Swing State No More

The state of Ohio has long been predicted to be one of the key battlegrounds in the 2004 race. It’s one of George W. Bush’s must-win states, but the longstanding decline in manufacturing has often been cited as a reason why this red state may swing blue in 2004.

However, in the last few weeks, Ohio has swung – and swung decisively.

The latest University of Cincinnati poll finds Bush up by a whopping 11%. This would seem to be a very high margin for the President, but it dovetails nicely with the early USA Today/Gallup poll that showed a similar margin in the Buckeye State. However, that poll was only of less than 500 likely voters, and so may not be large enough to make a valid statistical inference.

Enter the latest Mason/Dixon poll which shows Bush up by 7. This poll surveyed 624 likely voters and found that Bush enjoyed significantly better approval ratings over John Kerry.

If that weren’t enough, the Columbus Plain Dealer also did their own poll, this time with a larger sample size of 1500 registered voters. They found Bush ahead by 8 points in their poll.

Rassmussen’s most recent poll also show Bush ahead, but with a narrower 3 point lead.

However, looking at the bigger picture, it’s clear that Kerry is in deep trouble in regards to Ohio. The last poll to show a Kerry lead was the August Rassmussen tracking poll. The only poll to show the race tied was a pre-RNC Columbus Dispatch poll which used an overly large sample set for a state poll and measured only registered rather than likely voters. The average Bush lead in a sample of the polls from Real Clear Politics over the last month have an average Bush lead of nearly 8 points.

Given similar samples showing Kerry’s erosion in Pennsylvania and New York, this number is quite likely representative of the current situation in Ohio – Bush has a strong lead, and Kerry will have to scramble to keep up.

Now, this may be possible for Kerry, but there are only a few weeks left in this election. The problem Kerry faces is that he has to shore up his position in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico – all states Gore won in 2000. This leaves him with little time to go on the offensive in states like Ohio. Kerry has to first staunch the bleeding before he can start fighting in Ohio. Especially with Kerry surprisingly weak in Pennsylvania, that means he has some serious problems to begin with.

Despite Ohio’s weakened economy, most workers aren’t blaming the President. The slowdown of manufacturing jobs has been going on for years, although that sector of the economy was virtually ignored by the Internet boom. Many of Ohio’s economic problems are being blamed on Governor Bob Taft, who has a history of raising taxes and generally poor economic management, and consequently had seen his approval ratings plummet in the summer.

The situation in Iraq may be a worry, and Ohio has had its share of combat fatalities, but Ohio voters tend to be hawkish on national security. Indeed, Ohio is one of those states where the 9/11 Democrats are being most strongly felt. Many may not like Bush’s economic policies, but economics is no longer the single most dominant factor in this race as it has been in years past. Terrorism is a major concern, and Bush continues to win hands-down on this issue.

Social issues are also hurting Kerry. Ohio tends to be a more socially conservative state, and Kerry’s positions on gay marriage, abortion, and other hot-button social issues are hurting his numbers as well. Kerry cannot win in Ohio without the black vote and given that Kerry’s patrician nature doesn’t exactly excite black voters in the way that the charismatic Bill Clinton could, that doesn’t help him either. Blacks also tend to be more socially conservative on issues like gay marriage, which is also likely to keep many blacks from deciding to vote for Kerry. Even a small change in black voting patterns towards Bush can have a major impact on the race, not only in Ohio, but nationally as well.

Based on polling and ongoing social and political factors, I consider Ohio to be now firmly in the Bush camp. That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t swing back into swing state territory later, but until there is evidence that support such a swing, I don’t see Kerry having much of a chance of taking Ohio. If anything, there’s a greater likelyhood of Bush increasing his margins in the state from 2000.

Ohio is one of Bush’s must-win states, and as the race moves from that state to the newly appointed swing state of Pennsylvania, it appears as though the Bush campaign has a very strong chance of ensuring that the Buckeye State doesn’t swing towards Kerry in November.

2 thoughts on “Swing State No More

  1. Two weeks ago, when Zogby’s poll showed Bush leading by 11 points, you held the poll up as a trophy. Now, when the same pollster shows Bush’s lead down to a mere three points, you don’t even bother to mention it. What gives? It’s almost as if you’re picking and choosing poll numbers that suit your personal preference.

    Kerry is very likely to rise out of his mini-slump and has three debates to prove himself against Bush. He’s not a great candidate, so I’m not wildly optimistic about his chances, but I do believe the national polls and Ohio polls will narrow in the weeks to come. Kerry would need a Dukakis-style national death spiral for the current outliner Ohio polls to become reality. I don’t see that happening.

  2. You’ve hit the nail on the head with this article. And this is happening in other critical states like West Virginia where social conservative values mean much more than party affiliation in a Presidential Election.

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