Let's Talk Sense...

Wednesday, November 13, 2002 Volume XXVII, No. 5
Roswell, New Mexico

LTS... Answers Your Questions

In this issue:

1. LTS... Answers Your Questions
2. Approval Ratings: Don't be fooled by them
3. Electoral College: Almost a tie, still


LTS...Answers Questions, Comments

"You were right! I'm impressed. So who's the next Democratic presidential nominee?"
(PRL, Austin, TX)

John Edwards (Democrat Senator from North Carolina)


Democrats want power, they will be drawn to whichever pathway best represents the greatest opportunity for success. John Edwards, as a handsome smooth-talking Southerner, reprises the Clinton model, the most successful Electoral College effort by the Democrats since 1964. He is very liberal, but wends his way through those pitfalls with charm, smiles, and a clever turn of phrase that leaves the voter in awe. (Like Clinton, but better looking.) Plus, he has none of the Clinton baggage. No bimbos. Happily married for 25 years+. All that good stuff. Northeastern candidates (Dukakis, Teddy Kennedy, et. al.) have not been, and are not, the answer. Therefore John Kerry is not the answer. If Kerry somehow does get the nomination, it's over. It will be smooth sailing for George W. Bush.

"Wow, great call. What's your thoughts now on South Dakota the less than 500-vote Thune loss? Best regards." (note: Thune trails by 527 votes as of today)
(M. M., Albuquerque)

My initial reaction was one of suspicion, since my calculations showed a probable Thune margin of 4,000+. When I looked at the returns I was amazed to see the dramatic off-year increase in two counties, well above the presidential turnout in 2000. The nationwide 2002 vote totals, on average are some 30% lower than 2000 totals. That is normal and expected.

But here are the counties in South Dakota that caught my eye:

Bush Gore Thune Johnson
Shannon Co. 252 1,667 248 2,856
Todd Co. 478 993 464 2,027

These figures did nothing to assuage my suspicion. The numbers are nothing short of astounding. They shattered the all-time records for those two counties. These are reservation counties where the Democrats were caught in various fraudulent activities. Clearly they continued their work, although they may have worked smarter and covered their tracks better. If so, they may be able to make the entire result stand up to scrutiny.

"Prediction for the Senate: Democrats 51.....probably 52 on Dec. 7th."
(R. E., Albuquerque)

That's what everyone said. But that was wrong. That's my whole point.

"What are your opinions about media bashing of your opponent? Some say it works, but in the case of the Governorship of New Mexico, it didn't seem to play out."
(D. W., Ruidoso, NM)

Huh? I have no idea what governor's race you were watching. Richardson spent nearly $4 million just on radio and TV attack ads on John Sanchez, and the direct mail campaign was even more brutal. He and his allies will have spent more than $10 million altogether, the great bulk of it on what you later termed "negative campaign strategy." One thing we know for sure, from mid-Spring to Labor Day, Richardson spent a couple million dollars on purely positive "resume ads" about his career and his numbers steadily declined from high of 67% to 49% just before he abandoned that approach. For whatever reason, New Mexico voters never bought into Bill. When Richardson shifted gears and began to gut John Sanchez, the Sanchez campaign collapsed. The election was won purely on what you went on to term "negative campaign strategy." I am not criticizing Richardson, I am simply stating what is easily observable and documented.

It is abundantly clear that what you call "negative" did in fact work very well. I have no idea how you conclude it did not.

"So what does our study have to say about the fact that, rather than a mandate, the Republicans are taking control of the senate because of the death of two Democrats, one last election and one this one. That's hardly a mandate."
(M. S., Austin, TX)

At no point have I ever even inferred that what happened Tuesday is a mandate. Anyone familiar with me knows what I write and say in speeches over and over is that we are a very closely divided nation, have been for a decade, and are likely to continue this way for at least another. Mandates are unlikely in this setting.

Perhaps the most cogent point I made along those lines in the most recent LTS... is:

"...Conversely, the Democrats' defeat is now greatly, if not enormously, exaggerated..."

Perhaps you missed that. The country is narrowly divided. As a matter of fact, I have stated that using my turnout models for Presidential Years in New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Missouri, the Republicans would have lost each of those races. No sir. Everything is very, very narrowly divided in this country. Political leaders must move very guardedly.

One other cautionary note, as I try to remind people to have good memories and keep things in perspective and not get too carried away to be objective:

1. Mrs. Carnahan was only in because of the death of her husband. Ashcroft (in 2000) lost a race he was going to win by 4+ points, mainly because he stopped campaigning out of respect.....the Democrats won that one because they hammered him without his answering and won only on sympathy votes.

2. As so often happens (actually just about always) Wellstone, vis a vis his vote-getting prowess, was lionized in death far beyond what he was in life. All my calculations had him losing anyway. The pollsters (for what they were worth) were split.

So you are right that there is no mandate. But you are out of objective balance when you made your great leap on the "death seats."

"One question: Have you determined how many Republicans were angry enough over our [New Mexico gubernatorial] primary to vote for the socialist ticket?"
(R. M. Carlsbad, NM)

Haven't analyzed it. In New Mexico it is only the Republicans who even ponder these kinds of things. They devour their own. Democrats stay focused on the philosophy they want to see prevail. But there are scores of Republicans who are in politics for nothing more than themselves. If they get beat, they not only quit working, some even switch sides. They have no other larger goals----fighting socialism as you put it----or believing that lowering the tax burden, reforming education or developing our economy is a greater goal, greater than themselves.

As for the voters they represent, think about it: Their guy gets beat in the primary, so they vote for the ideological opposite in the general? The only way that makes sense (in fact the only way that is not downright stupid) is if the voters have no philosophy themselves. Even as bitter as John McCain and his followers were (and the presidential primaries of 2000 were far more intense than anything in New Mexico in 2002) they knew they did not want Al Gore over George W. Bush. But in New Mexico, well...

Whether New Mexico conservatives realize it or not, we have a great national struggle going on all around us. Whether it is George W. Bush v. Tom Daschle, or John Sanchez v. Bill Richardson, it is played out all around America, in every state and locale, and it will continue to be a philosophical battle for the soul of America. And, finally, it is about ideas, not personalities.

And yet, some conservative voters in some counties (and some candidates too) mainly Anglo Democrats who vote Republican in national elections, continue to send the message that it is okay to discriminate against Hispanic Republicans. Stupid.

"Excellent analysis, as usual. I hope you are right, but I am afraid we are going to lose in Colorado, Georgia and Minnesota... also hope you are right about the reaction to Wellstone and Dems behaving badly. Interestingly enough, it wasn't a story at all in the NYT or NPR the next day. Didn't happen. They missed the story entirely."
(D. D., Arlington, VA)

Well, it really doesn't matter if the NYT or NPR don't carry it. The Minnesota voters, not unlike other upper Midwesterners, are fairly highly tuned in, and it was obvious the story was getting very heavy play there on the day of the rally (oops, I mean "memorial service"). There is a high percentage of fair-minded voters there (I am sure 250,000 to 350,000 felt ashamed of their votes as they went ahead and voted for Mondale because of ideology---as well they should have, vote their belief system I mean. Of course the other 65-70% felt no shame, because they are part and parcel of the ever-hardening American Left, for which shame is not a consideration, only power. This of course leaves potentially huge blind spots, and events like the Wellstone "memorial" occur in those kinds of blind spots.

Remember, very few Americans, beyond the beltway (where I see you are from), read the New York Times. And while I very much enjoy All Things Considered and Morning Edition, NPR's ratings are infinitesimal.

"[Regarding Voting for Dumb Reasons, i.e. vote for Tim Johnson so Tom Daschle will be in power] I live in the 8th district in Maryland. The Dems used the same approach against Connie Morella that they used in South Dakota except, in the 8th, they used we "need to return the House to the Dems" and therefore we need to elect the turkey Van Hollen. So the large numbers of African American, Jewish and Federal workers that we redistricted into the 8th didn't vote for a veteran, well respected, really good congresswoman. Our neighbors said that even though Connie was good and they liked her, they really had to elect a Dem to help take back the House."
(J. D. Montgomery County, MD)

Well, they finally got her. It has been a long time coming and she has withstood a withering barrage over and over to survive. But, now that it is done, it's done. The Maryland 8th (absent a Condit-like scandal, which would topple any incumbent except an inner-city one) is a goner.

Approval Ratings: Don't be fooled by them

As we look ahead to the Presidential Election of 2004, we need to bear a couple of things in mind. Here's one of them:

"Approval ratings" of performance in office do not reflect an actual vote percentage at the next election.

President Bush is receiving ratings in the mid to high-60s. He is sometimes in the 70s. If we get involved in an international crisis, those ratings will soar to the 80s and beyond. But even in the wake of this election, which was a triumph for him, (though not a mandate) the straightforward question of whether or not Americans would vote to reelect him was:
48% Yes
41% No
11% Don't know

The high "approval rating" of 65% reflects Americans' willingness to "support" presidents even if those presidents don't particularly appeal to them as a candidate. In other words, to say, in effect, "Yeah, he's doing an okay job. I approve of the job he's doing." This should not be interpreted as meaning these Americans, as voters, will support the president in an election. And the above poll, it should be noted, doesn't even contemplate an actual named opponent. That's just the way things are.

Of course there are other complications such as the fact that some of these polls (in fact most "approval ratings") do not survey registered voters, much less "likely voters," but just "adult Americans." So many times we can be comparing apples to oranges. But the main point is that approval ratings are not votes.

Several presidents' approval ratings have been in the 70s and 80s, and rarely, even in the 90s. But no president has ever received more than 61.05% of the vote. And no one since 1972 has broken 60. Nor will anyone---for years to come.

Remember, FDR's "approval ratings" were extremely high in World War II---he was fighting the Nazis for crying out loud-----but when the votes were counted in 1944, he got 25 million, and Tom Dewey got 22 million. Only 53.4% of Americans wanted to keep him on the job---right there in the middle of the biggest war we have ever fought. (And 46% would have immediately yanked him and installed the sitting Governor of New York to take over---and begin directing Generals Marshall, Eisenhower and MacArthur in the conduct of the war.)

Americans will vote for the candidate who best appeals to them, regardless of whether or how much they "approve" of a president's ongoing performance.

Electoral College Count:
Bush (R) 159
Somebody Else (D) 168
Battleground States 211

Given the very narrowly divided electorate, and intensely competitive and evenly matched major parties, can there ever be a landslide (like Reagan's 58.8% in 1984, or anything above 55% for one candidate or another? Well, of course, there can be. Of course it is possible. But it would require the equivalent of a tectonic shift in the electoral superstructure.

What could cause that? God forbid, but it would take catastrophic events, things like a depression of historic proportion, global and catastrophic war, something that literally shakes the foundation of the nation. We cannot foresee such.

Barring that, we can pretty much guarantee the following will happen in 2004:

George W. Bush will definitely carry 19 states, with 159 electoral votes.
George W. Bush will definitely NOT carry 11 states and D.C., with 168 electoral votes.
20 states with 211 electoral votes will constitute the "battleground" states where the presidential election will be decided.

Remember, unlike the media are wont to say, a "battleground" state is not any large state with lots of electoral votes. Rather, a battleground state is one whose votes are in doubt. So New Hampshire, with 4 electoral votes, and New Mexico, with 5, are battleground states. New York (31), California (55) and Texas (34) are NOT battleground states. Texas will go for Bush. The other two will not. Period.

Here's the regional breakdown, with electoral vote totals by region:

East 0 88 34 122
South 72 0 55 127
Midwest 11 21 75 107
West 76 0 29 105
Pacific 0 59 18 77
159 168 211 538

The good news for Bush is that he has a net gain of 2 electoral votes just from reapportionment in 2001. Carrying exactly the same states in 2000 would have garnered him only 157 votes. Similarly, his opponent (somebody else) has lost a net 2 from reapportionment. If we were going into the 2000 election, "Somebody Else" would have had 170 to start with instead of 168.

If you would like a list of the Bush states, the somebody else states and the battleground states, and all their electoral votes, just create mail for radair@dfn.com and write "EC" in the subject line.