Political Pollsters Discuss the Kerry
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JIM LEHRER: To Margaret Warner for a look at where the polls say Bush-Cheney versus Kerry-Edwards stands at the moment.
MARGARET WARNER: We get that snapshot now from Linda Divall; she’s part of the Bush-Cheney campaign’s polling team. And from Geoff Garin, he’s polling for the Democratic National Committee.
Well, let’s pick up where last conversation left off. Overnight, a number of the networks did quick overnight polls. And, Let me just throw one number at you, Linda. NBC News found 24 percent of voters said that the Edwards choice made them “more likely” quote, unquote to vote for John Kerry. How significant is a number like that?
LINDA DIVALL: First of all, those polls — we call them one night wonders. I mean they’re just a measure of instantaneous reaction. Sometimes they can make you feel good but they’re really not representative of anything enduring over a period of time.
And that particular factor, I mean let’s face it. Kerry pretty much had his base already in line. So this choice doesn’t do much beyond that except to give the campaign and the ticket initial sizzle, pop, fizz. Beyond that, the larger question is what more can John Edwards bring to the ticket.
MARGARET WARNER: So is it the sizzle pop fizz, a one night wonder?
GEOFF GARIN: I think what the polls from last night said is that John Kerry’s selection of John Edwards is pretty well received. People know John Edwards from the primary campaigns and have a positive impression of him. He does particularly well with independent voters. And the first reaction is not about his experience but this is a good guy to be vice president.
MARGARET WARNER: Where do you think… what is your reading… if we take out the one night thing and we just look at where the polls are now, where do you think race stands?
GEOFF GARIN: It is a very close race and it is going to be a very close race. But on balance, I’d say advantage Kerry right now for a variety of reasons. Everything that we are seeing, that Senator Kerry has more upside potential in the race in the way the economic issue is setting up is helpful to Senator Kerry. The way the decrease in confidence in President Bush’s handling of Iraq sets up well for Senator Kerry. So that it’s a close race but there are advantages underneath that that I think are very important for John Kerry.
MARGARET WARNER: You probably see it differently.
LINDA DIVALL: Slightly different view. Yes the race is absolutely competitive but the real question is why isn’t John Kerry already ahead by ten points? It has been a terrible four months for President Bush. Everybody would admit that. While the economy has been growing people are not paying attention to the economy. They’ve been focused on Iraq.
We fully expect between the Democratic choice for VP and their convention they’ll get a significant boost, perhaps a double digit boost. But they should already be at a place where they’re having a sizable lead. Remember in 1988 at this time, Michael Dukakis led George Bush by 18 points.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you both about how many… we hear about swing voters, swing states. But recent polls are showing that the two camps have hardened much earlier, much sooner around either the president or Kerry. It’s much more polarized. What percentage, Geoff Garin, do you think there are really of truly swing voters?
GEOFF GARIN: There are two ways to think about this. On any given day it is a pretty small number. Ten percent, 12 percent, 14 percent but it is not a fixed group of people where voters will cycle in and out of being swing. That things will happen, they’ll change their thinking about the race. I think over the course of the period between now and election day as much as 20-25 percent of the electorate will at some point to fall into the group where they are not sure what they are going to do.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think the persuadables are that big?
LINDA DIVALL: I think it also depends on the state you are talking about. In the 17 battleground states, I think the swing vote is no more than 8-14 percent. There will be some points that are important. Pre and post conventions, pre-and post debates, and then the last two weeks of the campaign as both candidates repackage their message and try to reach the undecided or voters who are leaning.
One thing that has to be said, when you look at John Kerry’s vote and this is underscored in the polling that Peter Hart and Geoff do for the Wall Street Journal-NBC News, is that Kerry’s vote was almost all an anti-Bush vote. There’s very little excitement behind the vote. Where as if you look at George Bush’s vote, 75 percent is pro-Bush. So with this choice, I think what they’re trying to do is provide some excitement and some pizzazz to their ticket so that they have a more solid pro-Kerry block that they can vote on. That’s what they had to do first which is an interesting choice that they had to make.
GEOFF GARIN: Typical thing, and that there are two events, there’s the selection of the running mate — so far so good — and then there will be the convention. But that those are two events that I think will change the dynamic here and will build genuine enthusiasm for Senator Kerry.
MARGARET WARNER: What does John Edwards, in your view, bring to the ticket in the way of appealing to voters that Kerry otherwise might have trouble?
GEOFF GARIN: Well, I think he accentuates differences with the incumbent administration that Senator Kerry would want to accentuate, that is primarily on economic issues and on mindset, but John Edwards is somebody who the voters look and say he has walked in my shoes. He understands what we’ve gone through. He understands what we are going through. He doesn’t ignore the economic problems of the country. He recognizes them and he along with Senator Kerry are willing to tackle them. So he is very important in that respect.
And, that elections are about the future. I think that John Kerry and John Edwards as a ticket really represent the future of the people who look down road. Maybe one of the concerns people have about President Bush is that this has not necessarily been an administration that really sort of thinks about the consequences of its actions and we are paying a price for that now.
MARGARET WARNER: Would you acknowledge that might be a help to Kerry, the economic populace message, coupled with Edwards personal story, plus this youth and vitality, charisma?
LINDA DIVALL: Well, how two multimillionaires can resurrect a populous message is interesting to me, number one. Number two, there are a lot of other interesting similarities they both enjoy.
John Kerry is number one in the Senate in terms of being most liberal. John Edwards is number four. They have identical voting records when it comes to taxes and ability to develop a comprehensive energy policy, when you’re looking social and values issues. And I think that is something that is really going to play significantly in the South.
It’s interesting to examine the pick of John Edwards. He can’t deliver his state of North Carolina. He won it by 83,000 votes in ’96 when he was first elected. Two million votes were cast. George Bush won North Carolina by 370,000 votes when three million votes were cast. We may have to spend more resources there but mark it down; North Carolina will not go in the Democratic column.
Number two, voters are going to say these are different times. These are times of serious trouble right now — of challenges everywhere we look. Who is the most prepared to be president. And that is exactly the question that President Bush threw out today. Dick Cheney is prepared to be president from day one. I totally disagree with Geoff. I think this election is about substance, not style.
MARGARET WARNER: How much of a vulnerability is his lack of experience in public policy and particularly in foreign affairs in the post-9/11 era?
GEOFF GARIN: I think really minimal first, as President Clinton observed, he has more experience coming in as vice president than George Bush had coming in as president. But more importantly, Dick Cheney was important as a figure of experience precisely because George W. Bush wasn’t seen as a person of experience. John Kerry is recognized by the voters as somebody who is ready to be president and has that background.
The second thing I would say is that what people really look for is a common sense and energy and they see that in abundance in John Edwards. And there are growing doubts about how well the experience of Bush and Cheney have paid off. We’ve got a mess in Iraq. There does not seem to be a plan to conclude that mess successfully. I think that right now voters are questioning the value and the benefit of all the experience that Cheney and Bush brought with them to office.
MARGARET WARNER: Linda Divall, let me ask you this. Right now John Edwards has a very positive image in minds of the voters. Would you recommend to the Bush-Cheney campaign that it spend, you know, precious advertising dollars trying to put on anti-Edwards ads?
LINDA DIVALL: Absolutely not. The fundamental task, one thing that’s being obscured right now, is that John Edwards is indeed upstaging John Kerry at a very fundamental point in the campaign. The bottom line is that John Kerry has still not introduced himself or defined himself to the voters. People see him as a flip-flopper, a liberal, somebody who is disconnected from the concerns of average voters. That’s a task that he still has to be confronted with.
MARGARET WARNER: Answer that if you wish but make a fearless forecast. Give me one or two states, Geoff Garin, where you think that John Edwards choice could actually swing that state, a tightly fought state, into the Kerry column.
GEOFF GARIN: Well, I disagree with Linda about North Carolina. I think North Carolina will be in play and will be competitive. John Edwards defeated an incumbent senator by a small margin but that’s how incumbent senators get defeated, and North Carolinians at the moment feel extremely proud about John Edwards and feel very unhappy with the economic policies of this administration, particularly with regard to trade, so that’s one state. It may well put Virginia into play as well.
But John Edwards has always done very, very well with independent voters, with moderate voters; notwithstanding all the labels the Republicans throw around, people look at John Edwards. He is a person who knows the value of a family, knows the value of work, of opportunity. That’s not liberal to people. That’s what they are about. So I think with independent voters and moderate voters, all throughout the swing states, John Edwards is going to be a great help.
MARGARET WARNER: I assume you disagree but we have to leave it there. Thank you both.