The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

1988 LIKE 2004? TRY 2000!

Mickey Kaus is doing his usual thing:
Dem Panic Watch Bonus: Kerry defenders (and numerous kf e-mailers) like to argue that by historical standards he is in relatively good shape against an incumbent. That's true in many comparisons (e.g. 1992). The template I carry around in my head is the 1988 race, in which a beatable, (semi-incumbent) Bush was challenged by somewhat unexciting, respectable, not widely-known Massachusetts politician. And at this point (May) in the 1988 campaign, Michael Dukakis was ahead by 16 points, 54-38, according to this Gallup poll trend line. If Kerry can't top the charismatic Dukakis, I suggest "panic" is not a completely irrational response among Democrats.
This is a dumb comparison. And it's disproven by the much more reasonable comparison to 1988.

That would be the 2000 election.

Al Gore was essentially in the same position then that George H. W. Bush was in 1988. Both were vice presidents under 2-term presidents who were wildly popular within their own parties (if somewhat divisive with others).

Both Bush I and Gore were overshadowed by their bosses, particularly in terms of charisma. Compare Bush's "John Wayne meets Mister Rogers" to Reagan's speaking skills. And I don't think describing the differences between Gore's charisma and Clinton's is necessary.

As a result of being overshadowed by popular, charismatic 2-term Presidents, in both 1988 and 2000 the electorate was initially reluctant to embrace the two Veeps as the next Commanders in Chief. Thus, polls showed Dukakis with a sizable lead over Bush I in 1988. And polls showed then-governor Bush with a sizable lead over Al Gore for much of the 2000 campaign.

In both cases, the seemingly down-and-out Veep came back. One tank and one hypothetically murdered wife later, Dukakis fell, convincingly, to Bush the Elder. And in 2000, Gore came all the way back and won the popular vote (and as some argue, the electoral vote).

Of course, in 2004, Dukakis' tank has become Bush's flight suit. Wonder what that means!

MORE: In 1988 Bush I wasn't a known quantity in the way an incumbent President is in re-election season; thus he had room to increase his support, allowing him to zoom past Dukakis. Dubya, on the other hand, is just about as known a quantity as can be in presidential politics, so he doesn't really have a way to substantially increase his popularity the way his father did in 88.

EVEN MORE: I don't have them in front of me, but if I had to guess, 1988's "right track, wrong track" polls were probably closer to 2000's than they are to 2004's.

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