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We are all up

We are all up in arms right now, it seems, about Vice President Dick Cheney, and the fact that Cheney told one of the more irenic of Democratic senators to "f--k off" in a brief exchange on the Senate floor last Tuesday because the senator in question, Pat Leahy (Democrat of Vermont) had earlier had the temerity to raise questions about lucrative no-bid Iraqi contracts secured by his former employer Halliburton.

Certainly, Cheney and his partisans deserve the knuckle-rapping they're now getting. And it's entertaining to watch avatars of dignity, good order and responsibility like Bill Frist and the folks over at the White House call Cheney's antics good clean fun and politics as usual.

But for those who have few good things to say about the vice-president, I think, the correct response is less outrage than the sort of grim (or perhaps not so grim) satisfaction one feels when a malign character unwittingly reveals himself to a larger audience. Because even if Cheney "felt better" after his outburst, this wasn't a show of strength but one of desperation or, perhaps, impatient impotence.

I think Joe Klein has it right in the title of his new column in Time -- ("Plenty More to Swear About: Bush's security team faces a barrage of criticism as the facts about Iraq come to light"). As Klein writes, last week's "assorted temper tantrums appeared to be a leading indicator of a gathering summer storm confronting this presidency."

Consider for a moment. Who is Dick Cheney? What do we know of him? None of us like being questioned or critized. But in him the disinclination runs particularly deep. He prefers to act in secrecy and is a man to whom government transparency has all the allure that a shaft of sunlight has to a vampire. When challenged, violence seems always to be his preferred method of response, that of first resort --- often a literal sort on the world stage, but with bureaucratic (viz. Plame) and what we might call verbal violence at home. By verbal violence I mean specifically tough talk and threats meant to frighten people away from challenging him further, to knock them on their heels. Even this new case -- saying Leahy et al. had it coming -- is but another example. When that doesn't work, he gets sloppy.

Cheney et al. can see all sorts of bad business coming down the pike in the next few months -- much of it already on the public radar screen, some of it still clogged up no doubt in back channels, newsrooms and new rounds of dirty-tricksterism. It seems clearly to be getting to them.

By the time you

By the time you read this post you'll likely already know that today's Financial Times makes stunning new claims about alleged sales of uranium from Niger to Iraq.

In brief, the main article in the FT makes two points ...

First, that there is much more information than the forged 'Niger-uranium' documents backing up the claim that Iraq (and other countries) sought to clandestinely purchase 'yellowcake' uranium from Niger.

(I think point two is the real point of the FT story, not point one. But we'll get to that in another post.)

The second assertion requires a touch more explanation.

If you're up on the arcana of the 'Niger-uranium' story you'll remember that they first came to light when a source -- an unnamed Italian businessman and security consultant -- gave copies of them to an Italian journalist named Elisabetta Burba.

(For more on the tick-tock of what Burba did with them and how they eventually got into US hands, see this piece by Sy Hersh from last year in The New Yorker.)

There has been endless speculation about who this mystery man was and who actually did the forging. Was he the forger? And if so, what were his motives? If not, who put them into his hands? And what were their motives?

According to the Financial Times article, that business man is likely himself the forger of the documents and he has a long history of bad acts which, they say, discredit him as a source of information. That last tidbit plays a key part in the FT story because, in their words, the provider of the documents is "understood to be planning to reveal selected aspects of his story to a US television channel."

That's what the FT says.

I hear something different.

In fact, I know something different.

My colleagues and I have reported on this matter extensively, spoken to key players involved in the drama, and put together a detailed picture of what happened. And that picture looks remarkably different from this account which is out today -- specifically on the matter of the origins of those forged documents and who was involved.

I cannot begin to describe how much I would like to say more than that. And at some later point in some later post I will do my best to explain the hows and whys of why I can't. But, for the moment, I can't.

Let me, however, offer a hypothetical that might help make sense of all this.

Let's say that certain individuals or organizations are responsible for some rather unfortunate misdeeds. And let's further postulate that such hypothetical individuals or organizations find out that some folks are on to them, that a story is in the works -- perhaps more than one -- and that it's coming right at them. Those individuals or organizations -- as shorthand, let's call them 'the bad actors' -- might well start trying to fight back, trying to gin up an alternative storyline to exculpate themselves and inculpate others. If that story made its way into the news, at a minimum, it might help the bad actors muddy the waters for when the real story comes out. You can see how such a regrettable turn of events might come to pass.

This is of course only a hypothetical. But I thought it might provide a clarifying context.

So read the FT article. But also keep your ears open. It is, I'm quite confident, not the last word you'll hear on this story.

Let me start back

Let me start back by thanking my three friends and colleagues who sat in for me here at TPM during my ten day absence: Spencer Ackerman, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira. Everybody takes a slightly different approach to this medium. And I couldn't have been happier about what each of them did with the site. I hope you enjoyed their work as much as I did. If the trickle of email I got while I was away was any measure, you did indeed.

(I was able to get online here and there from abroad, so I managed to see most of what got posted. Actually, it was an odd, wholly unaccustomed and somehow deeply relaxing feeling to be able to type in the TPM address to see if anything new had been posted.)

A special thanks too to my out-going assistant, Zander Dryer, who handled all the logistics of the site in my absence as well as working with the guest hosts to make sure everything went smoothly.

As you must know by now Spencer (IRAQ'd) and Ruy (DonkeyRising) both have their own blogs. And John has a new book out The Folly of Empire. John's book isn't quite out yet I don't think -- I think a couple weeks. But I strongly recommend it to you on the basis of my knowledge of the author and recent discussions with him of this topic.

In any case, a sincere thanks to each of them and to you (the readership of this site) as well -- readership held up remarkably well during my absence. Their efforts and your readership helped make my time away relaxing, contented and refreshing.

Well its been a

Well, it's been a blast but I'm heading back to Donkey Rising after this post. Please do come by and visit if you get a chance.

I also want to urge everybody to think seriously about contributing financially to Josh's site. It's not free to run a site like this and I think you'll agree that Josh's commentary and investigative reporting provide an invaluable service. So give 'til it hurts--and then give some more.

OK, I'm off to watch the Sweden-Netherlands game in the European Cup. The winner of that game plays Portugal. Go Portugal!

There have been two

There have been two major polls (I don't consider Fox a "major") since the middle of June--The Washington Post and Gallup--and in both of them Kerry leads Bush among registered voters (in the Post poll by 8 and in Gallup by 4). Not bad for John Kerry, not bad at all.

Some are dissatisfied, however. Why isn't he farther ahead? What about some of the minor polls where he isn't doing do well? Why does Kerry's lead sometimes vanish, even in the major polls (as indeed might happen tomorrow for all I know)?

Calm down. Say your mantra. And meditate on these recent words from Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of The Gallup poll:

Based on historical patterns, Bush's job approval rating is thus underperforming the pattern of presidents who have won re-election. In the broadest sense, Bush's job approval rating has generally been remarkably stable this year, averaging about 50% (which is a symbolic dividing line for an incumbent seeking re-election) since mid-January. The current downtick in his ratings puts him below the pattern of successful presidents. Having a rating below 50% (as is the case with his last four ratings) is not a good sign for an incumbent. If Bush wins this November, he would be the first president since Harry Truman to come from a below 50% rating to win re-election.

The fact that Bush has been behind the likely Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, in several Gallup Poll re-election trial heat ballots this year, means that Bush's re-election probabilities are lower than those of his successful predecessors. None of the five presidents who won re-election were behind their eventual opponent in any trial heats after January in the year prior to their election. If Bush wins this year, he will become the first president to come from behind in election year spring polls to win.

The trial heat patterns of the three presidents who eventually lost were erratic enough, however, to suggest that fluidity is the norm rather than the exception in trial heat ballots at this point in the campaign.


Feel better (at least if you're a Kerry partisan)? Eventually, of course, Kerry does need to take and maintain a solid lead, but it is unrealistic to expect that to happen this early in the campaign. Perhaps after the Democratic convention such a pattern might begin to emerge, but that would be the earliest.

So expect fluidity to continue for awhile. As many have pointed out, deciding you want to fire the incumbent (where we are now) is a different decision than deciding you definitely want to hire John Kerry (the stage of the campaign we are moving into). Once we reach that stage, many swing voters will come off the fence and the political picture should be clarified.

And, make no mistake about it, despite apparent shrinkage in the swing voter pool, there are still plenty of these voters around. According to a just-released report by the Pew Research Center, about a fifth of voters can be classified as swing at this stage of the campaign--sizable, though still down 6-11 points from the proportions of swing voters at analogous points in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 campaigns.

In the Pew data, swing voters who currently express a preference are about equally divided between Bush and Kerry. However, their approval ratings for Bush on the economy (36 percent) and Iraq (34 percent) are notably low. In addition, swing voters in their June data are heavily moderate (49 percent) and independent/no party preference (45 percent) or Democratic (36 percent). Thus, John Kerry appears to be well-positioned to make headway among these voters over time.

Two other interesting notes from the Pew report. They pooled their data from April to June to get enough respondents to look at Bush approval ratings in some key battleground states. Generally, the rank order of approval rating follows from the 2000 results: Bush approval is higher in states he carried in 2000; lower in states he did not. But there is one important exception. Among the nine states they provide data for, Ohio is ranked dead-last in Bush approval, with just 41 percent approval and 46 percent disapproval..

Another intriguing finding is an apparent narrowing of the "religiosity gap"--that is, the tendency for those who attend church more often to vote Republican with far greater frequency than those who attend less often. According to the Pew data, the gap in Bush support between those who say they attend church every week and those who attend seldom or never is now 14 points, compared to 27 points in the 2000 VNS exit poll.

Who knows if this will hold up in this year's election, but it's food for thought. After all, we have not always had the relationship observed in 2000 between church attendance and support for Republican candidates. For example, in the 1980's, there appears to have been only a weak relationship between church attendance and Republican support. But that relationship became quite noticeable in 1992, strengthened in 1996 and strengthened some more in 2000.

Who's to say that relationship might not start heading in the opposite direction? Despite Bush's best efforts, he has had little success inflaming the culture wars and we are now 4 years past the sex scandals that dogged the last years of the Clinton-Gore administration. Keep an eye on this one as we head toward November.

At last A poll

At last! A poll that Matthew Dowd can be happy about. While the Gallup folks were busy collecting their data (June 21-23), the fair and balanced folks over at Fox News were busy collecting theirs (June 22-23). To say the Fox News results differ somewhat from the Gallup results would be to considerably understate the case.

The Fox poll has Bush up by 6 points (48-42) among registered voters (RVs). As I discussed in my previous post, Gallup has Kerry up by 4 (49-45) in the identical Kerry-Bush RV matchup. Kind of different!

And check this out. Fox has Bush ahead by 20 points in the solid red states (Gallup had Bush ahead by 8), Kerry ahead by only 3 (!) in the solid blue states (Gallup: Kerry by 14) and Kerry ahead by an identical 3 point margin in purple states (Gallup: Kerry by 9). Huh?!? Kerry ahead by only 3 in the solid blue states--and up by no more there than in the battleground states?

Was Fox really polling the same country? You've gotta wonder. The survey dates of the two polls are virtually identical, we're talking about the same universe (registered voters) and the same matchup--and yet the results are starkly different.

So who do we believe? Well, if it's a choice between Fox News or the Gallup Organization, I don't find this a particularly difficult choice to make. To tell the truth, I rarely pay much attention to Fox News polls, which are invariably and significantly pro-Bush relative to other public polls, but this one seemed so egregiously off and so directly contradicted by the Gallup data that I just had to comment on it.

You might well ask: how on earth do the Fox News folks get such weird results? I don't really know, but one possibility is that they weight their data by party ID. Under this procedure, if you've got, in your view, too many Democrats (like in that pesky Los Angeles Times poll), you simply weight them down and weight the Republicans up so you get to the presumed proper distribution of party ID (those respondents can't really be serious about indentifying with the Democrats!).

I don't know that this is true of the Fox News poll. But it certainly would help explain why their horse race results differ so much from Gallup's (who, like good girls and boys, never weight by party ID--see this good article in the Los Angeles Times explaining why public polling organizations worth their salt eschew this practice). Or how Fox News--again, polling on essentially identical days--could find John Kerry's favorability rating at 42 percent favorable/43 percent unfavorable, while Gallup has it 58 percent favorable/35 percent unfavorable.

While we're on the subject of Fox News polls, it's worth mentioning their new polls of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, which also seem--well, a little surprising. Yesterday, I discussed the June 21-23 ARG poll of Ohio, where Kerry led by 6. Fox, polling on June 22-23, has Bush ahead by 4 in Ohio. Hmmm. Yesterday I also mentioned the June 21-23 ARG poll of Florida, where Kerry was ahead by 2. Fox's June 22-23 poll of Florida has Bush ahead by 9!

Curiouser and curiouser said Alice. Now, if it was anyone but Fox, I might be tempted to ascribe these differences to ARG's use of likely voters (LVs), rather than RVs, as Fox uses. But these are mighty big differences and this is Fox, so I don't buy it.

I especially don't buy it when we look at Fox's Pennsylvania results. Fox, polling on June 22-23, has Bush ahead by 3 among RVs in Pennsylvania. But, the highly reputable Quinnipiac University poll, polling on June 21-22 and also polling RVs, has Kerry ahead by 6. What a difference a day makes--or, considerably more likely, what a difference the Fox News treatment makes.

I have a new slogan for Fox News: "Pro-Bush Results Guaranteed". Unlike "Fair and Balanced", this would allow them to stick closely to their empirical record.

The new Gallup poll

The new Gallup poll is chock full of interesting data. Perhaps the most interesting finding is this: For the first time in this poll, a majority of Americans (54 percent to 44 percent) now say that US made a mistake sending troops to Iraq. Less than three weeks ago, the public was still saying, by 58-41, that sending troops was not a mistake.

Note that these data were collected before the wave of violence that was unleashed Thursday in Iraq.

Another turnaround is on whether the war with Iraq has made the US safer from terrorism. Just 37 percent now say the war has made us safer, compared to 55 percent who say it has not; when Gallup last asked this question in mid-December it was 56-33 the other way.

The poll also finds a majority (51-46) saying it was not worth going to war with Iraq, pretty much where this measure has been since late May.

Bush's overall approval rating, compared to Gallup's last measurement three weeks ago, is down a point to 48 percent. His rating on Iraq is up a point to 42 percent, while his rating on terrorism is down 2 points to 54 percent.

By far the biggest change is his rating on the economy: up 6 points to 47 percent with 50 percent disapproval. This is close to his mid-April rating in this poll (46/52), though still substantially below his 54/43 rating in early January.

Note that the latest Washington Post poll, conducted right before the Gallup poll, registered only a slight improvement in Bush's economic approval rating (just 2 points) and had his disapproval rating dropping only a point, compared to Gallup, which has his disapproval rating declining by 8 points.

Despite Bush's improved economy rating in the Gallup poll, voters still favor Kerry over Bush (53-40) on which candidate can better handle the economy. That Kerry advantage is essentially unchanged since early May.

On the situation in Iraq, Kerry and Bush are nearly tied (47-46 in Bush's favor), a slightly improvement for Kerry over his 3 point deficit in early May. This tie is notable, of course, because sentiment is now so strikingly negative about the Iraq war. Perhaps Kerry's failure to gain an advantage reflects the public's view, captured in other polls, that Kerry does not have a clear plan himself for dealing with the Iraq situation.

Another interesting finding is that, while Bush has a modest lead (51-43) over Kerry in terms of who the public trusts more to handle the responsibilities of commander-in-chief, the public expresses an identical degree of confidence in the ability of Bush and Kerry to handle the responsibilities of commander-in-chief (61 percent in each case).

In terms of favorability ratings, it seems significant that Kerry's net favorability rating (favorable minus unfavorable) is now substantially higher than Bush's. Kerry is +23 on this measure (58 percent favorable/35 percent unfavorable), up from +17 in Gallup's last measurement in April. In contrast, Bush is just +8 (53/45), down from +14 in April. These data are consistent with the recent New York Times story that suggested the GOP's frontal assault on Kerry has not had much success creating an unfavorable image of him.

Turning to the horse race, as ever we must, Kerry leads Bush by 4 points (49-45) among registered voters (RVs). That approximates Gallup's early June result when Kerry led 49-44.

Of course, there's bound to be confusion about this, since Gallup and its clients tend to highlight the likely voter (LV) rather than RV results, which, in this case, actually show Bush ahead by a point (49-48) . And then some media outlets tend to report the Kerry-Bush-Nader results, rather than the Kerry-Bush results, which further clouds the issue.

Let me reproduce, as a public service, my thinking about why you are well-advised, at this stage of the race, to pay more attention to RV than LV results, especially when both are reported. As for why it is preferable to look at Kerry-Bush matchup results, rather than Kerry-Bush-Nader results, I will refer you to a recent analysis I did on the issue.

There's been considerable confusion about which trial heat results to pay the most attention to at this point in the race. Here's my take, which should help clarify why I choose to focus on certain results over others.

One issue is likely voters (LVs) vs. registered voters (RVs). At this point, most polls are surveying only RVs and I believe that's appropriate and, in fact, preferable. It is way too early to put much faith in likely voter screens/models as representing very accurately the voters who will actually show up on election day. There is reasonable evidence that careful likely voter methodologies work well close to the election and do fairly accurately capture that pool of voters. But there is no such evidence for LV samples drawn this far out.

Indeed, my understanding is that Gallup does LVs this early not so much because they believe they are capturing election day voters this early, but more so that they can avoid having to explain sudden shifts in the horse race question as LV data replaces RV data in the fall (the traditional time to switch from RVs to LVs). There have apparently been some problems with this in the past, so reporting both from the very beginning of the campaign eliminates any potential embarrassments along these lines. But that doesn't mean the LV data is any better at this point in time--it merely means they're providing it.

In fact, since the sample size for LVs is smaller and since the composition of the LV sample will shift depending on how political developments are affecting interest and intensity levels among different groups of voters, additional volatility is built into the LV samples that is not there with the RV samples.

And then there are the comparability problems. LV samples are difficult even to compare to one another, since methodologies differ, and clearly can't be compared very well to RV samples, which are the bulk of polls at this time. That's another strike against paying much attention to LV results this early.


So, RVs and Kerry-Bush it is! Looking further at this match-up, Gallup shows Bush ahead by 8 points in the solid red states (won by Bush by 5 points or more in 2000), but Kerry ahead by 14 in the solid blue states (won by Gore by more than 5 points) and ahead by 9 in the purple states (decided by less than 5 points in 2000). And Kerry is carrying independents nationwide by 10 points and moderates by 24 points.

Pretty good news for Mr. Kerry. Some of you may have heard, though, that the latest Fox News poll has wildly different results from the ones just summarized. A bit later in the day I'll offer some comments on the Fox News "findings".

Good news from the

Good news from the provinces. A very recent (June 21-23) ARG poll of likely voters in Ohio has Kerry ahead by 6 (49-43), even with Nader in the mix. (He has an identical 6 point lead (50-44) when Nader is not included.) Polls taken in the last month or so have tended to show Bush ahead in this key state, so this is welcome news for the Kerry campaign.

Especially good news is Kerry's wide 15 point lead among independents (53-38). That's up from a 5 point Kerry lead in May. In Ohio, independents very much hold the balance since the numbers of Republican and Democratic voters in presidential elections are roughly equal and tend to be roughly equally polarized in favor of their candidate. In 2000, Bush won the state by 4 points and independents by 15 points. If Kerry can maintain anything like his current lead among Ohio's independents, Bush will be toast in the state.

Another June 21-23 ARG poll has Kerry ahead by a point (47-46) among likely voters in Florida; two points if Nader is not included (48-46). The key here is again independent voters--in 2000, Gore and Bush were dead-even among these voters in Florida. In this ARG poll, Kerry leads Bush by 13 among independents (51-38), up from a 7 point lead in May.

Finally, Kerry leads a Kerry-Bush matchup 49-43 in a just-released Quinnipiac University poll of Pennsylvania registered voters. In their late May poll, Kerry led by only 3 in this matchup. Again, independents are swinging Kerry's way, giving him a healthy 19 point lead (55-36). Pennsylvania independents also give Bush a stunningly low approval rating: 34 percent approval to 64 percent disapproval.

Theres some good news

There's some good news in the latest Annenberg Election Survey for President Bush. His overall approval rating in the poll, conducted June 8-21, is at the stratospheric level (for him these days) of 52 percent. (Note, however, that the latest Washington Post poll, conducted at the very end of the Annenberg period, June 17-20, pegged his approval rating at 47 percent, the Post poll's worst rating ever for him.)

The poll also found Bush's approval rating in specific areas like the economy and Iraq slightly improved over their late May levels, though still solidly net negative. And on a series of personal characteristics like "inspiring", "trustworthy" and "shares my values" Bush's ratings are generally up over their May values.

The bad news for Bush is that, among "persuadable voters"--that quarter of the electorate who seems open to changing their minds about which candidate to support--he has gone nowhere. In fact, on that series of personal characteristics I just mentioned, his ratings among persuadable voters have almost all gone down, not up, since the last Annenberg survey.

Moreover, only 27 percent of persuadable voters currently think the country is headed in the right direction, identical with the May figure. Bush's approval rating has actually slid a point--down to 44 percent--among these voters. And his approval ratings of the economy (31 percent approval/59 percent disapproval) and Iraq (26/68) are also slight declines from his already-abysmal May ratings.

And check out these figures for persuadable voters on Iraq-related issues, all more negative than they were last month. Only 34 percent of these voters feel the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, compared to 59 percent who feel it was not. Just 17 percent believe the war in Iraq has reduced the risk of terrorism against the United States, compared to 71 percent who believe it has increased that risk. And a mere 37 percent of persuadable voters want to keep the troops in Iraq until a stable government is formed, while 57 percent now say they want to bring the troops home as soon as possible.

I guess you could say the persuadable voters haven't been persuaded.

I agree with my

I agree with my friend and esteemed co-author, John Judis, that Kerry would be well-advised to put aside the "personal comfort" criterion in choosing a running mate. As John points out, the historical justification for ignoring that criterion is solid, while the justification for putting it front and center is thin.

So: back to politics. Who would help the ticket the most? Again, I agree with John that Edwards would likely help the most. I believe he would make a substantial contribution to increasing the ticket's appeal among white working class voters in culturally conservative swing states, especially where it is most necessary--outside of the unionized working class. Even if one assumes that Gephardt has appeal to the unionized rank-and-file of the working class, as opposed to labor leaders, that still leaves out the vast majority of the white working class--well over four-fifths. And it is among these non-unionized white working class voters that Democrats have had the most trouble and where Gore got really hammered in 2000.

One particular trouble spot is among those with some college--the upwardly striving working class. Because of severe underperformance among whites with this educational credential, Gore lost the group as a whole by 6 points in 2000. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, won them by 8 points in 1996.

Where is Kerry right now? Gallup data indicate that he has gone from a 6 point deficit among some college voters in early May to a 9 point advantage among this group in their early June poll. That's largely responsible for the overall shift in the horse race from a tie in early May to a 5 point Kerry advantage in the June poll.

Kerry needs to keep those some college voters down on the farm. One way that would help would be to select Edwards as his running mate. Regardless of whether he enjoys drinking beer and shooting pool with the guy.

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