How Kerry Overachieved in 2004- and What it Means for 2006

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.

Bookmark and Share

About Nick

Teacher of Social Studies. Born in the 1970s. History major, music minor. Big Baseball fan. Economic progressive.
Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to How Kerry Overachieved in 2004- and What it Means for 2006

  1. Ginny in CO says:

    I love the numbers as usual Nick. I have to disagree with voting for Democrats to vote against Bush.

    We can stress the need for the balance of a Democratic Congress on a GOP WH that is going over the line in too many areas.

    So retiring incumbent GOP Congressional candidates with 90% rubberstamp records will change both what Congress can do and what Bush will be able to do.

  2. Nick says:


    Thanks for the feedback. A very good point about a Democrat Congress to provide balance. Let’s be sure to use your balance line in ALL the states, we’ll confine my line about a vote for Democrats being a vote against Bush for the really blue states and/or districts that just happen to have a GOP incumbent. Sound like a good idea?

  3. lothario says:

    Hey Nick,

    Great numbers and an interesting analysis on the 04 election. If you include the great potential of election fraud than Kerry probably won election. I’m still convince JK may have won in 04.


  4. Pingback: The WB42 5:30 Report With Doug Krile

  5. Ginny in CO says:


    Given the Republican noise machine, the false liberal media bias, the religious grassroots and the GOP willingness to commit election fraud, it’s a wonder Democrats have been elected at all over the last 20 years.

    We are still here, there are some excellent leaders in the party and now that the GOP’s house of cards is falling down, the wind has changed. We have a very good chance to get back to the helm. We need a climate of support for those who have been fighting some of the most immoral legislators to ever track shtuff into the Capitol. We need the same reception for the people who are stepping up to run for Congress and face the long haul of cleaning up the stinking mess.

    The beauty of Nick’s stats are that the MSM/GOP portrayal of the Democratic Party as a weak minority isn’t supported by the numbers. Even the politicians don’t always get that. Especially the delusional GOP.

    Dante isn’t the only one who suspects election fraud cost Kerry (and the US) the election. The best exit pollster said he thought Kerry may have won by “a near landslide”.

    Until we get those machines replaced – the ones Diebold is shipping now across the country – we may have similar problems in Nov.

    And at that point Nick, I don’t care what gets people out to vote, as long as the numbers can overwhelm any election fraud we haven’t been able to stop.

  6. BlueWashington says:

    It was a great piece Nick.

    My take on it is this – if shrub is going to hand the DEMS an anvil, use it on him. There are lots of Blue States with GOPer CD’s in them, and plenty of Red States becoming more Pink. Hammer those S.O.B.s

    Stay in Iraq through 2008? The next president will have to make the decision to pull out? Shrub has fallen off his cracker. He’s nuts.
    Deficits have increased because of mandatory spending? What in the hell is he talking about? Has shrub looked at his own Medicare drug benefit? Hundreds of millions of dollars handed over to his friends in the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.
    Oh and lets not forget about the attempt to privatize Social Security!

    Yes, shrub and his GOPer pals have handed the DEMs a brand new shinny anvil. Now it’s time for shrub and his GOPers to play catch!

  7. Blue Washington

    I think Shrub planned to hand over hundreds of millions to his friends. Some people don’t get that through. We do need to hammer them!!!

    I’m still astounded by the audacity of “future presidents will decide”

  8. Marjorie G says:

    From day one, Bush neo-cons thought we were never leaving. Just more difficult to say stay, and get away with it.

  9. battlebob says:

    Great work Nick,

    Dumbo figures we will leave when the oil is all gone…
    Gotta lot of years of pumping left.

    Can you spell vote fraud?

    How will things be different in 2006 in that regard?

  10. Nick says:


    As far as vote fraud is concerned, I wish I had the answer. Getting as many Democratic governors in as many battleground states as possible would be a good start.
    While the national media tends to avoid coverage of gubernatorial races let’s face it- the history of the last 6 years would probably be a whole lot different if the GOP had not controlled the governorships of Florida and/or Ohio for the past 8 years (or more).