Dissecting The Undecideds

Check out this page of Zogby internal numbers from an August 11-24 poll. It’s a rundown of the subset of undecideds. There were only 501 of them, out of a poll of over 19,000 likely voters. The results are counter-intuitive at first glance. Bush’s job performance number is abysmal: 23% approve, 77% disapprove. His re-elect number is better, but still not good, at 43% for and 53% against.

But he’s still favored over Kerry by 15 points, 35%-10%, with the various wannabe third parties collecting 16% and 38% of the undecided still really undecided.

While this poll, like any single poll, ought to be taken with many grains of salt, I think it’s an instructive look at this vanishingly-small cohort of remaining undecideds. They think things are generally gloomy (59% pick the “wrong track,” vs. only 19% for “right track”), they’re in agreement with the media by a large plurality (47%) that Iraq is Bush’s “most significant failure,” but they’re still trending his way by a very considerable margin. Why?

Check out this number: when asked whether they like Bush “as a person,” the numbers are staggering: 68% like, only 15% dislike. Those numbers are virtually reversed for Kerry, 52% dislike, only 16% like. That large of a difference, paired with Bush’s overall lead, suggests these voters are making their choices based on emotion, and a gut reaction of “who do I like better” that isn’t necessarily grounded in any ideology or policy stance. And frankly, what do you expect of people who’re still undecided in a race this polarized? Let’s face it–they’re not likely to be policy junkies.

On the other hand, even this cohort of the terminally undecided have apparently decided that the 2004 race is going to turn on foreign and defense matters. Interestingly, the only issues that really stand out in the policy questions are Iraq (see above)–and September 11, which is named by a large plurality (46%) as Bush’s “most significant achievement” (one must assume they mean Bush’s response to the attacks, and not the attacks themselves). Even more intriguing, Iraq is number two on that list, at 20%.

UPDATE: In the comments, a couple of readers have come up with a possible explaination that would keep Bob Schrum up at night: What if they’re dissatisfied with Bush’s job performance because they think he hasn’t been tough enough in Iraq and elsewhere?

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20 Responses to “Dissecting The Undecideds”

  1. Stephen Green Says:

    Jeebus, Will — that’s some fine work.

  2. Dave Justus Says:

    One thing I think a lot of media folks are missing with polls that show a lot of people who are unhappy with the ways things are going in Iraq is that some of those people, maybe a lot, are unhappy because they percieve our policies there as being too soft and not decisive enough.

    I don’t agree with them, but anyone who thinks that is unlikely to support John Kerry.

  3. Sandy P Says:

    Did Larry Sabato just hedge his call for Kerry on Brit’s show?

    Brit kind of called him on it, “I think that was W’s low point.”

    SBVT, Internet has made a difference.

    77% disapprove – YEAH! How many of those believe, like me, he wasn’t HARD ENOUGH?

  4. Sandy P Says:

    That’s what one gets from not reading before posting, sorry Dave.

  5. Village Idiot Says:

    I think Zogby is stuffing the numbers before the convention in favor of the republicans so that he can say they got no bounce from their convention, or to amplify and hype any movement away from them when it comes with the massive post-labor-day dump of millions of dollars in advertising from moveon and soros. I guess this is a little tin foil hattish but what can I say, I am a village idiot, and I don’t trust zogby and his “interactive polls” at all.

  6. Robert Says:

    That could backfire, VI. If the undecideds start hearing Bush’s numbers going up, they might jump on the bandwagon. Plus it could depress the turnout for Kerry.

    Even here in Toledo (home of that idiot Marcy Kaptur) Kerry supporters are getting discouraged.

  7. MarkD Says:

    That is a fair question “not tough enough” is a fair summary of my feelings on the matter (though I would never even come close to fitting the parameters they set for a “moderate” or “undecided voter”) but there’s no way on God’s green Earth that I could be convinced that Kerry could be harder, although I think Bush screwed himself bigtime with his “can never win the war” comment on the Today show. They took it grossly out of context and it’s obvious to most that what he really means is the war would never end, but the press won’t have to spin this nearly as badly as they did the “mission accomplished” “swatting flies” or “uranium from Africa” to screw Bush with it.

    I saw Sabato’s comments, not only was he backpeddling hard on his “Bush needs a miracle” stance, but he was pointing out how the press was “mainstreaming” the GOP protesters and showing them in a more favorable light than the Dem. protestors. He all but accused the media of bias.

  8. Sandy P Says:

    NYC Police Dept just endorsed W and so did Milwaukee’s Local 215(?) firefighters.

  9. Jesse Says:

    Although, I’m frustrated with some of the domestic stuff Bush has done, I’m definitely in the “not tough enough” camp and there’s not a chance I’d vote for Kerry.

  10. Mike M Says:

    I’d be surprised if there are even that many undecideds. I think there are more uncommitted voters than actual undecideds.

    The uncommitted voter would be the one who thinks Kerry is too pro-war, or the “Bush isn’t conservative enough” rightie. Maybe by holding out they think they can get some red meat for the base by getting their issues addressed. Ironically, it’s probably more likely to push the candidates to the middle as they seek moderate or crossover votes in a close election.

    I’ve always been for Bush, and all I have to say to the “not enough” crowd is that you knew what you were getting in 2000. Bush campaigned on education, medicare, tax cuts, and strong defense and fulfilled those promises on almost a line item basis. And now your choises are him, Kerry or Nader. So suck it up, give the man a mandate, and maybe then you’ll see a little conservatism in Washington.

  11. David Weisman Says:

    So Village Idiot, if evidence was uncovered that someone was deliberately slanting polls to make the Republican numbers look lower at this point in time, would you decide the pollster was biased in favor of the Republicans?

  12. Sandy P. Says:

    Sorry, I think i was NYC Police Sargents union.

  13. Tom Says:

    “…maybe a lot, are unhappy because they percieve our policies there as being too soft and not decisive enough.”

    That’d be me.

  14. Ben Says:

    Hmm… I WOULD be in the “not tough enough camp” except for one thing. I have a feeling I know what “tough enough” would mean. It would mean glassing the Middle East. Look, Carthage never bothered Rome again after Rome absolutely destroyed it, salted the very earth the city sat on. I know it would be effective, and it would be “tough enough” to satsify a lot of folks. But…

    It would mean killing a lot of folks. A lot of folks who may (or may not) have nothing to do with terrorism and just want to live their own lives. I would like to see what we are doing in Iraq succeed, and work the way we want it to work, (i.e as “flypaper” and “swamp draining”) rather than completely destroying the entire region.

    This way is slower, more costly, and far more risky. We can nuke them later if it proves that it has not worked. But lets at least give it a chance to work first, before we go with Plan B.

    Also, I think Bush’s “lack of toughness” is in part due to the closeness of the 2000 election and the fact that we still have a liberal loony left that is so powerful in some areas of this country. We look divided abroad, because we are divided at home. That makes it harder for Bush. Hopefully November 2nd will make things easier for him.

  15. erp Says:

    Depends on how the question was phrased. I also would like Bush to take a harder stance. Let’s face it. Our security comes first. After the fire is out, we can go back to discussing how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. Right now we don’t have that luxury.

  16. mss Says:

    You hit it Mr. Green. I was telephone-polled twice in July. Both times answered “wrong track” for the reason you suspect. I don’t think that we’ve been tough enough (probably for domestic political reasons). Kerry was in the area (Akron, Ohio)the same week, and his campaign spokes-stooge was saying that they were going after the “wrong track” vote. All I could think was that these folks are delusional if they think they can get my vote.

  17. DaveP. Says:

    Same thing with “Job Approval” for domestic issues. Norm Mineta still working, and not in jail for incompetence? Administration still ‘supports gun rights’ but not enough to challenge even DC’s asinine gun laws, or deny support to the AWB? Signing off on the Mc-Cain/Feingold First Amendment Repeal Act? Signing off on budgets so overstuffed they surpass belief? No. My “job approval” rating for Bush is very low indeed: I would dump him in a second if there was a Republican running.
    Would I vote for Kerry over Bush?
    Heh. Not a faint chance.

  18. Sandy P Says:

    Look, the unwashed masses wanted the incumbant protection act. We got it.

  19. b-psycho Says:

    Mike: then we have a dilemma here. If people who think Bush isn’t conservative enough stay home then he’ll continue “triangulation”, but if they vote for him anyway then he’ll think that means he has been conservative enough.

    For the record, I would be one of those “not conservative enough” types, fiscally speaking: IMO it makes no sense whatsoever that a Republican president w/ a Republican-controlled congress is presiding over such blatant runaway spending, especially in light of current more-pressing matters. This is no time for attempting to have everything at once.

    On the “war on terror” I think the proper question isn’t really about toughness moreso than it is intelligence — in both senses of the word.

  20. rosignol Says:

    77% disapprove – YEAH! How many of those believe, like me, he wasn’t HARD ENOUGH?

    Roger that. Why is that Al-Sadr guy still wasting oxygen? Why hasn’t Iran been called to account for it’s actions in Iraq? Why aren’t the turbaned ones trembling in fear of what we might do if attacked?

    Bush is trying the low(er)-bodycount solution to the middle east’s problems, and I both appreciate and respect that. But I want some reassurance that there is a Plan B in case it doesn’t work, and to know that Plan B isn’t “pull out and hope we don’t get attacked again”.

    IMO, it looks like the Democrats as a group don’t seem to understand the stakes, and don’t understand the alternatives to what Bush is trying to do in the middle east (aka the high-bodycount solution, or occasional WTC-scale attacks on US cities)- instead, they attack him, harshly. That makes it impossible for me to consider Kerry a credible Presidential candidate, and Democrats in general as a credible political party- they do not seem to have the best interests of the country in mind, and that’s going to cost them my vote.

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