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Instant Polling Results Helped Limit Republican Spin

A small but important point for Democrats to notice about the Thursday’s debate was that the instant polls conducted by CBS, ABC and CNN played an important role in limiting the advantage that relentless message discipline gives the Bush campaign and the Republican party in manipulating media interpretation. Frequently, the near-robotic repetition of a few key sound bites by one Republican spokesperson after another forces the media to give these views half the overall coverage, regardless of how widely held or plausible such views actually are.

Last night, however, in the “Spin Ally” area where key campaign spokespeople met the press after the debate, something different happened. As Ryan Lizza described it in today’s New Republic Online:

“In Spin Alley last night, a weird dynamic takes place. Both sides start on almost equal footing, but as everyone shares note and impressions about Kerry's "control" or Bush's weird facial ticks, as the first wave of instant polls overwhelmingly crowning Kerry the winner roll in, as the pro-Kerry punditry on cable gets passed around, things shift. Kerry's surrogates start to seem more caffeinated and giddy, while Bush's sound defensive...Tad Devine, who lived through Al Gore's disastrous trio of debates in 2000, is bouncing up and down and shouting after an aide reads poll results off a blackberry. "CBS, two-hundred fence-sitters," he says, "forty-four Kerry, twenty-six Bush. ABC, forty-five Kerry, thirty-six Bush." Devine is ecstatic. "Ha! Killer!" he yells, head cocked, eyes bulging. "That's crushing. Crushing!"

A few minutes earlier, Karl Rove had tried to float the notion that "It was one of the president's better debate performances and one of Kerry's worst." But, in sharp contrast to other occasions, he couldn’t make it fly. As Lizza noted “Vince Morris of The New York Post stares at Rove and asks, "Can you say that with a straight face?"


My take is that the networks didn't want to get played the way they did last time, with the meme of 'Gore the know-it-all.' Between the instant polling and the split screen, I'd say they pulled the plug on the RepubliSpin Media Machine.

Because Kerry won on both substance AND style, it was impossible for the Bush crowd to spin a victory in one of those two as a total victory, as they had with Gore. Also, much credit goes to the bloggers and, yes, the campaign in learning the lesson of 2000 about the importance of post-debate spin and relentless messaging and fact-checking.

The big question now is whether this will show up in the polls, and, if so, how quickly. Certainly anyone who saw the debate and was undecided will have to come away favorably disposed to Kerry. And as word gets around of Bush's petulant underperformance -- "the soft bigotry of low expectations" -- and the video images replay, we may have a race on our hands.

Time now for Edwards to step to the plate and not pull a Lieberman. Cheney is no W.

Chris, i think you're partly right. But i also think that bush didn't give the right-wing machine much to build a case out of....

I just watched Lou Dobbs and he had some other women sitting in for him and she said thet Kerry had a SLIGHT LEAD their latest poll. The guy she was talking to said it was more than a SLILGHT LEAD! I mean, Bush has had a 2 to 8 piont lead for weeks and we heard every day how Bush was ahead, way ahead! now Kerry has a 20 piont lead and it's slight...

This comment is similar to the one I made in response to the last entry; what is interesting is not how OBVIOUSLY partisan Republicans spin it but how supposedly neutral media figures. They kept calling it a tie, and many media are. There is also a persistent drumbeat of seeking factual flaws in Kerry but ignoring them in Bush. One of my favorites is the 'Osama is (believed to be) in Pakistan [in the mountainous area near the border] not Afghanistan' when Kerry was contrasting Afghanistan as the 'front' in the war on terror over IRAQ. There's the bit about the NY Subways and a few others. On the other hand, even columnists with plenty of time get it wrong (as Hulsman's column at the Open Democracy website) on N Korea. Biden noted that China WANTS us to supplement multilateral talks with bilateral, yet Bush gets off as supposedly right on that point.
What we really need to see -- and in some places they have been referred to, are the polls that show any discernible SHIFT in presidential preferences from the debates. Again, the issue is to win the elections, not the debates only.
Kerry can maximize advantage from the debates by at least putting out press releases correcting (a) press claims, where false, about his positions (like Hulsman on N Korea) (b) Bush claims in the debates that he didn't counter then and (c) factual claims made by Republican spinmeisters that are inaccurate.
Then he needs to counter the 'mixed message' notion as anti-democratic (as I've pointed out earlier) and clarify the global test (which should be easy, if he doesn't flub it like the belated and botched comeback to the 'voted for it before I voted against it' blooper. That would leave only the flipflop spin, which MUST be raised in a confrontation in the debates and make headlines, and then be followed up by pointing out that the list at the Bush campaign website could be easily matched -- and THEN MATCH IT. At least the public perception of the 'flipflop gap' could be cut in half, with potentially decisive impact on the election

Kerry killed Bush in just about every battleground state according to SurveyUSA who polled something like 30,000 people.

This is the boost we democrats have needed for months now. The combination of Kerry's awesome debate performance and having the organization to deny Rove the post debate spin has been an incredible victory for our side. There's still much work to do but I think the one-two of debate + post debate polls/spin will go down as the defining moments of the 2004 election. Negating the inevitable "October surprises" that is.

The polls show that voters are not happy/satisfied with Bush Iraq policy and worried about wrong track. The Bush strategy has been to attack Kerry as Flipflop. That can work only if Bush is not challenged and it certainly cannot work in debate format where Kerry was able to demonstrate resolve and consistency. The poll numbers that show undecideds did not think Kerry had an Iraq plan pre-debate by overwhelming numbers. Over half the undecideds came out of the debate thinking Kerry had an Iraq plan. That has to be a huge reversal for a candidate painted as flipflop to show resolve, consistency and a plan. It will be interesting to track numbers on who can best manage Iraq War going forward from this debate.

Joe, Regarding:

"Kerry killed Bush in just about every battleground state according to SurveyUSA who polled something like 30,000 people."

Elections are about who can best lead, not who can best deliver hyperbole, and in a debate involving an existing president, the tie goes to the runner, or in this case the incumbent IMO. This is borne out in your poll. I say this because Kerry needed a decisive change in the voter dynamic to overcome an incumbent in wartime - And your poll suggests a majority DID NOT believe Bush lost.

By that I mean the following: Your chart indicates that 47% of PA, 45% of FLA and 39% of COL thought Kerry won. Think about it: Those percentages approximate Kerry's support in those states these days, suggesting that he did in fact impress his base. At the same time, 53% of PA, 55% of FLA and 60% of COL thought GWB either won or tied. When combined with the post debate Demo Corp poll showing little change, and the USA/Today Gallup poll showing GWB still with a sizable lead on the key internals like terror and Iraq, it doesn't appear the debate changed the currrent equilibrium and contours of the race.

People will eventually forget GWB's body language during the debates as he gets back on the stump and shines, like he did today in PA. I still think Kerry's GLOBAL TEST comment will have staying power as fodder for criticism though.

Larwrence O'Donnell said tonight on "The McLaughlin group" that Kerry would win all three debates and the presidency. O'Donnell is a pundit, from my observation, who would rather be right than spin for the sake of spinning. He's incredibley savvy and nononsense and I think he's right.
America saw a serious person on stage last night, a statesman in the making who has drank deeply on the biographies of the great men (Churchill, Roosevelt, JFK), and who sees himself fufilling an historic and noble obligation. And I believe America will respond with good judgement as she always does in times of crises. John Kerry will win.

Clearly, Kerry is swamping Bush in the post debate spin...far worse for Bush than for Gore in 00

ARG's 24 hour panel comparisons and next week's polls will be very revealing of what sort of electorate we will be looking at on 11/2

Have you seen this piece by Saletan from 2000?


Saletan says that Gallup polls are designed to be volatile, to maximize apparent daily change:

"On its Web site, Gallup makes clear that its poll seeks to maximize daily change: "Our objective is to pick up movements up and down in reaction to the day-to-day events of the campaign." Gallup postulates that one in five voters is highly malleable: "A sizeable portion of the voting population, upwards of 20%, is uncommitted and on any given day as likely to come down in favor of one candidate as the other." Gallup doesn't mind that big shifts in the partisan makeup of each day's sample—one day lots of Republicans, the next day lots of Democrats—push its numbers back and forth. Gallup's editor in chief, Frank Newport, says these partisan shifts reflect "differential intensity" between the parties. One day, Republicans feel likely to vote; the next, Democrats feel likely to vote. Accordingly, the pool of "likely voters" shifts from Bush to Gore."

Despite the standard disclaimer that a given Gallup poll only measures voter attitudes during a narrow window, the preordained volatility seems to limit the relevance of Gallup data to the important question: what will happen in November. Maybe Gallup polls are an amusing game or diversion for the media rather than a serious effort at electoral prediction.

Sorry if you've all seen this essay before.

My gut feeling: Last night will only swing a few people to Kerry in the next round of polls. But many undecideds who were buying the "flip-flopper" nonsense are now taking JK seriously, and he has a legitimate shot at winning them over in the next month.

BTW, Very encouraging analysis by Zogny here: http://www.zogby.com/news/ReadNews.dbm?ID=873

The Dallas Morning news tried to spin this as a win for Dumbyah:"Bush wins by not losing." What a farce! If you watched C-Span, you got the only unadulterated, no-spin, split-screen truth.
John F. Kerry took BoyGeorge to school, stole his lunch money, and ate his lunch!
Send Dumbyah back to Crawford, where the local paper, The Iconoclast, has already endorsed Kerry.
Only 30 more days until victory.

Bush will be like a lamb led to the slaughter in the next two debates as well. He simply is no match for Kerry.

"A few minutes earlier, Karl Rove had tried to float the notion that 'It was one of the president's better debate performances and one of Kerry's worst.'"

Never mind saying it with a straight face; did he actually think that was complimentary to Bush? If this was one of his better debate performances, what are the bad ones like?

It angers me that Kerry needs to irrefutably best Bush in a debate, in order to have a chance at a level spin playing field, afterwards. We'd be talking a very different story, if Kerry had barely won on substance and style.

The Conservative Bloggers were absolutely shell shocked, post-debate! Some went after Jim Lehrer for Liberal bias, but even the floated 'fatigue' spin never caught fire in the Freeper echo chamber.

In response to Mary Beth Cahill's email, I fired off emails to CNN (2), MSNBC, and one to Lynn Sweet at the Chgo Sun Times, who called it a draw.

Kerry Bloggers (me too!) were flooding cyberspace with analysis links, trackbacks and Instant Debate polling updates!

Glad we could help!

Interestingly, in that SUSA poll the battleground states also turn out to be the places with the highest viewership - top five include Colorado, Oregon, Florida and Pennsylvania (along with California.) Bottom five are Illinois, Arkansas, Kentucky, Texas and Oklahoma.

Arkansas has been considered a potential swing state at times.

An expanded version of the argument is at deadlyearnest.blogspot.com

The Expectations game was played brilliantly by the Democrats. The flip-flop meme worked agaisnt Bush in terms of the expectations. Fortunately, the media is so invested in Bush that they are already lowering expectation for Kerry in the next debate whlie trying to say positive things about Bush - that the town hall style debate will favor Bush's more charasmatic style. Good. When was the last time Bush had to answer a question from an audience that wasn't prescreened, prepped and bussed in?

Great insights. Received hundreds of emails on the debates with ALL calling it a clear Kerry victory.

The most common themes was that Bush had the "deer in the headlines" look for much of the debate, that Bush seemed stupid or that Kerry looked Presidential.

Ruy is correct that we have to watch the media and corpoate pollsters for signs that the Bush Republicans will revert to election fraud to keep Bush in power.

These kinds of debates performances will make that very difficult!

Another factual error by Bush was that the Pakistani weapons ring selling nuclear information and equipment had been "brought to justice" when the ringleader had actually been pardoned by the President of Pakistan.

I would hope that everyone out there remains focused. We know that the Republicans and the President's surrogates will not just lie down and take the beating they got Thursday night.

The President is obviously a man who skated by his entire life and now is in over his head and is terribly afraid that everyone in the room KNOWS he's in over his head. This however will not stop 46 million people at least from voting for him. And Senator Kerry needs to turn red states to blue and relentlessly promote his own vision and agenda in these vital battleground states. He must ask for people's votes explicitly. It is the one thing the President did right on Thursday.

And somehow he has to energize African American voters and get them to the polls on November 2. All will be lost without this vital and diverse constituency. Thursday's win just makes it obviously necessary that there is still much work to be done to GOTV.

What Ryan Lizza's comment fails to note is that, as document by Bob Somerby and others in endless detail, Gore "won" the initial somments on the first debate. It took a couple of days for the commentarium to persaude us that he actually lost.


Very important not to state outcome of debate spin as a fait accompli.

GOP is not only continuing to say that Bush won on substance -- just as they say, contrary to any video clip of the real world, that we are winning in Iraq.

I would like the emphasis to continue to be the GOP's voter suppression and thwarting of new voter registrations. That's what they are really concentrating on while taking the slight amount of effort it takes to lie about the debate at the same time.

I can only hope that the Kerry team takes this "global test" thing seriously!!!

If they don’t it will erase any bump Kerry gets from his superb debate performance. I hope they attack it like a mad dog, at the same time attacking Bush for his factual errors in the debate.

For instance the Pakistani weapons ring blunder.
This is great ammunition for us. In fact it is a HUGE opportunity as it plays into the idea of Bush living in a fantasy world of spin where he actually thinks these things are really happening.

For instance: "Just another example of Bush living in lala-land as the world falls apart around him! Unfortunately we cant live there with him and have to deal with the real world"

It's HARD.

Being president is HARD work!

He works HARD!

Bush looked so desperate during his moments when he couldn't think of anything to say. Can you imagine a president who can't even answer simple, relevant questions for 2 minutes without getting bored and confused?

You don't need a poll to know why Bush has only had 10% as many press conferences as his old man.