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Sunday, October 17, 2004

I just read Howard Fineman's article in Newsweek. Something is wrong with this picture.

In describing the hysterical pitch of the political combat to come over the next two and a half weeks, Fineman states:

The combat is so ferocious in part because the race is where it's always been: too close to call—though there is evidence that Bush now has a narrow lead: 48-46 percent among registered voters, 50-44 percent among likely voters in NEWSWEEK's new poll. Still, Bush's job-approval rating (often a harbinger of the incumbent's Election Day tally) is an ominously low 47 percent—and only 47 percent say they want to see him re-elected. (Emphasis added.)
I don't doubt that the race cannot be called at this time. Presidential races are frequently won or lost by substantially less than five percent of the popular vote, and the margin of error in most polls is larger than that. What amuses me about the Newsweek poll is that Fineman says only 47% of voters want Bush to be reelected, but Bush leads Kerry with 48% of registered voters and 50% of likely voters. If the poll is accurate, that means that between one and three percent of voters plan to vote for Bush even though they don't want to see him reelected.

The job approval ratings are more ambiguous. An opinion of how well or poorly Bush has performed over the course of his term does not translate directly into a vote for or against him. It is entirely consistent to for vote for Bush while believing that he has done a terrible job on absolutely everything, as long as you also believe that Kerry would be worse. The opposite is also true: It is possible to believe that Bush did absolutely everything perfectly and still be logically consistent with a vote for Kerry, if you believe that Kerry would do better at the tasks he will face in the next four years. Simply put, elections are about the future. Job approval ratings are about the past. The two are not entirely unconnected, sincepast actions are all we have to go on in predicting future actions. (The preceding sentence obviously and pointedly ignores the unenforceable and frequently ignored promises by politicians.)

The same point has been repeatedly made by Rand Simberg (sorry, no specific link because there is no search feature on Transterrestrial Musings) about the "right track/wrong track" question so beloved of pollsters. You can believe that Bush has the country on the wrong track for one of two reasons: he has pursued the wrong strategies and policies or, even though he has pursued the correct strategies and policies, he has not gone far enough.

But, at least according to Fineman, the Newsweek poll asked whether the respondent wanted the President to be reelected, and the answers they received simply do not add up.
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