The results of a recently released survey commissioned by The Hill (a journal focusing on Congress) of likely voters in 10 “battleground” states are garnering not a little attention among the chattering class. (The poll surveyed voters in congressional districts in Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington state, West Virginia and Wisconsin). The survey, conducted by the polling firm Penn, Schoen and Berland between Oct. 2 and Oct. 7, found that 44% of respondents say the Democratic Party is more dominated by its extreme elements. Thirty-seven percent say it’s the Republican Party that is more dominated by extremists. The margin of error for the overall sample is 1.5 percent. When the survey is broken down by party, the results grow more interesting still: 22% of Democrats surveyed say “their party was more dominated than the GOP by extreme views. The equivalent figure among Republicans is 11 percent.” (The margin of error by party is 4.5%)
Perhaps the most crucial finding concerns independents: among this group, 43% say the Democrat Party is “more dominated by its extreme elements, compared to 37 percent who thought the GOP had fallen under the sway of extreme views.” (Again, the margin of error among the subsample of independents is 4.5%)
I do not have access to the actual poll so, as always, take the results with the requisite dose of salt. That being said, long-time readers of this blog will likely not be surprised that both parties are viewed by roughly equivalent number of likely independent voters (taking into account the margin of error, the Democrat Party is viewed as more extreme by a very small margin) as being hijacked by extremists, but the results do run against the prevailing media narrative that suggests it is the Republican Party that has been hijacked by extremists in the form of the Tea Party. Instead, the survey suggests that many independents view both parties as almost equally susceptible to their more extreme elements.
The results are a reminder why Democrats are struggling during the current electoral cycle. The most prominent public faces of the Democratic Party during the national debates over the stimulus bill and health care are Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid – both of whom are viewed (especially Pelosi) as particularly liberal Democrats. In upstate New York (I get to see their television ads) Republican candidates for the House are running ads that link the Democrats to Pelosi. At the same time, any Democrat who voted for health care reform and the stimulus bill is being tarred and feathered as a liberal extremist. In the context of a 9.7% unemployment rate that shows no sign of abating, a record budget deficit, uncertainty over health care, and a general feeling that the bank bailout bill benefited Wall St. more than Main St., Democrats in the House and Senate who supported the Democratic leadership on these votes are finding themselves vulnerable in the current electoral cycle.
More interesting to me, however, is how leading progressives have reacted to this poll. Consider the comments of Markos Moulitsas, the founder and publisher of the liberal website the Daily Kos.
“Democrats haven’t nominated anyone like Sharron Angle or Rand Paul or Christine O’Donnell or Rob Johnson or Joe Miller for Senate seats, much less the myriad of wackos in House races across the country,” Markos said. “We don’t have media figures like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh calling the shots for our party.
“But they have built their alternate world courtesy of Fox News, thus making them impervious to reality. Is that a problem? Sure. Even more so when Democrats think they can reason with this crowd,” said Moulitsas.
The irony of Markos comments, I hope, is not lost on you – but it clearly is on him! He is completely oblivious to the fact that for many “extremists” on the Right, he is the Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh of the Left – the “extremist” calling the shots for “our party”. Conservatives are convinced that it is Moulitsas and his supporters, through his website the Daily Kos and sympathetic cable stations like MSNBC, who in fact have created the “alternate reality.” From the conservative perspective, it is Markos and those who share his views who are out of step with the mainstream.
I make no judgment regarding the validity of these competing claims. Instead, my point is that Markos does the Democrats – including President Obama – no favor by dismissing the views of those who worry that the Democrat Party has been captured by extremists. Rather than suggesting that respondents in these battleground states have been brainwashed by Fox News, Kos and Democrats would do far better to address their concerns. They could begin by acknowledging that President Obama, in confronting a Congress more polarized than any previous Congress since the Reconstruction Era, and having inherited an economic recession more severe than any since Reagan’s first two years, cannot afford to mortgage his presidency to the wing of the party that is viewed as extremist by almost half of all voters in key states. Democrats are going to lose seats come November – if Markos’ view that independents have been brainwashed by extremists prevails, that number is likely to be go up.
Note: We are entering the stretch run to the November midterm election, one that is shaping up to be among the most significant in two decades. I’ll be blogging more frequently (on a daily basis, I hope) between now and Election Day, and I hope to hear from many of you in the comments section. This is what democracy is all about! (Plus you get cool t-shirts!)