Democrats & Liberals Archives

Time to Hit the Panic Button?

In the last few days there has been a lot of Democratic handwringing about Kerry blowing the election by reacting inadequately to the Swift Boat allegations. I think this is based on a couple of questionable premises. The first dubious premise is that Kerry has been seriously damaged by the allegations. Let’s go to the polls.

For the sake of argument, we can compare where Kerry is now in polls of likely voters to where he was around the beginning of August. In their poll ending 8/1, ABC had Kerry with an insignificant lead of 49 to 47. In their poll ending 8/29, it was a 48 to 48 tie. (All of these polls include Nader. If the polls took place over a few days, I give the last day.) In the Fox News polls, Kerry was ahead 47 to 43 on 8/4, and was still (marginally) ahead 44 to 43 on 8/25. In the CNN/Gallup polls, Kerry actually appears to be better off now than he was before the Swiftvet blitz. On 8/1, he was losing 51 to 45; on 8/25, Bush’s lead had shrunk to 48/46. I could go on with these polls, but the evidence of Kerry getting his rear kicked in the overall vote just isn’t there.

If you look at so-called internal polls on specific issues, then there is a little more evidence of damage. On 8/5, a Time poll of registered voters showed Kerry 2 percent ahead of Bush on the issue of “Being commander-in-chief of the armed forces”. On 8/26, he was 8 percent behind. This is a substantial difference, but it doesn’t seem to translate into people changing their vote. Furthermore, we don’t know how much of this change came from the Swiftvets, and how much from people simply forgetting the “strength” message of the convention.

The second questionable premise is that Kerry could have handled the Swiftvets better. As Winston Churchill supposedly said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." The sad fact is that juicy allegations always get more attention than the corrections that come later. Kerry could have tried being more aggressive, but he would have risked looking less “presidential”: his critics could have argued, not illogically, that Bush is coolly fighting a war in Iraq and Kerry is getting his panties in knots over some ads.

I am by no means arguing that Kerry has more than a fair chance of winning. In my mind it was always been a fifty-fifty proposition. Nothing that has happened yet in the campaign has changed that. I would wager that, for better or worse, the developments of the next two months will make the current imbroglio seem irrelevant.

Posted by Woody Mena at September 1, 2004 9:03 AM