Thursday, July 22 2004
SOMEONE IS GOING TO BE WRONG:
There seems to be a lot of confidence out there among Democrats that John Kerry's campaign is in good shape. Why I'm really not so sure. It's part of politics for one side to play up their chances, but their enthusiasm that President Bush is in real trouble appears to me to be truly heartfelt.

What I've found is most Democrats are optimistic about Kerry's chances, many Republicans in Washington are nervous and scared to death, while most Republicans outside of Washington are confident Bush will win.

The public is roughly split 45-45 with 10 percent in the middle either undecided or just not paying attention at this stage of the race. The Democrats main arguing point seems to be that since President Bush is the incumbent who can't get above 45% and whose job approval ratings are also in the 40's, he is therefore in big trouble because the undecided 10% is going to break against the incumbent (as is usually the pattern) and Kerry will win.

This is the gist of the Democratic argument which Charlie Cook reiterated this week:

Last week in this space, I discounted the widely held view that the knotted polling numbers between Bush and Kerry meant that the race itself was even. I argued that given the fact that well-known incumbents with a defined record rarely get many undecided voters -- a quarter to a third at an absolute maximum -- an incumbent in a very stable race essentially tied at 45 percent was actually anything but in an even-money situation. "What you see is what you get" is an old expression for an incumbent's trial heat figures, meaning very few undecided voters fall that way.....

This is certainly not to predict that Bush is going to lose, that this race is over or that other events and developments will not have an enormous impact on this race. The point is that this race has settled into a place that is not at all good for an incumbent, is remarkably stable, and one that is terrifying many Republican lawmakers, operatives and activists. But in a typically Republican fashion, they are too polite and disciplined to talk about it much publicly.

In a funny way, if this race were bouncing around, it would probably be a better sign for President Bush. It would suggest that there was some volatility to the race and that public attitudes had not yet hardened, and were thus still an eminently fixable situation. The dynamics of a presidential race usually do not change much between July and Election Day. This year, however, the race is much more stable than usual, which is ominous for an incumbent under these circumstances. The bottom line is that this presidential race is not over, but the outlook is not so great for the players in the red jerseys.

Cook is right that many Republican lawmakers, operatives and activists are terrified. But they are terrified not because they think that President Bush is going to lose, but rather because over the last six months they have realized that it is now possible that President Bush might lose. That is a big difference.

There is a similar dynamic on the Democratic side. Much of the euphoria among the party activists stems from the belief that now they have a real chance to win. This is something they may have dreamt about in late 2003 but didn't really believe would happen. Ironically, this will make their likely loss in November that much harder to deal with. Pittsburgh Pirate fans aren't upset when their team doesn't make the playoffs, Yankee fans are. It's not a perfect analogy, but you get my point.

Ruy Teixeira has jumped on Cook's latest article to chime in:

Charlie Cook's latest column on the National Journal website crisply summarizes why the seeming deadlock in the horse race is actually very bad news for Bush.....And loose talk of a Kerry landslide makes me extremely nervous. Still, it can't be denied that, as we head into the convention, Kerry is in a pretty good position and his opponent appears to have the short end of the stick.

Josh Marshall suggests that it is "cornered, wounded animal time" and the Bush campaign is "desperate."

Maybe I'm being naive, but I don't see the desperation. As far as "loose talk of a Kerry landslide," it's pretty hard to win a landslide when you have almost no chance of carrying any southern states - and that includes Florida.

Pollster John Zogby announced in May that this was Kerry's race to lose, Charlie Cook thinks the outlook is not so great for Bush, and you see a gleefulness among the press who hate Bush keeping their fingers crossed that Kerry might just be headed to victory.

Now, maybe these people are looking at something different than what I'm looking at, but I just don't see all of this positive news for John Kerry. I see a President that has had a hostile, partisan press beating up on him relentlessly for months now hoping they can drive his job approval into Jimmy Carter territory still standing strong in the high 40's.

I see a Kerry/Edwards campaign that should be ahead today by at least 5 points nationally tied in the polls. I see a lack of appreciation among Democrats and the press for just how unappealing a candidate they are about to nominate.

Much of Kerry's current support in the polls is coming form the Anybody But Bush mindset. The dynamic of this race is going to change dramatically after both conventions and we are past September 11 when the public starts focusing on the choice between President Bush and Senator Kerry.

So while many see this 45%-45% tie as bad news for Bush, I see it as just the opposite. Kerry is going to need a cushion to protect himself from the slippage that will occur post-Labor Day when many are going go decide that while they might not love President Bush they can't vote for Senator Kerry.

When a respected poll like Pew comes out with Kerry ahead only a measly two points and even Stan Greenberg and James Carville's Democracy Corp has Kerry up only three (smack in the middle of what is supposed to the big bounce phase of the VP pick/Dem convention) it seems to me it is the Kerry campaign that needs to be worried, not Karl Rove. Perhaps the bounce is late in developing and Kerry will leave Boston with a 7-10 point lead, but right now they have to be disappointed.

Until we get into September the most important poll numbers continue to be the President's job approval and I'll stick to my analysis months ago that over 50% Bush wins easy, 45%-49% it's close but Bush has the edge, 40%-44% is a dead heat, and below 40% Kerry has the advantage.

Our current RCP Average has the President with a 47.8% job approval rating and, at the end of the day, Kerry is going to need the President's job approval lower if he is going to win.

There is ammunition for pundits on all sides to handicap this race a number of different ways. And Cook is right that history and precedent would not favor a President polling in the 40's with a job approval in the 40's. But history and precedent didn't predict what happened in the 2002 election. And the 24/7 news cycle world of Internet and cable TV coupled with the permanent campaign atmosphere of today's politics mitigates to a degree the usefulness of historical polls done in the 1970's and even the '80's.

However, the biggest mistake in handicapping and analyzing this election is underestimating the impact of 9/11. So it's great to reference all these other elections where incumbents with poll numbers like Bush lost, but I don't know how useful they will be in 2004.

This is the first presidential election since the attack in 2001, we have troops overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan prosecuting the War on Terror. Al Qaeda is actively trying to attack us with a strike of the same magnitude as 9/11 or bigger. That will be the backdrop of the election this fall - and that backdrop works decidedly against John Kerry and the Democrats.

None of this is to suggest Senator Kerry can't win, only that from where things stand today I think President Bush is in much better shape than many Democrats think considering all that has transpired these last four months.

As I said, it's easy to get excited when your candidate is in the middle of his pre-convention run. But let's wait and see how things look after the conventions and the anniversary of September 11. It's quite possible all this mid-Summer optimism about a Kerry victory might look very different in mid-October. J. McIntyre 10:10 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

 

© 2000-2004 RealClearPolitics.com   All Rights Reserved

RCP Polling Information

3 Way Race: Bush-Kerry-Nader
Head-to-Head Race: Bush-Kerry
Battleground State Polls
Non-Battleground State Polls

RCP Blogroll
Andrew Sullivan Milt Rosenberg
Armavirumque Morning Grind
Atrios No Left Turns
Best of the Web The Note
Bill Hobbs Oxblog
The Corner Pejmanesque
Daily KOS Polipundit
Dan Drezner Political Animal
Donald Luskin Political Wire
Donald Sensing PowerLine
Drudge Rich Galen
Easterblogg Robert Tagorda
First Read Roger L. Simon
Hit and Run Ryan Lizza
Hugh Hewitt Scrappleface
Instapundit SD Politics
James Lileks TPM
Jeff Jarvis Tapped
John Ellis TNR
Kausfiles Tim Blair
Kevin McCullough Virginia Postrel
Matt Rosenberg Volokh
Matthew Yglesias Wonkette

Archives - 2004
6/28-7/4 | 6/21-6/27 | 6/14-20 | 6/7-13 | 5/31-6/6 | 5/24-30 | 5/17-23 | 5/10-16 | 5/3-5/9 | 4/26-5/2 | 4/19-25 | 4/12-18 | 4/5-11 | 3/29-4/4 | 3/22-28 | 3/15-21 | 3/8-14 | 3/1-7 | 2/23-27 | 2/16-22 | 2/9-15 | 2/2-2/8 | 1/26-2/1 | 1/19-25 | 1/12-18 | 1/5-11 | 12/29/03-1/4/04

Archives - 2003
12/22-28 | 12/15-21 | 12/8-14 | 12/1-7 | 11/24-11/30 | 11/17-11/23 | 11/10-11/16 | 11/3-11/9 | 10/27-11/2 | 10/20-26 | 10/13-19 | 10/6-10/12 | 9/29-10/5 | 9/22-28 | 9/15-9/21 | 9/8-9/14 | 9/1-9/7 | 8/25-8/31 | 8/17-8/24 | 8/11-8/16 | 8/4-8/10 | 7/28-8/3 | 7/21-7/27 | 7/14-7/20 | 7/7-7/13 | 6/30-7/6 | 6/23-6/29 | 6/16-6/22 | 6/9-6/15 | 6/2-6/8 | 5/26-6/1 | 5/19-5/25 | 5/12-5/18 | 5/5-5/11 | 4/28-5/4 | 4/21-4/27 | 4/14-4/20 | 4/7-4/13 | 3/31-4/6 | 3/24 - 3/30 | 3/10 - 3/17 | 3/3-3/9 | 2/24-3/2 | 2/17-2/23 |
2/10-2/16 | 2/3- 2/9 | 1/27 - 2/2 | 1/20 -1/26 | 1/13-1/19 | 1/6-1/12 | 12/31/02-1/5/03

Archives - 2002
12/23-12/29 | 12/16-12/22 | 12/9-12/15 | 12/2-12/8 | 11/25-12/1 | 11/18-11/24 | 11/11-11/17 | 11/4-11/10 | 10/28-11/3 | 10/21-10/27 | 10/14 -10/20 | 10/7-10/13 | 9/30-10/6 | 9/23 -9/29 | 9/16-9/22