Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Could Bush Lose to Kerry?

With about four months remaining in the 2004 Presidential race, it's time to evaluate the odds. A Kerry victory is certainly possible, but the odds favor President Bush's reelection.

The issues that will determine the outcome of the race fall into two categories: (1) The war on terror, including the struggle for stability in Iraq and (2) domestic issues such as taxes, health care, education and the strength or weakness of the economy.

Bush has remained about even with Kerry in the polls over the past several months despite the steady stream of bad news coming out of Iraq. And voters continue to believe that Bush is better able to wage the war on terror than Kerry. This Republican advantage on national security issues has existed for the past 30 years and when John Kerry's voting record in the US Senate becomes more widely known among voters, Bush's advantage on these issues is likely to increase.

Voters tend to view the economy through their partisan lenses. During the Reagan boom, most Democrats didn't think inflation had declined. In 1996, when President Clinton ran for reelection while the economy was growing, most Republicans told pollsters that the economy was in recession.

But, with consumer confidence rising, home ownership at an all time high and over one million jobs created in just the past six months, the crucial independent voters will likely view the economy in a more positive light as the countdown to November continues.

There is one other factor that could cause a Kerry victory: The overall predilections of the electorate. One could make a case that American voters have become more European in their attitudes regarding cultural and economic issues over the past several decades. If the mid-point of the electorate has moved several degrees to the left, even an improving economy and the threat of terrorism might not be enough to prevent the election of a typical Democrat pitted against a typical Republican.

But, if the 2002 mid-term elections can be any guide to this year's elections, voters are not automatically prepared to vote left. The 2002 vote for the US House of Represenatives was 51 percent Republican, 45 percent Democrat. I expect a similar outcome this November. Bush: 52, Kerry: 46. And, thus, I believe a Republican Presidential candidate will win the popular vote for the first time since a guy named Bush beat a Massachusetts liberal Democrat (Michael Dukakis) in 1988.