Man Without Qualities

Sunday, March 28, 2004

If I'm Wrong, I'm Right, Where I Belong I'm Right

Could it be that Democrats and the media hurt John Kerry by moving the public's mind away from the economy by making a broo-hah-hah over terrorism - including much criticism of Bush? Could it be that the public still rates Mr. Bush better on terrorism than it does Kerry (whether or not there has been slippage for Bush on this issue) - and the Clarke hearings just focused voters more on terrorism and less on the economy? Last week was supposedly a "dreadful" one for Mr. Bush.

But the Kerry-skewed Rassmussen tracking poll says Bush gained four points on Kerry during the relevant period:

Date Bush Kerry
Mar 28 45 45
Mar 27 45 46
Mar 26 44 47
Mar 25 44 48

The Newsweek poll taken over Mar 25-26 detects no change at all in the President's overall approval ratings or the relative Kerry-Bush standings, but does purport to find a slipping of public approval of Bush's handling of the War on Terror over the last month or so. Newsweek ascribes this slippage to Clarke - but produces no evidence whatsoever to support that causal mechanism. The article just compares current readings with month-old readings - not just-pre-Clarke readings. There's not even an attempt to separate Clarke's effect from any effect caused by the rest of the televised Commission hearings. Are Albright, Berger and the rest really that insignificant? Of course, there have been lots of other developments in the War on Terror over the last few weeks that might have frustrated voters: failure to capture al Qaida kingpins in Pakistan and, obviously, the disasters in Spain. For the mainstream media, that's all beyond living memory - now it's Clarke, Clarke, Clarke! But it's hard to see how those other developments favor Senator Kerry.

Most strikingly, only 17% of poll respondents said the Clarke testimony has made them "feel less favorable" towards the president. What proportion of those people were already committed to voting against Mr. Bush? Newsweek doesn't say - and apparently didn't try to determine. A great majority of poll respondents don't trust Clarke - despite much media effort to canonize him as a sacred "whistle blower."

The Newsweek poll also "finds" that the public's approval of Mr. Bush on the economic front continues to be soft. So where is Mr. Bush's support coming from?

Maybe from the focus on terrorism?

On the economic/budget front the Rassmussen poll also detects a very interesting development:

Most dramatically, 64% of American voters say that they would prefer a federal budget that has a deficit at lower levels of taxes and spending rather than a balanced budget with higher levels of taxes and spending. Given this choice, just 25% opt for the balanced budget.

These findings are very similar to an earlier survey which found that 64% of Americans prefer smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes.

The Man Without Qualities is deeply skeptical of Rassmussen Poll methodology. But at least as a starting point, these economic findings raise the question of whether Mr. Bush could out flank Mr. Kerry on the economic front by proposing to cut federal spending. Even the usual quasi-fake election year fashion of proposing such things, where few specifcs are provided for hostile special interests to precipitate around, might have substantial effect.

A fiscal crisis is an ugly thing. Is it just about time that we had one?


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