Michael Tomasky's Right,
Everybody else is wrong...(sort of). Tomasky has a solid column up at the American Prospect, noting that
"[M]ajorities of the public tend to agree with Democrats on the issues. This isn't universally true, of course, but it's true with regard to more issues (perhaps many more issues) than not. On health care, the environment, investment, education, just about everything except national defense, majorities lean toward the Democratic position.This advantage, combined with our belief that policy matters, encourages Democrats to talk about issues and programs, rather than garbage like character. Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum, even, to a degree, Laura Rozen, respond that the "national security" exception to the Democratic issue advantage might just swallow the rule this cycle.
It pains me to say it, but three of my favorite bloggers are just wrong, and they fall into the same trap that Tomasky ascribes to Democratic strategists. Public opinions about "issues" can't just be measured by abstract polls and policy platforms - they are a combination of personal values, characterological speculation, and clever framing by candidates. Bush has an advantage on Iraq "issues" solely because of his public persona, not because of anything he has done (or will do) in Iraq. Sometimes character drives issue support, especially when emotions run (artificially) high.
Perhaps we simply define "issue advantage" wrong. Democrats tend to think, "55% of American support our position, therefore we have an advantage." That's always nice to hear, but it's really irrelevant. If X>50% of the people who rank that issue the highest, or are willing to vote on that issue alone, support Republicans, then the diffuse Democratic advantage is just mist in the air.
Democrats have a policy advantage, but that shouldn't be surprising. We care about good policy, they don't. That sort of puts us back at the beginning of the conundrum, of course.