Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Undecideds Break For The Challenger? VI: Some Late Predictions

When the heck are the undecided voters supposed to start breaking for the challenger? The Real Clear Politics poll average - and almost all of the major polls (Marist and, curiously, Fox News, being exceptions) are showing Mr. Bush doing better today nationally than he did yesterday or even the day before yesterday. That suggests that procrastinating voters may have been making up there minds in favor of the incumbent - although Senator Kerry has been benefiting from "weekend poll bumps" that dissipate on Mondays. But no matter how one reads the polls, Senator Kerry has not yet benefited from any "break to the challenger."

But I suspect that Mr. Bush is doing even better than even today's polls suggest. It appears that many pollsters actually build into their voter models some version of the Incumbent Rule. Today's Gallup Poll actually reveals that its model "assumes" a 90% "break for the challenger" - which pushes Mr. Bush 49% - 47% lead to a 49% - 49% tie. Gallup is unusually honest about this model - and does report the original figures. But other pollsters such as Zogby - who massage their numbers with far more subjectivity than Gallup, do not disclose the hidden influence of the Incumbent Rule on the late pollings. But it appears to be there.

In other words, Mr. Bush is doing better in the final polls than he was doing a day or so ago, even though those final polls are probably intentionally skewed in favor of Senator Kerry by incorporation of some form of the Incumbent Rule (obviously not the form that pertains only to final polls and election returns).

As I have noted in several prior posts, I believe Kerry-Edwards will receive far less benefit from the Incumbent Rule (in any formulation) than have most prior challengers, just as that ticket did not receive a "post-Convention bounce" of any significance.

Then there is the fact that Kerry-Edwards' representatives, surrogates and media watercarriers are suddenly playing down the polls. Susan Estrich, for example, appeared on television last night to inform us that she was in constant communication with the Kerry-Edwards' pollsters, and that for the past several days they have been telling her not to pay any attention to the polls. That is consistent with prior reports that Democratic private polls show movement towards Mr. Bush.

Then there is the African-American community. If it is really the case that 15%-20% of African-Americans vote Republican, it is simply impossible for states such as Florida and Ohio to be all that close. And three polls have confirmed this long-predicted "trending away" of the African-American vote from the Democratic base. But the Republican vote would not be the end of such an effect: If, say, 17% of African-Americans vote Republican, there is likely a larger-than-customary transitional segment of the African-American community that simply won't vote. Indeed, the 2002 elections showed signs that many African-Americans could no longer stand voting for a Democrat, but couldn't yet bring themselves to vote Republican. This year, it looks like many African-Americans plan to make the full transition to voting Republican. That suggests that there will likely be a margin of "incompletely-trended-away" African-American voters who will simply not vote. Without overwhelming African-American support, no Democrat is likely to win - and at this moment Senator Kerry does not seem poised to get overwhelming African-American support. Further, if there were ever a case in which one might wonder whether poll respondents might not be completely forthcoming to a pollster, an African-American revealing a desire to vote Republican is it. If anything, it seems likely that the polls underreport African-American support for the Republicans.

And let's not forget that all of the better economic models predict a handy win for Bush-Cheney.

All of which leads to the following prediction:

Bush to win, with north of a 3% margin over Senator Kerry in the popular vote.

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