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Thursday, June 10, 2004

Flip flops

I've been thinking about John Kerry's alleged "flip flop" problem, which was documented in the latest LA Times poll.
when asked which candidate was more likely to flip-flop on issues, almost twice as many named Kerry than Bush.
I guess those Bush commercials have accomplished something.

The Bush campaign certainly wants to label Kerry a flip flopper. The President, in contrast, is to be viewed as a firm and decisive leader. These ideas, apparently, help make the "war on terror" a potentially winning issue for Bush. Americans want firm and decisive action against terrorism.

This is potentially quite bad for the Democrat: Kerry voted for the war and plays up his service experience. However, if voters want someone strong, and if there's no big difference between the candidates on security issues, why change? Stick with Bush. However, if Kerry reverses course and tries to use Iraq against the incumbent, he's simply a weak and opportunistic flip flopper. Vote for Bush.

Heads I win, tails you lose.

However, there's good new for Kerry in the latest poll data. First, he's beating Bush nationally 51% to 44%. Add Nader and it is 48% to 42% (meaning, apparently, that some Bush voters prefer Nader).

Even better, however, is this poll finding: the country wants a giant flip flop:
Nearly three-fifths believe the nation is on the wrong track, the highest level a Times poll has recorded during Bush's presidency.

Also, 56% said America "needs to move in a new direction" because Bush's policies have not improved the country.
The Times pointed out that the Bush people have perhaps gone overboard with the flip flop thing:
By a resounding 58% to 16%, poll respondents said the phrase "too ideological and stubborn" applied more to Bush than to Kerry.
As I blogged last month, even many conservatives think this administration is driven too much by ideology.

I think this data means that Kerry is succeeding in part because of his liberalism. You know, the classic definitions that imply an interest in reform and progress, willingness to change, and broad-mindedness.

Americans are basically liberal -- especially in the face of bad news. "Stay the course" only works if the course is good. In 1988, George Herbert Walker Bush could rely upon peace and prosperity to "stay the course" against Michael Dukakis.

We currently have neither peace nor prosperity. The country is longing for a flip flopper.

Furthermore, as Matt Yglesias points out:
Americans really do want the government to solve their problems, clean their air and water, educate their children, cure their sick, and keep them safe from terrorists and defective products.
These battles were fought and won in the 1980s, and Clintonism sealed it. In 2000, more Americans voted for these ideas than for Bush's ideas (concealed as they were in "compassionate conservatism," made up so as to sound more than a little bit liberal).

Bush is going to lose.

Billmon at the Whiskey Bar makes another related and interesting point about the election when he explains why Bush is not getting a bounce in the polls from the 24 hour Reagan-Fest.

Borrowing from the world of product advertising, Billmon notes:
But one of the concepts that stuck in my head was the idea of the "contrast gainer" - or, conversely, the "contrast detractor."

The idea is that product comparisons can be critical, particularly in visual ads. To use a crude example: If you put a bouquet of carnations next to a bouqet of flowers, the carnations look ... ordinary, drab even. But if you put the carnations next to a bucket of manure, they look vivid, fresh, colorful, etc. For carnations, manure is a contrast gainer; roses a contrast detractor.
Kerry is a good contrast to Bush, Bush is a poor contrast to both Reagan and Kerry.

Fortunately, Kerry isn't running against Reagan and the Republicans aren't going to be able to make Americans think that he is, even if the Bush campaign website features 100% Reagan photos and visuals.

Update: Speaking of "contrast detraction," I should have included Kevin Drum's line, "The problem with comparing Bush to Reagan is that Bush comes off as a mediocre painter trying to emulate Picasso."

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