Mark Penn, a democratic pollster and veteran of the Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton war rooms, discusses the latest campaign polls with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC’s The Last Word.
Former Hillary Clinton Campaign Senior Strategist Mark Penn on Hillary Clinton’s scandals, her tax plan and the Republican field in the presidential race.
By MARK PENN and DONALD BAER
Published July 1, 2014
A survey reveals deep uncertainty the country’s future—but also growing consensus on issues like same-sex marriage and marijuana.
Historically, Americans have been optimistic about the future and confident about our leadership in the world, while at the same time being deeply divided on so-called social issues like same-sex marriage and marijuana use. That trend appears to be reversing, giving way to what might be called an age of impossibility, where Americans are deeply uncertain about our country’s future, according to a special survey commissioned for The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute for the tenth Aspen Ideas Festival. The survey, an online poll of more than 2,000 Americans, was conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, working with Burson-Marsteller, from May 28 to 31, 2014.
The poll is a jarring wake-up call to anyone who still believes America is a country of optimists. Nearly two-thirds of Americans—65 percent—question whether America will be on the right track in 10 years. They are also split on whether the country will be a “land of opportunity” (33 percent say yes, 42 percent say no, and 24 percent say they don’t know). In their view, the American Dream itself seems to be fading. Seven in 10 Americans have real doubts about whether working hard and playing by the rules will bring success in the future. They are also concerned about their children’s futures. Despite falling unemployment in many states, 64 percent of parents believe it will be difficult for their children to find good jobs in 10 years.
Who Should Romney Pick For Vice-President?
The Republican strategist and Democratic pollster in their biweekly face-off about Election 2012
Penn: Obama’s pick of Biden in 2008 was based on filling a void in foreign policy experience, not to win the state of Delaware. Foreign policy was a major topic of the election, and Biden’s experience serving for several years as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee perfectly complemented Obama and made up for what he lacked.
Romney will also try to use his Vice Presidential pick to make up for the voids in his biography rather than in electoral votes. So far, his greatest weakness has been his inability to connect with middle and working class voters. In a recent CNN poll, Romney wins only 43% of Americans who make under $50,000, 11 points lower than Obama.
Romney will likely pick a running mate who can combat his image of a super-wealthy CEO, and for that, my guess is he will look to Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty grew up as the son of a truck driver in St. Paul, Minnesota. He worked his way through school and was the only child in his family to graduate from college. His story would win Romney greater support among middle and working class Americans.
But while Pawlenty is the smart biographical choice, that is not necessarily the best strategic play. A game-changing candidate such as Marco Rubio or Condoleezza Rice would help re-energize Romney’s tepid campaign. Neither would be a Sarah Palin-like destructive force, and both would help him where he is hurts most — Rubio would help Romney win back some of the Hispanic vote and ultimately even the state of Florida. Dr. Rice, on the other hand, would help him with women and perhaps even improve his image in the African American community. A game-changer could work this time around.
What Are American Values These Days?
The Republican strategist and the Democratic pollster reflect on which core beliefs are still central to our lives.
Penn: My hope this July 4th is that we focus as Americans on reviving our sport values — values that have made us great and can rekindle our optimism for the future as they have done many times before. From Jesse Owens’s victories in the 1936 Berlin Olympics to the “Miracle on Ice” in Lake Placid in 1980, great athletic events have crystalized our faith in the country.
These days, sports are marred by scandals that go far beyond cheating, and it seems that every feel-good sports moment has its nefarious counterpart. Sports have always represented American values of fair competition, community, hard work, and the American Dream. But Americans believe our values are in decline, and while this is most clearly attributed to a lack of faith in political and economic institutions, perhaps our athletic institutions best demonstrate why we as a nation have become pessimistic about our values.
To take one example, in the same study, Americans found the use of performance enhancing drugs by athletes to be the least morally acceptable behavior in a list that included prostitution, underage drinking, human cloning, and illegal drug use. Every time a scandal hits the sports world, it shakes our trust in our athletic institutions and people who are seen as role models, especially by the Millennial generation. According to the values poll, 45% of Americans age 18–29 say that celebrities and professional athletes have a fair amount or a great deal of influence on developing their beliefs of right and wrong. This is higher than the 42% of the same group who say the same of political leaders, and only slightly lower than the 51% who say that religious leaders have the same amount of influence on their values. We need to hold athletes (as well as other public figures) to a higher moral standard if we are to reverse the pessimism and restore faith in values that American sports have in the past, and can once again, embody. The Olympics will provide our athletes a new opportunity to shine and rise above it all in our best tradition.
Two-thirds of Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to a survey conducted by Penn Schoen Berland. On NPR News Talk of the Nation, Mark Penn explains that though Americans are losing confidence in the nation, they have retained a sense of personal optimism.
DONVAN: So what we’re seeing here, is it kind of a redesign of the American dream or at least the way that people are describing it to themselves?
PENN: Well, I think that Americans, you have to bear in mind, are always a little pessimistic. I mean, it’s really quite common for Americans to rag on current conditions at the same time that half of them also think in an optimistic way because people often think the external world has significant problems that can’t be surmounted, but they usually see their internal world as a world of promise of hope. And they still mostly see that in America, though we’ll have to say we’ve gone through perhaps the longest period of pessimism, in what I always joke as recorded polling history in the last decade.
DONVAN: And what is it that people are losing faith in? Is it institutions?
PENN: Well, they are losing a lot of faith in their politicians. Wall Street came out miserably in this survey. I think less than 20 percent believe the people on Wall Street share common American values, which shows what a hill they have to climb. I think there’s some dispirit with the overall capitalist system. They think the economy is going in the wrong direction. What haven’t people lost faith in, in terms of outside institutions? Virtually every one.
DONVAN: And, you know, I know we always have a tendency to look in the rearview mirror only about 10 yards down the road, so it’s almost hard to believe that there was a time when people had more confidence in institutions. But is there a recent – is it recent that we – that a majority of Americans had a kind of faith in the institutions that represent them, by Wall Street and by their churches and by the electoral process? Was there…
PENN: I think the second Clinton administration was probably as close to the last heyday as we really had. I think probably the period from probably Clinton’s second election through – until 9/11 occurred was probably a very optimistic period. People thought that America was on top again, preparing for the 21st century. Two-thirds of the public thought things were going in the right direction. We really haven’t seen that in a long time.
DONVAN: Interesting trends you find in generational differences. Let’s talk about a couple of those. One is the open-mindedness of the younger generation. On what topics in particular are younger Americans coming out as more open minded?
PENN: Well, I think younger Americans here are expressing themselves as considerably more socially liberal than the older generation, and it’s interesting because the older generation now is the generation that voted for Kennedy. So whether it’s living together without marriage, whether it’s homosexuality, all of these various topics that have been difficult topics of discussion the older generation still finds morally unacceptable, the younger generation finds quite acceptable. And so there is a big split on social values between the two. Now, you don’t really know what happens to the younger generation when they get older.
By MARK PENN
Published June 27, 2012
A new poll on values shows that there’s less faith in Washington, Wall Street, and even God. But Americans still think they can get anything they want through sheer hard work.
America’s values are in upheaval, triggered by the advance of technology, prolonged pessimism, and a loss of confidence in major social, political, economic, and religious institutions, according to a poll of more than 2,000 Americans commissioned by The Atlantic and The Aspen Institute for the Aspen Ideas Festival. The poll was conducted by Penn Schoen Berland between May 25 and June 6, 2012.
While Americans have become far more socially tolerant of different lifestyles, they have become far more cynical about Wall Street, the ability to succeed on one’s own merits, the future of their children, and even the existence of God, according to the poll.
America is in many ways unhappy with itself and the pop-culture it has become.
More than two thirds (69 percent) believe that American values have declined, and they point to political corruption, increased materialism, declining family values, and a celebrity-obsessed culture as the culprits.
Religious freedom is named as a core value, and yet fewer Americans are embracing any religion. Overall, 89 percent of Americans now say that they believe in God, down from 98 percent in a 1967 Gallup poll. The youngest generation shows an even sharper decline to 81 percent, though people often become more religious after they have children or start a family. By all measures - from basic belief to weekly attendance – religion and religious life are trending down in importance in American life.
By MARK PENN
Published June 21, 2012
The 137 million voters registered to go to the polls this November will not look like the 131 million who voted for President in 2008. And they are vastly different from the 96 million who voted the year Bill Clinton was re-elected. The U.S. has been changed by circumstance, economics, demographics and the simple passage of time. We are a youth-obsessed country that has never been older. We think of ourselves as politically polarized, but the edges are shrinking as the political center expands. The two campaigns are focusing on the ethnically static industrial Midwest while Latino voters in the South and West boom. We talk of ourselves as a nation of struggling workers, but the votes that matter most may be the swelling ranks of high-earning, college-educated professionals.
In this complex landscape, battlegrounds appear to be everywhere. Barack Obama must match or improve on his remarkable 2008 showing among Latino voters. That seems likely but is not guaranteed. Mitt Romney enjoys a striking advantage among America’s fast-growing senior-citizen set, which is worried about the economy. Independents are almost evenly split, with Romney enjoying a slight advantage. Which means the election will be decided by a hard-to-typecast kind of voter, one likely drawn from the growing ranks of new professions that have emerged from the U.S.’s high-tech and services-based economy. Neither candidate has captured the hearts, heads or wallets of these voters, many of whom earn six figures. Quite the contrary: it defies political logic that Obama has made higher taxes on upper-income voters such a critical part of his campaign when those same voters are in a position to determine the outcome. Romney risks losing them with even the slightest appeal to voters on conservative social issues. These voters are pro-technology and internationalist in outlook and are, as a group, at the core of the U.S.’s competitive advantage. Like three other voter groups, they are up for grabs in 2012.
Read More at Time Magazine (Subscriber Only Access)
Was Obama’s Immigration Announcement Good Politics?
The Republican strategist and Democratic pollster in their biweekly face-off about Election 2012
Penn: Obama’s announcement that the administration will stop deporting young undocumented immigrants is a win for the president on all levels. This order functionally enacts parts of the DREAM Act and fulfills one of Obama’s most scrutinized campaign promises. It distances the president from a Congress that is gridlocked on the issue and widely unpopular. And it represents a decisive bite-size government action that is meaningful among others to a growing and important subset of the electorate — Latinos. It’s a smart political move with tangible political consequences in this election season.
Obama’s action directly targets Latinos who are playing an increasingly important role in presidential elections. Latinos constituted 9% of the electorate in 2008 and 67% voted for Obama. They will likely break 10% for the first time in 2012 and, in addition to helping carry Democratic bastions such as California and New York, Latinos are the key to Obama’s chances in several swing states such as Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.
Obama is presently beating Romney among Latinos 61% to 27% and his announcement will only further help to consolidate the Latino vote behind him. This order is the closest he can come right now to enacting the DREAM Act, the components of which a sweeping 90% of Latinos support.
The Case for Negative Campaign Ads
Negative advertising can raise legitimate questions about candidates and are actually good for democracy
It’s quite popular to condemn negative advertising. It’s a great applause line on the stump.
Newark Mayor Corey Booker recently got front-page headlines by condemning Obama’s ads about Romney and Bain Capital — until he had to take his comments back because, I would guess, the Republicans were using them as attack lines against the President. President Obama defended his negative ads, saying they are about Romney’s character and fair game. Romney started his own negative ads, though he quickly repudiated a proposed negative campaign against Obama that would have focused on the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And everyone condemned it, though it appears it was never even made and certainly never ran. That’s the first time I’ve seen just thinking about running negative ads condemned.
It was Johnson who ran the Daisy ad against Goldwater in 1964, but it’s the Republicans who popularized negative ads by using them broadly under Lee Atwater. To be fair, both sides use them now, but usually Republicans take the hit for being more negative. In 1996, we ran mostly negative or comparative ads for President Clinton while Bob Dole ran mostly positive ads, but 2-to-1 voters thought we were positive and the Republicans negative. We began all our negative ads with the phrase “Another negative ad from the Republicans…”
So I’ll say something unpopular. Negative ads are by and large good for our democracy. And when they are not — when they overreach unfairly, they boomerang and the people who ran them take a well-deserved hit. But when they focus us on something important — like who would make a better commander in chief, who would fix the economy or when they bring up past events that need a real vetting — they do a service. They don’t let politicians off the hook and hold them accountable for their past actions.