December 05, 2004

Democratic Analysis of What Happened in Ohio

In Okay, We Lost Ohio. The Question Is, Why? Steve Rosenthal, CEO of America Coming Together, gives his analyses of why Kerry lost Ohio. Rosenthal is a Democratic partisan, but he is also a smart political operator. His analysis makes a lot of sense.

Among the voters the Republicans targeted, the Democrats went toe-to-toe, knock-to-knock and phone call-to-phone call with them. And rest assured, in urban areas Republicans could not come close to matching the Democratic ground effort.

Still, Kerry lost in Ohio, if narrowly, and that tipped the Electoral College in Bush's favor. If this wasn't a flood of "moral values" voters or a GOP juggernaut, what was it?

The reason Kerry lost the election had much more to do with the war in Iraq and terrorism than the political ground war in Ohio. Terrorism trumped other issues at the polls -- including moral values -- and anxious voters tended to side with Bush.

* By 54 percent to 41 percent, voters decided that Americans are now safer from terrorist threats than four years ago, national exit polls said.

* By 55 percent to 42 percent, voters accepted Bush's view that Iraq is a part of the war on terrorism. By 51 percent to 45 percent, they still approved of the decision to go to war (though a majority expressed concerns about how the war is going).

* Just 40 percent said they trusted Kerry to do a good job handling the war on terrorism, compared with 58 percent who felt that way about the president.

The Bush campaign was able to persuade some voters who supported Gore in 2000 to turn to Bush in 2004 on the issues of terrorism, strength and leadership. Bush bested Kerry among those who voted in 2000 by five percentage points -- Bush bested Gore in 2000 by three points.

The other major factor was our side's failure to win the economic debate. Despite an economy that was not delivering for many working people in Ohio, the exit poll results show that voters in Ohio did not see Kerry providing a clear alternative. Just 45 percent expressed confidence that Kerry could handle the economy, compared with Bush's 49 percent.

The GOP put on a strong mobilization effort, but that's not what tipped the Ohio election. They did not turn Gore voters into Bush voters by offering a ride to the polls. Instead, it was skillful exploitation of public concern over terrorism by the Bush team -- coupled with Democrats' inability to draw clear, powerful contrasts on the economy and health care -- that pushed Bush over the finish line.

I think the discussion of the economy is particularly telling. Kerry spent so much of his time talking about the war that he didn't get traction on the economy.

On the war Kerry was fighting his way uphill. Republicans tend to be rated higher than Democrats on national security issues. War presidents tend to get the benefit of the doubt on war issues. And Kerry's history concerning Vietnam and the anti-war movement were mixed enough to raise questions about how he would run the war.

On the other hand, on the economy Kerry could have run with the wind at his back. Democrats tend to be rated higher on domestic issues. Sitting president get blamed for a bad economy, even when their actions often don't matter for many years. And the economy was not robust, with very mixed numbers all summer.

All of these issues seem to make the economy a more effective battleground for Kerry to attack Bush than the war was. The fact that Kerry didn't strongly push an economic alternative to Bush is likely to have cost him the election.

Posted by georgegmacdonald at 10:27 AM | Comments (0)