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Hullabaloo


Saturday, August 28, 2004

 
Blowback

I'm think it may be time to give Kerry a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t. Donkey Rising analyzes the LA Times poll and all the others that have recently been released in the wake of the swift boat smear:

In short, the four major polls conducted since August 20th do not reveal any consistent or substantial pro-Bush swing such as would be expected from a successful attack on John Kerry's war record and character during the week and a half before. Instead, the only generalization that can be made from looking at a broader group of over 20 polls of registered and likely voters since the beginning of August is of a slight and gradual shrinkage of about 3 or 4% in Kerry's lead.

If August had been a slow news month, this trend would almost certainly have been ascribed to an inevitable "coming back down to earth" following the run of positive news coverage Kerry had enjoyed for several months during the spring (the remarkable fundraising success, the popular choice of Edwards, the united, energized Democratic convention). Instead, because the attacks on Kerry’s medals and military service were intensely dramatic and widely covered, many commentators simply assumed that any changes in the opinion polls had to be due to their influence.

[...]

...there was never any realistic possibility that Kerry would hold onto the support of many of these voters [who remain angry at the anti-war movement] even after his quite effective performance at the Democratic convention. All the Bush campaign needed to do was to make sure that these voters were made aware of Kerry's significant role in the anti-war movement of the early 1970's.

This is what the LA Times poll essentially found. In July, 32% agreed that "By protesting the war in Vietnam, John Kerry demonstrated a judgment and belief that is inappropriate in a president". By late August, this had risen to 37%. Similarly, 26% of the sample (and 31% of the men) agreed that Kerry's anti-war protests made them less likely to vote for him. The voters among whom the LA Times survey found Kerry loosing ground in August were married, less educated, self-described conservatives, owning a gun and living in a rural area -- a demographic profile that also describes the cultural environment of many U.S. veterans.

Had the Bush campaign been satisfied with simply harvesting these sympathetic voters, they probably could have done so with even a relatively honest and low-key series of commercials. Instead, however, they hoped that, with the help of their surrogates, they could achieve an even more ambitious goal - to impugn Kerry's valor, honesty and character through attacks on his wartime record of bravery and heroism.

The essence of this strategy was not only to directly damage Kerry's image and reputation, but to trap him into choosing between "taking the high road" and not responding to the attacks (which could then be spun to make him look weak and indecisive) or to provoke him into an ill-tempered, aggressive response (for which he could then be criticized as negative, partisan, bitter and shrill).

But the Bush campaign made a profound miscalculation. In the L.A. Times survey, only 18% of the voters had been convinced that "Kerry misrepresented his war record and does not deserve his war medals" while 58% said Kerry "fought honorably and does deserve" them. Independent voters sided with Kerry 5 to 1. Even men and self-described conservatives - groups that are normally quite pro-Bush - strongly supported Kerry, by 59 to 19 for men and 42 to 29 for conservatives. Other polls, such as the Fox/Opinion Dynamics and Annenberg Center for Public Policy survey found similar attitudes. In the Fox poll, even most veterans held, by 50% to 21% that Kerry deserved his purple hearts.

Moreover, Americans did not buy Bush's transparent attempts to pretend his campaign was not involved with the smear. The Gallup poll showed that more Americans think Bush is responsible for the commercials (50%) then do not (44%) and 56% think he should specifically denounce them while only 32% think he should not. An August 26 Annenberg Center survey found very similar attitudes.

It was this failure to convince the American people of the charges against Kerry that set the stage for the growing backlash against the Bush campaign - the investigative reports and editorial statements in newspapers across the country, the resignations of two Bush officials when their links to the smear campaign were exposed, and then Bush's disingenuous and finally humiliating series of statements and clarifications.

From the Bush campaign's point of view, the magnitude of the swift-boat fiasco becomes clear when it is recognized that a major goal of the August campaign was to put John Kerry on the defensive - to have him stumbling over his words, being pilloried in the press and firing his advisors. Instead (although the issue will now be muted by the theatrics of the Republican convention) it was Bush who was forced onto the defensive by the end of last week while Kerry weathered the attacks with an extraordinarily small decline in the level of his popular support.


I agree with this and am coming very close to calling this one a win for Kerry. I'd like to see a couple more polls before the RNC gets started and the dynamic becomes too muddy to know what the hell went on, but it sure looks to me as if Kerry may have survived a very serious atack and actually inflicted some damage on Bush. The narrative now has Bush as a dirty campaigner in the election and it's going to much harder for him to launch another filthy smear. That's big.

The "swift boat smear" is now in the annals of all time low down character assassination attempts. If Kerry really has prevailed then I am going to feel much more sanguine about this election and perhaps even more importantly, his chances of actually getting something done. Political instincts are the key and he's showing me he's got some.





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