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REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Still Bush's Race to Lose
Real Clear Politics ^ | Tuesday, October 19 2004 | J. McIntyre

Posted on 10/19/2004 10:06:09 AM PDT by West Coast Conservative

With two weeks until Election Day, we're in the final stretch. There is enough evidence for partisans on both sides to point to why their respective candidate will win on November 2. Bottom line: Bush is ahead and continues to hold the superior hand, but Kerry cannot be counted out.

Contrary to much of the punditry you may have seen or heard this has always been George W. Bush's race to lose - and it remains that way today. It has always been my belief that 9/11 and the War on Terror changed the national political landscape to give the Republicans and President Bush a structural advantage, particularly in the first Presidential election post-9/11.

The early signs of trouble for Senator Kerry began to appear in the summer (ironically when many were beginning to write Bush off) when Kerry could not move out to a bigger lead than 2-3 points. Throughout this entire campaign Kerry has never been able to get ahead by more than three points in the RCP Average, and he has only had a lead over 2.5% three times: in mid-May at the height of the media frenzy over Abu Ghraib, right after the Edwards pick in early July, and right after his convention in early August. None of these leads lasted more than a few days. Senator Kerry should have been registering leads between 5-10 points after his convention and VP pick, not 2 1/2 points.

For nearly an entire year (starting back at the beginning of the Dem primary race) Bush's opponents and the left-wing 527's had been pounding the President furiously, on top of the daily media drumbeat of the "disaster" in Iraq. All of this negativity directed at the President succeeded in driving down the Bush's Job Approval rating and the right/direction wrong direction numbers, but it didn't succeed in turning this President into Jimmy Carter. As I've said before, despite this ferocious onslaught, Bush's Job Approval bottoming out in the mid-40's was actually a positive for the President and a sign of his underlying strength with the electorate, not a weakness.

With Bush's Job Approval finding a floor in the mid-40's and Kerry unable to ever move ahead by more than 2-3 points, the Democratic ticket was extremely vulnerable to counterattack. So in August, when Republican 527-money turned their guns on Senator Kerry, specifically with the swift boat/post-Vietnam protest stories, Kerry began to absorb some serious body blows.

Republicans were extremely successful in driving up Kerry's unfavorables during the month of August, and this led right into the Republican convention where the spotlight was put squarely on 9/11 and the War on Terror. The end result was that as September rolled around President Bush opened up a 5-7 point lead in the RCP Poll Average, a margin he held for 28 consecutive days.

Faced with being completely knocked out of the race, Kerry was able to get back in the game with a win in the first debate on September 30. In four days days after that debate Kerry was able pull within 1-2 points of Bush in the RCP Average. That 1-2 point Bush lead basically held steady through the final debate in Arizona last week. Since last Wednesday's debate, Bush has tacked on a few points and this morning leads by 3-4 points in both of the RCP Poll Averages.

So where does that leave us? The President's Job Approval appears to have stabilized around 50%, with the latest from Gallup, (the most important as far as job approval) indicating 51% approval. While the press makes a big deal about Bush being below 50%, it is probably the Kerry campaign that should be more concerned with that 50% number. Bush can win with a Job Approval at 47% or 48 %, but Kerry doesn't have a chance if the President's Job Approval is at 52% or 53%.

Back in April I wrote:

As a crude measuring stick for the state of the presidential race, an over 50% job approval for the President should translate into a Bush victory. A 45% - 49% job approval will mean a close race, but I would give President Bush the advantage.

I think these parameters roughly still hold true. At 49.5% in the RCP Average Bush is right on the cusp of where he needs to be to put this race away. However, on the cusp of victory is not quite the same thing as winning, and at this stage I would ratchet up the 45-49 leaning Bush range to 47-49. If the President's Job Approval were to fall to 45 or 46, as measured by the RCP Average, I think we would be looking at a dead heat race, with the momentum clearly favoring the challenger Kerry.

As things stand today, Kerry can't tolerate any more movement towards Bush in the national horse-race numbers or the President Job Approval. Trailing 3-4 points nationally and a Bush JA at 49.5% is absolutely the most Kerry can trail by and still hope to have a chance on Election Day.

However, the reason Kerry still can win with these type of numbers is because Bush is having a difficult time getting over 50% in most of the polls. The risk to the President is the undecideds come out to vote, and vote disproportionately for a change with Senator Kerry. Larry Sabato suggested last week he was "tempted to argue that Bush actually needed his full 5 to 6 percent September lead to insure a narrow victory."

I would disagree with that and suggest that unless there is strong momentum towards Kerry at the very end I think Bush will not underperform his RCP Poll Spread in the final results. What I mean by that is if the President leads by 2-3 points in the final RCP Poll average, I think he will win by at least 2-3 points. In other words I don't think the President needs a poll cushion going in to Election Day. Again, that is assuming there is not strong final break towards Kerry, like the Bush DUI and the late break for Gore in 2000. For example if Bush is ahead 4-6 points with a week to go, but in the last three days that closes to only 1-2 points, that 1-2 point lead very well might not hold up.

The reason I think Bush will meet or exceed the final poll spread is:

1) I wonder whether there is a little bit of the Howard Dean phenomena with all the "energy" and young voters, and all the "new" people who are supposedly going to come out and put John Kerry in office. We heard this type of talk with Howard Dean earlier this year and when it came time to deliver, it was just that, a lot of talk.

2) I don't think the Black vote is going to come out in the type of numbers Senator Kerry is going to need. African-Americans certainly don't like President Bush, but they are unenthusiastic about Kerry and that will hurt the Democrats on the margins.

3) The GOP learned a hard lesson in 2000 when the Democrat's GOTV effort just crushed the Republicans. The GOP adapted and instituted their 72 hour plan which was extremely effective in 2002, and I suspect that will provide a powerful assist to the President, and could be worth as much as 1-2 points on Election Day.

All three of these issues are about turnout, and at this stage this is what the race is going to come down to in the end. Will the President 's base simply overpower Kerry's and render the small number of undecideds a non-factor or will Kerry get the undecideds to break his way, and more importantly will he get enough of them to the polls on election day to offset the President's lead in the polls and Bush's more enthusiastic base?

I like the President's position, but Bush supporters should be wary. Kerry has kept within striking distance in the critical battleground states and any late movement for Kerry is all this race will need to be a dead heat going in to Election Day.

TOPICS: Editorial; Front Page News; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: bush; kerry; polls; realclearpolitics

1 posted on 10/19/2004 10:06:09 AM PDT by West Coast Conservative
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To: West Coast Conservative

I'm seeing a lot of hand wringing about how the national numbers don't matter, that it's all about the states. There has been some near panic today with a few polls showing the race tightening significantly in Ohio and Florida. Any thoughts on any of this?

2 posted on 10/19/2004 10:14:19 AM PDT by Syco
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To: West Coast Conservative

This is as sensible and unbiased as an analysis can get.

3 posted on 10/19/2004 10:17:39 AM PDT by Atlas Sneezed (Your Friendly Freeper Patent Attorney)
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To: Beelzebubba
This is as sensible and unbiased as an analysis can get.

That must be why nobody's commenting on the thread. ;o)


4 posted on 10/19/2004 10:31:18 AM PDT by malakhi
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To: Syco

I share your concerns about Ohio and Florida, although I think in the end both will come down for Bush. The Guardian's attempt to influence votes in Ohio made some people angry; plus Kerry has to contend with the slew of his "world leaders" coming out in his support - most of them Muslims.

Bush and Company hopefully have an October surprise; the Swift Vets are still working hard. And the debates - regardless of how you or I scored them - are thankfully behind us.

5 posted on 10/19/2004 10:31:52 AM PDT by SittinYonder (Tancredo and I wanna know what you believe)
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To: Syco
I just had lunch with an R mover and shaker, can't say who but very powerful (top ten in Ohio). He basically stated what this article did:

We're up 3 or 4
We need to be this far or even farther ahead to guarantee victory
It could change
Turnout may be the key

I don't think anyone has the secret, it's this simple
6 posted on 10/19/2004 10:36:47 AM PDT by don'tbedenied
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To: don'tbedenied; SittinYonder

Both somewhat encouraging. Thanks. I know it's going to be very tight, but a 3-4 point lead is nice to hear about.

7 posted on 10/19/2004 10:41:07 AM PDT by Syco
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To: West Coast Conservative

The guys at realclearpolitics are pretty sharp. My main concern right now is that I can think of lots of soft reasons to believe that Bush will win -- including many in this article -- but the EC map isn't pointing to a clear Bush win (to put it mildly). I do think that the undecideds will ultimately split their vote or go with Bush, as they do in most Presidential elections. But that remains to be seen, both nationally and in the battleground states.

8 posted on 10/19/2004 10:41:47 AM PDT by kesg
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To: kesg
"My main concern right now is that I can think of lots of soft reasons to believe that Bush will win " No "soft" reasons here. They are all cold hard facts. Its virtually impossible for Bush to be ahead by an average of over 3% (Bush is ahead by 3.2% at RealClearPolitics right now )and lose the electoral votes count. That just doesn't compute. Never happened before. Won't happen this ear either. Bush is ahead 3.3% with 2 weeks to go, after being solidly ahead since the start of September. Bush WILL win reelection comfortably. Bet on it. The presidential elections markets (where people bet real money) already have in spite of Soros's attempts at manipulating the markets. :)
9 posted on 10/19/2004 11:00:51 AM PDT by KwasiOwusu
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To: KwasiOwusu

Well, the 3.2% lead (before the just released FNC poll showing Dubya up by seven) is very signficant because it represents an aggregate of several polls taken at roughly the same time. We don't have this same level of data on a state by state level, e.g. three or four current Ohio or Florida polls that we can average, as opposed to the stray poll here or the stray poll there that are all over the place.

10 posted on 10/19/2004 11:07:24 AM PDT by kesg
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To: West Coast Conservative

My perception is identical to this...barring no surprises, I have to believe that sKerry is capped at 47% and W will be in the 52% range...Morris' current article I think shows the beauty of the W's campaign. It's all about turnout and energy...I have seen 20/1 W/sKerry stickers and banners in Charlotte. I voted yesterday and couldn't contain myself. Vote once and tell five others why you support W!

11 posted on 10/19/2004 11:14:02 AM PDT by blteague
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To: Syco

I think The President will take Florida, Ohio is still up for grabs, Penn. has Kerry up by a couple of Pts. today. I'm hoping Bush takes both of these battleground states.

12 posted on 10/19/2004 12:15:50 PM PDT by Proud Republican 99 (Bush/Cheney 0'4 for a Strong and Proud Nation)
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To: blteague

How about tell one guy why you're voting for W, and then vote 5 times. That should about do it. :)

13 posted on 10/19/2004 12:59:02 PM PDT by WesG
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To: WesG

Sorry, I'm a registered R, that only works for Rats.

14 posted on 10/19/2004 2:19:07 PM PDT by blteague
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To: malakhi

I recall the RCP site was off by oh.....100 electoral votes in '00.

15 posted on 10/19/2004 4:03:40 PM PDT by wny
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