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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Race in the Key Battleground States

By Alan Abramowitz
Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania are the big three in the presidential race. John Kerry and George Bush were both in Florida this morning. Kerry will be in Pennsylvania and Ohio later today. Bush will be there shortly. Both campaigns see these three states as the most crucial in the entire nation. Whoever wins two of these three states will probably win the election and right now George Bush is in big trouble in all three.
In seven polls conducted since the first presidential debate, John Kerry held an average lead of 4.0 points over George Bush among likely voters in Pennsylvania. Kerry led Bush in all seven polls.
In five polls conducted since the first presidential debate, John Kerry held an average lead of 1.2 points over George Bush among likely voters in Ohio. Kerry led Bush in four of the five polls. No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio.
In nine polls conducted since the first presidential debate, George Bush held an average lead of 0.8 points over John Kerry among likely voters in Florida. Kerry led in four polls, Bush led in four, and one was tied. In the four most recent polls, conducted since October 10, Kerry led in two, Bush in one, and one was tied. Kerry led by an average of 0.5 points in these four polls.
Kerry also led Bush by an average of 4.4 points in five polls conducted in the small but important state of New Hampshire–a state that George Bush carried in 2000. Kerry led in four of the five polls with one poll tied.
George Bush is not leading in a single state that Al Gore carried in the 2000 election. And remember, recent history shows that an incumbent president needs a lead of 3-4 points in the final polls in order to win because undecided voters tend to break heavily for the challenger.

17 comments on “The Race in the Key Battleground States

  1. Mike In MD on

    Marcus, I hate to throw cold water on anyone’s hopes, but don’t get too excited about SUSA polls. They have often shown results well out of line with other surveys–in both directions; conversely, don’t get depressed when they show us doing worse than other polls.
    In my home state, which gave Gore a 17% margin in 2000, SUSA showed a tie in mid-September and Republicans were exuberant. Two weeks later they showed Kerry leading by 15 points. I don’t think there was that great a swing here, because Maryland was never tied in the first place.
    But I agree with your broader point about the states. Virginia and North Carolina are, I think, closer than most people think through probably not enough for Kerry to win them. And I think the press is overestimating Bush’s strength in NJ.

  2. Marcus Lindroos on

    More good news from Mickey Kaus, leader of the “Kerry haters voting for Kerry” group of bloggers —
    “Those dueling Ohio polls are reconciled here. They’re actually ‘amazingly consistent,’ says the now-famous Mystery Pollster .
    His quite convincing explanation is not an auspicious one for President Bush. … Meanwhile, look at these results of the Survey USA robo-poll. Isn’t Kerry shockingly close in presumed Bush states like Virginia (50-46) and North Carolina (50-47)? That’s much closer than Kerry’s lead in allegedly in-play states like Pennsylvania (51-45) and New Jersey (51-43) … [You’re starting to sound like Ruy Teixeira.–ed I’ll lie down until it goes away.]”

  3. Bob H on

    According to NPR last night, Bush has not been to Ohio since early Oct., and his latest travel plans do not include it. Most certainly this is not because it is in the bag. Has he in fact written it off?

  4. Colin L. on

    Very glad to hear about favorable battlegrounds, indies, and internals, but I have a question for the pros here.
    I have now read several times in high-profile blogs that (in essence) “the incumbent needs to be 3-4 points ahead on election day because undecideds traditionally break for the challenger.”
    I’ve been looking to this (and other trends) for reassurance, but I keep wondering: What if this year isn’t like any other year?
    What if the “one-dimensional patriot” vote looks past everything else and buys W’s tough guy act? What if we’re still early enough into this war that cognitive dissonance is too weak to sway the electorate? (Nixon won, after all, and we’d been in Vietnam for years and years.) What if, in our first post-9/11 presidential election, the nation hears only Bush’s bullhorn in the voting booth?
    That’s a lot of conjecture, but my question is this: How confident are you that this trend — late-deciders breaking for the challenger — will hold? Are other trends particularly vulnerable this year? I know it’s probably like casting the bones, but is anyone doing any analysis that might give us a clue?
    Thanks very much, and thanks for all the hard work.

  5. thatcoloredfella on

    I was a bit surprised to see in the WaoPo article on voter registration, that the GOP bested the Dems by a slight margin in Florida. However, the ACT coordinator bragged that they spanked the Republicans in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Iowa, in particular.
    No way, am I conceding Florida, knowing we have a very real chance there, while I know the Bush supporters are in real denial, in the face of such success by the Soros groups.
    But, is the Kerry camp factoring in these registration numbers with their internal polling?

  6. dhartung on

    George Bush is not leading in a single state that Al Gore carried in the 2000 election.
    One presumes we’re taking Gore actually having likely won FL out of this equation, for wholly academic discussion purposes.
    The one caveat with that statement, then, is that the electoral votes for the 2000 Bush states have increased overall by 7, with a corresponding loss in Gore states. This means an electoral deficit that increases from 4 (271-267) to 18 (278-260). This means Kerry absolutely MUST win at least one state that went for Bush in 2000, and it better have 10 or more EVs.
    Either OH or FL will do nicely, of course, but even MO would do the trick.
    I’ve been pointing out, though, that to make this election stick, we need to have an unassailable majority — we can’t have it hinge on one close state, the way it did in 2000. My hunch is that we may well have anywhere from 4 to 8 “Floridas” this year; even if there isn’t another EC debacle (and I do not expect a constitutional process to be followed if there is), we’ll have several state-level results challenged between election day and electoral college day.
    Not to get too far off topic.

  7. cloudy on

    I sure hope you all are right and my expectations of a machine agenda of putting in Bush one way or another are wrong.
    If Kerry can effectively neutralize the flipflop issue (halve the harm it does now), and the “nuisance/soft on terrorism” thing, he should have it. In the latter case, a major speech and going on the offensive intelligently would do it.

  8. Erik on

    I am concerned that the (unfounded) belief held by many, esp. the so-called security moms, that only Bush can keep them safe will override all other concerns once in the voting booth and could invalidate the conventional wisdom that undecided voters break overwhelmingly for the challenger on election day. I certainly hope this is not the case.

  9. thecreature on

    Slightly off-topic, but does anybody find it odd that the NY Times poll showed Bush’s approval rating as 44% while the Washington Post poll from the exact same day showed a much higher 53%?
    I guess it could be a difference is the actual question the poll asks. But I find the Post poll a bit odd, considering it’s the only one where a majority approves of the president’s job performance.
    Anyone have info on that poll?

  10. Joey on

    Zogby Battleground
    by Chris Bowers Oct 19
    Maybe the wingers won’t be complaining about the new Zogby numbers after all:
    Kerry Bush
    OR 55.7 42.6
    MN 54.2 43.1
    WA 54.3 43.9
    NM 53.6 44.1
    MI 52.6 45.9
    PA 51.8 46.1
    NH 51.1 46.0
    WI 51.3 47.5
    IA 51.1 47.9
    WV 45.8 48.6
    AR 48.4 49.7
    NV 45.9 49.8
    FL 48.9 50.1
    TN 47.8 50.3
    OH 47.6 50.6
    MO 47.6 50.7 Kerry looks very comfortable in OR, MN, WA, NM, MI, PA and NH, all of which show Bush, as the incumbent, completely out of contention barring a major October surprise. WI and IA are also very good, especially for a challenger (challengers over 51 always win). However, These numbers would lead to a 269-269 tie, as the undecided break in WV, but nowhere else, would push Kerry over the top.
    On the plus side, if this is accurate, Kerry has all of the Gore states plus New Hampshire shored up, and can spend the significant majority of his resources trying to flipjust one other 2000 Bush state, all of which are very close. On the negative side, if this is accurate, Kerry comfortably wins the popular vote, but the electoral vote is tied and Bush wins in the House.
    I’ll see you on the barricades if that happens.

  11. kevinf on

    If Kerry/Edwards win two of the “big three” (Penn, Fla, and Ohio), they’ll probably take the cake.
    [and if they win all three, forget about it!]
    Maybe I’m looking at old polls, but Bush seems to be ahead in New Mexico. Also, recent polls have shown him with leads in Wisconsin. He’s tied with Kerry in Iowa and Minnesota.
    I worry very much about these northern states breaking for Bush.

  12. ed on

    If Bush is ahead an average of 4 points in national polls is it possible that Kerry could still be leading in electoral college. Could he actually win electoral college and lose by 4 points on 11/2

  13. coldeye on

    It’s really out of the candidate’s hands now. Barring a major gaffe, it will be events on the ground that decide this election. The dynamic is currently working against Bush. He can’t do anything to significantly shift the numbers, nor can Kerry. Events in Iraq, news on jobs and the economy, terrorist attacks, and gas prices will probably decide the outcome.


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