Rules Don’t Apply in This Race

Susan Page has an insightful piece in USA Today explaining why “The ‘rules’ don’t apply in this race.”

This campaign is different. This is the year Internet fundraising exploded, nearly erasing a Republican financial advantage that had been around so long it seemed to be written in the Constitution. Voters love and hate President Bush in almost equal numbers. The close divide in American politics has hardened, and the undecided voter has become an endangered species.
Then there is the war in Iraq. Strategists for President Bush and Sen. John Kerry miscalculated how long the war would last and how polarizing it would become. Both sides figured voters would have moved on to the economy by now, as they usually do. But they haven’t.

In this and other ways, the 2004 campaign has been unexpected, surprising, even unprecedented in historic ways. That has forced candidates and strategists to upgrade their Web sites, refine their rhetoric on the war and revise the get-out-the-vote blueprints they drew up months and years ago. That process will continue after Kerry is nominated at the Democratic National Convention here tonight and Republicans renominate Bush at their convention in New York in five weeks. “I look for trends all the time — that’s what I do — but I’ve concluded it’s a huge mistake to assume that 2004 is going to replicate what happened in 1960 or 1970 or 1980,” says Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. “This environment is so different.”

She argues that the voters are “fired up” and few of them are “persuadable,” making this race almost unprecedented.

In a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll conducted last week, more than seven in 10 Americans say they have already given “quite a lot of thought” to the election. That’s almost double the number who said that four years ago at this time. And six in 10 say they’re more enthusiastic than usual about voting. Some of those fired-up voters support Bush; others back Kerry.


Never in modern times has a presidential election seemed so firmly set for so long. It is as though concrete was poured around the feet of voters as soon as Kerry emerged as Bush’s Democratic opponent. With the race virtually tied, four of five voters say there is “no chance whatsoever” they’ll switch from the candidate they’re backing. Just 18% of registered voters now say they’re open to persuasion; an additional 2% are undecided. That’s less than half of the 39% who were potential swing voters at this point in 1996. It is less than one-third of the 62% whose minds were open to argument in 1992.


The traditional rule of thumb is that about 40% of voters can be counted on to vote Republican, about 40% Democratic. The 20% in between decide the race. This year, analysts estimate that the group of in-between voters has shrunk to 15% or even less.

There quite a few more facts and figures in the piece. Despite historical trends–it’s almost always a blowout one way or the other in races with an incumbent president–it looks very much like this will remain a toss-up right until election day.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Environment, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Matt says:

    And as usual, it is truly scary that that 15% percent are most likely the dumbest and least well informed…and they will most likely decide the direction of the country. They aren’t reading these blogs…:)and they are vulnerable to emotional marketing.