Saturday, October 02, 2004

More on the First Debate

Two days after the first Debate between President Bush and Senator Kerry, a lot has been written and said about the way each man expressed his positions, and several errors/mistakes/lies-he-thought-he-could-slip-in by Kerry. The Kerry advocates werequick to claim victory, as were the Bush advocates, with a number of supposedly balanced commentators saying it was a draw. All were to some degree right, and to some degree wrong.

First, about Senator Kerry. To his credit, I have to say that he handled his position and presentation well. His appearance was very well-managed. Personally, I think the manicure was a bit much, but I have to say, he looked fresh and ready, whatever was done with his face over the previous weekend, blended well with his makeup and was enough to keep him from sweating as he did at the DNC. Also unlike the DNC, Kerry sounded like he meant what he said. To someone who knows nothing about John Kerry, the product on display in Miami was well-done, with very few errors.

Next, about President Bush. We know that the President spent the day doing his job, meeting people and assisting in relief efforts. but it left him tired and dehydrated, and he showed it. He mumbled at times, his posture wasn't as straight as Kerry's, and he appeared to fade in the middle sections. To someone judging by the surface, Kerry clearly had the advantage.

In an earlier post, I noted five key elements of the debate. In terms of sweating and appearing confident, Kerry had the advantage. Also, Kerry did a fairly good job of not showing irritation to Bush's comments. I have to say, it did look strange, how Kerry ducked his head and nodded to a number of Bush zingers on him, but I admit it was preferable to showing a clear petulance. He did that at least once, though, when President Bush pointed out it was not wise to insult our allies' commitment to Iraq. Bush also controlled his temper well. While he did show some anger, it was at the right time, and in the right way, anger at Kerry's ignorance of the effects of his suggestions, the anger of a President at an amateur's foolishness, not the personal pique of a man who doesn't like being attacked. If you watch the tape, you can observe that Bush does not react to insults about his personal judgment and character, and Kerry's comments are sometimes much more about attacking Bush, than in answering the question.

And that point brings us full-on to the real question about what was accomplished. As I have noted before, this debate was not about collecting the voters; for the most part, Bush and Kerry have lined up their voters, and what we are looking at now, are seven categories of voters:

1. Bush voters, who will not consider Kerry under any conditions

2. Bush voters, who are comfortable with Bush and are not likely to change, but who could be moved by a major blunder or surprise

3. Voters who are in some doubt, but lean to Bush, although they might consider Kerry

4. Voters who have not made up their mind

5. Voters who are in some doubt, but lean to Kerry, although they might consider Bush

6. Kerry voters, who are comfortable with Kerry and are not likely to change, but who could be moved by a major blunder or surprise

7. Kerry voters, who will not consider Bush under any conditions


It's obvious that groups 1 and 7 were never on the table, and since neither Bush nor Kerry made any horrible mistakes, groups 2 and 6 won't budge. From what I have read in the polls, that takes 92% of the voters out of things. For the remaining three groups, the question comes down to what would make the difference. A lot of people have theories, but they often forget that since so much of the campaign has not convinced these voters to decide on a man, they are waiting for something specific and significant.

Somewhere between 55 and 60 milion people watched the first Debate. Of those, all but about 9 million were watching for a reason other than choosing their candidate. The Kerry camp, running behind, wants to push the idea that most people haven't made up theirminds yet, but that's just not so. So, the real questions to be handled here, are what would make these final fence-sitters choose a candidate, and how did the first debate change the decision.

Cut to the chase, there are really only four things which would decide the as-yet-unclaimed vote: Domestic Issues, Character, Foreign Policy, or Whim. If the guy is waiting on Domestic Issues, then this first debate was of no value. If the voter is working on his whims, then it is as likely to come down to a coin flip or the color of a tie, as anything which happens during the debates. Thursday addressed the two remaining areas; Character and Foreign Policy.

Bill Clinton proved that you can win votes on style alone. I think that explains a lot of Kerry's tactics in recent weeks. Some people will pay attention to the way a candidate looks and sounds, and completely miss the emptiness of his positions. Kerry has discovered that he cannot commit to a firm position on any foreign policy issue, because he has come down on both sides too often; no matter what he says, he ends up being his own worst critic. Kerry answered that, by speaking forcefully (if inspecifically) to every question, playing his image up to cover for his lack of substance.

George H.W. Bush lost in 1992, at least in part because he was unable to connect with the average guy; in the debates he appeared to waver, and to not respect the average American. he was about the "vision thing", and so had no time for real people. In 2000, George W. Bush showed he had learned that lesson. He might not have been as impressive as Al Gore in his answers, but he was sincere, genuine. And the same Dubya was on message Thursday. Yeah, he wasn't as slick as Kerry. So? Every answer Bush gave, was delivered as a real guy speaking from the heart. Also, the President was consistent. It's not the kind of thing to impress elitists in Paris or Berlin, but it plays well in the heartlands. That's why the same people who said Kerry won the debate, also said they still preferred President Bush to Senator Kerry.

Finally, there were the Foreign Policy questions. President Bush won in this area for three reasons:

1. Bush answered the questions. OK, that sounds basic, but the fact is, if you had questions for Bush, he answered them. You can say what you like about his positions, but at least he's clear.

2. Kerry did not answer the key questions. Quick, what is Kerry's plan for summits? Who would be invited, and when? What would Kerry say to Tony Blair, or other leaders of nations who stood by America? What is Kerry's plan for Iraq after their elections? All in all, the fact is, that a lot of people wanted Kerry to explain exactly where he stood, and he still won't do it. While I have explained why that is, the fact remains, Kerry has left some people cold, because he won't give direct answers.

3. Jim Lehrer reminded us about Rathergate. Jim Lehrer asked sveral questions which were biased against President Bush, like claiming Bush has admitted his Iraq plan was a mistake, or sugegsting Bush was dishonest in his SOTU address. But Lehrer never once addressed Kerry's Senate voting record on Defense or Intelligence, never once asked if his lies to Congress should be considered in comparison with his worldview on war. People have questions they would like to have answered, and by hiding them insteadof asking them, Lehrer reminded some people that the field is still not level.


Both candidates know what they need to do for the next debate, and as before, the spin machines are hard at work, for the VP debate and the Townhall Presidential debate this week. But in effects from the first debate, Bush looked clumsy but solidified his position, and Kerry did not accomplish what he needed.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Homage To My Betters

It's long overdue, that I should direct my readers to people of greater intelligence and perspective than my own.

That is, if you like my stuff, please check the links, especially Lorie Byrd over at Byrd Droppings.

All the wit, without the annoying Texas Arrogance!

First Debate Results (Overnight)

Well, I guess this is where I find out the way my readers think, because I figure I'm going to set off a few people with today's comments.

Earlier this week, I predicted that because of the agreed preconditions, Kerry had already lost the first Debate. I was right.

Before I continue, I want to explain how the situation was set up. This was NOT a debate in school, or under some arcane set of rules. This was a Political debate, where Bush and Kerry were pursuing specific goals, and they were not always the same goal. President Bush wanted to defend the war in Iraq as part of the War on Terror, and to show his position superior to Kerry's on Foreign Policy and National Security. Senator Kerry wanted to attack Bush where he holds the biggest lead, to separate Iraq from the War on Terror, and to show consistency in his policies and positions. By my review of the collective results from good or very good polls, I showed President Bush with a 7 point lead nationally, going into the first Debate, and President Bush is gaining from earlier polls in every major demographic sector. Kerry and Bush were both keying on "Security Moms", the female voter (especially married) who now sees protecting her family as the all-important measure for her vote. These goals helps to explain the way each man answered questions and challenged his opponent.

Kerry is a former prosecutor, used to confrontations and attack by innuendo. Bush is a former businessman, used to cooperative discussions aimed at addressing issues. Both men spoke as they are, last night.

btw, Kerry broke the rules. He brought written notes in his jacket pocket, while Bush followed the rules about not bringing talking points. I don't know how that would be addressed, but that's why Kerry was able to stay on his points, and it speaks well for Bush, that just on memory, he got every name and nation correct.

Next, every point Kerry brought up, Bush addressed, while there were several points Bush brought up which Kerry did not answer, and at least three questions asking for "specific" proposals from Kerry, which Kerry sidestepped with generalities.

Considering that this debate was really about trying to reach the voters who are undecided or who can be swayed, I found the results better for Bush than the media will admit. Bear in mind, also, that the Old Media liked Kerry's nomination speech at the DNC, but the real effect wasn't what they expected.

I counted four lasting impacts from the debate. First, Bush was a bit tired and mumbly, while Kerry was crisp. But Kerry made several gaffes, leaving openings I don't think will play well. He actually suggested the United States should have bilateral talks with North Korea, locking out China, which is the kind of blunder to prove Kerry doesn't really understand international issues. Kerry also discussed Beslan only in terms of whether he liked Putin having that much power - Kerry never once mentioned that he was sorry for all the children deliberately murdered there, or showed the kind of compassion and horror people would expect from a leader. And finally, Kerry failed completely to show what he would do in Iraq, that would be both different and better than what Bush has done. he essentially fell back to his March position, unaware that the handover of sovereignty, the establishment of the Interim government, the scheduled elections in Iraq all changed the conditions there.

Like his pick of Edwards, I see a small bounce for Kerry, but one which will fade quickly, and quite possibly work against him later. Remember, Kerry needed a big victory here, and frankly, I don't see that he got it. Bush failed to nail Kerry where he had several chances, but Kerry made no effective points, and Bush made no critical errors. It's like Kerry needed a triple, the press wants to call it a Home Run, but in reality, he just picked up a walk.

The insta-polls from last night all say Kerry won, but that is just emotional reaction to style. The real question is whether anyone changed their vote, and a quick ABC News poll from last night said 'no', though undecideds moved to candidates. ABC News said that a poll of 1,000 respondents supported Bush over Kerry 50% to 46% before the debate, and 51% to 47% after the debate.

Gallup released internals, and the biggest story here, is that Bush's internal support stayed stronger on key Security issues than Kerry's after the debate. By definition, if that holds up, it would mean that Kerry failed to get the results he needs.

Kerry did what he wanted, but Bush won the debate where it matters.

Poll Position Revisited

Now that I have sorted out the polls by groups, I have weighted them, to show how the race stood, in my opinion, at various points this year.

Here’s how it works: In an earlier post, I broke the polls down into groups. The “Good Basic Polls” and the “Very Solid Detail and Methodology” polls get counted, with the “Very Solid” polls getting counted twice. I take the polls by two-week periods, to show the direction and strength of the campaigns. Here’s how it broke out:

March 19 – April 1: 46-46 tie

April 2-15: 45-46 Kerry

April 16-29: 47-45 Bush

April 30 – May 13: 46-47 Kerry

May 14-27: 44-47 Kerry

May 28 – June 10: 46-48 Kerry

June 11-24: 48-47 Bush

June 25 – July 8: 46-49 Kerry

July 9-22: 45-48 Kerry

July 23 – August 5: 46-49 Kerry (Kerry’s last lead)

August 6-19: 47-47 tie (Negative DNC bounce)

August 20 – September 2: 47-47 tie

September 3-16: 51-44 Bush (notice the effect of GOP Convention)

September 17-30: 50-43 Bush (bounce is sustained)


Take it for what it’s worth, but when you look at the polls which show their work, and adhere to NPCC/AAPOR standards, you have a close race which breaks open for Bush after the GOP Convention, and a sustained 7-point lead. I will be interested to see how the First Debate affects (or not) these numbers.


Thursday, September 30, 2004

Debate 1 Preview - confirmation from LA

During lunch today, I was reading through the latest LA Times poll, and I caught some signs about how hard it will be for John Kerry to get the results he wants.

Besides the fact that President Bush is leading Senator Kerry in every believable poll, I found some very interesting statements out of LA's answer to Pravda.

It's right there in the third paragraph:

"Terrorism and the War are definitely playing more of a role in the electorate's decision to vote for a candidate. They see problems with Bush, but don't see Kerry, so far, as the solution."

If the LA Times is willing to admit that, Kerry is in bad shape. The Bush supporters will stick with him pretty much no matter what, and this statement says that even if Bush is not perfect tonight, they won't switch over to Kerry, unless and until he can come up with some indication that he is up to the job. Kerry got the nomination from the Democrats by not being Bush, but the voters are making clear that he has to do a lot better than that, if he wants to win the Oval Office.

In the same paragraph, the LA Times says that voters "believe that Iraq has a better chance of becoming a stable and secure nation under the policies of the current administration than with the policies of Kerry". That can't be what John and mini-John were hoping to face at this point in the race. It means that even if Bush is unable to convince doubters that the War is right, Kerry will still lose, unless he can convince the average voter that he has a sound, effective, and original plan for the wars in Iraq and on Terrorism. Sounding like Bush won't do it; vague statements about working with allies, or gaining respect from France won't do it.

I have written that John Kerry has already lost the first debate, and this is an indicator that confirms the original diagnosis. At this time, I would like to lay out how the scoring will work in this debate. Forget how they did it in school, I'm talking how a candidate scores at the podium.



1. Appearance counts.

Kerry has one advantage here - he's taller than Bush. Unfortunately, for John, that's it. Bush is more athletic, more rugged-looking, has a better smile, and unless Dubya wears enough makeup to look like Ronald McDonald, Kerry's strange orange hue is going to hurt him, even if only a little. Kerry needs to look Presidential, which would mean a dark suit, and a confident but serious attitude. The trouble is, when John tries to look serious, he looks constipated, and he's some kind of actor if he can manage to look confident tonight.


2. Don't sweat it.

Kerry's team wanted to set the hall thermostat at 68 degrees. They wanted this, because he remembered how Kerry looked at the Fleet Center in Boston; sweaty and weak. Sweat is poison to a politician, because it makes you look worried, insecure, and unattractive. Especially if you're sweating, but your opponent is not sweating. Bear in mind that President Bush is accustomed to clearing brush in 100-degree heat, and you can guess how this is a potential disadvantage for Kerry. It remains to be seen whether Kerry will be sweaty tonight, but it's a bigger problem for him than for the President.


3. Is that your FINAL answer?

Love him or hate him, pretty much everybody knows what President Bush's position and policies are, for Iraq and for the War on Terrorism. Meanwhile, Kerry continues to swerve between opposing opinions. If Kerry stakes a clear position, then he has to answer for why he took the other side before. And if he won't state his position clearly, that's a non-starter. Judging from the past week, it looks like Kerry is 'anti-War' again, which will be popular with Liberals and the French, but will probably cost him with Moderates.


4. Image.

At various points in this campaign, Kerry has talked about 'taking the gloves off'. That is usually an admission that his previous tactics have not worked, and a signal to the '527's the Democrats have set up, to launch a barrage of attacks on the President. While it's true that negative campaigning does work, a candidate has to be very careful in how he conducts himself. Besides the personal popularity President Bush enjoys, the biggest single reason that John Kerry can't gain traction with the swing voters, is that he just doesn't act like a leader. If this were a dude ranch, Kerry would be the rich wanna be, who wants his picture taken on the horse. Bush would be the genuine cowboy who does the job for real.


5. Skin - How Thin?

Earlier in this campaign, enemies of the President compared him to Hitler in ads, they falsely claimed he was a draft dodger, they insulted his family and his friends, and they have forged documents to try to smear him. Bush has reacted to all of this calmly and without pettiness; he's solid. In comparison, John Kerry has reacted badly every time he doesn't get his way, from swearing at a Secret Service man he tripped over, to insulting National Guardsmen in general out of pique, to trying to ban a book which criticized him, to using profanity when discussing the President's policies in a magazine interview. In an interview earlier this week, Kerry became testy less than 2 minutes into the interview.

Kerry will certainly try to get under Bush's skin during the debate. Doubtless, Dubya will have a comment or two to test Kerry's blood pressure. I expect that between the two, the President's hide will prove to be tougher.

Tomorrow, I'll grade their results.

Good Poll, Bad Poll

There are a LOT of polls out there, folks, but then you knew that. What's worse, even now they don't agree, and if you try to figure out why, they all tend to sound alike in asserting the value in considering everybody. I am almost at the point, however, where I am willing to cross out some of the less reliable ones. I have put up several posts comparing the accuracy and methods of the polls, but I have tried to keep the door open to everyone. I'm not closing the door exactly, but it's time to separate the group into classes. Over on Polipundit, I have addressed one particularly stinky sample.

Here are the players, and their classes:




FROM WORST TO BEST

Partisans, Suspect Methodology
Ayres McHenry (GOP)
Battleground - Lake, Snell, Perry (Dem)
Battleground – The Tarrance Group (GOP)
Democracy Corps (Dem)
New Democratic Network (Dem)
Investor's Business Daily (IBD)/TIPP (Money)
Strategic Vision (GOP)
Zogby/Wall Street Journal (Ego, Money, Dem)
(Just because a poll is partisan, doesn't invalidate it. But you should know going in, that these guys are getting money from partisan sponsors. Also, their refusal to show their internals makes some of these completely unacceptable)
.
.
.
Hides Details, Suspect Methodology
American Research Group (ARG)
Rasmussen
(No details, no confidence. It's that simple)
.
.
.
Unusual Methodology, Unconfirmed
Harris Interactive
Zogby Interactive

(Internet Polling could be useful, but don't take these results as anywhere near as valid as the established polls)
.
.
.
Good Basic Polls
ABC News/Washington Post
Associated Press/Ipsos
Fox News/Opinion Dynamics
Harris
LA Times
Marist College
National Public Radio (NPR)/POS-GQR
NBC News
Quinnipiac University

(Like the name suggests, these guys are pretty good. I'd like more detail, and they sometimes are not as consistent as I'd like, but they're worth reading)
.
.
.
Very Solid Detail and Methodology
CBS News CBS News/New York Times
CNN/USA Today/Gallup
Gallup (solo)
Newsweek
Pew Research
Survey USA
TIME
(Very, very good work. Read these guys first. This is Polling's Major League)
.
.
.
It would also be useful to take a look at some of my related articles:
.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Gas Price Thuggery

I was driving home last night, and I made the mistake of turning the radio onto Michael Savage. The radio station usually puts up some good shows, but pheeeww, not Tuesday!

Savage’s initial rant, before I changed the station, was about what he would ask President Bush in an interview, had he the chance. Savage claimed that the reason Bush is not on his show, is because Bush is soft and spineless, laughable claims on their face, but especially when Savage proceeded to explain his opinion. Mr. Savage expects President Bush to demand the government of Mexico give the United States “20 million barrels of oil a day for free”, because in his opinion, the United States is feeding and caring for 20 million illegal immigrants a day. Such an asinine statement, coming from someone who is not Michael Moore, nearly gave me apoplexy.

I would call Mr. Savage an unprincipled moron, except that it’s technically wrong on both words. Savage has principles; they’re very much like the principles of a mugger – he does what he wants, and thinks of no one else. And he is very smart, certainly smart enough to know that his “solution” to the oil problem is a crock from the start, and goes downhill from there. Please excuse my rant, because I need to vent, then I will proceed to address this issue as a sane man does.

First, stating the obvious: If there is one thing, one absolutely stupid, arrogant, clueless thing a President could do, it would be to tick off our neighbor to the South, by demanding they do anything. Mexico is a sovereign nation, something President Bush is well aware of, and far too many people seem to miss. Second, we’re importing 12.9 million barrels a day for the whole country. No one is in a position to give us 20 million barrels a day, even if they wanted to do so, and Mexico less than most nations. Third, the problem is not one of getting more oil imported, but a multi-level issue of energy sources, process and distribution methods, and a comprehensive policy for stable reserves. Small wonder a punk talk-show host is clueless.

OK, enough of that. Michael Savage, for those still unclear on my opinion, is a myopic thug, who has sadly been allowed a national stage for his spit and venom. Sad to say, there are worthless Conservatives out there, and Mikey Spitwad is one of them. The issue of oil, specifically gasoline prices and production, is worth more examination.

America loves oil. And they should; our industry thrives on the stuff. Besides the obvious utility of gasoline for trucks and cars, oil drives some of our power plants, factories, and petroleum by-products go into almost every conceivable product, from food to medicine to toys to tools to clothes to construction, manufacturing, and marketing. In fact, there is not a successful nation on the planet (defined by a reasonable standard-of-living) which doesn’t need oil.

The Liberals, we know, hate Oil. They figure we went to war for Oil, they figure Bush is making money off Big Oil, and they especially hate Vice-President Cheney, who dared to suggest that when making an Energy Policy, they meet with people in the business, like meeting with Doctors to discuss Health Care, or meeting with Rocket Scientists to discuss Space Travel. For some reason, Liberals don’t want to discuss the UN Oil for Food scandal, and they don’t want to consider that Iraq's oil revenue is being used to help build Iraq. But then, what can you say about people who drive their cars to 'anti-Oil' rallies, anyway?

There is some honest confusion about the price at gas pumps. For most folks, the price of Regular gas is around $1.90 a gallon. Well according to the Department of Energy, in January 1980, it averaged $1.13 . So, compare that to what’s happened to things like bread, milk, cars, houses, and so on, and a rise of only 77 cents a gallon over 24 years is not too shabby. What’s more, in 2004 dollars, the 1980 price would have been $2.36, so in “real dollars”, the price of gas has come down and has done so steadily. At the same site, go back all the way to 1919, and the price in 2004 dollars is $2.78, so the trend is pretty much constant all the way back to when they started tracking. Interesting, isn’t it, that an industry maligned as being all about profits, is one of very, very few industries where the price for customers has been constantly reduced, in real dollars, for decades?

If you think about it, it’s not hard to see how the industry has been able to keep prices down, and it also reveals the means for addressing the concerns about supply.

Gasoline, of course, starts as petroleum, normally found in underground lakes which can only be found through exploration and drilling. News flash to Liberals, exploring for oil is difficult and expensive, and only private companies are willing to do this. So, right from the beginning, there has to be speculation and investment in start-up companies, to find oil at all, even in a country like Saudi Arabia or Nigeria. And there has to be some sort of reasonable arrangement between the companies searching for oil, and the countries where they will be looking. Got it? The US Government can’t control that, period. Even in a country friendly to the US, there still needs to be private negotiation and agreement for oil exploration companies to find the stuff. And even in a country with large oil production, there is no such thing as just sticking a pipe into the ground and pumping out the oil.

Of course, a lot of people don’t understand the countries where oil is most commonly found. It’s true that 27.2% of our imported oil during the first half of 2004 came from OPEC countries, but if you dig deeper to the specific countries who supply the most oil to the US, most people couldn’t tell you that Venezuela is #3, Mexico is #2… and CANADA is #1, at 2.1 million barrels a day. Sorta changes the picture, eh?

So, you can lay off blaming OPEC for pump prices. Also, you War-for-Oil tinhat crowd, I guess you figure we’ll invade Toronto next?

Next, let’s talk about how the price of gas is determined. According to the Department of Energy (again), in 2003, 44% of the price of gasoline came from Crude Oil, 15% from Refining Costs, 14% from Distribution and Marketing, and 27% from Federal and State taxes. Yes, that’s right, after the cost for Crude Oil, the next highest cost comes from an arbitrary tax placed on gas by the Government. The US Government, in fact, makes more money from gasoline, than any Oil exploration, production, distribution, marketing, or retail company, almost as much as ALL Oil companies in ALL aspects of gasoline, put together! In fact, the US Energy Information Administration (yeah, me too, I’d never heard of them before now either), says “Retailers do not benefit from higher prices at the pump, and usually suffer from them” (their emphasis). Ouch.

For all of that, we could insure better supply and lower prices, if we simply build some more refineries. The same USEA warns “Since 1980, the number of refineries in the U.S. has shrunk from 320 refineries with the capacity to refine 18.6 million barrels of crude oil every day to only 150 domestic refineries with production capacity of 16.5 million barrels per day. At the same time, motor fuels consumption has increased from 115 billion gallons per year to more than 160 billion gallons per year” Note that the per-refinery production capability has risen by 89%, even while their number has been reduced by 64%. So, why would refineries be shut down like this? In a word, environmentalists.

States have to license refineries, and the problem is, their very efficiency makes them unattractive to states looking for big tax pockets and large payrolls. So, states like California have all but outlawed refineries, supposedly for environmental reasons, but really for financial gain. How can I say that? States traditionally grandfather large factories with emissions violations, but refuse to allow refineries to operate on the same level, even to keep vital systems running, and they drive companies out of states like California, even as the states blame the companies for problems the states themselves cause.

As I said about Michael Savage, I would like to pretend they are simply ignorant or na├»ve, but in point of fact, the states’ conduct is essentially nothing but thuggery.

In the end, things won’t be likely to change much, anytime soon. But at least if President Bush is re-elected, we’ll have a VP who understands the problem. If Kerry somehow gets into the Oval Office, it will only get worse, from a man who blames the very people most willing and able to fix the trouble. In the meantime, be nice to the guy at the window when you get your gas; for sure, he’s not making a fortune off the pump.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Ego and Audience

Well, it's a new week, N.Z. Bear has his blog rankings up again, and again I'm nowhere on the list.

It's not going to kill me, I know, but it's strange. More than a thousand blogs ranked, with daily attendance anywhere from 1 to more than two hundred thousand, and I know for a fact that some of us are getting passed by. Weird.

At first, I thought it was like a puzzle, but my blog is open to everyone, and my Sitemeter is working fine, with numbers rolling and easy to check. After checking everything on my end, I realized that somehow my blog is invisible to the rankings. I'm pulling decent attendance (thank you, dear readers), certainly enough to be in the top thousand any of the past three weeks, but no response.

OK, I'll admit, there's a little ego working here. I work hard on my articles, and I'd like to see my place ranked as much as anyone else would. But it's also a caveat to the blogs who brag about their numbers. You may not be what you think. You might be pulling many more readers than you are tracking, or maybe some other blog is beating you but getting no credit for it. Just a thought.

There are other rewards for writing a blog. Besides the chance to speak freely to the world at large, it's always a kick to get email. Many thanks for those! Also, if you write a blog, you might want to google your post name - I do that from time to time, and its amazing what turns up. Today, my blog was the top response to the Google query "eisenhower election opponent", and I found my latest article discussed by a group of Democrats. I was denounced by all there in no uncertain terms, but my points were discussed at length, which I found rewarding. I did not interrupt their discussion; from their comments about me, I did not believe my participation would be well-received, but I was pleased to see my stuff was being taken seriously.

I may be invisible to some, but I still have a voice. Gotta love that!

In conclusion for this article, I would like to mention, and recommend, that we spend a little time visiting and reading the blogs that are popping up. A link from a reader's comment, a search using "blog" and a topic of interest, you never know where you'll find some great insights or a good laugh.

UPDATE : The good folks at the Truth Laid Bear, have explained to me the specific process needed to get on their list. Next week, I can see just how far below the bottom-dwellers I really am!

Monday, September 27, 2004

John Kerry Has ALREADY Lost the First Debate

Three days before the meet-up between President Bush and Wannabe Kerry in Coral Gables, Kerry has effectively already conceded the first debate to the President, an amazing fumble of one his last opportunities to grab the initiative in his fading hope to win the election.

First, the field conditions. Trivial to many people, the candidates both know that the right conditions can make the difference. And Kerry is at a disadvantage now. The podiums are 10 feet from each other, which denies Kerry the chance to tower over the President. Maybe he'd like to stroll around while he makes a point? No, the rules say the candidates have to stay at their podiums, which works better for Bush. Maybe John will toss out a well-prepared zinger? Not unless he's memorized it: prepared notes are not allowed. Maybe the networks will help, by showing "reaction" shots of family or audience members? Nope, that's been scratched. Ah, well, maybe some clever angles to portray a candidate's reaction to the other guy? Also nixed. These debates are all straightforward presentations of the candidates, staying at their podium, and answering the questions. Think about how the President looks and sounds when he's directly addressing a point, and recall how Kerry looked at the DNC, and you can see why this is a clear Bush advantage.

Also, the topic and rules of order are critical. This first debate can give Kerry a chance to get people interested, or it can slam the door on him. The last area where Kerry would want to debate, is Foreign Policy and the War on Terrorism. While Kerry will have a chance to bring up Iraq, it's also a very weak area for him, because while President Bush can point to specific accomplishments and a consistent policy, Kerry is wide open for the 'flip flop' accusation, pretty much no matter what he says. Now, Kerry would like to obscure his mistake by talking things to distraction, but the time limit on each answer will prevent that. Further, since each candidate is expected to answer the initial question, and follow-ups are not allowed, if Kerry starts down that road, he's going to look like a guy who won't answer direct questions. The format is perfect for the President, and nearly the worst possible situation for Kerry. John Kerry is left to choose, between incomplete answers, looking angry and hostile, or radically changing his public persona in less than a week from his last appearance.

Why would Kerry's team agree to this? Well, first off, they had a real problem - they badly wanted three debates, and to get the third debate they had to allow the Bush team some things it wanted, and someone didn't do the math. Also, some of the conditions appear to help Kerry a bit - the ban against follow-up questions, for example, limits the damage Kerry could take on things like details of his Vietnam service, or specifics on how he would make his Foreign Policy actually succeed. The problem for John is, without such details, he's going to sound vague and unrealistic about how he can do a better job in high-stakes situations. Sooner or later, John will realize he is far behind in this issue, and needs something big to win over the voters. But it's too late for John's team, to get the conditions that would make it possible to make the big play. It's a little bit like a team playing from two scores down in the Fourth Quarter, in the game where it's illegal to gain more than 8 yards on a play. You can score that way, but the team in the lead is pretty happy to get the long pass play prohibited.

I'm not saying Bush can be cocky; if he does, he can blow this debate on his own. But if he sticks to his game plan, as he has repeatedly shown he can, President Bush can pull well ahead in this debate.

The next reason I think this debate is already done, is the team each side is using to prepare for the debate. The GOP team includes James Baker, Haley Barbour, and Karen Hughes. They are not only solid on the issues, they are accomplished veterans in the public eye. They do not, to put it simply, screw up, and they will make sure the President knows his paces.

As for the Kerry team, they include Vernon Jordan, Jennifer Granholm, and Janet Napolitano. These guys are good on the facts, but one thing I don't see here is a critical component - they are all numbers crunchers, not known for wowing people. In other words, Kerry is working with people who are already just like him, and the result, I expect, will be a man ready for the academic part of the debate, but not prepared to charm anybody. No one with TV experience, no one with any real Charisma (consider Hughes, in counterpoint, worked hard to help President Bush look and sound approachable, not aloof or cold, and his image grew as a result, especially in 2002).

What I see here, is a match-up between a President who will speak plainly, without all that much detail, but he will be able to sell his ideas, and a Senator who seems to be preparing to ignore style and personality, planning to overwhelm his opponent with data, but who may not see beyond the audience in the hall.

That audience may also be a big problem for Kerry. Florida has been hit by four hurricanes in the recent past, and the people there have gotten used to seeing the President. Bush's numbers have been coming up in Florida the past few weeks, largely because no one is blaming him for the disasters, but the rescue and recovery response has been appropriate and fast. The people in Coral Gables (near Miami) may well look at John Kerry as just a guy from another state, while Bush is the President who is addressing their needs. Kerry starts at another disadvantage. Both men will likely say something about Hurricane Jeanne, and it's going to be tough for Kerry to sound more sincere and significant. If Kerry seems to be overly formal from the start, he's in for a long night.

Next, there is the matter of sweat. Remember the saying, 'Never let 'em see you sweat'? It's important. Kerry had trouble at the DNC, and he looked gray and tired, sweating as he gave his nomination address. That speech alone hurt him in the polls. Imagine the same sweat, this time when he is asked a difficult question about Foreign Policy. The Kerry Team wanted to keep the auditorium chilled to around 68 degrees, but the Bush team got that idea nixed. The temperature will be "best efforts to maintain an appropriate temperature according to industry standards for the entire debate", which doesn't mean a heat lamp, but it does mean that the stage will be warmer than the audience, and no, President Bush is not likely to sweat, certainly not the way Kerry might. If Kerry's team worries too much about the temperature, that might affect their makeup decisions, which can also work to the President's favor (remember Al "dayglo" Gore in 2000?). Yes, it's a detail, but those things add up, and this is one more that goes into the President's column.

Finally, the last clue about Thursday's debate, is the way each candidate sets the stage the week before. Both candidates know they need to speak the same way going into the debate, as they will on stage Thursday night. For the President, that has meant his speech to the United Nations, his meeting with Prime Minister Allawi, and other public statements consistent with his announced policy. For Senator Kerry, that has meant claiming Bush was in the "wrong war", even though he also finally agreed that he would have invaded Iraq in the same circumstances as Bush faced, it has meant saying Prime Minister Allawi "is obviously contradicting his own statement of a few days ago", in spite of his claim that he would improve American cooperation with foreign leaders, of whom Allawi should certainly hold Kerry's respect, instead of contempt, and it has meant claiming that a Bush re-election would mean reinstating the Draft, even though the only sponsors or supporters for the bill are Democrats. Such confusion immediately before the debate, is not a sign that John Kerry has a consistent message to send or keep.

To get back into the contest, Kerry needs to score big on Thursday. But the same man who went to Michigan to praise Buckeye football, and stood on Vince Lombardi's hallowed home turf to praise "Lambert" Field, has lined up behind the tackle to take the snap. President Bush wins this one.






Sunday, September 26, 2004

Another Look at the Numbers Development

Back around April of this year, I decided President Bush would win re-election by a margin of about 12 points, 55% to 43% in the Popular Vote. I hadn't worked out the Electoral Margin at that time, but figured it would be pretty big, something like 350 EV or so. Since that time, I have referred back to that prediction constantly, first over at Scott Elliott's Election Projection site. I was greeted by a fair amount of skepticism, especially by the Democrats on the comments pages. When I was invited to start guest-blogging, my confidence was reflected in my articles, as I explained the reasons for my opinion, in issues discussions, but I don't know that I ever laid out exactly how I arrived at the 55-43 call.

There are a lot of opinions out there, for how the election will play out, but not that many explain their thinking. I have to admit, by the time I made my call, I was well aware of Dr. Ray Fair's model, predicting the election on the basis of economic factors with political contributing influences. It made a lot of sense, and as I dug deeper, the prevailing conditions seemed to support the theory.

Polls are, to some degree, a bit misleading, as every election goes through its twists and turns, and the voters decide whether to give the incumbent another term, or try out a new applicant; every election involves most of the voters keeping an open mind from the beginning, to the point where they decide the matter is done. Generally, Presidents running for a second term get an advantage, at least since World War 2. The only Presidents elected since then, who lost a re-election bid were Jimmy Carter in 1980, and George H.W. Bush in 1992. Both of those men had modest ability, and ran against challengers of charisma, and in times of economic downturn. On the other hand, Eisenhower in 1956, Nixon in 1972, Reagan in 1984, and Clinton in 1996 not only all won their contests for re-election, the margin of their re-election was better than their initial election. So, the starting odds for Bush were 4-to-2 in his favor.

Next, was the choice John Kerry himself brought up; the election is a referendum on the incumbent. That's about half-true, the other half coming on two other points I will get to, but first, the matter of 'Dubya'.

The hard fact to start with, is that we have a lot of information on President George W. Bush. The parts he got wrong, I expected the Democrats to bring up, and the parts he got right, I expected the Republicans to emphasize. Instead, the Democrats decided to attack Bush on his strengths. I think this came from the polls, which showed the President is strong where the voters cared most, and that led to two critical developments: The predicted Democrat leaders, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, decided not to run, probably believing the chance was too small for what it would cost and require. And the Democrats who did choose to run, ran on a platform of near-rabid ferocity. It is not a coincidence, that 2003 was filled with vitriol and venom aimed at the President; they knew they were at a serious disadvantage, if Americans continued to believe the President was honorable and had done what he promised.

When I started looking at this without emotion, I realized that President Bush enjoyed a solid core of support, which the Democrats knew they had to attack. That is, even before they could introduce their candidate to the public, the Democrats needed to bring Bush down to a level they could hope to reach. This means I need to go back to the basics of candidate support.

Conventional Wisdom seems to come in 2 dominant flavors. The first suggests that Democrats outnumber Republicans, something like 35% to 29%, with Independents taking the remaining 36%, because that's the Exit Poll number for 2000. the trouble with that claims, is that it ignores shifts in registration over the last 10 years, the emotion of the 2000 Election, and the political realignment after 9/11. The second flavor suggests there are about 40% Democrats, 40% Republicans, and 20% Independents. The problem with this second style, is that it presumes that people will vote for their candidate especially or even only because of their political lean, which is awfully inflexible, and doesn't note the many elections, where Congressional choices differ from Presidential choices. A President is often colored by his environment, and people tend to begin from a position determined by economics, his personal likeability, and the events during his term.

So, the first question is, does Dubya start above of below 40%? As much as the Democrats wanted to pretend otherwise, Bush has consistently enjoyed public support for his decisions, so I have to say he's above. The economy has improved steadily since mid-2003, when Bush's tax cuts began to take effect, a factor the Democrats could only deny for a time. The military victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, coupled with the capture of Saddam and key arrests of al Qaeda leaders, have added to Bush's virue as a national leader in a crisis. Simply put, the average American not only finds President Bush likable, he finds him credible. That should explain the campaigns, not only of the maniacal Howard Dean, but also of MoveOn.org, and Michael Moore. They would not attack, except where Bush presents a threat.

So, taking Dr. Fair's predicted numbers as a reasonable starting point, tweaking it by considering Bush's difficulties speaking clearly at times, the effect of the Democrats' attacks, the probable conclusion of such attacks, and the development of the economy and the war by the time of the election. Bush started with an effective position of about 52%.

Howard Dean lit the fuse to the Democrats' blow-up. That is, the Democrats had a real chance in December 2003, if they could convince enough people to believe there was a real crisis in leadership, and that their candidate held the solution at hand. Remember, in 198o, Carter led Reagan for most of the campaign, until Reagan convinced the public that he was up to the job. In 1992, the economy was not nearly as bad as the Democrats sold it, but Clinton was able to do enough damage to the President (assisted by Ross Perot), to get people to listen to him. That brings us to the other two factors in this election; a similar referendum on the challenger, and the hard factors of the Economy and the War against Terror.

By April of this year, the Economy was clearly in Recovery, and the War against Terror, despite heavy losses in March and April, was being won by any objective standard. I could go into those, but this is already going on rather long. The deciding measure was the rise of John Kerry. It's peculiar, but it seems that far too often, when a strong candidate runs for re-election, the man who runs against him is a particularly poor choice. Stevenson against Eisenhower was a good choice, but George McGovern in 1972, Walter Mondale in 1984, or Bob Dole in 1996? On factors like Charisma, Leadership, or a Record of Accomplishment, these guys were outclassed from the start. And John Kerry reminds me of the same sort of candidate.

John Kerry, leave aside the issues raised by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and his character during the 1970s, has absolutely no established credentials as a Leader, has accomplished nothing in two decades as a U.S. Senator, and his plans for addressing the Economy, Foreign Policy, or Terrorism are completely empty when examined below the surface. Kerry's rhetoric, a bit of bad luck for the President in the late Spring, and a reluctance by the media to announce the Economy's turn for the better, allowed Kerry to gain an advantage in the polls. The problem for Kerry was, his advantage was only going to be temporary, unless the President melted down. And after all Bush had been through, I knew that was not going to happen.

It has been noted, that the more people got to know about John Kerry, the worse he wore. Since this did not happen during the Democratic Primaries, the obvious answer has to be, that Kerry at close examination did not stand up next to President Bush. Worse for the Democrats, it never occurred to them to consider, that they had expended all their attacks from July 2003 to June 2004. The handover of sovereignty in Iraq not only marked an important accomplishment in that War, but also marked the expiration date of the Democrat's effectiveness. The events since June 28 have marked the progression from anybody's race to clear control by the President.

So, to get back to specific numbers, Bush starts with the 48% he collected in 2000. Add to that about 4% because of 9/11. I know, the Democrats have worked hard to try to keep Bush from being recognized as a good leader in crisis, or else Bush would be 20 points ahead now. They couldn't keep it quiet forever, and one reason Kerry is having such trouble in New Jersey, and has to even campaign in New York as well, is because the word is getting out.

Abu Ghraib got blamed on Bush, but that wore off. The Swift Boat scandal hurt Kerry, but he's coming back, sort of. The National Guard issue was a failed attempt by the Democrats to ambush Bush, but it backfired. In the end, it won't really change the vote, though, because by now, most of the voters have made a decision, and the only chance Kerry has, is to get people to reconsider their choice. In my opinion, that won't happen.

In my next post on this subject, I will take apart the sectors, and explain the development of the voter share.