Both the George W. Bush and the John Kerry campaigns should remember political history and note that in 1984, President Ronald Reagan won re-election and defeated former Vice President Walter Mondale not based on any one issue, but more on a vital intangible.
Yes, Iraq, the economy, the war on terrorism and many other issues are critical to who will win the presidential race in November. And yes, in recent weeks, many polls have shown Bush's public support in decline as he continues to struggle with the particulars of today's big-ticket issues of international and public policy. But a key intangible category remains, and it's one that I believe ultimately decides major elections. Currently, the president trails his Democratic opponent in this area too, but there is very real hope that he can bounce back by Election Day. The intangible is "likeability."
Here is the latest InsiderAdvantage survey of the presidential election:
Q. If the presidential election were held today, for whom would you vote?
George W. Bush 43 percent
John Kerry 43 percent
Ralph Nader/Other 4 percent
Undecided/Don't Know 10 percent
These results are consistent with some surveys that show the race dead even, but admittedly out of step with several that show Kerry in the lead. Given that our polling of the race has shown the lead change hands several times, this result is no shock to me.
What does shock me is the reply to the following question posed to likely voters:
Q. Who is more likeable?
George W. Bush 44 percent
John Kerry 48 percent
Undecided/Don't Know 8 percent
Both questions were part of a national survey conducted May 22-24 with our research associates at The Marketing Workshop. The poll sampled 500 likely voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
We had asked the same likeability question last month, and Kerry was on top then too. While at first glance this should seem to give the Kerry camp cause for celebration and the Bush side great disappointment, there may be more to this seemingly frivolous question of likeability than some might guess. Indeed, it might offer some critical hints of how the race ultimately will shake out.