This article summarizes this focus group study (10 page pdf), conducted among possible swing voters in four "middle American" states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Colorado, and Wisconsin). The people in the groups were independents, weak partisans, and those who voted for GWB in 2004 but now disapproved of his performance. The big takeaway is that even among these swing voters, national defense and cultural issues loom so large as to make it difficult for Democrats to gain much ground. Heres a snippet:
These focus groups powerfully demonstrated that as Democrats seek to redefine their
party, both for the 2006 election and beyond, they face some hard truths. No matter how
disaffected they are over Republican failures in Iraq and here at home, a large chunk of white
non-college voters, particularly in rural areas, will remain simply unreachable for Democrats at
the national level. Furthermore, Republicans and their allies on the right have very effectively
used their bully pulpit and their media echo chamber to define Democrats as weak on defense
and security issues, hostile to religious faith and the role it plays in most Americans’ lives,
enamored with big government solutions to every problem, and obstructionists with no positive
agenda or new ideas of their own.
Democrats who seek to draw parallels to 1994 and Republicans’ success in turning
dissatisfaction with Washington and the country’s direction into a sweeping off-year
congressional victory must recognize that Democrats are not making any gains, even as
Republicans continue to lose ground, and no such victories will be possible until Democrats can
rebuild their own standing in voters’ minds. The unity Democrats showed in opposing President
Bush’s Social Security privatization plans was an important first step for a party seen as weak
and standing for nothing, although it also served to reinforce the belief among many red state and
rural voters that Democrats are quick to oppose Republican initiatives but have no positive
agenda of their own.
The authors sketch an agenda they think might be helpful to Democrats, focusing on matters such as health care, veterans benefits, and stem cell research.
Heres what they have to say about the stem cells:
Polling has consistently demonstrated the broad public support for
stem cell research, and these focus groups clearly reinforced those findings. However,
the real power of this issue is its ability to confound many voters who otherwise align
themselves with Republicans on cultural issues and to change the very definition of
‘moral values’ from the narrow classification of abortion and gay marriage advanced by
the religious right and its allies.
While much of the debate in Washington and in the media has been focused on the
science, voters discuss stem cell research in strictly moral tones. They don’t differentiate
between existing and new lines, nor do they discuss embryonic vs. cord blood; they
simply see the opportunity to develop new medical breakthroughs as a moral imperative.
Heres an article to read in conjunction with these last two paragraphs. I agree that this is an oportunity for the Democrats. If (or is it when?) the President vetoes the stem cell legislation that arrives on his desk, he had better offer a very compelling explanation of whats at stake.