Jewish World Review Oct. 19, 2004/ 4 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Wesley Pruden

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Polls and polls — too soon to panic | CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — Polls, polls, polls.

The campaign is finally in the homestretch now, and there's not even a fourth debate to not look forward to. The media mavens have to decide whether to talk about panic or polling.

Talking about polls is easier. There's a lot of them, and the news is not bad enough to make either George W. or Monsieur Kerry succumb to panic. Not yet. If you believe the polls the monsieur is gaining in the Midwest heartland and the president at last has a head of steam in the national polls.

There's the usual late nasty stuff to drive the polls. In Missouri, one Democratic group called "America Coming Together" (no irony intended) is race-baiting with a handbill accusing the Republicans of suppressing the black vote through intimidation. The handbill is illustrated with a '60s-era photograph, apparently taken not in Missouri but in Alabama, of a white fireman turning a fire hose on black folks.

The effects of late nasty stuff is difficult to measure. The widely watched Rasmussen daily tracking poll, a measure of the sentiment of 7,000 voters across the nation, taken nightly and averaged over three days, yesterday showed the race all but even — with George W. at 47.5 and John Kerry at 47.3. If true and accurate, this is very good news for Monsieur Kerry, who has trailed the president in this poll every day since Aug. 23.

But two national polls, even more widely watched, show the president taking a commanding lead once more. A poll taken for ABC News, of 1,582 likely voters between Tuesday and Thursday of last week, shows the president with 50 percent, up two points from earlier in the week, and Monsieur Kerry with 46 percent, down two points from the earlier poll.

A poll taken by Gallup for CNN/USA Today is, if true and accurate, even better news for the president. This poll, taken between Thursday and Saturday, shows the president with 52 percent, up from 48 percent a week earlier, before the third debate, and the monsieur at 44 percent, down five points from a week earlier. The margins in both the ABC News poll and the CNN/USA Today poll are well outside the margin of error.

But before anyone hedges old bets with new wagers, he should look closely at the fine print. For example, a new Newsweek poll purports to reveal that the president has opened up a six-point lead among women (where are all the stories about the gender gap this year?) and Monsieur Kerry leads among men, 50 to 46. Asks masterblogger Mickey Kaus of Slate: "Which country did they poll?"

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Like nearly everyone else, he finds the notion that men prefer the senator more likely than the proposition that the lugubrious style and manner that would make a mortician envious is making feminine hearts go all aflutter from sea to shining sea. "Kerry reminds women not of their first husbands," he writes, "so much as [guys] who never got to be their first husbands because he bored them so much on their first date that he never got a second."

The monsieur's good luck with rich widows, who are famously suckers for fortune-seekers who can read the menu in a French restaurant, is easier to explain. Teresa, of course, regards John Heinz, long gone to the land of the ripest tomato, as her husband still. She reminds everyone of it at every opportunity.

Everyone wants the polls to be wrong; nobody likes to be told what he thinks. If your man is losing, you look for the tiniest scrap of evidence that George Gallup and his colleagues are blowing smoke at us. This year the skeptics have settled on the cell-phone phenomenon as undermining the accuracy of the surveys. Their argument is that since there's no directory of cell-phone users the pollsters are missing a lot of voters, particularly the young who are most likely to vote against George W. Bush.

If the cell phones haven't spoiled the polling, Caller ID has: Prospective voters can see who's calling — or more to the point, they can see who's not calling since pollsters usually show up as either "unavailable" or "blocked call" — and they won't answer the phone.

Soon poll talk will subside. That's when the trailing candidate will invoke the ghost of Harry Truman and the stunning surprise of '48. But I knew Harry Truman (sort of), and John Kerry is no Harry Truman.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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