Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Subject To Substantial Change Without Notice

Today, a few days before the Republican Convention begins, the Los Angeles Times is reporting on its new poll. It's not a good idea to take the Los Angeles Times opinion polls too seriously. The sampling methodology is often ridiculous and there are lots of other signs that the polling is largely result oriented. But there is one very interesting finding from the poll - a finding buried by the Times deep within its article and squeezed into just one sentence:

Those results suggested that a substantial part of the electorate remained open to change.

Gee, wasn't this supposed to be the election in which the electorate was completely polarized early? Isn't this the election in which there is a dearth of "persuadable voters" - a dearth that is supposed to account for the lack of a significant Kerry-Edwards post-Convention "bounce?"

But now the Times has a poll that suggests that a substantial part of the electorate remained open to change - and the finding gets buried way down deep.

My, my.

It's hard to know what to make of the rest of the poll or the article, since the Times' track record is as poor as its analysis of its polling results is pretentious. But here's the opening passage:

President Bush heads into next week's Republican National Convention with voters moving slightly in his direction since July amid signs that Sen. John F. Kerry has been nicked by attacks on his service in Vietnam, a Times poll has found. For the first time this year in a Times survey, Bush led Kerry in the presidential race, drawing 49% among registered voters, compared with 46% for the Democrat. In a Times poll just before the Democratic convention last month, Kerry held a 2-percentage-point advantage over Bush.

The reader can make of that what she likes. But I do note that it seems a little odd that right up front the Times is focused on comparing where Bush-Cheney stands now with the standing of Kerry-Edwards just before the Democratic Convention. It's as if the Times is just itching to compare the Kerry-Edwards non-Convention-bounce with whatever convention "bounce" may result from the Republican Convention - a "bounce" that would, of course, be reduced by the rise in the incumbent's standing in the poll now. Of course, Mr. Bush is rising in many national polls, including polls that don't seem to massage their findings for effect - a group that doesn't include the nutty Zogby poll, which is reporting that Mr. Bush continues to lose ground. But the Times sampling methodology and other polling and reporting irregularities often allow pro-Democratic results to be extracted even where better polls show something very different - a path the Times is declining to follow at the moment.

Is the Times reporting a rise in the President's standing in the hopes of facilitating a future story about the President's disappointing post-Convention "bounce?" Who knows. It says a lot about the Los Angeles Times that one just lets it all go with "Who knows."

But one certainly and easily finds signs that the phrasing of the poll questions has been designed to obscure the extent of the problems the Swiftees have caused for Kerry-Edwards. For example, consider this cheesey tidbit:

18% of those surveyed said they "believe that Kerry misrepresented his war record and does not deserve his war medals," while 58% said Kerry "fought honorably and does deserve" the medals.

That seems to be good news for Senator Kerry. But this dichotomy does not capture the threat posed by the Swiftee accusations to John Kerry. Voters don't have to conclude that John Kerry doesn't deserve his medals in order to believe that John Kerry has exaggerated and/or misrepresented his war record and injuries. Bob Dole, for example, has savagely criticised John Kerry with these well-reported comments:

One day he's saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons. The next day he's standing there, `I want to be president because I'm a Vietnam veteran.' Maybe he should apologize to all the other 2.5 million veterans who served. He wasn't the only one in Vietnam. .... And here's, you know, a good guy, a good friend. I respect his record. But three Purple Hearts and never bled that I know of. I mean, they're all superficial wounds. Three Purple Hearts and you're out.

Mr. Dole apparently does not believe "that Kerry misrepresented his war record and does not deserve his war medals" and does believe that Kerry "fought honorably and does deserve" the medals. But Mr. Dole also believes that John Kerry has been exaggerating the significance of his war record and of his injuries - and that John Kerry should apologise for some of his excessive anti-war comments.

In other words, the Times analysis implies that Kerry-Edwards would be in great shape if everyone were thinking like Bob Dole. But that's not right.

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