Shades of 1992

Charlie Cook at the National Journal has gone as far to write off a Republican victory in the Presidential race this November as it is possible to go without making himself a hostage to fortune. It is hard to argue with his analysis of the polls. He predicted a modest "bounce" in the poll ratings for the Kerry camp following the announcement of Senator John Edwards as his running mate, and he was spot-on. Of course one reason for this may have been that most voters had "factored in" the Edwards nomination and were not seriously expecting anything else.

So whatever the reason, Charlie Cook has correctly anticipated the polling strengths of the Republican and Democrat candidates: roughly 45 per cent each, with no big changes (+/- 3%) either way. But this is where the mystery sets in. We have a very polarized electorate most of which has made up its mind how it is going to vote. So as Charlie Cook says, President George W. Bush cannot expect a major boost between now and polling day, although he has suggested that switching running-mates could help.

But the shades of 1992 I think of are not in the US, where George Bush Mk.I lost to the challenge of Governor Bill Clinton. It is in the April 1992 election in the UK, where the Labour opposition was steadfastly ahead in the polls right up to polling day.

Opinion polls are not votes, and unless they are very well targeted, to include proportions of the electorate that actually vote, they can go wrong in a tight race. Will the fashionable students who almost ritually hate Bush, hate him enough to drive for ten minutes to a polling station in November? Will the militant Christians who abstained last time over a drink-driving offence, boycott the Republicans again? Will the convicted felons who are allowed to vote this time in Florida actually vote, and vote Democrat?

Anyone who knows the answers to all these questions, ring your bookies right now!

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