Sunday, June 27, 2004

Two Ways to Look at It

The official George W. Bush <air quotes>Blog</air quotes> has a curious post.  On 6/18/2004, they posted the following:

Poll: Bush Has the Highest Number of Positive Supporters in Recent History, Kerry the Lowest

A Pew poll out today shows a seven-point shift in President Bush's direction in the election and rising confidence in the mission in Iraq. Furthermore, the poll confirms something we've suspected for a long time, while President Bush's grassroots overwhelmingly supports him because of his leadership and positive agenda, an unusually low number of Kerry supporters are inspired anything having to do with the candidate's agenda or leadership qualities. For Kerry supporters, it's mostly about anger.

73% of President Bush’s supporters say that their choice is a vote "for" him, rather than a vote "against" Kerry, while just 37% of Kerry’s supporters say that their vote is "for" him. Pew has been asking this question since 1988, and Kerry had the lowest percentage of positive support ever while President Bush had the highest.

Candidate/Year % Pro % Anti Pro-Anti
Kerry 2004 37 59 -22
Dole 1996 47 47 +0
Clinton 1992 48 46 +2
Bush 1992 54 37 +17
Dukakis 1988 55 36 +19
Bush 1988 62 32 +30
Gore 2000 64 31 +33
Clinton 1996 65 29 +36
Bush 2000 66 29 +37
Bush 2004   73 23 +50

The negativity in Kerry's support is unprecedented. To put these numbers in context, during Bill Clinton successful challenger campaign in 1992, more voters said theirs was a vote "for" him. When Bob Dole challenged Bill Clinton in 1996, just half of his voters said theirs was a vote "against" Clinton. And during the closely contested 2000 election, a roughly similar percentage of voters cast "for" votes for either candidate.

You can read more about the poll here and see the full results here.

This is odd, because one would expect that the Bush-Cheney Official Blog would post only information that is favorable to their candidates.  They try to put a positive spin on the numbers, by pointing out that just 37% of Kerry’s supporters say that their vote is "for" him.  That is not exactly flattering for Mr. Kerry, true.  But it also means that an historically unprecedented number of people plan to vote against President Bush in 2004.  Is this really good news for Bush???  This means that Bush has a greater number of active detractors now than Clinton had in 1996! 

The Pew Foundation analysis of the poll includes the following quote:

Notably, all of Bush's gains occurred after Reagan's death on June 5.

There are two surviving Republican ex-presidents now, and neither shows any signs of imminent demise.  So Bush can't count or a repeat of that boost.  Also of interest, in the Pew analysis, is the following:

The new Pew survey indicates that many Americans are becoming less connected to the news about Iraq and possibly more hardened to events there. Just 39% say they are tracking developments in Iraq very closely – down 15 points since April and the lowest level this year. In addition, 35% say that people they know are becoming less emotionally involved with the news from Iraq, a sharp increase from 26% last month.

The significance of this is that people are getting inured to the constant stream of bad news from Iraq.  Thus, it would appear that a good strategy for the Democrats to follow would be to make sure that people stay emotionally engaged in the Iraq situation.  There is an interesting wrinkle to this.  Some of the conservative bloggers have bemoaned the fact that the news media in the USA tend to focus on the bad news coming out of Iraq.  We do not hear about new schools being built, improvements in the power grid, etc.  The implication is that perhaps the President would not look so bad, if the media would provide more balanced coverage. 

As an ABB blogger, I am pleased to note that it would not help the President if the media increased the coverage of positive developments in Iraq.  In fact, it would hurt his chances for reelection.  Why?  Because it would make it harder for people to ignore the bad news.  The contrast between good and bad would steadily draw attention to the situation: if the news never changes, it ceases to draw attention.  If the media were to start presenting up-close-and-personal accounts of individuals in Iraq who are doing well, it would heighten our interest; it also would heighten our despair, when the inevitable bad news came along.  It is easy to stop caring about people whom you do not know.  Likewise, it is hard to ignore bad news when it happens to someone you care about. 

Therefore, I urge everyone, conservatives and liberals. authoritarians and libertarians, to join together for a common cause, and start to post more about the positive things that are happening in Iraq.  Togetherness is good.  Cooperation is good.  Even if we can't agree on anything else, let's cooperate on this one thing. 

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