One week after the third and final presidential debate, there are enough post-debate polls to tell us where the election stands today. Here the results are gathered together by realclearpolitics.com. These are for the three-way pairings, plus the two-way pairings by Rasmussen, which doesn't ask a three-way question. Bush's percentages are listed first.
Browse through an archive of columns by Michael Barone.
Note that George W. Bush's percentages range from 45 to 52 percent while John Kerry's percentages range from 42 to 47 percent. In only one poll does Bush fall below 47 percent, which is Kerry's highest percentage.
It seems highly likely that Bush emerged from the debates a little bit ahead. Some Kerry backers argue that voters who are still undecided are likely to end up voting against the incumbent. But it's also possible that many of these will just not vote. And in any case, Bush is bumping up against the magic number of 50 percent. The debates helped John Kerry but evidently not enough to put him ahead.
Of course, these numbers are not etched in stone. They could change over the last two weeks. And John Kerry is close enough that it will take only a shift of a few percentage points to put him ahead. But he is not likely again to speak to as broad an audience as he did at the Democratic National Convention in Boston or the three debates in Miami, St. Louis, and Tempe.
These numbers are something of a rebuke to conventional wisdom. Most political insiders supposed that if Kerry was judged the winner of the three debates he would wind up leading Bush. Most political insiders thought Kerry did win all the debates (I didn't; I thought Bush won the second and the third). But, as with his convention, he didn't get the bounce they expected.
But there is something else that is curious about the numbers in the polls, when viewed over the whole course of the campaign since John Kerry clinched the Democratic nomination on March 2. Blogger Steven Den Beste has prepared an interesting chart. Den Beste charges that pollsters "deliberately gimmicked" the results, "in hopes of helping Kerry." I don't agree with that at all. But he has made another interesting observation. Eliminating some of the peaks and valleys of the Bush and Kerry percentages in realclearpolitics.com's average of recent polls, Den Beste shows that Bush's percentages have tended to rise over time while Kerry's have risen much less if at all.
He draws the Bush long-term trend line from a low point around 43 percent in May, when the media were full of stories about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, to higher numbers around 45 percent in July and August, then up to the 49 percent level he has reached today. His long-term Kerry trend line runs through the 44 to 45 percent level in the spring to the 45 to 46 percent level in August, after the Democratic National Convention, to the same 45 to 46 percent level of today.