Friday, September 24 2004:
IS RUSS FEINGOLD IN TROUBLE?:
That's the question many people have been asking after seeing this ABC News poll showing Feingold's lead over Republican Tim Michels a mere 6 points. But not so fast. The recently released Badger Poll, which showed a lead for President Bush (14 points) that was comparable to the ABC poll (10 points), shows Feingold with a comfortable 15-point lead over Michels, 53-38.

Michels is a young (42), wealthy and attractive candidate with a strong military background who emerged from the GOP primary just ten days ago with solid double-digit victory in a four way race. As is the case for many challengers, however, the problem is that Michels is a virtual unknown in the state (58% don't know enough about him to answer the favorable/ unfavorable question in the Badger Poll) with only 40 days until election day.

On the other side, Feingold's job approval in the Badger Poll stands at 49% and his reelect is at 47% - which is to say that he may be slightly vulnerable for an incumbent. If you also take into account Feingold's history, especially his narrow victory in 1998 (a 51-48 win over Republican Mark Neumann) and the fact that the state seems to be trending Republican, you can start to see slightest indications of a possible upset in the making. This is definitely a race to keep an eye on.

Still, as things stand right now the odds remain strongly in Feingold's favor. It will take a Herculean effort by Michels over the next six weeks along with a big win for Bush to prevent Feingold from winning another term.
Related Links: Competitive U.S. Senate Races | WI Senate Page

THE GREAT DEBATE: With the first Presidential debate coming up next week, now would be a good time to plug this new feature on the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate sponsored by the Museum of Broadcast Communications. Sunday, September 26 will mark the 44th anniversary of "The Great Debate" which was broadcast - irony of all ironies - from the CBS News studio here in Chicago.

In addition to accessing this extraordinary fifteen minute documentary with some behind the scenes footage of the Nixon-Kennedy debate, true political junkies will swoon over this page which provides a history of televised Presidential debates from 1960 through 2000.

I would venture to say that the coming debate between President Bush and Senator Kerry could very well rival The Great Debate in terms of the level of interest, importance, and possibly even impact on the outcome of the Presidential race.
Related Links: Pew: When Debates Matter | National Journal: The Main Event)
- T. Bevan 12:15 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Thursday, September 23 2004
FLORIDA, ARG, KERRY UP 1PT?: Yesterday I was speaking with a major pollster who has been polling in Florida for over twenty years. He had serious questions about the ARG poll released yesterday showing Kerry ahead one point in the state.

ARG's poll was conducted Friday - Monday and this pollster had several problems with those dates. First, he wondered how you could get through to anyone in the panhandle when there was still massive electric and phone outages throughout that entire section of the state. Second, Friday night polling is apparently seriously discouraged in Florida because of Friday night high school football.

He pointed to a just concluded 2 -day poll of 800 likely voters in Florida's I-4 Corridor (the swing part of the state from Daytona to Tampa which traditionally mirrors the state wide vote, give or take a point or two) which had President Bush leading Senator Kerry by 13 points, 51 - 38. The same poll also had Governor Jeb Bush's approval rating for the hurricanes at 84%. Given these numbers this pollster felt it extremely unlikely John Kerry was ahead in Florida by one point.

Apparently Quinnipiac agrees. They have just released a Florida poll of 819 likely voters (Late Correction: it is registered voters) showing President Bush leading Senator Kerry, 49 - 41. J. McIntyre 12:06 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Wednesday, September 22 2004
ZOGBY:
There has been some confusion concerning our decision to no longer use the Zogby Interactive polls in our state averages. Just to be clear we are still using Zogby's normal telephone polling both nationally and in all of the states, it is only his Internet based polls we are no longer using in the state averages. Salon describes Zogby Internet polls:

The Zogby Interactive Battleground Poll -- regularly cited in the blogosphere and published on the Wall Street Journal's Web site -- is an online poll conducted via e-mail. If this sounds dubious, that's because it is. Online polling has a spotty track record and remains an unproven method for gauging public opinion.

At this point in the cycle, with less than six weeks until the election, we feel there are now enough independent polls to justify no longer use partisan polls or Internet based polls in our state averages J. McIntyre 10:30 pm Link | Email

RCP ELECTORAL COUNT:
Our current RCP Electoral Count has President Bush with 284 to Senator Kerry's 200, with 54 EV's rated as "toss ups." We've gotten a number of emails asking why certain states are rated as toss ups and/or leaning one way or the other, particularly in relation to the most recent polling in each state.

We use five criteria to allocate states electorally. Here they are, in order of importance:

1) The latest nonpartisan polls in the state, giving higher priority to the more established and well respected polling firms.

2) Where the national polls are, as measured by our RCP Poll Average, and the trend in the national polls.

3) How the state voted in 1996 and, in particular, 2000. (Taking into account any unique circumstances that may have had an influence on past results, such as Gore's status as a "favorite son" in Tennessee in 2000.)

4) How the state has been trending politically in national elections.

5) Miscellaneous circumstances that may apply to a particular state this election cycle. (i.e. a big Governor or Senate race, hot ballot initiatives like gay marriage, state-wide scandals, local disasters or emergencies.)

This is why we can rate a state like Colorado as "Leaning Bush," even though the two most recent polls indicate only a one point lead for the President. On the other hand, we're keeping New Jersey as "Leaning Kerry" even though recent polling suggest that the state might be coming into play. Similarly, Oregon and Iowa remain in the "toss up" category despite the fact that the some recent polls show the President ahead.

STATE POLLS : We have discontinued the use of partisan polls and Internet aided polls in our state averages. We had been using Strategic Vision and Zogby Interactive polls through the summer, primarily because in many states there just wasn't much public polling information. However, with under six weeks until the election there are more than enough independent polls in the major battleground states. J. McIntyre 8:27 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Tuesday, September 21 2004
BATTLEGROUND UPDATE:
It's been less than a week since I wrote about John Kerry's slide in the state polls. Since then, the trend has continued. Yesterday we had a wave of state polls confirming the move away from Kerry in key battleground states. Based on the latest polls, here is where our RCP Battleground Averages stand:

Battleground State Polls - RCP Averages      
Poll | Date
Bush
Kerry
Nader
Spread
45.3
45.3
2.7
TIE
44.0
44.0
-
TIE
45.5
44.5
3.0
Bush +1.0
46.0
45.0
1.5
Bush +1.0
47.0
45.5
2.5
Bush +1.5
47.0
45.5
3.0
Bush +1.5
43.5
45.5
3.5
Kerry +2.0
48.4
46.2
1.8
Bush +2.2
46.0
42.5
1.5
Bush +3.5
49.0
45.0
1.0
Bush +4.0
50.5
46.0
1.0
Bush +4.5
47.1
42.1
2.1
Bush +5.0
43.0
48.3
1.7
Kerry +5.3
44.3
50.0
1.3
Kerry +5.7
49.0
43.0
2.0
Bush +6.0
49.0
43.0
2.0
Bush +6.0
50.0
42.5
1.0
Bush +7.5

Kerry is maintaining a solid grip on Michigan and Washington, but everything else is in play. With the exception of New Hampshire, every single state we have listed as a toss up in our RCP Electoral Count (IA, MN, NM, OR, PA) is a state that went for Gore in 2000.

The picture is even more bleak for the Kerry campaign when you look at how Kerry is faring in blue states (i.e. states that Al Gore won in 2000) versus how Bush is faring in red states. Kerry is running worse than Gore did in 2000 in eight out of ten battleground states, Bush has lost ground versus his performance four years ago in only two:

Blue States      
State | Date
2000
Results
Current
Spread vs
2000
Gore +5.2
Kerry +5.3
Kerry +0.1
Gore +5.6
Kerry +5.7
Kerry +0.1
Gore +0.5
Bush +1.0
(Kerry -1.5)
Gore +2.4
TIE
(Kerry -2.4)
Gore +5.1
Kerry +2.0
(Kerry -3.1)
Gore +0.06
Bush +3.5
(Kerry -3.6)
Gore +0.2
Bush +4.0
(Kerry -4.2)
Gore +4.2
Bush +1.5
(Kerry -5.7)
Gore +0.3
Bush +6.0
(Kerry -6.3)
Gore +15.9
TIE
(Kerry -15.9)
Red States      
State | Date
2000
Results
Current
Spread vs
2000
Bush +3.3
Bush +7.5
Bush +4.2
Bush +3.5
Bush +6.0
Bush +2.5
Bush +0.01
Bush +2.2
Bush +2.2
Bush +3.5
Bush +4.5
Bush +1.0
Bush +1.3
Bush +1.5
Bush +0.2
Bush +6.3
Bush +5.0
(Bush -1.3)
Bush +8.4
Bush +1.0
(Bush -7.4)

Colorado and New Jersey seem to be aberrations. However, not only could the massive move in New Jersey be attributable to a "9/11 effect" and the McGreevey scandal, we are now seeing other polls coming out of Democratic strongholds like Maryland and New York suggesting that Kerry is experiencing a serious deterioration of support there as well.

On the other hand, there is no evidence to corroborate a big swing against Bush in Colorado. It's hard to believe that the President is leading in nearly every national poll and is running better than he did in 2000 all across the country - including the Mountain West states of Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona - but is running seven and half points worse in Colorado this year.

IS THE COUNTRY REJECTING JOHN KERRY?: Now that the conventions are over and people are beginning to focus intently on the race, it's almost as if the public is taking a good hard look at John Kerry and saying "no thanks." There is still a lot of race left and plenty of time (including three debates) for Kerry to convince people to change their minds, but the trend lines are certainly not favorable for him.

So how can we explain what's going on? There are lots of possible reasons: Kerry is a bad candidate, he's running a disorganized campaign, his message is all over the place, the Swift Boat Veterans hit him where it hurt, etc. All of these things are true to a certain degree and they've no doubt contributed at least in part to his decline in the polls. But I think there is something much, much bigger.

The most inexplicable aspect of this race right now is that the President continues to rise in the polls despite the fact that the violence and chaos in Iraq is getting worse. Iraq has always been the defining issue in this campaign and despite John Kerry's best attempts over the last few months to turn it against Bush by attacking from every imaginable angle, it hasn't worked. Maybe that will change as the violence continues into October and Kerry sharpens his critique, but I wouldn't count on it.

The reason, I think, is very simple: America hates losers. I don't mean that John Kerry is a "loser" in the stylistic sense - though he does come off a bit that way when we see pictures of his gangly frame in spandex bike shorts, windsurfing or throwing a baseball.

What I mean is that when it comes to the biggest issue in this campaign, Iraq, John Kerry doesn't leave the impression with voters that he really wants to win the war. Everything we see, feel and know about John Kerry says his heart is not in this war, nor has it really been in any war.

So even when he tries to articulate, as he did yesterday in New York, a strategy to fight a more effective war than President Bush, it comes across more like a laundry list of gripes from a man who thinks the cause is already lost: "Iraq is a mistake and mess, and we need to do X, Y, and Z so we can get out as soon as possible."

On the other hand, President Bush is, for better or worse, a fighter. It's not so much that the public thinks President Bush is a winner per se, only that they know very clearly that Bush wants to win this war, and that he's doing everything within his power to try to win and it.

And even though mistakes have been made and a good number of Americans are uneasy about the War in Iraq and the direction of the country in general, when given a choice between a leader who is committed to fighting and optimistic about winning or a leader who exudes the attitude that because the going is tough we ought to get going, Americans almost always prefer the former.

In 1972 nearly 60 percent of the country was against the war in Vietnam, a war which at that point America had been fighting for almost a decade at a cost of tens of thousands of lives. Yet the country still thoroughly rejected McGovern's defeatist "peace at any price" platform in favor of Nixon's call for "peace with honor" even as Nixon escalated the war effort in the spring and summer of the election year.

But even the 1972 analogy strikes me as inadequate, because I still think the country is approaching this election less through the prism of Iraq as Vietnam (despite all the focus on the candidates' experiences during the Vietnam era) and more with the feeling that 9/11, Iraq and the War on Terror are akin to Pearl Harbor and World War II.

With the beheading of hostages and the slaughter of children now standard viewing on our nightly news, it is going to be extremely difficult for John Kerry to convince America over the next 40 days that Iraq is separate from the overall War on Terror. Even further, it will be a remarkable feat if Kerry can argue that Iraq is a mistake not worth the fight and simultaneously convince the public he is as committed as Bush to waging an aggressive War on Terror. - T. Bevan 7:55 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Monday, September 20 2004
WHAT'S UP WITH THE RACE?:
The simple answer is Senator Kerry is losing. After months of a presidential race that was more or less a tie, President Bush has broken out to a 5-7 point lead nationally. With so many polls being released these days the best way to filter out much of the noise is to follow our RCP Poll Average.

Kerry began to fade at the beginning of August and Bush very effectively used the convention in New York to break out of the Bush +2/Kerry +2 race that had existed for months. This can be seen very clearly in the historical graph of the RCP Poll Average.

Some of the polls at the end of last week created quite a stir as two (Pew Research and Harris) showed the race tied, while Gallup's poll had President Bush ahead by 13-14 points. Over the weekend the CBS/NY Times poll came out showing Bush ahead 9, while Zogby had Kerry only trailing by three points.

Some like to quibble with Gallup's "likely-voter" model and suggest that registered voters are a much better way to look at the race at this time, but Gallup's registered voters results still show the President ahead by eight points, the same amount Bush is ahead among registered voters in the CBS/NY Times poll. All of the chatter about registered voters vs. likely voters, and weighting for party ID vs not weighting for party ID is missing the central point. The bottom line is that Senator Kerry is trailing by significant margins, in significant polls, in mid-September. That is not good news for Democrats.

Other evidence points to Bush indeed having moved out to a real lead. The polls in the battleground states where this election was always going to be decided have moved significantly toward the President in the last three weeks. The battleground has shifted under the Democrats' feet and the Kerry campaign's hope to be fighting on GOP ground in Arizona, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, Arkansas and Virginia has all but disappeared. Instead Kerry is fighting for his life in the Democratic-leaning states of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, New Mexico, and most importantly Pennsylvania.

Gore carried Pennsylvania in 2000 by 4.2%. Right now Kerry leads in only one of the last seven polls and he trails President Bush by 1.7% in our RCP Pennsylvania Average. Using the average of those seven polls taken the first couple of weeks in September, Kerry is running around six points behind where Gore was in 2000 which seems to confirm the idea that Bush is ahead 5-7 points nationally.

In the critical states of Ohio, Missouri, and Wisconsin Bush is running 4-5 points better than his pace in 2000. Michigan, Colorado and West Virginia are the only states where there are positive polls for Kerry. And unlike PA, WI, OH and MO where there are multiple polls confirming Bush's breakout, we only have one non-partisan poll in MI, CO, and WV helping Kerry. As more polls come out in these three states those remaining positive areas could move against Kerry as well.

Because of all the hurricanes in Florida there has been only one poll recently, but that one has Bush up 6 and provides more confirmation of where his lead sits nationally.

Finally, you have states like New Jersey that should be a solid Kerry state where the three latest polls show a tight race. Needless to say, all of this state polling news is not good news for Democrats. While the Kerry camp can cherry pick one state poll here or there, it appears pretty clear that the balance of the state polling evidence confirms a Bush lead of at least 4-7 points as opposed to a "dead-heat" race.

On top of all the polling evidence just looking at which side is changing advisors, direction, message, etc.... is all you need to know about which campaign is ahead and comfortable with the existing dynamics of the race.

One problem (among many) for the Kerry campaign is that a 5-7 point hole in a country that is as polarized as today's is more like a 10-12 point deficit 15-25 years ago. Kerry wasted his opportunities to break out to a lead of his own with his non-helpful VP selection and say-nothing convention. And with all the pounding Bush has taken for the last eight months Kerry isn't left with many attractive options on how to get the needed 270 Electoral Votes.

Senator Kerry needs to get this race back to within 3-4 points in our RCP Poll Average by the first debate in ten days, or these poll numbers will start to harden and he will need a debate meltdown by the President to have a chance. J. McIntyre 8:42 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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