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2004 President

Sabato's Crystal Ball

A Look Back, A Look Forward

What an election! Whether you liked or disliked the outcome, surely you must agree that this contest will be remembered by history. We have not seen such intensity since 1968, and not coincidentally, the turnout of eligible adult Americans appears to have been larger in 2004 than any presidential year since…1968. We’re proud of our record at the Crystal Ball, having forecast 525 of 530 contests correctly–a 99 percent accuracy rating. We missed one Senate race, one House race, one governor’s race, and two states in the Electoral College, and like all political analysts reading the election returns, we are kicking ourselves for getting those wrong! But it was our best year ever, and we are thrilled. Now it’s on to the 2004 post-election book. We’ll soon have an announcement about ARMAGEDDON: The Bush-Kerry Contest (New York: Pearson/Longman, 2005). A terrific cast of first-rate academics, journalists, and political observers has joined forces to produce the analysis for this forthcoming volume. At the appropriate time, we’ll send you the details so you can order a copy, should you be so inclined. We will save our analysis for that venue, but don’t forget several points: The Perfect Majority Theorem: The “perfect majority”

Larry J. Sabato

Bush Captures Second Term

It’s impossible to fully understand the results of the 2004 presidential election without first reexamining the 2000 results. The map created by the Bush-Gore race illustrated the country’s division into the “tolerant” Blue States and the “traditional” Red States, and appeared to be one that would stay with us for a while. Based primarily on differences over prominent social issues–gay rights, abortion, guns, affirmative action–the differences illustrated by this map reemerged in 2004, with very few exceptions. Going into the 2004 election, George Bush had already increased his Electoral College lead from 2000 by seven votes, due to the reapportionment following the 2000 census. To that total it appears as if he will add those of Iowa (7) and New Mexico (5), while losing New Hampshire’s four electoral votes, and end up with a total of 286. John Kerry, had he won the same states that Gore won in 2000, would automatically have received seven fewer electoral votes. Combined with the projected final results, Kerry will finish with 252. Your Crystal Ball predicted that at least 40 to 45 states would remain the same “color” as they were in 2000, and that proved to be the case. Specifically, just three

Matt Smyth

The Final Predictions

As we conclude this amazing election campaign, we have just one question for our readers: When has an incumbent candidate ever won when he is tied with his challenger on election eve? The answer is never–at least in the age of polling that began in the 1930s. So George W. Bush needs to beat history, and the polls, to win the election tomorrow. It is possible that the vagaries of the Electoral College will enable Bush to eke out a victory, and it is also possible that the Republican Party’s get out the vote effort will equal or exceed the Democrats’ GOTV efforts. But if the Democrats are even half-right about the potential of their GOTV in producing additional new voters, then Kerry will win, perhaps more comfortably than anyone now suspects. In just the last 48 hours, we have watched the following polls come in absolutely dead even: CNN/USA Today/Gallup, The Gallup Poll, ABC News/Washington Post, Fox News, and Reuters/Zogby. Add to this, these national surveys which have a statistical tie: CBS News/New York Times, NBC/Wall Street Journal, Pew Research, and Rasmussen. What impressed us the most is that the distinguished Gallup poll, which began its service to the

Larry J. Sabato

Young People: They’re registered, but will they vote?

Recent registration efforts have mobilized young people in an unprecedented fashion. According to the recent Ipsos/GENEXT Presidential Poll ( released this week, nearly one in three registered voters under 30 have registered to vote within the past six months. The registration efforts seem to have had the most impact on 18 to 21 year olds, women with no more than a high-school education, unmarried parents, and those who still live with their parents. Young voters are also more likely to be contacted by non-partisan organizations (like Rock the Vote or the Center for Politics) than by political parties. With numbers similarly reflecting the attitudes of their older counterparts, young voters remain critical of Bush’s job performance, with more than half voicing their disapproval. In general, most young people do not have well defined loyalty to a particular political party; yet, the Ipsos poll shows that the young people who consider themselves likely to vote favor Kerry (52 percent) over Bush (42 percent). Is this the year that young voters show up to vote and determine the outcome of the election? Is polling skewed because pollsters aren’t taking into account the huge upswing in voter registration among young people? Maybe, but

Joshua Scott

Tight as a Tick

George W. Bush has a slight edge in the last week of the election, but his lead is paper-thin. It must be worrisome to his campaign that he is currently lacking a 3 percent to 5 percent polling advantage in many essential battleground states. Bush may well need this beyond-the-margin-of-error buffer to overcome the torrid Democratic antipathy to the president that could easily produce a larger-than-expected Democratic turnout on Election Day. And let’s not forget the Crystal Ball’s assessment that the remaining, hard undecided voters–perhaps 4 percent to 5 percent of the electorate–are still inclined to break against Bush, possibly by a sizeable margin. (Yes, some won’t vote, but those that do are probably going to tilt to Kerry by 55 percent to 45 percent or even more.) Given the 2000 election results, Bush appears to have a slim overall popular vote lead, but he is not doing as well in many of the key battleground states necessary for an Electoral College victory. (Bush is performing better than he did in 2000 in Democratic states such as Michigan and New Jersey, increasing his chances to capture the elusive popular vote; still, we’ll see if this holds up once the inevitable

Larry J. Sabato

Baseball and the 2004 Election

Yesterday the political world was abuzz with talk of a potential World Series match up between the Boston Red Sox from John Kerry’s home state of Massachusetts and the Houston Astros from George Bush’s home state of Texas. Never has there been a team from the home state of each presidential candidate, and the St. Louis Cardinals ensured that this streak will continue for another four years. However, the possibility spurred your Crystal ball to wonder: is there any correlation between the success of a team from the same state as a presidential candidate in the Fall Classic, and that candidate’s performance on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November? In the 5 years that the team from the state of a presidential candidate has won, the corresponding candidate has won an impressive 4 times, with the only exception being Al Smith in 1928. Two of these occasions were made easier when both teams in the series hailed from the same state: the New York Yankees beat the New York Giants and Franklin Roosevelt won in 1936, and in 1944 the St. Louis Cardinals beat St. Louis Browns and Harry Truman was elected vice president, but became president

Matt Smyth

2004 as the Bizzaro Election of 1916

All the way back in May, the Crystal Ball explored the possibility of “Bush as Truman” ( in order to give some historical perspective for the 2004 election. It seems like eons have passed in the political world since the beginning of the summer, and while we gear up for the remaining 11 days before the event that will significantly impact the country’s future, we would like to provide our readers with another glimpse into the past. In many ways, the election of 1916 that produced the narrow reelection of Woodrow Wilson bears a striking resemblance to the events and possible outcomes surrounding the current contest. However, many of the details and characteristics are virtually mirror images of today. In that sense, we present “2004 as the Bizzaro Election of 1916.” Bear with us and we will explain, but first, the particulars. President Wilson came into the 1916 contest with a list of domestic accomplishments, but the race was dominated by foreign affairs and the ongoing world war in Europe. He was unopposed for the Democratic nomination in June, and faced Republican Charles Evans Hughes in the general election. In an effort to unite the party, Republicans had turned to

Matt Smyth

So Close and Yet So Far

Our title refers to two climactic realities. With just 14 days to go in this remarkable election, both candidates are close to victory, yet distant in some ways from the 270 electoral-vote finish line. Moreover, these last 14 days will seem like 14 weeks. What happens in them will determine the winner; many events will be squeezed into the days; and surprises that could be decisive may occur. Let’s examine the possibilities: No one can any longer dispute that the debates helped John Kerry in some ways. But, a victory by a classic debater is not the same as an election triumph, since sometimes the audience can sympathize with, or root for, the less-skilled debater. If most polls are correct in suggesting that Bush has opened up a slight lead again, after the margin had closed to a tie during the debates, then we suspect that a majority of the audience did indeed rate Kerry the winner, but sympathized more with Bush in the end. In the greatest miscalculation of the campaign so far, the Bush team negotiated a clumsy set of rules that favored Kerry (such as the tight time limit, forcing Kerry to drop the unappealing windbag language

Larry J. Sabato

The Sprint to the Finish Line

Oh, what a horse race we have on the track: two political thoroughbreds at full gallop! It is as tight as a tick, with all the excitement for which anyone could have hoped. Just three weeks remain–weeks that will fly by, but also move agonizingly slowly for those with a stake in the results (and that includes all of us). We know the storyline. A highly popular, post-9/11 president entered the election year on the wane, mainly because of Iraq and secondarily because of a stubbornly weak economy. Once Democrat John Kerry emerged as George W. Bush’s opponent in March, he began to build a lead which, while never large, suggested that the incumbent was in deep trouble. The selection of a popular running-mate, John Edwards, and an apparently successful national convention made Kerry seem the likely November choice. Then came the Swift Boat Vets and the much better organized national GOP convention–and Bush was back. Kerry’s sluggishness in responding to the Vets, and the success of the Republicans’ “flip-flop” charges against him, gave Bush a healthy and fairly steady 5 to 6 percent lead through September. Then came the first televised debate on September 30th–which Kerry indisputably won, judging

Larry J. Sabato

The Brutal Bottom Line

President It’s all about Bush, the incumbent, especially after John Kerry’s success in the first presidential debate in shifting the focus back to the performance of the Bush administration. The people will vote “thumbs up/thumbs down” based on Bush’s handling of the twin challenges of a shaky economy and a continuing war in Iraq. Just as with his father’s presidency, “Dubya” has faced a difficult election year. Off and on, Bush has some good news to trumpet on the economy: hundreds of thousands of new jobs have been created in the past year, and most other basic economic indicators appear to be turning upwards. However, Bush’s achievements on the economy are not clear cut, and more importantly they have been overshadowed for much of the year by the somewhat unpopular Iraq war and its aftermath. The abuse of Iraqi prisoners shook the administration to its foundation, and the 9/11 Commission was a coup for the Democrats–with most of the riveting testimony and the final report used to undermine Bush’s claims to successful leadership in the war on terror. On the other hand, the handover of authority from Americans to Iraqis on June 28 appeared to have quieted the situation somewhat–though

Larry J. Sabato

To Repeat: Debates Matter

Over the past several weeks, your Crystal Ball has received several dozen e-mails from Bush supporters, chiding us for not declaring the election and certifying their strongly held view that President Bush was the inevitable winner. Now, to their regret and sadness, our friends on the right have their answer, and perhaps they can see why we wrote in mid-September that “we insist the election is not over yet, despite the impressive efforts of many to bring down the curtain six week s early.” Yes, conservatives may well be correct that, in the end, Bush will win–but it wasn’t proven by the presidential face-off we all witnessed on Sept. 30. The first presidential debate has changed the calculus of 2004–at least temporarily–and so at this stage of an extremely competitive campaign, President Bush no longer appears to be the certain choice of voters on Nov. 2. Caution is in order, since this new reality can be transformed quickly by a different result in the second or third debate (more on this later). However, as the Crystal Ball insisted on Sept. 14, “Debates do matter…and perhaps more so in a ma cro-issue year like this. Voters are unsettled to varying degrees

Larry J. Sabato

The Old College Tie

Nobody could have predicted the political circus that ensued on Nov. 8, 2000. With Florida’s 25 electoral votes hanging in the balance, a controversial Supreme Court decision ended the 36-day battle for control of the White House. Of all the close elections in the last century, only the 2000 election produced a president with an Electoral College majority but without a popular vote plurality. If the election were held today, the Crystal Ball would give George W. Bush another narrow win in the Electoral College with 284 votes. However, Election Day is still 41 days away and Thursday’s debate in Miami is a significant milestone on the road to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Much can change between now and Nov. 2, and the end result could be an Electoral College tie making the turmoil of 2000 fade from the memory of this highly polarized electorate. Americans like to see a decisive winner and a loser. Sure, when it comes to a Little League game, “everybody is a winner!” But when the stakes are high, somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. Just two years ago the nation was completely confused when the Major League Baseball All-Star Game ended after

Peter Jackson

It’s Over!

No, not the presidential contest, but at long last, the nomination season for Senate, House and Governor came to an end with Hawaii the last state to cross the nomination finish line last week. This expansive nation of 50 states now takes almost nine months just to fill the party berths on the ballot from sea to shining sea. So what does the big picture resemble, with 42 days until the Nov. 2nd election? Overall, things look moderately good for the Republican party. Remember–and we emphasize this up front–conditions could change, especially in the presidential contest, and we plan to update all these predictions on a weekly basis from now until Election Day. It matters considerably whether or not George W. Bush can maintain his lead, for presidential coattail will be a factor in marginal House and Senate contests, and perhaps even in some close gubernatorial battles. The Bush Lead By our best estimate, Bush currently leads at the top of the ballot by about 5 percent nationally. Note that this is not the overwhelming lead of 14 percent suggested last week by the CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey, but neither is the contest the tie projected by Pew, Harris, and other

Larry J. Sabato

The Debate Debate

The candidates’ representatives are hard at work debating the debates–how many there should be, the topics, the conditions, and all the rest. In this hyper-partisan year, every detail will be fought over, even though little of it will matter in the end. Debates do matter, however, and perhaps more so in a macro-issue year like this. Voters are unsettled to varying degrees about the incumbent, but they haven’t been sold on the challenger’s alternatives, either. We assume the candidates will get beyond comparing war records from Vietnam and discuss seriously the things voters care most about: the war on terror, Iraq, jobs and the economy, health care, education, etc. Cynics may not believe it, but the candidates are very likely to be exceptionally substantive and policy oriented. The proof? Previous presidential debates in the TV age (1960, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000). We challenge you to review the tapes and the transcripts. Sure, there are plenty of canned sound bites, but the presidential nominees usually grappled–really grappled–with the pressing issues of the day. Moreover, there was almost always a revealing moment or two, unscripted and unexpected, that told voters something important about the candidates. Those aforementioned cynics

Larry J. Sabato

The Labor Day Assessment

Labor Day ain’t what it used to be. For generations the official start of the campaign, now it is merely a milestone indicating the beginning of the end. The presidential contest has been going full-tilt for a year and a half already! Yet with the conclusion of the Republican National Convention, we can look at the final two months and plot out the path to Nov. 2. Our readers tend to be busy people, so we like to keep it short and to the point. Here goes: Campaigns are living organisms and they have phases of growth and decline, strength and weakness, good luck and ill fortune–sometimes with pain that is self-inflicted. There is an eerie, anthropomorphic resemblance between candidate campaigns and Mother Nature’s hurricanes, as we sit and watch Frances tear through the ultimate swing-state of Florida. Each storm is named, it has its own unique pattern of life and death, and it wanders, strengthens, and weakens over time, defying many of the flawed predictions of forecasters. After a seven-month period of difficulty for the Bush campaign, it is now the Kerry campaign’s turn. The Swift Boat Vets story damaged Kerry, and his not-so-swift response throughout August hurt even

Larry J. Sabato