News & Politics

Watching the Numbers

A remarkable Newsweek poll puts Bush on the defensive against Kerry, with 52 percent of voters angling for the president's defeat.
A remarkable new poll was published in the January 26 Newsweek. After two months of a polling wasteland when it came to George Bush's job approval and general electability, the Newsweek poll reports:

"[A] week after President Bush's State of the Union address, his approval rating has fallen to 50 percent from 54 percent in the last Newsweek Poll (1/8-9/04). Yet, a 52-percent majority of registered voters says it would not like to see him re-elected to a second term. Only 44 percent say they would like to see him re-elected, a four-point drop from the last Newsweek Poll. (Of that, 37 percent strongly want to see him re-elected, and 47 percent strongly do not). However, a large majority of voters (78 percent) says that it is very likely (40 percent) or somewhat likely (38 percent) that Bush will in fact be re-elected to a second term in office. Only 10 percent believe it is not too likely or not at all likely (10 percent)."

In it, for the first time, a named Democrat, rather than a generic Democratic candidate, beats the President in the next election:

"[Senator John] Kerry also leads the pack of Democratic contenders among registered voters as the candidate who would have a better chance of beating President George W. Bush if the election were held today. A Kerry-Bush match-up would have Kerry up by 49 percent to Bush's 46 percent. A Clark and Bush match-up would be a close race, with Bush at 48 percent and Clark at 47 percent. Bush would have an edge over Edwards (49 percent to 46 percent). Yet, with a plus or minus margin of error, these match-ups result in a statistical dead heat. And the President would beat Dean (50 percent to 45 percent) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (49 percent to 45 percent)."

Now, all such polls have to be taken with several giant grains of salt. They are at best snapshots of passing seconds of feeling/opinion. Nonetheless, in the wake of the State of the Union speech, to see Bush fall below the Florida 50 percent mark when it comes to a second-term is at least encouraging. The State of the Union bomb (rather than the bombshell that was meant) and Kerry's Iowa boost could obviously be reversed in about thirty seconds.

In the process, of course, Howard Dean got clobbered and his serial state shouting and singular yelp have already become a national joke. It's unfortunate that no one puts much history behind that snapshot moment chosen, at least for the time being, as iconic for Dean both in the media and on late night TV. After all, the man did put some backbone into the other Democratic candidates. He gave them an ongoing tutorial in how to fight back against George and Co.

I suspect that, in retrospect, we'll find his polling figures beginning to slide almost from the moment of Saddam's capture when all the other major Democratic candidates collapsed in a heap of praise for the President. Dean remained standing and made an eminently reasonable comment: that we were no safer for Saddam's capture. Within days the full range of mainstream media had swiveled on him and launched an attack that lasted two months without surcease. The other Democratic candidates soon leapt on board to join the beating. Dean was badly pummeled in the process, and then lost by an unexpectedly wide margin in Iowa. By the time he emerged on stage that night to say a few words, he was clearly a badly shaken candidate. The rest you know.

If uncurious George had been pummeled by the media for two months in the same fashion, with every word he spoke dissected and every past moment of his reconsidered, he would have been more than a lame duck, he would have been exactly the sort of creature his Vice President and Supreme Court Justice Scalia were bagging the other week in an armed love fest that passed for a vacation.

By the way, given how tough this election is likely to be, I'm glad to see that a subject, which has made its way -- sometimes a bit hysterically -- around the political Internet, is finally making its way to the mainstream (or at least to an eddy somewhere close to the main current of the river). In a powerful recent column ("Democracy At Risk"), Paul Krugman of the New York Times for the second time took up the dangers of electronic voting. He began:

"The disputed election of 2000 left a lasting scar on the nation's psyche. A recent Zogby poll found that even in red states, which voted for George W. Bush, 32 percent of the public believes that the election was stolen. In blue states, the fraction is 44 percent.

"Now imagine this: in November the candidate trailing in the polls wins an upset victory -- but all of the districts where he does much better than expected use touch-screen voting machines. Meanwhile, leaked internal e-mail from the companies that make these machines suggests widespread error, and possibly fraud. What would this do to the nation?

"Unfortunately, this story is completely plausible. (In fact, you can tell a similar story about some of the results in the 2002 midterm elections, especially in Georgia.) Fortune magazine rightly declared paperless voting the worst technology of 2003, but it's not just a bad technology -- it's a threat to the republic."

Finally, if you don't think the coming election is important, check out Robert Kuttner, hardly a wild-eyed radical, in the latest issue of American Prospect magazine. He's written a bone-chilling essay, "America as a One-Party State," which explores in detail just how close we've already come to permanent Republican control of the House of Representatives and the Senate -- it's already become close to statistically inconceivable for the Democrats to take back control of either house in the foreseeable future -- and in the courts where only a Bush reelection is needed to seal the bargain. All of this (along with the new voting procedures Krugman focuses on) brings us "close to a tipping point of fundamental change in the political system itself":

"The United States could become a nation in which the dominant party rules for a prolonged period, marginalizes a token opposition and is extremely difficult to dislodge because democracy itself is rigged. This would be unprecedented in U.S. history.

"In past single-party eras, the majority party earned its preeminence with broad popular support. Today the electorate remains closely divided, and actually prefers more Democratic policy positions than Republican ones. Yet the drift toward an engineered one-party Republican state has aroused little press scrutiny or widespread popular protest."

Tom Engelhardt is the editor of
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