The media megaphone and the polls

The Baehr Essentials

It appears that the first Presidential debate, is now seen as a decisive defeat for the President. Repeating a story over and over in all the mainstream media seems to have taken a toll on many people who did not even watch the debate. Instead of the 62 million TV viewers recorded for the first debate, the latest polls suggest well over a hundred million claim to have seen it. This is media and poll psychology playing out. Interviewees do not like to appear to be idiots when pollsters calls, so they give the established party line that everyone else is giving — they watched the debate, and Bush lost it.

Slightly more ominous for the Bush team is that the national and state polls have tightened. This appears to be the case in Ohio, New Hampshire, and Iowa in recent days. New Mexico may have flipped back to Kerry.  If national polls move 3 or 4 points, state polls have to move too.  The poll shift appears to some extent to have been a delayed reaction to the ever louder media chorus on Bush's 'poor' performance in the debate.  There is at least one post—debate state poll out now that shows Kerry ahead in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, though the Florida poll from ARG is an outlier with all other Florida polls showing Bush ahead by about 4 to 5 points.  The Ohio poll shows a 1 point Kerry lead, well within the margin  of error of course.  ARG has consistently produced polls that have Bush doing less well than the national or state average for all polls at a particular time throughout the year. Their latest Florida survey had a sample with 4% more Democrats than Republicans

The national polls seem to be split at the moment between those showing a tie, and those showing Bush up 3 or more points . My guess is that Bush is still slightly ahead. And it is not clear how the VP debate will change this. I thought Cheney decisively defeated Edwards Tuesday night, though the media is working to call it a draw.

A few diehard Kerry backers seem to have taken too much Kool Aid. Andrew Sullivan, and William Saletan in Slate think Edwards won the debate by a knockout. I do not know what debate they were watching.  It is hard for me, and I suspect many others, to see Edwards as a step away from serving as Commander in Chief, though maybe chief litigator would work. The Democrats may be better lawyers about making their points in debates, but neither Bush nor Cheney, thank God, is a lawyer.  And neither Kerry, nor Edwards, has ever run anything. It is hard to see either moving from managing a Senate staff of 15—20 to running the country and leading the war effort.  Americans have shown good judgment electing governors, not Senators to be their President, and for the past 40 years.

A more assertive, forceful performance in the Friday Presidential debate is much more important for Bush to regain his momentum than the VP debate was. That would make it more difficult for the image of Bush as weak and tired to harden with the voters — an image which has become the party line among Democrats and their media camp followers about last week's debate,

The nightmare scenario for Bush is for only two states to change — Wisconsin (a pickup) and Ohio (a loss of a state won in 2000) This would give the election to Kerry 270—268, which would have Democrats licking their chops in sweet payback for 2000. But we are far from a point where anyone can safely call this race, or several of the close states. There are still more Gore states in play than Bush states.  But there has been some slippage the past few days for Bush, and I am sure his team knows it.