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March 03, 2005

National Security Numbers

Brad and Matt are arguing over what the poll numbers mean for Democratic chances to pull even on national security. As Brad notices, Americans disapprove of the president's foreign policy, 44%-48%. But that's basically the same result as the poll got before election day, which was 45%-49%. More importantly, these same voters are loving Bush on terrorism, 61%-33%. And while these numbers are a tad contradictory, but I wouldn't read too much into that. They don't really reflect how much voters like Bush's foreign policy. They're more about how capable voters judge Bush on foreign policy. It's a heuristics thing. The president has gone to great lengths to paint himself a rough, tough, brash, and simple cowboy. Foreign policy, which evokes images of subtle diplomatic maneuvering and sly manipulation of international bodies, is antithetical to the Bush image. So he gets bad marks on that because poll respondents, who really have no idea how well our foreign policy is working, or even how to judge how well our foreign policy is working, figure Bush is probably mucking it up.

Terrorism, on the other hand, fits perfectly with his image. After all, if the judgment on foreign policy isn't particularly logical, how much less coherent is the verdict on terrorism? What exactly is Bush doing about terrorism that voters like so much? In fact, what is Bush doing about terrorism at all? This is an under-the-radar fight and very, very few of us have any accurate idea about how it's progressing. So here too voters aren't judging Bush's policy on terrorism, but his persona on it. As a media-created entity, Bush is supremely capable to handle terrorism, indeed, it's the only thing he's able to take on. Voters stilldon't like his Iraq policy, economic policy, or foreign policy, but so long as he seems tough enough to personally punch bin-Laden in the face, he's going to get high marks on terrorism. And Democrats aren't going to make gains by advocating this or that plan, but by creating an image of toughness, something I'm convinced can only be done by a presidential candidate. Our great mistake with Kerry was to forget that the guy did not come off like his resume, and thus he did nothing to make us seem tougher on terrorism. Nominating someone like Clark would have. In any case, we're going to be trailing on that issue until we have an opportunity to recreate our image, which probably means the next terrorist attack or presidential campaign, whichever comes first.

See also my earlier post on the CBS/NYT poll.

March 3, 2005 in Polls | Permalink

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Comments

Didn't someone point out that in the same poll 80% of respondents claimed to have voted in the last election, when the national turnout was 50%?

Posted by: Ugh | Mar 3, 2005 7:30:44 PM

Yeah, Kevin Drum noticed that. Not sure how that effects other answers though -- all polls show that a higher proportion claim to vote than do vote, mainly so they don't come off like civic delinquents. Other opinions should be honest.

Posted by: Ezra | Mar 3, 2005 7:59:26 PM

I understand the civic delinquent point, but why does that mean other opinions should be honest?

Posted by: Ugh | Mar 3, 2005 8:09:37 PM

Because there's a reason for them to lie about voting -- they don't want to appear politically inactive when being asked about politics. But why would that make them lie about foreign policy, or health care, or similar subjects?

That, by the way, is a large problem with polling (at least imo). People don't want to answer "I don't know" because it makes them look/feel uninformed. So they admit to an opinion they don't really hold, and we all interpret the polls as more decisive and firm than tehy are.

Posted by: Ezra | Mar 3, 2005 9:30:44 PM

RE: Kerry's resume--I think your contrast on foreign policy and WOT applies to Kerry. On effete things like diplomacy, most voters would have preferred Kerry. They would have preferred Kerry to have put together a coalition for Iraq than Bush to have failed at that task. (That way, there would be more French and Germans dying and fewer Americans, and they could cover some of the financial cost). But Kerry just didn't convince people he had done anything "tough" since his 23rd or 24th birthday, while Bush had, their thinking probably went, "kept us from being attacked since 9-11."

Which brings me to your comment on Clark: I supported him, so presume I may have a bias. But I think he would potentially have been a far superior VP nominee for Kerry than was Edwards. One could argue that Edwards was a better candidate, more prepared to be President, whatever, but as a running mate for Kerry, to accentuate Kerry's strengths and cover his weaknesses, Clark would have been a much better choice. He's warmer than Kerry, but still a serious and trustworthy guy. (Nobody would talk about him seeming "too slick.") And he would have accentuated Kerry's war-hero status, while covering for Kerry's lack of leadership roles in politics. Sure, Kerry was a prosecutor, but that's different from being Sec of Defense, a Governor, the Pres and VP, or a general in charge of tens of thousands of troops who just a few years earlier led a war effort.

I like Edwards a lot, but as a running mate, Clark might have helped Kerry a lot more.

Posted by: DHinMI | Mar 3, 2005 10:03:57 PM

DH -- I agree with everything you wrote there. That was exactly the contrast with Kerry -- he didn't "look" like his resume, he looked like a diplomat. As for Clark, I said in an e-mail today that the single greatest mistake of the campaign was Kerry choosing Edwards over Clark. We all lauded him for have the self-confidence to pick Edwards, but that's also what killed us. His confidence in his past and knowledge to make him credible on national security kept him from feeling like he needed another, better war hero on the ticket. The mistake was fatal.

Posted by: Ezra | Mar 3, 2005 11:07:36 PM

The infuriating thing was, Kerry ran like hell from the parts of his CV that could have worked brilliantly for him on the war on terror front. Particularly Iran Contra. I mean, it was made in heaven - here you have a guy who led the politically unpopular investigations that uncovered a conspiracy against Congress TO FUND AND TRAIN TERRORISTS BY SELLING ARMS TO A SWORN ENEMY. And shit! The people who were responsible for the conspiracy TO FUND AND TRAIN TERRORISTS have been appointed by Bush to high office! One of them has just been made ambassador to Iraq! Nothing could more perfectly encapsulate the emptiness of BushCo's posturing on terrorism, and nothing could more clearly demonstrate Kerry's sincerity on the issue. But you didn't hear squat about that during the campaign, thanks to Bob "0 for 8" Shrum.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Mar 4, 2005 12:16:06 AM

This is why I think we lost the post-debate spin wars. Sure we got the point out that Bush lost the debate. He was out-geeked by a big geek. La de freakin da. The point we should have made was that Bush was scared shitless up there. He was afraid of Kerry. He pees his pants when he has to talk without a teleprompter. The gunslinger is a chickenshit. That should have been the spin. They have been impugning our manhood for decades. And then the very essense of Republican macho, their Marlboro Man, wets himself in front of millions of Americans and all we said was--"technically, he does own a timber company". Gotcha!! And then we wonder why we lose.

Posted by: TJon | Mar 4, 2005 10:28:14 AM

I don't agree that picking Clark as VP instead of Edwards would have been decisive. I'm a huge Clark fan, and I voted for him in the primaries (it was just a few days before he dropped out). But he was far from his best under the sharpest spotlights of national campaigning. The week he dropped out, he was on one of the Sunday talk shows, and he was hesitant, nervous, not at all commanding. Just after he quit the race, he went on the Charlie Rose show, and suddendly he was himself again, confident, charismatic, sharp, and concise. He really wasn't cut out for campaigning, not this time around.

Plus, there's always the argument about how much VP candidates really matter in the end. I guess everything counts in a close election, but I'm still very doubtful that any of Kerry's perceived weaknesses could have been addressed successfully with voters by anyone other than Kerry himself (not specific to Kerry, I think this is true of any presidential candidate).

Posted by: Haggai | Mar 4, 2005 10:31:13 AM

TJon, Bush lost major ground in the polls, from way up to about even, when he fucked up the first debate. Everyone who watched the debate noticed, probably without us even having to say anything about it. In spite of all the absurdities he said in the last two debates, he didn't come off as looking scared, so the same effect wasn't repeated again.

Posted by: Haggai | Mar 4, 2005 10:35:16 AM

Haggai,
I know he was hurt by the debates, but not nearly as badly as he should have been. I think the numbers changed mostly becuase Kerry looked pretty good and it was the first time lots of people saw him. He passed the "looks Presidential test". I think a lot more damage could have been done to Bush. Talking about him as being scarred fits in with other issues like why doesn't he hold press conferences and why he only holds scripted town hall meetings. What is he afraid of? It is an effective line of attack because it takes away his biggest strength--his tough guy image. They did not attack Kerry at his weak points, they went after his war hero image. It worked. We put the debates into the larger "Bush is not that knowledgable" frame. That was not a very effective criticique because most people don't want a geek for president. Its part of a larger need for us to get better at playing image politics. We branded Kerry as a war hero and they took that away. Every single thing Bush does is crafted to make him look like a tough guy. We should have skewered that image.

Posted by: TJon | Mar 4, 2005 10:49:29 AM

Ginger is so right. It makes my skin crawl how they're bringing the ol' gang back into gov't.

Posted by: TJ | Mar 4, 2005 10:51:14 AM

To make the same point, in a different way--if the problem with Kerry was that he didn't really look like his resume (war-hero), Clark had that same problem, only a lot worse. He was a novice politician, and it really showed (again, this is coming from an unabashed Clark fan who voted for him). Think about Colin Powell--he didn't get to be so popular nationally just by being an accomplished general, he did it by utilizing his tremendous political skills and charisma to parlay his military and personal background into an extremely compelling public persona. To assume that Clark's "looking the part" would have made up for Kerry's not looking it is basically the same mistake as assuming in the first place that Kerry "looked the part."

Posted by: Haggai | Mar 4, 2005 10:51:15 AM

TJon, I agree that Kerry should have been more aggressive in going after Bush that way. But I think he got most of what he could get out of the debates. Not all, and maybe that extra little bit could have been decisive, but he did accomplish an awful lot.

Posted by: Haggai | Mar 4, 2005 10:53:46 AM

"They did not attack Kerry at his weak points, they went after his war hero image."

Well, no. They went after Kerry plenty on his weak points--flip-flopper, doesn't know what he stands for, out-of-touch elitist, etc. Yes, they went after the war hero thing too, but don't forget the absolutely massive effort expended in attacking what were quite obviously his weak points.

Posted by: Haggai | Mar 4, 2005 10:56:00 AM

For the last 7 elections they have gone after the Democrat as a flip-flopper. With their increasing control of the media, they have just gotten better at making it stick. If you say something enough times, it becomes true. When did Kerry actually ever flip-flop? If its not true, how was that a weakness? That just shows the ability of the Right to take a talking point and imbed it directly into the American mind. Why Kerry did such a poor job defending himself on that charge is another matter. But the point is, they did also go after Kerry's strongest points. We never touched Bush's tough guy image. Once you puncture someones image, it is very hard to recover. It does lasting damage.

Posted by: TJon | Mar 4, 2005 11:10:36 AM

I basically agree with that, TJon. When Kerry really went hard at Bush on Iraq, I always thought it was a double whammy: he reminded everyone how much the policy really did suck, and he also made himself look "tough" along the way.

But, while the Kerry-as-flip-flopper thing was obviously more hot air than truth, his style--he did have a tendency to be long-winded and a little confusing--certainly contributed to it. Edwards, for instance, would have been harder to tag that way (though I think Kerry was a stronger candidate overall). On yet another hand, yes, they always tar Dems as flip-floppers, and the media eventually just bought into it. Lessons there to be learned, for sure.

Posted by: Haggai | Mar 4, 2005 11:20:43 AM

You are right that Kerry contributed to the problems. And I agree that "not looking the part" is very true for both Kerry and Clark. Its hard to overstate the importance of looking the part. Under controlled settings, Bush looks the part and that seems to be enough for 51% of Americans.

Posted by: TJon | Mar 4, 2005 11:35:19 AM

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 15, 2007 5:48:15 AM

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