Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The obvious conclusion to be drawn from today’s New York Times poll story is that George W. Bush has an anti-mandate:

There is continuing disapproval of Mr. Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, with a plurality now saying it was a mistake to invade in the first place.

...Even as two-thirds of respondents said they expected Mr. Bush to appoint judges who would vote to outlaw abortion, a majority continue to say they want the practice to remain either legal as it is now, which was Mr. Kerry's position, or to be legal but under stricter limits.

Americans said they opposed changing the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, which Mr. Bush campaigned on in the final weeks of his campaign....

About one-third of the respondents said the tax cuts passed in Mr. Bush's first term had been good for the economy; but nearly a fifth said they had done more harm, and just under half said the tax cuts had made little difference....

On Social Security, 45 percent said a proposal to permit people to invest their Social Security withholding money in private accounts was a bad idea; 49 percent said it was a good idea. The poll also found little confidence among Americans that Mr. Bush would assure the future solvency of the program: 51 percent said that Mr. Bush was unlikely to "make sure Social Security benefits are there for people like me."...

And then there’s this:

Americans now have a better opinion of the Democratic Party than of the Republican Party: 54 percent said they had a favorable view of Democrats, compared with 39 percent with an unfavorable view. By contrast, 49 percent have a favorable view of Republicans, compared with 46 percent holding an unfavorable one.

It would be easy to conclude from this that a better Democratic candidate would have won this year -- that Kerry is to blame for the loss.

I'm not so sure. Issue by issue, voters do favor the Democratic Party -- they certainly do when the Republican Party is embodied by crazies and radicals -- but they can always be persuaded that individual Democrats are odd, scary, dangerous, or all three. Voters like the Democratic Party, but they're more willing to think the worst of a candidate if that candidate is a Democrat.

We certainly saw that this year: the claims of the Swift Boat liars were debunked in the print press and the Bush National Guard documents were discredited, but the Swift Boat lies stuck and the Bush charges didn't. Kerry said a nice thing about Mary Cheney and suffered at the polls for it; GOP senator Jim Bunning said a nasty thing about his opponent (that he looks like Saddam's sons) and won anyway.

I think the Democrats need to hire a pollster to test whether this is true. List a series of scandalous acts involving hypothetical, unnamed candidates of both major parties and then, after each one, ask the poll respondents, "Would this surprise you, or is it something you'd expect a member of the [Democratic/Republican] Party to do?" I bet even Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would say they expect worse behavior and more lapses in judgment from Democrats -- because we've all been conditioned for so long to expect Democrats to have poor judgment. If I'm right, this is something the party really, really needs to work on.

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