Political parties seeing historical parity
The presidential election is a parity party, panelists said Thursday at the sole public moment of this year’s American Enterprise Institute World Forum.American Enterprise Institute Fellow Norman Ornstein predicted that we’re in for an election potentially as close as the 2000 presidential race.”There could be three of four Floridas out there,” said Ornstein.Karlyn Bowman, also a member of the American Enterprise Institute, cited a Gallup study of 40,000 interviews in which people were asked about their political affiliation. Of those, 45.2 percent called themselves Republicans, 45.2 percent said they were Democrats, and only 10 percent were unaffiliated.”This electorate is becoming more entrenched,” said Ornstein. “I suggest one-third are very strongly committed, and another 10 percent on each side can be potentially moved.” “We’re in a rare period of partisan parity,” said Bowman, who added that some polls are more trustworthy than others. “Polls are like the locust, we’ve had a plague this year.”Bowman, Ornstein and American Enterprise Institute President Chris DeMuth hosted Thursday’s political discussion, which opened the 23rd annual World Forum. The event gathers international political and business leaders, such as President Gerald Ford and Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as scholars and policy experts, in informal, but closed-door discussions about global issues.
Presidential precedentsDeMuth said this is the ninth election in the last half century that involved an incumbent president. Of those previous eight, five were won by the incumbent. Historically, when races have been too close to call in June, the incumbent loses the election, DeMuth said. It’s mid-June and the race between Bush and Kerry is too close to call, but this election is too complicated to predict using those criteria, DeMuth said. When the body politic booted sitting president Jimmy Carter out of office in 1980, interest rates were running 20 percent and the economy was measured with the “misery index.””That’s not the case this time around,” said DeMuth.Carter lost to Ronald Reagan, whom Carter portrayed as an empty-headed redneck who couldn’t wait to put his finger on the button. It didn’t work for Carter.
DeMuth said Bush has three factors in his favor:• The economy is strengthening and should continue through the fall.• Foreign policy, not domestic, is a decisive issue.• Two-thirds of presidents have been governors or generals. Only three have been legislators, like Kerry, and only one beat an incumbent.When those factors are combined, DeMuth implied the Democrats could have chosen a stronger candidate. “This Democratic candidate, John Kerry, at least historically, is weak,” said DeMuth.How will we choose?Ornstein said in an incumbent election, the election is all about the incumbent. The debate is all about the challenger.
“The question voters will ask, and answer, is whether this guy deserves another four years?” said Ornstein. “If they say ‘yes,’ it doesn’t matter who the challenger is. He could be the second coming of FDR. It wouldn’t matter.”It’s still early in the election cycle. Ornstein said events in the weeks just before the election in September and October will determine the winner. Bowman said if something horrible happens to the country – a terrorist attack, an economic downturn, a political scandal – the president has real trouble. If something wonderful happens – Osama bin Laden is captured – the president will be unbeatable.”The paradox is the electorate faces an extraordinarily fluid and volatile situation of events,” said Bowman.As hard fought as this campaign will be, the rhetorical bombs won’t fall on much of the country. Those states are already safely in either the Kerry (blue) or Bush (red) column. The rest, like Colorado, are battleground states.”For two-thirds of the people, there is no campaign,” said Ornstein. “Their states are not in play.”The good news (for committed states), is that you won’t be inundated with political commercials, mostly negative.” The bad news, for battleground states, is that you will.Generally, voters don’t even begin paying attention until the weeks immediately prior to the campaign. That might not be the case this time around.
“There is a high level of intensity in this election. People are engaged,” Bowman said. “We see it in terms of the money. John Kerry has raised $100 million in the past three months.” But George Bush still holds a huge margin in campaign money raised.Ornstein said the last few weeks have been rough for Bush, who has slipped below a 50 percent approval rating. He has spiked as high as 90 percent approval, but hovers around 52 percent normally. Traditional wisdom has it that if the president has a 53 percent approval ratings, he should be fine on election day. At 47 percent approval ratings, he should start looking for another job.In a campaign that will be this fiercely contested, in which both sides will pour everything they have into it, Ornstein said the losing party will likely emerge even more bitter and vicious. The winner of this election faces the “Herculean task of bringing the country together.””The best way to win is to convince voters that if the other guy wins, Armageddon is upon us,” Ornstein said.Bowman said when the smoke clears from the battlefield of ideas, we’d do well to remember that democracy, American style, still works better than anything else.”The election of 2004 is the 55th time that Americans have gone to the polls freely, more than any other country in the world,” said Bowman. “When we hear that the campaigns are too long, too expensive, consider the success that represents.”