A Calm Look At the Polls
As all you political junkies out there know, Time and Newsweek released polls earlier this weekend showing Bush opening up an 11-point lead over Kerry during the GOP Convention. (The Newseek poll was of RVs; the Time poll was of LVs; Time had Bush up 8 among RVs in a two-way race, up 9 among RVs in a three-way race). The Newsweek internals had Bush doing a bit better across the board, and Kerry doing a lot worse across the board. The most interesting internal was that 45 percent of voters think Kerry is too liberal, while only 32 percent think Bush is too conservative. In other words, the Bush tactic of seizing the center by claiming Kerry's more out of the mainstream that he is has worked to some extent. But that gives Kerry the opportunity to push back.
I stand by my contention that there's no reason for Democratic panic, or for over-reaction by KE04 (yeah, they need to get it in gear, but purposefully, not frantically). For one thing, we haven't seen enough polling data yet to judge whether the news weeklies, who've had a pretty erratic polling record this year, have it right. Zogby's got a poll covering the same period that shows Bush's lead at 2. And while Zogby's record in state polling has been suspect in recent years, his national surveys have been fairly accurate.
Josh Marshall reports that both campaigns' internal polls show Bush up about 4 right after the convention.
More importantly, it's unclear whether the Bush bounce represents a fundamental shift in the race, or merely a gut reaction to (a) obsessive media coverage of the Swift Boat smear, merging into (b) a big assault on the Democrat in New York, and (c) a convention that framed the election, and media treatment of the election, in the most positive possible light for the incumbent.
Interestingly, the only poll out after the Time and Newsweek surveys shows a quick drop in Bush's margin. Rasmussen's three-day tracking poll through Saturday shows Bush's lead dropping from 4.4 percent on September 3 to 1.2 percent on September 4 (no info on daily numbers, unfortunately). Yeah, I know, this is Rasmussen we're talking about, but sometimes even the shakiest tracking polls do pick up trends.
Then there's the Objective Reality factor. Hurricanes and college football aside, there have been three big news stories since the balloon drop in New York that might influence the race.
(1) The July jobs report (jobs up 144k, unemployment slightly down) was marginally helpful to Bush, though the bad news is that it virtually guarantees a September interest rate hike.
(2) The announcement that Medicare Part B premiums will jump a record 17 percent next year is terrible news for Bush. He probably made a mistake in his acceptance speech identifying himself with the new Rx drug benefit, which seniors generally dislike; discovering that they'll pay more next year for Medicare without obtaining anything new that they value won't help their mood. Kerry's already yelling about this, as he should.
(3) The impact of the growing nightmare in Russia--sort of a slow-motion 9/11--is harder to assess. The CW is that anything reminding voters of the war on terror helps Bush. The minority view, which I share, is that Bush's strength is the perception that he's made America, and the world, a safer place, and it's unclear how voters will react to signs that Islamic terrorism is actually on the rise, even if it's in another country.