Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Kerry is Very . . . Transparent, maybe. TNR takes him to task for modifying his position on Iraq yet again. This time, they think they've detected a trace of the ghost in the machine: the poll that found voters favoring Kerry's "nuanced" position on Iraq to Howard Dean's outright opposition. TNR smells bad data, and rightly so.
Now, it would indeed be significant if a large majority of early-primary-state voters favored the position of candidates, like John Kerry and Dick Gephardt, who supported the war but have since grown critical of it. But, as we pointed out last week, it's far from clear that the poll in question actually supports that result. The biggest reason for doubt is that the same poll later asks, straight up, how important it is for a candidate to have "opposed the war from the beginning," to which 68 percent of the very same voters responded either "very" or "somewhat."
TNR goes on to break down the wording of the relevant question, discovering "wording . . . very likely to bias respondents in the direction of the Kerry position." To be fair, some polling includes these sorts of confounds for the purpose of exposing weak data, finding conflicts in voters' attitudes, and testing the efficacy of different wordings. But don't you think Kerry and his staff would know that? According to the NYT, no:
In any case, Mr. Kerry said he took solace from a poll last week finding that many voters in three early primary states said they wanted a presidential nominee who supported the war in Iraq but was critical of Mr. Bush for not assembling an international coalition.
So we've now learned two things. First, Kerry's staff can't read and interpret a poll. Two, Kerry's position on Iraq is nothing more than a Clintonian hunk of policy play-dough that he can furtively squeeze into the right shape while fogging his audience with what has become his campaign boilerplate. Actually, it is possible that Kerry's team does understand the poll and is trying to make the best of a bad situation. If so, though, it's a weak play that proves only that Kerry realizes the awful straits he's blundered into. TNR concludes:
Bottom line: If Kerry thinks Democratic voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have come around to his position on the war (for that matter, if Kerry thinks voters in Iowa and New Hampshire can identify his position on the war...), he's got another think coming.
It had better come quick.

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