One thing about presidential elections, especially when an incumbent is running, that is often forgotten is that presidents tend to get virtually the exact same percent of the vote as their job approval ratings on Election Day. Of course those who approve or disapprove of a president may not show up at the polls so an even more accurate sense of how voters view the president is to ask those who actually vote. The Exit polls of actual voters in 2004 is a good place to start.
At a time when Bush has approval ratings in the mid-30s, it is useful first to remember that at no time in his first term did Bush have a disapproval rating higher than his approval rating. Except for a brief period in Spring 2004 (during the initial Abu Gharib revelations) Bush never had approval ratings below 50% during his first term. To make a long story short, the chances of a president with approval ratings of 50% or more losing re-election are even less than the chances of a Dick Cheney hunting trip being a safe venture. Yet Kerry almost pulled it off.
In many states Bush got almost the same percent of the vote as his job approval rating, e.g. his approval rating in Nebraska was 66% as was his percent of the vote in Nebraska. In only a couple of very solid red states did Bush get a greater percent of the vote than his already high approval rating in those states.
Here’s the catch: Bush had approval ratings of 50% or more among voters in 35 states. Yet Bush only won 31 states. In the 16 states (15 states plus Washington DC) Bush had approval ratings below 50%. Kerry won all 16 of those states-as he should have. In four states a majority of actual voters approved of Bush’s job performance-but gave a majority of their votes to John Kerry.
In New Hampshire and Michigan Bush had approval/disapproval ratings of 50%/49%- Kerry won NH 50%-49% and Michigan 51%-48%. In Pennsylvania Bush had ratings of 51% approve, 48% disapprove- but Kerry beat Bush 51%-48% in that state. Most dramatic was Wisconsin. In that state Bush had an approval rating of 54%, disapproval 46%. But Kerry beat Bush in Wisconsin 50%-49%- a 5% shift away from Bush.
A similar shift away from Bush was afoot in some blue states. Bush’s approval/ disapproval numbers in California was 46%/52%. A six point difference morphed into a pro-Kerry voting gap of 10% in votes (54%-44%). Bush had an approval rating in 49% in Hawaii, but only won 45% of the vote there.
OK Nick, if he overachieved, why did Kerry lose? Simply put, he didn’t overachieve enough. Bush had an approval rating that was too high in too many battleground states. In Florida Bush’s approval/disapproval rating was 54/45- Bush won the state 52%-47%. In New Mexico the Bush approval rating was 53%-Bush barely won the state 49.8%-49.1%. In Nevada Bush had 53% approval rating to 46% disapproval- yet Bush won only beat Kerry 50%-48%.
The most dramatic examples are Iowa and (you guessed it) Ohio. In Iowa Bush had an approval rating of 54%, disapproval rating 46%. Yet Kerry managed to close the gap to a very narrow 49.8%-49.3% Bush victory. In Ohio, the approval/disapproval rating for Bush was 53%/46%. Final vote total: 51%-49%. Had Kerry been able to shift 5% of the Bush approval voters to his side-like he did in Wisconsin- Kerry wins the election and Bush becomes the only president in history to lose and election in which a majority of Americans approve of the job he’s doing.
So what does all this mean for 2006? Think about it. If Dems can come so close to winning, pick up state legislature seats and-outside the South- pick up House and Senate seats, at a time when a majority of Americans approved of Bush, imagine what Democrats could do now that Bush has an approval rating of 36%!
In 2002 Bush was an asset to Republicans in the 2002 midterms and had a majority of Americans supporting him in 2004. Can anyone make that arguement now? I wonder how many seats Democrats can pickup if they frame the 2006 mideterms as “a vote for Democrats is a vote against Bush” the now unpopular president.
Next: The Iraq approval number that the MSM ignored-and was The Key to Bush’s victory.