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The incomparable Ron Brownstein has a great article in the LATimes that explains why Bush is on the edge.

While the doomsayers watch CNN and the biased Gallup poll that shows Bush -- GASP! -- with an eight point lead, the real story is how Bush is only over 50% in two of four polls, and no incumbent wins if under 50% going into the election.

While most of America is watching the spread in the polls between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry, key strategists in both parties have their eyes on a different set of numbers: Bush's share of the vote and his job approval in the final surveys before election day.

Analysts watch the incumbent's numbers in the polls so closely because most voters who stay undecided until the very end of a presidential campaign traditionally break for the challenger. As a result, challengers often run ahead of their final poll results, while incumbents rarely exceed their last poll numbers.

"We know from the history of presidential elections that when a president is polling below 50% going into the election, he usually loses," said Alan I. Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist. "That is true of incumbent office holders in general. The incumbent usually ends up getting the percentage that he is getting in the final polls -- that's it."

By that standard, the race today is teetering right on the knife's edge, though perhaps tilting slightly toward Bush after he regained the lead in five separate national polls released over the weekend. More importantly, for the first time since the debates, Bush in three of the latest surveys cracked the 50% level in support -- the best news GOP strategists have seen in weeks.

Surveys released Saturday by Newsweek and ABC/Washington Post put Bush's support at 50% among likely voters. On Sunday, Bush reached 52% among likely voters in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, opening an 8-percentage-point advantage over Kerry.

But a survey released over the weekend by Time placed Bush at 48% -- as did the Newsweek result among registered voters. And the daily tracking poll by independent pollster John Zogby on Sunday put Bush at 46% with likely voters. Among registered voters, Bush got 49% in the new Gallup Poll.

Bush's approval rating, another key indicator, is still running just below 50% in most polls.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Democrats are basing their hopes less on the difference between Bush and Kerry than on those surveys showing the president below 50% in support.

"This is a very well-known incumbent where people have strong views," said Democratic pollster Stanley B. Greenberg, a Kerry advisor. "His number [in the last polls] I believe is his number [on election day]."

. . .

The article goes on to quote Matthew Dowd extensively and let him weasel his way out of this precarious situation, but the headline gives it all away:  Bush is on the edge.  Now, what will push him over?  

Iraq?  Flu vaccine shortages?  Privatizing Social Security?  The draft talk?

I'm betting on a combination of all of the above.

Originally posted to brooklynben on Mon Oct 18, 2004 at 08:50 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  They will steal it (none)
    If that close on election, they will simply steal it.  And they have the dirty tactics to do it.

    do we have the courage to face a very dirty post-election fight?  Do we?  The media is on their side, so one mark against us.  They have the Supreme Court on their side, so any court case will eventually be decided for them.  They will do ANYTHING, any dirty slimey lie and trick to win in the end.  Do we have the stomach for that?  To them the ends justify the means.  Is it the same for us?

    I fear for us.  That is why the close polls make me so fearful.  Our fight for what is right, might just end up with us losing because we will not resort to doing anything and everything to win.

    •  At last (none)
      someone who knows that this election isn't about polls but about fraud from the repugs. Dems face a moral dilemma - to outfraud these guys or to keep on losing by depending on legal remedies that favor the right wing?

      Man is the measure of all things. Of things that are that they are; of things that are not, that they are not. - Protagoras (ca. 380 BC)

      by ManIstheMeasure on Mon Oct 18, 2004 at 09:12:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I for one will not stand for it (none)
      I believe if Bush tries to steal this election there will be full scale riots in the streets of every major city.

      I can't believe the Democratic and Republican leaders, with the race so close, have not prepared a contingency plan in the very likely case of a recount. My idea would be to have A republican (McCain) and a Democrat (Graham) serve as copresidents as the votes are recounted and contested. This could take months and we will need a government in place.

      We're not scaremongering, this is really happening. - Radiohead

      by Karma Mechanic on Mon Oct 18, 2004 at 09:22:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I hear you but: (none)

      my gut tells me that John Kerry and company won't let them. I take heart from an earlier report that we have voting swat teams in place to pounce! See the following: Campaign 2004: Kerry sets up 'SWAT team' of lawyers to check voting

      Kerry is no Al Gore: he's got waay more heart combined with a steel constitution. Futhermore, I expect a final GOTV push that screams: it can't be close, not this time.

      "I participate therefore I am, I do not participate therefore I am not." Henryk Skolimowski

      by libby on Mon Oct 18, 2004 at 09:26:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Strongly disagree (none)
      Your post seems to provide a rationale for encouraging people on our side to consider playing dirty...
      I respectfully and strongly disagree with what you've written both in tone and conclusion.  But let me disagree with your main point here, that "playing dirty" is the x factor that will tilt the election, and that there's nothing we Dems can do about it.

      Truth:  there are folks in rural areas of battleground states  ready to vote Democrat this election.  Organizers tell us that.  It's just a matter of people power and $$ for reaching them.  We are now focused on them.  All the phone banking we did last weekend was to true undecideds and unknowns.  Any Dem with your concerns should help with this.

      Truth:  there are folks in big cities who are registered Dems who are going to turn out in droves this year.  But we can always use more people to help, because, paradoxically, there are always voters we miss in the big cities.  Any Dem who can spare $135 should give to [ACThttps:/] and fund one election day van to take these folks to their polling place.

      Truth:  KE '04 is focused on early voting and /teaching people the importance of this in every state where it is possible.  Including NV, OR and FL.  If you really believe what you say above, you should spend the next two weeks phone banking and encouraging people to vote early and correctly in battleground states.  You can't steal a properly cast early vote.

      I don't fear for us.  Not if we are fight a smarter and more effective ground war against the GOP and do the above.  But I do fear for us if some misguided soul takes your comment as a license to break the law...or to be unethical.

      We're Democrats because we hold to our prinicples, giving up on that is not worth it.

      Let's not be worry worts...not when there's still so much to do.

      2004's the election, 2005's the prize...let'sTCB on eleven two!

      by kid oakland on Mon Oct 18, 2004 at 09:29:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Great post to my worry (none)
        Obviously I am reading waay too many "problems in FL with early voting" articles to form a rational response.  And one thing I AM  sure of is that Kerry will fight if there are shenanigans.

        But just recently I had a discussion here about pouncing when a republican is in trouble and that we should not stoop to their level.  Yes, but the world is waiting for us to win this.  

        But thank you for putting my worries into context.  Appreciate it.  All you steadier types must be getting frustrated at us "nervous nellies" involved in politics for the first time.  Sigh, note to self ... big picture ... big picture..

  •  brooklynben (none)
    I want to apologize to you that your diary got taken over by worry worts.

    Thanks for the heads up.

    Here's the correct link to the ACT contribution's a great way to keep Bush on the Edge.

    adelante ahora!

    2004's the election, 2005's the prize...let'sTCB on eleven two!

    by kid oakland on Mon Oct 18, 2004 at 09:34:49 AM PDT

    •  Taken over by worry warts? (none)

      Just so you'll know straight up, I take issue with your characterization.

      "I participate therefore I am, I do not participate therefore I am not." Henryk Skolimowski

      by libby on Mon Oct 18, 2004 at 09:46:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I wasn't responding to your post.... (none)
        I was responding to these two thoughts from the first two comments that we followed and responded to:

        they will steal it


        Dems face a moral dilemma - to outfraud these guys or to keep on losing by depending on legal remedies that favor the right wing?

        My opinion, just me, is that this kind of thinking is actually more worrisome and dangerous than what the focus of their worry is.  Outfraud these guys????  Really bad idea.

        First of all, printing that kind of thinking in a public forum like this is just asking for it to be picked up and used against us.  Second, the logic of  their worry is leading away from rationality:

        worry about GOP malfeasance
        leads to moral equvalancies
        leads to a rhetoric that justifies us breaking the law and our own ethics
        which perhaps leads to incidents, significant or not, that the GOP really can use to justify the malfeasance we were worried about in the first place.

        I am sorry if you took offense.   Your words weren't part of what I was talking about.

        2004's the election, 2005's the prize...let'sTCB on eleven two!

        by kid oakland on Mon Oct 18, 2004 at 11:27:58 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I'm just glad people are reading. (none)
    •  ACT or DNC? (none)
      Which would be better to donate to at this point?  I've got limited funds, and I'm trying to decide before tonight.

      Any thoughts?

  •  Brownstein is a thorough reporter (none)
    And the rest of the article ia not an apologia for the bush folks.  It is full of reasonable scenarios about Bush and the 50% point.  

    Molyneaux's point is that at 49, Bush could still win; I think the number is 48% at which Bush could still win depending upon Rep. turnout and the Nader vote

    I think that CW could be upended this year.  For some reason, Kerry despite great performanes seems to be having difficulty prying people from or psychologically clinging to the incumbent in a time of war.  And this last phrase "time of war" is the key one that would defy the CW that the undecided break for the challenger.  

    I think it is something to consider.  

    •  Agreed (none)
      Brownstein is one of the best.  (I think he was tops in the CJR informal poll.)  And he does open it up to how Bush could win, but I've been reading so many doom-and-gloom posts about Gallup, that I thought this gave some good perspective.

      Sure, Bush could still win, but we aren't going to let that happen.

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