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Between the Lines

March 09, 2004

It’s Kerry on the economy and Bush on the war

There are a couple of major new polls out today that, coupled with a survey I mentioned last week, provide a pretty clear view of where things stand as this long campaign season begins.

All three put Sen. John Kerry ahead of President Bush by slim margins, and for similar reasons: many Americans are pessimistic about the state of the economy, dissatisfied with the way Bush has handled it and believe Kerry could do a better job. The economy is almost always the central question in most presidential campaigns, and the present “jobless recovery” has done little to assuage concerns. This is true not only among Democrats, but among independent and undecided voters, whose decisions will determine the outcome in November.

However, Bush still gets majority support for his handling of the “war on terrorism.” (I put that phrase in quotes because I believe that, unlike the attack on Afghanistan, the war in Iraq had more to do with an unrealistic desire to redraw the political map of the Middle East than it did with terrorism.) Though it’s too painful to dwell on, another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil is probably inevitable at some unknowable time. If that time is before November, it could give Bush a big lead overnight.

In addition, Bush’s supporters appear to back their man more emphatically than do Kerry’s. As the Washington Post’s story today about the new Post/ABC News poll puts it: "Nearly nine in 10 Bush supporters say they ‘strongly’ support him, compared with two in three Kerry voters. In addition, six in 10 Kerry supporters say they are voting for the Democrat more as a protest against Bush and his policies, and not because they are attracted to Kerry. By contrast, nearly nine in 10 Bush voters say their support is based on their feelings toward the president, not disapproval of Kerry.“

It’s worth noting, though, that today’s USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll says 45 percent of those it surveyed said they were “certain” to vote for Kerry, compared with 38 percent for Bush.

Perhaps significantly – a single poll is never very persuasive, and I haven’t seen this reflected in other results – the USA Today poll also found that Bush and Kerry were tied for support among men, who normally favor Republicans. Kerry has a huge lead among women.

One last point: Bush’s ads using images of 9/11 to help make the point that he’s a strong leader for difficult times seem to have backfired. Of those surveyed, 54 percent said use of 9/11 images was inappropriate. If this is really how Americans at large feel (and again, this is one poll), the ads could prove a serious miscalculation by Bush’s strategists. The polls I’m covering here – and, no doubt, the Bush campaign’s own surveys – show that the war is Bush’s one big advantage against Kerry. If the 9/11 ads offended voters, the Bushies are going to find it difficult to step back from them and yet find effective ways of making the same point.

The deeper this administration gets into problems that are either of its own making (the Iraq war) or that it is perceived as mishandling (the economy), the more unsure its judgment seems. I wouldn’t say Bush is floundering in the deep end of the pool yet, but that cocky crawl stroke of his looks like it’s breaking down.

Poll links:

Washington Post (free site registration may be required)

USA Today/CNN/Gallup

Pew Center for People and the Press

Update: Billmon noticed something in the Washington Post poll that I overlooked: It, too, has Bush and Kerry essentially tied for male votes. He also makes some additional interesting points about the numbers.

Posted by tbrown at 02:09 PM


Jobs? Unfortunately, no

Economic forecasting isn't an exact science, but wishful thinking on this scale is unprecedented.”
-- Paul Krugman in the New York Times (free site registration may be required)

Krugman makes his point with a chart that compares reality with the Bush administration’s last three annual employment forecasts.

With the economy expanding and corporate profits rising, why aren’t there more jobs?

David Ignatius of the Washington Post offers this speculation:

My sense is that investors and managers are still traumatized by the shocks to the system of the past three years -- a chain of events including the collapse of the high-tech bubble; the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; a global war against Islamic terrorism; and the fallout from the Enron scandal.

“These shocks, taken together, have made investors more risk-averse and cautious. …”

He also thinks regulations adopted in the fallout from Enron and other corporate scandals has made it harder for startup companies – a traditional engine of job growth – to go public.

Then there’s a new report from the National Federation of Independent Business, a trade association, that says small businesses are scaling back their already meager hiring plans.

Posted by tbrown at 02:04 PM


Shorter David Brooks

Mel Gibson's religion may be dangerous, but yours is probably worse. He actually gets paid for writing this pablum.

Posted by tbrown at 02:01 PM




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