Why the next election won't be close.
by chuck Todd
Over the last year, most political TV shows handicapping the upcoming presidential election have repeated the refrain that the race will be extremely tight. Last month, CNN's astute commentator Jeff Greenfield hosted an entire segment on how easily this election could turn out like 2000, with President Bush and Sen. John Kerry splitting victories in the popular vote and the electoral college. Greenfield even threw out the possibility of an electoral college split of 269-269, brought about by a shift of just two swing states that went for Bush last time, New Hampshire, and West Virginia. He ended his feature with the conventional wisdom among Washington pundits: "We're assuming this election will stay incredibly close." Reporters covering the campaign echo this expectation, sprinkling their campaign dispatches with references to the "closely fought" electoral race and "tight election."
There are perfectly understandable reasons why we expect 2004 to be close. Everyone remembers the nail-biting 2000 recount. A vast number of books and magazine articles describe the degree to which we are a 50/50 nation and detail the precarious balance between red and blue states. And poll after poll show the two candidates oscillating within a few percentage points of one another. There are also institutional factors that drive the presumption that the race will be tight. The press wants to cover a competitive horse-race. And the last thing either campaign wants to do is give its supporters any reason to be complacent and stay home on election day.
But there's another possibility, one only now being floated by a few political operatives: 2004 could be a decisive victory for Kerry. The reason to think so is historical. Elections that feature a sitting president tend to be referendums on the incumbent--and in recent elections, the incumbent has either won or lost by large electoral margins. If you look at key indicators beyond the neck-and-neck support for the two candidates in the polls--such as high turnout in the early Democratic primaries and the likelihood of a high turnout in November--it seems improbable that Bush will win big. More likely, it's going to be Kerry in a rout.