washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Republican Analysts Lower the Bar

Here’s a recent statement on Bush’s approval ratings and what they portend for his re-election from the conservative website RealClearPolitics.com.
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. A 40% – 44% job approval for the President would translate into a dead heat race, and below 40% and you would have to give the advantage to Kerry.
Oh really? And just what do they base this cheerful assessment on? They don’t say, but it is worth noting that this represents a considerable lowering of the bar for Bush (just keep it at 45 or above and even 40-44 isn’t so bad!) compared to earlier Republican claims about his approval ratings.
Here’s what I had to say back in February of 2003 when Matthew Dowd, pollster for the RNC, was touting 50 percent or above as the magic number for Bush:
….we don’t really know an incumbent president at 50 percent can’t be defeated. After all, we only have approval rating data from 1948 onwards, so there are a very limited amount of cases to consider — to be precise, eight, if we restrict our attention to incumbent presidents. Of these eight, none had a rating of exactly 50 percent in July of their election year and the closest was 53 percent. So maybe 53 percent is the magic level (if there is one) — Dowd’s use of the 50 percent level is purely arbitrary and slants the rather thin historical record in Bush’s favor. In addition, the president who had this 53 percent rating and was, in fact, reelected (Ronald Reagan in 1984) also had the benefit of a strong economy. So what happens at 53 percent and a weak economy, like Bush currently has? We don’t know. And we certainly don’t know about 50 percent and a weak economy, the scenario Dowd seems to be trying to cover with his confident historical assertions. Indeed, the closer one looks at Dowd’s “50 percent and you’re golden” rule for re-electing incumbent presidents, the shakier it looks. What he’s trying to pass off as an iron law of history is, in fact, a tendentious reading of a very modest amount of real data.
What goes for Dowd goes double for RealClearPolitics and their attempt to make 45 percent the magic number.
Especially since there’s really only one case that falls into the 45-49 percent approval category–where Bush is now–and that’s Gerald Ford. And he lost. And there’s really never been a 40-44 case (Carter and Bush I were sub-40 guys) so how can they say that such a rating translates into a “dead heat”? It seems more reasonable, if you’re going to play this game, to say that a rating in between Ford’s and Carter/Bush I’s translates into a likely loss, not a tossup.
These guys are just whistling past the graveyard. Their attempts to make up fake historical laws are just designed to (1) paper over the fact that his current approval ratings are more bad than good news for an incumbent president; and (2) give them bogus talking points so that, if Bush falls any farther, they can still claim he’s bound to win.
Don’t be taken in. They’re worried. Real worried.

22 comments on “Republican Analysts Lower the Bar

  1. BushWhopper on

    Sometimes I wonder if T. Bevans really believes all the shit that he shovels on RCP. I almost fell off my chair when I read that one. But its not just that, RCP is full of ludicrous claims, childish ad homimen attacks on anyone who deigns to challenge Bush on anything and unsupported claims (i.e. Bush has MORE volunteers than Kerry, just look at the Bush04 website!!!). We should all do ourselves a favor and boycott the damn thing. I know I won’t be looking at it anymore. The commentary, if any, on RCP is right wing tripe. The polls you can get on Pollingreport.com (without “analysis” explaining why the fact that kerry is up 5% in a GOP leaning state is a sure sign of a Bush win in that state) and the editorial links are available elsewhere on the web.

  2. quietpc3400 on

    I tend to believe that today’s Bush/Sharon annoucement was made in large part due to short term political factors., i.e. in one stroke Bush firms up the Christian dispensationalist wackjob base, which was getting antsy about Iraq, and splits off a significant portion of the Dem-leaning Jewish vote.
    Plus, as a bonus, as an absolutely unmistakeable “f___ you” provocation to the entire Arab world, any subsequent terrorism only benefits Bush as the nation will tend to rally around the president as they did post 9/11.
    Do anyone think this was a factor behind today’s announcement?

  3. IMNPAINE on

    And just what do they base this cheerful assessment on? They don’t say, but it is worth noting that this represents a considerable lowering of the bar for Bush (just keep it at 45 or above and even 40-44 isn’t so bad!) compared to earlier Republican claims about his approval ratings.
    It gives cover as they try to force though legislation the next 7 months.

  4. BKW on

    While I’m sure the Republicans would like to run on the controversial social issues again this time around, it’s going to take a back seat to the more high profile Iraq and terrorism issues for the near future. It looks like we might even have a decent foreign policy debate as part of a presidential campaign. I can’t recall the last time that happened!
    For what it’s worth, toward the end of Bush’s remarks last night, I could’ve sworn he said, “We need to have a debate about whether we’re going to take the lead in the world or whether we’ll share responsibilities.” Listening to it again (I had taped it), it was clear he said, “shirk responsibilities,” but the way I had heard it seems more appropriate…

  5. Paul C on

    My impression is that gay marriage has been a complete dud for W as an issue. His shameless pandering has turned off moderates, his ham-handed announcement has angered fellow Republicans and the 9/11 commission has completely pushed it out of the papers. In addition, Kerry has managed to take what appears to be a moderate ground that will not let Rove portray him as a radical. At the same time, he has been low-keyed enough about it that he has not angered the gay and lesbian community.
    Of course, I live in Massachusetts. I would be interested in hearing if people in battleground states feel differently.

  6. Sara on

    Polling within African American communities indicates less than the margin of error difference in expressed intentions re: 2004 and the way the vote stacked up for Gore in 2000. If anything, the voter intentions among Hispanics are more favorable to Democrates than 4 years ago. (Though different Hispanic Communities have different patterns.)

  7. JGil on

    I think Peter is completely wrong. Blacks are not abandoning the democrats over gay marriage or any other issue. Ditto for hispanics. I haven’t seen any data that remotely supports his case.

  8. Peter on

    Alan, it’s the same-sex marriage issue that is making blacks reject Democrats. Hispanics and blue-collar white Democrats will probably do the same soon, unfortunately. The GOP has played this brilliantly.

  9. Alan Snipes on

    I just looked at a Battleground Poll (tarrance.com) and while the poll shows a 1-Point lead for Kerry (49-48), the underlying numbers do not look good for Bush basically because the numbers in the Battleground states are worse for Bush than his national numbers. The one negative note for the Democrats so far is that it appears the African-American community is not energized at this point.
    Hopefully they will become so but I must say that if you can’t be energized now when can you be? So as of today Kerry would probably win narrowly but this underscores the importance of Registering and Turning out OUR Voters especially in the Battleground States.

  10. laura on

    Does anyone know how Bush’s speach has been received by the general public? People on blogs say about what yu would expect them to say. Bush haters think he tanked, Bush supporters think he was inspirational. Did his speach make any difference in anyone’s thinking?

  11. Steve Bates on

    “And just what do they base this cheerful assessment on?” – RT
    Perhaps 40-44 percent is within Diebolding distance. Any smaller percentage, and they won’t be able to steal the election undetected.

  12. reignman on

    Has there EVER been an incumbent president who won re-election w/ an approval rating BELOW 50% in JULY of the election year?
    Has there EVER been an incumbent president who won re-election during a RECESSION?
    I think the answers to both are no, but I’m not positive.
    As for a president’s approval rating, I don’t see how a president with an approval rating of 40-45% can be in a close race. I know approval ratings aren’t “who would you vote for,” but if less than half of RVs don’t like the job Bush is doing, that is automatically a problem for him.

  13. debra on

    Rasmussen Reports tells you to go to that site to assess presidential approval ratings. I wonder what to make of this.

  14. MdtoMN on

    In head to head match ups, when can Kerry be said to have an advantage? Lets say they’re running, 55 (Kerry) – 45 (Bush), is that still just a dead heat? Does Kerry have an advantage at 60-40? I can already see the cries of “Liberal Media Bias” When commentators announce Kerry is leading at 60-40

  15. Brian Wilder on

    They’re worried, OR
    they’re getting us ready for the “magic” of electronic, touch-screen, sorry no recount possible, voting.
    A disconnect between honest polls and election returns will be our only clue that the election has been stolen.
    REMEMBER: only the paranoid survive

  16. MDtoMN on

    “A 40% – 44% job approval for the President would translate into a dead heat race, and below 40% and you would have to give the advantage to Kerry.”
    Wow, if Bush is down by 10%, you have to admit that Kerry has an advantage?! They sure are giving a lot, aren’t they. This is ridiculous, 40-44 is a dead heat I would love to be a part of.

  17. Paula on

    Rick P., that Rasmussen tracking poll fluctuates a lot (although neither Bush nor Kerry rarely ever has a lead of more than 4 points), and as Ruy has said, a tracking poll of likely voters this far in advance of the election doesn’t make a lot of sense. The bottom line is, this is a close race, and that bodes well for Kerry because incumbents who aren’t comfortably ahead at this point lose.

  18. Rick P. on

    Tuesday’s Rasmussen tracking poll has Bush and Kerry tied at 46%. More importantly, “[e]ighty-three percent (83%) of Bush voters say they are ‘certain’ they will vote for him. Seventy-six percent (76%) of Kerry voters are equally ‘certain.’ Based on the firmness of support, that translates into a 3 to 4 point lead for Bush. Using a crude yardstick, Kerry will need to be up by five points or better to beat Bush.
    The Kerry campaign needs to get into third gear and advertise more. The Iraq issue is out of everybody’s hands, but he should be slamming Bush on the environment, federal spending, and other issues.

  19. wvmcl on

    One non-controversial promise that Kerry could get a lot of mileage out of:
    Pledge to hold a full press conference at least once every calendar month for the duration of his Presidency, with no advance vetting of reporters or questions.
    The contrast would be dramatic.

  20. Karen in Austin on

    What I’m afraid of is that these assertions are being put out there to lay groundwork for going on the offensive when they’re accused of stealing the election via the electronic voting machines this fall. With numbers in the low 40s, a win for such a candidate would ordinarily give rise to a prima facie case for strong suspicions of tampering — they’re campaigning to weaken that presumption. Just a little conspiracy-theorizing.

  21. Dan on

    This is one bar that I don’t mind them lowering because it is based on self-delusion. If they choose to commission polls and then completely misread them, well, more power to them.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.