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Ask Auntie Pinko

September 23, 2004

Dear Auntie,

I am absolutely disheartened by the latest polls and by my anxiety over all the underhanded, unscrupulous, shenanigans that Karl Rove can come up with to damage our candidate in the eyes of the undecided voters. How optimistic are you, dear Auntie? Please, please lift up my morale!

Santa Barbara, CA

Dear Evangelina,

Relax, take a deep breath, pour yourself a nice comforting cup of your favorite beverage, and sit down to do some serious research on the mechanics of electioneering, election-results-predicting, etc. The hype and the noise of the Republican campaign machine is getting to you - which is, of course, its purpose.

The number one most reliably predictive poll question is this:

"Are you satisfied with the direction the country is going in?"

Polling research shows that the responses to question, more than any other, provide a reliable indicator of general election outcomes. Here's another fact for you:

The closer to election day a poll is held, the more reliable its results are. The only really reliable poll results are those taken within 48 hours of election day.

Now, go back and look at that most-reliably-indicative question again. Think about how it's likely to be answered today, tomorrow, next week, and on November 2nd. Even if you take into account the effects of the war in Iraq on voter perceptions, it's a powerful indicator, because the relevant question there would be:

"Are you satisfied with how the war is being conducted?"

Social scientists who have studied elections say that two factors control how people vote: hope and discontent. That is, if they see a credible hope for something good, they will vote to reflect that.

Failing that, they will "vote their discontent." That is, they'll vote against whomever they associate with the conditions that displease them. The only thing that will prevent them from doing that is "fear of a worse alternative."

I think it's pretty clear that there isn't a prayer that either candidate could credibly push the "credible hope of something better" button, conditions in America (and the world) being what they are right now.

So, if you were a Kerry strategist, and were vividly aware of how skilled Mr. Rove is at his job, what would your number one concern be? I can't speak for those in Mr. Kerry's campaign headquarters, but I would opt for getting pounded about "no program" over handing Mr. Rove a stick he could use to beat my candidate with.

As long as there is nothing for Mr. Rove to distort and use as a bogeyman to scare voters, the deciding factor will remain discontent. It's a gamble, but one that has paid off many times.

It's a tough line to walk, but I'm actually quite encouraged. The time for the Kerry campaign to come out with some clear, attractive, well-expressed proposals will be at the very last minute, when there is insufficient time for Mr. Rove and his well-funded smear machines to twist them beyond recognition.

Until then, as far as Auntie can tell, the Kerry campaign is carefully (and very cleverly) keeping their eye on those undecided voters, and how not to turn them off.

What turns undecided voters off faster than anything else is the perception of extremism and too much negative campaigning. The kind of people who value "tough" over "smart" have already made up their minds, and if the Kerry campaign has to write any group off, that would be first on the list.

Undecided likely voters tend to be female, they tend to be middle-income and middle aged, they tend to be educated to well-educated. They also tend to vote on issues that affect them personally.

Right now those issues would be the likelihood of their family members getting drafted into a vicious quagmire in Iraq, and the ability of the economy to sustain themselves and their children.

So actually, Evangelina, I'm pretty optimistic right now. I think that the well-funded conservative spin machines and their ability to hijack the mainstream press has resulted in a vast cacophony of noise and smoke… but not a lot of real light on the end results.

For a better perspective on just how effectively the right-wing agenda has evolved its propaganda machine to obscure reality, here's a URL:

They've got a lot of money invested in making people think it's not worthwhile to go to the polls, because the outcome is already decided. But if you buy that, Evangelina, you're making Mr. Rove smile.

Remember, get to the polls, get a friend who's never voted to register and go with you. Or get someone who's already registered, but has decided it's not worth the trouble, to change their mind and come with you.

If you and every other Democrat can do that, we've got plenty of reason to be optimistic. Thanks for asking Auntie!

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