Youth is Fleeting for Bush

9/11 Commission Gets it Wrong

What's Next for the Bounce?

Poll Vault: [Expletive Deleted] Potty Mouths

Of course it would never happen like this, but it should: President Bush and political guru Karl Rove are enjoying a quiet evening together in the private quarters of the White House. Suddenly, Rove looks up in horror from his computer printouts and asks:

"George . . . where are the kids?"

Where, indeed. And we're not talking about Jenna Bush or her sister Barbara, but millions of other younger voters who supported Bush in 2000 but currently plan to vote for Democratic nominee John Kerry.

Surveys suggest that Bush's popularity has plummeted among 18 to 29 year-olds in the past four months, posing a new obstacle to the president's bid to win reelection and an immediate challenge to Republicans seeking to win over impressionable and lightly committed young people during their upcoming convention.

Four years ago, network exit polls found that Bush and Democrat Al Gore split the vote of 18- to 29-year-olds, with Gore claiming 48 percent and Bush getting 46 percent -- the best showing by a Republican presidential candidate in more than a decade.

But that was then. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll taken immediately after the Democratic convention, Kerry led Bush 2-1 among registered voters younger than 30. Among older voters, the race was virtually tied.

Bush's problems with younger voters began months before the Democratic convention, Post-ABC polls suggest. The last time Bush and Kerry were tied among the under-30 crowd was back in April. In the five surveys conducted since then, Bush has trailed Kerry by an average of 18 percentage points.

Virtually every other major poll conducted in the past month confirms Kerry's newfound and perhaps transient popularity with voters under the age of 3o. The size of this advantage varies, due in part to the relatively small number of younger voters and correspondingly large margin of sampling error in each survey.

A Newsweek Poll conducted on July 29-30 found Kerry with a 51-32 lead among 18-29 year olds. The CBS News/New York Times post-convention survey of registered voters showed Kerry with a 50-31 advantage among this group.

Kerry also led among young adults in most surveys conducted during the weeks leading up to the convention. The combined data from surveys of 2,891 registered voters conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in May and June showed a 15-point Kerry lead, but their mid-July survey found the race tied. A Newsweek poll exclusively of younger voters interviewed in mid-July found Kerry with a 48-41 lead while a Post-ABC News survey put the Democrat ahead by 9 points on the eve of his party's convention.

Taken together, the post convention surveys suggest that if the election were held today, Bush would do about as badly among younger voters as Republican Robert Dole did in 1996 when he lost to incumbent Bill Clinton by 53 percent to 34 percent in this age group. Dubya's dad was more popular with younger voters in both 1988 and 1992: The elder Bush split the young vote in 1988 and lost to Clinton by 9 points in 1992. Of course the Reagan era marked the recent high-water mark for Republicans with younger voters, who gave the Gipper his biggest victory margin of any age group in 1984.

Tyler McLaughlin, 27, of Georgetown, Tex., didn't vote four years ago. He supported Bush during the first years of his presidency. "But after two years of war, I became anti-Bush," said McLaughlin, a project scheduler for a computer firm. "This seemed like a guy . . . who made a decision and won't go back on it."

The latest Post-ABC News survey found that Kerry consistently topped Bush by double-digit margins as the candidate young adults trusted to deal with every major issue, including the economy, Iraq, education and health care. The Democrat also was viewed by substantial margins as best able to handle the campaign against terrorism and taxes, issues where Bush still had an advantage among all voters.

The issues motivating younger voters are not much different than those on the minds of all Americans. The war in Iraq and the economy lead their list of top voting concerns in recent Post-ABC News surveys -- not surprising because it's young people who are fighting in Iraq and hustling to keep or find jobs in this uncertain economy. Education ranks somewhat higher as a voting issue for young voters, not unexpected either, since many of them are still in college or just out of school.

One surprise: the campaign against terrorism is less of a voting issue for younger voters than for the rest of the country. In the most recent Post-ABC poll, only 9 percent of all 18 to 29-year-olds rated it as their top voting concern compared to 20 percent of all voters.

"The war -- definitely," said Becky Hibma, 24, homemaker, in Dorr, Mich., when asked what her top voting issue is this year.

Hibma says she is concerned about terrorism. She was on her honeymoon at Disney World when the Twin Towers fell. But for her, Iraq is the more immediate and tangible problem. "It could have been handled very differently. We jumped in too quickly . . . a little more thinking would have been great."

Like many of her friends, she says she's torn between the two candidates. She's "more Bush" at the moment, largely because of the president's leadership after Sept. 11. "But there are days when I totally agree with everything Kerry says."

Pollsters Protest 9-11 Commission Error

While there's plenty of Sept. 11 blame to go around, the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) says the 9/11 commission that investigated the terrorist attacks was flat wrong when it made this claim on page 341 of its recent report:

"As best we can determine, neither in 2000 nor in the first eight months of 2001 did any polling organization in the United States think the subject of terrorism sufficiently on the minds of the public to warrant asking a question about it in a major national survey."

Au contraire, says AAPOR President Nancy Belden in a recent statement. A number of major public polls asked questions about international terrorism during that time frame. Some examples:

At the start of the new millennium, CBS News asked: "Would you say you personally are very concerned about a terrorist attack in the United States, or not? Would you say you are somewhat concerned about a terrorist attack in the United States or not at all concerned?" Responses: 37 percent very concerned, 39 percent somewhat concerned, 22 percent not at all concerned.

As President Bush took office in January 2001, Newsweek asked: "Which one of the following do you think should be Bush's top defense and national security priority? Should his top priority be: Developing a high-tech missile defense system to protect the United States from nuclear attack (34 percent); reconfiguring US military forces so they can move more quickly to deal with crisis situations around the world (29 percent); or improving our ability to identify and counteract terrorist threats (31 percent)?"

And in May 2001, the Pew Research Center asked: "Do you think that international terrorism is a major threat, a minor threat, or not a threat to the well being of the United States?" Prescient answer: 64% major threat, 27% minor threat, 4% not a threat.

Makes you wonder what else the commission investigators missed or got wrong.

The Bump: Future and Past

A heads-up, bounce-watchers: Measuring Bush's convention bump is going to be a tricky bit of business, thanks to the Labor Day weekend. Bush gives his acceptance speech the evening of Sept. 2, and on Sept. 3, millions of Americans head out for one last end-of-summer fling, making it tough on pollsters to find people at home for those post-convention surveys. Look for some bold surveyors to phone their way right through the doldrums -- garbage in, garbage out, we think -- and others to look for creative ways around the problem.

If Kerry's convention is any guide, there may not be much of a bump to measure. Seven major media polls registered anywhere from a one percentage point drop to a four percentage point uptick in support for the Democratic nominee among registered voters. This left Kerry with a modest lead -- three to seven points -- in all but one of the seven surveys. The exception was the Gallup poll, which found Bush up by one percentage point in a three-way race among registered voters. (The average bump up for modern presidents is somewhere in the neighborhood of seven percentage points, if you're keeping score.)

Bouncelet for Teresa

First Lady contender Teresa Heinz Kerry got a bit of a bump after her Boston debut. In a Post-ABC News poll conducted immediately prior to the convention, 27 percent of voters said they had a favorable view of the sometimes prickly Pennsylvania philanthropist, compared to 34 percent in a survey conducted the weekend after. Four in 10 still don't know enough about the Democratic challenger's wife to offer an opinion.

Men and women bumped up about equally when it came to Heinz Kerry. And when the bouncing stopped, men divided equally (29 percent favorable versus 28 percent unfavorable) while women tilted positive (39 percent versus 20 percent).

Poll Vault: [Expletive Deleted] Potty Mouths

As cathartic as it may be, Americans might not want to follow Vice President Cheney's profane example when engaging in a frank exchange of views with others. While most Americans aren't particularly offended by potty-mouthing, as recently as 1996 one in five were ready to call in the law on blasphemers.

Q I am going to read a list of things that some people consider to be morally wrong. For each item, please select the number that best indicates how wrong you, personally, think it is when people engage in that behavior: Swearing or using offensive language

22% Wrong for all and should not be legally tolerated

33 Wrong for all but should be tolerated

22 Right for some, but not for me personally

6 Right for me, but not necessarily for others

4 Right for all

14 Not a moral issue

Source: Survey by the University of Virginia's Post-Modernity Project conducted Jan. 27-April 14, 1996 and based on personal interviews with a national adult sample of 2,047. Data provided by The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut.

Meanwhile, in the wholesome early 1950s, Gallup asked married respondents:

Do you object to your husband or wife saying "damn" or "hell" when among a group of adults?

44% Yes

50 No

7 Qualified answer/No opinion

Source: Conducted by the Gallup Organization, Nov. 11-16, 1951, and based on personal interviews with a national adult sample of 2,019. Data provided by The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut.