Archives for: Politics 2004

Putting a Number On It, Pt. II

Last week I predicted a clear Kerry victory in the popular vote. I’m sticking to it, but I’m ratcheting down the margin to 5%. This isn’t because anything has changed – it’s because I understand one of the dynamics better now.

Let’s divide the electorate into groups, some of which overlap:

  • Bush’s 2000 voters: mostly will support Bush again.
  • Gore’s 2000 voters: mostly will support Kerry.
  • Evangelicals who didn’t vote in 2000: supposedly there are 4 million of them, and Bush is counting on their support this time (the trouble for Bush is, they’re not concentrated in swing states).
  • The newly registered: these numbers are huge, and they favor Kerry – e.g. 250,000 newly registered Democrats in Ohio vs. 25,000 new Republicans. The big question is what their turnout rate will be. The Democrats are making a massive effort – they have 250,000 volunteers working on get-out-the-vote efforts – so I think their turnout will be high.
  • The “fear” voters: rather than a FDR like message of “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”, the Bush adminsitration has been campaigning on a theme of “be afraid – be very afraid.” It’s been successful at playing to the anxieties of many.

I argued in my previous post that Bush would get almost none of Gore’s 2000 supporters. Missing from my analysis was the “fear” voters: regardless of their political leanings, they believe we shouldn’t change Presidents during a war (and Bush has been very successful at playing to that). I think 1. this gives Bush a chunk of the electorate that would otherwise turn out for Kerry, and 2. this chunk is almost as big as the disaffected Republicans who will vote Kerry. So my overall prediction still stands – a big turnout will give Kerry a margin of victory that’s not showing up in the polls – but I’ve knocked down the size of the margin by a few percent.

My earlier post focused on the problems with the polls – here’s the latest on what’s wrong with Gallup.

These are my predictions for the battleground states:

  • Arkansas: most don’t consider this a battleground state, and I do think it will go to Bush as expected. I’m including it here because I think there’s a chance of a Kerry upset. This is the only state in the south that the Republicans don’t yet dominate. Clinton was stumping in Little Rock yesterday, so Kerry hasn’t given up on it.
  • Colorado: will go to Bush. The Democrats are hoping for a big Hispanic turnout, but there’s a huge military presence that will go for Bush. The Kerry campaign has mostly pulled its people and advertising from Colorado, which indicates they’ve all but ceded it to Bush.
  • Florida: Kerry, and it won’t be close. The mantra in the Bush campaign is that their supporters are more dedicated than Kerry’s supporters. But the lines for early voting have been long – in some it’s taken an average of 5 hours for folks to get into the polling station. What’s important is that 1. the folks in line are staying in line, and 2. Kerry’s got a big lead in the votes tallied so far (51%-43%).
  • Hawaii: this shouldn’t even be on the list. It is because a recent poll but Bush 1 point ahead of Kerry. There was one poll in Hawaii in September, and two in October, so there aren’t a lot of data points putting it in Bush’s column. Bush lost to Gore in Hawaii by 38%-56%, and I don’t see anything that would point to a massive shift to Bush this time around.
  • Iowa: like Florida, Iowa has early voting – a quarter of Iowa’s adults have already voted, and Kerry is ahead 52%-41%. That gap will shrink, but not enough for Bush to win it.
  • Michigan: traditionally this has been a Democratic state, but it’s trending Republican (the population of Detroit is shrinking, and the Republican northern and southwestern areas are growing). But Kerry will hold it.
  • Minnesota: hasn’t voted for a Republican Presidential candidate since 1972 (it was the only state Mondale won in 1984), and it’s not about to start now (actually, the long-term prospects for Republicans are good here, but the state isn’t ripe for them yet).
  • Nevada: has experienced massive demographic change in the past 10 years, bringing a lot of Democratic voters to what was previously a Republican stronghold. But I don’t think it’s enough to give the state to Kerry.
  • New Hampshire: the Red Sox halo effect will give the state to Kerry :-) Actually, New England Republicans tend to be conservative on economic issues and more liberal on social issues. I think the extreme social conservatism of the Bush administration will push New Hampshire into the Kerry column.
  • New Mexico: this is probably the hardest state to read, but I’m giving it to Bush. I think the Hispanic and Democratic urban voters are outweighed by the rural regions and the southeastern “Little Texas” area of the state.
  • Ohio: like Florida, I think the newly registered will turn out for Kerry in big numbers and give him a comfortable victory in Ohio.
  • Pennsylvania: also a Kerry victory, but a close one. Outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the state is mostly Bush country. The battle for votes is being fought in the suburbs, but it’s (again) high turnout in the urban areas that will give the state to Kerry.
  • Wisconsin: will be close, but will go to Kerry. Like Minnesota and Michigan, it’s trending Republican, and won’t be a safe bet for Democrats in the future.

That makes the final electoral vote count 306 Kerry, 232 Bush.

Grandma Says: Vote for ZZ Top

I heard a bit of “This American Life” on NPR yesterday (the episode named “Swing Set”). They had a reporter following a Kerry canvasser around Columbus, Ohio. They came across an elderly woman who said she planned to cast a write-in vote for ZZ Top. “We just don’t have much choice,” she explained. When pressed, she explained she was against the Iraq war, but she was also against abortion. So there is some logic behind her choice (although I’m not exactly sure where ZZ Top stands on these issues).

I’m taking the day off on Election Day to canvass in Lansdowne, which is just a mile or so from my house. I don’t know if I’ll encounter an elderly ZZ Top supporter, but you never know. Maria had three simple words of advise for me: “don’t get shot.” I’ll try to keep that in mind.

What most folks don’t realize is that canvassing is not about persuading undecided voters – it’s about mobilizing your base. As the canvasser in the NPR story learned, you can spend half an hour talking to an undecided person, and they’re quite likely to still be undecided at the end of the conversation. But the campaigns have learned that simply making face-to-face contact with your supporters can increase turnout by 12%. If you’re curious about what canvassing is like, this lengthy, informative, and entertaining story – written by a Kerry canvasser – will tell you all you need to know.

Libya, Pt II (Note to Bush campaigners: mixing up .org and .com is not good for you)

Following up on my entry yesterday, another story has surfaced on Libya. A highly paid lobbyist for Libya (which is still on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism) is a former top Bush administration official and is currently involved with the Bush campaign. From Newsweek we have Lobbying for Libya-and Bush:

Randa Fahmy Hudome, who just this month signed a $1.4 million contract to represent the Libyan government, served as a behind-the-scenes “media consultant” helping to prepare this week’s press release praising Bush’s record in promoting “human rights, democracy and self-determination” in the Middle East, a chief organizer of the group told NEWSWEEK.

Walid Phares, who described himself as the academic adviser for the newly created group called Middle Eastern American National Conference, said he had no idea when he worked with Hudome in recent days on the group’s endorsement that she was simultaneously representing Libyan interests in Washington as a recently registered foreign agent.

Until last year, Hudome was a top Bush administration energy official, serving as chief aide on international issues to Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham. Her new role as Washington representative for the Kaddafi regime has raised eyebrows in Washington’s lobbying community-both because of the lucrative size of her contract and her continued connections with the Bush campaign…

Hudome, who briefed Bush on Arab-American issues during the 2000 election, confirmed to NEWSWEEK she has been serving as an adviser and informal strategist for the Bush campaign this time as well as serving as a sometime surrogate speaker on the president’s behalf before Arab-American audiences.

…Hudome’s role is likely to prove controversial because of Libya’s status as a formally designated sponsor of terrorism-a label it is not likely to lose any time soon following recent evidence that Kaddafi sought to assassinate Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia just last year.

So how did this story come out? One of the things most folks remember from the VP debate was Cheney inadvertently sending viewers to factcheck.com instead of factcheck.org (when factcheck.com was subsequently flooded with traffic, the owners of the domain name redirected it all to the web site of anti-Bush billionaire George Soros). Well, this is take two:

Phares inadvertently sent e-mails meant for Karim, the Bush campaign official, to the wrong e-mail address by typing in GeorgeWBush.org…an anti-Bush site that tries to imitate the look of the official Bush campaign Web site—GeorgeWBush.com—but laces it with material lampooning the president, such as links to spoof organizations like Billionaires for Bush and Pleasure Boat Captains for Truth.

Libya: the Slippery Slope of Spin

On numerous occasions, and even now on the campaign trail, Bush and Cheney have turned to one of their favorite – and seemingly compelling – talking points: how our pre-emptive action in Iraq convinced Libya to give up its WMD efforts and renounce terrorism. The only trouble, of course, is it’s a load of rubbish. This is actually old news, as the truth came out months ago, but the story never got a lot of coverage. Qaddafi’s change of heart was brought about by a series of negotiations, begun by the Clinton administration in 1999 (and – in a rare instance of not dismissing all things Clintonian – continued by the Bush administration). The whole story can be found in a pair of New York Times editorials, one by North Africa analyst Geoff Porter and another by the former director for Middle Eastern affairs at the National Security Council, Flynt Leverett (these links go to reprints of those articles, as they’re not freely accesible on the New York Times site).

The reason I bring this up now is to point you to an article in yesterday’s Washington Post: A Gaddafi Cover-Up. It seems the Bush administration feels so strongly about maintaining the effectiveness of their talking point that they’re willing to overlook a November 2003 assassination attempt of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, instigated by none other than Qaddafi himself. I know it sounds like one of those things that’s too bizarre to be true, but read the article and judge for yourself. The Bush administration has tied itself into incredible knots trying to put a good face on the Iraq debacle. It’s reached the point where an otherwise inexplicable foreign policy decision – giving Qaddafi a free pass after he tried to have one of our allies killed – starts making sense in the strange, reversed world of the administration’s spin.

The Two Big Weekend Stories

The first big story this past weekend was reported in the Saturday New York Times: Big G.O.P. Bid to Challenge Voters at Polls in Key State. Large turnouts benefit Democrats, and the Republicans know it. “Reno Oradini, the Cuyahoga County election board attorney, said a challenge would in effect create impromptu courts at polling places as workers huddled to resolve a dispute and cause delays in voting. He said he was working with local election officials to find ways of preventing disruptions that could drive away impatient voters and reduce turnout.” The Republican poll challengers are even being trained in how to challenge the mentally retarded. Nice.

The second big story was broken by the inside-the-beltway newsletter The Nelson Report, and was picked up in today’s New York Times: Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished From Site in Iraq. As amply noted by Josh Marshall, what’s amazing is that the real story in this is not getting the focus. You have to go to page 3 of the Times 4 page story to find this: “In May 2004, Iraqi officials say in interviews, they warned L. Paul Bremer III, the American head of the occupation authority, that Al Qaqaa had probably been looted.” Why did the Iraqis warn the Americans six months ago, but not tell the IAEA until this month? From the Nelson Report: “Under heavy pressure from their sponsors in DOD and US occupation authorities not to cooperate with the IAEA, by confirming that all 350 tons of sealed explosives could not be accounted for, the Iraqi’s had to wait until the formal turnover of authority before notifying the IAEA…” Nice.

Presidential Approval Ratings and the Popular Vote

I jus saw this on the MSNBC site: “If you look back over the last 40 years, an incumbent president seeking re-election has never received a portion of the raw vote that was higher than his approval rating.” I’ve seen this same argument other places too. The thing is, it’s not right (see my table). For what it’s worth, I sent them an email. Here’s the key portion of it:

“Looking at the numbers, I found this to be incorrect for Nixon (57% approval, 61% of the popular vote), Ford (45/48), Carter (37/41), Reagan (58/59), and G.H.W. Bush (34/37). I got the approval ratings from the Gallup poll archives at The Roper Center – http://www.ropercenter.uconn.edu/ – click “Online Access to Data” -> “Presidential Approval Rating”. And I got the popular vote numbers from WordIQ – http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Category:U.S._presidential_elections/

If I’m reading the numbers correctly and MSNBC is reading them incorrectly, that potentially bodes well for Bush. You’d think I was a shill for the Bush campaign. I’m obviously not, but I am a shill for accuracy. (It’s worth noting that Eisenhower, Johnson, and Clinton won a percentage of the popular election that was less than their approval ratings, so it can run both ways).

Follow-up: This Election Really is Different

After going through the trouble of assembling the table in my last post, I found Newsday had already written a similar article. Here’s the key piont of their analysis:

Since the Gallup Organization began systematic polling in 1952, five incumbents have run for reelection with an approval rating above 50%. All five — Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton — won.

Over that period, three incumbents sought reelection with an approval rating below 50%. All three — Ford in 1976, Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992 — lost.

The latest 5 mainstream polls – all conducted between 10/14-16 – have differing results: Gallup gives Bush the highest approval rating (51%), and the CBS/New York Times poll gives him the lowest (44%). As I’ve mentioned before, the poll I have the least amount of faith in is Gallup, and the one I think is most sound is Zogby, which currently has Bush’s approval rating at 45%. (Here are the search results for “Gallup” on Ruy Teixeira’s site if you want to know what’s wrong with Gallup, or just remember that their polls indicated Bush was going to beat Gore 52%-39% in 2000).

This Election Really Is Different

After my prognostication yesterday, I thought I’d do some research into historical precedents: how have other incumbent Presidents fared? I found Presidental approval ratings back to Truman at
The Roper Center and I found the popular vote and electoral college numbers at
Word IQ. All of the job performance approval rating numbers are from Gallup polls, and in all cases I picked the one that was taken closest to the election.

Year President Poll Dates Approve / Disapprove / No Opinion Popular Vote % (Incumbent / Opponent) Electoral College (Incumbent / Opponent)
48 Truman 6/18-24/48 39/46/16 50/45 303/189/39*
56 Eisenhower 8/3-8/56 67/19/13 57/42 457/73
64 Johnson 6/25-30/64 74/15/11 61/38 486/52
72 Nixon 6/23-26/72 57/33/10 61/38 520/17
76 Ford 6/11-14/76 45/40/5 48/50 240/297
80 Carter 9/12-15/80 37/55/8 41/51 49/489
84 Reagan 10/26-29/84 58/33/9 59/41 525/13
92 G.H.W. Bush 10/12-14/92 34/56/10 37/43/19** 168/370
96 Clinton 10/26-29/96 54/36/10 49/41/8** 379/159
04 G.W. Bush 10/14-16/04 51/47/2 ? ?

* Thurmond
** Perot

The thing that’s unique about G.W. Bush is that only 2% have “no opinion” of his job performance. That means there aren’t many opinions out there to sway.

Looking at the numbers, the only races that are at all similar are ’48 (Truman’s disapproval rating was almost the same as Bush’s), ’76, and ’96 (Ford and Clinton had approval ratings not far from Bush’s). But I don’t think any of the 3 are good camparisons. Truman ran a superb campaign, Dewey ran a terrible one, and Truman had a large pool of “no opinion” folks he could sway (unfortunately, the poll was taken in June, before the height of the campaign season). In ’76, the country was still working through its hangover from Watergate, and Ford committed a major blunder in the 2nd debate (insisting that Eastern Europe was not under Soviet domination). In ’96, the Dole campaign was lackluster, and Perot was muddying the waters.

So I stand by my prediction yesterday: Bush’s negatives are high, and unlike Truman, there isn’t a big “no opinion” pool for him to draw on. I should also point out that his 51% approval rating in the table is higher than the numbers from other polls around the same time period – most
put Bush under 50%
. And as I’ve discussed before, I think there are methodological problems with most of the polls, which skew the numbers towards Bush (I don’t think there were similar problems in the past, as people’s relationships with their phones have been changing in recent years, and I think this election is going to have a surge of new voters unlike anything in the post-WWII era).

Putting a Number On It

During the dark days of the Kerry campaign – two weeks before the debates – when many pundits were seeing nothing but doom and gloom for his Presidential bid, I called the election for Kerry. Now I’m going to step up and put a number on it: 8% over Bush in the popular vote. My escape clause: I’m assuming no electoral fraud, and no major dirty tricks. Here’s why I’m predicting such a clear margin of victory when the polls show it as a dead heat:

The undecideds: the Votemaster has written a good summary of the historical patterns which indicate that undecideds typically break for the challenger by a 2:1 ratio (it’s in the bottom third of the page). Based on this, he’s generated a predicted final electoral college map. With the unusual dynamics of this race, I’m not quite so comfortable relying on historical precedent alone, but the trend line for Bush among Independents is terrible.

Polling inaccuracies: the problems in many of the mainstream polls that I described in previous posts are still problems (see here and here). I argued they were artifically lowering Kerry’s standing, and I think they still are. Political scientist Ruy Teixeira has written several articles taking Gallup to task for their methodology – here’s his latest.

Turnout: The Christian conservatives will turn out for Bush like never before. But their numbers will be dwarfed by the turnout among newly registered Democrats (e.g. the newly registered in traditionally Democratic areas of Ohio outnumber those in traditionally Republican areas by 10:1 – see this New York Times article). What these Democrats may lack in the strength of their support for Kerry will be outweighed by their sheer numbers, and the dedication of the DNC and other groups to get them to the polls.

Fraying support for Bush among Republicans: this falls more in the anecdotal category, but I think it’s telling to see some well known Republicans making trouble for Bush. Here are just a few examples: former Congressman and anti-Clinton crusader Bob Barr, former Michigan governover William Milliken, former Kentucky Senator Marlow Cook, and Pat Robertson today made some politically inconvenient statements (and didn’t back off them). Also, there’s growing discontent among many Republicans with their party leadership. On a personal level, my neighbor is in his 70s, is an army vet, a lifelong Republican, and he’s voting for Kerry; my father and his friends almost always vote Republican, and they’re all voting for Kerry. While attending a Kerry rally isn’t exactly like going to an early Beatles concert, you simply don’t see this kind of fracturing among the Democratic base.

The Black vote: tonight Fox News was making a big deal out of Bush doubling his support in the black community (you can see it at the end of this bit of wishful thinking by Bill O’Reilly). If you actually analyze the poll results, you’ll find that you have to go all the way back to Barry Goldwater in 1964 to find a Republican Presidential candidate that had less support from blacks than Bush did in 2000. So he doesn’t have anywhere to go but up. The increased support he’s received is from older, Christian conservatives, which I think says more about his Christian base than it does about the black community in general. Also, the poll was concluded before the debates, and another poll from that time frame indicated a much smaller increase in his support among blacks. Lastly, with the recent voter registration drives bringing more blacks into the electorate, and with Clinton (known by some as “the first black President“) stumping for Kerry in the final week of the campaign, I don’t think you’ll see any meaningful shift towards Bush.

The current state of the Bush campaign: I’m actually amazed to see the Bush campaign has been playing defense in these closing weeks of the campaign. While they’ve kept up the “incompetent/liberal” attacks on Kerry, they’ve been forced off-message by the flu vaccine issue and concerns about a draft. The Republicans were running a better campaign than the Democrats until the debates, but they’ve been stumbling since then. Conversely, Kerry is living up to his reputation as a strong closer: his team did a good job in the post-debate “spin wars,” and they’ve kept the campaign on-message since then.

It comes down to this: aside from a smattering of evangelicals, you’re not going to find many people who voted for Gore last time say “gee, I think I’ll vote for Bush this time.” But there are clearly many who voted for Bush in 2000 who are not happy with him now, and even if it’s a small percentage of the electorate, every vote counts in this race. Also, both sides will bring new voters to the polls, but the pool of newly registered voters is decidedly Democratic. Even though their support may be soft, the DNC and other groups are planning unprecedented efforts to get them to the polls.

John Stewart on Crossfire

The clip of John Stewart on Crossfire the other day has been making the rounds. There are three things I found sad about this:

  1. John Stewart wasn’t allowed to say more than a few words without interruption. But that’s typical for Crossfire I suppose. It’s sad because he didn’t get to come right out and make his point: your guests come here to do nothing more than exchange vitriol and spin, and you (the hosts of the show) can’t tell the difference between that and an honest, informative debate. That point was implicit in his comments, but for those who aren’t media junkies, it needed to be said loud and clear.
  2. Tucker Carlson is a nasty man with a thin skin. He couldn’t handle Stewart’s comment about his bow tie, so he responded by precipitously lowering the tone of the conversation, calling Stewart Kerry’s “butt boy.”
  3. Paul Begala is lost. I think he genuinely didn’t understand the point Stewart was trying to make. That is, I think he seriously believes that their guests sincerely believe all the things they say, and that the show really is an informative debate program.
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