Can Bush Mk.II suffer a "Perot effect"? (1)

Can George Bush Mk.II suffer a 'Perot effect'? Democrat campaign managers certainly seem to think it is worth playing for. Meanwhile Republicans are silent on the possibility of Libertarians doing to them in 2004 what Ross Perot did in 1992.

In 1992, Bill Clinton the Democratic challenger won the presidential vote in 32 states plus Washington D.C.. Among the states where he defeated the incumbent Republican George Bush Mk.I were Montana and Colorado. The reason for this sudden and almost unprecedented enthusiasm in those parts for a Democrat was not some deep seated change of heart by much of the population. Instead we need to look at what became known as the 'Perot effect'.

George Bush Mk.I's drubbing was at least due in some measure to the disaffection of much of the Republican right with the President's policies and leadership. The infamous "Read my lips, NO TAX INCREASES", the perceived softness on both economic and social issues culminated in the dissident campaign of a multi-millionaire Ross Perot. Perot was known for having a fortune developing security products for government contracts and having financed a mercenary attempt to rescue prisoners of war believed held in Vietnam.

This time the Democrats are circulating a catalogue of quotes that undermine conservative or libertarian support for the Republican incumbent.

The Libertarian Party scored less than half a percent in the 2000 Presidential election, despite appearing in one form or another on the ballot in all 50 states. However, that was before the War on Terror, the Patriot Act, large increases in public spending and a general disillusionment on the right about the effectiveness of George Bush Mk.II as their champion.

Even a 0.75% Libertarian vote in such states as Missouri, Iowa, New Mexico and Florida could make a difference. Any significant local burst of defection to Libertarians in places like New Hampshire could be fatal to the Republican cause.

In the circumstances it would be foolish for the Democrats to ignore any opportunities to exploit disaffection against Bush from the right. At best, loss of right-wing support will be enough to put a Democrat in the White House. At worst, Bush will have to respond by moving his campaign towards the right, providing opportunities for Democrats to attack with accusations of 'extremism' and 'pandering' to all sorts of liberal demons. In the latter case, John Kerry can shore up some of his defectors to the Green Party or to Ralph Nader.


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!


Battleground 2004 (2): The Massachusetts Blues

The Democrats and Republicans are weighing their options, in case John Kerry wins the Presidency, leaving a vacancy in the Senate for Massachusetts.

If Kerry loses the White House, the Senate's overall control will be decided by the 34 Senatorial elections taking place in the same day. Unluckily for the Democrats, 19 of the 34 seats up for grabs are Democrat with the remaining 15 Republican. Even if the Senate seats concerned were equally winnable, that would mean that the Democrats have more to lose than to win in 2004. In fact, the next time more Republican Senate seats come up for election than Democrats will be in 2008.

However if John Kerry were elected President, he would automatically vacate his Senate seat in Massachussets. Normally the State Governor would appoint a replacement. But the Governor of Massachusetts is a Republican, so he could appoint a Republican Senator until Kerry's seat is due up for election in 2008. Just to provide more scope for drama, the Massachusetts legislature has enough Democrat votes to block such a move by Governor Mitt Romney.

The latest gossip is that local Republicans are planning to place a Party moderate who might get through.

So winning the White House could worsen the Democrats position in the Senate?


Battleground 2004: (1) House of Representatives

Elections are held every two years for the entire House of Representatives (H.o.R.) compared with the four-year Presidential term. Unlike the British Prime Minister, the President can't lose his job because the H.o.R. elections go badly for him. Also, the President can't alter the election timetable to suit his political purposes, unlike the British Premier.
The House has not historically been under the control of a Republican Party majority. From 1955 to 1995, the Democrats held continuous control of the House. However, since the 1994 Newt Gingrich-inspired campaign focused on a 'Contract with America' that coincided with a series of scandals involving Democrat politicians, the House of Representatives has become increasingly a Republican stronghold.
To give an idea of the problem for the Democrats, the 2000 census led to the re-apportioning of seats to the House of Representatives according to population flows since 1990. The second table on this page shows how this affected the different states. Broadly speaking the North East and Mid West each lost ten seats, the South and West gained ten.
As a result we see a healthy majority in the H.o.R. for the Republicans of 21 (out of 435). In 2002, the Republican Party's ability to mobilize its supporters into a better turnout than the Democrats was decisive and added to the boundary changes. In 2004, the intensity of this year's election campaign is likely to lead to higher turnouts than in 2002. As a result, the Democrats could make gains in the H.o.R., even without a change in public support for either Party. The intensity of support is the issue and it is difficult to measure.
A cautious assessment at this stage would be to say that a victory for the Democrats in the House this year would be an excellent result, but that no gains would be very poor.