriage” as one of the reasons). 6

The indirect effects of the identity gap are even more pernicious than the direct effects and manifest themselves in several ways:

  • First, Democratic leads in some traditionally strong Democratic areas, like the economy and jobs, are smaller than they should be both overall and among key target audiences. Lack of a clear Democratic identity in these areas keeps these leads down and reduces their general political effectiveness for the Democrats.
  • Second, Democrats are not deriving as much political benefit as they should in areas where their leads are largest -- health care, Social Security, the environment, etc. The identity problem thus prevents them from capitalizing in their strongest areas.
  • Third, voters are not voting on Democratic issues as much as they presumably would be if they knew what Democrats were fighting for. Consequently, the GOP issue agenda tends to crowd out the Democratic agenda in voters' minds.

  • Fourth, Democrats' ability to take on Republicans in their areas of strength like national security and moral values is hindered by the lack of any clear Democratic alternative or articulation of progressive values and policies in these areas. Perceptions of Democrats as “weak” or “indecisive” are not just about national-security positioning, but reflect a broader sense among voters that the Democratic opposition has no serious vision of how to deal with terrorism or with moral values. This is why, for example, despite voters' profoundly negative views of the Iraq situation, and their belief that Bush and his party have no solution, voters still exhibit only a very slight preference for the Democrats on the issue.

The 2004 presidential election, again, illustrates clearly the negative consequences of the Democratic identity crisis. In an election year when a strong majority of the nation desired a significant change in the direction of the nation -- and expressed deep dissatisfaction with President Bush on a range of issues including Iraq, job creation, wages, health care, and the environment -- John Kerry never defined any discernible Democratic vision on the domestic front, had an incomprehensible position on Iraq, and fell victim to GOP characterizations of him as a serial vacillator.

White working-class voters, a key demographic group that Bush won by 23 points, overwhelmingly trusted Bush more than Kerry on terrorism and security (66 percent), an important Bush and GOP strength. But more surprisingly, a strong majority of these voters (55 percent) also trusted the president more on the economy and jobs, a traditional Democratic strength. 7 Without a countervailing vision of how Kerry and the Democrats planned to address the concerns and pressures of middle- and working-class families, voters turned their support for Bush on terrorism and values as a proxy for Bush's positions on the economy and jobs.

By an 11-point margin, a majority of voters interviewed in post-election polling claimed that “Before the election, what I wanted to know from the candidates was how you'll make the economy and health care better for people,” versus “how you'll make us safe.” 8 This was a case that was never made to American voters, and subsequently, millions of more voters stuck with a flawed leader who was perceived at the end of day to be decisive, strong, and principled. Coupled with the Kerry team's failure to defend his record and accomplishments in the face of scurrilous charges against his service in Vietnam, voters were understandably left with the impression of a weak and unsure Democratic leader.

Additional 2005 qualitative research among disaffected Bush voters in “red states” revealed that despite ongoing image problems on cultural and social issues, the central challenge for Democrats is more basic: “their elected officials, and by extension their entire party, are perceived as directionless and divided, standing for nothing other than their own personal enrichment.” 9 The following insights from these disaffected Bush voters summarize the Democrats' challenge concisely:

I would like to believe that they [Democrats] represent the interests of working people and the middle class but they don't. Not anymore. I don't think they do. They're just out for their own personal gain, the ones that are there. (Denver, older college woman)

Their leaders always seem very weak and unprepared. I am never confident in a Democrat that comes up that he can handle the political issues that come up. Especially internationally or anything. I have just not been impressed at all with their capabilities. (Appleton, younger non-college woman)

I think they're in complete disarray and there's just no forward momentum to the Democratic Party right now. There's a total lack of leadership. (Louisville, older non-college educated man)

The identity problem is not a relic of poorly run campaigns of the past. The lack of discernible vision and leadership continues to plague progressives and Democrats today. Asked to identify the two negative traits that best describe the Democrats in Washington, voters in a March 2006 poll selected “no leadership” (34 percent) and “don't know what they stand for” (24 percent) as the first and third most cited criticisms, with “too liberal” (28 percent) coming in second and “weak on security” well behind the top tier criticisms (13 percent). 10

Finally, the lack of any clear vision and definition has the potential to depress partisan activism over the long term as committed Democrats grow weary with a party that fails to defend and advance a basic progressive vision. The Pew Research Center's recent study on political typology 11 reveals a pattern of steadily declining morale among Democratic voters since the end of the Clinton years. From September 2000 to the end of 2004, Pew reports a 26-point increase in the percentage of Democrats saying their party does only a fair or poor job in standing up for core Democratic positions such as “protecting the interests of minorities, helping the poor and needy, and representing working-class people.” A full 64 percent of Democrats at the end of 2004 believed their party was doing a poor job on acting on its historical values compared to 63 percent of Democrats who thought the party was doing a good job on these core positions at the end of Clinton's second term.

In contrast, over the same period, there was relative stability (and some increase) in Republican Party members who believed their party was doing a good or excellent job of standing up for traditional Republican values like “reducing the size of government, cutting taxes and promoting conservative social values” (from 49 percent in September 2000 to 61 percent in July 2004 to 51 percent today).

These data underscore how much has changed since the New Democrat moment of the late 1980s and 1990s. Progressives are no longer, as they were then, a political force in dire need of reassuring the electorate that they are not too liberal in order to maintain narrow electoral margins. Now the problem from the public's perspective is that progressives and Democrats are amorphous and irrelevant; a political movement and a party that once did some good for the country but now have no core identity and lack conviction.

Tactical shifts on cultural issues, repudiating liberal policies, or acting “tough” on national security will not solve this problem. At the same time, pure base mobilization and the prospect of turning millions of nonvoters into reliable progressive voters remains a difficult, if not impossible, task. John Kerry garnered the largest vote ever for a Democratic presidential candidate -- nearly 60 million votes -- yet still fell short of Bush by more than 3 million votes.

A viable approach for majority building must devise ways to both strengthen the base and reach out to a huge pool of unattached voters who have voted Republican but are not convinced by the GOP's conservative agenda. This is not an either/or prospect for progressives at this point in time.

We need a new strategy of transformation for today's progressive movement -- one based on definition, principles, and a sincere effort to secure the common good. We must pursue an agenda that is engaging and substantively important for both the progressive base and important target audiences; an agenda built on a platform of broadly shared economic opportunity and a clear stand on the side of middle- and working-class families.

The goal of this paper is to outline that strategy of transformation. We will begin with a detailed assessment of the various voter groups and geographical areas that need to be assembled into a progressive majority and how social change is likely to reshape those groups and areas over the next decade or so. That discussion will cover both those groups and areas where progressives are relatively strong and those groups and areas where progressives are relatively weak but can make gains in the future.

As will be seen in these sections, our analysis of progressive voting blocs has considerable overlap with ones identified by William Galston and Elaine Kamarck in their recent report, “The Politics of Polarization.” 12 Working-class voters, married women, and white Catholics pose real hurdles for progressives and Democrats. Terrorism and cultural issues continue to hamper progressive candidates. We agree that full-throated populism, pure mobilization of the liberal base or demographic shifts alone will not solve all our problems. However, our focus on the identity gap leads us to differ with Galston and Kamarck, and others in their camp, on the strategic recommendations coming out of this electoral and attitudinal analysis.

Following the discussion of strengths and weaknesses, we assess the various progressive schools of thought for resolving the difficulties of building a progressive majority out of disparate blocs of voters. For analytical purposes, we categorize these schools as the politics of mobilization and the politics of inoculation. We believe that each approach has something to offer but, equally, that both fall short in some critical respects that are suggested by the analyses in this paper.

We conclude by offering our own thoughts for a new strategic direction, the politics of definition, a true third way to help grow the progressive base and appeal to those lacking ideological and partisan affinities by putting the common good at the core of a new political vision for America.

Building Blocks of a Progressive Majority: Strengths

Minority Communities

Racial and ethnic minorities are probably the single strongest element of the progressive coalition. In John Kerry's losing 2004 effort, he still carried the minority vote by 71 percent to 27 percent. In that election, minorities were, according to the exit polls, 23 percent of the overall vote. However, the Current Population Survey (CPS) Voter Supplement data tell a somewhat different story, putting the minority vote at around 21 percent of the electorate. The CPS figure seems more realistic to us, which would still indicate that the minority vote will grow to around a quarter of presidential voters by the end of the decade. That compares to around 15 percent of voters in the early 1990's when Bill Clinton was first elected. 13

Clearly, maintaining these high levels of support among minority communities is crucial to progressives' future prospects. Indeed, given the increasing weight of these voters in the electorate, it would be highly desirable to move their overall support back up to the 75 percent enjoyed by Al Gore in the 2000 election. To get a sense of the contours of this challenge, we need to break down the minority vote into its three major components: blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.

African-American voters. As frequently noted by electoral analysts, African-American voters are the most reliable progressive and Democratic constituency. In the 2004 election, Kerry had an 88 percent to 11 percent margin among blacks, down only slightly from the 90 percent to 9 percent margin for Gore in 2000. In fact, except for 2000 and Mondale's 1984 campaign, Kerry's margin among blacks is the highest obtained by a Democratic candidate since the exit polls started in 1976.

In the last several elections, blacks have been about 10 percent to 11 percent of the overall electorate. Population growth trends indicate that the black percentage of the overall population will change little in the next ten years, so we should not expect the black percentage of voters to change much either. 14

Hispanic voters. Hispanic voters, while strong for progressives, are not nearly as strong as blacks, and have famously been more volatile in their support. In the 2004 election, it was initially reported that they gave Bush 44 percent of their vote. However, that initial exit poll figure is now widely acknowledged to have been flawed and the generally accepted estimate is that Kerry carried Hispanics 58 percent compared to Bush's 40 percent. 15 Still, that represents a significant improvement of 5 percentage points in Bush's support among Hispanics over 2000 and a substantial compression of the Democratic margin among this group.

There has been much debate about the causes of this shift. Probably the best treatment of the issue was done by political scientists Marisa Abrajano, Michael Alvarez, and Jonathan Nagler16, whose thorough analysis of 2004 exit poll data indicates that the national-security and moral values pull toward the GOP outweighed the economy, health-care, and education pull toward the Democrats for an unusually large proportion of Hispanic voters. This can be illustrated by the fact that Bush had a 13-point advantage among Hispanics on being trusted to handle terrorism, while Kerry's advantage among Hispanics on being trusted to handle the economy was a more modest 5 points. 17 These figures underscore the extent to which Democrats did not establish a clear profile in these voters' minds on the critical issues of the election.

There has been even more debate about the long-term significance of Bush's 40 percent showing among Hispanics. Abrajano, Alvarez, and Nagler find no evidence that a specific cultural issue like abortion is realigning Hispanics, nor do they find evidence for the “economic advancement” hypothesis -- that as Hispanics, particularly second- and third-generation Hispanics, are becoming richer as a group, this is moving them toward the GOP.

It is also worth noting that, if you compare the two Bush elections of 2000 and 2004 to the two Reagan elections of 1980 and 1984, the average level of Hispanic support for the Democrats in the Bush elections has actually been slightly higher than in the Reagan elections. And in the next election following Reagan's relatively good performances among Hispanics -- 1988 -- the Hispanic presidential vote moved sharply Democratic, to 69-to-30.

The potential for such a surge is well-illustrated by the most recent national poll of Hispanics, conducted by the Latino Coalition, a conservative group close to the GOP. 18 In this poll, Democrats have a stunning 61 percent to 21 percent lead over the GOP among Hispanic registered voters, which translates into a 50-point lead (75 percent to 25 percent) among those who express a preference. By way of comparison to the last two off-year elections, 2002 and 1998, Democrats carried the congressional vote among Hispanics by 24 and 26 percentage points, respectively.

The new poll also finds Democrats with a 35-point lead (58 percent to 23 percent) in party identification among voters. Also among voters, Democrats have huge leads over Republicans as the party better able to handle a wide variety of issues: being in touch with the Hispanic community (plus 41 points); providing affordable health care ( plus 40); improving the economy (plus 31); improving education (plus 30); and representing your views on immigration (plus 29). The one exception to this pattern is on “keeping America safe and fighting terrorism,” where the parties are dead even. And even here, this tie is a sharp decline from Bush's 13-to-14 point lead over Kerry on this issue before and during the 2004 election.

These are promising data. And it seems likely that the recent battle over immigration has only served to alienate Latinos even further from the Republican Party. But one factor that may hold back the level of gains for progressives among Hispanics is precisely the definitional issue we raised in the first part of this paper. As we mentioned, in January -- about the same time as the Latino Coalition poll was registering the huge Democratic advantages just described -- Democracy Corps was finding Democrats rated 11 points lower than Republicans among Hispanics on knowing what they stand for.

Demographic trends underscore the importance for progressives of overcoming this challenge and taking advantage of Hispanics' current leanings. As is well known, the Hispanic population is growing rapidly, both in terms of absolute numbers and as a share of the U.S. population. Before 1980, the Census did not even record Hispanic origin when it surveyed the country's residents. Today, Hispanics have surpassed blacks as the nation's largest minority group, and the latest Census estimates (July 2003) indicate that there are 40 million Hispanics in the United States, 13 percent of the nation's population.

This rapid increase in demographic importance will continue for decades. Census projections indicate, in fact, that by about mid-century Hispanics will be one-quarter of the U.S. population (at which point or shortly thereafter, the United States will become a majority-minority nation).

Of course, it is true that the population strength of Hispanics is not matched by its voting strength, due to the large proportion of Hispanics who aren't citizens and therefore can't vote or are simply too young to vote. For example, of the 5.7 million Hispanics added to the U.S. population between 2000 and 2004, 1.7 million were under 18 and 1.9 million were noncitizens. As a result of these factors, only 39 percent of Hispanics overall are eligible to vote, compared to 76 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 65 percent of blacks.19

Still, the proportion of Hispanics among the voting electorate has grown steadily and will continue to grow. Only 2 percent of voters in early 1990s, they are now somewhere in the 6 percent or 8 percent range, and within 10 years may be approaching blacks as a proportion of actual voters. 20

Asian voters. Asians over the last 15 years or so have become a fairly solid progressive constituency. In the 2004 election, they supported Kerry over Bush by a 56-to-44 percent margin, similar to the margin they gave Gore over Bush (55-to-41 percent) in 2000. And in the last congressional election, when much of the electorate was going in the opposite direction, Asians actually increased their support dramatically for House Democrats going from 56-to-44 percent Democratic in 1998 to 66-to-34 in 2002. 21

If you look at rate of growth, Asians are also America's fastest-growing minority group -- faster even than Hispanics (59.4 percent to 57.9 percent in the 1990s). Right now, they are 4 percent to 5 percent of the population and about 2 percent of voters.22 Both figures will increase in the next 10 years, due to this group's fast rate of growth, but because they start from a much smaller base than Hispanics, their impact on the population and voting pool will be far more limited.

Single, Working and Highly-Educated Women

As is well-known, progressives typically do better among women than men. But women voters are a vast group, and the true areas of strength for progressives are among three subgroups: single, working, and highly-educated women. In the 2004 election, Kerry carried single women by 62-to-37 percent, college-educated women by 54-to-45 (including 60-to-38 among those with a postgraduate education) and working women by 51-to-48. 23

All of these margins, however, were smaller than they were in 2000, particularly in the case of working women, where Kerry's margin among working women was no better than his margin among women as a whole. This was primarily attributable to his poor performance among married working women, part of the Democrats' general problem with married women voters in that election. Single working women, however, remained a very strong progressive constituency, with Democrats dominating by a 65-to-35 margin.

While the balance of women relative to men is changing little, of course, trends within the female population are quite favorable to progressives. Single women are now almost half -- 46 percent -- of adult women, up from 38 percent in 1970. 24 If present trends continue, they will become a majority of women in the next couple of decades (and unmarried adults as a whole will likely become a majority of the adult population).

And there is every expectation that this burgeoning population of single women will continue to be resolutely progressive in its politics. Survey data consistently show this group to be unusually populist on economic issues and generally opposed to the conservative agenda on foreign policy and social issues. 25

Single working women tend to be a particularly progressive group among single women, as indicated by data cited earlier. They are also a rapidly growing group, growing from 19 percent of the adult, female population in 1970 to 29 percent today.26 That is even faster than the growth among single women as a whole.

Finally, college-educated women are also a rapidly growing population group. They have grown from just 8 percent of the 25-and-older female population in 1970 to 24 percent today. 27

Clearly, these groups of women will be a critical part of a progressive majority coalition; equally clearly, the weakest link here is married working women who performed so poorly for the Democrats in 2004. The reasons are probably similar to those that held down Democratic margins among Hispanics: national security and moral concerns that moved many of these women toward the GOP more than economic, health care, and education concerns moved them toward the Democrats. In fact, among many of these women it apparently wasn't much of a contest: Among married working women, 54 percent said they trusted Bush to handle the economy, compared to 40 percent who said they trusted Kerry. And on handling terrorism, 63 percent said they trusted Bush, compared to 37 percent who said they trusted Kerry.28 These figures show that progressives have a lot of work to do communicating clear positions to these voters and gaining their trust on key issues.

Professionals

In the last 15 to 20 years, professionals have become a very strong progressive constituency, something they decidedly were not in earlier eras. In the 1960 presidential election, for example, professionals supported Richard Nixon over John Kennedy 61 percent to 38 percent. But in the 1988 through 2000 presidential elections, professionals supported the Democratic candidate by an average of 52 percent to 40 percent. And in 2004, they just moved farther in this direction, supporting Kerry over Bush by a 63-to-37 margin. 29

This is especially good for progressives because professionals are a rising group in American politics and society. In the 1950s, they made up about 7 percent of the work force. But as the United States has moved away from a blue-collar, industrial economy toward a postindustrial one that produces ideas and services, the professional class has expanded. Today, it constitutes just under 17 percent of the work force. In another 10 years, it will be 18 percent to 19 percent of the work force.30

Moreover, reflecting their very high turnout rates, professionals are an even larger percent of voters -- and not just of employed voters, but of voters as a whole. Nationally, they account for about 21 percent of voters; in many Northeastern and far Western states, they form probably one-quarter of the electorate. 31

Youth

Young (18- to 29-year-olds) voters today can fairly be counted as a progressive constituency. In 2004, Kerry won them 54 percent to 45 percent, compared to a narrow 48 percent to 46 percent margin for Gore in 2000.

Kerry's showing in 2004 marked the fourth straight presidential election in which Democrats have won the youth vote. It was also, of those four elections, the one in which youth's Democratic support was most out-of-line with the rest of population. In 2000, youth were only two points more Democratic than all voters; in 1996, they were 11 points more Democratic than all voters; and in 1992, they were four points more Democratic than all voters. But in this election, youth were 12 points more Democratic than all voters (+9 Democratic among youth versus minus-3 among all voters). 32

Even more promising news is that Kerry performed especially strongly among 18- 24-year-old voters, the so-called “Millennial” voters, whom he carried 56-to-43. These voters also had, by far, the strongest turnout surge of any age group. Turnout among 18- to 24-year-old citizens, according to the CPS Voter Supplement data, surged 11 points, compared to only 5 points among 25- to 34-year-olds, 4 points among 35- to 44-year-olds and even less among older age groups. Note that the overall turnout increase in the CPS data is just a little over 4 points, so the measured 11-point increase among 18- to 24-year-olds is even more impressive.33

According to the most recent large-scale survey of Gen Y voters, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner 34, this progressive voting behavior has strong roots in the demographics and attitudes of this group of voters. They include the following:

1. The Millennial generation is extraordinarily diverse in terms of race and ethnicity. Only 61 percent of Generation Y adults are white, 15 percent are black, 4 percent are Asian, and 17 percent are Hispanic.

2. Millennials are more secular and less Christian. Almost a quarter (23 percent) have no religious preference or are agnostic/atheist, 4 percent are Jewish or Muslim, and another 7 percent are other non-Christian. Only 62 percent identify themselves with some Christian faith.

3. Millennials are very liberal on social issues. A majority (53 percent) flat-out supports allowing gay marriage. And 63 percent say women should have the legal right to choose an abortion.

4. Millennials are unusually liberal in an ideological sense. More Generation Y adults say they are liberal (31 percent) than say they are conservative (30 percent).

5. Millennials lean strongly Democratic. Generation Y adults give Democrats an 11-point edge on party identification (39 percent to 28 percent).

These characteristics, however, merely provide a basis for continuing progressive political behavior. They are not a guarantee. Progressives clearly have a very strong interest in consolidating this generation's attachment to progressive politics so that it lasts out of their 20s and into their 30s and beyond. The key to that is defining the progressive profile in the minds of young voters so they have something to attach themselves to. Right now, that is not the case. In the January, 2006 Democracy Corps polling, Democrats had a 36-point disadvantage on knowing what they stand for among Millennial voters and a 37-point disadvantage among 18- to 29-year-olds as a whole.

The Secular, the Less-Observant, and the Non-Christian

It is a commonplace in American politics today that the highly observant -- especially evangelical Christians -- are a bedrock conservative constituency. Less well appreciated is the extent to which the secular, the less-observant, and the non-Christian are a bedrock progressive constituency.

In the 2004 election, Kerry carried those who attend religious services a few times a year by 54 percent to 45 percent and those who never attend by 62-to-36. And he carried all non-Christian groups by very wide margins: Jews (77-to-22); Muslims (74-to-25); those who profess some other religion (72-to-25); and those who profess no religion (67-to-31). 35

According to the exit polls, non-Christians were 20 percent of voters and the less-observant were 43 percent of voters in 2004 (the latter figure, incidentally, is exactly equal to the percent of voters who were highly observant). Both figures are likely to go up in the future. In the University of Chicago's General Social Survey (GSS), those who attend church only once a year or less is now 38 percent of adults, up from 29 percent in 1972. And in CUNY's American Religious Identification Survey, non-Christians grew by 84 percent (from 20 million to 37 million adults) between 1990 and 2001, including an astonishing increase of 106 percent (from 14 million to 29 million) among the purely secular.

Union Household Voters

on households have been a consistently strong constituency for progressives and the 2004 election was no exception. These voters supported Kerry by 59-to-40. Moreover, they made up an impressive 24 percent of the voting pool.36

A careful look at data from different sources suggests that this latter figure has remained fairly stable for the last couple of decades,37 and simply keeping the proportion of union household voters at around a quarter of the electorate is a significant accomplishment.

ever, there is little potential here for growth of the union vote, since it is already so highly mobilized. Of course, if union density starts to rise again, then increases in the union vote might indeed be possible. That is one among many reasons why progressives should strongly support labor law reform and other efforts to boost union organizing.

Blue” States and Regions

In the last four elections, the Democrats have carried 18 states, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvannia, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington and the District of Columbia for a total of 248 electoral voters. Should all these states be considered areas of progressive strength, part of the progressive base?

Well, it's certainly not trivial that each of these states has supported the Democratic candidate for president four times running -- Clinton twice, then Gore, then Kerry. That shows considerable loyalty to a basically progressive vision of where the country should go. But, as is well known, some of these states have been much, much closer than others and the subjects of a very vigorous competition between the parties.

One way of quantifying this distinction is to average the Democratic margin in the last two presidential elections and assign those where the average margin has been more than 5 points to the progressive base and those under 5 points to a more contested or “purple” category. This procedure gives intuitively pleasing results: the Northeast corridor (without New Hampshire, which is not on the above list, and Pennsylvania, which is usually thought of as more of a Midwestern state) and the West Coast (without Oregon) plus Illinois are assigned to the progressive base and four of the five Midwestern states listed above (Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin) plus Oregon are assigned to the purple category.

The leaves us with a narrower, but probably more accurate, definition of the progressive base as including 13 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington) plus the District of Columbia with 183 electoral votes, and a purple-shading-blue category of five states (Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin) with 65 electoral votes.

Cities, Inner Suburbs and “Ideopolises”

By and large, progressives are strongest in the cities and inner suburbs and in the more technically advanced metro areas of the country (“ideopolises”).38 Conversely, the farther away you get from the urban core -- into outer (“emerging”) suburbs, true exurbs39 and rural counties -- and the less technically advanced the general area, the weaker progressives tend to be.

For example, we can look at the 50 largest metro areas of the country -- where 53 percent of the U.S. population lives -- and break down the counties by degree to which they are urban, using a classification scheme developed by Virginia Tech's Metropolitan Institute.40 Using this scheme, Kerry carried core counties of these areas 73-to-26, inner suburbs of these areas by 57-to-42 and “mature suburbs” (which tend to be somewhat farther out and less dense than the inner suburbs) by 52-to-47 percent.41 But Kerry lost the “emerging suburbs” and true exurbs of these areas by 56-to-43 percent and 62-to-37 percent, respectively (we shall have more to say about emerging suburbs and true exurbs in the next section of this paper, when we discuss progressive weaknesses).

Kerry also carried technically advanced ideopolis areas 55-to-44 and lost the rest of the country 56-to-43. And, if you combine the Metropolitan Institute classification with the ideopolis classification, you get results that accord exactly with the tendencies summarized above. In ideopolis core counties, Kerry led Bush 75-to-25 percent, compared to a 55-to-44 percent lead in non-ideopolis core counties. Similarly, Kerry carried ideopolis inner suburbs by 58-to-41 percent, compared to 54-to-45 percent in non-ideopolis inner suburbs, and carried ideopolis mature suburbs by 53-to-46 percent, while actually losing non-ideopolis mature suburbs by 52-to-47 percent.

The same patterns apply to the groups of states we described above -- the progressive base and purple-leaning blue states. In each group of states, Democrats do best in cities, inner suburbs, mature suburbs and technologically advanced areas, and less well in emerging suburbs, true exurbs, rural counties and less technically advanced areas. For example, in progressive base states, Kerry carried core urban counties by 75-to-24 percent, inner suburbs by 60-to-39 percent and mature suburbs by 55-to-44 percent, while losing emerging suburbs 51-to-48 percent and true exurbs 58-to-41 percent.

John Halpin is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Ruy Teixeira is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and The Century Foundation, as well as a Fellow of the New Politics Institute.

Coming next Monday, Part II: Progressive Weaknesses.

******** References********

1 See Democracy Corps' national surveys from November 2004 to January 2006 for direct comparative data.

2 Democrats trailed Republicans by 21 points on “know what they stand for” in Democracy Corps' January 2006 national survey. See also Time magazine's March 2006 poll for data on the clarity of party policies. At a time when half the country believes the GOP lacks clear policies for the country, the Time poll shows that an even greater percentage (56 percent) thinks similarly about Democrats

3 Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, “Democracy Corps National Survey,” January 22-25, 2006.

4 Ibid, p. 8.

5 Democracy Corps and Institute for America's Future, “Post-Election Survey,” November 2-3, 2004, p.8.

6 Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research , “Democracy Corps Survey of White Catholics,” February 22-28, 2005, p.9.

7 Authors' analysis of 2004 NEP national exit poll data.

8 Democracy Corps and Institute for America's Future, “Post-Election Survey,” November 2-3, 2004, p.12.

9 Karl Agne and Stan Greenberg, “The Cultural Divide and the Challenge of Winning Back Rural and Red State Voters,” August 5, 2005, p. 4.

10 Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, “Democracy Corps National Survey,” March 16-20, 2006, p. 15. Percentages do not add up to 100 percent due to multiple answers.

11 Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, “Beyond Red vs. Blue National Survey”, March 2005.

12 William A. Galston and Elaine C. Kamarck, “The Politics of Polarization,” Third Way, Washington, D.C., 2005.

13 Authors' analysis of CPS and exit poll data.

14 This and other population projections figures data by race/ethnic group from authors' analysis of Census projections data

15 See Ruy Teixeira, for references and discussion.

16 “The Hispanic Vote in the 2004 Presidential Election: Insecurity and Moral Concerns”, December, 2005

17 Authors' analysis of 2004 NEP national exit poll data.

18 Latino Opinions December, 2005 nationwide poll of Hispanics for the Latino Coalition.

19 Roberto Suro, Richard Fry and Jeffrey Passel, “Hispanics and the 2004 Election: Population, Electorate and Voters,” Pew Hispanic Center, June, 2005.

20 Authors' analysis of CPS and exit poll data.

21 Authors' analysis of 2000-2004 exit poll data.

22 Authors' analysis of CPS and exit poll data.

23 Figures in this and next paragraph, authors' analysis of 2004 NEP exit poll data.

24 Authors' analysis of Census marital status data.

25 See Women's Voices. Women Vote, “Women on Their Own in Unmarried America, February, 2006.

26 Authors' analysis of Census marital status data.

27 Authors' analysis of Census educational attainment data.

28 Authors' analysis of 2004 NEP exit poll data.

29 Authors' analysis of 1960-2004 National Election Study data.

30 Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational projections.

31 John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira, The Emerging Democratic Majority, Scribner, 2002; authors' analysis of 2004 National Election Study data.

32 Data in this and preceding paragraph from authors' analysis of 1992-2004 exit poll data.

33 Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, “Census Data Shows Youth Voter Turnout Surged More Than Any Other Age Group”, University of Maryland, May, 2005.

34 See Anna Greenberg, “OMG!: How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in the iPod Era”, Reboot, April, 2005.

35 Authors' analysis of 2004 NEP exit poll data, except for the figure on Jews, which is taken from Mark Mellman, Aaron Strauss, Anna Greenberg, Patrick McCreesh and Kenneth D. Wald, “The Jewish Vote in 2004: An Analysis”, The Solomon Project, April, 2006.

36 Authors' analysis of 2004 NEP exit poll data.

37 Richard B. Freeman, “What Do Union Do….to Voting?” NBER Working Paper 9992, September, 2003.

38 See Judis and Teixeira, op. cit.

39 For discussion of the distinction between emerging suburbs and true exurbs, see Ruy Teixeira, “The Next Frontier: A New Study of Exurbia”, New Politics Institute, March, 2006.

40 See Robert E. Lang and Thomas W. Sanchez, “The New Metro Politics: Interpreting Recent Presidential Elections Using a County-Based Regional Typology”, Metropolitan Institute 2006 Election Brief, Virginia Tech, February, 2006.

41 All data here and in rest of the section from authors' analysis of 2004 county election returns.

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