Simon World blogs Zogby’s Hong Kong talk

· 2004 Election

John Zogby thinks the race is still Kerry’s to lose. Simon disagrees but finds many of Zogby’s insights compelling.
Here are a few that struck me:

Red vs. Blue

  • This election is a repeat of 2000 in many ways, and Florida and Ohio are the key states this time.
  • The “Armageddon Election”: the US has 2 equal sized warring factions divided ideologically, demographically and culturally. Cicero at Winds of Change has an interesting post on the same lines.
  • The key difference: married vs. singles whom have never married. On every poll this is the key predictor of voting intention, even when broken down by sex and age.

The Missing Centre

  • In the past the candidates tend to move to the centre in the last few weeks of the campaign and sound similar as they fight over the middle ground. This time each candidate is talking to their bases as if the centre doesn’t exist – because it doesn’t.
  • Why is the centre missing? Bush won in 2000 with 48% of the popular vote but rather than reaching for the centre, he started out from the right (Zogby though this was a squandered opportunity). The 4 million Christian Conservative “myth” of Karl Rove meant Bush wanted to pander to them to shore his support up and push his numbers up over 50% and hold them there for 4 years, rather than reach across to conservative Al Gore voters. This explains why Bush quickly rescinded Clinton’s environmental orders and decision on Government money for family planning groups that support abortion – he was chasing the CCs. On September 1, 2001 Bush was at 49%.
  • The “rubber ball” analogy: Bush had three poll bounces since 2001, but each one has been shallower and shorter than the next.
  • Post 9/11 he went to 85%….Zogby notes the Sept 20th speech to Congress and the incident when Bush was talking to a group of iron workers, police and firefighters at Ground Zero (when some called out “We can’t hear you”, Bush responded “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear from of all us soon,” as two key attempts to connect with the entire population.
  • However with 10 days of 9/11 Zogby did a poll, asking do you support the War on Terror (WoT)? 91% said yes. When asked would the support the WoT if it lasted one year, it went down to 77%; for 2 years, down to 67% and more than 2 years 55%. Zogby took this to mean the US still suffered from a post-Vietnam syndrome of wanting wars won quickly and troops out of harms way as quickly as possible.
  • Fast forward to March 2003, just prior to the bombing of Baghdad. Bush’s approval is at 53%. Post bombing bounces to 67% but the bounce didn’t last long: by mid-May he was back to 50% and it didn’t budge. Over the (northern) Summer of 2003 the opposition to the war on Iraq turned angry, and that is the first time that talk of the “stolen” 2000 election emerged.
  • The final bounce. In December 2003, when Saddam was captured, Bush went to 56% but within 2 weeks was back to 50% again.

The Democrats

  • Before the primaries started 66 – 73% of registered Democrats in key states thought they couldn’t beat Bush. When asked, they stated in 2:1 ratio they wanted someone they believed in rather than someone who could beat Bush. This explains the rise of Howard Dean. By December Dean was up 7% in Iowa, 36% in New Hampshire and a couple of points in South Carolina. Dean’s problem was the primaries happened too late.
  • Zogby cannot explain why but he didn’t poll between Christmas and New Year. When polling restarted in January 2004 suddenly things shifted. The new polls had 85% of Democrats thought a Democrat could beat Bush and now in 3:1 ratio they wanted someone who could win.
  • John Kerry was the last man standing in Iowa, despite until then running a woeful (my notes say shit, but I don’t think Zogby used that word) campaign. There had been too much “nuance” and explanations that would fit trains, not bumper stickers. Zogby said “Presidential candidates need bumper stickers, not trains.”
  • Suddenly in January 2004 his message was simplified to three points: I can win, I’m a veteran and I’m experienced. He gained a point a day while Gephardt and Dean lost a point a day each and so once Kerry won Iowa the momentum was unstoppable. On Jan 10th Kerry was at 10% in Iowa; once his numbers crossed Dean’s then Kerry’s numbers took off and didn’t look back.
  • A key quote from a Kerry staffer: “John always knows when his homework is due.” The Presidential debate was another example of this, getting the message right at the right time (although hopefully not too late).

Key States

  • Penn., Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Florida. Each one is very close. His latest numbers are showing 46 Kerry 45 Bush but no clues on the undecideds still.
  • The potential surprise states are Bush in Iowa and Wisconsin and Kerry in Virginia, New Hampshire and Colorado.

Money

  • It is unusual but at this stage of the race Kerry has more money than Bush to spend.
  • Kerry’s fundraising efforts were greatly assisted by a motivated base and by good use of the internet, learning from Howard Dean.

The Running

  • The race is Kerry’s to lose, barring unforeseen events. If he loses, it is only his fault.
  • Why? Because Bush’s numbers have not gone above 48%. Three other key polling indicators are all terrible for Bush amongst undecideds:
    1. Presidential job performance: 35% positive versus 60% negative
    2. Is the country headed in the right direction? net negative
    3. Does the President deserve re-election? 15% yes versus 40% no.

    These numbers have always been net negative for Bush amongst undecideds. The last 3 Presidents with those numbers were Carter, Ford and Bush I. None won.

  • Another reason: undecideds tend to break for the challenger. Zogby sees them going like in Reagan in 1980, so that the margin is 2% but it is the same in each key state and it is in favour of Kerry, thus the Electoral Vote ends in a decisive victory.
  • A higher turnout favours Kerry. 2000 election had 105 million voters. Anything over 107 million this time and Kerry will win.
  • The youth vote: always heavily Democrat, this time the youth vote are unusually motivated and may turn out in bigger numbers than expected, tipping the race to Kerry.
  • If the focus of the final two weeks is the War on Terror… Bush wins.
  • If the focus of the final two weeks is Iraq and/or domestic issues… Kerry wins.
  • If the result is like in 2000 there will be masses and months of litigation. Neither side will back down and it will be complete chaos, far worse than 2000.

Nader

  • Nader is a spent force and irrelevant to the campaign. He does not take votes from Kerry.
  • Voters for Nader would otherwise have not voted at all, so no loss to either side.

The mobile phone question

  • What is the impact of the increased use of mobile phones on the accuracy of polling?
  • 6% of all adults and 15% of under 30s have only mobiles, with no land line phone. Does this introduce a bias in polling?
  • Zogby has tested this and seen no reason to expect these mobile-only adults will be any different (i.e. there is no anti-liberal bias).
  • On a slightly different question, young voters are always under-represented in polling and Zogby weights to increase their representation. He is using higher weights this time compared to 2000 due to increased activism.

Differences between polls

  • While being diplomatic, Zogby basically said Gallup’s numbers are junk. They use different methodologies but Gallup’s variations from poll to poll are too big to be creditable. In Zogby’s polling Kerry and Bush both bounce between 44 an 48, and haven’t deviated from that range.
  • Zogby maintains the same proportions of party affiliations in each poll as he doesn’t think that number changes much, which cuts the variability down.
  • He was emphatic there is no bias in his or any other polling organisation he knows. To have bias would be the death of any polling firm.

Internet, blogs and the election

  • The impact of the Internet has been huge. In 1996 about 4% of voters got most of their political information from the net. In 2000 it was 31%. For 2004 it will be in excess of 50%.
  • The second key impact has been in fundraising. Firstly Howard Dean, then John Kerry have used the internet to balance out and neutralise the fundraising power of Bush and the Republicans. Ironically Al Gore, the “father” of the net, didn’t capture this avenue in 2000.
  • Blogs: Zogby saw these as important, with each having its own constituency. However they are unlikely to change minds; instead “they serve to stoke the fires of anger.” In other words, blogs are preaching to the converted.
  • Zogby reads Real Clear Politics daily but I didn’t get a chance to find out if he follows any others.