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Thursday, June 10, 2004

Analysis of LA Times Poll

It's just about time to get to the nitty-gritty. No more of this generalizing and biographizing (yes, I know this is not a word!).

Let's start off with the actual numbers from the Los Angeles Times poll. In a two-way matchup, John Kerry would defeat President Bush by a 51-44 margin; with Ralph Nader added to the mix, the race becomes 48-42-4. There are other numbers that are important, but I'll focus on these two sets in this post.

A number of national polls put the race at close to dead even, with both major candidates hovering around 43-45 percent. I think that this is a fairly accurate picture of where the race is right now; each side has about 40% of the country who will solidly vote in their camp with another 3-5% currently leaning towards them. A number of pundits--in fact the vast majority--extrapolate this information to hypothesize that this will be another 50-50 election. I think, however, that they are misreading these polls.

The 44% of voters who are now in the Bush camp are probably there to stay, as are the 44% solidly in the Kerry camp. However, it is foolish to believe that this is the same thing as 50-50. Because people's impressions of Bush are unlikely to change over the coming months, his 44% could realistically mean only 44% support in November (Yes, this could mean 56% for Kerry. Adding in the Nader factor could ciphon off even more votes(Although Nader may take a point or two from Kerry, the Times poll is correct in showing that he also takes the votes of dissaffected Republicans--those who would never vote for Kerry, but also don't want to vote for Bush). This might even imply a 54-42-4 margin for Kerry.

There are a number of historical precedents for this model. In 1980, Reagan won by a 51-41 margin over sitting President Jimmy Carter. This election also saw Independent John Anderson garnering nearly 7% of the vote and a Libertarian candidate, Ed Clark, getting more than 1%. Although some historians believe that Anderson took votes away from Carter, I think that it's more likely that these voters did not want to vote for Carter, but could not vote for Reagan, so they voted for Anderson in protest. The Libertarian vote also most likely took away from Reagan.

1992 is another perfect example. Bill Clinton defeated incumbent George H.W. Bush by a 43-37 margin, with Independent candidate H. Ross Perot receiving just shy of 19%. Again, some historians believe that the majority of Perot voters were dissaffected Republicans; however, I think that it is more likely that many would have voted for Clinton or not voted at all in 1992 had the race been between only the two candidates. This could have turned into an even greater landslide for Clinton than it actually was.

Looking at the 2004 election another way, let's look at the approval ratings for Reagan and Clinton at this point in their presidencies. Both were at around 55% approval, and both won reelection by wide margins. Now let's look at approval ratings for Jimmy Carter and Bush 41. Both were in the low 40s or high 30s at this point and both lost by wide margins; the current President is dangerously close to these levels.

So, what am I saying? Current polling indicates that at this rate, Bush will lose by a wide margin in November if all things remain constant. However, all things will not remain constant. People's impression of the economy is not of today's situation, but rather how things were six months ago (this holds today as well as generally over time [the economy was bad in June 1992, but good in November; people still thought it was bad, though, and voted Bush out of office]). Thus, if the economy is indeed picking up right now, Bush will fare better in five months. However, a deteriorating situation in Iraq could counteract this (the economy was good in 1968, but the situation in Vietnam prevented a run by Johnson).

I'll leave you for the time being with this note. There haven't been two close elections in a row since the end of the 19th century, so it's highly unlikely that the 2004 election will be as close as 2000. As a result, I believe the race will either be a big Bush win (which, according to history, probably wont happen) or a big Kerry win. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

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