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Are the Odds Against Bush?

Yesterday, I struck a few cautionary notes about how optimistic Democrats should be, despite the recent promising political news. But today we'll balance that by taking a walk on the optimistic side, courtesy of our friends at Democracy Corps.

Their latest analysis memo is titled: "Bush's Long Odds: A Report on the New Phase of the 2004 Election", based on their latest survey of LVs, conducted May 10-13. (You can also find a very detailed chart pack here.) Well, I don't know about "long odds"--that probably overstates the case--but the more judicious "[h]e is more likely to lose than win", as they put it in the first paragraph of their memo, seems more defensible.

Why are they so optimistic? In their view:

Whether it is the vote or job approval or personal favorability, Bush has become a 47 percent president at best. In almost every area, he is being dragged down by even stronger negative trends....In this new phase, the whole framework for the election now re-enforces Bush’s marginality. Big forces are at work, undercutting Bush’s case for progress and point of view on the economy, budget priorities, foreign policy and national security. As a result, Bush wins the argument in no area in this survey, putting the election on the Democrats’ terrain.

Here are some of the data that support their viewpoint. The poll has right direction/wrong track at 37/56 and has DCorps' related question "do you think the country should continue in the direction Bush is headed or go in a significantly different direction?" at 42 Bush's direction/54 significantly different direction.

Moreover, when this question is applied to 12 different specific issue areas, voters only want to continue in Bush's direction on one area, the war on terrorism (56/42), but even here Bush's net of +14 is sharply down from a net of +33 in January. In all other areas, Bush is net negative on which direction the country should go in: the federal budget (-31); health care (-28); prescription drug coverage for seniors (-22); jobs in America (-19); the economy (-16); foreign policy (-13), Iraq (-11); middle class living standards (-10); national priorities (-8); education (-8); and taxes (-4).

The wish (by 13 points) to go in a significantly different direction on foreign policy is a particularly important result. In February, the public was split down on this question. And DCorps reports that, as a predictor of the presidential vote, judgements on the direction of Bush's foreign policy are as important as any other issue in predicting the presidential vote (which DCorps has at 49-47 Kerry) and substantially stronger than judgements about Bush's direction in the war on terrorism.

Not surprisingly, the poll finds confidence in the Iraq situation declining rapidly. By 14 points (55-41), voters now say the war in Iraq was not worth the cost of US lives and dollars. And, by an identical 55-41 margin, voters believe the US is losing control in Iraq, rather than making progress. Finally, by identical 50-45 margins, voters believe that the war on Iraq has made the war on terrorism harder, rather than helped it and believe that the Iraq war has made us less, not more, secure.

On the economy, it's worth quoting the DCorps analysis memo at length:

It is time to take the voters’ frustration with the economy seriously, despite continuing reports on job creation, the strong economy and the good news that lies ahead. This month’s results are the most dramatic yet, as Bush drops on economic measures rival the changes on Iraq. It is possible that elite satisfaction with the economy and Bush’s talk about economic progress is producing an economic backlash in the country, particularly among average and middle class voters.

Virtually all public polls report a drop in Bush’s job ratings on the economy. This
survey re-enforces that: 57 percent want to go in a significantly different direction on the economy, with 48 percent saying they feel strongly about that. The number for change has reached over 60 percent for non-college voters. This month, there has been a dramatic rise, up from 57 to 65 percent, saying there has been economic gains for the highest earners, but not for the middle class, for whom jobs are scarce and health care costs are skyrocketing.

Just so. This analysis can be constructively read in conjunction with Richard Stevenson's rather befuddled article in The New York Times "Economic Signs Are Pointing Up, but Bush's Ratings Are Not". Sorry, Richard, it's not just that those pesky voters are confused by all the Iraq news and can't see just how good things are getting. For the average voter, things really aren't all that great.....and that's trouble for Bush, no matter what happens in Iraq.

"Long odds" for Bush's re-election? Maybe not. But unfavorable odds? Very possibly.


Bush's numbers of the economy reflect a growing middle class economic anxiety. It's not unemployment that scares people; it's the fear of unemployment. Many voters are beggining to realize that, to use John Edward's phrase, they are one missed paycheck from being on the street.

Heatlh care costs have gone up, even if you have decent insurance. Voters face higher co-pays, deductibles, and monthly co-pays on premiums. Economists may not think that raising co-pays from $15 to $20 makes a difference, as one example, but it does if you buy a lot of medications.

Gas prices are a story unto themselves. If you and you spouse are working and commute 25-30 miles each way (not unusual for those living in the suburbs or exurbs), the price of gas takes an additional $100-$200 out of your paycheck eacm month. For the many voters who are now realizing they live on the edge, that makes a difference.

Even if gas prices go down at the end of the summer (or earlier if Saudi Arabia pumps more oil), they will not decline to their earlier levels. $2 a gallon has is here to stay.

Finally, interest rates already are moving up and will move further once the Fed raises rates in August, as Greenspan has promised.

Perhaps the economy is improving, but real people have not felt it in their lives.

Ruy, a technical question. In these polls how are LV's determined to be LVs?

The hard core Bush supporters are not all that numerous, but they are active. I see that the biggest swing factor in this election is how many of those ardent Bush followers are going to be staying home on election day, and how many pro-Kerry and anti-Bush voters will actually get up off it and go vote.

So I see these reports and can't help thinking, who are these LVs?

I think we should be careful about overstating the negative economic case. The economy *is* finally improving in the ways that will matter—it's only a matter of time before people *do* begin to feel it.

My amateur intuition, and DeLong's and others' stated professional opinions, are that the effect will be, nevertheless, far too little, far too late to help Bush.

But don't be surprised by some upticks in the polling on economic satisfaction with Bush come the fall. I suspect on that question we're about at the nadir.

On the other hand, I think that Bush, in truth, *does* face "long-odds" in November. I think what most people are overlooking is that this has been a faith-based Presidency, and the people's faith in Bush has finally been fatally undermined. He'll never get that back; and given that his actual performance has been abysmal, without blind-faith in him, the only support left is purely partisan. The swing voters are long-gone and aren't coming back.

Most people forget that the country was decidedly cool to Bush's platform from the outset. I think the only reason he got favorable ratings on the economy and other matters was because of the boost he got from the WOT. Without the ballast from his 911 support there was little reason for the middle class voter to favor his policies. But now that balloon has started to sink and his poor polling on domestic and social issues is falling to the natural level. And its not likely that these people will return to the Bush camp. Many who were willing to put faith in him have now seen the results.

In Colorado, companies are continuing to cut jobs and benefits - Qwest, MCI, ...
So, the loss of jobs is still an ever present fear for workers.

Check the latest bankruptcy rates.

The 'Cost of Living' continues to rise - gas prices, water rates, utility rates, property taxes, health care costs, etc...

However, the national security fear card seems to be an important key in this election.

I don't know, Keith. I was laid off, found a consulting gig that's ending this week, gotta look all over again. Things LOOK a little better, but I don't have a job yet. Even if I find one that lasts another four months, I'm still living with a level of insecurity that to me, at least, is new. Is that glass half-empty or half-full?

If I want to be really paranoid, I'll remember an article that came out in one of the business mags a couple of months ago urging corporates to postpone offshoring decisions for the duration of the election year if possible, to help Bush. Put that one in the blender!

This insecurity (fear) about jobs stems from the administrations premise about the war on terror. They have used the fear factor in the war on terror and it has drained people into fear about losing their job, or not finding a new one in the near future. Added to this are the fudged labor numbers (see the CES Birth/Death Model on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website). This administration has used this model to fudge numbers since April of 2003. The website even states that the model isn't reliable. Of the 288,000 new jobs in April, 270,000 came from this model. The model attempts to determine the number of new jobs that arise from new companies being started. It uses history, which goes back into the Clinton years when many new companies and jobs were started, to determine future company startups and job growth from these startups. In reality, these numbers would have been in the numbers anyway, just a few months later. All people will read about are the new job numbers of 288,000. However, only 18,000 are actual jobs recorded.

The lies are finally working agains Bush & Co. This is another reason the odds are against them.

The real concern should be that, negative or positive, the public is still hitched to Bush's wagon. Bush is going to go on TV over and over this summer to "explain" his Iraq position. The media is going to tell us all how wonderful and amazing he is. The public, hungry and desperate for any answer, may respond in his favor. Kerry or the media or whoever is to blame have yet to outline any specific policy proposals which differ from Bush. Instead, we are letting Bush continue to run the show. If the public begins to trust Bush again (and his support, realistically, can't get much lower), then Kerry will be shut out and back to only getting negative attention or no attention at all. The Democrats and the media have ensured that this is all still Bush's election to lose. We can't take for granted that he and his cohorts will do nothing but make mistakes. After all this time Kerry is still known as that guy who isn't Bush, and if this doesn't change soon, then we should start worrying.

As for the economy, I haven't seen any fantastic signs of improvement. Most of the new jobs have cheapo pay with no benefits. People are still confused and afraid of what will happen next. The ever-increasing gas and food prices only exacerbate the worries. Many states like Ohio and Arizona are getting poorer or barely holding ground. There are exceptions of course, and the media will find them (like some ninny in a "Kerry Can't Win Those Hispanics Because of Same-Sex Marriage" AP article a few days ago, who rapped her knuckles on her new SUV and praised Bush to the skies because his tax cuts made her stay home with the kids and "changed her life"), but overall, I haven't seen any reasons for anyone to be optimistic. And I think that the media and the GOP being so downright hostile about beating this "recovery" into people's heads is probably not making the situation any better. These pundits never leave their ivory towers long enough to know that the real "recovery" involves going from being unemployed for a year to working at a phone bank at barely minimum wage.

One edit, the memo says "He is more likely to lose than win." Not "win than lose".

Wouldn't it be worthwhile for Kerry to simply go back to the 2000 campaign and show how Bush is a real flip flopper. As an example, he stated that he would never get into nation building. He also said he would not touch the Social Security Trust Fund. It was obvious then that he was a liar.

I think Kerry ought to use the same phraseology that Reagan used against Carter. That being "There he goes again......." All Kerry would have to do is say that statement when he knows Bush is lying (which is pretty much always). It would show how inexperienced Bush is and put a positive onto Kerry's statements that would follow.

how about stevenson giving a free pass to the bullshit GOP charge that kerry's going to increase taxes by billions of dollars? just a republican quote; no qualification.

what the hell's the matter w/ the NYT? do they gain financially by having bush in the white house? from bumiller's weekly mash notes to reportage like stevenson's, I feel like I'm reading the WASHINGTON rather than the NEW YORK Times.

New CBS News poll out: Bush approval down from 44% to 41%. No head to head nombers on the Kerry-Bush match-up.

I am in complete agreement with Marshall about Kerry's current silent strategy. The people in the middle who matter are distrustful of anything that appears to be partisan-motivated rhetoric and attack. Right now, with Bush self-destructing and Kerry watching from the distance, *none* of the shit involved sticks to Kerry. If he starts flinging it, it will. Carville's quote is a funny one, and apt *if it's possible*. But is it? Kerry needs to throw Bush an anvil, but not appear to have done so. This is why he needs a coordinated campaign of surrogates. But, again, what will help Kerry the most is dissent within the Republican party; if he attacks viciously, they'll close ranks.

I agree with Mr. Ellis. When you're opponent has a small problem, you act like it's a huge problem. When your opponent has a huge problem, let the problem speak for itself.

I was interested that the memo found the deficit to be a strong point of attack. The problem is that anyone who proposes fixing the budget immediately gets slammed as a tax-raiser. The solution is for Dems to start making it clear that a deficit is just delayed taxes.

Bush didn't cut taxes -- he only delayed them.

Bush will be turning Iraq over to some authority on June 30th.

1. The new authority is well selected (which may well happen since the UN is doing the choosing!!)

2. The issue of how much sovereignty the new gov't has is finessed.

3. Iraq does not instantly erupt

Bush will see quite a bounce. He will have gotten us out of a developing quagmire, and Iraq won't look like such a bad idea after all to many fence straddlers.

As a matter of pure politics, if Iraq doesn't melt down before the election, and the number of US casualities goes down, Iraq won't hurt Bush. However, it is unlikely to help him much either.

Kerry is well advised to separate Iraq from the War on Terrorism. Emphasize over and over that:

1. The Iraq War made us less safe rather than more by inflaming the region.

2. The Iraq War diverted efforts against al Qaeda.

3. Al Qaeda attacks are up, not down.

These are winners whichever way Iraq goes, and they will likely weakening a rally around Bush if there is another terrorist attack on us.

James Carville said it best: how many people do you know that said they voted for Gore, but gee GWB is just doing such a good job? More than likely the opposite will predominate in 2004. The same democracy corps survey that produced a sample that favored Bush 49-Gore 44-Nader 4, now favors Kerry 49-Bush 47 and disapproves of Bush 50-(48 approval) and acknowledges that this country is on the wrong track 56-(37 right direction). Kerry has already claimed a +7 swing in this diversified survey of LVs (self-rated likely to vote, 90% rated themselves as a 10 on a scale of 1-10 how likely they were to vote in Nov 2004). And we haven't even seen the rallying effect of the Democratic National Convention, the choice of a well-positioned vice president to unite the party and diversify Kerry's appeal, or the swing voters and late deciders who overwhelmingly back challengers, especially when so many strongly believe we are on the wrong track.

Keep registering and mobilizing voters. With such negative opinions of Bush and his policies, we can take back Congress as well! Dems only sustained net losses of -5 house and -2 senate when Bush's approval ratings were 67 approve/31 disapprove and Democrats in congress did nothing to stand up to Bush and his bullying GOP comrades! Now that Bush's job approval is net negative rather than 2:1 approval and Democrats are intently focused, there is ample possibility to regain what was lost -- white house, house, and senate!