Today’s Washington Post reports that John Kerry has lost ground on security issues, falling behind George Bush on an issue in which he attempted to trump the Republican strongest point. The Post notes that Kerry has lost eighteen points on national-security issues since the end of the Democratic convention, and these numbers were taken before the start of the convention:
President Bush holds clear advantages over John F. Kerry on national security issues and leadership in the war on terrorism, largely erasing the broad gains Kerry made at his party’s Boston convention last month, but voters continue to give the president negative marks on the economy and his handling of Iraq, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. …
The new poll found that a slight majority of registered voters — 53 percent — say Bush is more qualified than Kerry to be commander in chief, while 43 percent say they prefer the Democratic nominee. At the end of the Democratic convention, Kerry enjoyed an eight-point advantage over Bush on that question. Taken together, the results of the poll suggest that Bush’s recent gains have come from eroding perceptions of Kerry and not as a consequence of improved views of Bush’s performance as president.
Richard Morin and Christopher Muste attribute the precipitous drop in Kerry’s ratings to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attack ads and national bestseller, Unfit For Command — a remarkable effect, given that the Swiftvets only ran ads in three markets and spent less than $500,000, compared to the multi-million-dollar onslaught of the 527s on John Kerry’s side. However, the bad news isn’t just limited to the damage done to Kerry by the David-like Swiftvets, as the Post explains:
Bush is viewed as more honest and trustworthy than Kerry by 47 percent to 41 percent — exactly reversing the results of the Post-ABC News poll taken immediately after the Democratic convention.
Bush also is seen by a growing majority as the stronger leader and has narrowed Kerry’s lead from 14 percentage points to six points as the candidate who best understands the problems of people like them. He has tied Kerry as the candidate who best shares their values and drawn nearly even with the Democrat as the candidate who has a vision for the future, two areas where Kerry led immediately after his party’s convention.
On key issues as well as character, Bush has improved his position since the Democratic convention. Kerry is no longer viewed as the candidate best able to deal with the economy — an issue of growing importance to Americans this year, according to the survey. Voters are now evenly divided over which candidate would do the better job with economic issues.
By 52 percent to 44 percent, voters now judge Bush superior to Kerry as the candidate who would be best able to deal with the situation in Iraq. After the Democratic convention, the two were essentially tied.
It’s impossible to tie all of this to the Swiftvets and it augurs real trouble for the Democrats. It’s not unusual to see some of the underlying numbers erode after an opponent’s convention, but to watch them fall like this before George Bush even takes the stage this Thursday indicates that Kerry’s campaign has hit the shoals. No one knows this better than the Democrats themselves — so much so that they’ve been forced to release an internal polling memo which purports to calm the faithful who are watching Kerry slowly sink as their alarm rises:
President Bush has gained ground on Democrat John Kerry in the month of August because of “relatively small but unmistakable” shifts in the political environment, Democratic strategists said in a memo.
The polling memo released Monday by Democracy Corps, a group led by pollster Stan Greenberg and strategist James Carville, said the subtle gains by Bush have knotted the race again after Kerry had a slight advantage after the Democratic National Convention in late July.
“There is no doubt that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads (attacking Kerry’s Vietnam service) have had an impact on the race,” according to the Democracy Corps memo. Those attacks combined with the Summer Olympics have combined to “shift the focus away from Iraq and worrisome economic trends.”
The hand of Carville can be seen all over this memo, and the only thing “internal” is probably the stamp at its top. The content is obviously intended for external spin, as the only “worrisome” economic trends are those which show the economy continuing to expand, despite the pessimism of the Democrats. Acknowledging that Kerry has been damaged by the Swiftvets in the face of a monolithic media blockade underscores both the effectiveness of the alternate media, such as bloggers and talk radio, as well as the power of the Swiftvets message itself. Plus, Carville discounts the damage done to Kerry’s campaign by the candidate himself, who was reduced to begging for George Bush’s intervention to stop the Swifties from exercising their First Amendment rights — hardly a becoming position for a man who wants to sell us on his leadership and courage under fire.
And they haven’t even encountered the effects of the speeches by John McCain and Rudy Giuliani last night at Madison Square Garden. What will they say after the next polling cycle? Will John Kerry beg George Bush to ban polling next?