Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Assessing polls

I've been thinking about the polls (CNN/USAToday Bush 50%, Kerry 44%, Nader 4%. WaPo/ABCNews Bush 48%, Kerry 43%, Nader 6%.) that came out yesterday showing Bush pulling ahead, slightly, of Kerry in spite of the weeks of bad news Bush has been suffering. I was reminded immediately, on hearing these numbers, of the summer of 2000 when, after a couple of weeks of generally bad political coverage for Bush, when a new Gallup poll came out showing a 10 point swing in Bush's favor almost over night.

The natural reaction at first is to say, "What the f*ck!?", when things like this happen. But I agree with Kos' caution that those who applaud flucuating polls when they go in your direction don't have much room to complain when they swing in the other direction. I also generally agree with Josh Marshall's assessment of pollster Charlie Cook's take on these polls:

Cook gives a rather downcast view of the state of the Kerry campaign and suggests that the massive Bush ad campaign against Kerry is finally bearing fruit. Nevertheless, measures of public opinion on Iraq keep heading south, as does the all-important 'is the country headed in the right direction/wrong direction' question. He concludes by saying that "Kerry's rising negative ratings and an increase in Bush's own problems create a wash -- a race that remains a dead heat in this evenly divided country."

I think the basic problem right now is that, while the country is ripe for hearing the case for an alternative to Bush, Kerry has yet to make that case convincingly. Furthermore, the longer he takes to do so, the more the country will swing back to the default position of sticking with the devil they know. Those of us in the Anybody-But-Bush category have got remember that that is not a sufficient qualification in the minds of a significant number of voters.

Death by a thousand paper-cuts is a strategy that will only take Bush down so far and, barring some major scandalous revelation, he's probably down about as far as he is going to go. Kerry has got to make the sale. He has shown signs that he has the ability to do so. But so far it has only come out in fits and starts. Putting the nail in Bush's coffin will eventually require a sustained campaign presenting a viable alternative.

I just hope that his campaign is primarily based on the idea of coasting into victory. In a time of war that simply won't work.


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