Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Holidays from Ciruli Associates

Blog will be back January 2 in the new year.


Obama – “Was 2013 Your Worst Year?”

Barack Obama’s final press conference was framed by his weak poll numbers, “Was 2013 your worse year?”

He is slightly below where President Bush was at the start of his disastrous 2006 midterm election year, and Obama just hit his all-time high disapproval.

The ACA rollout and “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” cost Obama’s personal credibility. The question is will it affect Democrats among the 35 Senate seats, 435 House seats and 36 governorships up next year?

Projecting the impact of the President’s low approval today to November 4, 2014 has limitations. Ten months is several lifetimes in politics, and the advantage, as the few weeks between the government shutdown and the Obamacare rollout demonstrated, can shift quickly.

As this website has documented, politics is becoming more volatile in the age of polarization, with an increasing percentage of voters choosing independence and moving quickly between media covered events, foreign and domestic. Also, there has been a downward shift in voters’ opinions toward the federal government. Low regard today is not comparable to low regard in 2006 as President Bush approached his last midterm. For example, the metrics of right direction and wrong track and now the approval of Congress are double-digit lower.

See Sabato’s Crystal Ball: The threatening thirties

Hickenlooper, Despite Bad Year, Still has Advantage

Although John Hickenlooper had a bad year, as the incumbent governor, he still has the advantage in his re-election.

Incumbent governors tend to win re-election. Only one lost in Colorado in the last half century.

Johnny Vanderhoof, who passed away this year, lost to Dick Lamm in the 1974 Democratic wave after President Nixon’s resignation. Vanderhoof, not really running for re-election, had moved up from Lt. Governor.

Reuters – Hickenlooper Moves to the Center – Promises a Veto

In a final pre-2014 press conference, Governor Hickenlooper makes clear he heard the message – move back to the center of the electorate and get control of his party.  While it was a bit of a joke, he made clear to his party leadership a veto is coming.

Reuters describes Hickenlooper’s problem:
In his first two years as governor, Republicans had control of the state House of Representatives, which independent Denver political analyst Floyd Ciruli gave Hickenlooper political cover and played to his image as a moderate.
But an aggressive agenda on the part of legislative Democrats who now hold majorities in both houses and who Hickenlooper seemed unwilling to confront gave ammunition to potential opponents, Ciruli said.
Still, analysts said it was far too early to write Hickenlooper's political obituary.
The Republican Party in Colorado is fractured between pragmatists and Tea Party groups, and a messy primary could weaken the eventual nominee, Ciruli said. The governor could regain momentum with a strong, bipartisan State of the State address when the legislature reconvenes in January. (Keith Coffman, 12-20-13)
Hickenlooper, like President Obama, had a difficult year. His approval was in the 60s in January and the 40s in December. He is in a major repositioning as he starts his re-election year. He advocated bipartisanship in an effort to reestablish his moderate image and to reach out to Republicans, especially in rural areas. Republicans will be a tough sell in an election year. They believe he and his party are in trouble. But also he messaged Democrats that their most partisan bills and procedures will be resisted.

Hickenlooper was conciliatory. On gun issues and the renewable energy bill, he stated he would sit down if something could be done to make the legislation work better. He said no to new gun controls, but it’s unlikely he will back up on current legislation.

Mostly, Hickenlooper focused on the economy in an effort to get back to the public’s top issue and his roots, which is small business.

His fourth State of the State speech will be his toughest as he launches an effort to recapture some of the previous era of good, or at least better, feelings while dealing with a defensive party and aggressive opposition.

See Reuters: Shootings, other woes take political toll on Colorado governor

Tea Party Less Favored, But Record Number Sees Government Biggest Threat

Two new Gallup polls show that, although the favorability of the Tea Party has dropped to 30 percent down from 47 percent in early 2011 after its considerable influence in the 2010 election, the public increasingly agrees with one of its key political views that government is the “biggest threat to the future of the country.”

Between the Affordable Care Act and the meta-spying of the NSA, combined with dislike of Washington D.C. in general, government as a threat to the future of the country is at an all-time high (72%).

Only 22 percent of the public claim to be Tea Party supporters, down from a high of 29 points in early 2011. On the other hand, the Tea Party has been a major contributor to focusing light on the growth and danger of government, which is the issue Republicans will run on in 2014.

The challenge for Republicans is that, although smaller in number, the Tea Party remains a major influence in the party with 58 percent of Republicans rating it favorable. But intransigence and perceived extremism of the Tea Party for shutting down the government and not compromising on the recent budget deal is widely seen as harmful to the Republican election chances in 2014.

The GOP must find a strategy to avoid the Tea Party’s reputation as extreme, but benefit from its credibility as opposing the growth of government. Fortunately for the GOP, the Obama administration’s handling of the Obamacare rollout and NSA spying is creating opportunities.

One other Gallup poll sheds light on the 2014 election environment. The Republican Party remains on the defense as its reputation is at an all-time low of 28 percent favorable with the American people. It is only 47 percent favorable with conservatives; that is, many Tea Party activists don’t respect it. But the bad news for Democrats is that although they have 42 percent favorability overall, that percentage is equal to their favorability going into the disastrous 2010 election.

See Gallup polls:
Tea Party favorability falls to lowest yet
Record high in U.S. say big government greatest threat
Democratic Party maintains favorability edge over GOP

Friday, December 20, 2013

9NEWS – Millions Spent on Fracking Fight; 2014 Will be Election Year for Fracking

A million dollars has been reportedly spent in the November four-city fight on fracking moratoriums and bans. Another major traunch of money can be seen in television ads right now as the oil and gas industry try to reinforce the statewide public view that the industry is a safe and valuable contributor to the economy.

The money is being spent in December 2013 because:
“Well, I think 2014 will be an election year for fracking,” said 9NEWS political analyst Floyd Ciruli.
Ciruli lists two main objectives for next year for the oil and gas industry:
1. Prevent more attempts to block fracking, especially a statewide ballot question
2. Protect Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado,) a supporter of fracking
“The forces in favor [of fracking] would like to have a positive political environment for him as much as possible,” Ciruli said.
The danger for the incumbent Democrat is that he’s doesn’t see eye to eye with environmentalists on this. “That’s the base of his party,” Ciruli said. “And that’s one of the bases of his support is the environmental community.”
Ciruli says people who live close to fracking often have lower opinions of it, and the industry learned that spending money to fight for votes only gets you so far. “They feel a better investment at the moment is to try and sort of move public opinion in general,” Ciruli said.
See 9NEWS: Fracking ads remain on air after election

Denver Post – Giron Mulls Statewide Race

Denver Post reporter, Lynn Bartels, blogged that recently recalled State Senator Angela Giron is testing the waters for Colorado Secretary of State. One problem Giron faces is that Democrats already have an announced candidate. Although the candidate is largely unknown, CU Regent Joe Neguse has an impressive resume and the support of most the Democratic Party establishment, including Hispanic elected officials.

But, Giron’s more fundamental problem was that her recall was in the heartland of the Democratic Party in a strongly Hispanic district. The Pueblo district recall reflected not just a gun rights vote, but a broader judgment of her political style and voting record.

The likelihood a candidate recalled in a safe Democratic district will have the credibility to rally Democrats and appeal to independents seems farfetched.

Her explanation that her defeat was an artifact of an in-person vs. mail-back ballot is also not credible.

As quoted in Bartels' article:
Political consultant Floyd Ciruli disagrees.
The way the election was conducted, he said Wednesday, “might have cost her a point or two, but it didn’t defeat her.”
“She carried none of the constituencies Democrats are supposed to be ascendant with. She lost women, Hispanics, the young, independents and a third of Democrats,” he wrote in a blog in September, pointing to an unpublished poll that had correctly predicted a 12-point loss in the heavily Democratic Senate district.
The manner of election might have made a difference in the Morse recall, Ciruli said. That vote was 50.8 percent for the recall, 49.1 percent opposed, or a difference of 319 votes.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

College Crisis

Colleges and universities around the country are examining their operations and core missions more seriously than any time since the beginning of the great expansion of higher education after WWII.

Enrollment is down for many, expenses have grown, tuition increases are reaching a ceiling, and federal and state money is tight or retrenching.

However, a series of recent polls show that the public still intensely values a college education. By more than ten-to-one, Gallup reports the American public says college is “very important” (70%) over “not too important” (6%). A quarter of the population lands in the middle, answering “fairly important” (23%).

Women, minorities, Millennials, already college educated and Democrats value college higher than average. Many of those groups have the least resources; hence, the challenge of the next few decades is how to provide college access to the most passionate and most in need.

2014 Looks Good, Not Great, for GOP

A new Pew Research poll compares Republican voters’ outlooks on the 2014 midterm election to attitudes before the big Democratic win in 2006 and prior to the huge swing back to Republicans in 2010. In both cases, the speakership changed parties. The GOP rank and file’s 2014 expectations are upbeat, but not at landslide proportions like 2010.

A slight edge in expectations and enthusiasm (Republicans are about 6 points more enthusiastic than Democrats. They were 14 points more enthusiastic before the 2010 wave.) are good signs for the GOP, but as of now, do not indicate a wave.

Republicans are aiming for six Senate seats and Democrats 17 House seats. Colorado’s most competitive race, as of today, is Mike Coffman’s sixth district. The good news for Coffman is that Republicans in Washington aren’t making his race more difficult beyond the handicap of being a member of Congress – a profession with a 9 percent approval rating.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Shutdown vs. Obamacare Rollout

The race for the worst policy of the year from Washington D.C. has been won by Obamacare.

The Wall Street Journal poll on October 11 showed the Republican and especially Tea Party strategy of shutting down the government to defund the Affordable Care Act was a failure and the Republicans were taking the brunt of the public’s ire. By October 16, when Republicans finally capitulated, they were down 6 points to Democrats on the generic congressional ballot test as captured by Real Clear Politics. It was assumed at that point that Republicans were beginning their 2014 campaigns in a very deep hole.

But, then came President Obama’s disastrous management of the Affordable Care Act start-up. In the two intervening months, the President and his team have lost 9 points of advantage as the Republicans are now 3 points up on the generic ballot test. Obama is pulling down the entire Democratic ticket, as measured in local polls, including in Colorado.

The latest Wall Street Journal poll of December 11 shows that Obama’s disapproval is at an “all-time high of 54 percent.” And, as a host of polls have reported, his personal reputation for honesty and leadership ability has significantly declined. Also, he’s losing young people and Hispanics – the two groups he marshalled for his 2008 and 2012 victories.

But, probably most devastating to Obama is the public turning against his legacy, Obamacare. What Republicans were unable to do in dozens of defunding votes and the shutdown, the roll-out accomplished. Half the public believes Obamacare is a bad idea and only a third believe it is a good idea (34%).

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Republicans are in a Weak Third Place in Denver Metro Area

The Republican Party is in third place in the Denver metro area, 9 points behind Democrats and 3 points behind unaffiliated voters. The metro area represents 57 percent of the state’s voters, and the registered voter tilt gives Democrats a significant regional advantage. Although Republicans maintain a statewide voter registration lead over Democrats by 28,000 voters, they are behind a surging bloc of unaffiliated voters.

Arapahoe County, the old anchor of metro Republican strength, may be the most surprising, with Republicans now in third place (31%) behind unaffiliated (34%) and Democrats (33%).

Republicans lead in only one county, Douglas (46%), and in addition to Arapahoe, they are in third place in Adams, Boulder and Denver.  In Jefferson County, their other historic stronghold, they are in second place with 32 percent of registered voters behind unaffiliated (35%).

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Day Kennedy Died

It had just snowed hard and Trinidad was freezing cold as we walked up the steps of the Junior College and first heard from a student that the president had been shot. We were in town for a statewide speech contest and had just arrived in the Pueblo Catholic High School bus.

We went into the cafeteria, which had large black and white TVs up high enough to see from a distance. Walter Cronkite was on. I noticed his white button down shirt and skinny tie, but no coat. It seemed unusual in those days when we had no continuous news and anchors always wore coats.

It was near noon and just as we started to listen, he said: “Dan Rather has confirmed President Kennedy is dead.” He removed his glasses and appeared to tear up, but then put them back on and kept reading the wire stories handed to him.

We were stunned. Much later, we realized how much the entire country felt and learned that day. I wasn’t the most focused high school student, but speech was my favorite activity, and from that moment on the authority of Cronkite and the power of television were riveted into my consciousness.

Pueblo Catholic High School has been closed for many years, but it was a fortress of Catholicism and ethnic pride in our community. We were the “Shamrocks,” and the election of John Kennedy was like the elevation of a pope. We rooted for him, prayed for him and followed his travels.

Given that students had come from around the state in bad weather, they held the meet. Pueblo Catholic did well, winning various individual awards, and my partner and I won the senior debate contest, arguing before a large audience the negative side of “Resolved: Medical care should be provided to the aged.” The topic seemed remote. Few of the authorities we cited in our case believed its enactment was imminent, but Kennedy’s death made it one of President Johnson’s post-assassination achievements.

November 22, 1963, was a devastating day I will never forget.

See Pueblo Chieftain: Expert on politics remembers clearly where he was on fateful day

Thursday, December 5, 2013

It’s Close to Panic – New York Times

State Senator Evie Hudak was forced to resign for the good of the party and her legislative caucus. Making the announcement right before Thanksgiving, Democrats were hoping for a one-day story. However, the longer-term narrative continues, Colorado Democrats remain on the defensive after losing their third state senator.

If Hudak had been recalled, power could have changed in the State Senate. Along with the high risk of losing the seat, the battle would have carried over to the beginning of the legislative session, leaving the Democrats defending a vulnerable legislator and talking about gun control, a subject they would like to get some distance from.

Democrats now enter the 2014 election with a one seat majority and having to defend at least two seats difficult to hold; the Morse seat in Colorado Springs and the Hudak seat in Arvada. Governor John Hickenlooper’s re-election has also been hurt by the Democrats legislative battles.
New York Times, Jack Healy
But Floyd Ciruli, a political analyst in Denver, said Ms. Hudak’s resignation amounted to a surrender before the fight began and was another sign of trouble for state Democrats. It comes weeks after voters overwhelmingly rejected a $1 billion tax increase to reform Colorado’s schools, a measure championed by Gov. John W. Hickenlooper and other prominent Democrats.
“When you add all that in together and stir in the collapse of the national brand, the congressional Democrats, the president and the Affordable Care Act, it’s close to panic,” Mr. Ciruli said.
Reuters, Keith Coffman
Independent Denver political pollster and analyst Floyd Ciruli said it was clear Democrats had pressured Hudak to resign to avoid losing their slim majority in the state Senate. Democrats have 30 days to appoint a successor, and that person must stand for election next year.
“I don't think the Democrats wanted to take the risk of losing another seat,” Ciruli said. “This way, they can keep the majority at least through the upcoming legislative session.”
Colorado Public Radio, Ben Markus
To political observers, the resignation comes at a curious time.
“Doing it right during this holiday I think the assumption is it will be a short story,” Floyd Ciruli, a longtime Colorado pollster, said. “But it does add one more piece to this sense that Democrats are playing some serious defense.” 
Ciruli said Hudak’s resignation is embarrassing for Democrats and sets up tough election battles next November – not just for state legislators but also for Governor John Hickenlooper, whose popularity is suffering. 
“To lose three legislators in one year out of your state senate is pretty extraordinary,” Ciruli said.
It’s also unprecedented.
Also see The Colorado Observer: Analysis: Dems feared collateral damage from Hudak recall

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Coffman Feels Better, Udall Worse

Campaigns are important, but Colorado’s political environment is sufficiently balanced that good or bad news from Washington can change the calculus quickly for federal officeholders.

Democrats during most of 2013 were leading the generic congressional ballot test, and during the shutdown debacle, surged ahead by 8 points, a sure sign that 2014 could have added Democratic seats, possibly even restore Democrats to power in the House. Today, Republicans are up one point, a bad sign given Republicans have a slight edge in a non-presidential year turnout. Could Democrats now lose six seats and control of the Senate?

In Colorado, President Obama’s approval deficit and the significant collapse of Obamacare as a perceived desired program have buoyed politicians, like Congressman Mike Coffman who is seen as vulnerable in his fiercely contested district.

And, the Democrats’ problems have put Senator Mark Udall, thought to be heading to a comfortable re-election, on the watch list.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

K-12 Educational Reform

Reform of education is a lot like red sauce – there are many similar ingredients, but every nonna has a recipe. From Denver’s more liberal big city version to Douglas County’s wealthy district conservative version, reform is tailored to the local culture, but a Ciruli metro poll shows there are some similarities:
  • Education choice is supported in both urban and suburban metro school districts
  • Independent, private, parochial and charter schools rate higher than public
  • Accountability with merit pay and testing are broadly supported
  • Majorities of Democrats, minorities and K-12 employed families agree with the above
The majorities that believe choice is an effective elixir for improvement in dropout rates and college acceptance contain extra high proportions of minority voters who have soured on the public system. For example, 54 percent of Hispanic metro residents believe choice is “very effective” and 61 percent of African Americans (42% of public overall).

Democratic politicians are increasingly sensitive to the rhetoric of reform being taken to mean “anti-union” positions, especially now that suburban reform movements are taking hold. Unfortunately, trying the rebrand the effort won’t be easy. Teachers and public education households are far less anti-choice than their national and local union leaders, who remain inexorably opposed to the key elements of “reform,” namely choice and merit

Monday, December 2, 2013

Udall Re-election Complicated by Washington D.C.

Mark Udall has not been on the list of threatened U.S. Senate seats (see blog: When Do Democrats Panic? Nov. 19, 2013). But, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows his re-election numbers are weak and have significantly declined the last five months, corresponding to voters’ growing frustration with D.C. in general and now specifically with President Obama and his poor management of the Affordable Care Act rollout.

Voter approval has remained in the mid-40 percent range since June, but disapproval of Udall has risen 13 points as many voters shifted from “don’t know” to “don’t approve.”  Also, more voters now claim to oppose his re-election than support it (41% re-elect, 47% don’t).

President Obama’s approval in the state has collapsed to even below his weak national numbers. Barely a third of Colorado voters approve his job performance. Obamacare has also suffered and is now opposed by a majority of Coloradans (56% oppose it and only 40% support it).

The Republican doing the best against Udall is Ken Buck, Weld County D.A. and 2010 failed senate candidate against Michael Bennet. Even with considerable baggage, Buck is benefitting from the Obama and Washington fallout and is only 3 points behind Udall (45% Udall vs. 42% Buck).

Republicans need to win six seats to take control of the Senate. Although the election is nearly a year away, as of now, even Udall is on the threatened list.

The Buzz: Udall in trouble
The Buzz: Udall faces challenge
Quinnipiac poll, Nov. 20, 2013