Howard Dean's failed presidential campaign left behind a cadre of political activists who now constitute the most liberal faction of the Democratic Party and who believe the party should move to the left as it tries to rebound from Sen. John F. Kerry's loss to President Bush, according to a unique survey of Dean's followers.
Dean attracted an activist corps that is whiter, wealthier, better educated and far more liberal and secular than Democrats generally or the population at large, according to the Pew Research Center. But the study found that Dean's followers were not, as some reports had suggested, dominated by young people and that he had strong appeal among voters ages 40 to 59.
The findings are based on Internet surveys with activists who had signed up on Dean's campaign site last year, which means the sample represents a fraction of the population. But the Dean followers provide an insight into what might be a much larger cadre of grass-roots activists who are a growing constituency within the party and one that Dean, as new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, wants to integrate more directly into party operations.
More than four in five (82 percent) of Dean activists in the study identified themselves as liberals, compared with 27 percent of all Democrats nationally. Asked what drew them to Dean, 66 percent cited the war in Iraq, and 99 percent of the Dean followers said Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq was wrong. On the issue of gay rights, 91 percent of Dean activists said they favor same-sex marriages, compared with 38 percent of Democrats nationally.
In a party that includes substantial numbers of blacks and Hispanics, the Dean Democrats are overwhelmingly white -- 92 percent, according to the survey -- and constitute what could be described as part of the American elite. More than half (54 percent) hold post-graduate degrees and a quarter have graduated from college. Almost one in three (29 percent) have household incomes of more than $100,000 annually.
One in three of the Dean activists said they never attend church, and 27 percent said they seldom do so. Those rates of religious participation are far lower than that of Democrats generally. More than half of all Democrats say they attend church at least once a month.
Dean's followers, according to the poll, want the party to challenge Bush more vigorously and embrace "progressive" policies, not the centrist positions that were critical to former president Bill Clinton's two victories. Just 18 percent of those who responded to the surveys said the party had effectively advocated liberal or progressive positions, and two-thirds said they want to see the party reflect those liberal positions in the future.
The Dean activists remain anti-Bush (96 percent strongly disapprove of his performance) and critical of Democratic leaders, with 86 percent saying those leaders have not done enough to challenge the president. Although three-quarters said they were depressed by the outcome of the election, half said the election results will make them more politically active.
Looking toward 2008, almost half of Dean's Internet followers say he definitely should run for president again. That is more than double the percentage for former senator John Edwards (N.C.) and Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.). The two most recent Democratic nominees fared badly with the group: Two-thirds of those surveyed said Kerry and former vice president Al Gore should not run.