Thursday, September 02, 2004

For my money, the most important states in the upcoming presidential election are FL, OH, and PA. Together they make up 68 electoral votes and are the three really big swing states (all the other big ones like CA, NY, IL or TX are shoe-ins for one guy or the other). If NH is the only state to switch from how they voted in 2000 and without counting these three states, the Electoral College vote is Kerry 243, Bush 227.

Under this scenario, if Kerry wins Flordia he wins the White House. Of course that assumes he hangs on to WI (where Bush is leading) and IA (which is neck-and-neck). If Kerry loses WI, he must win any two of the Big Three. If he loses WI and IA he must win FL and either OH or PA.

This is a long involved way of saying that both PA and OH are critical to Kerry's chances of victory in November. The chances of winning are remarkably slim if he can't take one of these two states, and in both of them the trends look bad for a Kerry presidency.

The latest PA poll, from Strategic Vision, puts Bush 1 point ahead of Kerry in a two-man race and 2 points ahead in a three man race. In late July Strategic Vision had Kerry ahead by 5 points and 4 points respetively.

More troublesome for Kerry are the trends in Pennsylvanians' opinions about Bush and the state of the nation, which have been trending strongly favorable for the incumbent. Bush's approval numbers on the economy are up from 38% in late July to 44% in late August, and more importantly the numbers saying the country is in the "right direction" are up from 42% to 47%, with "wrong direction" down from 48% to 43%. Perhaps most worrisome, John Kerry's unfavorable rating is way up, from 33% to 42%, surely an effect of the Swift Boat Veterans' mudslinging.

Things don't look any better for Kerry in OH. The latest Strategic Vision poll puts Bush ahead by 5 points, 6 in a three-man race. Bush's approval numbers on handling the economy have been going up in OH, from 42% to 46%, his Iraq war approval numbers remain above 50% there, and Kerry's unfavorables are rising in OH, too (although not as dramatically as in PA), from 34% to 37%.

(As an aside, the unfavorable ratings are skyrocketing in FL, too: 32% in late July, 40% in late August.)

It's important to note that Strategic Vision has consistently given Bush more favorable numbers than other major polls such as Rasmussen, the LA Times, Gallup, or local newspapers in the relevant states (I just can't take Zogby seriously), especially in OH. Yet the underlying data on favorability, opinion on job performance and the like look quite bad for Kerry in these critical states.

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