Though one or another poll is occasionally startling, by suggesting narrower margins, there are excellent reasons for crediting Gallup as especially reliable, not least because the organization thoroughly absorbed the lessons of the 1948 debacle, and now strives mightily to filter out non-voters. Note, for example, that Gallup’s polls do not exhibit the volatility shown by other surveys this year. As a consequence, one is squeezed to the conclusion that the president’s progress has been feeble indeed. At this late date now well into the “incremental stage where additional voters have historically been won almost one at a time, the president needs to break the record for making up ground after the conventions. One must suspect that the constant invocation of the deity at the GOP Convention was less an electoral ploy than a hardheaded assessment of where the president’s best hope now resides. As an exercise, however, it is worth asking how an “October surprise” might affect the race. At the moment, the most likely “surprise” is probably the unveiling of some sort. of Mideast Peace Settlement along the lines of Jimmy Carter’s Camp David Accord, though it is interesting to note that some timetables mentioned by the press in connection with the South African talks also work out rather well for a late White House announcement of a timely intervention. Though conventional wisdom holds that most Americans care little about foreign affairs, Camp David gave the slumping Carter a sizeable lift: 11 points in a Gallup Poll taken shortly after. This poll, however, was of the normal “presidential approval” type it did not pit the president against a challenger. Making the very generous indeed, absurd assumption that three quarters of the 11 percent might have been induced to vote for Carter against a challenger, we arrive at an “upper bound” estimate of the electoral effect of an October surprise: perhaps eight points at the very best \(and most improbable: A better projection is that the president would be One can also roughly estimate how a “mudslinging” campaign, along the lines of 1988, will fare this year. Making the heroic assumption that all, opinion change in 1988, after the poll following the GOP convention, was the result of skillful mud throwing \(and that the GOP cannot realistically expect to do better than figure of about half a point a week, or a full point a fortnight, as ,the “best estimate” of what the 1992 Bush effort can hope for. In recent days, The Wall Street Journal and some Republicans have begun comparing Bush’s chances to that of British Prime Minister John Major, who triumphed earlier this year. But British campaigns are very short by American standards, whereas the message of the 1976 and 1988 races seems to be that soon after the conventions are over, many Americans feel they have seen enough to decide. In politics it is foolish ever to say “never.” Every time the race closes up, Republican hearts along with those of the media will flutter. Still, the historical record on Presidential comebacks indicates that the president is prob ably too far behind at too late a stage in the election to win unless, of course, God really is a registered Republican. Not all forecasts of an eventual Bush victory amount to grasping at straws. In particular, one very highly regarded statistical model that predicts presidential election outcomes, developed by Yale economist Ray Fair, calls for a Bush victory by a substantial margin. Fair has developed and tested a variety of formulations ‘since the mid-’70s. The version he now uses tries to predict the Democratic share of the two-party vote based on the growth rate of real per capita Gross National Product in the second and third quarters of the year of the election, the inflation rate in the preceding two years, and whether or not the incumbent is running for re-election. His model’s track record is impressive: its average error for the last six elections is a mere 1.1 percentage points \(though in close elections, like, for example, 1976 or 1968, this was not sufficient to prevent misThis year the model speaks in stentorian tones: Though the weakness of the American economy is a major election issue and many economic indicators are truly alarming, the numbers that are relevant for Fair’s model are far from fatal for the Republicans. Indeed, they suggest that the President should win by a fairly hefty margin. Why then is the Bush campaign stalled? A brief response runs as follows. Let us first accept the findings of what I consider the best existing accounts of why people vote as they do. As first formulated by Stanley Kelley of Princeton \(and extended by his student John gests that almost no one votes on the basis of a single issue. People instead make up their minds by summing up sets of considerations for and against particular parties and candidates, and voting for the one they like the most or dislike the least. Now many voters include considerations about the economy in their lists of issues they care about. As a consequence, while few voters cast ballots simply on the basis of the economy, broad changes in the economy nevertheless affect many voters at the margin. Because it correctly focuses on the marginal issue for many voters, Fair’s model usually works well. This year, however, things look different in many senses. Because of the intense popular discussions of American economic decline, and perhaps some peculiar features of the current economic recovery \(in which, to exaggerate for clarity, profits, but not , jobs, are recovmany voters are “reading” the usual economic facts differently and paying more attention to economic indicators they usually ignore. \(This ‘is perhaps clearest with the many voters who supported Paul Tsongas or Ross Perot, but these candidates surely have no monopoly on anxizens are going to vote differently from what the model which in its present form, does not make explicit use of, say, consumer confidence measures predicts. At best, the president can hope for a squeaker, rather than the relatively easy time the model forecasts. This is Texas today. A state full of Sunbelt boosters, strident anti-unionists, oil and gas companies, nuclear weapons and power plants, political hucksters, underpaid workers and toxic wastes, to mention a few. I ir r.t ..p fillt,Evt . -,0ii i i +’,c, 4′ 14, olt,t A lit \\\\ …. ……., 41 -%.7.A. i iii.: 0, 1 .’-‘ s i ^: `’ -+ V -,.`* Y t’l* . Q ‘ ilk , ta. ,,,. SEW ., ,..:, . Ak BUT DO NOT DESPAIR! ,_THE TEXAS 1 IP server TO SUBSCRIBE: Name Address City State Zip $32 enclosed for a one-year subscription. Bill me for $32. 307 West 7th, Austin, TX 78701 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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