Saturday, August 28, 2004

A note of sanity

The Grand Poobah of poll watchers, Ruy Teixeira is back with a detailed analysis of the much talked about LA Times poll that "appeared" to show that the Swifty attacks were working against Kerry. You should read it all, but I would like to hilight two points:

If August had been a slow news month, this trend would almost certainly have been ascribed to an inevitable "coming back down to earth" following the run of positive news coverage Kerry had enjoyed for several months during the spring (the remarkable fundraising success, the popular choice of Edwards, the united, energized Democratic convention). Instead, because the attacks on Kerry’s medals and military service were intensely dramatic and widely covered, many commentators simply assumed that any changes in the opinion polls had to be due to their influence.

The wailing and gnashing of teeth that we heard from Democrats after the release of this poll frankly pissed me off. Anyone who has watched the polls closely for the last few months has seen swings like those shown in the LA Times poll. Yet, because people were looking for some kind of negative effect on Kerry, a perfectly ordinary fluctuation in the LA Times poll was widely interpreted to be that negative effect.

From the Bush campaign's point of view, the magnitude of the swift-boat fiasco becomes clear when it is recognized that a major goal of the August campaign was to put John Kerry on the defensive - to have him stumbling over his words, being pilloried in the press and firing his advisors. Instead (although the issue will now be muted by the theatrics of the Republican convention) it was Bush who was forced onto the defensive by the end of last week while Kerry weathered the attacks with an extraordinarily small decline in the level of his popular support.

The small fluctuation in the LA Times poll is not an indication that the Swifty attacks are working against Kerry. The failure to show a more substantial swing is an indication that the campaign failed in its main objective. Kerry has now demonstrated that he can take the heat of the most scurillous of smears and that he can hit back as hard as he is hit. He has buried the notion that he is just another Dukakis or Gore. And it is because of the Swifty attacks that he was able to do it.

We should all send a note of thanks to John O'Neil and Karl Rove.

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