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Take Two Columns and Call Me in the Morning

Still getting panic attacks, even after looking at my two posts below on the latest Gallup and Pew data? And despite everything I've been saying for weeks about all the damage Bush is sustaining, remember it's a referendum on the incumbent, it's too early to expect Kerry to have a big lead, etc?

Sounds like some stronger medicine may be required. You need to immediately check out the two columns mentioned below and then resume your deep breathing exercises.

The first column is by Andrew Kohut in today's New York Times. The most relevant part of the column is as follows:

The real reason that Mr. Kerry is making so little progress is that voters are now focused almost exclusively on the president. This is typical: as an election approaches, voters first decide whether the incumbent deserves re-election; only later do they think about whether it is worth taking a chance on the challenger. There is no reason to expect a one-to-one relationship between public disaffection with the incumbent and an immediate surge in public support for his challenger.

We saw the same dynamic in the 1980 race. President Jimmy Carter's favorable rating in the Gallup surveys sank from 56 percent in January to 38 percent in June, yet he still led Ronald Reagan in Gallup's horse-race measures. For much of the rest of the campaign, voters who disapproved of Mr. Carter couldn't decide whether Mr. Reagan was an acceptable alternative. Through the summer and early fall, the lead changed back and forth, and CBS/New York Times and Gallup polls showed conflicting results — at one point in August, Gallup found Mr. Reagan ahead of President Carter by 16 percentage points, yet just two weeks later it registered a dead heat. It was not until the two men held a televised debate eight days before the election that Ronald Reagan gained legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate.

Similarly, in May 1992 President George H. W. Bush had only a 37 percent approval rating according to a Times Mirror Center survey, but the same poll showed him with a modest lead, 46 percent to 43 percent, over Bill Clinton. Only the Democratic convention and the debates brought about an acceptance of Mr. Clinton (even though his negative ratings were higher than Mr. Kerry's are now). It took a long time for him to be seen as an acceptable alternative to Mr. Bush.

Should the voters' disillusionment with the current President Bush continue, they will evaluate John Kerry and decide whether he is worth a chance. But, as in the past, the focus at this stage is on the man in the White House — and given the events in Iraq, it is unlikely to come off him any time soon. Mr. Kerry's lack of progress should not, for now, be cause for concern to Democrats. Public opinion about Mr. Bush is the far more important barometer — and if it remains low, Mr. Kerry will have a chance to make his case.

Got that? Words of wisdom from Mr. Kohut. And here are some more from Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, writing in The Hill:

In the latest Gallup poll, John Kerry leads George Bush by five points among registered voters when Nader is included, and by 6 when he is not.

......No challenger has ever done as well against an elected incumbent at this point in the cycle. Every incumbent who won re-election had a double-digit lead over his challenger at this stage. Lyndon Johnson led Barry Goldwater by 59 points in the spring of ’64. Bill Clinton led Bob Dole by 14 points, Ronald Reagan led Walter Mondale by 17 and Richard Nixon was ahead of George McGovern by 11.

Of course, some incumbents who went on to lose were doing better than Bush is today. The president’s father led Clinton by six points at this stage but was beaten anyway.

Thus, Kerry’s margin is 11 points better than was Bill Clinton’s at a similar point in time against Bush I. What, you haven’t seen that “Kerry stronger than Clinton” headline?

Only one challenger has ever done as well against an incumbent at a comparable time in the election cycle. Jimmy Carter had a similar six-point lead over the unelected and subsequently defeated Gerald Ford. The nation had just been through the long national nightmare of Watergate and Ford had pardoned Nixon.

.....campaigns are events that unfold over the course of the cycle. Most of the movement in polls comes in the aftermath of the conventions. Incumbent presidents are the best-known politicians around. Challengers are usually not as well known. Kerry is no exception. Today, many voters are expressing a preference for the Kerry they don’t know over the Bush they do. That is striking. Often, unpopular politicians still lead at this stage.

But Bush doesn't! OK, back to your deep breathing. Re-read columns as necessary if panic symptoms recur.


Thanks for the breathing exercises. I live in a new battle ground state (Colorado) and have seen almost nothing on TV but W's negative, slanderous ads. Knowing that JFK is doing as well or better than his victorious predecessors is a great relief and a reason to sleep soundly.

It is good to be aware of the greater context in which all this is happening. These articles help. I think the panic many of us feel comes from knowing that a second Bush term is more than just Republicans running things, but that it means four more years of incompetence, malice, and neglect. This isn't about a difference in values anymore...the most ardent Bush-supporter is still being hurt (even if he doesn't know it) by the mismanagement of the economy, the environment, education, and health, and Bush's disasterous foreign anti-policy. We NEED Kerry (hell, a small ficus plant will do) in the White House...we literally might not be able to survive another Bush term.

However, recent polls and historical articles have reduced the number of nightmares I've been having lately. Thanks for all the great analysis and insight.

Everyone knows the stakes are high. In the end it will depend on who wants it more. If things continue as they have (and summers in Iraq are awfully hot, I hear) those 44% Bush supporters are going to be exhausted by November. Still it's nerve wracking to think that something could happen to change the dynamic. A catastrophic event giving Bush another boost? November can't come soon enough.

Right now I have mixed feelings and I think there are a lot of people in this same head space.

Unlike the Clinton-haters, we Bush-haters don't want our country dragged down into muck just so we can defeat the incumbent who happens not to be our guy.

But our country going to muck seems to be the only way Bush will get booted out of office. I would willingly endure four more years of Bush if doing so prevented any more Iraqis or U.S. military from being killed or tortured. Unfortunately the choice just isn't that easy.

At this point, I am convinced that more likely voters will be voting for Kerry than for Bush and the way things are going, that is simply going to be more true come November. However the right wingers are active, ruthless, shameless, well funded, utterly unrestrained and have duped far far too many people to misunderestimated.

That's the stuff of panic attacks -- not the steadily improving poll numbers.

I just saw a new phrase, and it sounds so right it might catch on... "Reconsideration Cycle"

NYTimes online:

"We're in an enormous reconsideration cycle in this country," said Representative Jim Leach of Iowa, a Republican who opposed the invasion of Iraq.

Reconsideration cycle? I would simply love for this to catch on.

I would second Alan's cautions above. This crowd is not to be underestimated. Do not forgot how ruthlessly and efficiently they moved to seize control of events in Florida in 2000 and steal the election from the actual winner. And do not forget that Karl Rove is one of the acknowledged modern masters of political dirty tricks. Yes, the new poll numbers are encouraging, but Dems need to stay vigilant -- and work, work WORK DAMNED HARD to ensure that voters turn out and elect John Kerry.

The fretting among Democrats over Kerry's chances is, in my view, the interesting story here, given the disconnect between how well Kerry is doing by objective measures (quite well, at this stage), and how many Dems regard his prospects.

Most bizarre are the calls to replace him with another candidate. I mean, our guy is, at worst, even with Bush at this juncture, and we have to think about dumping him? What kind of pantywaist would so completely lose their composure in such a circumstance?

I have to believe that this dissension is being fed by the far left and the right, both of whom are unhappy with Kerry for their own reasons, and who are being nothing but subversive and dishonest in their stated motivations.

They seem, though, to understand their audience quite well. Too many Dems just do allow themselves to fall into the the soft headed, faint hearted, swooning stereotypes they profess are so unfair. I mean, Kerry is even with Bush, and they have an attack of the vapors?

Personally, I find all this a little sickening to behold, and, as a Democrat, just outright embarrassing.

"The real reason that Mr. Kerry is making so little progress is that voters are now focused almost exclusively on the president. This is typical: as an election approaches, voters first decide whether the incumbent deserves re-election"

With this as a historic fact we must all be on the lookout for "the event" that will cause this to be the situation all the way to election day. Really it will be the only way bush will have to get elected. As we progress closer and closer to the election even they will know that bush will lose (I personally believe that they already know it) so in desperation what will they try? They have demonstrated that nothing is forbidden. They will do anything to keep the power. They have no hearts. They love only themselves.

Look out America. We will survive and we will overcome.

Our man, John Kerry, will continue to rise in every poll. The weight all the badness of everything that is bush will continue to sink into even the thickest skull and the outcome is inevitable.

Has it ever occurred to anyone that the reason so many voters are so anxious about whether Kerry should be doing better or not is become so many Americans (registered voters or not -- get people registered!) are so determined to be rid of Bush? This level of enthusiasm will likely help increase democratic turnout and independents voting democratic rather than allowing complacency! Remember the lukewarm acceptance many Americans and even some democrats had for Gore in 2000? Kerry is supported by an avalanche of good will and an utter conviction that four more years of Bush is completely unacceptable. Democrats will prevail, but don't stop working hard. Register more voters in democratic neighborhoods in swing states! Donate as generously as you can! THis election is more important than any other in our recent memory and it is well within our reach!

Just because the press claims that Bush is a shoo-in doesn't make it so! It doesn't make it the will of the people either! A couple months ago, a USA Today/Gallup poll found that 52% of those polled believed Bush would win reelection. But the same poll found that only 38% were planning on voting for Bush and only another 17% were even considering it. If only 55% were even willing to entertain the thought of a second term, obviously a good amount of those who believe Bush may win are not pleased about it. WIth just a little encouragement, more AmerICANs can see that it is clearly worthwhile to come to the polls and vote democratic, even if they feel that the odds are against them. With a little solidarity, those in despair will be pleasantly surprised in November. Of course not as surprised as the conservative media and the GOP are going to be!

So get out and vote and convince others to do the same! We will send a clear message that the direction of the country must and will change!

NOOOOOOOOOOO. Continue to worry and fret (in private) and then think about what you can do to help get Kerry elected. Have you persuaded every one you know yet to vote for Kerry? Don't let up for even an instant.

dchrist expressed some of what I was going to say. For many this is shaping up as the Mother of all Elections. Worrying out loud for some goes along with motivating themselves to act, although I agree that if their out loud worrying has the effect of discouraging actions by sympathetic others it is in that way unhelpful. For individuals who seem to be worrying *instead of* acting I am referring them to the posts Ruy keeps cranking out here and suggesting actions they can take to help.

I see it as an important part of my job to try to quell expressions of pessimism and/or fatalism, which I believe are the biggest obstacles to a strong citizens' effort for Kerry.

In addition to the fodder for grounded optimism it provides, this site for me also serves as a place to learn about, vet and sharpen arguments for Kerry. I feel I am a more effective advocate with known or possible persuadables/indies if the toughest arguments I've had have first been with myself--hardly a novel sentiment to those who hang out here, I suspect. The advocate who can argue the opposition's case better than the opposition can is better positioned to anticipate and rebut.

I think people are fretting because we realize what a tragedy it would be for the US to have a second Bush term (third if you count his creepy father). Also, I don't think anyof us could have anticipated Gore losing in 2000 (okay, so he won, but you all know what happened).

Ashimi, I read your post and got a mental picture of a small ficus plant sitting at the desk in the Oval Office conducting the business of the country. And you know what? It smoked cigars and did a better job than George Bush. Had more respect from foreign leaders than Bush, too. It also was better at public speaking.

these poll numbers are great!!! and kohut's article puts some needed perspective on evaluating kerry's performance. but while the poll numbers are encouraging I don't see a problem w/ continued constructive criticism of the kerry campaign by fellow democrats.

hey, it's our party too. and we all should have a chance to weigh in on its agenda. saying that criticism is tantamount to undermining the campaign is exactly the same argument republicans have been using to gag dissent over the iraq war.

as to the source of democratic "panic," look no further than the candidate himself. or more accurately, voters' opinions of the candidate. according to the pew poll, significantly large numbers of bush supporters (74%) describe their choice as a vote for bush. but far fewer kerry supporters describe their choice as affirmative support for kerry (30%); instead, 64% see their choice as a vote against bush.

so democrats will being going to the polls in november not b/c john kerry has articulated a vision for leadership, but simply b/c bush is the most dangerous man to sit in the white house since nixon. and maybe then some.

I agree that john kerry shouldn't be counted out; all evidence---polls and history--- argue otherwise. in many ways, this is probably kerry's election to lose. but even granting all the aforementioned arguments that it's too early in the campaign cycle to assess his candidacy, many democrats still fear (myself included) that at the center of john kerry there's very much a paucity of vision----that kerry himself isn't sure where he wants to lead the country.

no matter how bad bush's poll numbers continue to be, john kerry still needs to give americans something to vote for. kerry's current standing is reassuring, to say the least; that shouldn't be denied or dismissed. it should be celebrated. but as we are frequently reminded, it's still a long way to november and there's significant room for improvement in the kerry campaign.

here's the pew poll:

This new ARG poll in Ohio is also grounds for cautious Dem optimism:


Hitler also had an "act" and I believe his "act" was called the Enabaling Act. Enabaling act; Patriot Act; no difference in my mind. And I also believe that German history of the 1930's and American history currently are very similiar and that Americans better wake up. While George and his crowd are in Iraq , taking our eyes off things at home, we are loosing at home. In my opinion this election will be the most crucial election in the history of this country and that even if we get rid of George Bush the true work will have just begun. It's always harder to sustain change then to do it.

For one clown of a President to have stolen a American Presidential election and the turn around and be able to take that same country into illegal war is quite stark. If it wasn't for this contrys grudging racism this would never have stood. And George Bush is quietly using that in his favor. Black Americans have always been sensative to this ploy and it's fristrating when we see our white Americans brothers and sisters getting so taken advantage of.
My sense is that it is getting late for all of us in America and George Bush and his gang of folks have America so geered up to just "get some" from just any Arab or anyone in Islam that we can't even see our America and it's future going right out the door.
George Bush as got white Americans so whipped up about "getting some Arab ass" that we can't even understand the reality of why Arab men would be just a little upset right now. I ask any American man just how many heads we would take off if an Iraqi army was imposing it's will on our American shores? Think about that and then think about it more. My God just look what we did to the Indians and they owned the whole place.
So it's different for many Black Americans because of our American history. Many Black Americans would have no trouble excepting the real comparison that we have been the "Iraqis" in America. And not ONE Iraqi was on either of the Planes that hit and crashed.
So I set back and listen to the George Bush propaganda machine that appears much better then Joseph Goebbells ever was. I wait for November to see if my American brothers and sisters are going to buy into the lie or not. This election is going to be "EVERYTHING" in my opinion but in the end I think many White Americans are going to be finding out what it's like to be a Black Americans. How important will Iraq be to them then?

Thanks for the double dose of medicine this
morning. Your insight and analysis of polls
outside of those cited by the evening news are
helping me keep the faith.