Tuesday :: Dec 28, 2004

Abortion, God, Guns and Gays

by Marie

How frequently are these factors asserted to explain why GWB and the GOP fared better in this election than Kerry and the DEM did? We know that Clinton counseled Kerry to back away from Gays and after the election counseled on Democrats on the need to learn how to speak religion. Abortion remains an endless discussion, even on left-wing blogs, and the selection of Reid as Senate minority leader reinforces the notion that this is a problem for Democrats. Finally, the NRA gun enthusiasts were not persuaded by Kerry’s photo-op hunting excursions. In all of this is the implicit message that Democrats must change on these issues to reduce the electoral disadvantage they are producing for us.

Opinions and recommendations on these are far more prevalent than the data used to support the calls for change. Also missing is a dialogue amongst Democrats on what changing any of them means for a Democratic viewpoint and the society in which we live. But the worst failing is that we have no idea how much these issues impact election results for Democratic candidates and what, if any, impact a change our position would produce. We only know that for some voters these issues will determine who they vote for and that the public positions (at least the sound byte version) of the GOP and DEM Parties on these issues is well entrenched in the minds of voters.

What we don’t know is the extent to which “Abortion, God, Guns and Gays” forms a cluster in the minds of all voters who cite one or more of them to explain their voting behavior. If it does (or there are very few who would respond to a change in one of these issues by voting DEM instead of GOP), then Democrats would have to change all four to attract these voters. Of course, changing all four would lose the votes of those who now vote Democratic because of the Party’s current position on these. Therefore, regardless of whether or not these form a cluster, there would be no advantage for Democrats to change on all of them. A Democrat could easily argue that our current position on all four are “good enough, consistent with Democratic principles/philosophy and no change is warranted regardless of whether or not they continue to be cited as reasons for an election loss, and it’s not the policy positions that defeat us but the marketing of them. OTOH, I could argue that our position on Gay Marriage is neither clear nor consistent with the principles of equality and equal protection under the law. That Democratic national legislators bowing on the steps of the Capitol in support of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the concept of “separation of church and state.” That any state interference in the practice of gynecological medicine violates the privacy and autonomy of women. Even statements like “abortion should be safe, legal and rare” is an interference because the word “rare” suggests that it is wrong. Unlike the first three, “Guns” is the only one where the GOP wants less and not more state control. For them individual autonomy trumps the right of the state to protect the group in general and is more similar to their position on environmental issues than the other three issues. Democrats are more logically consistent with their positions on these issues: maximizing individual rights/autonomy but not at the expense increasing the incidence of harm others. The GOP is schizoid. Limiting individual rights when there is no compelling state interest and demanding individual rights when those have been clearly demonstrated to increase the harm to others. However, my point is that Democrats are hardly united behind the official Democratic position on these issues

With all of that in mind, I thought I attempted to unleash the power of the 30,000 plus readership of dKos to look at all of these issues in one place instead of separately. Can we estimate the cost of each independent of the others to Democratic candidates? Can we identify the voters on each of these issues that fall outside those I will call the cluster issue voters? Could we capture those voters by changing our position? And what would such a change mean to our principles? Unfortunately I didn’t “unleash” anything, and this indicates that dKos is a long way away from even beginning to operate as a liberal think tank.

A frequent complaint was that I was fomenting dissension or capitulating to the GOP and that we should not be discussing these. Hello, Bill Clinton is out there pushing the Party to change with zero participation from the rank and file. Burying our head in the sand of these will result in the Party being pushed further to the right and without gaining any electoral advantage just as we have experienced for the past twelve years. Those who have been most vocal during the past few weeks in asserting that our policies on abortion, “god” and gay marriage are what crippled us in this election and what needs to be changed didn’t even bother to show up. A few argued that Democratic policies are just fine, but it’s how they are presented that needs work. They appreciate the work of Lakoff on “framing” but seem to underestimate how difficult it is to change pre-existing and entrenched frames, at least in the short run of less than ten years, with rhetoric alone. Some merely took the polls I included and these are somewhat interesting, although the sample sizes are much too small to conclude too much.

Responses to “What is the most costly Democratic issue? were:

Abortion: 17%
Gay marriage: 26%
Gun control: 36%
God – separation of church and state: 19%

Responses to “The issue Democrats should sacrifice” were:

Abortion: 4%
Gay marriage: 2%
Gun control: 85%
God – separation of church and state: 7%

The “winner” would seem to be “Guns.” Since I didn’t get as much data as I had hoped for or as any discussions/arguments for why we should we should change on “abortion, God or Gays,” I’ll just have to make some lemonade.

Intuitively, the “abortion/God/gays” would seem to be a tighter cluster than “abortion/God/gays/guns.” Guns are given short shrift in the Bible-Belt rhetoric, and guns are more of a defining issue in Rocky Mountain states and the upper Midwest where fundamentalist “Christian” organizations are not quite so embedded in everyday life and thought as they are in the Bible-Belt. The linkage between Guns and libertarian beliefs is also strong. Therefore, since it is the one that hold the most for de-linking it from the cluster, it may be the one that holds the greatest potential for capturing new votes.

Let’s not delude ourselves that there is some mother lode of votes that can be picked off by changing our position on guns. In the short run at the national level, the largest swing we could possibly expect in certain states would be 3%. Right now the Rocky Mountain States are mostly so red that, unless I’ve grossly underestimated this factor, they will remain in the GOP column for at least the next two election cycles (assuming the GOP doesn’t implode completely which would negate the need for Democrats to do or change anything to win). In NV, only a bit more than 1% have to swing and in CO only a bit more than 3%. Only 1% is needed in IO and NM and a bit more than 2% in OH. It may not even be a strong enough variable to shift enough states into the blue column at the Presidential level, but it might be enough to make some states like MI, MN, OR, PA and WI bluer and other states less red and that could improve the chances for Democrats in down-ticket races.

But what is the cost to us if we change? Regardless of our position, the NRA will still be out there with their campaign funds trying to defeat us. A few years ago, we could have argued that suburban women and mothers voted Democrat because they liked our position on guns, but this election should tell us that “terrorism” holds more weight with them now. Both of those arguments may have merit, but let’s get real. What have we actually accomplished in the past thirty years on the issue of guns other than to make the NRA a powerful force in elections? Has the availability and access to guns been reduced? Has the incidence of killings and injuries either on purpose or accidentally from guns been reduced? Has the arrest and conviction rate for gun related crimes increased? Would it be any different today if we had never tackled gun regulation at the federal level? Am I not more at risk from reckless or drunk drivers than I am from gun toting yahoos? The statistics on this are not even relevant because guns are a symbol of security, power and/or masculinity to too many Americans, and people don’t want to give up either their guns or their option to own them. Symbols are a mental construct, a “frame,” and people are highly resistant to giving up those symbols that for them are invested with more “good” than “bad.”

If Democrats can agree that it is not only politically unrealistic to continue to be associated with “gun control” but we have actually accomplished very little, where do we go from here? First, concede defeat on this experiment at the national level. Banning machine guns decades ago was probably a good idea, and we can remain supportive of any calls from the majority and the GOP to ban similar military type weapons, but we will not initiate such legislation on our own. IOW, this is a bipartisan issue now and on this we will be fully cooperative. Second, encourage states to legislate gun regulation that is suitable for their region and population. Legally, this could be a minefield but we can “think about that tomorrow.” Third, get tough on criminals who use guns in the commission of federal crimes and encourage states to do the same, including holding the owners of guns responsible for keeping them out of the hands of children. Fourth promote gun safety education. However Democrats choose to communicate such a change, it must not be with a whimper, but with bang, bang, bang… for the next four years.

Marie :: 4:03 PM :: Comments (98) :: Digg It!