As this is written, John Kerry is behind in the polls. In 11 post-Republican convention polls compiled by realclearpolitics.com, George W. Bush leads John Kerry by an average of 49 percent to 44 percent, with 2 percent for Ralph Nader. Bush's lead is as high as 14 points (among Gallup's likely voters), while Kerry leads in only one poll, by 1 point (Harris Interactive).
Many polling experts are skeptical of Gallup's and Harris' methods. But take their numbers out, and it's still 49 to 44. Even the Kerry campaign concedes that its candidate is behind by about 2 percent. The Bush campaign would say that it is a little more.
But the bad news for Kerry doesn't stop at the top line. When you examine responses to other poll questions, you find no obvious lines of opinion that work in Kerry's favor. On qualities like "strong leadership" and "says what he believes," he is far behind Bush -- the attempt to present Kerry at his convention as a strong leader doesn't seem to have worked. On caring about people like you, usually a strong point for Democrats, he has no particular advantage. On traditional Democratic issues -- education, the economy -- he runs about even with Bush. On health care, he does somewhat better, and he has been pushing his health care plan on the stump. But it's not clear that that's a high salience issue this year.
Kerry, with his expanding campaign staff, is trying to do what candidates in his position usually do: If you can't emphasize things on which voters agree with you, try to change the way they see what's happening out there.
Before a grudgingly polite National Guard Association, Kerry argued that the Bush administration's record in Iraq is one of mistakes and failures. He can point to increasing violence and casualties. But Bush can respond that the terrorists are just trying to affect our elections and shake our resolve -- he will have a forum this week when Iraqi interim president Ayad Allawi visits Washington. And last week's Pew poll showed that voters are aware of increasing casualties but have not reduced their support of Bush's efforts in Iraq. Throughout, Kerry faces the problem he has caused himself by the wildly different stands he's taken on Iraq.