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Bush, Kerry neck-and-neck and still losing supporters

Posted: Thursday, July 01, 2004

It is becoming crystal clear that George W. Bush and John Kerry are virtually guaranteed a down-to-the-wire battle for the White House. What should be troubling to both candidates is that they are trending slightly downward in their overall support. The latest InsiderAdvantage survey, conducted with our research partners The Marketing Workshop, asked the following: If the presidential election were held today, for whom would you vote?

George W. Bush: 42 percent

John Kerry: 40 percent

Ralph Nader: 4 percent

Someone else: 4 percent

Undecided: 10 percent

The poll was conducted June 25-26 among 500 voters nationwide and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

For those who have followed our monthly surveys of this race, it should stand out that the combined categories of Nader/Someone else/Undecided now seems to be growing. Normally, by this point in the race, it should be shrinking. A full 18 percent of respondents currently support neither Bush nor Kerry.

Where these voters ultimately will land, if they vote at all, is anyone's guess. The highly charged political climate has pushed decided voters definitely into one camp or another.

For months, the lead has flip-flopped between Bush and Kerry, but always by small increments. We have not seen such low levels of support for the two frontrunners at any point in our months of polling.

With so many "wildcard" voters out there, it's reasonable to start asking: What on Earth, if anything, might move them to take sides? Will it be something like the surprise early turnover of Iraq to the new coalition government? Only if there is smooth sailing for the Iraqi leadership in a land where smooth sailing is virtually impossible.

Could it be a sudden decision on the part of Americans to cling to Kerry's current messages of a tax cut "for the middle class," coupled with promises of health care for all? Only if he can answer how all of that can be achieved without increasing the very fiscal deficit he so loudly denounces.

It's looking more and more like this race will hinge on last-minute words, national events, some major slip-up by one of the candidates, or perhaps something as unexpected as, say, a movie.

Michael Moore is clearly a man on an extremely biased mission. He and those who backed his documentary-motion picture "Fahrenheit 9/11" make no bones about their hope that the film's success will influence particularly younger voters by infuriating them and provoking them to turn out to vote against Bush in record numbers.

There are plenty of writers who have already done an excellent job of dissecting Moore's work. They've pointed out various inconsistencies and misleading edits. That's all well and good, but Republicans should realize that this loud and somewhat obnoxious fellow has met with huge success in his movie's first weekend of release.

It would be dangerous for Bush supporters to underestimate the power of pop culture to influence politics. Bill Clinton captured the hearts of many young or independent voters by simply playing the saxophone on TV. And believe me, Moore's message has none of Clinton's subtlety. It is a Scud missile lobbed in the lazy days of summer, designed to move voters, truth or correctness be damned.

If the Republicans think they can counter Moore with their usual conservative talking heads, they are wrong. Moore has taken to the hip streets, not the cozy world of talk television. Even the cotton-candy-conservative blonde bombshells of the Beltway can't match the clever approach of this assassin with a camera.

It would be wise for the Bush team to start putting together their own creative and youthful response to Moore's popular message. Too often, conservatives react to this type of outside-the-box approach to politics by either pooh-poohing it or sending aged messengers to criticize the effort. Then they look like the old geezers who denounced Elvis or wanted to burn Beatles albums.

This race is truly freaky. Those devoted to the two candidates are dwindling, and one-sided Hollywood types are occupying center stage. Hang on, America, this may become the most bizarre election in history.

Matt Towery is chair of InsiderAdvantage, which works in conjunction with The Marketing Workshop to conduct polls for his syndicated column. He is based in Jacksonville, Fla.



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