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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

So, What’s Really Happening in the Battleground States?

The recent Gallup and ABC News/Washington Post polls have gotten a lot of Democrats worried about how well Bush is apparently doing. I’ve argued in the last couple of days that these worries are considerably exaggerated and that developments in the last six weeks fundamentally weaken Bush, whether or not some polls show him ahead in the horse race.
Still, I know many are worried that Bush’s ads in the battleground states have worked and that, to be doing so well in general, he must be making serious progress in those contested states.
To which I say: wrong! The Annenberg election survey results I reviewed earlier showed that Kerry’s favorabilty rating remained unchanged in the battleground states and that persuadable voters were uninclined to drink the Republican Kool-Aid about Kerry flip-flopping, believing Bush, more than Kerry, exhibited that behavior.
And now check out these just-released findings from the same ABC News poll that contributed to Democrats’ anguish about Bush being ahead. According to data in The Hotline (I can’t find any link yet on a public website, but I’m sure one will eventually appear), Kerry is ahead of Bush by 4 points in the battleground states (50-46). He’s even ahead of Bush by 2 points in these states with Nader thrown into the mix and drawing a ridiculous 7 percent.
Note also that Bush’s approval rating in the battleground states is 49 percent, 2 points under his national rating and that his approval rating on the economy in these states is just 41 percent, 3 points under his national rating.
Interestingly, if you look closely at recent Gallup poll results, there are also signs of poor recent Bush performance in battleground states (or, as they call them “purple states”). Their latest poll had Bush ahead overall among likely voters by 5 points. But he is only tied with Kerry in the purple states. Moreover, that represents a 6 point decline for Bush in the purple states compared to Gallup’s March 26-28 survey.
One must be cautious about these data, of course, because of sample size and other problems (though note that the ABC News battleground states sample is probably 300 or so, which is a pretty decent size). But they do lead me to a hypothesis about Bush’s recent improved performance in trial heat questions. Instead of getting more votes where he needs them–in the battleground states–his posturing is mostly driving up his support in the hardcore red states, where he doesn’t need them. If that’s true, Democrats should definitely not be intimidated by recent poll results. Bush is preaching to the converted–which can make him look better in a national poll–but he’s not winning many new converts where it counts.

41 comments on “So, What’s Really Happening in the Battleground States?

  1. Derrick Credito on

    What I am most afraid of are the SC justices that George Bush will appoint if he is re-appointed as president (s)elect. They will impose a total ban on all abortion, no doubt. This will be good for Democrats because that decision would be so unpopular that a Republican would not see office for fifty years. For the many Americans on the left who are craving a Hillary Clinton presidency, don’t count on it. No matter what happens in November with the Bush re-selection, the Republicans are going to sink Hillary’s senate seat if they have to spend their last dollar. Then, make way for Gore in ’08.
    If the fat cats and bible beaters get their way, the church will run the state, the nation, and eventually, the world. I believe in Christianity, and I also have a tendency to favor Democracy over Banana Republicanism. To my rural friend Chandler in Kentucky, keep the faith. I have been on an OE (overseas experience) since the onset of the Iraq war in early 2003, teaching English in Southeast Asia. I am now in Singapore, and I want to come back home to Kerry Country next year. Only you good voters can make that happen! If Bush is re-elected then I’m moving to New Zealand, at least it will take him a longer time to drop a bomb there.
    Please deliver me my country back and deliver the White House to John Forbes Kerry!!!

  2. Garskof on

    it is reasonable to suppose the mess in Iraq will only get worse as the election gets close. Some Americans see the handwriting on the wall and the cry for immediate withdrawl, as it finally did when we warred on Vietnam, will become a majority view. John Kerry knows this and from his Vietnam experience must see that absolute withdrawl asap is the best way to end our involvement. After all, again as with Vietnam, whenever we leave the result will be the same. The Iraq that will emerge if we leave today, next year or in ten years will be a tribal/theocratic corrupt coalition of elites. Kerry must come out for withdrawl if he wants the growing and soon to be massive anti-war movement to bring him to the White House.

  3. Maxcat on

    bush is by a million miles the worst president that this country has ever had. If America elects him then America is lost forever. Goodbye America and goodnight. I cry for our children. I cry for the world.
    Ask anyone why they would vote for bush and then confront them with their hypocracy. Use the facts, help them see the truth. Everyone must do what they can to save our country, one vote at a time.

  4. dennisS on

    workingpoor, I appreciate your insight into rural KY. Presumably Louisville is a little different. I once lived in remote parts of Utah. Your story rang a bell for me, though in those days I was far enough out there (pre-satellite) we had no TV and 3 radio stations. In many ways that was a blessing. Your second post gives me hope. “Redneck” had a few progressive facets once. It will be a trick getting that back. Once again thanks.

  5. workingpoor on

    Reinstitution of the Fairness doctrine should be a major plank of the Democratic platform. It could be implimented by FEC regulations under a Kerry presidency. Also, the licensing should be changed so that consumers have some teeth; compaints from citizens could be investigated and liscenses pulled in a timely fashion. Disabled people like me would LOVE to monitor and document violations if there were a practical proccess for making an impact!
    The emerging Democratic majority would pull together much faster if accurate information were freely available to the general public.
    I apologize for posting so lengthy a commentary.
    I broke it into three parts because I was unsure of the word limit.

  6. workingpoor on

    The good news is the natives are getting restless anyway. The Bush-Cheney bumper stickers have completely disapeared, as have the “pro-life” billboards and political statements on the lighted signs in front of the chuches. Factory workers are complaining about Health care and low wages and pointedly refusing to discuss politics. (Around here if your politics aren’t redneck, you best avoid the subject.)
    Even the proffessionals have no idea whats going on. When asked about problems with the NCLB, legislation, several professional teachers in town drew a blank.
    Most people around here smell a great big rat, but they have no informational base to understand why. Discussion is taboo. Questioning is actively discouraged. And they are inundated with propaganda. And I beleive most disaffected people don’t bother to vote.
    The only way to break thru is to reinstitute the FEC fairness doctrine (repealed by the Gingrich Congress) and force the media to present both sides and honest news and information.

  7. workingpoor on

    DennisS-As a dedicated leftwing Dem now living in rural red state Kentucky, I can offer some insight into the question of how Americans can put Bush back into office. A good percentage of people here can’t read and are dependent on the spoken word for information. Rush Limbaugh is available to them 15 hours a week. NPR is useless; they actually censor the All Things Considered standup peices to report only the parts that make Bush look good. Our local Rep. Hal Rogers is lauded glowingly in the local papers when he delivers pork, otherwise is never mentioned. The only television station that my rural area gets is KET public telivision. They play Lou Dobbs and the Leher news, but otherwise it is Lawrence Welk and crafts, hunting and fishing. They show Bill Moyers at 11 on Friday nights, when most of the local population is stoned to the gills or sound asleep. Most rural people don’t have access to cable, and don’t have the credit for sattellite service without a large cost upfront. The preachers around here rant from the pulpit that the Net is the Devil’s work, and around here that is major; if you aren’t a good ‘Christian’ you are ostrasized and unemployed.

  8. Chandler on

    Kerry is a joke..he has NO chance about Dubya…People know Kerry will turn our national security over to the crooked, useless UN..
    Vote Bush..he is our only hope..
    A vote to little liberal kerry is a wasted vote

  9. Maxcat on

    Seth the Supreme Courts decision was about the re-count, not who won the vote. Had they allowed the real votes to be counted then the electoral count would have given President Gore the election.
    No one was challenging the electoral college.
    The Supreme Court does not have the power or authority to change the law/system. They only interpret the law and that is what they did in Florida. So the scenario that you quoted could not happen.
    John Kerry will be our new President come next November, with the popular vote and the electoral college both to his favor. No Supreme Court crowning/appointment/annointment/ this time.
    We should concentrate on them stealing the votes before they are counted, now there’s something to keep an eye on.

  10. Seth on

    Honestly, I don’t know why you bother. Just as the Scalia 5 wrote a very special decision in 2000, one that couldn’t be used as precedent in any other election dispute, they will tailor make a decision again. If Kerry wins the electoral vote and loses the popular vote, the Supreme Court will say that at a time of war and grave national crisis, the country would suffer irreparable harm if the winner of the popular vote was thrown out of office.
    It’s inevitable. Bush will be reappointed.

  11. Ron Thompson on

    In response to Alan’s question at the top, Gallup talks about “purple” states, in which Bush or Gore won by 5 percentage points or less. I think there were 15 of them: Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Florida, New Hampshire, and Maine. In those 15, the total results in 2000 had Gore ahead by two-tenths of one percent, 17,051,343 to 16,987,908. Gore got 85 electoral votes from those states, and Bush got 84. The next two closest states, Washington and West Virginia, had margins between 5 and 6 percent. So any lead at all in that group is significant, and a lead of 6 or more points indicates the possibility of a sweep, pushing that party up to around 340 electoral votes. I think Kerry has at least an even shot in every one of the 15 except Tennessee.

  12. H.D.COLE on


  13. Maxcat on

    You heard it here first. Take it to the bank. America will win this election, unlike the last presidential election.

  14. Diane on

    I have absolutely no basis in fact for saying this, aside from being a longtime Kerry fan (30+ years) and constituent, but I don’t think in the end it’s even going to be close. I think Kerry wins fairly easily, not a landslide, but not a nailbiter either.

  15. reignman on

    The polls I’ve seen show that Americans would rather have a democratic than a republican in a generic congressional election. The Senate will stay about 50/50, but I think the Dems will gain some ground in the House ’04, regardless of how the Presidential Election plays out.

  16. laura on

    I’m curious about the effect Bush’s standings will have on the other races. The plan was to stage a quick, victorious war, get a landslide for Bush, and pull a lot of Repugs along on his coattails. That clearly is not going to happen. The race looks tobe extremely close. What affect will that have on the other races?

  17. Maxcat on

    PoliticalBlogger, well only if we are going to apply the stick equally to everyone. But then again that would mean……………..
    Since Jesus isn’t here to give communion to, we had better not go there, if you know what I mean.
    So is this “Top Official” polling his local congregation? It’ll save him a lot of time wasted giving communion to all those undeserving.
    And let’s not even get started on the bushman.
    I heard a tape of bush saying he thought God wanted him to be President. I think he just misunderstood what God said. What He really said was “That He wanted bush to be present”, for his NG duty that is. Hey it was an honest mistake, yeah right.

  18. H.D. COLE on

    When you are being shot at and they meanto kill you , you are not woried about THE VATICAN, AND DON’T YOU YOU GO TO HELL FOR LYING

  19. Maxcat on

    Fred you are right on the money, bush will go down very hard. Keep the faith. My biggest worry is that through the manipulation of polling data and the media, the bushies are working to keep Americans thinking that this race will be close. Why? Well if we all think that the race is close then we will be ripe for a theft, just like in Florida 00. This ain’t no grassy knoll guys.
    There is no way in H that our fellow Americans will vote bush for president with everything that he has done. If bush wins then We the People will have been the objects of a Royal screwing.

  20. H.D. COLE on


  21. reignman on

    The descrepancy between the national average and battleground states is because Bush’s support in Red states is more than Kerry’s support in Blue States. Therefore, Kerry can be doing better in battleground states than in the nation as a whole. Elections are about the electoral college, not the popular vote. In fact, I recently read an article in The New York Times suggesting that Bush may win the popular vote, and Kerry the electoral college.

  22. Fred on

    Fear not everyone. I have total faith in John Kerry. I was not for him in the primaries, and was actually feeling sorry for him. The joke was on me and a lot of others. Do I have to remind everyone of the political obituaries out there before the actual voting began. Like Kos said the other day, the man knows how to close. This will be a “slam dunk” election. If not, then put to bed Abe’s famous “you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Just look at the record. What kind of people would put this man back in office after the horrific record he’s put up. When push comes to shove, in the voting booth, I can’t see a majority of our fellow citizens pulling that Bush lever. After all, it’s about self preservation, and this gang is destroying this country, and I can’t believe that a majority of the American people could be that dumb. I have a little more faith in them than some. I hope it’s warranted.

  23. Terry on

    Note that the battleground states sample has been determined by Bush’s advertising strategy and excludes 33 states that gives Bush 190 safe EV and Kerry only 168 EV, so Kerry had better be ahead. A more reasonable sample would include Colorado (which has been polling closer than Washington) and Lousiana in the battleground category and would be Bush 172 safe EV, Kerry 168. Striking how the Kerry campaign is letting Bush define the battleground states to the extent that the media and independent polling groups simply accept the Bush sample. Democrats should not.

  24. greg on

    It seems dEMOCRACY is unfortunately in the hands of UNLIKELY voters. Spain is example of UNLIKELY voters saying enough is enough. I take little comfort in the views of LIKELY voters (traditional).

  25. Controller on

    I decided to reread Ruy’s book the Emerging Democratic Majority. It gives me further hope for a Dem victory in November. I have done my own calculations of electoral votes and find that Kerry will have 296 without Florida. I really believe the scandal-ridden administration will take a tumble in the polls this summer with the coming out of Wilson’s book and the belief that legally things will begin to happen on this front.

  26. dennisS on

    I’ll try and take comfort from your close analysis of the polls and the fact that we’re still a long way from November but I still can’t help being dismayed by my countrymen. You’d think that after recent events in Iraq and the steady stream of revelations, (Clarke et al), every segment of the country would be eager to express their dissatisfaction with Bush. Even if Kerry wins we still have to live next to these people and there are too many to call them a cult. That is the source of my anguish.

  27. SSJPabs on

    Yet a crazed fundie Santorum clone like Toomey is beating the slightly more sensible Specter.
    How can you figure PA voters would be any smarter when it comes to the presidential race?

  28. Rob on

    I’ve been working on a Keystone Poll for the Specter/Toomey race. If the responses that I’ve been getting on the calls I’ve made are any indication I think a lot of PA Republicans are not happy with Dubya. When asked about Bush on the Fav/Unfav/Undecided question, a lot are responding undecided. I think PA is going to be more comfortable for Kerry than the polls seem to be indicating.

  29. Wayne on

    Remember everyone:
    From January to July of 1992, the presumptive Democratic nominee was polling THIRD behind an incumbent named George Bush (H. Ross Perot was polling second).
    Bill Clinton would go on to win the electoral vote 370 to 168, and the national popular vote by 6 percentage points.
    Then again, President Harry Truman was behind in ALL polling all the way up to Election Day and still managed a SLIGHTLY comfortable victory margin.
    Pins and needles!!! The next 6 1/2 months are going to make the “extended dance remix” that was the 2000 presidential election like childs play.

  30. PollFan on

    2.004k.com is a new site that tracks state-by-state polls. Here’s a page showing all races, sorted by trend:
    It shows 17 toss-up states, polling within the margin of error.
    Of the remaining states, the tally shows Bush with 196 Electoral Votes, and Kerry with 96.
    (and taking a snapshot of recent polls as of 4/22/04, shows Bush with 311 electoral votes and Kerry with 227)

  31. Sean on

    This trend if it continues would lead to a wonderfully ironic result – a Bush popular plurality, a Kerry electoral victory.
    The looks on Rove/Limbaugh/Dennis Miller/Zell Miller et al faces would be priceless, and when they spout that Kerry should bend to the will of the people we will all have a good laugh…

  32. slipkid on

    I second Raj comments. The Kerry campaign needs to get its “air force” off the ground and counter-attacking. Right now, Bush et al has carpet-bombed the battleground states. The Kerry campaign needs a whole lot more vigor and spirit. Please get kicking Bush’s ass.

  33. Raj on

    I think it is important to recognize that there has been an upswing in Bush’s support and these commercials do seem to have some impact. I live in Boston (in the same TV market as Southern NH), and I see dubya commercials all the time misrepresenting Kerry’s record. Where are MoveOn.org’s, ACT, or Kerry’s commercials. What is being done with the money. Anecdotely, speaking to people, I know that Bush’s commercials are having an effect. There is no reason to sugar coat it, the Bush team is not stupid. They know what the hell there doing and we can’t get complacent….

  34. Alan on

    The question is. What were the percentages between President Gore and Mr. Bush in the Battleground States in 2000 compared to what the polls say is the difference today between Kerry and Bush?


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