Tuesday, May 19, 2009

American Shift to Pro-Life Position

The latest national Gallup poll shows a shift of opinion from 50 percent of Americans who were pro-choice in 2008 to only 42 percent today. Pro-life position surged from 44 percent in 2008 to 51 percent today.

In a 2008 Ciruli Associates poll, Colorado voters said they were pro-choice 52 percent to 38 percent pro-life. Three-quarters of Republicans said they were pro-life and about two-thirds of Democrats were pro-choice (64%). Colorado voters may have also shifted to the right. The key is the state’s large bloc of unaffiliated voters who were 33 percent pro-life and 56 percent pro-choice. The latest national poll has 61 percent of Democrats pro-choice and 70 percent of Republicans pro-life.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Gay Marriage is on the Move

After a disastrous series of elections, culminating in the passage of a host of gay marriage bans in 2004 (helping motivate the Republican base), gay rights is back on the move. The court in Iowa and legislatures in Vermont and Maine have recently legalized gay marriage.

When California voters passed Proposition 8, reversing the state’s Supreme Court legalization of gay marriage in 2008, it was assumed the movement was on the defensive. But today, advocates are hoping for a national breakthrough. Although Democrats in Congress are still shy on the issue and no Supreme Court case is in sight, state courts are writing eloquent briefs in favor and finally gay marriage is winning legislative votes.

Public opinion also appears to be shifting. A recent Washington Post survey reported a near majority now favoring legalizing gay marriage, up from only 36 percent in favor just three years ago.

Young voters continue to be the main base of support – 66 percent support legalizing gay marriage. But, two groups that had been strongly opposed are now more accepting: White Catholics (60% illegal, now down to 47% illegal) and independents (support climbs to 52 % from 43%).

Friday, May 8, 2009

Bennet Advantage in Washington

A new Colorado poll shows U.S. Senate replacement Michael Bennet is still not well-known in Colorado, but a recent article in the Washington Post highlights his advantage in the Washington media environment.

A recent Public Policy Polling poll indicated one-quarter of Colorado voters couldn’t grade his performance. Nearly one-half (45%) couldn’t rate his favorability in January, shortly after his appointment. Although his name identification has greatly increased, the poll showed only 34 percent approved his performance and 41 percent said they disapproved.

But, Bennet has received favorable Washington media coverage and raised a huge $1.4 million in contributions since his appointment. No doubt, helped by good Washington connections. Bennet’s brother, James, is the editor of the Atlantic, and he helped his boss organize a series of private dinners with the new administration. “A floating group of 12 to 16 journalists with specialists added depending on the subject matter – and the rarified level of access.” Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers and British PM Gordon Brown have been guests.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Obama 62% Approval Nationally, Less in Colorado

The Real Politics national polling average has President Obama with a 62 percent approval average after 100 days. Given his inexperience, the crisis he began with and the aggressiveness of his agenda, it’s been an amazing performance.

A recent poll in Colorado by Public Policy Polling (PPP), a robo-calling Democratic outfit from North Carolina, has Obama at only 49 percent approval in Colorado. The major difference compared to national polls is the weak showing with unaffiliated voters (48%), who make up a quarter of the Colorado electorate, with Republicans and Democrats in a close balance of about a third of the voters each.

Colorado Democratic officeholders worry about Obama’s spending and government-growing agenda. Bennet, for example, joined Mark Udall to take the lead in opposing parts of the stimulus bill. On a variety of issues, Bennet, who is in a vulnerable position in his first election after being appointed by Gov. Ritter to Ken Salazar’s seat, is trying to position himself as middle-of-the-road. In general, Colorado federal candidates are tied to Obama’s fortunes, especially the economy.

Note the most recent national PPP poll was several points below the approval mean for Obama. PPP asks a somewhat different approval question, uses lists of registered voters, and, of course, is an automated dialing pollster. But even if PPP numbers are too conservative, adding five points to Obama’s approval rating would still leave his Colorado numbers low.

Torture and Democratic Left

The torture debate is now the most polarizing issue in national politics. President Obama outlawed use of extreme interrogation methods as one of this first acts, but the Democratic left wants to prosecute anyone associated with it over the last nine years, from lawyers who offered legal opinions on the subject to middle management in the intelligence business and their political superiors down to the field operatives.

Listening to the House and Senate committee chairs who are calling for investigation and reading the liberal blogs make clear the issue is much like abortion – extreme liberals believe it is an absolute protected right with no restrictions and for conservatives abortion is murder.

For extreme conservatives, torture is a necessary technique needed to protect lives and the country, no ban is justified. For liberals, it’s immoral – period. There are no exceptions.

The public takes a more nuanced view, with about 15 percent believing torture is an acceptable interrogation technique (can be “justified often”) and 25 percent believing it can “never” be used. More than one-half of the public believe it is acceptable sometimes, including 22 percent who believe it can be used rarely.

The issue divides the country nearly in half, with 49 percent believing torture can be used “often” or “sometimes” and 47 percent “rarely” or “never.” Although more than four-fifths of the public believe torture is wrong, at least 71 percent believe it can be used in some cases.

Obama is right. If he lets Congress proceed with the investigations, there will be a major battle – the left will likely win, but it will be bloody, distracting from his domestic agenda. In addition, a new 9/11-type event would rapidly shift opinion to the right because much of the public is pragmatic on the issue.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ritter Vulnerable

Governor Bill Ritter’s approval rating has dropped again, and is now nearing only two out of five voters (41%). This is the third reported decline since the Public Policy Polling firm began publishing Ritter’s approval rating in December 2008.

Although the firm’s methodology is unique, and before a definitive observation can made, additional polling firms will need to weigh in the trend is clearly down.

Ritter has struggled through a difficult legislative session, appearing to be behind the economic crisis and seldom in front. His administration’s initial estimate of the downturn was ridiculously low and his budget cut suggestions inadequate or mostly ignored. He weighed in on the Pinnacol controversy late, looking like a follower and not a leader.

His selection of Michael Bennet to replace Senator, now Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, still rankles the base of the party. And, his support for unionization of state employees and then tightening down on gas and oil industry operating procedures remain sore points among state business leaders, souring their potential support of his economic development efforts and new transportation expenditures.

However, in spite of poor approval numbers, governors tend to be re-elected in Colorado, and there is no doubt Ritter is working very hard to appeal the Democratic Party’s and state’s various interest groups. In addition, President Obama and the Democratic agenda in Washington remain popular and with considerable momentum, creating a positive environment for local Democratic officials.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cal Pushed Out

Cal Marsella, architect of the FasTracks financing program, was pushed out of RTD by the forces that want to engineer the second largest tax increase in the state’s modern history – another 0.04 percentage point increase in the RTD sales tax for 55 percent of the state’s voters (metro area).

Marsella had become the target for critics of the transit agency’s shaky financing scheme that had made massive promises in an effort to attract regional political and voter support, but was only able to increase the sales tax to fund about half the program. The 0.04 percentage point increase in 2004 was the largest sales tax election up to that time ($160 million collected annually).

Getting rid of Marsella, who most people believed did a capable job managing the agency, may deflect some short-term criticism, but size of the tax increase and the unrealistic promises and projections are likely to be a drag on the agency and tax increase proponents regardless of who takes over.

Legislature Session Cuts, Freezes and Suspends

The state legislature was forced to make the most dramatic spending cuts in modern history. State employees are taking significant cuts next year after their salaries were frozen this year. Capital construction is basically at a standstill. Federal stimulus dollars are helping somewhat with Medicaid, higher education and to fund the ever demanding Amendment 23 local school requirements.

2008 Budget reductions
• Froze all state salaries/eliminated performance pay
• Froze all capital construction projects/eliminated all maintenance
• Put in place a statewide hiring freeze/ten percent reduction for all state departments
• Eliminated expansion of full-day kindergarten and preschool expansions
• Closed the women’s prison/eliminated expansion of another prison
• Reduced the state reserves from 4 percent to 2 percent
• Suspended the state contribution of Fire and Police Pension Fund
• Next fiscal year, which starts in July, will be pinched to find more cuts in major programs

2009 State Fiscal Cuts
• Suspended the Seniors Homestead Exemption for one year
• Cut Medicaid provider rates of reimbursement/cut funding of community health clinics
• Delayed a prison opening
• Cut funding to K-12 education ($150 million)/cut charter schools capital funding
• Cut funding to higher education campuses ($140 million)
• Placed a 1.8 percent salary reduction to every department’s employees

Given Colorado’s inability to borrow money, it’s time to seriously think about a rainy day fund.