Browse through an archive of columns by Michael Barone.
Currently John Kerry has a statistically insignificant lead 46 to 45 percent over George W. Bush in national polls conducted wholly or partially in March, as reported in realclearpolitics.com. Those numbers donít look good for Bush. But the numbers, though statistically indistinguishable, donít represent the same kind of feelings. Take the Washington Post/ABC News poll that, in a pairing including Ralph Nader, showed Kerry leading 48 to 44 percent. When the interviewers asked voters whether they strongly supported their candidate, 86 percent of Bush voters and only 66 percent of Kerry voters said they did. So if you just take those voters who strongly support a candidate, Bush leads 38 to 32 percent. And when interviewers asked voters whether they were voting more for their candidate or more against his opponent, 86 percent of Bush voters and 38 percent of Kerry voters said they were voting more for their candidate: 38 percent of the total electorate were voting for Bush and 18 percent for Kerry.
Equal numbers of voters express favorable and unfavorable feelings toward Bush. Kerry does better: 54 percent favorable, 26 percent unfavorable. But 20 percent canít rate their feelings toward Kerry, and the impressions of many others are obviously based on little information. The story line of the primary season has been all positive for Kerry; when news media explain why he won 27 of 30 contests up through March 2, the information is going to be overwhelmingly positive. Nor were there any negative campaigns ads against him and not much in the way of attacks in debates or on the stump.
That is going to change. Bush has already started attacking him, and negative ads can be expected some time soon. Kerryís unfavorables will inevitably rise; his favorables may or may not stay as high.
Some internal results in the Post/ABC poll seem questionable. Kerry is shown as leading 51 to 33 percent in the Midwestmore than in the Eastand by 48 to 47 percent in the South. Bush may have problems in the Midwest because of job losses in manufacturing areas, but he seems unlikely to end up 18 percent behind there. And there is no reason to believe Kerry will carry the South. It should be noted that anomalies like this appear in many polls, but the results for the other two regions in this pollKerry ahead 49 to 38 percent in the East, Bush ahead 44 to 40 percent in the Westare much closer to the 2000 general election results.
Letís consider another factor, which polls canít really measure: turnout. Bush sources have pointed out, accurately, that turnout was not especially high in the Democratic primaries. In the 30 Democratic contests in 2004 up through and including Super Tuesday, 8.9 million votes were cast. By way of comparison, in the 21 Republican contests in 2000 up through and including Super Tuesday, 11.3 million votes were cast. Republican turnout in 2000 was higher than Democratic turnout in 2004 in 13 of 19 states. Of the six in which Democratic turnout was higher, three have party registration and many more Democrats than Republicans, while three others voted in 2000 after the Republican nomination was decided.
Of the nine Super Tuesday primary states, Democratic turnout was up compared with the 2000 Democratic primaries in only three states (Georgia, Ohio, Vermont), was up compared with 1992 Democratic primaries in only two (Georgia and Ohio; Vermont did not have a primary that year), and was up compared with the 1988 Democratic primaries in only one state (Vermont). The only state with a surging increase in Democratic primary turnout from 2000 to 2004 was New Hampshire, but since there are more registered Republicans than Democrats there, Republican turnout in 2000 was higher.
What the Democratic primaries revealed was that there are a large number of Democrats who are viscerally and vitriolically opposed to George W. Bush. Thanks to Howard Deanís surge to the lead in polls last summer, they dominated the candidatesí messages and they turned out and voted in primaries and caucuses. But what the March polls and the January and February turnouts tell us is that Bush haters are not nearly a majority of the electorate. They suggest that the Democratic primary turnout was heavily weighted to Bush haters, who are not necessarily representative of the opinions of the additional voters John Kerryís campaign needs to win the election. Right now, when these voters know little about him, he is strong enough to run about even in the polls. But will he hold them, and will they turn out on Election Day?