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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Swing Voters in Swing States Can’t Stand Bush

The Annenberg Election Survey has just released some new data on “persuadable voters” in the battleground states (about 11 percent of the nation’s public) and it is very interesting data indeed. (Annenberg defines persuadable voters as those that say they are undecided or who have a preference but say there’s a “good chance” they could change their minds; for Annenebeg’s definition of battleground states, see my May 26 post.) Probably the most striking thing about the data is how little these voters like George Bush and where he’s led the country.
Consider these findings. Swing voters in swing states give Bush an overall approval rating of just 44 percent. But that’s good compared to how they feel about Bush’s handling of the economy and Iraq. In both cases, Bush’s approval rating is a stunningly low 30 percent, with 60 percent disapproval. Wow. Sounds like these voters are ready for a change.
That’s confirmed by their responses to th right direction/wrong track question: 2:1 wrong track over right direction (59/25). In addition, 85 percent of these voters believe the current state of the economy is only fair or poor and only 14 percent believe Bush’s economic policies have made the economy better.
As Bush’s 30 percent approval rating on Iraq suggests, these voters are very negative indeed on the Iraq situation and whether it’s accomplishing anything positive. By an overwhelming 69-20 margin, they don’t believe Bush has a clear plan to bring the Iraq situation to a successful conclusion. By a similar margin (67-19), they don’t believe the war in Iraq has reduced the risk of terrorist attacks against the US. They also don’t believe, by 53-40, that the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over.
And they’re interested in getting US troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. By 52-41, they say we should bring our troops home as soon as possible, rather than keeping troops in Iraq until a stable government is formed (the public as a whole narrowly favors keeping troops in Iraq by 49-46).
Note also that Bush’s approval rating on handling the war on terrorism among these voters is net negative (44/50).
Besides their decidedly negative views on Bush, other characteristics of these voters suggest their accessibility to Kerry’s campaign. Compared to the general public, either nationwide or just in the battleground states, these voters are less likely to describe themselves as conservative, less likely to be Republican, less likely to attend church frequently and less likely to own a gun.
Is it a done deal for John Kerry among these voters then? No. He still has to close the sale. At this point, his net favorability rating among these voters (+3) is no higher than Bush’s. These voters are also paying less attention to the campaign than other voters, so Kerry will need to catch their attention to turn them decisively in his direction.
And that brings us back to the boldness issue I’ve been posting about lately. Kerry needs to excite voters in general about his campaign and these voters in particular. As the campaign unfolds, an overly cautious approach may miss an opportunity to turn the swing voters in swing states into a Kerry constituency. And note these voters’ sentiment about keeping troops in Iraq. Even if he doesn’t want to specify an exit date, he does need to convey to these voters that he has a plan for successfully concluding the Iraq war and getting those troops back home.

24 comments on “Swing Voters in Swing States Can’t Stand Bush

  1. bt on

    In response to Alleykat’s question about how much of a bounce Bush will get from Reagan’s death, I don’t know. I suspect that to an even greater degree than they would have anyway they will try to wrap Bush in Reagan’s flag at their convention. I suspect the swing voters are likely to take a detached view towards the ongoing hagiography.
    Will we see the following exchange in one of the fall’s Kerry/Bush debates?
    Bush: President Ronald Reagan, the greatest American President in American history, understood that we Americans need to stand tall against those who would do us harm as Americans. If we Americans stay the course like Ronald Reagan did, we Americans will prevail.
    Kerry: Well, to borrow from the words of another great American, let me tell you something, George. I knew Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was an acquaintance of mine. And let me tell you, George, you’re no Ronald Reagan.

  2. Ron Thompson on

    Dear AlleyKat,
    Nice of James to try to involve you in his fight, eh? I guess you can tell, he’s a really special guy.
    I certainly have no problem with the question you raise. And I think Bush may get some benefit from Reagan’s passing, by reminding some voters of what they liked about Reagan, and also because Bush’s miserable failings will be out of the news for a few days.
    On the other hand, it steps on whatever positive coverage Bush may have gotten from D-Day and the international get-togethers this month. The White House hoped that June would be a good month for them because the President would look presidential. Perhaps it will also be occasion to reflect on how conservatism has fallen, from the Great Communicator Reagan to the Incoherent Mumbler Bush.

  3. exotrip on

    James, I knew it was you from your first comment. Your writing style and defeatist attitude stood out like a naked man in church. No one has to stalk you to notice those things.
    Anyway, I believe that Bush will see a small rise in polls, because of seemingly good economic news and progress in Iraq (new government). However, I don’t think Bush is coasting to easy victory. He is not liked amongst swing voters and independents, and he is weak in several upper southern states. With as many states as tied as they are now (OR, NV, AZ, NM, MO, MN, IA, MI, OH, WV, PA, VA, NC, FL, AR), and Bush’s fortune tied to the force of history, no one can predict this election. So, we wil see an interchange of leads inside the MOE of polls for the next few months.

  4. James on

    Oh and Alley, unless you want Ron to stalk you as well and follow you around making things up for his personal gain, you’d better not speculate on Bush’s poll numbers.

  5. James on

    By the way, Hank, Ron, which of you is pretending to be this “soup” person? Why are you too cowardly to admit that’s who you are? It’s very suspicious.

  6. James on

    Oh there’s my stalker, Ron. How are you? People are one to what exactly? If I’d been trying to hide, why would I have used my name from Kos? Come up with something new, please, because no one is buying it. I don’t know why you’re so obsessed with me.
    Hank, the Eeyore comment is generic and forgettable. I guess that is your strong suit?
    Roy, did you check long enough to see that the comment which sap posted here was from weeks ago, and had nothing to do with this thread? Please go back and realize that. Don’t let stalkers like Ron or sap lie to you.

  7. AlleyKat on

    Kinda morbid, I know but…
    What kind of bounce will Bush get from Reagan’s death? Will it be long-lived?

  8. Roy on

    “All the others have Bush in the lead?” James, the last 4 other polls listed at http://www.pollingreport.com have a tie or a Kerry lead. I would like to think that your statement is merely an error, but I suspect that you do follow politics to some degree, and are thus lying.

  9. soup on

    This is only one poll; all the others have Bush in the lead. Given the public’s strong sympathy towards Rumsfeld (70% want him to stay), and the media’s success at lying to people about the economy and blaming the prison abuses all on this England girl, I think that you will see Bush’s support go way up again in the next few months.
    Posted by James at May 7, 2004 09:48 PM
    One question James. Are you a tool or a fool?

  10. James on

    Clark was a very bad campaigner (and had even more confusing positions on abortion than Kerry), and also has a very confusing and muddled Iraq war position. He doesn’t add much to the ticket. He’s definitely no McCain.
    Carla, Bush is the media’s god and it’s amazing he’s even behind in polls at this point. I don’t think anything Kerry can do will stop Bush from rebounding in polls. As JC said, it’s all about lowered expectations. The media are bound and determined to make Bush beloved again.

  11. JC on

    1. Why are these job numbers big news? The numbers are not that great. They “appear” good only when compared with more job losses.
    More lowered expectations for Bush.
    2. Speaking of numbers, notice that the war dead number had dropped from near 800 to 600. I guess the families of the other 200 don’t matter since the soldiers were apparently not Killed In Action, but nonetheless part of the Iraq invasion/mess.
    3. The differing comments above on W. Clark are right. Has lots of positives, and one can only hope he is able to be a better campaigner. He did seem to get much better as the campaign went along. And he seems to deliver on the same points as McCain, without being a fairly conservative GOP, as is the case with McCain.

  12. bt on

    I think for Kerry to “convey to…voters that he has a plan for successfully concluding the Iraq war and getting those troops back home” would be not bold but craven.
    It would–and IMO should–do more to lend credence to the charge he is a poll driven flip flopper with no moral compass than anything he has done in his Senate career and this campaign.
    Like many I would prefer a more dynamic Kerry than we’ve seen and that we probably ever will get and have certainly said as much in posts during the primary season. But I respect his integrity. Heck, what do I know–I’ve never even met him. But my gut tells me that Kerry is actually dealing with the issue straightforwardly, responsibly, and from his heart. That’s the person I trust. And that’s the person I want in the Oval Office.
    I believe he’s doing just fine on Iraq during this general election campaign, lighting into Bush occasionally for his conduct of the war but not so often and not so caustically as to generate a backlash against himself, offering specific constructive suggestions from time to time, and not allowing himself to be tempted to offer an easy answer on this issue that just doesn’t exist–no matter how much the American public craves one.
    FWIW I was against the war and was somewhat disappointed with Kerry’s stance on it prior to the war, although I suspected that a Dem who voted for the resolution would probably be in a better position to win the election than one who opposed it. But we’re there now and I think he’s doing as well as possible with this matter, horrible mess that it is.
    So: well-timed boldness? Sure. Yes. But I hope not on this issue, not now anyway.

  13. Joe Zainea on

    Kerry does need to connect with swing voters in swing states. However, I question whether he has to do it with some bold plans, foreign or domestic.
    As swing voters conclude that they really don’t like George Bush, what will make them decide they they want to vote for John Kerry? I think the answer may lie in some kind of emotional response to a Kerry speech or gesture; or, to the way he handles himself in one or all of the Presidential debates.
    Closing the sale for Kerry doesn’t necessarily mean he has to unveil some kind of jim dandy plan for the economy or even Iraq (although that wouldn’t hurt).
    To make that emotional connection, a candidate has to be a bit of an actor. Reagan was and so were Clinton and (yes) Bush II. The ability to project emotion to the voters is critical to human connection. Without it the candidate is a disembodied voice that doesn’t hold the attention of the people who want to believe in you.
    Remember Mike Dukakis and his failure to show any emotion in response to the CNN anchor’s surprise, hypothetical question on what he would do if his wife were raped and murdered? Dukakis’ lack of emotional intelligence in his response was a turn off to people who don’t think day in and day out about death penalty policy.
    Voters want to know whether the candidate has any human juices. Constant focus on issues and public policy to the exclusion of how the candidate reacts viscerally will not close the sale. Exposing one’s humanity will, however, go a long way in getting the voters to make the right decision.

  14. James on

    Bush is running ads touting the new job numbers. He will very very soon rebound in polls. The media will make sure this happen, they worship him.
    Graham is not going to help. Biden is a misfire. Clark was a terrible campaigner. He needs Edwards. Edwards may be the only thing that will help stop a huge Bush comeback.

  15. LAT on

    And, if Kerry wants to take on Iraq, all he has to do is get a VP who’s handled foreign policy – namely Clark, Graham or Biden.
    Clark’s my first choice – he’s honest, is a true patriot and will appeal to swing voters since he was one during the earlier parts of his military career.
    I think Clark has given the best answers to solving the problems over there, while still emphasising that a good foreign policy will help our domestic problems at home.
    I’m in a Southern swing state (take your pick, there’s only four! LOL!) and I believe Wes could help Kerry pick all four of those up, as well as Ohio and New Mexico.
    Graham and Biden also have fantastic FP creds.
    Kerry consistantly polls better than Bush on domestic issues, but falls woefully below him – as much as 10 points even after the prison scandal and the 9/11 Commission hearings! It would behoove him to think about his VP selection as more a referenedum on FP than on any particular section of the country.

  16. LAT on

    Uhhh… creating a million new McJobs isn’t going to endear people to the Bush economy.
    I make a little more than minimum wage with a college education and it sucks. All the good-paying jobs that went overseas aren’t being replaced by other good-paying jobs, and that’s the rub.
    It’s not just unemployment – it’s UNDERemployment.

  17. Carla on

    Mencken hits the nail on the head, IMO.
    The country is craving honest leadership with someone who’s going to lead them in the right direction.
    If Kerry is willing to stand up and light the way…people will follow in droves. IMO he needs to do that pretty soon…latest polling looks mediocre.

  18. Mencken on

    I’m not sure there’s any such thing as “safe boldness.” but still, I agree that kerry should tread lightly w/ Iraq.
    the bigger point, I think, is ruy’s. americans are hungry for a candidate who will inspire them. not with a steady diet of flag-waving, chest-thumping jingoism, but by reinvigorating our sense of national purpose—that this nation is a model of justice and equity. which it definitely hasn’t been of late.
    and while I’m not a big kerry fan, kerry, to his credit, is inching toward that. I too am worried that he won’t move quickly or decisively enough. already the queries of “can kerry connect?” are being revived in the press.
    I never thought kerry was a flip-flopper, just too calculating. maybe that’s just part of who he is. and maybe those are the right qualities for a successful president. but such caution may well be antithetical to a winning campaign.
    the next 2 months should be interesting.

  19. Doofus on

    Boldness is well and good and could help Kerry begin to shed his Bush/Cheney-reinforced image as an “equivocator.” However . . . I’m not sure that Iraq is the issue on which he should flex his boldness bona fides. It is, potentially, an enormous trap for him; you can be sure that the Bush people are just waiting for him to say something about it that can be turned around into a “weak on national security and terrorism” smear — preferably a sound bite suitable for a 30-second ad. On the other hand, there’s a lot of room for relatively safe boldness on the economy, jobs, economic inequality, health care, and the need for better homeland security. So far, Kerry has worked these areas to his advantage, while remaining cautious on the ever-shifting Iraq issue. There may well be room to take bolder, more imaginative positions on the former set of concerns, but he’s probably wise not to put his hands too firmly on the Iraq tar baby.

  20. Paula on

    I don’t agree. Studies show people make up their minds on the economy six months before the election. So it’s probably too late. Also, two months of wage growth after three-plus years in office isn’t going to sway too many people.

  21. SSJPabs on

    Based on the new jobs numbers, that’s going to start swinging the other way ina bout 3 months or so, not only did they add 1 million jobs in 3 months, but wage grow went up for 2nd straight month.


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