John Zogby (Almost?) Nails It

I read today this account of a talk by John Zogby about this election, as seen through a pollster’s eyes. He said much that’s been said elsewhere about the nail-biting attributes of the election, but he also said some fascinating things about the Democratic primaries. His compressed account of the primaries runs something like this:

  • As the primary season looms somewhere on the far-off horizon, there is no obvious candidate to beat—and a majority of Democrats polled don’t expect to be able to beat Bush in the general election.
  • This despair leads them towards an increasing attraction to Howard Dean. Freed from the pressure of having to to pick a candidate they expect to win, they can root for a candidate who makes them feel good about their political affiliation. Dean’s numbers shoot up.
  • But the primaries aren’t soon enough for Dean to ride this wave. During a holiday lull, when Zogby isn’t polling, something flips: suddenly Democrats think that their candidate can win in November of 2004.
  • In response to this new optimism, John Kerry’s stock starts to rise, while the bottom drops out of Dean futures. Democrats who think that the election is winnable are now looking for a candidate they think will appeal to independents.

Zogby, as I gathered from the account, left the story there, alebit with some puzzlement as to why Democratic voters suddenly got optimistic. But to me, it seems obvious: Howard Dean cheered them up. The sense of energy he brought to the campaign made it possible to hear about the primary campaign without wincing; he gave the Democrats a sense of hope, because suddenly it was now possible to envision someone—him—beating Bush.

The irony, of course, is that once that optimisim trickled out beyond the true Dean believers, it sank Dean’s campaign.