This race looks like it’s all about the incumbent. In the latest deadheat poll offered up by NBC and the WSJ, there are some interesting numbers that indicate why people plan to vote for one candidate or the other.
74% of Bush supporters say their vote is more in support of Bush than against Kerry. Only 17% say it’s against Kerry.
48% of Kerry supporters say their vote is primarily a vote against Bush while 37% say its more in support of Kerry.
A couple of thoughts. First, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this election – coming as it does during an era featuring highly controversial decisions and following a far from middle of the road first term – would be all about the incumbent. Second, the entire Democratic primary process was about beating George W. Bush. As much as for anything else, Kerry was selected because of a deep desire among Dems to oust W.
But here is another thing to notice about the numbers. President Bush chose to focus his campaign almost entirely on attacking John Kerry. In some ways, it was unusual to see an incumbent running so hard against a challenger as opposed to on his record. Bush haters will argue that he had nothing else to run on. But look at the numbers above. Only 17% of those who plan to vote for Bush say it’s really a vote against Kerry (that number was likely a lot higher before the public saw Kerry and Bush go head to head).
I said before that the Bush attacks and the destruction of the public’s expectations for Kerry may represent this election season’s biggest mistake.
These poll numbers support that theory. One has to wonder where we’d be right now if Rove and Company had decided to use their campaign dollars to sell their own man instead of soiling the other. Among a significant percentage of the population, the for Bush message was one that clearly could be sold.