October 17, 2004


Bush Has Expectations Working On His Side: Poll: President Pulls Ahead of Kerry, and Most Likely Voters Think He'll Win (GARY LANGER, Oct. 17, 2004, ABC News)

While the race for the presidency is close, George W. Bush has expectations working for him: Most likely voters think that in the end he'll win a second term.

Even though the race has been a dead heat for much of the past week, 56 percent in the latest ABC News tracking poll think Bush will win, compared with 33 percent who think Kerry will. That's a bit closer than in early September, before the debates revived Kerry's campaign, but expectations remain on Bush's side.

After a dead heat last Wednesday through Friday, the race today stands at 50 percent support for Bush, 46 percent for Kerry and two percent for Ralph Nader among likely voters in interviews Wednesday through Saturday. The last two days were better for Bush, who's taken to the road since Wednesday's debate with sharpened criticism of Kerry's domestic policies.

Women account for some of the slight movement in the race. Men still support Bush by double digits (13 points in this poll), while women are now supporting Kerry by a narrower 51-46 percent. Bush also is back to poaching slightly more Democrats (13 percent support him) than Kerry wins Republicans (seven percent). Still, independents, key swing voters, divide closely, 48 percent for Kerry, 45 percent for Bush.

One of Bush's lines of attack has been to portray Kerry as a liberal — an effective criticism if it sticks, given the ideological makeup of likely voters. About two in 10 call themselves liberals; substantially more, 34 percent in this poll, are conservatives. That gives Bush a bigger base, while Kerry has to appeal beyond his base to more of the middle — a sometimes tricky political straddle.

The race has settled back in at the point it was before the debates, with the President enjoying about a 5 point lead and polling 50% or over. Given the tendency of undecideds to vote for incumbent presidents and the history of races shifting several points in the closing days--a phenomenon that nearly cost Mr. Bush the presidency four years ago, when his old DUI arrest drove the shift--this continues to look like a race that will finish at something like 54%-44%-2%.

Do Debates Affect Presidential Contests? (Lydia Saad, 10/15/04, GALLUP NEWS SERVICE)

While Clinton's debate victories preceded solid victories for Clinton at the ballot box, that pattern is not evident among other candidates. Most notably, Ronald Reagan won re-election by a landslide in 1984, despite losing to Walter Mondale in the first debate and essentially tying him in the second, for an average debate performance of -8. George H.W. Bush in 1988 also succeeded in winning that election by a fairly sizable margin (seven points over Michael Dukakis) despite losing to Dukakis in their debate.

The most recent, and perhaps most relevant example for this election is 2000, when George W. Bush faced Al Gore in three national debates. Those debates were essentially a draw, with Gore beating Bush in the first, Bush beating Gore in the second, and the two virtually tied in the third. This closely mirrored the election outcome, which was also a draw, with Gore winning the popular vote by just one-half of 1%, and Bush, of course, narrowly winning in the Electoral College.

But merely comparing debate performance with election outcome doesn't convey whether the debates had any effect on the dynamics of the campaign. A review of Gallup election trends throughout the debate season in each election suggests that, with the exception of 2000, there has been little change in the basic structure of these elections from the period immediately before the first debate to the period immediately following the final debate.

In 1984, Reagan led Mondale by 17 points just prior to the first debate, and continued to lead by 17 points one month later, after the second and final debate. In 1988, Bush led Dukakis by eight points just before their debate, and by nine points following that debate. In 1992, Clinton led Bush by 18 points before the first debate, and by 9 points following the second (with most of the decline in support for Clinton going to third-party challenger Perot). In 1996, Clinton led Dole by 18 points going into the first debate, and by 23 points after the final debate.

As noted, the pattern in 2000 was different. Gore and Bush were essentially tied just prior to the first debate, with Gore at 46% and Bush at 44%. However, immediately following the third and final debate, Bush led Gore by 11 points, 51% to 40%. That lead proved to be temporary, however, as within two days the race was back to single digits, with Bush leading by only two to seven points throughout late October. Still, before the debates, Gore enjoyed a slight lead, while after the debates Bush enjoyed the lead -- which could have kept Bush competitive and helped him win the electoral vote.

CNN/USA TODAY/GALLUP POLL (October 17, 2004)
Interviews with 1,013 adult Americans, including 788 likely voters and 942 registered voters, conducted by telephone on October 14-16, 2004

Although Americans think John Kerry did the best job in the debates, that has not translated into an increase in his popularity, which in turn means that he appears to have lost a little ground to Bush. Among registered voters, a 48%-48% tie is now a 49%-46% edge for Bush -- not much of a difference and, with the sampling error, not a significant change. The Gallup likely voter model, which identified those respondents who are most likely to cast a ballot, is magnifying those shifts, with a 49%-48% advantage for Kerry turning into a 52%-44% lead for Bush.

-It's a tough act, sure, but Bush pulls it off (Roger Cohen, 10/16/04, International Herald Tribune)

George W. Bush came to Vegas and it was all too much for Lisa Stroud. After the president spoke in a packed arena, Stroud, 42, stood there with tears streaming down her cheeks. "He's a good man," she said. "And he knows what has to be done to keep us safe."

Bush connects. In front of ardent Republican crowds, he pushes the right buttons. Gone is the changeable man of the three presidential debates, by turns smirking, swaggering and smiling. In his place, a confident commander in chief combining glib ridicule of his opponent with stirring evocations of American greatness.

The lights dim, the crowd roars, and Bush appears, sleeves rolled up, hands hanging a little too far from his thighs as if displaced by some invisible holster, a man intent on what the baying crowd demands: "Four more years!" He speaks in short, vigorous sentences, his timing well honed, his delivery folksy and forceful. Genuine fervor greets him: real man, rodeo king, rock star.

"In the last few years, the American people have gotten to know me," Bush says. "They know my blunt way of speaking. I get that from Mom. They know I sometimes mangle the English language. I get that from Dad. Americans also know that I tell you exactly what I'm going to do and I keep my word."

Laughter punctuates this routine - repeated later the same day in Reno, Nevada, and Medford, Oregon - and a big cheer greets its conclusion, because a straight-talking manner is what Bush wants to project, contrasting this quality with the supposed shiftiness of Senator John Kerry, the Democratic candidate.

The media will never figure this out, but what the debates did is show people why the President was scowling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 17, 2004 11:19 AM

The expectation that the President will be reelected will drive more lefties to Nader.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 17, 2004 11:57 AM

Bush also is back to poaching slightly more Democrats (13 percent support him) than Kerry wins Republicans (seven percent).

That's only "slightly more"? Looks like nearly twice as many to me.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 17, 2004 2:21 PM

I thought that there were no Gore voters who will vote for Bush this time.

Posted by: Brian (MN) at October 17, 2004 4:16 PM

The new Gallup poll, by the way, has a margin of error of 4%. This means, at worst, that the race is tied at 48% - 48%, and at best, that Bush is doing even better than Orrin's prediction, at 56% - 42%.

Another sign that Kerry's campaign is on the skids or about to go there; the news reports this morning that Bill Clinton's recovery is proceeding more slowly than expected so nobody should expect him to actively campaign for Kerry (though there are reports that he may do some TV spots or record telephone messages). I don't doubt the reports, but if Clinton expected Kerry to win, he would very likely find a way to get out on the hustings even against the advice of his doctors.

There are also some noises that Nader might pull out in the last week of the campaign, but I would discount those as rumors being spread by increasingly worried Democrats. Nader is _really_ teed off about Democrat efforts to keep him off various state ballots and he sees himself as offering a real Left alternative to both parties, so he'll stay in to the finish. I think the same rumors were going around in '00.

Posted by: Joe at October 17, 2004 6:43 PM

Certainly Kerry's peddling of the draft hysteria and the "January surprise" on social secrurity smack of desperation. But the polls are a lot closer than the latest Gallup and the Dem groundgame usually beats polls by a point or 2.

Posted by: JAB at October 17, 2004 9:49 PM

I think the polls are about right, Bush up by a couple of points. The Democrats are going to try anything to rattle Republicans, Bush and the American voters. I predict Bill Clinton will get out of bed to campaign a bit but it won't do any good.

I just got back from a conference in Des Moines, Iowa and I saw a lot of Kedwards signs; however, I also saw a lot of Bush-Cheney signs. I was happily surprised that there were lots of Bush supporters and Republicans in Iowa. There were a couple of Kedwards rallies (Union thugs and whatnot).

I still think it is hard to beat an incumbent President. There are a lot of Bush haters out there but that alone won't win an election (at least that is what I think).

Posted by: pchuck at October 18, 2004 9:58 AM

incumbent presidents without a challenge within their own party ALWAYS win

Posted by: JonofAtlanta at October 18, 2004 10:25 AM