Interpreting the Polls
Fri August 18, 2006 8:47 am

A friend who takes issue with my recent posts ("Main Event" and "Main Event, the Post-Mortem," in which I asserted that the thwarting of the terrorist plot at Heathrow Airport would benefit the Republicans in the midterm elections, has been bombarding me with e-mailed poll results showing that, so far, the president has received no benefit. I'm going to mention a couple of the polls and respond to the analysis.

Zogby 8/16
The numbers: Bush's job approval rating was 34%.

*"President Bush's job approval rating dipped two points in the last three weeks, despite the foiling of an airline terror plot and the adoption of a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon....President Bush’s numbers mainly reflect the country’s thinking on the war in Iraq, and most people have made up their minds that the war overall has not been worth the loss of American lives. Terrorism is an important issue to Americans, but when it comes to judging Bush’s presidency, their decision is based largely on Iraq.”

My response: We don't have a parliamentary system in which the government falls on a vote of confidence. These are partisan elections between Republicans and Democrats. Each party is looking for a message that could nationalize the election. The Republicans have terrorism. The Democrats have the unpopularity of the war in Iraq. The Republicans have been able to use the terrorism issue effectively in 2002 and 2004. But Democrats have never been able to craft a coherent, effective message about the war. John Kerry couldn't do it. Joe Lieberman could, but his party rejected him. Until the Democrats find a message that works--and withdrawal isn't it--the Republicans have the advantage.

*"The numbers continue to reflect erosion in the President's political base--just 62% of Republicans give him positive marks for his job performance, while 38% give him negative marks."

My response: So what? Votes is the name of the game. Those Republicans may not be enamored of Bush, but that doesn't mean they are going to vote Democratic. Republicans don't vote for Democrats.

*"Even among weekly WalMart shoppers--a demographic group occupied by [Zogby] as a critical support group for Bush--just 45% now give him positive job marks, though his numbers among those shoppers have improved 10 points since early June. More than three out of four--76%--of weekly WalMart shoppers voted for Bush over Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election...."

My response: Maybe they have switched to Target.

CBS News Poll 8/14
The numbers: Bush's approval rating was 36%, same as July. The disapproval rate rose two points, to 57%.

*"Last week's arrests in Britain of more than 20 individuals suspected of plotting to blow up planes traveling from London to the U.S. have had an impact on Americans' priorities. While the war in Iraq remains the most important issue facing the country, terrorism has risen to the number two spot, volunteered by 17% and up from just 7% last month. Since July 2005, fewer than one in 10 Americans have mentioned terrorism when asked to name the country's most important problem, and the percentage naming it in any CBS News Poll has rarely approached the current level.

My response: This was my point in posting those two "Main Event" items. The heightened concern about terrorism makes it easier for Rove and Mehlman to exploit the issue.

*"Typically a foreign threat--or a perceived threat--results in an improvement in presidential standing, as Americans rally around their leader. [But Bush's approval rating in the poll has held steady, while his disapproval rating rose two points.]

My response: The American people have never been sold on Bush. But the Republicans have won three elections (including the 2002 midterms) on his watch without his being viewed in a favorable light. The reasons for this are (1) the Republicans are better at the technique of winning elections, as their microtargeting of voters showed in 2004, and (2) the Democrats haven't been able to produce a credible alternative, either in policy or personality. Until they do, Americans will continue to vote for Bush and his party in just large enough numbers to keep them in power. You can't beat somebody with nobody.

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