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Jewish World Review Oct. 28, 2004 / 13 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

James Lileks

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Parsing the Polls | The election is over. The Weekly Reader has spoken. The authoritative organ of the playground demographic has taken a poll, and President Bush hammered Sen. John Kerry 60 percent to 40 percent. Darth Rove's outreach is working, it seems. But don't worry, Kerry fans — the poll is irrelevant. What do kids know? Doesn't mean Bush will win; they're little brainwashed robots who are just repeating what they hear at home.

Oh. Right. Well, it still doesn't mean that 60 percent of the homes are going for Bush. The poll has no use beyond its cutesy-poo novelty. It's like a dog walking on hind legs. Doesn't mean all dogs will be standing erect and demanding pants, let alone a permanent rollback of the estate tax. Granted, the poll has been right before; it did pick Bush in 2000. And Clinton in 1996, and 1992. And it was right in 1988, 1984, 1980, 1976, 1972, 1968, 1964, 1960 and 1956. So what?

Let's look at the internals of the poll. (That's what people say when they want to sound like they're in the know. Crack the rib cage and poke around the internals.) Aha! Bush is actually down among 6-year-old children whose parents are registered to vote but couldn't get off the sofa if the house were on fire and the election judges were handing out free buckets of water. He's trending flat among 8-year-olds whose parents are likely to vote, but only for "American Idol." Kerry is up among 12-year-olds who are just beginning to grasp the power of annoying Mom and Dad. Ralph Nader is polling strongly with that one weird kid who studies college algebra and eats paste. And there are the undecideds, who might cast a write-in vote for "Homer Simpson's Butt," then laugh uncontrollably.

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So it's not so clear. It's like the Giddyup battleground state polls, which show Bush up 3 and Kerry down 940, except for the Zogmussan tracking poll, which showed Kerry up by pi among Hmongs and dependents of class-action suit victors, although the internals there are tricky because it turns out they just called this one guy's house and left it at that. Hey, it was Friday. Five o'clock. C'mon. Big whoop.

Then again, three-day averaged tracking polls show it's Al Sharpton/Pat Buchanan in a write-in vote, if the base doesn't turn out. This is unlikely, since the Democratic base has consistently polled as "somewhat extremely likely to want Bush dragged screaming into the woods by rutting bears," and the Republicans split 50-50 over whom they want to burst out in girlie-tears, Michael Moore or Al Franken. If the base does show up, you should trust the polls that show a 45 percent chance Kerry or Bush will be elected, with a 95 percent chance that both will be elected, and the election will be decided on Inauguration Day as both candidates whup the tar out of each other behind the bleachers. Plus or minus six points, weighted for race, weather conditions and whether "Judging Amy" is a rerun.

The Electoral College polls are a bit different. If you count voters who voted once in '76 and have fond memories of watching Jimmy Carter's acceptance speech — or was that a "Hee Haw" rerun? — then Kerry will not only win but ascend to heaven on gossamer wings, thence to judge the quick and the dead. Under this scenario Bush gets two electoral votes, from one of those apocryphal states like West Dakota or North Idaho. If you count those highly motivated voters who have been crouched in the blocks for the last week, waiting for the starter's pistol at dawn of Nov. 2, then it's a dead heat. Unless you factor out absentee ballots and factor in fraudulent registrations, adjusting for overseas military ballots and AOL Internet polls where you can vote 60 times an hour.

As we've been saying all along — could be a tie, could be a 20-point blowout. A tight race, in other words. Whatever the outcome, the polls didn't see it coming. Unless they did. Will you live and die by the polls next election? Survey says yes, by a 10-point margin.

Plus or minus 11.

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JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


10/20/04: Kerry's Senate Record is a 78 played at 33 RPM
10/14/04: Meaning of War on Terror eludes Kerry
10/06/04: Kerry's global test fails the reality exam
09/29/04: Dems' mixed messages alienate the Center
09/23/04: Kerry's almost just about final position on Iraq
09/21/04: Will anyone trust them again?
09/09/04: Now can you name the enemy?
09/02/04: Save America from those who would save it
08/26/04: The character (or lack) behind the Kerry candidacy
08/19/04: Time for Old Media to make like McGreevey
08/12/04: Another Swing Vote: the Sufferers of Sudden Bush Hatred Fatigue Syndrome
08/05/04: Is Kerry's Problem nuance? Or is it obfuscation?
07/30/04: Intimate liability
07/26/04: Sandy Berger's classified wardrobe
07/15/04: Pretty faces, ugly words
07/08/04: Genocide can't happen if we banish the word
07/01/04: Dropping political discourse level
06/24/04: Kerry's Science Buddies and the Silly Sanctity of Life
06/17/04: Behold the Summer of Bill Clinton!
06/10/04: Whatever happened to respect for the presidency?
06/03/04: Tales at the intersection of war and popular culture
05/20/04: Athletes on Notice: Strive Unflaggingly
05/13/04: America likes Rumsfeld, and the Dems can't take it
05/07/04: Kerry Supporters Have a New Take on Vietnam War
05/05/04: New cell phone does everything, but there's a problem...
04/29/04: John Kerry, prisoner of symbolic politics
04/22/04: Shall we grovel? Kerry Plan to Restore America's Place in the World
04/08/04: Sept. 11 Might Have Been Different If ...
04/02/04: Slinging slime or citing facts?
03/26/04: One War, One Enemy
03/22/04: Bloodied Spain Rejoins Old Europe
03/12/04: Why All Those Foreign Leaders Want Kerry to Whup Bush
03/08/04: Introducing the Kerry Doctrine
02/27/04: Introducing the AWOLs: Angry White Outraged Libs
02/20/04: Sifting the headlines of election year 1992
02/18/04: Guess Which Candidate Our Enemies Want to Lose in 2004?
01/29/04: Every Laptop a Truth Squad
01/27/04: When the battle over artistic freedom goes over the edge
12/31/03: For the Left and Right, Some New Year's Resolutions
12/22/03: Dean's black helicopters
12/15/03: Dems Are Mainstreaming the Extreme
12/08/03: Does Dean Really Want to Be President? One Wonders, When He Opens His Mouth
11/24/03: The real story: Most Brits see U.S. as force for good
11/19/03: The Trouble With Al Gore's Screed on Civil Liberties
11/11/03: Can a fellow win with the Confederate Metrosexual vote?
10/22/03: Let's make Greenpeace pay
09/29/03: Ah-nold & Clark may be on different sides of the aisles, but their supporters are cut from the same cloth
09/19/03: All Hail the Ninth Circuit Court of Surreal
08/26/03: This time, the record industry doesn't stand a chance!
08/18/03: Assessing the Schwarzenegger Factor in Republicanism
08/08/03: No wonder Howard ‘Two Covers’ Dean gets all the buzz
08/04/03: Expect bad news for the foreseeable future
07/28/03: Despot's Deserts
07/21/03: No winners in this game of gotcha
07/14/03: Doing the right thing in Liberia may not be the right thing to do
06/27/03: On feet in Democratic mouths
06/16/03: The real story behind Hillary's book
06/09/03:America's new mission was and remains: Extirpating the flaming nutballs and the societies that nurture them
06/03/03: The Constitution as gag order
05/23/03: Sometimes the theme of world events is chaos itself
05/16/03: Newspapers are only human, after all
05/13/03: What McCarthy messed up
05/06/03: Still think the International Criminal Court was a good idea?
04/03/03: The world is ending, the world is ending! Doesn't anybody care!? Why won't anybody listen!?
03/14/03: Kerry and the Dems are banking on American electorate's tendancy to forget history
02/28/03: Roadmap to peace?
02/13/03: We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power --- sob, sob
02/10/03: Found: League for International Justice and Peace talking points
01/30/03: The US can go to war whenever it likes for its own reasons, and all the UN can do is pass more worthless paper
01/23/03: People who'd volunteer for the Iraqi army if they saw Saddam wearing a "Free Mumia" button
01/16/03: One of those head vs. heart things
12/27/02: Whistleblowers?
01/06/02: The second year of this jangled millennium
11/16/01: Attack of the 'Patriotism police' and other Hollywood fare
11/12/01: From the bleats of dismay
10/30/01: Osama and the Genie
10/08/01: "We can stop the Bush Death Juggernaut"
11/04/01: America, loathe or it leave it
09/25/01: Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America?
08/27/01: If the economy is in a funk, why aren't we dancing?
08/14/01: Dubyah's embarrassing presidential vacation
08/10/01: Hail to our co-chiefs?
08/03/01: Constitution: George the Uniter picked a doozy to unify detractors
07/25/01: The real reason why we need missile defense (What those uppity policy wonks won't tell you!)
06/18/01: Paining the egalitarian soul
06/01/01: One of the stranger indexes you'll ever hear about
05/21/01: One man's toke is another man's snort
05/08/01: Republicans want poisoned water
04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
04/10/01: Boys will be boys. And that's the problem
04/06/01: Pity the anti-American Left, they're gonna have a hard time on this one
03/26/01: You've been warned
03/16/01: The GOP's inexplicable desire to fold
02/23/01: Will the Jeb Bush administration attack Saddam in 2011?
02/09/01: In search of the the first ashtray thrown by a member of the First Family
02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
01/22/01: Hey, Dubya: Wanna save Ashcroft? Teach him to rap!
01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
01/05/01: The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you)
12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2004, James Lileks