Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Fire Within

Some of the more prominent arguments being advanced by Kerry-Edwards' spinmeisters are that (1) the post-Convention polls offer the consolation to the Democrats because the polls show a boost for their ticket on some "internal polling questions" and (2) there really can't be much of a bounce because there just aren't that many persuadable voters out there. These arguments are highly disingenuous.

The CBS News report accompanying its poll results, for example, includes this summary:

The Democratic Convention may have brought no new bounce for the party's Kerry-Edwards ticket, but it did appear to solidify the small bounce that emerged for the Democrats following John Kerry's announcement of the addition of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards to the ticket. After the convention, voters saw Kerry ? not Bush -- as the uniter, and more voters than before believe that the Democrats have a clear plan for the country. .... There continue to be few voters who are truly undecided. And just under one in five voters with a choice say their minds could change. .... The convention?s focus on Kerry's war record appears to have given the Democrats a boost with veterans. For the first time this year, the Democrats run even with their opponents among veterans.

Paucity Of Persuadable Voters

If the Kerry-Edwards apologists are so convinced he gave a good acceptance speech, then Kerry-Edwards should adopt a slogan that better summarizes that speech's overall message: "Read my lips, no new ideas!" After all, reports are that voters have not warmed to any of the Kerry-Edwards slogans: "Help is on the way!" "One America!", etc.

One is hearing a great deal about how the voters are unusually "committed" at this point in the election cycle - so the Convention just couldn't be expected to move that many of them. That's all very nice - but then why is it that Going into the convention, Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic National Committee chairman, predicted that Mr. Kerry would enjoy an eight-point gain in support after the convention.

In fact, Mr. McAuliffe was well-justified in his expectation (which he clearly cast as what he regarded as a low-ball estimate - but expected still more), since there are plenty of persuadable voters - it's just that the Kerry-Edwards Convention didn't persuade them. The CBS News report itself notes that just under one in five voters with a choice say their minds could change. So about 20% of the electorate is in play.

The Man Without Qualities lives in California. This is supposedly a "safe" Democratic state. Yet this is a state whose voters recently recalled its Democratic governor in favor of a Republican. Over sixty percent of voters chose a Republican to replace Mr. Davis in that unprecedented recall election which was opposed by the full persuasive force of the California and national liberal media. Since then, that bulgey Republican in Sacramento has been - quite simply - kicking the Democratic Ass, and the voters love him. He has persuaded them. Some "safe" Democratic state. Some paucity of persuadable voters. Senator Kerry's apologists should stop whining about the paucity of persuadable voters and do a better job of producing something a lot more persuasive than the Senator's dreadful acceptance speech.

John Kerry, Man With A Clear Plan

Let's assume that, despite its methodological problems, the poll's finding that more voters than before believe that the Democrats have a clear plan for the country is accurate and that Kerry-Edwards got a little poll boost from that. Should that be comforting to the Democrats? Love them or not, the Democrats simply do not have a clear plan for the country - and counting on a boost from a clearly inaccurate perception is perilous. In fact, the entire strategy of the Democratic ticket is driven by the assumption that this election is about voter disapproval for the incumbent and that Kerry-Edwards need only appear to be a safe and reasonable alternative. "Clarity" is not the point - and has not been produced. It's not just that Republicans don't agree. Republicans will not need to point out the lack of clarity - although they will. Even the mainstream liberal media is already harping on the lack of clarity, as in this CBS News report:

John Kerry says he can "put a deal together" as president to drastically reduce U.S. troop strength in Iraq, a pledge reminiscent of Richard Nixon's secret plan to end the Vietnam War and Dwight D. Eisenhower's promise to stop the fighting in Korea. Like those Republican presidential candidates, the Democrat's blueprint for peace lacks detail and has critics squawking. ... Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Kerry's plan assumes too much. "Nobody is going to bail us out of our responsibilities in this conflict," said Cordesman, former adviser to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "It is not a matter of who is the president at this point. There simply won't be any international support for a country like France or Germany to do it."
Worse for the Democrats, the "clear plan" issue plays right into the largely successful Republican effort to paint Senator Kerry as a "flip-flopper" - how can a "flip-flopper have a clear plan? Even Senator Kerry's own counterargument that he sees the "nuances" and "complexities" of issues is not easily consistent with an argument that he has a plan that can be made clear to voters. Indeed, the "secret plan" approach to Iraq Senator Kerry is now suggesting he holds is almost a necessary corollary of his argument that he sees the "nuances" and "complexities" of issues. After all, his "nuance" position is essentially equivalent to saying that he sees aspects of many situations that ordinary people cannot grasp.

The point here is not that Democrats should be anxious because their Convention bounce from this issue will dissipate. Bounce from all Conventions - Democrat and Republican - usually dissipates completely. What Convention bounce is good for is an indication that a particular argument or approach connects with voters and can be used in the future - especially the Presidential debates - to produce future bounces, right into the White House. But the Democratic "clear plan" approach carries more promise of making voters who buy the Democrat's argument just feel later that they have been sold a dubious bill of goods, and would be especially dangerous to use in a debate.

[UPDATE: Senator Kerry also intends to keep his economic plan - if there is one - secret until after he is elected President.]

John Kerry, Uniter

Let's again assume that the poll's finding that after the convention, voters saw Kerry ? not Bush -- as the uniter is accurate. This is an impression created by an orchestrated Convention at which Democratic dissent was deliberately suppressed. That's fine, but the impression is not going to last through the campaign - especially since both Senator Kerry and his people (one need not even mention his wife) often speak in very harsh terms, often suggesting that the incumbent is a liar. For example, Senator Kerry will have a very tough time maintaining a "uniter" mantle in a one-on-one televised debate in which he suggests that the President is a liar.


Let's really suspend disbelief and assume that the poll's finding that the convention's focus on Kerry's war record appears to have given the Democrats a boost with veterans. For the first time this year, the Democrats run even with their opponents among veterans. Is there any sensible person outside of Senator Kerry - of any political stripe - who thinks that such an effect will last through election day? The New York Times doesn't think so: Will Kerry's support from veterans be significant enough to matter in November? In terms of pure numbers, probably not. The Wall Street Journal editorial pages agree.

Senator Kerry convention did focus on certain selected aspects of his military record - but even those aspects were highly skewed. Does the reader recall the Senator Kerry mentioning his post-college effort to avoid the draft by studying in Paris, for example, when he and his running mate and Bill Clinton harped on how young John Kerry "volunteered" for service in Vietnam? Then there are the details of his anti-war activism, which somehow dropped out of the Convention. Of course, there lot's more on Vietnam-Kerry that will be rehearsed for the benefit of those Veterans. But - as the Republicans are already signaling they understand - even more damaging than such omissions will be the Senator's attempt to focus attention on his few Mekong days while ignoring or obfuscating his record on defense issues in his many years in the Congress. Responding to his opponent raising such issues as questioning his patriotism and military record will ultimately just make Kerry-Edwards look ridiculous. And, again, he would be a fool to try that approach in a debate. And Senator Kerry is no fool. Pathetic and bound to lose, yes. But no fool.

[UPDATE: If what is suggested here, for example, sticks - surely a non-trivial "if" - how much of John Kerry's veterans' regard will remain?]


As a threshold issue, as noted in a prior post, the methodology of this CBS News poll (and the methodology of most of those polls that purport to show a Kerry-Edwards bounce) is suspect: The CBS News poll sampled "adults." Not "likely voters." Not "registered voters." But "adults." Indeed, the poll doesn't attempt to determine what "likely voters" might do - although there is analysis of "registered voters" on the tech page. In the past the CBS News polls have often over sampled Democrats, and this one also seems to have skewed its sampling and weighting in that direction. The very last item on the technical CBS News poll page reads:

Total Respondents........... 1052
Total Republicans............ 347.................................... 328
Total Democrats.............. 354.................................... 375
Total Independents.......... 351.................................... 349
Registered Voters............. 881................................... 837

"Solidifying" That Small Edwards Bounce

The CBS News spin opines that the Convention did appear to solidify the small bounce that emerged for the Democrats following John Kerry?s announcement of the addition of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards to the ticket. Whatever this assertion is supposed to mean, it is definitely supposed to mean something more than a bland observation that the Kerry-Edwards ticket did not sink below the ratings it received in CBS News polls after Senator Edwards joined on. But there is not one scrap of evidence in these poll results - or anywhere else - that suggests anything more than that simple numerical observation. Convention poll bounces generally totally and quickly abate (Bill Clinton being an exception, but Kerry-Edwards eschewed his approach, as noted in several prior posts), and without something to back up it up, this assertion that the Convention did appear to solidify prior gains is just nonsense to which Democrats may cling, and Republicans may fear, at their peril.

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