Future looks good for Democrats in 2008

A survey found that young voters are leaning more left than in previous years.

Liz Riggs

Hearing too much these days in the news about presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s physique?

Tired of the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s cleavage?

Sick of listening to the media banter surrounding Fred Thompson’s ‘trophy wife’ spouse?

In the wake of next year’s presidential elections, much has been made of candidates’ personalities and personal lives, but some would contend that not enough attention has been given to what really matters to voters.

“What to Watch in the 2008 Elections,” a noon-hour lecture delivered at the Cowles Auditorium Wednesday, was an opportunity to showcase what the public actually does care about, according to Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center in Washington D.C.

One of the major messages from yesterday’s presentation: Pew research illustrates the political landscape is more favorable to the Democrats as the 2008 election approaches.

“Presidential elections are referendums on how things are going in the country and people are very unhappy with the state of the nation, very unhappy with President Bush,” Kohut said at the event.

Kohut’s lecture was based primarily on the findings of an ongoing 20 year study beginning in 1987 on the subject of political values and core attitudes. Kohut said the same study was used to predict the Republican resurgence in the 1990s.

Kohut was flown in to give two lectures at the Humphrey Institute as part of the fall event lineup for the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.

Larry Jacobs, the director of the center, called Kohut’s visit a “rare opportunity” to hear one of the premier pollsters in the country speak about changes in the American electorate.

“What’s unique about Andy Kohut’s polling is that he goes deeper,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said Pew’s polling often looks at more than just which candidate is ahead.

Although Kohut said the results of the Pew study might be “good news for the Democrats,” he said the results aren’t so strong that they would rule out a Republican candidate being elected.

“Change is what the public is looking for, not continuity,” Kohut stressed. Kohut said it was certainly possible for a Republican candidate to win, but they would have the difficult task of showing they could appeal to the Republican base while also demonstrating they could be an “agent of change.”

Kohut said Pew’s findings that the political playing field slants more in favor of Democrats are less attributable to what the Democratic Party is doing right, and more a result of what the Republican Party is doing wrong.

Poll results show percentage-wise, there are no more people identifying themselves as Democrats today than there were when President Bush came into office in 2001.

Over the same period however, the Republican Party has lost considerable public support.

Kohut also said both Iraq and health care would be major issues in the upcoming election.

Although there is still more than a year until the presidential elections actually take place, Kohut said the topic was still at the forefront of the public’s consciousness.

“There’s no end of interest in this upcoming election,” he said.

Asked why she decided to attend “What to Watch in the 2008 Elections” along with roughly 100 others Wednesday, Monika Frech, an exchange student, said she was “curious.”

“I’m just interested in the whole election process,” she said.

During a question and answer session after the event, Kohut said there’s been a definite shift in the attitudes of the 18 to 24 year demographic today than in the previous generation. Today’s 18 to 24 year olds are less religious and have voted more strongly Democratic in both of the last two elections, he said.

Kohut also delivered an evening lecture on campus yesterday titled, “They Don’t Like Us: Global Attitudes Toward the U.S. and other World Powers.”