St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Lack of Bush ‘bounce’ will jumpstart Kerry’s bandwagon

Republicans are hopeful that President George W. Bush will receive a post-convention “bounce” in public opinion polls, which would put him ahead of Democrat John Kerry, perhaps all the way through Election Day. The August 29 edition of Dan Rather’s Convention Journal cited “a few widely experienced political pros” estimating this expected "bounce" to be 6-10 points.

But the Oracle doesn’t expect much of a bounce, and the reason has nothing to do with how good or bad the President’s speech or the convention as a whole turns out to be. (This column is published before the September 2 speech.)

This year’s campaign has been very polarizing. Expanding a disturbing trend, campaigns this year have focused on reasons to distrust and dislike the other side. Sadly, instead of policy differences, hatred has been voters’ primary motivator. This has been especially true among Democrats and progressives, perhaps because it was easy and obvious to focus on Bush as the enemy, while Republicans had to wait to see who the “bad guy” would be. The “Anybody But Bush” mantra was chock full of vitriol. Even when ten different Democrats were campaigning against each other, most of their attacks were aimed at Bush. Perhaps most important have been the vicious ads sponsored by “527" organizations like and “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” whose so-called independence from Kerry and Bush enabled them to be less responsible, with less risk of backlash against their favored candidate.

The result of this very polarizing campaign is that most voters have already taken sides, and the intensity of voters’ loyalty to their choices is very high. Polls have remained remarkably constant because there are so few voters who can be swayed from either side to the other. That explains why Kerry received no discernable “bounce” in the polls after the Democratic National Convention, even though the convention went exactly as planned and most news media painted it as a public relations success. The same fate now awaits Bush.

According to USA Today, “Since polling became a routine part of politics, the only other candidate who failed to see any improvement in his standing after the convention that nominated him was George McGovern in 1972.” That observation was made after post-Democratic Convention polls showed no bounce for Kerry. But with Kerry’s non-bounce already long forgotten, the talking heads of the news media may play Bush’s similar disappointment into a momentum-turning event. Rather’s pre-convention prediction helps set high expectations that, when not met, set the stage for negative consequences. It’s never good to be compared to the McGovern campaign.

This is the point at which the fate of the election is handed over to a pathetic segment of the electorate: the Bandwagon voters. These are the folks who treat voting as a form of “personal affirmation” and feel better about themselves if they vote for the candidate who wins. Subconsciously or sometimes even consciously, they seek out who is likely to win, and then vote that way. These are the voters who voted for such ideologically diverse candidates as Dick Gephardt and John Ashcroft in the same election. Yes, these are the inattentive voters who handed the 3rd District Democratic congressional nomination to Russ Carnahan (see the opening entry of this blog (8/5/04), in the section entitled “Bandwagon”).

Until now, most Bandwagon voters have perceived the incumbent president as the likely winner and have told pollsters that they’re either for Bush or undecided. (A recent Zogby poll that pressed “Undecideds” about their leanings shows them breaking to Bush over Kerry, 35%-10%, even though only 23% of them approve of Bush’s job performance.) But when the media play up the unprecedented” lack of bounce for a sitting president, these are the voters who actually will change their minds, the Bush voters who will defect over to Kerry, giving Kerry a sudden and decisive lead in the polls.

In the short term, it’s great when the Bandwagon voters vote with us, and it’s awful when they vote for the other guys. Win or lose, it’s outrageous that our elections are often decided by the shallowest, least informed people in our midst.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more about your analysis that Carnahan strictly won due to his name recognition and the fact that uninformed voters thought they were voting for a winner. It's really something to make L. Clay look like a heavyweight, but that's what Carnahan is all about. He's the worst legitimate candidate for congress that I have every seen. Is Bush or Russ a worse case of nepotisim. Strip away ideology and Russ makes W. look like a genius.

The truth of the matter is that he will still win this district by well over 20% of the vote given the fact that it's so heavily Dem. and that Federer is so far out there.

We need to break the cycle of mediocrity (or in Carnahan's case far worse)! The future of our country and region depends on it.

September 3, 2004 at 6:04 PM  

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