Tuesday, October 19, 2004


Why Kerry's going to beat Bush in November

Well, the goat entrails did the trick, and I am happy to report that Kerry is due to win this election. But before I get into the gory details, I do want to issue one caveat: Tea leaves and entrails are reality-based.1 Unfortunately the Bush campaign is not. So I’ll have to echo Eric Alterman’s sentiment

I’m not saying Bush can’t win; I’m just saying I don’t think he can win honestly.

There are 3 keys to this race: Turnout, turnout, turnout

For once I agree with the well-paid pundits, who have a consensus that the outcome of this race depends upon turnout. This is less profound than it seems, since any close race depends on turnout, and I just wish someone would pay me a 6-digit salary to go on Fox News and say so.

What it does imply, though, is that predicting the outcome correctly depends upon predicting the turnout correctly. But most of the pundits won’t go there, preferring instead to repeat endlessly the result of whatever poll they currently favor.

Now you may argue that the polls already take turnout into account, which is true if you mean that the pollsters have at least thought about it. The question is—Have they thought about it enough. For the moment, I’ll assert a simple “No” and come back to the matter when we consider the polls.


Aside from the manipulations of the data that pollsters use to estimate turnout, the other great clue offered by the pollsters comes in the form of questions such as “How strongly do you support your candidate?” A range of responses is then offered— from “I worship the ground he walks on” down to “He doesn’t seem any dirtier than the rest of them.” This is supposed to tell us how “motivated” the electorate is.

A great deal has been made of the polling fact that more of Bush’s supporters are of the ground-worshipping variety than are Kerry’s. Back in September, the Washington Post ran an article by Richard Morin and Christopher Muste called “The Enthusiasm Gap.”

Nearly two in three likely voters who support President Bush -- 65 percent -- said they were "very enthusiastic" about their candidate while 42 percent of Sen. John F. Kerry's supporters express similarly high levels of enthusiasm for their choice, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll.

But as I argued in a previous post, when it comes to motivation, the pollsters have been asking the wrong question. For this election the pollsters should have been asking “How strongly do you oppose the opposition candidate?” Answers might range from a favorable rating such as “He’s a turd” down to “Anything I say may invite a visit from the Secret Service.”

If this question had been asked—and I have yet to see a poll that has asked it—my tea leaves tell me that the “strong” support for Bush by the Republicans would be more than offset by the seething outrage that Democrats, Independents and a number of Republicans feel at the prospect of a second Bush term.

In these media-manipulated times, it is not easy to find a voice that agrees with me, but I have found one—Richard Viguerie, whom the Washington Post identifies as "the funding father of the conservative movement."

.... "On a scale of one to 10, the Democrats' enthusiasm for defeating Bush is at 11," Viguerie said. "The conservatives' enthusiasm for electing Bush is at 8 1/2."

The Post’s Jeffrey Birnbaum then concludes,

Viguerie may be on to something. What the left has -- and what the right does not -- is a target for popular venom. And in political marketing, Viguerie says, "fear, anger are much stronger motivations than support for a cause." According to Viguerie, liberals are moved by a deep dislike and distrust for Bush and that kind of negativism goes a long way in politics. "They're being driven by a lot of emotion; they're angry," he says with a grudging admiration. Conservatives, on the other hand, have been lulled into complacency by having their party in nominal control.

Bush supporters

It is hard for me to say “Bush supporter” without thinking of something that holds up the Presidential scrotum, but reality-based analysis compels me to acknowledge that there are such people.

When I wrote “In case you’re worried about the November election...,” I accepted Jimmy Breslin’s premise from a year ago:

Nobody who voted for Gore is going to vote for Bush this time. That is common sense.

I still believe that’s true. I have yet to meet anyone who said, “I voted for Gore last time, but this time I think I’ll vote for Bush,” though I did hear such a person once on NPR. They had apparently scoured the countryside to find someone who could provide “balance.”

So let’s take a look at groups of Bush supporters (in no particular order) and see how they’re feeling this year. (And let me note here that one of the best ways to see how the Bush camp thinks the race is going is not by how they’re spinning the polls, but where they’re putting their resources into efforts to suppress the vote.)

The military

The first thing you should know is that it is illegal to ask the military in a poll for whom they intend to vote. So pollsters ask questions such as “Who do you think would make a better Commander-in-Chief?”

This allowed Suzanne Goldenberg to write in the Guardian—

[T]he troops made it clear they preferred Mr Bush. Some 69% saw him as a better commander-in-chief than Mr Kerry, who was backed by 24% of those polled.

Looks pretty bad, doesn’t it? But here’s the trick. Most of the military are Republican to begin with. And the real question is this—What is the troop support for Bush in 2004 when compared with 2000?

The answer as such is not available, but the Annenberg poll revealed to Matthew Stannard of the San Francisco Chronicle

Sixty-two percent of those surveyed felt the White House underestimated the number of troops needed to establish peace in Iraq, and 59 percent felt the Pentagon was putting too much of a burden on the National Guard and reserves, sentiments that were particularly strong among military family members.

The troops also felt more strongly than their families about the issue of Abu Ghraib, with 86 percent of regular, reserve and Guard troops saying the soldiers who abused the prisoners should be punished, compared with 73 percent of family members feeling the same.

The troops and their families will go for Bush, as evidenced by the administration’s efforts to ensure that no overseas military vote is lost, but they will not support him at the level of support that he enjoyed in 2000. Count on it!

The veterans

Like the military, the veterans will remain in the Bush column. But concerns about healthcare, pensions and the closing of VA hospitals have already pushed some of them away from Bush. And Kerry’s war service vis-a-vis Bush’s record is going to attract quite a few more.

Overseas voters

Tired of pretending they’re Canadians, overseas voters can hardly wait to cast their ballots against Bush. How do I know this?— Because the Bush administration has been making it hard for them to register.


In June the administration over-pandered in its efforts to win the Cuban vote. Trying to appear tough on Castro, Bush reduced the number of visits to the island from once a year to once every three years. He also reduced the amount of money that could be sent and the types of gifts.

The NY Times reported,

''People are crying, saying, 'Please, can't you put me on a plane?''' Tessie Aral, vice president and chief executive of ABC Charters, said. ''One said, 'I have to go because my mother is dying.' They can't wait another three years.''

''It's very important for people to vote against him because of this policy,'' Ms. Aral said. ''When we were helping check people into a flight last weekend, I said: 'Are you registered to vote? Then you need to vote this November.' Eighty percent said they would.''

On October 5, the Orlando Sentinel declared,

Recent polls have shown that the president's support among Cuban-Americans has declined as much as 20 percent while others have shown little if any decline. Veteran pollster Sergio Bendixen said his polls show about a 10 percent drop in support.

Four years ago, Bendixen's polling showed that 84 percent of Cuban-Americans voters chose Bush and about 15 percent picked Gore. This time around, a July poll by Bendixen showed 69 percent of Cuban voters picking Bush, 21 percent choosing Kerry and 10 percent undecided.


Do I even need to mention Arab-Americans? According to the LA Times this month,

The Arab American Institute estimates ... that there are more than 100,000 Arab or Muslim voters in Florida — and that at least 45% of them backed Bush in 2000 and many others supported Green Party nominee Ralph Nader, who has Lebanese roots.

But polls this year show that Bush's previously strong support among Arab Americans has subsided.

A July survey, conducted in Florida by Zogby International, showed that just 30% of the state's Arab Americans planned to back Bush and 48% favored Kerry. Thirteen percent supported Nader, who recently won a court battle to appear on the Florida ballot.

AFP reported,

US Muslims have embarked on a vast drive get the community registered to vote in the presidential election to build what could be a potentially powerful voice in deciding the winner.

Three quarters of Muslims polled recently said they would support Kerry to just seven percent for Republican Bush. The poll of 1,700 Muslims was published September 22 by Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

"In an election as tight as this, the Muslim vote in swing states such as Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania could make a difference," said Zahid Bukhari, a researcher at the center.

Traditional Republicans

Now that the Religious Right has commandeered the machinery of the Republican Party for its own ends, many “traditional” Republicans are beginning to understand the meaning of the word “homeless.”

Bush is bad for business. He had no talent for it when he was actually engaged in it, and now that he’s got his finger in everybody else’s, the business community is beginning to act up. No, I’m not talking about defense contractors—I’m talking about Wall Street.

While the End-Time Republicans are canvassing the churches for votes, the Smith-Barney Republicans—the we-earned-our-money-the-old-fashioned-way, we-stole-it-from-the-workers Republicans—are simply raising an eyebrow when asked about Bush. And they are asked—after the board meetings and in the clubs, which is very much like going to church for these guys.

Consider this article in the June Wall Street Journal,

Two recent polls/anecdotal surveys reveal disturbing realities about what should be near automatic support for the President amongst GOP voters in the upcoming election. They are not good news for the incumbent

The first is a 1H 2004 CNBC poll of 30 professional money managers. This group manages over $320 Billion dollars -- a third of a trillion bucks. They were questioned about the market, the economy and the upcoming election. While 92% of these pros thought the stock market would do better under Bush than Kerry, a surprising 37% of them were supporting Kerry anyway.

For the incumbent, this amounts to a very large vein of discontent running through what should be a heavily GOP stronghold. Republican presidents do not typically get re-elected when they are only polling a 63% support on Wall Street.

The article [referring to another WSJ article] took quotes from participants at the Wall Street Journal's recent "All Things Digital" conference of senior technology executives. "An informal show of hands revealed many more planning to vote for Mr. Kerry than Mr. Bush. Even "Undecided" beat the president." The audience included large and small company execs, Wall Street Analysts, and Venture Capitalists. In the high-tech sector -- a younger and less-traditional set of players -- is where the Journal suggests Mr. Kerry will find the most fertile ground for support.

It it ironic that Bush is facing a defection by his own class.

College students

Try saying “I’d like a draft” in a college pub. They’ve been registering in numbers not seen for decades—and the majority are registering as Democrats.

Young women

Again, registrations in this group of under-voters have skyrocketed, and young women are registering Democratic. They’ve had four years of no help with the kids, job losses, insurance cutbacks and threats to their abortion rights. Tell me they’re going to vote for Bush.

Are there groups whose support for Bush has increased?

I have wracked my brain over this question, and I can only come up with two groups whose support for Bush may have increased—right-wing Christians and Jews.

The Jews

Overall, Bush has lost support among Jews, with the exception, of course, of the Orthodox. New York’s Jewish Week said in late September,

A poll released this week by the American Jewish Committee suggests that 69 percent of Jewish voters across the country back Kerry, while 24 percent support Bush, with 3 percent for independent candidate Ralph Nader. The latest figure for Bush is down from a December survey by the same group that had 30 percent of Jews backing the president.

But anecdotal evidence hints that a significant share of Orthodox and other traditional Jews, who compose a large share of the community in New York, are rallying behind Bush.

Also in September, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported,

In 2000, Al Gore trounced Bush 79 percent to 19 percent among Jewish voters nationwide, and a poll released last month suggests that little has changed. A national survey of 800 likely Jewish voters found a 75 to 22 percent split in favor of Kerry - a statistical match to the gap four years ago.

So Bush’s pandering to Sharon has paid off—but only marginally.

The right-wing Christians

To write about them properly would require a post unto itself. While right-wing Christians clearly are in the Bush column, I simply have to agree with a remark of Molly Ivins to the effect that “Some of them really are Christians.” And the return of George W. Bush to office is not the sort of Second Coming they have in mind.

Richard Viguerie, whose comments I quoted in the beginning, says,

... Christian conservatives might decide to stay at home rather than go to the polls this year. White House political guru Karl Rove has estimated that upward of 4 million such voters didn't turn out in 2000 and that he hopes to get them to come out this time. But Viguerie disagrees: "I don't see why this election is going to be different than that." And no matter who wins on Nov. 2, Viguerie asserts, "some time early on the morning of Nov. 3, there'll be a big battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party."

Newly registered voters, regardless of group

There is one thing on which voter registrars across the country agree—They’ve never seen such an avalanche of new voter registrations. These registrations are coming from the poor, women, African-Americans, college students, people who haven’t voted in 30 years, even the homeless. They’re overwhelmingly in support of Kerry.

The Republican party is going all out to suppress them, and I’m sure they’ll find a disproportionate number of incorrectly executed registration forms that have to be tossed. But they’re not going to be able to prune back enough of them to prevent a new mass of voters from going to the polls and voting Democratic.

Why aren’t the polls reflecting the results from my tea leaves?

I don’t want to beat a dead horse here. Many commenters have been analyzing the polls for bias. And while some of the problems are evident, the media are unwilling to lose faith in them.

The two issues most discussed are that

The first criticism is correct, but the latter is by far the most important source of error.

Just as important but never discussed is the enormous investment that the media have made in polling. For ABC News or the Washington Post to admit that their polls are a crock of shit will probably require the Second Coming—or a win for Kerry on November 2.

So what can go wrong?

Plenty, actually. But two issues concern me more than any other—

Sinclair’s market is so vast that they could really hurt Kerry with the “documentary” they propose to show as “news.” Enough said about that.

The other thing to watch for is a sudden spate of newscasts declaring that polls show a big lead for Bush. That would naturally dampen the ardor of all those new registrants who are still not certain that their votes make a difference.

But there you have it. Kerry is going to win; Bush is going to lose; and on November 2 I’ll be able to take a day off from writing this damned blog.

Related posts:
In case you're worried about the November election ...
In case you're worried about November . . . (revisited)
The silliness of polls: The "enthusiasm gap"


1 Research has shown that tea-leaf analysis, when properly combined with the results from entrails, has better than a 95% likelihood of being true—or at least of being plausible. [back]

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