January 07, 2003

OKAY, I'M NO MICHAEL BARONE, but a 43% re-elect number doesn't seem especially strong. Am I wrong here?

UPDATE: Michael Barone emails: "you're no Michael Barone." Well, I said that. . . . He adds:

On the 43% reelect number:

As I recall, when Peter Hart (my boss 1974-81) started using the reelect question, we all assumed that an incumbent with an under 50% reelect was in some trouble. That seemed to be right then.

But in the last few cycles I've noticed that almost no one gets a 50% reelect--and these have been strong incumbent cycles, starting in 1996. Lots of incumbents who get 43% reelect go on to win quite nicely.

What I think is going on here is that only strong partisans say either "reelect" or "elect someone else." Thus Bush scores pretty well on this Ipsos-Reid poll, because 43% reelect is a lot better than 29% elect someone else.

I think Bush--unless his numbers go sharply down, which of course could happen--is headed for reelection with something like 54%-56% of the vote. I think the strong cultural divisions in the country mean that over 40% are going to find themselves on one side or the other, no matter how well they think the incumbent has performed. So numbers like Johnson's 61% in 1964, Nixon's 61% in 1972 and Reagan's 59% in 1984 (notice: it's just a little bit smaller) are just not in the cards for 2004. I think the 43%-29% in Ipsos-Reid translates to something like 55% for Bush, 40% for the Democrat and 4% for Nader-- a number that could go up or down depending on how lefty the Democrat is.

That would be a nice electoral college victory for Bush, but he still wouldn't carry California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, Vermont and probably Illinois--151 electoral votes. So his electoral vote count would not be much better than Clinton's in 1996, when the popular vote was 49%-41%, and most of the Perot voters were anti-Clinton.

Thanks. I feel like Woody Allen when he pulled in Marshall McLuhan from off-camera to settle an argument!

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jay Caruso, (who, I should point out, isn't Michael Barone either) has some thoughts.