I’ve made some criticisms of the Kerry campaign (see yesterday’s post). And loose talk of a Kerry landslide makes me extremely nervous. Still, it can’t be denied that, as we head into the convention, Kerry is in a pretty good position and his opponent appears to have the short end of the stick.
Charlie Cook’s latest column on the National Journal website (if you don’t have access to their webite, you can sign up to get his column free here) crisply summarizes why the seeming deadlock in the horse race is actually very bad news for Bush:
Last week in this space, I discounted the widely held view that the knotted polling numbers between Bush and Kerry meant that the race itself was even. I argued that given the fact that well-known incumbents with a defined record rarely get many undecided voters — a quarter to a third at an absolute maximum — an incumbent in a very stable race essentially tied at 45 percent was actually anything but in an even-money situation. “What you see is what you get” is an old expression for an incumbent’s trial heat figures, meaning very few undecided voters fall that way.
……This is certainly not to predict that Bush is going to lose, that this race is over or that other events and developments will not have an enormous impact on this race. The point is that this race has settled into a place that is not at all good for an incumbent, is remarkably stable, and one that is terrifying many Republican lawmakers, operatives and activists. But in a typically Republican fashion, they are too polite and disciplined to talk about it much publicly.
In a funny way, if this race were bouncing around, it would probably be a better sign for President Bush. It would suggest that there was some volatility to the race and that public attitudes had not yet hardened, and were thus still an eminently fixable situation. The dynamics of a presidential race usually do not change much between July and Election Day. This year, however, the race is much more stable than usual, which is ominous for an incumbent under these circumstances. The bottom line is that this presidential race is not over, but the outlook is not so great for the players in the red jerseys.
Well said, Mr. Cook. A related analysis that I highly recommend may be found today in Salon. Written by political scientist David Gopoian, “Maxed-Out GOP” argues that:
There are many reasons for the Democrats to be hopeful heading into Boston next week, but the most important of these may be that the Bush campaign has maximized its potential and trails in the polls. There is a boundary to the limits of any political coalition, and the Bush-Cheney campaign is near the edge of its electoral reach.
The Bush campaign has mobilized its core base of conservative white male Republicans very effectively. Now what? Now is when Karl Rove wishes he were Mary Beth Cahill, John Kerry’s campaign manager. From nearly every angle that the Bush strategists peer, the turf they view for expanding their coalition is decidedly less friendly than the landscape enjoyed by Team Kerry.
Exactly. Gopoian goes on to offer some very interesting analysis based on estimating expected Republican and Democratic support from key voter groups and comparing currently observed Bush and Kerry support with the expected levels of support. (He doesn’t go into detail on the methodology for his estimations, but it’s basically done by looking at the partisan composition of different groups and combining that with historical patterns of partisan support for Democrats and Republicans.)
Gopoian shows that Bush has large shortfalls in support among independents (15 points below expectations), moderates (6 points lower) and liberals (11 points). He is maxed out among conservatives and is unlikely to make more gains there. Kerry, on the other hand, needs to make comparativelly modest progress among Democrats and moderate-to-liberal whites. As Gopoain puts it: “…Kerry needs to make small gains among friendly voters, while Bush needs to make huge gains among relatively unfriendly voters.”
Not so good for the Bush team. Gopoian also has some interesting things to say about the demographics of the friendly voters Kerry needs to make progress among. Basically, we’re talking about whites of moderate-to-low levels of education–more the white working class than, say, white professionals.
I’ll be posting more about this last issue in days to come.