Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

US polling data shows entrenched views
The latest Time polling results show that both the Democratic Convention and the recent terror alert had very little effect on voter choice.

Even after the recent terror alerts, the voters' dominant issue is the economy (27%), whilst terrorism is second on 18%, which in both cases is exactly the same as it was two weeks ago. In a result that may not be good reading for Karl Rove and the Bush Administration strategists, a full 70% disagreed with the statement that they "want a President who is strong on terrorism and not much else matters" in their vote. Further, if there were a terrorist strike before the November election, 66% say it would have little impact on their own vote. The remaining voters split on how an attack might affect their vote: 16% say an attack would make them more likely to vote for Kerry, while 15% say it would make them more likely to vote for Bush. Even Stephens there then.

What is interesting is that the poll reinforces the notion that the 2004 election is largely a referendum on Bush, rather than a battle between two candidates. The polls show that 56% of voters say that their opinion of Bush is more important than their opinion of Kerry in shaping their decision. Kerry's lifeless demeanour and campaign style only seem to enhance this proposition.

However, all of these polls reflect numbers which have remained similar over the past quarter, implying that there has been a lot of money made by media companies from political advertising, without any corresponding movement in voter choice. The Christian Science Monitor carries a story on the lack of influence of political advertising, in which they report that the Bush and Kerry campaigns have thus far spent more than $250 million in political advertising with very little swaying of the vote either way.

Ken Goldstein, head of a University of Wisconsin project tracking political advertising, says that "Ninety-nine percent of this election is not being decided by TV advertising." This election is mostly about partisan predisposition, plus events on the ground in Iraq and the direction of the economy, he says. "And so you have an eensy, eensy bit that's going to be decided by the campaign, and some portion of that eensy bit will be decided by political advertising."

$250 million is a substantial amount of hard cash to be wasting, but neither candidate will step down lest he lose any potential advantage. That leaves a situation where events largely outside the control of both candidates will influence the undecided voter. One can't help feeling though, that Kerry has to find some kind of form. The fact that he has such strong numbers is disproportionately attributable to voters' views on Bush rather than any real love for Kerry, and he has not struck any personal cord yet with the voting public. It's a strange strategy, as to negate the Republican attacks on Kerry as a 'flip-flopper', you would have thought that the Kerry strategists would be at pains to lay out his potential policies, but his policy speeches have been largely vague and undefined. He has a reputation as a late finisher, so perhaps he will hit his straps after the traditional Arbor Day electioneering final push. If he does, it may be troublesome for Bush, but his ruthless campaign strategists ably led by Rove will I'm sure have many surprises up their sleeves. One can't help shake the feeling that Bush may pip this one, not neccessarily by being a deserved leader, but by being the better campaigner.